Did History Happen?

My father had this weird idea about history. Every now and then he would repeat it, which would embarrass my mother and bewilder me. My mother told me not to get into arguments with him about it, because Dad was a bit like the Incredible Hulk – you wouldn’t like him when he was angry. However, I did get into arguments with him about it. I was one of those horribly logical children, and if I had to say something I had to say it, even if it earned me a slapping. I couldn’t bear that he would come out with anything so obviously wrong and not at least attempt to explain why he thought it was right.

The only thing he ever said was this: when he was at school, which I suppose must have been in the thirties, he was shown a map of the world and a huge part of it was coloured pink. The pink bit was the British Empire. I can’t remember exactly what his teachers told him about the British Empire, but it was something to do with the British Empire stretching from pole to pole, destined to go on for ever and full of grateful natives who just loved us for bringing the gift of civilisation to them. Hideous claptrap, obviously. So far so good.

Then he got conscripted and shipped off to India, where he discovered that things were not as he had fervently believed as a child. So far so good, again.

But somehow he extrapolated from this that no history had ever actually happened. He seemed to literally believe this. I remember trying all the usual teenage arguments on him. But what about your memory? You can remember the past, at least that bit of it that took place in your lifetime. And what about fossils? And books, written before we were born? What about pieces of music written in the past, and paintings painted? What about the stories my grandmother told me, about her past, her mother, her sisters?

None of this had any effect, apart from calling forth the Incredible Hulk, in his green, shirt-bursting form.

Many years later, my parents and I used to go to Leeds Castle. We all enjoyed Leeds Castle. My mother saw it as a magnificent addition to her small garden at home. I liked the lake and the quiet, being able to see to all the way to the horizon, no houses in between. Mum and I used to repeat the tour of the castle every now and again, to see the Queen’s Bed and Henry VIII’s (amazingly broad and short) suit of armour and a cupboard full of gorgeous, if dusty, 1920s shoes. My father refused to go in. He would sit on the wall and read his newspaper because – yes, the past had never happened. Did he believe that Henry VIII’s armour was a fake? By this time I knew better than to ask. It still annoyed me, though.

Dad is long gone, but that argument with him has gone on in my head. It’s like being haunted, not by him but by this one bizarre conviction, because in all this time I haven’t been able to prove the reverse – that the past does exist. In despair, I googled it.

It is always a relief when you find that other people have googled the same question as you, and even discussed it amongst themselves – seriously, at length.  It seems that philosophers – actual philosophers – have done work on this problem, intermittently, and have come to the conclusion that no proof is to be had. Everything you remember, the whole of history, might just have been implanted in your mind. This is the “dinosaurs were put there by the Devil” argument.

There is also something called “Thursdayism” which holds that all memories of the past were constructed at the creation of the universe – last Thursday. Though this seems unlikely, it cannot actually be disproved.

I was listening to an interesting podcast yesterday, about problems people have with their brains. One of the cases was an American lady who runs, and regularly wins, the most extreme marathons on the planet, ie hundreds of miles over many days, without stopping, hardly sleeping. As a child she suffered a prolonged seizure which, although nobody realised it at the time, damaged a small area of her temporal lobe. As an adult, she began to have seizures again. In the brief warning period she would put on her running shoes and run – at first to the mountains but eventually for hours and hours. Running enabled her to avoid the seizure altogether.

However, eventually the balance tipped in favour of the seizures. She no longer got any warning, so could not run. As she had children, she opted for removal of that part of her brain that was causing the fits. And it worked. She had no fits after the operation, though she now had problems with short-term memory, and time. It was as if she was living in a permanent now. She also lost the ability to read maps, and navigate. However, she continued to enter extreme marathons. She says when she is running she has no idea how many days she has been running for. She runs, alone, dropping pieces of ribbon at forks in the road so that she can find her way back, if lost. She runs until she reaches her destination, being only aware of the rhythm of her feet and of her breathing, and because she does not know how tired she ought to be, she does not feel tired.

If “time” can be cut out of a person’s brain, doesn’t that mean that time is a product of the brain, something imposed on reality? This would make the brain a kind of gatekeeper.

The explanation I find easiest to accept is this – that all time is happening at once. Therefore it is meaningless to talk in terms of a ‘past’ or a ‘future’. Maybe if we substitute ‘awareness’ or ‘knowledge’ for ‘memory’ it might be closer to the truth. From the present moment we have a sense of the ‘past’ (going on now) and of the ‘future’ (also going on now). We only think of them as taking place ‘then’ and ‘now’ because a small part of our brain is designed to limit us to a linear experience of time. Maybe that is all we can cope with, without going mad.

What do you think?

Might as well be hanged for a sheep

Janice was the bane of Miss Milligan’s life. Every teacher has at least one Bane, of course, but Janice – in Miss Milligan’s opinion – came straight from Hell equipped with her own pitchfork.

According to staff-room gossip – overheard, since for some reason Miss Milligan never seemed to be included in these gossipy huddles – Janice was some kind of genius in English and Art. On the other hand, the little beast failed abjectly in any subject that failed to engage her interest. Music was one of those subjects – the subject Miss Milligan had so far failed abjectly to teach her.

The child refused to read music. Miss Milligan was sure Janice understood perfectly well how to read music, because how could anyone not be able to grasp something so very simple? After a term with Miss Milligan every girl in class could read a simple musical score, could compose a pleasing sequence of four notes and then sing them back correctly upon request.

Janice scattered notes about the stave at random; true notes and psuedo-notes incorporating some design of her own with a hat or a smiley face. When asked to sing them back she would take a deep, shuddering breath and sing four completely different notes. The class would dissolve in laughter whilst Janice stared out of the window, seemingly having ascended to a higher plane.

It was Dumb Insolence: the child was putting it on, aiming to make a fool of her teacher. But put the little wretch up in front of the whole school and she’d have to get it right, or look like a fool. Miss Milligan flattered herself she knew a thing or two about teenage girls. Consumed with self-consciousness, they were, and Satan’s Daughter would prove no different.

Forced to turn the pages for Miss Milligan during assembly, Janice hovered by her side, perspiring, her hand trembling above the score for Jerusalem (the school song) as if hoping the exact moment to ‘turn’ might be conveyed by psychic wave or other mysterious means from Miss Milligan’s head to her own. When no such hint arrived she would make a wild snatch at the page, obliging Miss Milligan to make a similar wild snatch to turn it back.

When they were within a few bars of turning the next page, Miss Milligan waited for the girl to give in and turn it, but she did not. Miss Milligan resorted to a heavy nod. Janice did not appear to understand what was meant by the nod, and any case was now frowning at a stain on one of the floor tiles. Assembly hymn-singing proceeded in fits and starts, and with each fresh fit or start came a wave of stifled giggling. The Headmistress was also frowning at a floor tile.

Miss Milligan resolved to move the battle to an alternative field – left-handedness. Sinistrality might be an unavoidable defect in a small percentage of boys but was quite unacceptable in a girl. Miss Milligan was on the school dinner supervision rota, as were most of the teachers, and had spotted Janice lifting her dessert-spoon to her mouth with the wrong hand.

Today was jelly-and-custard, the ideal test. Miss Milligan positioned herself close to the Devil’s Spawn’s table. When it came to dessert, and the wrong hand started to convey the jelly upwards, Miss Milligan took a brisk step forward.

No, Janice – other hand.” Janice sat there, her mouth hanging slightly open, as if trying to process this perfectly simple instruction.

“In polite society, Janice, we eat with our right hands. So pick up your dessert spoon in your right hand, and eat.” Impossible to tell whether the surrounding brats were sniggering at the girl or herself.

Janice picked up the spoon in her right hand and carefully loaded it with red jelly. With equal care she lifted it towards her mouth, but failed to locate it. The spoon collided with her nose. She lowered the spoon, reloaded it, this time with a mixture of custard and red jelly, and tried again. Once again the spoon drifted wide. By now the whole room had fallen silent.

“Can I be of some help, Miss Milligan?” Miss Milligan had not been aware that the Headmistress was in the room.

“No, thank you very much. The situation is under control.”

“One more try, Janice.”

Janice was scarlet in the face and Miss Milligan scented victory. Any minute now she’d start to cry and that would teach the awkward, sullen brat. If she’s been in the WAAFS –

When the jelly – not just a spoonful but the entire plate – collided with Miss Milligan’s chest, she could not for a moment believe it. The jelly was cold, the custard even colder, and both were sliding downwards. Triumph arose in Miss Milligan’s soggy breast. Assault on a teacher: the girl would be expelled for this.

The same thought seemed to have occurred to Janice, for a whole tableful of jelly-and-custards were subsequently hurled, left-handed, with surprising accuracy. If only the girl played cricket –

And were the other girls actually passing jellies to her? Was she to be the recipient of a whole dining-roomful of red jellies?

“Headmistress!”

But the Headmistress seemed to have temporarily left the room.

The Wearing Of The Green

She found the green cloth in the market, on a stall run by an old woman. The other fabrics – greys and browns destined to make overalls and jackets for field workers, had been thoroughly picked through but this one remained neatly folded. It was of a green at once dark and bright, and reminded her of the wood beyond the village. At once she pictured herself in the gown she would make of it.

How much for the green? She hoped she sounded only mildly curious.

More than you have in your pocket, young lady.

And how would you know how much I have in my pocket?

I see through cloth to skin, said the old woman, through skin to bone and through bone to the very soul, and I know full well that you cannot afford my cloth.

Well, it was true, and the girl turned to walk away, but the old woman caught her arm. There seemed no shaking her off.

