Wonderman

Another excuse to use Hunt Emerson’s glorious cartoon from the long-ago radio comedy ‘The Globe-Trotting Adventures of Nigel Tritt’

PRESENTER                    The modern world is a dangerous place.  Enemies crowd in upon us from every angle and we are individually defenceless against them, so we entrust our safety to those of superior powers.  America has given the world ‘The Avengers’ and here, in the UK, we have Mr. Alfred Wonderman, the world’s first Welfare State Superhero, who has today – in our greatest hour of need – stunned the country by announcing his retirement from all… superdoings… and we are very fortunate to have him here in the studio with us today to discuss his reasons. 

(THE CAMERA FOCUSES ON THE BACK OF A SWIVEL CHAIR WHICH TURNS DRAMATICALLY TOWARDS IT.  IN IT SITS WONDERMAN.  THE CHAIR DOES NOT STOP, BUT SPINS ALL THE WAY AROUND, UNTIL IT STOPS ONCE AGAIN FACING AWAY FROM THE CAMERA.  AFTER A PAUSE THE PRESENTER STANDS AND TURNS THE CHAIR AROUND.  WONDERMAN LOOKS AROUND HIM, CONFUSED, BEFORE SHIELDING HIS EYES WITH HIS HAND AND STARING OUT INTO THE CAMERA LENS.) 

PRESENTER                    Erm, so Mr. Wonderman, why have you decided to call it a day?

(WONDERMAN STARES BLANKLY AT THE CAMERA.)

PRESENTER                    Mr. Wonderman?

(WONDERMAN IS UNMOVED.)

PRESENTER                    Mr. Wonderman!

(WONDERMAN REMAINS UNMOVED.)

PRESENTER                    (SHOUTS.)  Mr Wonderman!!!

(WONDERMAN CUPS AN EAR.)

WONDERMAN                Yes?

PRESENTER                    Would you like to tell our viewers why you have decided to quit?

(WONDERMAN IS CONVULSED BY A FIT OF COUGHING.  PRESENTER HANDS HIM A GLASS OF WATER, BUT HE IS SHAKING SO BADLY THAT HE SPILLS IT ALL.  EVENTUALLY THE COUGHING SUBSIDES AND HE STARES AT THE PRESENTER.)

WONDERMAN                Well?

PRESENTER                    You were about to explain to our audience why you have decided to quit.

WONDERMAN                Ah yes, of course, I was…  Was I?  Well, I wanted to quit whilst I was at the peak of my powers, Terry.  I feel that if I stay on much longer they may start to wane.

(HE PUTS HIS HANDS UP TO HIS MOUTH AS HE COUGHS AGAIN.  HE LOOKS BLANKLY AT THE DENTURES IN HIS HAND BEFORE, WITH SOME DIFFICULTY, PUTTING THEM BACK IN HIS MOUTH.)

PRESENTER                    But this is an increasingly dangerous world.  Don’t you feel that it will be a more dangerous place without you?

WONDERMAN                No David, and the reason for this is that I have carefully selected and trained my replacement – May I introduce my apprentice…..

(WONDERMAN SPINS HIS SWIVEL CHAIR TO THE LEFT, IT SPINS ALL THE WAY ROUND LEAVING HIM FACING THE CAMERA AGAIN.  HE SHRUGS AND LOOKS OVER HIS RIGHT SHOULDER.)

WONDERMAN                …Wonderyouth!

(WONDERYOUTH ENTERS FROM THE LEFT AND STANDS, UNNOTICED, BEHIND HIM, HANDS ON HIPS.  HE IS WEARING AN ILL-FITTING LEOTARD AND A HAND-KNITTED CARDIGAN.)

WONDERMAN                Come on.

WONDERYOUTH            Excuse me.

WONDERMAN                Come on, come on.

WONDERYOUTH            (LEANS OVER WONDERMAN’S SHOULDER AND SHOUTS.)  Excuse me!!

(STARTLED, WONDERMAN SPINS ROUND IN HIS CHAIR, KNOCKING WONDERYOUTH OVER.  HE STILL DOES NOT SEE HIM.)

WONDERMAN                Where are you?

WONDERYOUTH            (GETTING UP WITH SOME DIFFICULTY)  I’m here.

WONDERMAN                Oh, nice ploy.  You see, Trevor, he has already developed the skill of entering a room undetected.

PRESENTER                    Very impressive.  It can’t have been easy to choose a suitable replacement.  Where did you find him?

WONDERMAN                The Job Centre, Philip.

PRESENTER                    And he immediately struck you as the right person for this unique position?

WONDERMAN                No, he immediately struck me for trying to jump the queue.

PRESENTER                    I see, so how has his training progressed?

WONDERMAN                A little slowly, Mike.  We’re building up his strength opening tomato ketchup bottles; sharpening his reflexes by filling his leotard with itching powder and we’re improving his hearing with the regular application of cotton-buds.  His flying is still a little dodgy and when we persuade him to try out his x-ray vision, all he manages to see is the back of his own skull, but he is improving…  You will notice that he has been standing there, totally unaided, for several seconds now and has not yet fallen over.

