Category Archives: WRITING

A WRITER’S SAFARI by A M Smith©


Because of the Pandemic, I have no travel stories to tell, and an uneventful life at home. So here is one of my long stories, about an amateur writer who goes on a family fishing holiday on the Zambezi River. It describes another lifestyle, another country, another time. Remember: this is fiction! Enjoy

There’s small glossary at the end, should you need it.

Zambezi tigerfish

The two Land Rovers forged noisily northwards, bypassing Harare, through Rusape, past ruined tobacco barns, past  rotted polythene growing tunnels; past deserted mud huts, thatch threadbare and holed, past straggly stunted mealies, past ragged children who waved listlessly at the small convoy, past all signs of cultivation or human habitation until finally there was nothing but bush.  Virgin bush on every side, up to the horizon which was framed by the clear blue sky.  Aileen gave a sigh of contentment.  This was what she had worked for,  saved for, dreamed of and slogged for with iron determination.  Just bush, and a glorious ten days of no office, no telephones, no kids.  Just bush, the river and some fishing and finally, the chance to get down to some serious writing.   Perfect!

Up front Uncle Harry drove, completely on automatic pilot,  intent on a PhD level discussion with Neville  on the new Bok team to play Scotland.  Next to Aileen in the back, Aunt Susie sat knitting, also on automatic pilot.

Clive drove the second Landy, with George as navigator, and Phineas and Enoch as passengers.  Uncle Harry believed in camping in comfort with all mod cons, which included hot and cold running camp staff, hence the presence of Phineas and Enoch.  In his scheme of things the perfect fishing trip did not include fire making, water carrying, dish-washing, fish gutting and cleaning, camp site cleaning or the digging of latrines and erecting of shower shelters.   However, Phineas and Enoch also  benefited  from  fishing trips to the river, as they filleted and smoked the fat Zambezi tiger fish  which they  later sold at an enormous  profit in the Bulawayo townships.  Everybody happy.

That evening the party relaxed by the fire after a long hot day’s drive to the river.  The night was warm and utterly dark, frogs creaked on the river banks, the mosquitoes sang busily but this was all part of the bush experience and Aileen loved every bit of it.  A long day’s travel is best followed by an early night and the party thankfully crept into their two-man tents.  Aileen was too tired to even attempt her usual day’s end diary entry.  Tomorrow, she thought sleepily, tomorrow I’ll ………

Phineas arrived at 5 a.m. with mugs of tea. So  getting up very  early to catch the freshness of the river at sunrise was no hardship.  Aileen and Neville set up-river with George and Clive, the rubber-duck making good headway against the strong current.   Clive piloted them to an old favourite fishing spot and they settled down to  enjoying the  coolness of the early morning, competitively  identifying bird-calls, spotting a pod of hippo further upstream on the far bank, casting out their lines, waiting for the tell-tale bob of the float, the tentative tug on the line. 

Aileen planned to use river scenery details  in the novel  she was working on, and scratched around in her backpack for her Writer’s Notebook, greatly irritating the men who knew that Zambezi fish have ultra-sensitive hearing easily disturbed by  the sounds  generated by females flapping around in small boats.  She glared at them, and continued to dig fruitlessly in her backpack.  Damn!  She must have left her vital  notebook back in their tent.  Oh well.  She began to make mental notes about the sounds, colours, smells, sensations and   string together a few handy phrases, when her reverie was interrupted by Clive who angrily hissed that her line had drifted across his and now look what had happened!  Lines  crossed and inextricably tangled!  Lines and peace were finally restored, but since the fish were not in a co-operative mood, breakfast seemed like a good option.

Enoch and Aunt Susie had produced a mammoth breakfast.  Uncle Harry, a man of fixed view and pronounced paunch, held that a substantial breakfast around 9 a.m.  followed by a light snack lunch of beer around mid-day (too hot to eat, anyway, proclaimed Uncle Harry) and then a decent early braai was the only sensible catering scheme for fishing trips. Fortified by breakfast the party applied sunblock and determination in equal quantities and fished until lunch-time, returning from the river with ten  fat tiger fish  and powerful  thirsts. 

Aileen had discovered that her essential Writer’s Notebook was not in the tent, or anywhere else.  Seemingly she had left it behind in Aunt Susie’s spare bedroom. The only other paper in camp was Aunt Susie’s beloved collection of Agatha Christie novels and removal of the spare flysheets at the back of the books was  unthinkable.  This pillage would have been fatal to their battered constitutions.  What to do?  Oddly enough Phineas came to the rescue with  a modest blue Croxley writing pad.  “Madam can use this,” he offered.  Aileen seized it gratefully and hastily jotted down some of the rapidly vanishing phrases from her  morning sunrise on the river.  Better than nothing, she supposed, writing extra small, so as to save precious paper.

