Friday Flash Fiction 440 – Stopawhile

Not as sweet as sugar, smoother than chocolate, more luscious than a peach; neither food nor drink. That is how I would describe it. There was no description on the menu; it didn’t appear on the menu at Stopawhile. Ravi told me it was the nectar of the gods when I first tried it.

‘What a perfect description’ I replied, licking my lips in satisfaction.

‘No, it IS the Nectar of the Gods’ he said simply.

You couldn’t order, only wait until it was offered.  Ravi was the only member of staff to serve the nectar; come to think of it, there were no other staff.

It was a new café, where the old hairdressers used to be; the shabby blue and white had become warm brown and orange. Inside you could slip into a cosy corner, relax on a leather settee and linger as long as you liked. There were newspapers and exotic magazines, wooden chess sets and marble solitaires. The nectar deserved to be sipped slowly.

This was an ideal place to flop down with my shopping and sneak out my notebook; recharge my batteries before going home to tackle dinner. The nectar, in its delicate pottery bowl, seemed to stimulate creativity. My writing group were impressed with my short story and urged me to send it off to the competition, I won. I began a novel.

Of course I recommended it to other people, suggested friends come with me next time they came round. Somehow no one else happened to go that way.

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On Monday afternoon I staggered off the bus with my shopping, cold, tired, with blood sugar level zero; I was looking forward to my visit to Stopawhile. But it had gone; not closed down, disappeared. I thought I must have walked past it and retraced my steps. Bank, charity shop, greengrocers; it should have been next, followed by the bakers. I stepped into the greengrocers feeling bewildered; perhaps they had bought the little café and expanded into it during the weekend.

‘What’s happened to Stopawhile?’ I asked.

I was met by blank stares.

‘You know, the café next door, it was there on Friday.’

‘You mean the one up the road?’

Flustered, I bought a bunch of bananas and stepped carefully outside. On the pavement were the usual stands full of fruit and flowers and next door was the bakers. I stepped inside the tiny shop and tried another tack.

‘Have you moved shop?’

‘Not in the last hundred years.’

‘But what’s happened to Ravi and the café next door?’

More confused expressions. ‘If you’re looking for a café, try the Cosy Teapot up the end of the high street.’

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Poppies and Politics

This is the blog I wote two years ago.

Times and Tides of a Beachwriter

The field poppy is a humble flower; most of us see them as solitary blooms by the roadside. Ironically they thrived better in the desecrated fields of the Great War than with modern farming methods, but most importantly they have no creed or politics. The paper poppies sold every November seem to have remained unchanged forever, easily lost and when they fall apart they are ideal for children to play miniature ice hockey, the black centre the puck and the stem the hockey stick. Anyone who belongs to a craft group has probably knitted or sewn longer lasting flowers, the Royal British legion also sells enamel badges and giant poppies appear on buses and lamp posts.

But the humble flower has become a symbol of political correctness and angst. From mid October onwards nobody is seen on BBC television without a poppy; given how easy it is to lose them…

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Silly Saturday Stumped

If something can go wrong it will, especially for some of us and you know who you are…

Things didn’t work long before computers came into our homes. The stapler runs out of staples with only one more bundle of papers to go and the new strip of staples will jam as soon as you press down the heel of your hand.

We had a family heirloom hand sewing machine Jones, as supplied to Her Majesty Queen Alexandra. Whether the wife of Edward VII used her sewing machine I have no idea; but ours was old and loyal, blessed with a few simple operations. I turned the handle and the needle sped up and down stitching clothes for my doll; but if the spool ran out or the threads jammed I was instantly infuriated with the machine and my father was the only one who could sort it. When we started sewing lessons at senior school we were confronted with treadles and electric machines. I never mastered the treadle action, let alone the sewing part of the procedure. I would pretend to be busy until an electric machine was available. I have sewn many things since, if my electric machine is running smoothly I can make anything (as long as it doesn’t involve button holes or fancy stitches), but if the fabric puckers or binds itself to the machine I am completely stumped.

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If asked to be the first to arrive and open up a meeting place I know for sure the key will not fit, or the door will remain shut tight. Pull, push, jiggle a half turn, but entry will only be gained when other people start to turn up and try for themselves, the door swinging open readily. Things are no better if there is a code to unlock the door. Did you remember the numbers, in the correct order, turn the knob the right way, or rather to the left not the right… the only way to conquer that door is to sneak up on it when it is not looking.

Perhaps I am not the only one for whom thing go wrong. A long queue forms at the one open till with a human; the other assistants are busy trying to direct reluctant shoppers to the scan your own machines or helping them when that robotic voice says Item not recognised, unbagged item…. Computers in various forms are unavoidable.