PRESENTER                    That’s hardly exceptional, is it?

WONDERMAN                It’s not bad for a man with a wooden leg.

PRESENTER                    He’s got a wooden leg?

WONDERMAN                No, but I was just making the point; he does have potential.

PRESENTER                    I see, so can you tell us exactly where this potential is being realised?

WONDERMAN                Certainly.  He is beginning to master the art of levitation, Barry.

PRESENTER                    Can we see?

WONDERMAN                Of course.

(THEY BOTH TURN TO FACE WONDERYOUTH, WHO JUMPS CLUMSILY.)

WONDERMAN                Of course, there’s still room for improvement.

PRESENTER                    He jumped!

WONDERMAN                Pardon?

PRESENTER                    He jumped!

WONDERMAN                When?

PRESENTER                    Just then, he jumped.

WONDERMAN                Did he?

PRESENTER                    Yes, he did and you said he was going to levitate.

WONDERMAN                Did I?

PRESENTER                    Yes, you did.

WONDERMAN                Well, there you are then.

PRESENTER                    What?

WONDERMAN                Well, it’s a start isn’t it?

PRESENTER                    A start?  The world is hardly going to be safe in his hands is it?  The only thing he’s got to recommend him is that he hasn’t got a wooden leg.

WONDERMAN                (AFTER A PAUSE FOR THOUGHT)  He has got a pushbike.

PRESENTER                    Oh fine, fine.  Well as long as the world’s master criminals all plan cycle-borne getaways we’ll know exactly who to call then, won’t we?

WONDERMAN                Yes, we will… We will?  Will we?

PRESENTER                    Oh yes, I’m sure we’ll all sleep soundly in our beds tonight…..

(BEHIND THEM, WONDERYOUTH FALLS OVER.  THE PRESENTER STARES DISTRACTEDLY AT THE PRONE YOUTH WHO MAKES NO ATTEMPT TO GET BACK UP.)

PRESENTER                    Yes, well, thank you very much for coming along today.  Mr Alfred Wonderman….

(HE TURNS HIS CHAIR TO ONCE AGAIN FACE WONDERMAN WHO, EYES CLOSED AND MOUTH OPENED, BEGINS TO SNORE LOUDLY.)

The Writer’s Circle #28 – Jeff Reads to the Room

“…You know the sensation, it’s a spark of light; barely perceptible, like a camera flash from behind you: sharp, sudden, no afterglow, just the sensation that for a split-second there has been a crack in the darkness and time has frozen just for you.  Nothing more than a nano-second, but you’re aware that something – you can never quite put your finger on what thing – but something is not exactly as you left it. And you find yourself wondering what could have happened?  Where you could have been?  What you could have done?  Still not entirely sure, really not at all certain, that anything has actually happened at all…  Well, that’s what happened.

As usual, I took a circuit of the house, checked the doors and windows, peered out into the street, that kind of thing.  I don’t need to turn on the lights; the vestigial glow of stand-by lamps is always enough to guide me.  My attention was caught by everything and by nothing.  The everyday contents of the house introduced itself to me piece-by-piece; imprinted itself onto my memory, slightly adrift of its normal position, but somehow unmoved.  My home was speaking to me, article by article, trinket by trinket, memory by memory, telling me “Take a good look around you.  Not one thing in here is yours.  You own it all, but none of it is yours.  You live here, but you don’t inhabit an inch of the fabric.  When you go, there’ll be no sign that you ever lived here.”

This revelation, of course, was not instant.  There was no thunder flash, no sudden awareness, no insight; my brain just doesn’t work like that.  It can just about cope with a slow, oozing seepage of relevant information and that is what it does; it just about copes.  Regardless of the pace at which facts are thrown at me, my head allows them to enter only at its own pace: when it has had enough, it shuts down.  Anything mid-process is disregarded until it wakes me up in the middle of the night, with the kind of nagging urgency that is associated only with the need for food, sex or urination.

I remembered a story I had read once, one of those comic-book things I think, about a man for whom time stood still whilst the world carried on, unaffected, around him.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually remember what had happened, why it had happened or how it had ended.  I was fairly certain that there was some sort of moral attached to it, but I had no idea what that might be.  I couldn’t focus.  My brain had decided to do the shutting-down thing.  It was telling me, in no uncertain terms, ‘Ok, I’ll hold everything together here, just long enough for you to get back to bed.  But don’t take long mind or you’ll wake up with a very sore neck again, pins and needles in your legs, the pattern of the cat-flap embossed upon your forehead…’

Keeping a person awake for long enough to get to their bed is, you would think, a relatively mundane task for a brain.  Linking forward motion to ocular input should be a piece of cake to the average lump of grey matter. Thirty billion neurons working as a team should surely be able to get a person to the bedroom without skinning the full length of their shin on a doorframe that hasn’t moved from the day that the house was built.  The knowledge that your own brain hates you, is willing to do you harm, does not sit easily in the darkness hours.  It can lead to worry.  It can lead to neurosis.  It can lead to just one small glass of whisky to help you sleep – if only any number of certain death traps did not lie between the fragile flesh and bone and the water of life.  I took my shattered limb back to my bachelor bed.

