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Friday 30 September 2011

Circular thing. Wotsit.

Circular thing. Wotsit. « A Dark Feathered Art: "The item to which I am referring is that best-of-all-possible gifts, especially for a struggling writer (is there any other kind?) – the Round Tewit. (Repeat it slowly, syllable by syllable, until you get it. Return when you’ve finished groaning.)"

Monday 26 September 2011

In The Beginning…

n The Beginning… « jsascribes: "Regardless of how I choose to begin each story, I have to keep in mind that the first sentence needs to pack a little punch, and that it doesn’t get any easier from there. In my experience, an interested agent will ask to see five to thirty pages of a person’s work in order to determine whether or not a submission is a worthy investment of their time."

Monday 12 September 2011

106 words on people dying, was it ?

In 1997 a Greek Jewish boxer named Ishmael died. A film about his life was made by Robert Young. I knew him as Bob’ when we shared a flat in South Kensington He went on to make films about the rainforest, and I went on to engineering jobs of staggering mediocrity. Incidentally if anyone meets Bob, you might tell him that Joe Strick died in Paris recently I don’t know if they took him back to New York or even Tel Aviv. but I heard from Sheilagh that they mentioned Betty’s script work in his obituary in the New York Times. Decent that.

© William Botley September 2011
All rights reserved

Price of Survival

He lived in death’s waiting room,
dancing on his family’s skulls,
entertaining the crowd to survive.

Cooking his murderous rage,
he found heaven,
through rank anger
killing any who stood in his path,
refusing to look in the
Holocaust mirror,
as he guided the film-makers
around his old home.
© Valerie Taylor September 2011
All rights reserved

Sunday 11 September 2011

Introducing the new range of Hindsight seating solutions ...

“Try it,” said the salesman. 

And the old man did.

Comfortable it certainly was, with support in all the right places.  Images of wealth, conquest and justification tingled in his mind.  The salesman flashed his told-you-so grin. 

“I’ll leave it,” the old man said, “but you knew that all along.”

© Tim Scott
All rights reserved

I too have declared war

(in memory of Salamo Arouch)

I will live and survive and answer
why I took up the fight.

Why, delegated, I fight to the death.

(Dancing away from darkness,
wrapped up tight into fists

Dancing with the flames,
boxing clever)

I will tell all the people on earth
how ghosts say farewell,

going without saying.

© Sophia Roberts
All rights reserved

Without Compassion

136954 Auschwitz-Birkenau
A numbered arm that pays the price
Of men’s frenzied greed of gluttony
A fighter denied by evil desire
To murder self-preservation in a death ring

‘Without compassion.
If I didn’t win, I didn’t survive’
(Salamo Arouch)

© Harry Mills
All rights reserved

The Compound

It’s a strange self indulgent feeling.  A cross between a prayer-less Sunday morning - waiting for the newspaper boy to creak the cottage gate before raising the old brass letterbox that gives birth to the elastic banded roll of doom and disaster - and the other guilt feeling: the stillness of a grave-side where the names of relatives’ children evaporate from the grey matter.

The relentless typhoon that had squalled it’s vengeance throughout the Philippine night had, at last, ceased. The mundane activities of another day stirred life into the Island, bringing to the rain-pool surfaces a trillion more mosquitoes: crackling in the stagnation of liquid typhoid, popping in the morning heat like Sugar Puffs in a swirling dirty brown bowl.  Each one an airborne miniature vampire waiting for dusk - and the unprotected - to fill their empty blood sacs with crimson O, B or rhesus-negative; they’re not fussy, skipping over the anti-mosquito creams with the ease of the Dam Busters’ bouncing bombs.

 I sit quietly watching her.

The Sunday morning toast is buttered and drips tantalisingly. She sits cross-legged on her wicker chair, looking like a long black-haired sultry Buddha, occasionally leaning across the small breakfast table to squirt more camouflage HP Sauce into her bacon butties.