Her main writing task on this trip, now that she had some time and head-space at her disposal, was to  plot the frame-work of her novel, get the story-line into shape, and work out where best to insert the main dramatic events that befell her heroine, a young Scottish lass, newly emigrated to the colonies and faced with life in the raw on an African tobacco farm. Lions , migrating herds of game, yes, all the details of old pristine Africa, the challenges of pioneer-style living, and of course, the romance.  Aileen was undecided as to whether the romantic interest would best be served by a pale young DC with a mystery history ( a remittance man?  Aristocratic black sheep?) saved by the love of a good woman; or maybe a better foil for the Scottish lass would be a sunburned but silent white hunter? While pondering these options the snack lunch and the furnace heat of mid-day took their toll, and Aileen slept.

Phineas toiled around at 4.30 with fresh installments of tea, and fishing resumed against the gaudy backdrop of the African sunset over the Zambezi.  The sun died in a glorious burst of crimson, peach and gold while the pale blue sky  turned  suitably to deep mid-night blue.   Sunburned, relaxed and replete the fishing party gazed sleepily into the roaring camp-fire.  Mmmh, thought Aileen, the smell of woodsmoke, the utterly dark sky, night sounds of the bush – oh, the peace! She savoured it.  Peaceful, and tranquil, no worries, no crime, no high-jackings, just the blessed, blessed bush.  She could have sat in her canvas camp chair all night but Neville prised her out and they wandered off to their tent by the light of their torch.  Disturbed by her departure, the large adult puff-adder under her camp-chair  gathered itself together and  slithered off in search of a frog, leaving a sandy signature in its wake. 

“Hau, Madam was lucky last night,” said Phineas chattily, offering an enamel mug of tea at 5 a.m. “big njoka under Madam’s chair last night!”  he chortled, trundling away with his tea-tray.  “Don’t worry babes,” said Neville comfortingly, “they only bite if you step on them.   No need to catch such a skrik!”

The days settled into an easy pattern of early mornings, days on the river, snack lunches of beer, nights around the fire with  jovial and embroidered accounts of the monsters that got away, together with the eternal minute analyses of the Boks’ performance at rugby and cricket.

 Aunt Susie cooked and knitted.  The tstetse flies feasted on the party, save for Phineas and Enoch whose fish-smoking activities would have proofed them against attach by rabid vultures, never mind hungry tstetse flies.  The mercury climbed effortlessly into the high 30’s, early 40’s.  Enoch had to dig another pit to tidy up the mountain of empty beer cans.

Nothing much else happened.  Aileen loved it.  Daily after lunch she sat down with the blue Croxley pad and wrestled with the plot, which was proving difficult.    Somehow the romantic episodes were proving the most difficult of all.  She loathed the bodice ripper style of encounter, all that thrusting and  heavy breathing and quivering: ugh!  Her novel would be sensitive, tasteful, yet passionate and earthy.

Hmmmmm.   Her own experience in this area was limited, due to an early marriage and a husband who took a workmanlike approach to his love life which might best be described as thorough, but uninspired. Apart from his curious habit, she mused, of muttering rugby players names just prior orgasm.  She had never understood this odd foible and he had made it clear, long ago, that he did not intend to explain.

 The answer was simple of course: by mentally reciting the names of every Springbok player since 1960, Neville was able to delay orgasm very successfully, until he could no longer withstand the urgent tide. And what was even more curious, she ruminated, was that she had distinctly heard George (or was it Clive?) shout out Os du Randt! last night, well after lights out.  Surely to goodness those wretched men didn’t dream about rugby all night as well as talk about it all day ? Aileen doodled distractedly on the blue Croxley pad seeking inspiration. 

Neville’s sportsmanlike approach to sex had proved equally inspiring to George and Clive, after he had revealed his formula for a happy marriage to the pair one hot afternoon when they had the boat to themselves and the fish were off the bite. It must have been the effect of an usually hearty snack lunch  that had encouraged him to reveal these confidences.  George and Clive had been impressed by this useful approach and had earnestly assured him they would remember this sage advice when the next suitable occasion presented itself.