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For a long time I had no reason to be involved with computers, but writing and social media sucked me in to this love hate relationship. Unlike staplers and sewing machines computers are sentient beings; they know when you need to send an urgent e-mail, post your blog or print an important document.

The digital world of scanners and printers was preceded in the work place by photocopiers and before that machines such as The Gestetner. I dreaded being left alone with this mystery of rolling drums, scent of chemicals and ink which printed too faintly or leaked in the wrong places. But it was still mechanical and not totally beyond comprehension.

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Computers lull you into a false sense of security, The World at your finger tips, documents easily altered, unlike the bad old days of typewriters. Then things start to go wrong. You log into Facebook, but instead of pictures of your friends and cute kittens there are only blank squares waiting to be filled in while the tiny blue circle goes round and round…. You sign into your e-mail account and see you have sixty messages, but it won’t let you into your In Box. The lay person has no idea if the problem lies with their mouse, their computer, a real rodent gnawing at the Virgin cable, or if the World Wide Web has been switched off by – let’s not blame any particular country.

It’s all magic to us. My response to these first world problems is irrational rage if I’m on my own or to yell for Cyberspouse. He does not believe that the computer bears personal malevolence towards me and remains calm in a crisis, usually solving the problem by clicking on a button I didn’t know existed.

What do you do when things go wrong, or do things always work for you?

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Friday Flash Fiction – CSI Highcliffe

‘Is that for next door?’ Eleanor asked the green man who had emerged from the yellow van.

‘No, express delivery for Ms E. Fairfax.’

‘But I haven’t ordered anything, certainly nothing as large as that, is the box heavy?’

‘No, I’ll leave it just inside the front door shall I?’

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Eleanor closed the door and rolled the box down the hall until she found the sender’s address.

EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME

RAINBOW WORLD LTD. OF MILTON KEYNES

She was reluctant to open the box; if she had been in one of her black humour thrillers, the box would be sure to explode. But on the other hand, any of her feisty heroines would have no hesitation. Eleanor fetched a sharp knife from the kitchen and ran it along the taped edges. On top of various packages was a rainbow envelope.

To Aunty Ellie   Happy Birthday   Love Ben

Inside was a gothic card of gold and black.

YOUR PASSPORT TO A NEW EXPERIENCE

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One of Ben’s jokes no doubt. She pulled out the largest parcel, inside were folds of white fabric…

Eleanor picked up the phone. ‘Ben? Thanks for the present, maybe I’ll wear it to my book launch.’

No, you have to wear it on your birthday when you go for your EXPERIENCE. I know how much you love those CSI programmes, I guess it will be like one of those murder mystery dinners, but without the food. Should give you inspiration for your next novel.

She put the phone down and decided to read the instructions more carefully.

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Saturday morning was bitterly cold, especially at Highcliffe. Eleanor was glad she was half an hour an hour early to warm up with a coffee in the Cliffhanger café. She planned to sneak into the Ladies to put on her forensic suit at the last moment, she looked around at the other customers wondering if any of them were there for the EXPERIENCE.

When she slipped outside she saw a van pulling up, black with gold writing

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As two men in forensic suits got out, other white suits emerged sheepishly from parked cars. Eleanor was glad she had worn her thermal underwear, the wind was biting after the steamy warmth of the café.

Without any introduction the van driver addressed the shivering group.

‘Okay, report of a body on the beach, we need to start work before the tide comes in.’

Without further ado he strode towards the edge of the cliff and the footpath sign. Eleanor tried to read the expressions on the faces of her six companions, but straggling in single file, struggling to keep up, she had no idea if they were taking this seriously or if they were all friends of her nephew. But even Ben was unlikely to have arranged a prank on this scale.

Dodging a few boulders, they came to an abrupt halt near the water’s edge.

‘It’s so realistic’ squealed a young woman excitedly.

‘Looks like a scene from one of my books’ said Eleanor.

‘Ooh, are you a crime writer, are you on television?’

‘No, Amazon Kindle.’

A loud clearing of the leader’s throat drew their attention to the others, just as one of the men keeled over backwards. Another pushed past the two women and behind a rock to vomit.

‘Happens every time,’ laughed the leader ‘no one expects it to be a real body.’

Eleanor approached with a writer’s curiosity to see how they had created the scene. It was the smell which hit her first. A real body washed up from the sea was very different from Google research. She almost laughed to herself, Ben had been right, this was a unique opportunity and she tried to quell the rising nausea.