I had moved from the marital bed and into the single bed in the spare bedroom as soon as it became clear to me that my wife was never coming home.  I found it easier to sleep without space.  There is something cocoon-like about a single bed.  The early morning spaces that I stare into are not infinite in this tiny room.  The walls and ceilings are always visible; even with my eyes closed I can see them.  When I move, I can feel them.  They are solid and dependable the walls of my little womb.  Even when I dream, they do not move.  They hold my little world and cradle it securely within its box-room universe.

The final stretch of my journey to sleep was illuminated by the mega-watt output of my bedside alarm, which was set, as always, ten minutes fast.  The alarm itself set ten minutes early to allow for one cycle under the snooze button and a further ten minutes early just in case something went wrong with the snooze button and it decided to let me nap on for a full eighteen minutes.  It was pointing as always towards the wall so that I couldn’t see the flashing green figures that illuminated its front, which meant that it was useless for time-keeping purposes, but absolutely ideal for strobe lighting the whole room metronomically from midnight to mid-day.  I climbed between the sheets and looked over to the corner of the room with the small pile of books and cd’s which, outside of my clothes, and despite the three years that had elapsed since my wife’s departure, were the only things that were truly mine.  They pulsed with the light, seeming to move forward and backwards like flotsam on the ebb and flow of radiance – looming out at me before scuttling back into the shadows like a… like a… well, like a really sinister pile of books and CD’s… I made a mental note to move them in the morning.  I filed the mental note in the special compartment of my brain, along with all the other mental notes that were never acted upon; the reminders to cut my toe nails, trim my nasal hairs and pay the milkman.  I wondered for a moment why I had not removed any of the things that I so despised: the furniture that I loathed; the pictures that made me cringe; the wallpaper that made my head spin.  Was I hoping she would return?  I don’t think so.  The sexual pleasure that I had got from burning all of her underwear in the bath was far greater than any I remember whilst she was there. 

Laziness, that was the truth.  Inertia.  The inability to do anything that required an actual decision outside of whether to microwave my curry from the tin or from the freezer; whether to drink my beer at the pub or in front of the TV; whether I could stretch another day out of these socks.  I was surrounded by all these things I loathed simply because moving them would require me to take positive action of some kind – and the only thing I was positive about was that I was still not up to that.

I closed my eyes, decided what I wanted to dream about – a trick I perfected as a child – and allowed my body to become heavy, to sink into the mattress as my mind drifted away into… into…  Why do my legs always do that?  What makes them twitch like that?  Another night and yet again the trick I learned as an adult – lying awake, counting the ripples in the artex ceiling and worrying about my aching, twitching legs…”

The Writer’s Circle began with ‘Penny’s Poem’ here.
Episode 27 ‘The Games Night’ is here.

The Running Man on Time

Having tired myself in the effort to find a reason not to do so, I eventually went for a run.  I had procrastinated for an hour and dawdled through sixty minutes more, but somewhat against my fondest hopes, everything eventually fell into place and I made it through the door – only to return immediately in order to don cap, sunglasses and Factor 30, owing to the fact that the sun had crept higher into the sky during my protracted preparations raising the temperature from balmy to totally unsuitable for an ageing carrot-top to run in, however, my will had now been sapped to such an extent that I could not bear to back out completely.  If it meant that I did not have to relive the previous two hours of angst, then sunstroke was an acceptable price to pay.

I am not certain where time goes when I am getting ready to run: one minute I am trying to decide what shirt I need to wear, the next minute, it is an hour later and I’m wandering around the house in my pants, trying to remember where I left my shorts.  By the time I have got myself together, my running shoes are often in another time zone.  A half hour run requires a preparation time of at least an hour.  If I ever run a marathon I will have to book a week off work.  Although if I ever was to run a marathon, the hours before the run would have little to compare with those that follow which, I fear, would seem very much longer to those that had to live with me.  Not that there is much chance of that – marathon-wise I already have all of my excuse-ducks in a row:

  1. Although history has shown that I am technically not too old to run a marathon, common sense decrees that I am far too old to run a first marathon.
  2. My attention span is (at best) about ninety minutes.  As a marathon would take me somewhere around the seven hour mark, there is every chance that I would forget what I was doing and stop for a pie and a pint along the way.
  3. Given my aptitude for falling over, I would almost certainly over the twenty six miles distance find more than ample opportunity to come a proper cropper – and tarmac roads are very hard.
  4. I live in morbid fear of the kind of shame that would accompany a three kilometre capitulation.
  5. If I should, by some miracle, make it beyond the half way mark, it would be in a time that would ensure that all the paramedics had given up and gone home before I needed them.

So, my current timetable is unlikely to vary: 30 minutes or so to run the 5km that constitutes my regular hobble, Lord alone knows how long getting ready for it, twenty minutes to shower afterwards and ten minutes for a recuperative ice cream before I am sufficiently revived to turn the coffee machine on.

Time well spent is never wasted.