If I were to give you the cloth, she said, you would cut it askew and sew it with clumsy stitches. It would soon fall apart.

On the contrary, said the girl. If you were to give me the cloth I would cut it most carefully and sew it with the finest of fine stitches, for I have been indentured to Morwenna the seamstress since my tenth year, and will gain my freedom shortly. I plan to set up business on my own account; there is always plenty of sewing to be done.

A woman alone?

Maybe. Or it may be that I will find a husband.

Ah yes, the ploughman Aelwyn. His master’s lands are not so far from here. No doubt you pass them most days.

How did you know? Aelwyn has barely spoken to me and has certainly not mentioned marriage.

No, but he will. How could he resist that summer-fair hair of yours, those tumbling tresses? The dress would serve as both apprentice piece and wedding gown.

If Aelwyn were to ask me.

You may have the green cloth for a wedding gift, young lady. It is too fine for these bumpkins in any case. I would have been unlikely to sell it this side of Michaelmas and by then the sun will have faded it. Take it, but with a warning. Green is a fairy colour, and they believe that only they have the right to wear it. Do not, therefore, wear that dress into the woods.

The dress took many months to make, by which time the market was long gone, the leaves fallen from the trees and the old woman’s warning forgotten.

ploughman

 

When Aelwyn the ploughman became very old he was forced to rely on the kindness of his four sons. His wife had long since died and his once powerful muscles were knotted with pain. In winter a rocking-chair in the chimney-corner was his customary retreat, but when the weather was warmer he liked to get out, walk by the fields he had worked, feel the sun on his shoulders. When the sun became too hot one day, with the help of his stick he decided to venture a little further, into the cool of the wood.

It was not a large wood but by the time he got to the middle of it he found himself both weary and confused. I used to know these woods so well, he thought. Yet now the trees are dancing around me, and changing their places each time I look. So he sank down next to a comfortable-looking willow tree, half knowing that this was unwise and that he might not be able to get up again without help.

The ground here was damp. Willows thrive in damp places, he reminded himself, half asleep already. And there he remained; his aching back relaxing against the smooth, warm bark. And beyond the wood the sun was beginning to sink.

When I was a young man, he told the willow tree, there was such a pretty girl – a seamstress with yellow hair that fell all around her face. She often passed where I was ploughing. Once or twice she even glanced in my direction, but before I could get up the nerve to speak to her, she vanished.

It was fifty years ago. Before you grew here, probably. They say she was carrying a green dress over her arm, her apprentice piece, so proud of it that she was taking it over to show her cousin in Sawley. She would have come through here. Might you have seen her?

Trees do not have the languages of men, and the willow did not reply. But as Aelwyn sank into a deeper and deeper sleep she sighed, reaching down with her long and tangled tresses to stroke his beloved face.

The Hapless Hannah

Branston was concerned that Markie, her current hubby, was exhibiting certain retrogressive traits. He would occasionally seem to forget his gender and attempt to patronise her.

An example: Markie didn’t as a rule pay much attention to politics or economics, but on this particular day he must have caught the tail end of an aircast whilst loading the dishwasher. It had something to do with the PM’s decision to impose selective economic sanctions upon what little remained of the United States. When Branston came in, after a stressful day at the office, Markie had launched into an explanation of this complex news item – and in words of one syllable, as they might have said last century.

It was galling, especially as she had a Masters in Geopolitics and he had a – what was it? – certificate in “Green Cuisine” from some second-rate finishing school.

Worse, on that visit to the solicitors the other day to renew their annual marriage contract Markie had so far forgotten himself as to open the door for her, as if she might be too feeble to open it for herself. The boy on reception had been watching them, and tittered behind his black-varnished fingernails.

At that point Branston seriously considered not renewing their contract at all, but she worked long hours and selecting a mate was so time-consuming. Besides, she had grown used to Markie over the four years she had had him, and he was quite good at the sex part. Of course, when he ceased to be –

She was discussing this with her colleague and sometime-lover McKaig, over lunch. The waiter was tiresomely slow in coming over to take their order, and as he passed McKaig snapped her fingers at him, causing him to jump and drop the tray he was carrying. Whilst the fool was grovelling about in the gangway trying to clear up the mess he’d made, Branston asked McKaig if she had ever experienced anything similar. She had.

What did you do about it?

I purchased a Hapless Hannah, old girl. Some men have this residual sense of superiority and entitlement, a genetically-programmed need to protect their “womenfolk”. Can you imagine it? Something to do with their hormones. But it’s easily managed. Our Hannah lives in the cupboard under the stairs, easily stowed away when not in use. When I go out, if he feels the urge hubby can set her going. And hey presto! The cyborg can be as useless and/or dependent as ever he wishes. By the time I get home he is – satiated. You should get one. Here, this is their website.

The salesman suggested that Branston make an actual analogue visit to their out-of-town showrooms.

It sounds rather as if your – colleague – has the Hannah 2.1. All right in its day, Madam, but we’re now up to the Hannah 2.7. The 2.7, unlike the 2.1, is equipped with the replaceable oh-dear-please-rescue-me pheromone cartridge, in addition to the standard don’t-know-what-to-do psycho-wave generator. The two combine to make her devastatingly effective. We also have a range of alternative ‘bleatborgs’ – our affectionate nickname, Madam – the Silly Susan and the Foolish Freda, to name but two –

Branston summoned an autax, tapped in the destination code, swiped her payment card and off they set at a steady 120 mph. Even at that speed it was a good ten minutes before the autax purred to a stop outside a chrome-and-glass display space with a window full of borgs.

She left it to Markie to unpack the 2.7 from its crate – warning him to be careful when using a sharp knife – and to wade through the instructions. After all, it was to be his little toy, and she had a finance report to finish.

At first all seemed to be going to plan. Markie was noticeably more relaxed, had even started singing over the ironing board, but most importantly he made no further attempts to patronise her. One evening Branston asked him to demonstrate the Hannah.

Markie was somewhat bashful – understandably, since this was his private little peccadillo – but she insisted upon it, and the Hannah was wheeled out. It was remarkably lifelike in its little gingham apron, a pink lurex bow askew amongst those ditsy curls. Oh dear, it said. We haven’t been introduced. I’m Hannah. Markie, please help me. Should I have curtsied just then?

Markie cleared his throat, casting a furtive glance in his wife’s direction. Don’t worry, Hannah. You only need curtsy to royalty.

Royalty? I haven’t met any royal people yet, have I Markie? Oh dear, so much to remember. I’m not sure my head will hold it all.

Sick-making, but Markie was lapping it up. After that he relaxed a bit more, to the extent that he would sometimes neglect to put the borg away before Branston got in. There the little sap would be, in the corner of the living area.

Hello, hello? Carpet robot seems to have run out of electricity. Could you remind me how to plug him in? If you can spare the time, that is?

The problem began when Branston realised the Hannah was starting to affect her too, presumably an undisclosed side-effect of those all-singing-all-dancing pheromones. Even when the Hannah was safely tucked away out of sight, Branston would be getting these embarrassing urges – just to peek in and see if the poor dear was all right, alone in the dark, not crying softly to herself or in need of a hug. Hannah must actually be appealing to Branston’s – whisper it – maternal instincts – in addition to Markie’s patronising, protecting ones.

The bleatborg was headed for the scrapheap.

And so, she then realised, was Markie.

Why, why, why, Delilah?

So I’m sitting in the waiting room at the little hospital – where my doctor’s happens to be. The lighty-up thingy above the receptionist’s desk isn’t working, for which I am thankful.  Some long-ago receptionist misheard Mrs – or possibly Ms – for Miss when entering my details for the first time, so the lighty-up thing converts me into a Miss, every single time. When it lights up I have to skulk off down the corridor conscious of all those pitying glances at my back.

Poor old soul, never had a man. Sent back unopened, etc.

Since there is no lighty-up thing today I need to keep my eye on the corridor ahead, since the doctor – or in my case nurse-practitioner, whatever that is – will have to come out in person and shout for me. I have an unobstructed view ahead until…

‘Delilah. Isn’t she sweet? Only born a couple of weeks ago.’

Blocking my view, suddenly, are a mother and daughter, possibly the largest and most look-alike mother and daughter combo I have ever seen. My God, they are so fat. They are also both wearing at least half a ton of make-up. How long did it take them to plaster that lot on? At least an hour each. It must be social media. Everyone feels they’ve got to look like a Kardashian before they leave the house.

Delilah is a po-faced moppet in a shawl and pink cap thing. She is overburdened with ‘product’, as I think they now call it. So many pink garments. Earrings. Frills. On the floor is a two-tone beige carrier thing, with handle. Looks like the Rolls Royce of carrier-things. Baby Delilah and those two gigantic mumsy bottoms are inches from my nose. Like Mr Bean I try to crane my neck around them slowly, so slowly that I won’t be perceived as critically craning. My nurse-practitioner is running fourteen minutes late. In any case Delilah, her besotted attendants and expensive equipment-mountain get called in before me.

I am glad I got the nurse. Many sad years of experience have taught me that all medical practitioners are going to end up faintly despising me. I just can’t communicate in those staccato, scientific sentences medical and normal people use. I have to start way back in the story and sort of creep up to it. Then suddenly veer away from it at the last moment, then finish it, in a breathless rush. When they start trying to logicalize and coherentize me it’s fatal. Either I gabble faster still or turn into Eeyore and stare at the wall, not listening.