Aileen’s thoughts turned to George and Clive – what marvelous heroic prototypes those two were, deeply tanned from days in the veld on the farm, strongly built, clean shaven, clean cut in fact.  Maybe she could model her fictional hero on them.  She wondered why they’d never married, two attractive men like that.  Just as well perhaps, because when Clive had been kicked off his farm by the war veterans George, on the next-door farm,  had generously taken him in, and Clive had simply stayed on, two years was it now?  No wife would have tolerated that she thought, but still what a pity, such a good looking guy.  She dozed off, stunned by the snack lunch and the sun, to be awoken hours later  by the ever obliging Phineas, offering a tray of tea.

“Madam is writing more letters?” enquired Phineas eyeing the blue Croxley pad. “Umm no, not letters” replied Aileen suddenly shy  about  explaining  her literary aspirations to Phineas, even though he was the generous donor of precious paper. “I, uhh” she began but was interrupted by a stentorian bellow from Uncle Harry demanding assistance with the cleaning of his days’ catch of tiger fish.  That’s a relief she thought as Phineas briskly sped away down to the river bank, his white  Bata takkies twinkling brightly through the short grass.  However could she even begin to  explain the  plot of a romantic novel, set in Pioneer Days, to Phineas?

Phineas in fact, had literary problems of his own. Aileen was not alone in her troubles.  Had she but known it, he could have provided a very sympathetic ear.  His German publisher was snapping at his heels and demanding, via a stream of hysterical  phone calls, sight of the first four chapters of the new novel, and he was two months in arrears with his translation from the Ndebele  into English of the traditional saga about the Nyami-nyami legend of the mythical water creature that lived in the deep pools of the Zambezi below the Vic Falls.  He hacked viciously into the fat belly of a tiger fish and the entrails spilled out in a slimy, bloody knot – curse all publishers, all agents, all accountants, all lawyers, if he could consign the lot of them into the jaws of the nyami-nyami he would!

 With rapid harsh movements he de-scaled the tiger fish. A savage stroke beheaded the next fish from the awaiting pile. The glassy fish-eye on the disembodied head reminded him suddenly of Rolf, his drug dealer in Cologne.  He looked around covertly.  He was alone on the river bank. He stabbed the fisheye repeatedly muttering “you bastard, you bastard” until the terrible craving had subsided.  Phineas sank back on his haunches, exhaled deeply, and let the scaling knife drop onto the sand.  He washed his bloody hands in the river and noted with irritation that he’d got blood on his Bata tackies.  He’d never hear the end of it from Uncle Enoch.

Uncle Enoch was very, very proud of Phineas’ accomplishments and very, very condemnatory of his dissipated European lifestyle.  It was Uncle Enoch who had offered Phineas a refuge, a bolt-hole, while he tried to shake off the drug demons and tried to start writing again.  As a strategy it had worked beautifully.  Who would have dreamed of looking for star writer Phin Makawira, prize-winning novelist Phin, in the cook-boy’s quarters of Uncle Harry’s Bulawayo mansion?  Certainly not Rolf, certainly not those hyenas from the lawyers and accountants and publishers.

 Phineas hurled the fishy debris as far as he could into the river and watched with respect as a knobbly head surfaced briefly and swirled around the sinking mess. Crocodile would be too good an ending for those people he thought grimly, swinging his pail of fish as he headed for the camp kitchen.

All too soon it was time to pack up camp and drive back to Bulawayo, step back into the real world of business, home and kids.  Aileen loved her terrifically relaxing trip and redeemed herself by catching the biggest tigerfish , nearly 9 kgs.  Enoch had tenderly entombed it in the gas fridge, and it would be rushed to the taxidermist  in Bulawayo at the first opportunity.  So much for women messing around in small boats and disturbing the fish thought Aileen smugly.  On the whole she hadn’t done much writing and had returned the now rather tatty blue Croxley pad to Phineas who had  remarked “Madam has the writer’s block too?”  She must have misheard him, what a strange thing to say. 

Nothing hugely  exciting had happened on the trip, except perhaps the night when Clive (or was it George?) had shrieked Francois Pienaar! At the top of his lungs late one night and startled the  eleven hippo who had been grazing quietly on the grass between the tents,  and in their mad rush back to the water,  had careered into the guy ropes of Uncle Harry’s tent, causing it to collapse on the occupants.  The entire campsite was startled into groggy wakefulness and it took some time to calm Aunt Susie and re-erect the tent.  Clive had been very apologetic about startling the hippo  – must have been dreaming and shouted out, he muttered, sorry chaps!

