Judge Mental


This is an ex-carpet factory in Glasgow.

I’ve been very remiss towards my readers of late, leaving both of you bereft of stimulation. Luckily, however, brother Ron has stepped in to plug the enormous gap. I do have some information to pass on but that will wait for another time. Enjoy instead another of Ron’s introspective musings.

By the way, the picture has nothing whatsoever to do with the blog but I couldn’t find one of an old sea dog and the ones I have of Ron would contradict the self-perception he offers late in his piece. All yours, Ron.

Here’s a sailor, transplanted from some maritime haven to the middle of Suffolk, his beard and his Breton cap barely hiding his scowl; his tame dog, sans red spotted hanky, the only one shackled by a tight harness and the shortest of leads.

It’s his wife’s fault they’re aground here, miles from the ozone and the breakers but close to her dry, ailing mother who has not died for five years.

And the spring tide of golden barley which, in July, waved and shifted like the swells of his true home has ebbed and left a vast stubble beach, full of fractured flints where rounded pebbles ought to be.

None of which is true, except the dog bit. The rest is what happened in my head in the time between noticing, greeting and passing my fellow dog walker this morning. I assume I’m not unusual in creating these narratives, certainly not in the company of Bill and his readers, but I often find myself wondering why I do it. In Bill’s case, I guess he sees it as a creative necessity to indulge in people-watching and making playful, random judgements about someone’s appearance, their back story and their motivation, etc. He will possibly have a note book in which he jots down these impressions to be read later and possibly used to colour a scene or a chapter. My habit seems just an idle compulsion, though I do sometimes wonder if it fulfils some higher purpose.

I recall hearing a recent radio programme where someone was describing the apparently instinctive behaviour many of us (particularly hypersensitive cowards like me) exhibit when confronted with something resembling a snake. Our first move is a knee-jerk recoil movement away from the immediate area; a straightforward act of self preservation. This is usually followed by a calmer, more rational – and often more embarrassed – look at the creature, which by now has revealed itself as nothing more than a harmless grass snake or even a piece of discarded rope. The drama of this scenario is going to be heightened or lessened by all sorts of factors, like the context, the presence of other people, the time of day, etc. Nevertheless, that Darwinian recoil seems like a good idea for those of us who want to hang around a bit longer.

So maybe my sailor characterisation is pragmatic rather than creative. Thus, after having first recoiled at the prospect of him having a marlin spike by way of a weapon in his free hand, if I can successfully rehearse an interaction with this stranger before we meet, I will have a couple of ice breaking starters:

‘Aha, a Breton hat. Are you a man of the sea?’ or ‘Does your dog pull, then?’

At the very least, these will guarantee a very short conversation and thereby achieve my main aim of ignoring all and sundry on my morning dog walk, which I don’t see as the social promenade some of the other owners enjoy but more an existential bridge between breakfast and my next cup of coffee.

My wife, apart from being more generally mature than I, also has a counselling background and, quite rightly, tells me to avoid these judgements. ‘How would you like it if people did the same to you.’ Perish the thought and how dare they. Just imagine if my sailor indulged in the same strategy as he approached me:

Hm… tall, thin, probably fancies himself as a sportsman of some kind, a golfer by the look of that dreadful shirt. Too old to wear those shorts and surely a real ale enthusiast if that belly’s any indication… Those smaller dogs should not be on those extending leads but he doesn’t look like he’d spend the time training it anyhow… lazy bugger… thinks doing the Times crossword counts for something…

Uncannily, he’d be right on all points.

Notwithstanding the tremendous amount of graft people like Bill have to do when practising their craft, I’m attracted by the idea that writers are naturally selected members of the species who have actively evolved from the sludge where the rest of us are glooping around, almost seeing snakes.

The Tale of the Carpal Tunnel

hand 1What a drag it is to have to rely on a machine to carry you about. I’m not talking about cars, bikes or anything like that; I mean the mechanical thing that’s worked by tendons, bones, muscles and all those other squishy bits. Most of the time it’s fine. When it’s been around as long as mine has, there are bound to be dents and scratches, but the drag is when bits go wrong. You can see which bit I’m referring to in the photo.

I’ve been waiting for a while to have surgery to relieve the compression on the carpal tunnels in my wrists, and the left one was done on Monday. The tunnels are another example of a bad bit of design by God. All sorts of nerves and things run through them, so when they shrink a bit, there’s pressure on the nerves and you get tingling in your thumb and fingers and some pain. The medics confirm that it’s carpal tunnel syndrome (rather than potentially nastier things) by administering electric shocks to places on your hands and arms. It can be caused by various things and the only one I’m confident doesn’t apply in my case is hormonal changes during pregnancy.

On Monday, then, from 11 o’clock onwards I sat in a comfortable chair in the hospital reading the excellent new anthology by Authors Electric, A Flash in the Pen.  (Here in the UK, and here in the USA.)  By the time it was my turn to go into theatre, there were only a couple of stories unread. (I recommend the book, the writing is superb and there’s a great variety of styles and genres.)