But women doctors despise me for fewer things. Both men and women medical-types get impatient with me for being odd, incoherent, long-winded, unnaturally anxious, gabbling and therefore probably hypochondriac. But men doctors also despise me for being female – therefore certainly neurotic- and past reproductive age, therefore incipiently senile. Not worth glancing up from the computer.

I try to explain to her the excruciating pain in my hip, which I am convinced, having looked it all up on the internet, is either Arthritis or some deadly form of You Know What.

Well, it’s not You Know What, she says. Otherwise it would go on hurting even when you were lying down, now wouldn’t it?

Maybe Arthritis? I venture. More likely Sciatica, she says. Hmm – Sciatica doesn’t match the internet I think – but of course, do not say. Doesn’t much matter either way, she says. Treatment’s the same. Painkillers. Patience.

I have to hang on to the receptionist’s desk for a few seconds on the way out; since I am once more vertical the waves of agony are washing over me.

I have to pause on one of the chairs in the waiting room until it subsides again. No sign of Delilah and her entourage.

I have to sit down on one of the squashy chairs outside the pharmacy before I can go in and queue for a packet of Ibuprofen. In the pharmacy, while some woman takes her time deciding between this type of sticky plasters or that – I attempt to stand upright rather than cringing forward or quietly screaming. I wonder if I look pale and drawn, like the heroine of a Victorian novel. Suspect I look irritable and yellow.

The car-park was full to bursting when I arrived, in fact cars were blocking in other cars and littering the muddy grass verges all the way up the drive. My little car ended up more or less abandoned at the last minute in a tiny residential street opposite the hospital. I had to limp uphill for a muddy quarter of a mile or so to keep my appointment.

When I come out I collapse at the bus stop for a while, thinking the bus might come along in a minute or two and might give me a lift down to the end of the drive, though it would mean explaining the whole thing in front of a busload of earwigging strangers.

No bus arrives. Eventually I heave myself up and hobble off down the driveway. I have never been quite so pleased to unlock the driver’s side door and tumble in behind the wheel. Then the bus arrives.

Painkillers. Patience.

Cakes and Wine

It was after the war had ended. A time of black cars with mechanical indicators like tiny orange wings that popped out, or sometimes failed to, at the turn of a corner; a time of belisha-beacons and zebra crossings and war memorials with the names of my great uncles inscribed on them. And a time for visiting the graveyard.

I went there often with Nan, not only to visit the slaughtered uncles but to have a word with Sarah, her long-lost mother. Up against the church wall there was a little shed. It contained little trowels and forks, and a collection of vases and jam-jars in case you were in need. Next to it was a standpipe, ending in a tap, for watering.

One afternoon, we were surprised at the tap by the vicar. His name was the Reverend Silas something and he had a very large pointy nose. A black gown flapped out behind him like wings, which somehow went with the nose. He came out of nowhere and swept by the pair of us as if we were invisible. I flattened myself against the flint wall. Nan all but curtsied.

They say that a very few individuals are obnoxious to bees. It might be their bodily odour, an alcohol taint on their breath, their leather or wool clothing, their clumsiness, the loudness of their approach, their fear, their aggression, their anger. Whatever it is, the bees smell it and take umbridge. Looking back it seems not at all surprising that the Reverend Silas should have been one of these.

All of my stories came from Nan, and in due course she told me the story of Reverend Silas and the bees.

Well, as you know my dear, when a beekeeper dies it is most important to invite the bees to his funeral. I didn’t know, but I loved that she thus connected me to the rural past I longed for but hadn’t had. There should be cakes and wine.

For the bees? Do they eat and drink them?

It’s the gesture that counts, my dear. They require our respect.

How do they know when their beekeeper has died?

Someone will go and tell them.

Do they speak English?

They speak another language.

But then – how? I was at the stage of asking too many questions.

Anyway, old Silas – she wasn’t scared to call him that now he was no longer with us – was asked by the daughter to invite the bees to the funeral, at the same time as he made the announcement. She even gave him the words he ought to say. It made him hopping mad – as if people didn’t laugh at him enough already, what with his nose. And he happened to have been stung by bees a lot of times in the past. He was one of those ones – you know.

I didn’t, but I wasn’t going to interrupt again.

So the bees were not invited. The daughter went up to the hives and tried to explain. She told them how her father loved them, and it was just the vicar being the vicar, like. Begged them not to take offence.

But they did?

Well, it’s a bit of a coincidence otherwise.

So they had the funeral and his nearest and dearest turned up along with half the village, all in their Sunday Best. So many hats – like a flower-patch it was. That in itself was a worry.

You were there?

Of course I was. As I said, half the village –

All seemed to go well, in spite of the nervous glances. There was a few bees inside the church, like – perched on ledges, crawling about in the corners – but not more than you might expect on a summer’s day; got in through the holes in the stained-glass, probably. During the war, of course –

Nan, what happened to the vicar?

Well as I say there was a bit of buzzing. Not angry-sounding, like; just talking amongst theirselves, as you might say. The church service finished and out we all traipsed into the graveyard, following the coffin. The grave was already dug and the gravedigger was leaning on his spade, ready.

They lowered it in, all solemn, and the vicar started on with his usual stuff, Dust to Dust, Ashes to Ashes, droning through that pointy nose, and then the bees came, like, trillions of them. A lot, anyway, in a swarm.

Everybody scattered, hats and all. Gravedigger leapt for the hedge. Only the Reverend Silas didn’t move. Maybe he was petrified with fear, or too proud to. He stood his ground, and the bees settled on every single part of him. He was a swarm in himself, my dear. They stung him and stung him and stung him. Swelled up like a balloon, he did.

Did he pop?

No, he didn’t exactly pop, he just fell down dead. And serves him jolly well right, my dear; you must always invite the bees.

Boggarts In My Back Garden

Ow, I have just been landed on by the three-legged cat, and when you have been landed on by a three-legged cat, you know it. He does like to push the keyboard back in, on its slidey-shelf, so I end up with access to the bottom two rows only.

I thought I would let you know about the writing. I have been very good, surprisingly, producing a rough version of one of my little flash fictions every day. Today I started on part II of my plan, which was to also second-edit one. It’s a system, you see. I have a stack of plastic trays and the printed out stories progress down the trays until they settle, sedimentishly, in REJ – rejected. Of course, if any were to stick at ACC, the tray above REJ, I would be extremely pleased.

I am planning to publish more stories on the blog, but have to start being disciplined about it. The aim of writing them was to try to get them published in internet flash fiction magazines, maybe even earn a cent or two. Research suggests it would only be a cent or two, too.

But when I first attempted to publish an e-book of – longer, older – short stories on Kindle I had problems. Amazon’s automated-bot-crawling-thing became convinced that I had filched my short stories from some other writer. They refused to publish the book and started emailing me, rather scarily, like I was a criminal.

I had to do quite a bit of panic-stricken emailing back before they/it accepted that ‘I’ was in fact ‘Me’ – ie the Elsewhere their had software had detected my stories in was Here. I’ve long since deleted that e-book anyway – approximately three and a half people bought it – but all the stories it contained are here. See dedicated Page at top of blog/menu for how to find them.

Anyway, my plan is to put up a new very-short-story every two weeks. That way I’ll still have the pleasure of sharing stories with you and getting your feedback. If I can continue to write one story a day there should be plenty to spare.

What else? That’s the trouble, nothing non-fictional ever seems to happen to me anymore. That’s the trouble with getting old, at least without money. The high spot – last night I had to pick up my down-the-road friend from the hairdressers in town. She likes to go to the training college, because it’s cheaper, but they are very, very slow – take aeons to complete a single hairdo to the satisfaction of their supervisors. Plus they only open on Wednesdays afternoons and evenings, finishing after the last bus has gone. So I have to wait for a text, jump in the car and drive for 25 minutes, at night, with all those headlights coming towards me. When I would normally be watching some rubbish film on Prime, or dozing.

I never did much like going out at night, especially in winter. I know it’s the same things and places exactly, only with less sunlight, but it doesn’t feel like that. The world seems altogether a different place when it’s dark. Things may be lurking in my garden when I come back. I am afraid to turn away from them to put my key in the lock, and so I fumble. Yes, readers, there are boggarts on my back lawn and they are creeping

I’d better be careful about that or I might end up like Mum. She was absolutely sure there were people, out there behind her drawn curtains, standing in the dark, invisible but watching. How terrifying a genuine psychosis must be. Note to self: remain sane.

Another elderly acquaintance phoned this morning after a long gap. She always looks kind of, well, you know, at death’s door. I hadn’t seen her over Christmas as expected, and for a horrible-creepy-man related reason I wasn’t able to phone her at home to check she was all right. The longer the silence went on the more dead I feared she must be. However, she phoned this morning and she’s not. Not that I actually asked her if she was. She isn’t too well, though.

And tomorrow – tomorrow I think it is lunch with above nocturnally-coiffed down-the-road friend, in the subterranean canteen of the local hospital. It’s a bit like eating in a fish tank. Unfortunately since I have gone gluten-free I am confined to cheese-baked-potato with whatever vegetables they happen to have. Nothing much else is safe. I now have to have cheese-baked-potatoes everywhere I go, whilst others are consuming heaped, delicious steaming great platefuls of pie, chips, pasta and so forth. I will soon begin to look like a baked potato.

To make it even more exciting, we might have to take a ticket and wait for several hours so that she can get her blood test. Note to self: take a book.

Pix

She had been sitting all alone in the window seat of this Lake District hostelry for what felt like an hour, though a quick glance at the screen of ‘her’ mobile phone showed it to be ten minutes. Alone, apart from the silent TV crew and their cameras. It was they who had brought her here in the second-to-last of a convoy of shiny people-carriers.