 Phineas and Enoch had rushed in to assist and Aileen couldn’t help but notice that Phineas had the most dreadful scars on his thighs, and, would you believe, Calvin Kline underwear. Probably  Taiwanese rip-offs from the market she thought.  So she wouldn’t really have anything terribly exciting to report to her Writers’ Circle meeting when she got back, other than her embarrassing lack of progress on The Novel.  Nothing like the exciting literary tours that Piet  from her Writers’ Circle kept going on, she thought wistfully, wish I could hobnob with famous writers like he does!  Oh well, she had at least the glory of that magnificent 9kg tigerfish, if nothing else.

GLOSSARY

Bok team = South African Springbok rugby team

Mealies = maize plants

Njoika = snake

Skrik = fright

Bata takkies = ubiquitous brand of sandshoes, known as plimsolls in British English

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A RE-POST FROM JULY 2017: SLOW BLOGGING


*JAP:  SLOW BLOGGING

IMG_20190714_115307_resized_20190714_020251292 (3)

Today I discovered a new literary blog  on WordPress – dolcebellezza  thanks to the industrious blogger on bookertalk.wordpress.com  who is a marvellous source of info on literary topics.  Anyway, when I was reading the About  section on dolcebellezza,  she made an interesting remark on the topic of Slow Blogging, saying that having reached her 10th Blogging Anniversary (I’m impressed) she’s come to realise the  satisfaction of Slow Blogging. The capitalisation is mine, not hers. In essence it’s about  no longer being driven, or feeling you have to blog daily – or weekly – or instantly – whatever crazy targets you have set for yourself. Instead you blog whenever you have the inclination  and take time to enjoy the process. Kind of like the  Slow Food movement  I suppose? Things that take a long time to cook, whether prose or pumpkin, generally taste much nicer when you get to savour that deep flavour.

Theoretically I have a target of one blog per week, for each of my two blogs * but it doesn’t always turn out that way. Does it matter? Hell no. I blog because I enjoy it, so  less of the whip and treadmill technique can only be good news.

*(Just a Paragraph:  when I’m short of time and/or inspiration, I keep my blog ticking over with ‘just a paragraph’: random thoughts, reflections, comments, ideas … little snippets)

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MEANINGS AND MEMORIES


Very occasionally I share my creative writing on my blog. Here is a short piece on the theme of STORM .

STORM (n) – violent weather with wind, rain or snow.

STORM (vb) –  attack or capture (a place) suddenly

STORMING (adj)  – characterised by or displaying dynamism, speed or energy

STORMY (adj) – characterised by storms  *

 

I remember words have  an abundance of  variations .

I remember  storms in teacups.

I remember storms of outrage.

I remember storms of criticism.

I remember  stormy emotions.

I remember stormy tears.

I remember dust storms.

I remember  hail storms.

I remember Highveld summer storms.

I remember Cape winter storms.

I remember storming  winds.

I remember storms of laughter.

I remember storms of applause.

I remember storming  passion.

I remember I’ve forgotten hundreds of other storms over the legion of years that march towards the end  of my long life.

I remember I’ve now forgotten more than I am able to remember.

 

* Source – Collins SCRABBLE Dictionary

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TO BLOG OR NOT TO BLOG? THAT IS THE QUESTION


Catching up on my WordPress Reader I found a number of Bloggers reviewing their 2017 blogging year. At one end of the spectrum was the unbelievably dedicated, productive Alec Nevala-Lee who revealed he has written a 1 000 word blog post every day of this year. Respect, Alec! How did he do it? We all know perfectly well how he did it. He single mindedly sat down and applied himself until his daily piece was written. This, mark you in addition to his work as a novelist and freelance writer.

 
At the other end of the spectrum I read a post by 746 Books in which Kathy confesses that 2017 was not a productive blogging year for her. She said it had been difficult to carve out time for writing on her blog, and that her reading (she’s a bookworm, like me) progress had been unsatisfactory. She wondered whether she should stop blogging altogether? These salutary thoughts on her 4th Blogoversary.

 
I know how she feels. Whilst I am not in her league when it comes to compulsive book buying, it is a factor in my life. Let’s face it, I’m more of a reader than I’m a writer. Then I read Ann V Klotz post titled Writing is Everything. Do I feel that way? No, I don’t, but part of me wishes I did. The title is a little misleading, in that she details the myriad events that keep her from the keyboard. I know the feeling well!

 
I am experiencing December fatigue after a busy year. The end of November and beginning of December are always hectic in South Africa. On 16 December the entire country pretty much shuts down – industry, the building trade, anything that is not retail or hospitality related. Try getting anything done between now and 08 January 2018. Fuggedabtoutit, as the Americans say. So the build up to 16 December is frantic. Everyone trying to get projects completed before shut-down. Social clubs and organisations cramming in their year-end staff parties/thank-you ceremonies/ etc. By December 16th the nation is in a soggy heap, ready to go on holiday and start (or continue) partying.