Finished, her red nail-polished arched index finger squeakily slides through the sauce remnants on the plate that gets deposited on her outstretched pink tongue.

Then, knowingly, she smiles   
She wipes clean her finger on a tissue that defies gravity, wedged between the discarded mango skins of vibrant orangey-yellow - the remembered colour of the toucan’s bill on the early Guinness railway posters.

She had long left the poverty of her mother’s Negros Island and the daily diet of dried fish, fried ‘til the disgusting odour permeated the small shack that had been home to her seven siblings.  Her table manners had not improved from those Negros years of scooped grey rice and fish heads, but now she had acquired a new culinary habit that both fascinated and disgusted me.

Looking firmly into my eyes to gauge reaction, she tears open the corner of her bag of Maltesers with her white Filipino teeth, then smiling, she lets half a dozen chocolate covered malt balls float on the surface of her morning coffee.

She does this without taking her eyes off mine looking for my approval.

Her spoon swirls between her long fingers, prodding the brown balls bobbing on the coffee’s surface, looking like spiked, wartime floating marine bombs lapping outside a harbour wall awaiting enemy vessels.

After a few tantalising minutes, the chocolate starts to melt, the malt sends bubbles to the surface, she scoops up the reward into her open mouth; the descending escapees gather into a chocolate goo waiting for a deft swirl of her wrist holding the coffee cup to conclude her performance.

She bores of trying to disgust me and leaves me at the breakfast table on the balcony that overlooks a sparse but strangely interesting compound owned by one of the wealthy resort hotel groups.

Here, in this compound, is home to a variety of yard animals and paraphernalia that comes and goes on a three wheeled bogey pushed by two hotel porters.

This is now my time.

My morning of new sounds; new smells - like the acrid accent of smouldering vegetation waste - brings a sharp pungency to the nostrils.

The balcony is now quiet.  I watch, below, the new banana tree leaves unfold.     Their pea-green conical ribbed beauty graces space on a heavenly journey, only to be mercilessly scythed by the looping overhead black electric cable.

These young intrusive banana plants are overshadowed by the hundred year old Bangkal trees which dwarf all other barked pretenders in the compound.

I watch the tree lizards, with their tiny suckered toes, jerk in bewildered movements, changing colour from leaf green to dark bark- brown, as their tongues stab the resting damsel flies whose gossamer wings protrude the lizards’ slitted mouth.

These trees have a presence of purpose.  Their lower branches that encroach over the makeshift basketball pitch are lopped off with machetes for firewood.

Branches culled over many years leave gnarled knuckles on the trunk, reminding me of a poem I read somewhere - may have been from the pen of Ted Hughes - about a lone weathered blackthorn tree on a Devon moor, hunchbacked against a hundred relentless winter storms, it’s one leafless branch held out like a drawn wooden sword, in ferocious defiance against the elements

The compound’s entrance is graced, by a fairly new wrought-iron gate, maybe twelve feet wide. Above its central opening is a curved double arched section that - if it carried wordage - would not look dissimilar to the nightmare of Belson. The rest of the compound’s exterior fencing is comprised of stained, dilapidated corrugated iron, held vertically by stakes of bamboo twined together.

On hearing the whistle of the approaching porters with the loaded bogey, the young guard swings open the entrance gates that answer the incoming whistle with a returning oil-less squeak, one octave above the porters.

They enter the compound, go pass the grey geese - pleasuring themselves in the overnight puddles before the intensity of the morning sun shortens shadows and evaporates the water, leaving cracks, once more, in the iron-hard ground.

The geese toss their majestic wet necks, almost like dipping a hand into Holy Water. 

I often observe men entering the breaking sea waves, dipping their hands before making the Sign of the Cross.  Footballers, too, touch the turf as they run onto the pitch.  I wonder if these mystical actions actually stop drowning or broken legs.

As a kid, I remember seeing my father bless himself with the river’s water before fishing, and how, in his aluminium box of salmon flies, there would always be a small crucifix and - how strange I used to think it - that a tin box of lethal feathered barbs could sit comfortably with another medieval form of death.