They wouldn’t even let her keep her handbag. It was in one of the people-carriers. She had never lost touch with her handbag before and felt naked and afraid without it. She had this prop, this mobile phone with her only because it was ‘salient’. Salient! She wanted her bag. What if it got stolen?

She had been ushered in here, on film of course, by the Host, Anchor, Chief Lady Bullshitter or however they might be describing her today. She was to be filmed waiting, preferably in extreme anxiety, for the Person she had been waiting for all her life, and who was about to walk through the door.

Person seemed to be taking their time, although they did like to build the suspense. The crew were getting restless. She could have taken a bite out of their boredom, it was so thick. Boredom with her plain, middle-aged self; with the faux cosiness of this inn – glass shelving, flock wallpaper, horse-brasses – and with the whole concept of engineering a collision between long-lost relatives and seeing what happened.

The worst part was that she was supposed to cry. Howl the place down, they told her, don’t hold back. The viewers will be living it with you, every step of the way. She just didn’t think she was going to be able to cry to order, for the entertainment of the world and his wife. She was accustomed to crying alone, and mostly in silence.

It was like standing on the edge of a cliff, waiting to be shoved off. It was necessary to occupy the time somehow so she began listing words and phrases to describe the Lady Bullshitter: unctuous, expensively-coiffed, super-fit, patronising, vivacious, bubbly, smarmy. Hateful.

No doubt they were filming her hands, twisting and twisting this electronic gadget. If only she’d thought to bring her pink cardigan. That was in a people-carrier too. Possibly not the same one as her handbag. She had been scattered to the winds, she felt. Forcibly redistributed. They’d placed her in this draughty window-seat so that she would be framed – and improved – by the wonderful Lake District scenery. Her upper arms had goose-flesh.

The phone was salient because it contained something the TV people referred to as a gallery or ‘pix’, which meant a collection of electronic photographs.  She hated the sound of pix. It was not the sort of word she would have said. When your Person arrives, they said, you will be able to show them pix of your extended family that they have never seen. Tearful, shared reminiscences. Lovely!

She’d never been interested in taking photos, even when it was proper cameras not telephones. If a picture isn’t vivid enough to stick in your head of its own accord, she thought, what’s the point of sticking it in an album? There had been nothing much to take photos of anyway. She’d lived a dull life and stayed single. No husband, children, dog, cat, budgie – rarely a friend, even.

Their researcher had been aghast when she told him this. But you must have some pix, darling. They’re part of our script.

There’s a script?

Well, story-boarding. Can’t have just any old thing happening, now can we? And we haven’t done a reminiscing-over-pix segment this series so it has to be you and your Person. Lighten up a little, darling. You’re the star of the show.

They had emailed-blitzed all her distant relatives asking for family snaps and ‘bio’. Once the pix arrived they had transferred them to the mobile phone which was, for the purposes of filming, her mobile phone. She had never once met any of them. The TV people had rehearsed and rehearsed her until she knew the bio behind those pix off by heart: who this grainy, black-and-white man was to her; whose pudgy, pink-faced baby this was; who this infant with the plastic trike and the chocolate-smudged face belonged to. She loathed them all on sight, the bastards.

The crew hadn’t met Person in the actual flesh. The plan was to whisk them from the airport up the motorway, in one final people-carrier, last minute. The travel budget for this series was blown, apparently, so it all had to be done via Skype, whatever that was. Where exactly were they flying in from? She got the impression it was a long way away – New Zealand, maybe, or Canada? How did Person get there? And why hadn’t they stuck around to do what they were supposed to do instead of skedaddling off abroad?

The crew lifted their cameras from her restless hands, retraining them on the door. It had glass panels and they could evidently see someone lurking behind it. Person! The door creaked as they pushed their way through. The phone dropped to the table with a clatter, creating a minor problem for the sound recordist. So this was it. Ah well, it would soon be over. Then she’d retrieve her handbag and go home. They could both go home.

A thin little man walked into the room, and stopped. Turning his head from side to side, he still couldn’t seem to locate her. Then she saw the white cane. So much for story-boarding. Hah!

Dad?

The man gasped and reached out in the direction of her voice. She hurried towards him and straight into his arms. Holding on tight and burying her face in his shoulder, she denied the whole world the entertainment of her tears.

Night Bus

After eleven I get on the night bus. I know all the routes by heart and which particular one doesn’t matter, only being in the dry. Often there’ll be a café at the end of the line, one of those workmen’s ones that open their doors at dawn. You might get a free tea. Egg and chips on the house if you’re lucky. But not always. Not by any means always.

It’s hard on the legs when you can’t lie down at night. Does your circulation in. Been carted off to hospital twice. Sally Army – they do that sort of stuff. I find a seat by a window, rest my head, close my eyes and sometimes drop off to sleep. Not always.

Sometimes I have dreams, but those special dreams you get when you’re neither asleep nor awake. Once I thought I was teaching in some posh private school. Up in front of the class, writing my stuff on the board with my back to the kids. But when I turned around the room was empty. And when I turned back what I had written was all, like, scribble. And why should that surprise me? All I could ever write was my name. What was I doing up there with my piece of chalk and my academic gown, me with the greasy dreadlocks and string-tied mac?

Nobody sits next to me, ever. I mean, why would they? It’s a mixed bunch: young and drunk after parties; shabby pensioners pretending they’re not just trying to save on the gas fire. You get those in libraries, too. Tonight there’s only me and the driver. He’s got his head in one of those free newspapers as I sneak past, tiptoeing to somewhere near the back. He often manages not to see me that way. ‘Course, if I was to start being disorderly he’d turf me off. Ditched in some East End thoroughfare, some hopped-up kid coming out of an alleyway, blade glinting in the streetlight. But I’m not disorderly. Always the quiet sort.

You don’t often get an angel in full regalia, but that’s what gets on next. I wonder if he’ll catch my eye and nod, but he doesn’t. Well, why would he? The lighting down this stretch isn’t too good, one streetlamp on, the next one off. Council economies. Driver slows us down, going gingerly. I am wide awake by now and watching as shadowy terraces slide by, broken factories, bits of waste ground. The angel has his nose in a big book, leather-bound with gold lettering, like they had in the olden days. He seems very taken with it.

On we trundle. Where might an angel be off to on a night bus, I wonder. Resting his wings for a bit maybe, like me. Next minute he snaps to attention. It’s as if he can see something or hear something that I can’t. He plucks a stray feather from one of his wings and bookmarks his book with it, lays the book down on the seat. He stands up and raises his arms. There’s a kind of swish, a roaring, kind of stars, kind of butterflies. I don’t know. I hang onto the rail in front as the bus shudders to a stop.

Whatthe…? This from the driver. It’s just bleedin’ stopped. The bus just bleedin’…

The angel and his book have disappeared. Well, why wouldn’t they? I get up and stumble down to the front where the driver is opening a metal compartment and groping around for a torch. We go outside together and shine it, and there is this monster hole in the road. We can neither of us see to the bottom of the hole, it’s just too deep and black. Nearer the surface, tangled cables, water pouring out of a severed drainage pipe. That hole would have swallowed this bus. Probably several buses.

Sink’ole, says the driver, that’s what it is. All that rain we been getting. Bloody bus did an emergency stop, all on its own. I never saw that ‘ole, mate, and I swear I never touched the brakes.

Nah, I say. It was the angel.

You saw one?

I nod. Sitting across the aisle from me, it was – wings, feathers, the works.

Bleedin’ell, mate! And we look back down the hole.

Things didn’t change much after that. Nobody came and put me into sheltered accommodation. I wasn’t learned to read or offered a job. I didn’t get clothed or washed or my hair cut short or converted to Jesus. I went on catching the night bus month after month, year after year, and sometimes there was teabag-tea or egg and chips at the end café.

Three things stayed with me, though. The driver let me on without a ticket, and when we were staring down that bus-sized hole he called me mate, spoke to me like a human, not a filthy tramp. And an angel put down his book to save our lives.

But I want to be a POET!!!

Nobody trained my parents. I mean, parents are supposed to provide Guidance, right? But nobody seems to have told my parents that. In any case, we were working class and so weren’t actually going to have careers, right? People like Us had jobs, if we were lucky. And we hung on to our precious jobs, because They might not give us other jobs, if we were to lose them. People like Us accepted we’d have to barter most of our short little lives for money.

I remember only one conversation with my parents about careers. It was when we had to choose our O Level subjects. The school sent a form, with tick-boxes. At some point during this conversation – heated and tearful, like all our conversations – one of them asked Well what do you want to do with your life? And I remember wailing

But I want to be a POET!!!”

And them making that suppressed snorting noise that parents make, and telling me no one ever made any money out of being a POET and I should pick something sensible like being a TYPIST!!!

But really, I was right. What I wanted to be was what I actually was. I WAS a poet. But really, they were right. Nobody ever made any money out of it.

Shortly thereafter I taught myself to touch-type on two different mechanical typewriters – the sort that have ribbons that are one half black and one half red, for some reason and that you never really do learn to change when they run out. I was fast and accurate on the letter keys, slower and less accurate on the numbers (I abhorred numbers) and eventually I got myself a job, in fact a series of jobs, being a typist.