The Running Diaries began with ‘Couch to 5k’ way back then.
The Running Man came full circle with ‘Return to Couch to 5k’ here.

Zoo #44 – The Rhinohippoeleraffe

Having spent a few days writing poems for my grandchildren, the zoo poems have taken on a rather more fanciful air.  I hope you will forgive this temporary lack of cynicism…

Once-upon-a-long-ago
When all the world was cold as snow.
And ice-cream grew from carrot trees
And camels fluttered on the breeze
There came along a fearsome beast
A creature who, to say the least,
Would not be happy should you laugh;
The Rhinohippoeleraffe.

His eyesight was so very poor;
He had a horn upon his jaw.
He lived in water, eating weed
To satisfy his massive greed.
You may have guessed, I must suppose,
He had a trunk where you’ve a nose.
His fur was filled with blotchy spots.
He looked like he’d got chickenpox.
A neck so long he touched the sky
(He never ever wore a tie)
Completed this ungainly creature.
(In fact it was his nicest feature.)

He had, as you may well conclude,
The disposition to be rude.
His temper frayed so very fast
No wonder that his days have passed
No longer does he walk upon
The greenish land where he belonged.
But then, it couldn’t last for long,
He always was the only one.

If a zoo is going to hold any attraction to a child, it surely has to include a creature or two that only otherwise exists in their imagination…

R.S.V.P

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Dear Mr Ableworld

Just a short note to thank you for your most colourful and informative brochure, which dropped through my letter box today.  What a way to celebrate your 20th birthday!  It is especially gratifying to find that you have taken the time to have this missive pushed through my door when your time must be so fully consumed in being the ‘No1 Mobility Retailer in the UK’.  You are truly a dedicated philanthropist.  Furthermore, I cannot help but notice that you have been good enough to extend to me the offer of a ‘FREE, no obligation quote’ – I am truly moved by your generosity.  Your colourful communication is a joy to behold, and what variety I find in your carefully bespoke offers!

I had barely finished Googling ‘Nodular Ring Cushion’ when my eye fell upon the ‘Leisure Trolley’ which is cunningly designed to look just like the shopping bags on wheels (locally known as Biddy Bags) that those much older than myself were apt to take three quarters of an hour hauling onto the buses before Covid locked them into their homes.  Not, of course, that they would have such problems with this little beauty which has, I note, three wheels at either side in order to make curb, bus and ankle mounting far easier – also a convenient seat on which to perch whilst chatting with the driver and searching the purse for the last five pence coin required to complete the ticket purchase.  Perfect!

Your kind offer of ‘2 for 3 on incontinence products’ leaves me breathless with excitement.  Not, though, damp, which means, unfortunately, that I will be unable to avail myself of this deal with any effect.

But then, what joy, on the very next page.  My life has, to date, had a very large ‘Kettle Tipper’ shaped hole in it.  Does it by any chance come with some means of holding the kettle whilst I fill it and place it in the tipper?  If it does, you can definitely ‘count me in’ – especially as your ‘3 wheel walker’ comes complete with a removable tray, which is the ideal means of transporting my tea cup and a small plate of Nice biscuits from the kitchen to the sitting room.

As you know, having had your most esteemed communication personally delivered to my address, I live in a bungalow, but so generous is your stairlift offer that I am very tempted to have an upper floor fitted, simply so that I can avail myself of all of its multifarious benefits. 

And finally, dear Able, my eye falls upon your incredibly generous offer of a ‘FREE Slip-Over Scooter Bag with all Boot Scooters’.  Our good friend Google was again invaluable in educating me: a Boot Scooter goes in a car’s boot.  (Who’d have thought it?)  Almost certainly a necessary feature given that the maximum range of the starter model is 6 miles – allowing you to go just three miles from home without having to elicit a lift back for both yourself and the deadweight machine.  A sure-fire way to make new friends.  I must admit, I am torn: should I launch myself onto the superior stability of your fine Boot Scooter, or should I instead purchase an electrical armchair that can ditch me face first onto the carpet at the flick of a switch?

I plan to visit your local store on Wednesday of next week, when I very much look forward to meeting you in person, and availing myself of the 20% discount on non-slip slippers.