As the geese waddle down in their disappearing pool the compound’s hens strut under the trees fallen foliage.  Their trident spurs turn the vegetation - head to one side - looking for lunch.  Above the hen’s activities, nailed to the tree, is an empty roosting pole (for the guard’s prized fighting cock) which has been left empty since the demise of the rooster at last Sunday’s pit fight. 

Other domestic - and some feral animals - prowl around the corrugated jungle.  From my high vantage point, I observe a scrawny, long-backed black cat, snaking between the bamboo poles, prowling for recently hatched chicks and rodents.

Mid-morning sees the arrival of two men.  One younger than the obvious boss man (both carpenters), who have come to inspect and select cut lengths of bamboo, which will be fashioned into outriggers for a catamaran they are building.  The younger lifts a length, maybe twenty-five feet long, one end resting on his shoulder, whilst the older carpenter squints his knowledgeable eye along the length, gliding his machete over the growth rings every few feet, chipping away any imperfections.

The maid arrives.  A Filipino with a mouthful of white teeth that appear as she says ‘Good morning’ in stuttered broken English; her native indigenous name is unpronounceable. 

We call her Mary.  I watch her as she collects the washing, assembles it on plastic coat hangers and leaves it to dry in the sun, which is now creeping steadily onto the balcony.  She knows I watch her.

Mary stoops down to retrieve more garments from the plastic bowl allowing me a tantalising glimpse of her braless boobs; she knows exactly what she is doing, but never smiles at me, once - we have exchanged the pleasantries of the day.  I read her latest tee shirt, proclaiming ‘1+1=3...Jesus is with us’ and my rising sap is slapped in the face.

Down in the compound pups play silently, cuffing each other, baring immature milk teeth. Their heavily laden bitch-mother distracts the pups from her teats as they follow her in the direction of their owner, banging their tin feed bowls with what sounds like a big spoon.

Their owner will fatten-up the pups over the next twelve weeks, this being the optimum period for producing tender dog meat. After this time they are taken north - muzzled with cut-down plastic bottles or tin cans held firmly over their snouts with lengths of wire that dampen down the whelps on their long overnight journey to Bagiao.

Everywhere there are stark posters reminding Filipinas of the likely diseases of consuming dog meat that is not only illegal, but in some cases fatal.

Mary sweeps the tiled balcony, bending to retrieve an escaped Malteser that had abseiled down the breakfast table, giving me a bonus glimpse beneath the holy tee shirt.

I watch as the compound’s guard removes his Rod Steiger sun glasses, and starts to dig a hole below a Bangkal tree, close to the perimeter.  He labours with a spade and an iron bar prising the stones from the baked earth. Now shirtless, he scoops out the rubble from the hole with a discarded paint tin, before returning from behind his tin-topped guard hut - holding by the rear legs a two-tone dead pup that he holds up for me to see, reminding me of my father holding aloft a salmon to be photographed.

The pup is, without ceremony, dropped into its stony grave, where the iron rod curls the dead fur into a crescent, foetal shape.

I watch her, now - her tall, lean, almost boyish, figure leaning on the balcony safety bars overlooking the freshly dug grave.  The guard shouts out something in Tagalog.  She loosely translates, without any emotion: that the pup had been run-over by one of the hotel’s courtesy vehicles entering the compound.

Her long brown fingers mould themselves around the last remaining Malteser that protrudes from the inside of her cheek before joining the other brown delights that have already travelled down her long neck.  Her manicured fingers fold the now empty Maltesers bag into a childlike aeroplane that she launches towards the compound.  The plasticized paper bag disobeys its folded instructions, returning, in flight, to its original shape, before fluttering down to the pup’s grave like a bright red butterfly.

She turns, licks the chocolate off her fingers, retreats to the bedroom, giving me a bored smile; and asking Mary to find, and bring to her, her red nail polish and her Louis Vuitton manicure bag.