I continued to scribble poems in my spare time. I was a good poet, if I says so myself, as shouldn’t. And of course I had visions of my gem-like offerings twinkling from the pages of the Sunday Supplement Magazines. In my head, I was lined up for an interview with someone like Melvyn Bragg on some sort of TV Book Programme. There I was, hair swept up in some much longer and slightly birds-nesty hairdo, eccentric-yet-stylish in fringed shawls and Laura Ashley prints, lounging in some black leather armchair by a roaring fire, being effortlessly intelligent and witty for all the world to see. I was revered, my genius rewarded.

In the meantime, I carried on typing, really fast, and my hands grew gnarly and thin from all that hammering of the keys. People tended to ask me if I played the piano, because I definitely had piano-player’s hands. Long, long fingers, flexible, prehensile, splayed at the ends. Nails cut – or bitten – short. I carried on typing year after year. My hands began to hurt, suddenly, when I went to open a door or reached out for something. That damage never went away.

So – the sad story of a poet manqué.

I am no longer good at poems. My muse slunk off into the desert early on, as the muses of poets have a tendency to do, burnt out or bone idle. However, in the last few weeks has occurred to me that what I am still good at is Short. I can write Short Stuff. Anything up to a thousand words, it just sort of flows, occasionally veritably cascades out of me. Anything over a thousand words and things rapidly go wrong. I’m like one of those little clockwork puppies. Wind me up and I buzz around busily and turn the occasional somersault, all furry and appealing. Then the clockwork stops and there’s me stranded, mid table-top.

With an effort I cranked up my imagination again – clouds of dust from the ears – and started jotting down flash fiction ideas in notebooks. At first it was one idea a day: now I can’t stop them. Soaking in the bath, in the middle of washing up, or half way through a phone conversation or a really good film and – blast it, another four or five ideas. So many pesky ideas I couldn’t actually get started on writing them, till today. Today I have written one, and it didn’t take me any longer than a blog post.

But then, it isn’t any longer than a blog post. So – Yay!

Disingenuous What?

Difficult to find an interesting picture of a carpet, so it’s a mat.

I just wondered if anyone would know what a plopcarpet actually is? I’ve had the word going round and round in my head ever since that actor – the less-funny-than-James-Cordon one from Gavin and Stacey – tweeted it at BBC political news editor Laura Kuenssberg in the middle of General Election night. It was meant to be an insult:

Resign, you disingenuous plopcarpet. 

It’s given me the worst kind of earworm – the one word kind.

I haven’t bothered to read the back story too closely, because frankly it’s not as memorable as the insult itself, but I have a feeling poor Laura – my favourite reporter, as it happens – had foolishly mentioned that Labour’s Red Wall appeared to be crumbling. Now, it was crumbling, it did crumble, and you would think it was simply her job as a political analyst to make at least a passing mention of crumbling, but less-funny-than-James-Cordon actor person took offence.

To be fair, he did (eventually) delete the tweet – or string of tweets – and apologise to poor dear Laura, who graciously accepted his apology with more humour than I would have been able to muster at the end of a long, exhausting week of trailing round after politicians.

I googled plopcarpet, assuming it was one of these ultra-trendy snowflake, gangsta, hipster or woke-type words. It was obvious what it sounded like it would have to mean, but if people were going round regularly calling each other plopcarpets, why hadn’t I noticed? Get to the back of the queue, you queue-jumping plopcarpet, you!  Or perhaps they were. Perhaps only an ancient boomer would be unaware of all this electronic plopcarpetry.

But Google had no suggestions either, which means, probably, that the less-funny-than-James-Cordon actor made plopcarpet up on the spur of the moment, and thought it just the right epithet (epithet?) to tweet at a lady news presenter.

And assuming he made it up, what made him imagine that disingenuous was the adjective to qualify it?

However, I must thank the less-funny-than-James-Cordon actor because he has given me an idea for a flash-fiction story. (I am collecting them at the moment, in an exercise book.) It is story in which a person thinks up a ludicrous insult, only to have that predictive texting gremlin helpfully correct it to something horrifyingly unpleasant. And the consequences thereof.

Just to round off this tiny post, here is a selection of famous, and slightly wittier, insults from pre-Twitter times:

She ran the whole gamut of emotions, from A to B. (Dorothy Parker)

All morons hate it when you call them a moron. (J D Salinger)

My dear, you are ugly, but tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be ugly. (Winston Churchill)

I like your opera. I think I will set it to music. (Ludwig van Beethoven)

His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork. (Mae West)

She speaks five languages and can’t act in any of them. (Sir John Gielgud)

He is simply a hole in the air. (George Orwell)

Stranger In A Strange Land

It takes me by surprise, every time. I can be driving up the hill towards my house – the house – or staring out of my back window. I can be crossing the unmade, pot-holey road between my neighbour’s house and my own, invited – as I was yesterday – for a coffee. Even after seven – nearly eight – years in this village-at-the-end-of-the-world, I can get this feeling of unfamiliarity. I am not really here, something inside my head is saying. Any moment now I will find myself, as if by magic, in the place I actually inhabit, living the life I am actually living.

I am not here, the voice says. I am actually somewhere else, living a completely different life. I do not look like this. My name is familiar – and yet different – I am well, I am happy, I am where I should have been for the last seven – nearly eight – years and

I have never been here.

This, here, is an illusion.

What’s that called, psychologically-speaking. Alienation? Anomie? Ontological Insecurity? And what might be its cause. Something dire, I’ll be bound.

I typed it into Google and got Mumsnet, and Mumsnet, predictably, completely misunderstood the nature of my query. Back and forth these Mumsies kept assuming I meant “not being satisfied with what I’ve got” and quoting endlessly at one another some old body by the name of Joseph Campbell:

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to live the life we have waiting for us.”

But that wasn’t what I meant, smug Mumsies! It’s some sort of existential angst, not a vague conviction that I landed on earth with the intention of being a millionaire/ess. I mean, I know all about lemons and lemonade. I have made so much lemonade out of my manky old lemons, honestly.

It’s more a feeling that any minute now I am going to wake up. Except I don’t. I am a stranger in a strange land.

Which got me wondering where I heard that phrase, and I remembered reading a very good sci-fi novel with that title, by Robert A Heinlen. 1961, he wrote it. And having remembered it, I’ll have to read it again, forthwith. Or rather she will – the version of me that’s inexplicably here, as well as being wherever else she is.

Now I discover that Robert A Heinlen was quoting someone else – The Bible. It’s in Exodus 2:22 and it’s about Moses and his wife Zipporah – or Tziporah – which means “bird”.

And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for, he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.

And then, of course, I had to look up Gershom, for why should being called Gershom have anything to do with the case? And I find that in Biblical Hebrew, Gershom means Stranger There or Stranger Is His Name or Exile, Expelled.

So now you know.

And I know.

But who, exactly – am I?

Strange Days

Well, I fell asleep on the sofa. Then I woke up and the radio was playing The Boxer, over and over again, with different people saying what it had meant to them. Apparently The Boxer was Leonard Nimoy’s favourite song and when he was on his deathbed a grandson found it on his mobile phone and played it to him. This made me sad. Leonard Nimoy – or rather Mr Spock – was my favourite.

Then I tidied up and came to bed. Then I realised I couldn’t sleep so I got up again and started writing. Why is it easier to fall asleep on a cold winter’s night such as this in the corner of an uncomfortable faux-leather sofa than in a nice, soft bed with a big, thick duvet?

Nowadays I divide my nights between the two. That seems to work well enough. Two o’clock in the morning may find me back on the sofa, drinking a cup of tea in the dark with the World Service burbling away, low volume. So as not to wake the neighbours up, who plague whole days with their noise.

I have lost my Neighbours’ Names list. You’d think I’d have them off by heart after seven years, wouldn’t you? Yes, it had all their names on, plus their house numbers, plus the names of all their pet dogs and cats so that I could include all of them on the Christmas cards. I have forgotten the names of Next Door, who make all the noise, maybe because I dislike them. So I addressed their envelope “To All @…. ”

Strange days. My sister-in-law finally managed to catch me on the landline. I’ve managed to dodge her for – oh, probably several years. At the end of an hour’s conversation – mostly hers – my God, she can rabbit – she asked me if I knew that Ex had finally married My Replacement, because he was advised to by his financial advisor.

“No,” I said. I could hear myself sounding calm, sensible and quite un-hurt. “When was this?”

“Back in the summer. None of us got invited, they just sent us a slice of manky old cake.”

I hadn’t even got the slice of manky old cake. He hadn’t even rung me. He’d probably never have rung me.

“Oh my God,” she said, “I’m so sorry. I thought you’d know. You’re not upset are you? I mean, I know he’s my brother but, you know, I think we can agree you had a lucky escape.”

“Not upset,” I lied, “but thank you for telling me.”

“You’ll be all right won’t you? I feel bad now.”

“Yes, of course I’ll be all right. It might take me a day or two to process it.”

Process it! I sound like a psychotherapist. It rakes up all the Dad stuff. All the Ex stuff, since Ex, I long ago realised, was but a continuation of the conflict with Dad. All that love, all that violence; all that ancient grief; all that unresolved everything. It puts the full-stop to a forty-six year-long sentence; it gives away my title to someone else; it wipes me out, it negates me; it puts me beyond hope of making my peace with Dad. I can’t actually conjure up my own face inside my head any more. Process it!

(But of course, I will.)mirror6

Well, tomorrow will be another strange day. High winds forecast, and a General Election. I postal-voted weeks ago, and thank goodness I did because windy weather and me don’t mix. I know they worry about voters not turning out in bad weather, which is why Elections are traditionally held in the summer (and almost always on a Thursday, for some reason). I think people will turn out if they feel strongly enough – and I think they do, this time. The December wind will blow them out of their warm, shabby little houses and down the hill to the village hall. What happens after that is anybody’s guess. Mayhem, maybe.