I am yours, sincerely…

The Writer’s Circle #27 – The Games Night

As usual, the Writer’s Circle Games Night had descended into chaos, aided on this occasion by Kenny’s decision to list the evening as a charity event (‘They’re all bloody charity cases, if you ask me.’) and thus allow alcoholic beverages to be drunk, although not purchased upstairs.  (‘There’s only one of me you know and you’ll find me downstairs with the pumps and the till, not running up and down the stairs at the whim of a group of losers.’)  The search for the missing Scrabble letter ‘X’ had been a long and (by Writer’s Circle standards) uproarious one, driven on by Deidre who had ‘E’, ‘N’, ‘N’ and ‘O’ and was determined to stand a chance, at least, of banging ‘XENON’ down on a triple word score.  Her natural irritability was not exactly eased by Phil and Elizabeth who inexplicably suffered a serious attack of ‘the giggles’ when Elizabeth accidentally knocked a box of dominoes from the shelf and found, in amongst the widely distributed dominoes, a Scrabble ‘T’ which, as far as anyone could see, wasn’t actually missing in the first place.
“Here,” said Phil, holding out the tile to Deidre, ‘You might as well take this.  You could at least get ‘TENON’.”
“Or ‘NONET’ said Elizabeth.
“Is that a real word?’ asked Phil.
Elizabeth opened her mouth to reply.
“You shouldn’t have been looking at my tiles,” snapped Deidre.
“Oh come on, Deidre,” said Phil.  “I couldn’t miss them; you left them on the table.  Besides, even if we do find the ‘X’, you’ll have to get hold of it before Elizabeth, otherwise she’s going to get ‘SPANX’.”
Elizabeth took a playful swipe at Phil who ducked and, much to the amusement of both of them, dislodged the ‘X’ tile from the folds of his sweater.
Deidre stared coldly at the two of them, giggling like teenagers.  “Well, I think we’d better start all over again, don’t you?” she said, beckoning Frankie to rejoin them at the table.

Frankie had, in fact, played no part in the search for the missing ‘X’ as he had found himself at the next table, alongside Billy and Terry who were staring blankly at a chess board.  “You’re telling me that you having decided to play chess, you discover that neither of you have ever played before?”  He looked from Billy to Terry incredulously.  “… Never?” 
He sighed, took a seat between them and, after a deep breath, attempted to introduce them to the simplest rudiments of the game.  Both men nodded sagely as Frankie explained, “The game is all about protecting your King: it’s an old game – I’m surprised that both Kings are not white really – and the Queen is your most powerful piece, she can go any distance across the board, in any direction, straight or diagonally, but she can’t go through or over other pieces.  If she reaches your own piece, she stops, if she reaches your opponent’s, she takes it off the board.  The Knight is the only piece that can go over or round other pieces.  It moves like this… or this… or this… or this…”

Penny stared at her opponents – Vanessa, Tom, Louise, Jeff and Jane – across the Cluedo board and tried to decide where her main competition was going to come from.  She was, for once, pleased to find that Phil – the detective writer – was otherwise engaged, but thought that Louise and Jane could both offer stiff competition.  Vanessa appeared confident (but was actually just confused) whilst Tom and Jeff – who was laughing so heartily at something (Not even he appeared to know what.) that he was slowly dripping a puddle of gin and tonic into his crotch – simply seemed pleased to be involved.  The initial barrier to starting the game had still to be crossed: the positioning of the six ‘weapons’ on the board.  Jane was insistent that they should start in ‘appropriate’ rooms: “Knife in the Kitchen, Candlestick in the Ballroom, it’s obvious.”
“Spanner in the Garage, Pistol in the Shooting Gallery…” said Tom.
“Lead Pipe?” asked Jeff.
“Outside Toilet,” said Tom, which amused them both.
“Yes, well, I think it would make more sense if they went into rooms that actually exist on the board,” said Jane.  “Can we all agree, at least, that the Candlestick belongs in the Ballroom?”
They couldn’t.  Tom wanted it in the Library and Louise in the Lounge.  “My mother,” she said, “Always kept the best silver in the lounge… and the knife has to be in the Dining Room.”
“Maybe we could start with the rope,” said Vanessa.  “Any suggestions?”
“I don’t know,” said Louise.  “Who even has a rope in the house?  I can never even find string.  And how long is that rope, even to scale?  It would never go round somebody’s neck…”
Eventually they all agreed to pick a murder weapon each, at random, and they placed them in a room of their choice, which resulted in the Candlestick being in the ballroom ‘Because that’s where the piano is’; the Revolver in the Study ‘Because it’s always in a desk drawer on the telly’; the Lead Pipe in the Cellar where it had ‘Fallen from the old boiler when they fitted a new one’; the Dagger was in the Dining Room because Tom had drawn it and he wasn’t about to change his mind; the Rope in the Library ‘Having fallen off the bell-pull’, and the Spanner in the Billiard Room ‘In case the table’s legs needed adjustment’.
“OK, so who’s got the dice?” asked Jane. 
Accusing glances passed around the group.
“Anyone?”

Billy and Terry both grinned nervously as Frankie drove on.  “The Bishop moves diagonally, the Rook or Castle in a straight line.”  They cupped their chins and stared intently at the board, occasionally reaching out and moving the pieces along the lines of the instructions…

A thorough search of the Cluedo box revealed a single die trapped within its cardboard tomb.
“Can we play with just one?” asked Jeff.
“It will take an awful long time to get around,” said Tom.
“Perhaps we could each roll it twice,” suggested Vanessa.
“Brilliant!” said Tom, who was now in full-on ‘charm’ mode.  “So, who wants to be Colonel Mustard?”