 
Do I feel like blogging? Not really. Hopefully by January 2018 I will have rested and recovered, enjoyed a relaxing Christmas Family Visit in Durban, and be ready to resume my blogging . Meanwhile: Wishing all a peaceful Festive Season with your families and friends, and a happy, healthy New Year.
Over and Out.

 
Oooops, no, not quite. My alter-ego and companion Chocolat has a few scornful final words to add to my post: She says: My Personal Assistant should do as I do . Life really is so simple : find a comfy, sandy spot under the shady karee tree, and relax. Saunter indoors for a cooling sip of water and then continue napping on the PA’s feather duvet. What’s all the fuss about?

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*(JAP) SLOW BLOGGING


 

Today I discovered a new literary blog  on WordPress – dolcebellezza  thanks to the industrious blogger on bookertalk.wordpress.com  who is a marvellous source of info on literary topics.  Anyway, when I was reading the About  section on dolcebellezza,  she made an interesting remark on the topic of Slow Blogging, saying that having reached her 10th Blogging Anniversary (I’m impressed) she’s come to realise the  satisfaction of Slow Blogging. The capitalisation is mine, not hers. In essence it’s about  no longer being driven, or feeling you have to blog daily – or weekly – or instantly – whatever crazy targets you have set for yourself. Instead you blog whenever you have the inclination  and take time to enjoy the process. Kind of like the  Slow Food movement  I suppose? Things that take a long time to cook, whether prose or pumpkin, generally taste much nicer when you get to savour that deep flavour.

Theoretically I have a target of one blog per week, for each of my two blogs * but it doesn’t always turn out that way. Does it matter? Hell no. I blog because I enjoy it, so  less of the whip and treadmill technique can only be good news.

*(Just a Paragraph:  when I’m short of time and/or inspiration, I keep my blog ticking over with ‘just a paragraph’: random thoughts, reflections, comments, ideas … little snippets)

 

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THE FREEDOM OF UNSUBSCRIBING


 

 

You have no idea how liberating it is to tick the Unsubscribe box  and confirm that you no longer wish to receive e-mails from  xyz  site. 

Let’s face it: over time one’s interest can, do and should change. Why not? You’re not dead are you? Life flows swiftly by and some interests prove to have been but a passing fancy, or a big mistake. Did you really think you were going to learn Urdu on-line from Babbel.com?  Get a grip!

So I unsubscribed from the writing sites that were clogging up my Yahoo Inbox. Right now I’m confining myself to blogging and the occasional letter to long-time friends. I’m not writing short stories or working on a novel. So why do I need torrents of advice on 20 Sure fire tricks to get that Novel Finished!  or  Revision strategy?  or  How to Write a Killer Query letter   or Find your Agent, make a new Friend!

My Yahoo InBox should be breathing an enormous sigh of relief. I know I am.  Wading through the advice swamp was time consuming, to say the least of it. Now all I have to do is wean myself away from Pinterest. Think I’ll leave that until next week.  Softly softly catchee monkey, and all that.

And I’m firmly resisting the odd stabs of FOMO.  Do you know what that is? Fear of missing out.  Some genius has identified it as a new trend, symptomatic of our insatiable craving for electronic content.  They may be on to something. But: I will be strong! Subscriptions – be gone!

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POTTERING THROUGH MY NOTEBOOKS


I’m a great potter-er. Sunday is a good day to potter around my house, doing minor tasks, playing with my Stuff. Even after my recent purge (see my recent post about The Guys and the Grand Purge) I still have plenty of Stuff left to play with. Believe me.

I was paging through my  old notebooks, dating back to the early 1990s.  Regrettably I have a weakness for notebooks. I can’t resist them. And don’t let me find a sale offering bargain price notebooks, because we all know what will happen.  A quirky cover? Cute Cats? Gold and sparkly ?  Ka-ching. Ka-ching.

So there I was, reminiscing with my notebooks when I was struck by a thought: what will happen to my notebooks when I die? Will the family be sufficiently interested to read them? Always assuming, of course, that they can read them. My handwriting varies from the semi-legible to a jerky scrawl …

Added to which I have developed a  series of abbreviations over the years, which enables me  to write quickly, and the chances of anybody else working out what I  intended, are not good. I spent years slaving behind a typewriter, and latterly a keyboard, which means I can type much, much faster than I can write. I can type at the speed of my thoughts. Very satisfactory, and also legible. But obviously notebooks are handwritten, in a variety of places – coffee shops, aeroplanes, retreat centres, other people’s spare bedrooms – anywhere and everywhere, and the  notes are not always legible.  Even to my eye.