© Harry Mills 24th August 2011 
All rights reserved

Role Reversal - February Half-Term 2011

Part 3

The boys rush ahead and shin up the ladder to the top of the final breakwater.  Barry and I are following at a more leisurely pace when we hear Luke shout,

‘Oh no!  Here’s trouble!’

‘What’s wrong?’ I call.

‘There’s no ladder down and no path either.’

‘What do you mean?’  I can’t believe I’m hearing him correctly but as Barry and I reach him, our predicament becomes obvious.
On the far side of the breakwater, the sea wall is absolutely sheer.  Even if there were a ladder, which there is not, it would be useless.  Frustratingly, the beach is now only about forty feet away.  Unfortunately, that’s forty feet across the waves.

‘We’ll have to wait until the tide drops,’ Barry says.

We sit and study our position.

‘When the waves go out, it’s not deep,’ Luke observes.  ‘We could take off our shoes, roll up our trousers and paddle.’

‘Not a good idea,’ Jamie says, pointing.  ‘See those?’

This breakwater is much shorter than the others.  It looks as if whoever was constructing it, gave up before it was finished.  Huge boulders remain grouped around and line the base of the sea wall on the shore side.  They are roughly broken up and rusty iron bars and poles protrude from their uneven surfaces like sinister bones.

‘You could cut your feet badly on those,’ Jamie states.  ‘They’re half under water, so you can’t even see them properly.’

We agree.  So we wait.  Minutes pass.  I’m enjoying the mild weather and the clear light which allows us to see around the Dorset coast from Charmouth to Golden Cap and right along to Portland Bill some thirty miles away.  The boys and Barry start to fidget.

‘We can make it now,’ Luke says, ‘watch.’

As a gentle wave retreats, he runs down the slime covered slope, jinks his way between a couple of smallish rocks and scrambles up a large boulder just before the next wave reaches him.

‘We can keep going along these,’ he calls.  ‘They’ll get us about half way to the beach.  Then we can make a charge for it.’

‘Great.’  Jamie follows him.  ‘Come on, Nan.  It’s easy.’

A few years ago, I had a bad fall on a seaweed-covered rock and so I have not got the confidence to rush down this slippery slope as the boys have done.   For the first time, even Barry is dubious.  It looks as if we could easily slide, flat on our backs, into the ocean.  Once again, I feel daunted.  Then I notice that small patches of concrete seem to have been left between the edge of the slope and the side of the breakwater, presumably when the construction was abandoned.  At least these are flattish and make reasonable toeholds.  I start to edge my way down, searching the uneven surface of the breakwater for finger-holds until I reach the water’s edge.

A wave retreats.  I follow it and dodge across the rocks at the end of the breakwater.  As the next wave rushes towards me, I realise that scrambling up onto the huge boulder where the boys are standing is not as going to be as easy as Jamie made out.

‘Quick, Nan.  Give us your hands,’ he yells.  They haul me up just as the wave licks at my feet.  As it withdraws, Barry joins us safely, much to my relief.

So, between the waves, we leap from boulder to boulder until we reach the last.

‘Right,’ says Jamie.  ‘When I say go, jump down and charge for the beach.’

‘But-‘ I say.


The three of them jump and hit the ground – or rather the shallows – running.  I know I can’t make this four foot leap and be certain of landing upright, so I edge halfway down the side of the boulder before taking off.  Even then, I stagger in the soft sand before getting into my stride.

They’ve all reached the beach and start yelling,

‘Run, Nan, run.’

‘Come on, Gill.’

I can hear the wave behind me.  At least I’m only going to get a soaking and not plunge to my death.  I’m probably about six feet from the shore when the wave hits.  I rise up on my toes and try to jump as it breaks.  Then I’m wet up to my knees but miraculously, my feet, in good waterproof trainers, are still fairly dry.