Eventually, at the insistent beckoning of Deidre, Frankie left Billy and Terry to their game.  “Do you think you will, at least, be able to give it a bit of a go?” he asked.
Billy and Terry nodded in unison. 
Slowly they placed all of the pieces onto the board and, thrilled with their accomplishment, shook hands before commencing a simple game of draughts.
“What will we do if one of the pieces is crowned?” asked Billy.
“We’ll swap it for a King or a Queen,” said Terry.
“But they’re already crowned.”
“You’re right,” said Terry.  “We’ll promote a Knight.  A Bishop wouldn’t be ruthless enough and a Pawn would be unseemly…”
They both grinned agreement and began sliding pieces around the board in a random fashion.
“Do they go on black or white?” asked Billy.
“Yes,” said Terry.  “Black or white, definitely…”

At the Scrabble board, Deidre had once again taken control.  “Right,” she said.  “I think it is you to start, Francis.  What have you got?”
Frankie looked at his tiles: ‘A’, ‘C’, ‘F’, ‘K’, ‘L’, ‘L’ ‘U’.
“Fuck all,” he said.

…Downstairs, Kenny was playing darts with a man in a tired business suit, who was asking a lot of questions about somebody who sounded a lot like Tom.  Fortunately, as Kenny was able to assure the man, he’d never been seen in his pub.  “Sounds like a bit of a loser, anyway,” he said…

I think many of my readers will know Draughts as Checkers and Cluedo as Clue – and if you have one, I’d be pleased to know about it

The Writer’s Circle began here with ‘Penny’s Poem’
Episode 26 ‘The New Skirt’ is here.

The Running Man on a Return to Couch to 5k

I went for a slightly ‘troubled’ run at the end of last week whence I discovered that my lungs have not yet quite worked themselves back up to absorbing oxygen in the required manner and my hips are in desperate need of WD40, so it was decided that I need to reintroduce myself to the thrice weekly slog a little more gently.  Consequently I reset ‘Couch to 5k’ and I intend to ‘redo’ the last few weeks of the regime until I get back up to speed.  I have removed the ever-soothing tones of Jo Whiley and replaced them with the slightly more chiding contributions of Sarah Millican.  The short ‘walking’ interludes (I have started at week 5 which sees me ending the week with a twenty minute run) are a little embarrassing, and always coincide with encounters with other runners, but do give me the opportunity to whip my ailing alveoli into accepting some suitable level of oxygen exchange before I lurch on again.

I have always ‘suffered with my chest’ but this is the first time I have really noticed how long it takes to build back up to normal function after it has divested itself of whatever it is it stores in there – although to be honest I have never been one to push my ability to breathe further than has seemed natural.  In forty years of playing football, I seldom moved beyond canter, even at my fittest.  I always managed to position myself alongside ‘willing runners’, affording myself the maximum opportunity to kick the opposition without having to chase them around too much first.  I figured that, as breathing was the only thing actually keeping me alive, being out of breath was unlikely to ever be a good thing.

My legs, I have mentioned before, have something of the ‘tree trunk’ about them.  They are ‘sturdy’ in the extreme and, I fear, not ideally suited to running – probably more designed for holding up a motorway bridge.  My calf muscles alone must consume about fifty percent of the oxygen that I do manage to take on board.  Moreover, when given the opportunity to utilise an amount of oxygen, they generally seem to enjoy it to such an extent that they continue to flap around all night.  It is incredibly annoying (possibly more for my wife than myself) when my legs are still pounding the streets whilst the rest of me searches for sleep.  I have tried so many ways of combating this: hot baths, cold baths, super-hydration (leading to super-micturition), standing, sitting, heating, cooling, beating with birch twigs, giving a stern talking-to, but to little avail.  My legs have no speed control and whilst they are unhappy to lumber up to a pace that is anything in excess of brisk stroll, they are, having done so, generally unwilling to return to anything resembling inertia.  If I do manage to tie the damn things down overnight, they repay me by aching and, occasionally, cramping up in such a manner that a blacksmith could use them as an anvil.

My hips are relative newcomers to this circle of pain, but boy are they making up for it now.  I have developed a hip-flexing and stretching exercise routine which fits between my runs and my hips have been much better, but whilst I was not running, I was also not doing the in-between stuff.  Hence my hips have become like rusted gate hinges and they make a similar noise when I walk.  I desperately need to get them back into some kind of order so that I can get out of the car without groaning; so that I can bend over without next door’s cat thinking that somebody is shooting at it.

I’m hoping that my second lope through the latter stages of Couch to 5k will be somewhat easier than my first: I am somewhat more adjusted to the levels of discomfort and boredom, having developed the distraction techniques needed to cancel out both.  I may stumble on through the schedule, to the end of week nine, or I may find that I am back up to speed (relative term*) before then and decide to drop back into the old routine.  Either way, I am actually feeling keen to get back to my established routine of runs and exercise before winter descends.

Who’d have thought it?

*VERY relative term.

‘Couch to 5k’, started my running saga here.
Last week’s running diary ‘on Being Grandad’ is here.

Zoo #43 – Ptarmigan

A ptarmigan is a bigger partridge
(Though hunters use the same size cartridge)
A little larger than a grouse,
Substantially smaller than a house.
Its fate is often Christmas fare –
It tastes a little like a hare.
Ptarmigans come with a silent ‘P’,
Like toddlers swimming in the sea.