The notebooks contain ideas for future  blog posts, draft poems, notes to self, articles, writing exercises, outpourings of angst, lists, titles of books and authors and  must-reads. And so on. Let’s face it: because I’m not a famous writer, nor a noted social diarist, it’s doubtful that anybody else will be remotely interested in my scribbling.

On the topic of noted social diarists, some very famous people e.g. Winston Churchill, or famous  writers e.g. Noel Coward  kept detailed – and regular – diaries. I own a copy of a fascinating compilation of diary entries, arranged by date and kicking off around the era of  the mid 1660’s (Samuel Pepys)  up to the late 20th century  (Alec Guinness, Brian Eno, Andy Warhol), titled The Assassin’s Cloak,  edited by Irene & Alan Taylor.   Of course, the social diarists entries are a delightful  mix of gossip, innuendo and scandal, whilst the politicians are dealing with weighty matters of state, or declaring war and so forth.  A far cry from my notebooks.

Thinking it over, I should probably tear out the written pages, burn them, and donate the remaining unused notebook to a charitable scheme collecting stationery for  disadvantaged school kids.  That’s what I should do . I probably won’t get around to it, and my family will stare in dismay at the pile of notebooks and say : “What the hell are we going to do with these?” Good question.

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THE DAYS OF MY YOUTH by A M Smith ©


 

 

Periodically I post my short fiction on my blog.  The following short memoir could have been titled “Interview with a Monster” but I opted for “The Days of my Youth”  because it was written in response to the question: what happens before or after a famous fictional event? So I chose Thomas Harris’ famous fictional creation, and  wondered what sort of a childhood could produce such a complex, monstrous character? The character is being interviewed by a brave journalist:

 

 

I’m hoping to set the record straight, by agreeing to this interview about my earliest childhood experiences.  Everyone seems to think that people like me emerge from the womb dripping with wickedness, right from the start.  It’s not so – nothing could be further from the truth.  I had a perfectly normal childhood.  Normal –  whatever that is. It’s all relative isn’t it? But perhaps you don’t agree.

My earliest memory? Mmm, let’s see. I remember Mother pushing me up and down the garden path in my pram, humming quietly under her breath, trying to get me to drop off to sleep no doubt.  Father didn’t like to be disturbed, he made it very clear he would not tolerate a screaming baby, and once he was in his workroom he definitely didn’t want to be disturbed.  I remember being allowed to visit his workroom, I might have been four or five, maybe?  I was allowed in, on condition I sat on the stool and didn’t touch anything.  I remember the smell of the formaldehyde, and being enchanted by the box containing the glass eyes – I was longing to touch them, and play with them, but I sat on my hands, and looked around at the animal heads mounted on the walls, the glass fronted display case containing the most delicate examples of Father’s craft, the birds, seemingly caught in mid-flight. No, no, I don’t think Father’s taxidermy had anything to do with my interests in later life.

Oh – one of my fondest memories from my early years, was Spot.  My dog – I loved him dearly.  He had black spotty patches on his white coat, and so lively, as only fox terriers can be!  And I’d like to emphasize that I did not spend my boyhood  doing unspeakable things to small animals!  Really, you have no idea, no idea at all, of the dreadful letters I receive on this subject – I often wonder whether the authorities have locked up the right person when I read those letters. Trust me, some of those letter-writers ought to be in here, if what they write is to be believed.  I’m sorry, but I feel strongly about this and again it takes me back to my first question : what is normal?

You think my name might have been an influencing factor? Well – I must admit it is an unusual name – Mother was obsessed with the ancient world and she chose my name. Of course, once I went to school, I was teased mercilessly about my name. And then, later, the newspapers had a field day inventing that silly rhyming couplet to describe me.  So juvenile, don’t you agree?

My first love? Oh, that’s an easy question to answer: she was the prettiest little girl (I have a soft spot for pretty women – but perhaps you’ve heard). Anyway, she sat in the desk in front of me in Primary School.  She had long brown ringlets, and her name was Clare.  It’s a name that keeps recurring in my life, quite strange really. Very recently a young woman came to interview me and her name was Clarice.  But not a pretty girl, I have to say, rather thin mousy hair and a pale, strained face.