‘Cause of death?’ asked the leader brusquely.

‘No evidence of external injuries, due to the extent of decomposition’ Eleanor replied. ‘A post mortem will be needed to determine if the victim drowned or was already dead before he entered the water.’

‘Good, good’ said the man, as his assistant stepped forward with arms outstretched, bearing a large folded item of black vinyl. ‘Now before we put the body in the bag does anybody have back problems, it’s quite a weight to carry back up the cliff.’

‘Yes, me,’ said Eleanor ‘but shouldn’t we call the police?’

‘Not until we’ve ascertained if a crime has taken place. Now, does everybody have a car, or does anyone want a lift in the van to the morgue?’

‘Where’s the body going?’ asked the young woman.

‘In the van of course. Has everybody got their metal case labelled

Part Two, not to be used by children under sixteen.

‘Which case do you mean?’ a pale man asked.

‘The one containing a scalpel and saw.’

 

For more dark tales dip into Times and Tides

Twenty five stories starting with a blind date and ending on Xmas Eve, with no clue as to what you might expect in between. In this third collection of short stories are some real places and experiences plus much that could happen or should never happen.

At The Seaside Nobody Hears You Scream

 

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How long does it take to write a novel? I am going to go for 2014 as the conception of my new novel ‘At The Seaside Nobody Hears You Scream’. The character of Tobias Elliot Channing, the holder of a degree in psychology and registration as a private investigator, first appeared in a short story ‘The Ambassadors’ in Audio Arcadia’s audio book anthology imaginatively titled Short Stories Volume One. It then appeared in a paperback edition An Eclectic Mix Volume One in 2015, with a wonderfully colourful cover. Toby’s actual birth had come about when our exercise for writers’ group was to create a detective character. The story idea came from Pete at my other writers’ group – write something inspired by the painting The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger which hangs in the National Gallery.

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In February 2014 the Valentine’s Night Storm gave me an idea for the start of A Story, but what the story would be I had no idea. Compared with other natural disasters in the world our storm in Britain was a minor event, but three people were killed. Our house shook during the night even though we are ten minutes walk from the cliff top, further along the coast, at Milford-on-Sea, a Valentine’s romantic dinner turned into a disaster movie; a ‘freak’ wave picked up shingle and smashed it through the panels that make up the front of the art deco building, the diners were eventually rescued by army vehicles.

https://metro.co.uk/2014/02/15/dream-valentines-day-meal-turns-to-nightmare-after-storm-blows-out-windows-of-beachfront-restaurant-4305491/

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The weather forecasts warned everyone to stay away from the coast the next morning; so we walked ( okay I dragged Cyberspouse, saying it would be fun to take the scenic route to the local shops ) to the cliff top to see high tide. It was exciting, no chance of being blown off the cliff as you could lean into the south westerly coming off the sea and taking your breath away. But as we clung to the low fence on the cliff top and peered over we got a shock, piles of smashed wood washed over by the waves, rows of beach huts reduced to matchwood. And that is when I had my idea; but you will have to read the novel to find out why Ellen Green was so afraid when she looked over the edge of the cliff that morning.

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Fed up with waiting for me to get on with writing the novel, Toby Channing drove his camper van into two very different novellas I was writing, which along with The Ambassadors are part of the collection ‘Someone Somewhere’ published in 2017. ‘Someone For The Weekend’ and ‘Durlswood’ became two of his strangest cases.

What has happened in the intervening two years? Lots of blogging and writing; strangely only five months pass during the novel and the passing of time makes no difference to Tobias Elliot Channing because he is firmly fixed in 2014. It is just as well this novel had a fixed starting point, because writing novels ‘in the present’ is just about impossible. How the world has changed in the past five years…

 

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Visit my Amazon Author pages here to check on all my books.

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Open the novel here…

Silly Saturday in Subtitles

As the clocks go back, as night falls early, do you like to curl up with the television? What are your favourites, reality, soap operas or medical dramas?  At Chez Tidalscribe it is subtitle heaven lately; if a programme has subtitles I try and watch it.

Saturday night, BBC4 is now showing the seventh series of Engrenages ( Spiral ), we couldn’t wait to get back to Paris with this gritty police series which has an excellent cast and interweaving story lines.

One Sunday Night and Day in Catalan started over on More4, but it turns out we have to catch the rest of the series On Demand. Not to worry, Sunday evenings on BBC1 brings a moving drama World on Fire, World War Two seen through English, Polish and German eyes.