The Ptarmigan is classed as a ‘game bird’ e.g. it has obviously been placed on earth with the simple function of giving the ruling classes something to point their guns at when they’re not starting wars.  It is the ultimate arrogance of man that everything else on this planet has been placed here solely for our benefit and such things that clearly do not fit this criteria, probably need to be eradicated.  Weirdly, the creatures we protect the best are those that we eat.

N.B. the bird was originally known by its Gaelic name ‘Tàrmachan’ until a man called Robert Sibbald (Psibbald?) thought that it would look far more classy if it appeared to have a genus name of Greek origin, so he stuck a silent ‘p’ at the front.  I’ve always been intrigued by silent letters.  How did they get there?  I know (that is, I have been told, and I am trusting enough to believe) that some of them were originally pronounced – e.g. both the ‘k’ and the ‘g’ in the word ‘knight’ were originally spoken – but I cannot begin to imagine how ‘igh’ ended up in so many words.  Some kind of lexicographical aberration.  I’m sure the Greeks would have a word for it…

My One and Only Piece about the Euros

You have to be honest: it is the grinding inevitability that is so galling.  Our position as world-class gallant losers cemented once again.  Oh well, if it’s going to take another fifty-five years until we do this all again, at least I won’t be here for it – although, if I am, I will just about have recovered.  As a life-long football fan and lover of my country (although not always my countrymen) I should by now have grown used to this torture: that everything ends in disappointment sooner or later.  Let’s be honest: we all knew that Italy were the better team, but we believed, really believed, that it didn’t matter.  We had destiny on our side (not to mention Baddiel, Skinner and Neil Diamond).  In actual fact, even if they’d have given additional marks for ‘Anthem Singing’ we’d have lost.  Watching the Italian team sing their anthem is joyful.  We Brits feel obliged to sing the anthem solemnly – loudly – but reverentially.  Gusto is, I believe, an Italian word…

It has become a national trait: play brilliantly, get ahead, freeze with the realisation of what we have just done, die a little.  Somehow English teams, in all sports, are viewed as arrogant, when what we are is, in fact, fragile.  People of my age might remember the ‘mantles’ that used to be a necessary component of gas lights in caravans: they gave out a brilliant white light, until you touched them when they collapsed as though made out of talcum powder.  English confidence is a brittle beast.  It can’t help that we live on a tiny island of three nations, of which the other two despise us.  Ask most Scots who they would want to win and they would answer ABE (Anyone But England).  On Sunday, Scotland was populated by 5.5 million Italians.  Our Welsh neighbours are similarly disposed towards us.  The answers, I suppose, must lie in our history – shared, presumably with France, Germany and Ireland amongst a plethora of others – who would support the Invading Hordes of Betelgeuse if they were playing England.  I’m sure we had a few of our American chums supporting us – although how many chose to watch a European competition shown, presumably (and if at all) in the middle of the night I cannot imagine.  Also, I seem to remember reading that there are more Irish people in the US than in Ireland and those of Italian descent not far behind, so I’m guessing we probably didn’t feel the waves of support washing across the ocean anyway.

The problem is, we have a ‘history’ – seldom a good one – with most of the rest of the world, and history, it appears, is not easily forgiven.  Imagine being beaten up in the school playground because of something your great, great, great, grandfather once did.  Try to imagine how much weight an apology would carry: I apologise for the actions of all of my countrymen between 1558 and 1980.  Here, have my Snickers Bar as reparation is not going to cut it, is it?  It is a burden that all English people carry, and one that we cannot shed.

…And then I read that a number of the England players (You can guess which ones.  I’ll give you a clue: they are not white-skinned.) have been subjected to all sorts of abhorrent abuse on social media since our loss – presumably from the people who are currently doing for the Flag of St George what they previously did for the Union Jack e.g. making it reviled throughout the world – and I think, you know what, I now get what the rest of the world sees in us.  You’ve all seen these ‘people’ when they get caught (not often) and they appear gloating on the TV News: the boo’ers of ‘taking the knee’; the jeerers of other National Anthems; the denouncers of different; the haters; the flower of English manhood (and they always are men) huh?  And I realise that this young, diverse and focussed group of football players, who made it all the way to the final and played brilliantly along the way, is something to really celebrate.  They represent the England I want to be part of, and bugger the penalties… 

The Writer’s Circle #26 – The New Skirt

Penny smoothed down the perceived creases in her neatly pleated skirt.  She was certain that nobody had noticed, but it was new and just a very few centimetres shorter in length than those she habitually wore.  She felt somehow empowered by it.  She had caught a sideways glimpse of herself in the mirror in the Ladies and she thought that her legs were actually nothing like as ‘stringy’ as her mother always told her.  She had seen worse, much worse, and although the skirt gave her a little difficulty in keeping her knees covered when she sat down, she was happy with the way she looked.  She felt suddenly hot and thought about opening the top button on her blouse.  Just briefly.  Steady now Penny, just one step at a time…