Another vivid childhood memory?  Well, let’s see. I know!  it was Uncle Gregor’s visit. I must have been about seven at the time. I found him very exotic, with his thick accent and funny foreign clothes. But what I remember most clearly is the night he took us out to dine, in a restaurant, what an occasion! The starched tablecloth, the smart waiters, the bright lights, the odours of food, wine, cigars, the buzz of voices – so different from our usual quiet life at home.  What? What did I eat? Do you know, I can’t remember, but I do remember what Uncle Gregor ordered. I’d never seen or heard of it before – hardly surprising, Steak Tartare was not a feature of our modest suburban cuisine. I remember being fascinated by the deep redness of the raw steak, and the intoxicating rich, sharp bloody smell of the meat – somehow it struck a deep note in the depth of my being. Hmmm. Now that I look back, perhaps a seminal moment.

What? Sorry, I was wool-gathering. More about my school days? Well, I don’t know – nothing really springs to mind.  My favourite lesson? Oh – biology I suppose, especially when I reached Senior School, and we started dissecting specimens. I was quite handy with a scalpel, Father’s tuition paid off there, and it was always so intriguing to slice through the muscle tissue and come to those perfect little organs, those tiny little mouse-hearts glistening with the blood … Are you alright? You’ve turned quite pale. Maybe you should call the guard and get some water?  Or should we stop now, perhaps it’s enough for one day.

But I must say I’ve enjoyed re-living my childhood memories with you, it’s not often that anybody shows any interest in Hannibal Lecter’s youth, no, they always want to hear about my later career. Oh well, that’s the way of the world, I suppose.

 

 

 

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DIGGING FOR DINKIES by A M Smith ©


morrisPeriodically I post my short fiction; here is a Christmas story – not so short, but enjoy!)

I was digging in the garden when my spade struck something metal.

Hello, I thought, what’s this?  I knew the allotments had been checked and cleared by the Bomb Squad years ago, once the War was over. I leant on my spade and looked down. Saw nothing.  But there’d been a definite  clunk, and it was a metallic clunk, not a rocky thunk. I’ve done enough digging  in my 75 years to know the difference.  Okay. I slowly scraped the earth away, gently dug down and after a while, there it was. Whatever it was. Actually, I knew what it was.  I mean a trapdoor is a trapdoor, innit? Even if it is painted dark green with a pattern of … bells – bells?? …round the border and two twisty handles. How come the paint looks fresh? Buried under a good eight inches of muck. Not possible. But there it was.

 

Now what? I looked around. Dusk was falling, the allotments were deserted. I wanted to know what lay under the trapdoor. I grabbed the handles and tugged.  Bet you would’ve done the same. The trapdoor flew open.  Just like that! Amazingly easy.  And would you believe, there was a metal slide, like you get at WaterWorld for the kiddies, but it was wide, not kiddy-sized. So, obviously, I stepped down and whoosh! Away I went. Down, down, down through the darkness, round a bend and thump! I landed on my bottom inside a wide, sandy tunnel.

 

Further down the tunnel  I could see a bright yellow light, and hear the sound of, well, it sounded like a – a – workshop, I suppose, hammering and banging and clanging.  You know, like people working, making stuff. I dusted off my trousers and crept down the tunnel. Luckily the rocky wall bulged out, so I could hide in the tunnel and  peep round the rock to see what was what.

 

It was a workshop all right. Hammering, and sawing, painting and sanding, cutting and grinding, a real proper workshop, but  – and I rubbed my eyes and squinted hard: why were the workers all so short,  and wearing red caps with bells  on? And green jackets with brass buttons, and green and white striped tights, and their shoes! No workboots here – Health & Safety would’ve had a field day: no yellow hard hats, no boots – pointy red soft shoes, ending with curled up toes, and  bells on the curly tips. Bells on your shoes – well, I never!

 

And then I noticed the slanty eyes, and .. omigod … the pointy ears … Mr Spock had nothing on this lot!  I clutched the rocky outcrop, and took a deep breath. Where was I?

 

I inched cautiously round the rock, just a little closer, so I could see what the … the .. umm …  elves, I suppose , were making. Toys, that’s what they were busy with. You name it, they were making ’em. Toy trains, dolls, and doll-houses, rocking horses, teddy bears, and I don’t know what all. Even some of those modern X-box thingies.  And then I spied them: they were making Dinky cars!  I collect Dinkies. I’ve loved them ever since I was a kid. Just love ‘em. But they’re hard to find these days, they went out of production years ago. But not down here, apparently.  I looked around, and worked out that if I sneaked under the workbenches I could get right up close to the dinkies. I was dying to get a good look, and see if they were real Dinkies.  So I did. Holding my breath, quiet as a mouse, a bit of scientific crawling, and  there I was. Crouched under the  workbench opposite the Dinky  makers. Luckily I’m a skinny little man, take after my Dad, who was a Jockey.