Monday and Tuesday we are following  Dublin Murders, dark and very intriguing. Okay, so it’s in English, not  Irish (Gaeilge ) and I believe filmed in Northern Ireland, but it is set in A Nother country…

But come Thursday it’s Giri/Haji set in London and Tokyo, another crime thriller, but done with real style and humour. It is written by an English chap, but has plenty of Japanese scenes and story lines. Darting back and forth across the world and back into the past, you have to concentrate.

What is such fun about sub titles? Seeing different places, nosing into homes and lives that are different. If you only speak one language fluently people speaking other languages sound so clever. I don’t particularly want to see crime dramas, it’s just that they predominate, although Inspector Montalbano on Sicily is a lot sunnier that Scandi Noir. We have watched Icelandic comedy and the brilliant Borgen about a Danish Prime Minister.

One of the most important reasons for voting Remain and wanting to stay in the European Union was surely to make sure we don’t lose our sub titled programmes.

Guess what started last night? The Team over on More4, billed as a punchy multilingual cop show in…. English, German, Flemish, French, Danish and subtitles, what a dream! It started in Danish wetlands and we were just getting involved in the lives of an assortment of people in a remote house, when suddenly they were all murdered. Of course this necessitated the bringing together of the special officers from Germany, Denmark and Belgium who we had been briefly introduced to. And when they all arrived remarkably quickly at the scene of the crime, how did they communicate with each other – in English!

Sub titles – do you love them or hate them? Can you tune in to programmes broadcast from other countries?

Friday Flash Fiction – 660 – Dexterity

‘Now children, let’s count on our fingers, one, two, three…’

‘Ten’ chorused the little group of nursery children on the mat.

‘Twelve’ called a small voice a moment later.

Ivy, or was it Holly? Three days into the new intake I was still trying to grasp all the names; traditional, unspellable, unpronounceable, invented and reclaimed names from the nearly departed generation.

A boy at the front was still gazing in puzzlement at his hands. I knelt beside him and showed him how to bunch his fists.

‘Shall we count again?’

I uncurled one finger at a time and he got the idea, though his lips still did not move.

‘Nine, ten!’ The other children raised their open hands in the air.

‘Eleven, twelve’ came Ivy’s voice from the back.

I walked round the mat to where she was seated. She was gazing at her spread fingers, then glancing at the other hands held aloft. I felt my stomach lurch. Ivy was a sturdy child, just losing that toddler plumpness in her face and hands, she had settled in easily and not attracted any attention so far.

Ivy could count well, she could count to twelve because she had six fingers on each hand or to be precise, one thumb and five fingers on each perfectly formed hand.

We were always having seminars on celebrating difference; our nursery had children of every colour. I had a wheelchair and a cerebral palsy in my group, Gill had two skin conditions and a missing leg in her group next door. But I hadn’t been prepared for extra fingers, why hadn’t the parents told us? Ivy seemed as surprised as I was to discover she was different, perhaps it had never been mentioned at home.

When we went outside to play I watched Ivy. She adroitly did all her coat buttons up while other children were being helped, then she put on a pair of red gloves, not mittens, hand knitted gloves with six fingers. My mother is a manic knitter and we always get gloves for Christmas, but never have I heard her mention patterns for extra fingers.

At home time I was button holed by the usual anxious parents while the assistants made sure every one was collected by the right adults. I did not see Ivy leave. At home that evening I Googled hands and saw a rolling gallery of every possible variation of Polydactyly. I rang my mother who was intrigued and couldn’t wait to tell her Knit and Knatter group.

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The next day I surreptitiously observed Ivy as she drew, played and washed her hands for her turn at the baking table. Her deft hands rubbed the butter into the flour with ease, a dozen fairy cakes, how appropriate. There was no doubt that all the fingers were real functioning digits with bones and joints, not mere protuberances that would have been snipped off at birth. The other children had noticed nothing different about Ivy, but Davinder pulled his floury hands out of the bowl and looked at them with concern.

‘Ivy said my finger felled off in the cake.’

I decided I must speak to her parents when they came to collect her. No nanny, granny or au pair was registered as a responsible adult, so I was sure to meet one of them. A good looking young couple aprroached me enthusiastically.

‘Ivy loves nursery, thank you for helping her settle in so well.’

The mother held out her cool, elegant, manicured hand to shake mine, I forced myself to look at her face. Ivy’s father then grasped my hand firmly with his large hand.

‘How is she getting on?’ he asked.

I was distracted by the ornate cygnet ring on his sixth finger, I averted my eyes from the twelve glossy red nails of his wife and smiled.

‘She is a delight to have, very bright, her speech is good and… she has excellent dexterity.’

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