Another sleepless night tomorrow. It will definitely be the uncomfortable sofa-corner then, huddled in a blanket, covered in cats. As I’ve got rid of the TV I shall be tuning to Radio 4. Coverage starts at a quarter to ten, fifteen minutes before the polling stations close. And then the counting starts. This is far more exciting to me than Christmas, but then I’m a politics dweeb.

“Wait a minute, Mr Postman…”

Until sometime around the early ’80s I was very Little Britain, very provincial – I just assumed that everybody had a letterbox in their front door, plus a postman to trudge round every morning pushing letters through it. It wasn’t until my sister emigrated to Canada and started to tell these tales

Well, it seems that even in the middle of winter, when temperatures are 40 degrees below or whatever, if she wants her mail she has to don full arctic gear and big, slip-proof boots and trudge down the newly snow-ploughed driveway in order to spray something on her mailbox to melt the overnight ice that has welded it shut. She also needs a chisel or screwdriver in case the spray doesn’t work, and then a key

And it wasn’t until sometime in the 90s, when I went to work for a university college providing postgraduate distance-learning courses to students all over the globe, that I realised there could be such a thing as a dwelling that does not have a well-defined address. So we could be mailing giant parcels of course materials to “Beyond the village, turn left at the lake, third hut.” I used to wonder how they plugged their computers in, because surely a hut whose location could only be vaguely described would not have electricity. Students also had trouble with beads of sweat dropping onto the page, creeping damp, and ants. Paper-chomping ants.

You would think I would be grateful for my nice, civilised British letter-box and my nice, predictable British postman – or in fact, lady – but I have come to mostly dread what might tumble through it. I cannot properly concentrate until the witching hour – mid-day or thereabouts – has passed and I know I am safe from yet another bill or – OMG, the Bank Statement. That always arrives on the 13th. I spend the whole month dreading the 13th. I count down to the 13th. In various ways I aim to distract myself from the fact that the 13th is drawing ever closer.

Aside from bills there is the monthly Parish Council Newsletter to cast a pall. This is a single sheet of A4 paper folded into three. This month it is yellow. Even the folding-into-three depresses me. It reminds me of when I was a legal secretary and had to fold my boss’s signed post and put it in the envelope, with the address showing exactly in the centre of the glassine window. I was very good at this.

In fact I still am. I only have to look at an A4 sheet of paper and I can fold it exactly into three, with the edges exactly touching. I can even accomplish this feat with my eyes shut. Trouble is, it reminds me that a) I was no good at any other part of that job and b) it was the only thing I ever managed to do that impressed my mother. It seemed to be my life’s work to impress my parents in some way but all I ever manged was the paper-folding thing. And then only my mother.

The Parish Council Newsletter enrages me because it lectures me, in badly-written, ungrammatical prose, on things I have not done wrong:

Dog Fouling: Please be aware it is an instant fine for not picking up after your dogs. It is also unhygienic and nasty!” I don’t have a dog.

Parking: Complaints have been received,  (and why the comma?) that there is an issue with people parking in places that can be considered dangerous. It has also been reported that there has been parking on paths and green areas, you can be fined up to £500 for this offence.” But not me, guv. And where? What green areas? What paths? And complaints by whom? At least make it interesting.

Speeding Cars: Please note that the exit road from the village is a 30mph road, and many concerns have been received especially from parents walking children to and from school.” How is anything managing to drive at over 20mph, say, when the road is beset with giant speed-bumps so large even the bus has to slow right down to negotiate them? Is there a manic 40mph cyclist about?

Or else it tells me things I don’t care about even though I feel I probably ought to:

The Annual Seniors Christmas Lunch in the Village Hall. Forms available from the Post Office.”  Just went gluten-free. And went last year. That was an experience.

Christmas Lights Competition –  6 prizes of £25 each.” Why not use up the earth’s dwindling resources and pollute the starlit night sky with tawdry flashing lights? Why not spend £100 on lights and electricity in order to win £25?

Park Renovations – The Village park is in need of a new paint job, this has been sourced and the work should start shortly.” I’m confused. Are they painting the grass a more acceptable shade of green?

The stupid yellow creature just makes me feel slightly at odds with the rest of the human race – defective, somehow.

Into the Recycling you shall go, ee-aye ee-aye ee-aye oh
And if I catch you bending…

mother brown 2

Knees up, Mother Brown…

But enough of that, now.

Objets Perdus

Now, this is a bit of a strange one, and I have been putting off writing about it for days. Something to do with shame, I think – shame and sorrow. But what’s the best way for a writer to call up and exorcise her ghosts?

Write about them.

When I was a child I had a (very) few treasured objects, and one by one I lost them or gave them away. Something seems to compel me to ‘lose’ the things that mean the most to me – and not just objects, people. One by one, I have mislaid them all.

Setting aside the people, because nothing at all can be done about them. Those objects…

I had a copy of Aesop’s Fables. It was a beautiful book – they are ferociously expensive to buy second-hand now. You know, I thought, until this very moment, that I had given it away. I had been wracking my brains to think how I gave it away. Why would I have done that with my beloved Aesop? I read that book over and over. The fables, and the beautiful but slightly creepy illustrations, those glossy, full-page watercolours, seeped into my childhood consciousness.

But I gave it away. Or did I? I just turned sideways and there it was, sitting in the bookcase beside me. It has lost it’s cover, the boards have faded from scarlet to orange, but – still here. Inside I have written my full maiden name, in ink, in weird little-girl writing. Two pages on and an inscription reads With love to Rosie, on her 7th Birthday. From Grandma & Grandpa. Well, Rosie or, you know, whatever.

But other objects I really did lose. I once had a stone, with the impression of a prehistoric sea creature upon it, like a tiny octopus. I found it half-buried in the path between the allotments. It was as if it had been waiting for just me, that magical fossil, for billions and billions of years. If only I had kept it, if only I had not somehow lost it – what luck it might have brought me.

And I gave away my Odhams Encyclopaedia for children. I remember the struggle I had at the time. It was when my niece was born and I foolishly had this idea that the child should “inherit” something of value from her auntie. And I have regretted the loss of that book ever since.

And then there was my teddy bear. I temporarily forgot about him and instead of taking him with me when I got married I foolishly left him with Mum. In fact he was up in the attic, and I didn’t realise. Mum and my sister are alike in “getting rid”. She accidentally informed me one day, several years later, that she had given my bear to Oxfam. After all, she knew I wouldn’t want it.

I never stopped missing my bear. I mourned for him. Even now – especially now, when I am old – I want my teddy bear back. I realised today that that was what my teddy-bear buying jag had been all about. I now have a cupboard full of disreputable 1950s teddy-bears courtesy of E-bay. None of them are my bear, but I have rescued them. I couldn’t save it but I have saved them.

I know, it doesn’t make sense.

And now I have gone and saved “my” Encyclopedia. And in fact I have saved more than one of them because the other day eBay came up with a second, horribly battered copy for only £2 and I bid the £2 and won. To my surprise. The first one, which arrived a week ago, cost a massive £20 but is in excellent condition. Unlike me, its owner must have held it close, kept it. Presumably there will soon be a stack of second-hand Odhams Encyclopaedias on my coffee table, all ridiculously, pathetically rescued by some ancient woman, just in case one of them might turn out to have been her actual one.

When I was a child the page that fascinated me the most was the one with the anaconda. My mother used to take the mickey, saying that the encyclopaedia would fall open at the snakes page of its own accord. I do hope it was nothing sexual. I mean, I was very young and, lacking any kind of brother (though over-supplied with sisters) did not even suspect the existence of that appendage which, according to Dr Freud, snakes represent.

In my memory the anaconda took up the whole of the page and was vividly coloured, green and gold and glittery. Now I see that it is smaller, and in black and white, but I still like the way the artist has coiled and draped the various snakes around the branches, the way the pictures and the text bleed into one another.

How beautiful that anaconda was to me, and how utterly terrifying. In my mind’s eye I stood before him in the South American jungle, tiny-small in my cotton check school dress and pudding-basin haircut. Anaconda was looking at me out of that glittery, sardonic eye. He was weighing up whether to wrap me in his sinuous, gorgeous coils and crush me to smithereens. Because that is what anacondas do, being the largest of the boa constrictor family.

And I wished he would. And I wished he wouldn’t.

And this is him, my beloved, my childhood version of God: the anaconda, unchanged over the decades and decades since I first caught sight of him.

Why do we lose the things we love?

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For all the tea in China

Two halves of the same cat

Every autumn I start putting out food for the strays again. I always tell myself I won’t, because strays means bonding and bonding means coming indoors and coming indoors means staying for ever and a day. I remind myself that I cannot save every single stray cat in all the world. Nevertheless, that seems to be what I am programmed to do. I have no other purpose.

The first dishes usually go to waste, but on the second day of the putting out of the food, strays appear; sometimes one, occasionally four but most often two of them. And so it is this year. At first I thought there was only one, since all I could see of it was a large, black furry bottom poking out of the dog/cat kennel whilst the head inside busily slurped. But no, it’s two – I heard yowling round the side and caught them nose to nose, whisker to whisker, an all black one and a mostly black one with white bits on her face. A boy and a girl, I think, possibly brother and sister. They will have to organise themselves not to turn up at exactly the same time.