 

Anyway, I spied a blue Morris Minor Traveller that I’d been after for years. The car came out in 1953. I think it was the English answer to those huge American station wagons, only being British, ours was more modest  – utilitarian, even.  My Dad had a green one, and I thought it was the smartest car, ever. Nobody else in our street had one. Only us. I’ve always admired the shiny yellow wood trim along the sides. It complimented the classic bull-nose of the front view.  And there it was, a beautiful, shiny new Dinky. Could I? Should I? Oh – what the hell : why not? There’ll never be another chance like this , that’s for sure.

 

I took a deep breath, popped my head and shoulders out from under the workbench, closed my fist over the Dinky, and was preparing to whip back my arm and slither away as fast as I could, when: “What’s this then?” bellowed a deep, bass voice. An angry deep bass voice.

 

I craned my neck and saw a huge pair of black shiny boots next to the bench, and two red-clad legs, big as oak tree trunks, but my view upwards was blocked by a vast red bulge.  A massive hand, decorated with a white fur cuff on a stout red sleeve grabbed my arm, shoulder and then the rest of me. I was hauled out  and held up, eye to eye, facing  very irate bright blue eyes under bushy white eyebrows.  The round red apple cheeks glowed red with rage.  Dimly I notice the silence. The hammering and banging stopped.

 

“Well? “  roared Santa.  “Explain yourself! You miserable little shrimp!”  he shook me hard, but I hung onto my precious new Dinky like grim death. I wasn’t letting  it go, not for anything.

 

Santa’s popping blue eyes narrowed a fraction, “Oh, I see”, he growled. “This is all about that Christmas when you were nine, isn’t it? No presents, no money for the gas meter, no Christmas Dinner. I’m right, aren’t I? Of course I am, I’m always right!” He plonked me back on my feet and glared down at me from his gigantic height.

 

“Errm”, I began, had to clear my throat, my voice wasn’t working.  All that shaking must’ve rattled my voice box loose, I reckon.

 

“Save your breath, you miserable little man.  I’m too busy to worry about you and one little green Dinky. Look at our production line – down to a standstill. Back to work you nosey lot!” he bellowed. An  immediate  salvo of hammering and drilling  broke out. Somewhere in the background I heard what sounded like neighing – what? horses, down here? Surely not? Then it dawned on me: oh, the reindeer, of course. Fleetingly I wondered what they ate, so far underground, but maybe they were taken up-world to graze. My dazed thoughts were jolted rudely when Santa scooped me up in a meaty paw, swung  back his arm and hurled me upwards … into the blackness.

 

When I came to, I was lying flat on my back, next to the  hole I’d dug, and  Debbie’s shrill voice was berating me:

“Grandpa! Just look  at you! Flat out in the muck – in the dark, on your own – bet you’ve been at your dandelion wine again, Granny’s going to give you what for, I can tell you. Good thing she sent me to fetch you home for supper. What’re we going to do with you?  And what’s the big hole about, then? I thought you were planting leeks? Looks like you were digging down to Australia more like it! C’mon, upsadaisy, on your feet. Put your arm around my neck, let’s get you  home. What’s that in your hand? Lemme see – wherever did you find that? It looks brand new – going to add it to your Dinky collection, I expect. Funny place to find a new Dinky, I must say.”

 

 

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BLOGGER’S LAMENT  (JAP)*


 

My friend Elaine lent me a delightful collection of poetry titled The Last to Leave by Margaret Clough. It’s her second collection of poetry, engaging with the issues of aging and mortality, but in a light, warm-hearted tone which makes the collection a pleasure to read.  The Cape Times said “Joyful and plump with life”, and I couldn’t agree more. Ageing doesn’t have to be  gloomy! I loved the following poem and I’m sharing it with you, because I’m pretty sure many of us have undergone the same awful experience:

BLOGSPOT BLUES – by Margaret Clough

I’ve lost my blog. Where can it be?

I think it has unfriended me.

It disappeared into the cloud

I shake my fist. I cry aloud.

I punch the keys, but all in vain.

It doesn’t like my user-name.

 

*(Just a Paragraph:  when I’m short of time and/or inspiration, I keep my blog ticking over with ‘just a paragraph’; random thoughts, reflections, comments, ideas … little snippets)

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