I don’t want this to be an exhaustive description of surgical and anaesthetic procedures so let’s dispense with those quickly.

  • Local anaesthetic in my palm and wrist.
  • Wheeled into theatre.
  • Left arm extended onto a tray-like thing.

A sort of tent over me stopped me seeing what they were doing. But sitting beside me, sharing the tent, was a man – presumably a nurse or doctor, or maybe some sort of decoy. I’m not sure, because all he did was talk to me about a new laptop he’d ordered and the sort of things he intended to use it for. While we were chatting I felt liquid being splashed on my arm (cold, so it wasn’t a fountain of blood), heard various clicks and noises from outside the tent and, after quite a short time, the surgeon took it away and I saw that my left arm had become a lollipop.

Everybody was friendly, efficient and professional and made the whole experience stress free. My wife came to take me home where the process of relearning the basics of living began. Deprived of the use of the hand, I started speculating whether it was possible to eat pizza through a straw, take a shower while keeping about 3% of my body dry, invent replacements for shirt buttons and shoelaces, and type a 90,000 word novel with one finger. The following day, I resisted the temptation to stay in my pyjamas, took what seemed like hours to dress, then prodded at the keyboard with one hand, stopping only to look out at the grass which was, malevolently, growing as fast as it could, knowing full well that I won’t be able to shove the mower over it for a couple of weeks.

I’m supposed to have the same thing done on my right hand in due course, but I think I’ll wait to see just how inconvenient it is to be unidextrous. Or maybe I’ll explore the possibilities of getting a new machine.

Cop-Out Blog: Three Stories.

It’s a long time since I posted a cop-out blog, but it’s also a long time since my last posting (perhaps because the UK election and its aftermath were so traumatic), so that’s my excuse for this one. It’s simply three stories, each of exactly 200 words, which I wrote for successive competitions on Goodreads.

No idea who this is, but he looks like a granddad

No idea who this is, but he looks like a granddad

Theme: What is inside the locked box?
Title: Granddad (NB, that’s not the answer to the question) 

Granddad’s magic tricks were part of her earliest memories. The coin held up, the fingers closing over it, both hands opening, empty. Then, every time, Granddad finding it behind her ear. She must have been about 8 before the magic stopped working, but he still did things with cards that mystified her.

He loved her in a different way from Mummy and Daddy, seemed to understand her better. When she was 6 she made him promise not to die. He laughed and said he’d always be with her.

She was 14 now. They hadn’t done things together for ages. So when he died, she felt sad but not surprised.

After the funeral, Mummy gave her a little box with a tiny key. Its label said ‘From Granddad, with love’. She unlocked it and slid back the lid. Out bobbed a tiny hand on a spring. It was clutching a coin. As she looked at it, she felt sorrow well in her chest, rise into her throat. The tears came, and the sobs, and in that little coin she saw everything she’d lost. But she also felt an overwhelming love and knew that Granddad was right. He’d always be with her.


duet pt 2

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Theme: The night the moonlight stopped.
Title: The Pianist

She’d started playing when she was five; simple little songs about milkmaids and soldiers. Her fingers were tiny on the keys but her hands flew quickly over them and the music flowed.

By her 21st birthday, she was performing all over Europe. It was magical to hear. And see. Her movements and expressions matched the music’s intensity. She drew new subtleties from Chopin, Liszt and, most of all, Beethoven. From the difficulty of his sonata no. 29, The Great Hammerklavier, to the delicacy of his Bagatelle no. 25, Fur Elise, she teased out shifting moods, new interpretations. And across her face flitted frowns, smiles, anxieties, fears.

The specialists couldn’t pinpoint what caused her deafness but, by the age of 30, it had become profound. She retired when she could see the hundreds of hands clapping but hear nothing. From then on, she played only for herself, in a small basement room, on an old upright. It had no hammers, no strings, but her fingers flew as easily as before. As the room filled with the clacking of the keys, her face still showed everything from deep despair to exuberant joy as she coaxed from them sonata number 14, the Moonlight.



Wikimedia Commons

Theme: The Other Mirror
Title: Love Affair
It began when her dark, soulful eyes caught his. He was mesmerised, wanted her all to himself. He wooed her with poetry, using  words and images she’d never heard from other men, and all the time, he saw shadows of others’ lips and hands on her. It was unbearable.

One night, before leaving to go to her place, he took a four inch bradawl from his toolbox, jammed a cork on its needle-sharp tip, and slipped it into his pocket.

Later, as she leaned back in her chair, he saw again what he was losing. He got up and walked round behind her.
‘Remember Kahlil Gibran? Mirrors of the Soul?’ he said.
She shook her head.
‘He talks about a thirsty man in a cage of gold and jewels, but without water. That’s how I feel. Your eyes are the mirrors of my soul and windows into yours.’
He leaned over her. ‘And what a soul you have’, he said, letting his tongue lick butterfly kisses on the lid of her left eye.
‘Mmmmm. What a nice way to clean a mirror,’ she said. ‘Don’t forget there are two of them.’
‘Ah. I have different plans for the other one.’