Shyly she looked around the Circle (all of whom had noted the new skirt) and almost sat straight down, but she caught sight of Deidre who was clearly ready to speak, and decided to press on.  “I drew,” she said, “Family Saga, and I would be lying if I said that I really knew what that meant.  First I thought ‘Gone with the Wind’ and then I thought of ‘The Waltons’, but I knew that I was only going to write a few hundred words, and ‘Saga’ didn’t really seem to apply.  So, I hope that nobody minds, but I intend to take a bit of a liberty and take myself even further out of my comfort zone…”
“Oh God,” muttered Deidre, “What is it, a poem about cats?”
“…by writing this.  I think you will all agree that it is not what I’m used to doing, but I listened to Frankie and he said that I needed to ‘lighten up’.”  She looked to Frankie for support and he smiled warmly and nodded his approval.  “I know what everybody thinks of me and, frankly, you’re not really wrong, so I tried to remember how I used to be; what I used to like and, somehow, for some reason, I came up with this and… well, Phil has agreed to help me ‘act’ it.  I hope nobody minds…”  She smiled at Phil who took his cue to stand, grasping a sheaf of papers in his hand.  “We grabbed a few minutes ‘rehearsal’ before you all got here.  I don’t know about Phil, but I have never acted before – not even in the school nativity – so please be patient.  I will have to set the scene.  It is an old-fashioned bookshop.  Phil is the owner and I am the customer.  I hope you will bear with me; I’m no actor and this is… well, I hope you will bear with me.”  She and Phil moved into position, each grasping their script and a book in a bag.

PHIL                            Ah good morning madam.  May I be of service?
PENNY                        Yes, it’s about this vegetarian cook book you sold me yesterday.
PHIL                            Yes madam.                       
PENNY REMOVES A VERY DOG-EARED COOK BOOK FROM THE BAG.  PHIL LOOKS AT THE BOOK AND THEN ENQUIRINGLY PENNY.
PENNY                        It’s an ordinary cookbook with all the meat recipes torn out.
PHIL                            Your point being…?
PENNY                        Well, it’s not the same as a vegetarian cook book, is it?
PHIL                            I’m afraid you’ll have to help me there.
PENNY                        Well, a vegetarian cook book is a carefully selected and varied collection of non-meat recipes, whilst this…
PHIL                            Yes madam?
PENNY                        … this is a carnivorous jamboree with everything but the lentils ripped out of it.
PHIL                           (Under his breath)  Not unlike the average vegetarian fruitcake’s diet, I’d say.  Perhaps, madam, you could tell me exactly what it is you were expecting.
PENNY                        Well, I wanted a book of recipe ideas, especially designed for vegetarian consumption, which I could cook for my son’s non-meat eating girlfriend when she comes to stay at the weekend…
PHIL LOOKS POINTEDLY AT THE BOOK.
PENNY (cont)              … that doesn’t say ‘100 favourite meat recipes’ on the cover.  I don’t think I’m going to get very far with a recipe for Steak & Kidney Pie with ‘Steak & Kidney’ Tipp-Exed out and the words ‘Some Vegetarian Rubbish’ written over it in biro.  Nor, I think, will she find (SHE TURNS THE PAGE) and I quote ‘Beef Stroganoff with all the good bits picked out’ particularly to her taste.
PHIL                           Right, well, I’ll just throw this one away then shall I?
MELODRAMATICALLY, HE THROWS THE BOOK INTO THE BIN.
PHIL (cont)                  Another week’s profit down the drain.
PENNY                        Oh come on.  It’s not the first time you’ve tried it on with me, is it?
PHIL                           What do you mean?
PENNY                        The whodunnit you sold me last week…
PHIL                           Yes?
PENNY                        2019’s ‘Wisden’ with the last page torn out… And what about the ‘Da Vinci Code’?  Did you really think that I wouldn’t realise that it was just a remaindered travel book about Venice with half the words cut out and stuck back in at random?
PHIL                           Alright, what do you want?
PENNY                        Have you got the latest Jeffrey Archer?
PHIL REACHES INTO HIS BAG AND PULLS OUT A PRISTINE PAPERBACK.
PENNY                        Can you cut all the crap out for me?
WITH A WEARY SIGH PHIL TEARS OFF THE FRONT COVER AND PUTS JUST THAT IN THE BAG, WHICH HE HANDS TO PENNY.  HE THROWS THE REST INTO THE BIN.
PENNY                        Thanks
SHE ‘EXITS’.

In the ensuing silence, both Phil and Penny retook their chairs.  Penny looked down at her exposed knees and Phil cast his eyes slowly around the Circle.  Frankie clapped.  “Bravo,” he said, and he stood.  Phil joined him, clapping loudly.  One by one the rest of the Circle stood and joined in the applause with even the reluctant Deidre belatedly joining in.  Penny, with half a smile, took a deep inward breath and slowly pulled down the hem on her skirt…

N.B. I’m sure that Crispin Underfelt has mentioned before the difficulty of getting sketches to format for WordPress.  This is the best that I can muster.  I hope that it is, at least, understandable.

The Writer’s Circle began here with ‘Penny’s Poem’.
Last week’s episode ‘Redemption (part two)’ is here.