The lawn fails to get the message

The lawn mowing duo turned up on time today, weather-beaten and muscular in their matching green tee-shirts. I haven’t yet decided whether they are married or siblings. Heavy morning rain had ceased only seconds before. They must have a line to whoever or whatever turns the rain on and off. (The cats think this is me.)

The industrial, gas-powered machines were unloaded from the truck, one large green person took the front and one the back and it was done in a tenth of the time it would have taken me. I could just about still do it, but have reached the stage of breathlessness/ agonising boredom where I just don’t want to do it. A monthly visit from The Green People is my only luxury.

They will not be back now till March, when the grass officially starts growing again. The grass has now, since it is November, officially stopped growing. Unfortunately nobody has told the grass. After the Green People left last month it was so made up, so overjoyed to have been mown by professionals, that it put on a spurt of growth. I have a feeling another spurt will follow their November visit. So under a carpet of snow, that bright green grass will be growing and growing…

But then, I’m not the one who will be doing the first cut next spring. Yay!

I have decided I don’t like my lady vet

I used to like the vet, when he was an eastern European chap with an accent you could cut with a knife. I don’t think he was Russian – because would Russian vets be allowed to come over here? – just sounded for all the world like one of those meercats in the TV ads. But he has gone. I went in one day to discover he had gone, for good, to France. He has taken all his cats, and his dogs, so he can’t be coming back. Indeed, why would you come back, here? I wouldn’t come back here if I had a chance to go somewhere else: no, not for all the tea in China.

But the lady we have instead – well, she is a lady, for a start. And she’s not him. She has an accent but not the same accent. She’s large, she has a tattoo and a brusque manner and I can’t bring myself to trust her. She talks to me like some generic, probably senile, Old Person, some tiresome Member of the Public; whereas he – I felt, anyway – actually seemed to be talking to me. I got the feeling he saw me as unpredictable and scarily odd: everybody seems to react to me like that – so be grateful that I am blogging rather than turning up on your street corner or lurking by the swings in the park. But occasionally amusing. And he didn’t make the mistake of thinking I was daft.

Really, it must be genetic. Why is it still easier to trust a man even though, throughout my life at any rate, the men I have known (in any detail) have proven themselves crueller, more devious, more judgmental and less supportive than women? No wonder we remain unemancipated.

But still, I think I’ll bite the bullet and try out (gasp!) another surgery altogether.

I think bread may be causing my IBS

I ate an experimental sandwich at lunch time and yes, the agony has returned. I am writing to distract myself from it. Think I will go and make myself a hot water bottle and distract myself still further by watching a really dreadful Christmas movie and knitting yet another dishcloth.

Slow, Slow (Slow-Slow-Slow)

When I gave up my TV set, angry at the BBC for refusing to fund free licences for the over 75s from next year, I expected to be watching less TV. In fact, no TV. That was before I discovered Amazon Prime.

Now, I have been paying for Amazon Prime for years without understanding exactly what it was. It used to be just getting your parcels the next day, then the price went up – considerably. I was never entirely clear why this should be and several times cancelled my Amazon Prime subscription, only to go slinking back to it as soon as my parcels started taking ages to arrive.

Only recently did I realise that all this time I could have been listening to music and watching movies free, gratis and for nothing. You do have to have the patience hunt for the good free stuff, though. A lot of the free stuff is bad – films so execrably bad you wonder how on earth they got the funding to make them; films with plot holes, logic holes, unsuitable-looking actors and actors who obviously aren’t actors at all but people netted at random from the local pub or garage forecourt.

I watched – forced myself to watch – recently a Christmas Movie so indescribably awful… Well, suffice it to say that the young heroine spent the whole movie strutting about the snow-clad Rocky Mountains (or similar – it’s a bit vague where they are) in a mini-skirt, surrounded by fake snow. The strutting about and the deafening clatter of her monstrous high heels continued throughout the movie. Everyone else was wearing either suits or Christmas jumpers.

At one point there was an inexplicable Soup Kitchen. It just sort of materialised, so that they could cook their Christmas Buns in it when the plumbing failed in their – Christmas Bakery Thingy. And the men in suits – well, the suits were all identical, all a size or two too small – and the men inside them all had lantern jaws and shoulders like Popeye, post spinach. Presumably the local gym had supplied the men, and a cheap-ish men’s outfitters had hired the suits out in bulk.

However, it’s worth the effort of wading through the turkeys to get to the good stuff. Last night I watched a film called He Won’t Get Far On Foot about an alcoholic, wheelchair-bound cartoonist. It was somewhat “gritty” and sad, but also funny. Joachim Phoenix. Heard of him but never seen him before.

And before that a French film: The House By the Sea. There’s something about French films, so very cool and triste and sophisticated. Everybody smoking more than is good for them, and occasionally committing suicide. Plenty of expressive shrugs.

There’s Mr Robot, of course. My absolute favourite and still going on. Every Monday a new episode appears, like magic, on my tablet. The only trouble is it’s so very noir it’s difficult to see what’s going on – I mean, the lighting is clever, and super-creepy, and the hero, Eliot, wears a black hoodie… They do all tend to mumble, which makes them ultra authentic and cool, but mumbling in an urban American accent can be a problem if you’re not American or urban – or cool, or young. Then I discovered subtitles. Yes, you can turn them on and off at will and they stand out so well against the pitch-blackness of all those sinister rooms.

And now, from the same director (Sam Esmail) there is Homecoming with Julia Roberts. Better lit but just as creepy. I don’t normally like Julia Roberts. She strikes me as one of that small bunch of actors who have a personal charisma so great that they will always be watchable, but at the same time are always playing themselves. Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, John Wayne… always themselves. Ultra-strong signal, narrow bandwidth. However, she is good in this. She’s excellent at suffering, I think. Silent suffering.

And I think I have finally discovered a phenomenon known as Slow TV. It’s not exactly a new thing – does anyone remember The Potter’s Wheel intermission? And the (very) lengthy shot of a photograph of a little girl with chalks, at a blackboard? The present-day version is a kind of televised vlog produced by an exhausted, unshaven chap of a certain age who buys a narrow boat and sails it around the waterways of England.

He seems to be on his own and filming everything with a mobile phone, although he is quite good at propping it up and leaving it at an angle so that you can see him tying the boat up prior to stopping for one of his many cups of tea. The first episode takes place almost entirely inside his camper van, where he sits, for days, surrounded by all his worldly goods, waiting for his purchase of his narrow boat to go through. It rains on the windscreen. He wonders if he is doing the right thing. He eats pork pies and pizzas discovered in village petrol stations. He drinks tea. Always that same mug.

And after that it is sailing – up one canal, down another, through a very long tunnel, then through an even longer tunnel. Tunnels are scary. You never know when you are going to meet another narrowboat coming the other way. But the England he passes through, at four miles per hour, is very green, very lush, very damp, very quiet and apparently completely devoid of people. Just – wonderful!

Haunted By Davids

Haunted by Davids

I observed fairly early on that the names of everyday boys and men, and those of the men in the romantic short stories in Nan’s old Woman’s Realms belonged to two different subsets of men’s names. Boys in my class, for instance, tended to be called John, James, Robert, William, Michael, David, Richard, Thomas, Charles or Gary. I remember one Andrew – but he was quite exotic – and one Paul – but of course he was Polish. What we didn’t have were any Dirks, Aidens, Bryces, Calebs, Dantes or Micahs.

I guessed, correctly, that a plain big lumpy girl like me was never going to snare herself a Micah. But I was haunted by Davids, for some reason. Everywhere I went, throughout my life there a David would “happen to be”. For some reason all Davids seemed to like me, whereas no other-named kind of man did.

I didn’t even like Davids, at least not in a marrying way. Davids sounded as if they ought to be round-shouldered and work in shoe shops, bringing out boxes of shoes to shoehorn onto your ungrateful feet; or perhaps behind the desk at the library, pathetically eager to help you locate obscure non-fictions in the card-index system or to point you in the direction of French dictionaries.

And so I married a man with another ordinary-ish man’s name. I didn’t particularly like it, but it was attached to him so I married it. Over the next twenty-two years or so I came to feel that I might have been better off with a David after all. Coincidentally, Devon Aunt chose to name all her rescue cats David. One stray, furry David after another, for thirty years or so.

Apple Peel and Cherry Pips

Halloween used to be a good time to find out the name of your future mate. At Halloween, it was said, a girl might see his face reflected dimly in a mirror – maybe standing behind you. I wonder if clothed or unclothed… Then there was the game with the apple core. You peeled an apple, being sure to keep the peel in a single piece, and tossed the peel over your shoulder, where it would – or might – form the initial of your husband to be.

Alternatively you could line up hazelnuts along a hot grate, giving each hazelnut the name of a prospective husband. Then you would recite:

If you love me, pop and fly; if you hate me, burn and die!

A variation – such of the nuts as cracked would be the fickle suitors.

Or you could place your shoes in the form of a letter ‘T’ (representing Thor’s hammer) and say

Hoping this night my true love to see, I place my shoes in the form of a “T”.

And then there were the cherry stones, which you placed around the rim of your plate as you ate them. My Nan actually taught me this one:

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief.

Nan preserved cherries in the summer from the cherry tree in the garden and we ate them in the winter, from thick glass jars arrayed on shelves around the top of the living room, just underneath the ceiling. But what I couldn’t understand was how one Sunday I was going to marry a Thief and the next a Rich Man, and so ad infinitum, all winter long. And if I didn’t like what appeared I could always eat another cherry.

Apparently there was also Silk, Satin, Muslin, Rags. That was what you would be married in. But Nan didn’t teach me that.