Everyone is delighted.  We’ve made it.  The boys run off towards the landslip.  My legs are shaking, whether from exhaustion, terror, or both, I’m uncertain.  I sink onto a sun-warmed rock and watch the boys exploring.

‘I thought you were very brave,’ Barry says.  This is praise indeed.

‘I wouldn’t have done it for you,’ I tell him.

‘I know.’

We both laugh.

I stretch out my legs to let my trousers dry in the sun.  I notice their label, ‘North Face’, with some amusement.  I realise my light fleece is made by ‘Craghoppers.’  For once, these over-the-top brand names seem thoroughly appropriate.

It’s all been worth it though.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, we are the only people on the beach and its treasures are there for the taking.  The boys delight in ammonites, perfectly formed, encrusted in iron pyrites and glowing in the sunshine.  Small rocks split to reveal glittering arches of quartz crystals.  Jamie begins to identify various different minerals found in extraordinarily coloured pebbles and takes photographs of huge ammonites and something that might well be a shoulder blade of a dinosaur.  Luke spots a seahorse in a rock pool.  We all study the tiny creature and decide that the pool is large and deep enough for it to be safe among the sea anemones and fronds of weed until the tide returns.  Then a starfish takes our attention and more photographs ensue.

After a happy couple of hours, the boys are mentioning food again. It’s time to go.

Thankfully the tide has now retreated far enough for us to avoid the breakwaters.

As we stroll back, I reflect on the fact that for years I’ve been looking after my grandsons. This afternoon, that’s all changed.

© Gill Dunstan
All rights reserved

Thirteen, Sixty-nine, Fifty-four

Was there ever doubt? 

Two hundred dead to tell one family’s tale
When they had families too?

Was ever talent so misused? 

A brother who refused to abuse
The dead and so condemned himself?

Was there ever doubt? 

Yet who are we to judge, or know
What we would do?

© Gill Dunstan
All rights reserved

Willem Dafoe wakes up

Does it take him long to remember that he's not:
a sergeant in Vietnam
Max Schreck
the Green Goblin
a Jewish boxer in Auschwitz
T. S. Eliot
the English patient's victim

© R. Rushworth
All rights reserved

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Role Reversal - February Half-Term 2011

Part 2

When I’ve got my breath back, I cross the breakwater and stare nervously at the next obstacle.  Had I not been so concerned about climbing up the rope, I might have paid more attention to Jamie’s uncharacteristically vague description of the ‘iron ladder thing.’

I suppose I’d been fondly imagining something like an old-fashioned fire escape but no such thing greets me: only tubular loops of iron, about eighteen inches apart, which stick out from the side of the breakwater.  These rough and ready ‘steps’ are constructed with a fascinating gap between rung and wall.  It looks like the perfect place for my foot to get jammed.  Unlike a proper ladder, there are no side rails, simply the rungs themselves.  They are wet, round and look very slippery.  The only encouraging thing is a short grab-bar positioned on the top edge of the breakwater.

‘What you have to do,’ Jamie instructs, ‘is kneel with your back to the drop, hold on to the grab-rail and lower yourself down.  OK?’

‘Look.  Like this,’ Luke cuts in enthusiastically.
Naturally, he makes the operation look effortless and is soon at the bottom, standing on the next narrow ledge and ready to proceed.

‘Does my stupidity know no bounds?’ I silently ask myself as I kneel, clutch at the rail for dear life and tentatively probe around the wall with my right foot until it settles on a rung.  Once I’m properly onto this makeshift ladder, it isn’t so difficult and my confidence grows.

In this way, we make steady progress, edging along the ledges, trying to dodge the waves and scrambling up and over the next couple of breakwaters.  The boys are in the lead, I’m next and Barry brings up the rear, ready to steady me if necessary. 

I’m just getting to the top of the third breakwater and beginning to feel I’ve got the hang of it all when Jamie announces, quite placidly,

‘There’s a little snag here, Nan.’

‘What’s that?  Not another rope?’  My heart begins to sink.