The Green Oil Lamp

I have only ever been to a fortune teller twice in my life. The second one asked me if I was married to a long-distance lorry driver, as she sensed my husband seemed to be absent a lot. I wanted to tell her that you didn’t need a long-distance lorry to seem to be absent a lot. A shed at the bottom of the garden would do just as well.

The first fortune teller had been the vicar’s wife, in a small but elaborate tent, masquerading as Gypsy Rose Something Or Other. I was quite young, and it was at a fête in the grounds of the local “big house”. I remember I had just failed to get the metal ring along yards of wiggly electrified loops, and was looking for something else to do. And thinking back – yes, I was dressed as Florence Nightingale in a longish skirt and a white apron, and clutching a green oil lamp.

I had been in for the fancy dress competition because Mum told me I must, and I hadn’t had any more success with that than the metal ring and the electrified snake. The green oil lamp occupied one entire small hand, and it was greasy and smelled of paraffin. I wanted to put it down somewhere and forget about it but I couldn’t, because Mum had told me I mustn’t.

The vicar’s wife looked at me despairingly from beneath her curtain-ring fringed headscarf. Then she waved her hands about and around her crystal ball. You will have four children and, um, an operation when you are forty, she pronounced, and snatched my penny or tuppence from the hand that wasn’t holding the oil lamp.

I waited for those four children with an odd superstitious confidence, considering I knew it was only the vicar’s wife; and I felt quite aggrieved when not only did the promised four offspring not arrive, but none did. And I do believe I rather dreaded that operation, which also did not happen – or at least not when it was supposed to.

The Bells, the Bells…!

I can’t pretend to have read Victor Hugo’s novel, but I do believe these words were said by Quasimodo, the deaf and deformed bell-ringer of Notre Dame. To check this, I googled who said the bells the bells.

Now, this is only the latest of today’s google searches. Before that I googled sonnerie, of which more (probably) in a subsequent post. Briefly, sonnerie is a musical form based on the sound of bells in a bell tower, or similar. And then I thought, who lived in a bell-tower and slobbered The Bells, the Bells…! Was it not Quasimodo?

Before that it was rotoscoping animation. This was because I found a free film to watch on Amazon Prime (no mean feat, since Amazon Prime contains some of the very worst films ever – that’s why they’re free). The all-knowing reviewers of this particular free film were going on about the technicalities of rotoscoping. What on earth is rotoscoping? I wondered. Turns out it’s a kind of tracing technique used in animation. The one example I can remember having seen is that iconic A-ha video:

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Gosh, that Morten Harket was beautiful. Apparently he’s 60 nowadays. This is not good news.

Anyway, back to the googling. Before that I searched battery operated candle. I was thinking of lighting a solitary candle to celebrate Samhain. The trouble is you are supposed to leave it a-flickering in your window all night. I am averse to leaving anything burning overnight, especially with 19 cats restlessly patrolling the windowsills. Terrible fire risk. Also, the neighbours would probably have thought I’d lost the plot and come over to check on me.

Before that it was how to celebrate samhain alone. I mentioned Samhain in my last post and was suddenly inspired to – well, what exactly was I inspired to do? It’s all gone a bit blurry; after all it was several hours ago –

I believe I decided to replace all Christian festivals, in the privacy of my own home, with the marking of the eight sabbats on the Wheel of the Year:

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I recalled that I was an Old Soul (probably) and therefore (probably) pre-dated Christianity. I needed to return to my roots like the proverbial falling leaf (reading suggestion: Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah).

You see, this is the trouble with being (probably) ADD – on the great, green pond of life you hop from one enticing lily-pad to the next, onward and onward, sideways and back, and then you can’t exactly recall how you got there.

To find the above Wheel of the Year I see I googled pagan festyivals. It found it in spite of the fat-fingered typing.

Before that it was wendy williams meghan markle latest. Now, this really lets me down after all the above semi-intellectual stuff, but Meghan Markle annoys me. She has especially annoyed me recently with all that simpering stuff about being a vulnerable new mom and having been so naïve as to think the British press would be fair to poor little me.

She married a Prince, for Pete’s sake, having previously been an actress in some TV drama that hardly anybody watched. She has him; she’s become a Duchess; she has the super-elegant wardrobe and all that money! She has comfort and security for life. She has that exorbitantly remodelled Frogmore Cottage, vaster and more luxurious than any cottage lived in by any normal British peasant:

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she managed the first of the two requisite babies (the heir and the spare) in spite of being somewhat long-in-the-tooth for such enterprises, and no doubt the second will follow on schedule, and no doubt it will be a girl so that they can designer-dress it.

She and Harry chose to make a spiteful (him) and whingeing (her) documentary about how terribly stressed and put-upon they were during a visit to a continent where many people are suffering unimaginable hardships on a daily basis. Oh, thank you so much for asking how I am. You see (flutter, flutter) people hardly ever ask how I am…. She’s an actress, and she’s acting now, and not even that well.

And before that it was alan rickman death. Sadly, when you get older you tend to be plagued by doubts as to people’s existential status. I had a feeling he was dead, but then I thought, maybe he isn’t – but I’m sure he died – but surely he was too young to have – ? I was wondering whether I could face watching Love, Actually just one more time. Maybe twenty-five was not enough – but then I thought, before I watch it I need to know whether Alan Rickman died or not.

I sometimes wonder how I managed to exist at all, before there was Google. I seem to remember ordering numerous books from the local library. They seemed to have to order them for you, even if there wasn’t a single copy in the entire County system, even if they were terribly expensive and no one else, ever again, would want to take out that book, and you only needed it to check a single fact. You had to fill in an A6 size green card. In triplicate –

Things that go bump in the night

Recently I spent a pleasant hour inserting mildly relevant emoticons into the names of my ‘Contacts’ on my new mobile phone. Well, I lead a very dull life and have to take my fun where I can find it. The friend referred to in this blog as ‘Daisy’ had a daisy and ‘Rose’ had a rose; my friend down the road who in her (misspelt, incomprehensible) texts seem fixated on the ladybird, got a ladybird. My plumber got the umbrella + raindrops, my dentist got the little yellow man in the surgical mask and my doctor got the sickly green face. Ex got the anchor, and I won’t expand on that one.

When it came to the hospital I found myself automatically selecting the skull and crossbones. Half an hour later – superstitious, I suppose – I went back in and changed it to a spider’s web. Once in the hospital, I reminded myself, it is almost impossible to find your way around, and difficult to locate the Exit when you leave.

I suppose we are all a bit anxious about skulls. I remember the point in my childhood, if not the exact age, when I suddenly realised I had a skull inside my head, and that was what was keeping my brains in. It worried me. And then I started looking at Mum and Dad, and Nan and Grandad and everyone. They’ve all got skulls inside their heads! They’ve all got squidgy brains inside them!

It’s just one part of the vertebrate skeleton, but there’s a certain fascination, isn’t there? Why do skulls appear everywhere at Halloween? I guess we like to be frightened, but not too much. Presumably in imagination we superimpose the living face over the dead bone, and we don’t only do this for our contemporaries. Isn’t it fascinating to come face to face with a real Neanderthal, modelled from an ancient skull?

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I was writing about paintings of St Jerome yesterday, and how he is surrounded by his own particular ‘iconography’ – red clothing, book, writing materials, and sometimes eyeglasses. This morning it occurred to me that I hadn’t said anything about the skull, which he always has. Was it the same little whisper of anxiety that made me delete the skull emoticon from my Contacts?

Skulls appear all over art, particularly medieval and renaissance art. In those days, life was, from our perspective, unimaginably short. A man from a landowning family in the Middle Ages had an average lifespan of 31.3 years. This is taking into account an infant mortality of 12% or thereabouts. Even in the Renaissance, say late 16th and early 17th century, the average lifespan was 39.7 years. Not long to win your passage into Heaven, and not long to avoid the terrifying actuality of Hell. So paintings of the time showed the skull, to remind people that they must focus on spiritual matters.

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Sir Thomas Aston at his Wife’s Deathbed

All this is a bit creepy, Halloween or no. However, in paintings of St Jerome the skull has a more nuanced meaning. The skull is the seat of thought and of spiritual perfection. The death of the physical body, symbolised by the skull, enabled one to be reborn at a higher level, where the spirit could rule. In St Jerome’s case – he was known for his translation of the Bible from Greek into Latin, and for his many Commentaries on the books of the Bible, and he is often depicted as a very old man with an angel, or occasionally a dove, whispering in his ear. The skull in paintings of Jerome, therefore, indicates that he is writing down truths from the spiritual world, even as his physical body fails him.

I don’t know whether you like Halloween? I personally don’t, mainly because, in this country anyway, it has become so tawdry and ridiculous. I live on my own and don’t like the prospect of four large teenage boys wearing masks knocking on my door at eight o’clock at night demanding – anything. Trick or Treat seems to me just a disguised form of blackmail, an implied threat. I also think it’s plain stupid, in this day and age, for smaller children to be sent out after dark to knock on strangers’ doors, with no knowledge of who or what might be waiting to open that door to them.

I prefer the pre-Christian festival of Samhain (sow-rin) or All Hallows. In Celtic times, after Harvest, it was customary to mark the arrival of ‘the dark half of the year’. People lit bonfires and wore costumes to frighten away ghosts, for it was believed that on All Hallows Eve, and at this time of year generally, barriers between Earth and the Other World became thin. The Living and the Dead might interact: there would be ghoulies and ghosties about.

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggety beasties
And thing that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us.