‘No.  Nothing like that.  It’s just that the next ladder is missing its top two rungs.  Oh and there’s no grab-rail either.’

I peer down the far side of the breakwater.  What I see makes me quail.  The top rung is a good four feet below me and, other than a rusty spike, there is nothing to hold onto above it.  Jamie is taller than I am but Luke is shorter.  I look at his little legs.  As we are still a good twenty feet above the base of the sea wall and there is no margin for error, this looks, quite literally, a step too far.

I turn to him.  ‘You won’t manage this, will you?’ I say, anxiously.

He tucks in his chin and frowns, ‘Watch me, Nan.’

Leaning over the edge, he grabs the spike, swings from it monkey-fashion, kicks out for the first rung and almost sprints down onto the ledge below.  Then he looks up at me and grins, ‘See?  Easy-peasy.’

Just in case he hasn’t sufficiently proved his point, he scampers back up the rungs and heaves himself onto the top beside me, ‘What you’ve got to do, Nan, is...’

Nan can’t do that,’ Barry says firmly.

I agree.  But I can’t face going back down the rope either.  Fortunately Jamie has an alternative plan.

‘Just kneel down like before.  Now put your hands flat in front of you and push down very hard.  Good.  That’s right.  Don’t do anything else yet, just listen.  OK?  You’ve got to gradually lower yourself until your feet are on the top rung, then reach for the spike with your right hand.  Go down a step or two, then reach for the top rung with your left hand.’  He looks concerned.  ‘Do you understand?’

In theory, I do.  It’s the practice I’m worried about.  ‘You and Barry had better hold my wrists.’  I try to sound confident but I can’t remember when I was last as scared as this.  It seems to me that the sea, ever rushing and hissing below us, is hungry for its catch.  I press with every ounce of my strength on the top of the slippery breakwater and ease my body over the edge, reaching down for the rung with my toes.  I feel it, get both feet on it and press my torso tight into the wall of the breakwater.  I know the next bit will be the very worst.

‘Let go my right wrist,’ I say. 

‘On the count of three,’ says Barry.  ‘One, two, three.’  They let go.  I grab at the spike.  It’s sharp and bites painfully into my palm.  I take a step down.  I realise they will have to release my other wrist before I can go any further and then I’ll be too far below the lip of the breakwater for them to stop me falling.

‘Don’t look down,’ I tell myself.  ‘Just do it.’  I take a deep breath.  ‘OK.  Let me go.’  I take another step down and at the same time snatch at the top rung first with my left hand, then follow with my right.  Now I’m crouched on this so-called ladder like some sort of weird insect.  But I’m stable, thank goodness.  The rest of the descent is easy and I reach the ledge safely.  Luke shimmies rapidly down beside me. 

‘Show-off,’ I tell him.

He laughs.  ‘You did really well, Nan – for a girl,’ he adds mischievously.

‘Naughty,’ I say, wishing I was still a girl.  It would have been a lot easier then.

Jamie and Barry join us on the ledge.  It’s a glorious afternoon.  At last the tide is beginning to drop and the waves are now only coming about half way up the sloping base of the sea wall.  Best of all, the final breakwater is in sight.

The guys seem ebullient.  I realise they’re relieved I’ve survived without a major incident.  I say nothing but actually I’m aching in every muscle, scratched, grazed and bruised but I’m feeling immensely proud of myself.  I’m also wrongly assuming my troubles are over.

to be continued ...

© Gill Dunstan

All rights reserved

Towards old Lizard Head

This May morning,
Through the tamarisk tunnel in Pistol Meadow,
A nightingale skulks in honeysuckle
While painted ladies flirt among wild thyme.

Below, turquoise and purple waves, wind-ruffled,
Fringe granite rocks with snowy spume,

Evoking shadows: a bitter night,
Two hundred bodies, drowned, laid out-
Stray dogs did their worst.

This May morning
Even the ghosts are smiling.

© Gill Dunstan
All rights reserved