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As many readers will know I belong to a local group of writers, ‘Thirsk Write Now’, and at every meeting we come up with a theme on which to write a short story to be read out when we next meet. This week the only stipulation being the tale must contain the following words:- Worm. Shortlisted. Tender. Oriflamme. Missing. Flip-flop. Orange. Car park. Quicksand. Usually stories run to between 500/1000 words. On this occasion I went for brevity!

James suspected his new novel, ‘Tender smells the Oriflamme’, written after he went missing in a car park might flip-flop.

Instead the poignant tale of a worm in quicksand was shortlisted for the prestigious Orange award.

 

Words and photographs Copyright 2017 by Antony J Waller

 

 

 

 

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The old woman was sitting in the shade of the tree. Dressed in black, following the tradition of widowed Mediterranean women, and with a scarf covering her head she was rocking from side to side; watching. A small group of people was gathered in the open surveying the dusty, stone strewn soil about thirty feet away. She extended two gnarled fingers and made the sign of the cross against her chest, bowed her head and continued her vigil. It was early afternoon, the sun was high in the sky and yet she pulled her shawl closer about her as an involuntary shiver ran through her body. She stared at the people one by one until her eyes came to rest on the person nearest to her, a younger man in a yellowing panama hat, wearing a leather satchel over his shoulder and carrying a large sketch pad. As he pushed the brim of the hat back to run his hand through his hair the sun lit up his face and she gasped. A small lizard, sensing the vibration in the air scuttled for cover under a rock close to her foot. She would sit there in the shade and watch a while longer. From his place of concealment the lizard also surveyed the scene.

 

Three people, two well tanned local men and a fair haired woman, were moving shovelfuls of sandy soil and stones held within a wood frame which formed a box some two feet high, and filling a shallow trench in the ground. They had almost finished the task and the men were sweating, their clothes were damp from their exertions. The woman stopped, leaned on her shovel and tugging the red-spotted handkerchief from around her neck wiped her forehead. She was younger than the men and not yet touched by the sun and the Greek summer. She glanced in the direction of the man in the panama hat and motioned with her shovel, her meaning clear.

He nodded, closed the sketch pad with his drawing of the woman’s face taken earlier from the recently excavated mosaic floor and placed it inside his satchel which he had already dropped on the ground. Stepping forward he took the shovel and felt it in his hands. The wood was worn smooth and the metal where the blade met the shaft was hot to the touch. The two other men stopped to watch, their part of the task done. He added the last of the earth from the pile onto the ground by his feet and smoothed it flat, patting it down in a final symbolic gesture. As he stood he said, “Thank you for allowing me to gaze upon you, Eleni. I hope you will see the light of day again soon and not have to wait another two thousand years.” He turned to the girl and added, “Perhaps we can come back next summer.”

From beneath the tree the old woman crossed herself again and muttered. “You can bid her farewell, Englishman, but you will meet again far sooner than you think.”

He handed the spade back and went to retrieve his hat and satchel. As he picked it up the sketch pad fell out onto the ground. The face of a beautiful woman, Eleni, dark hair, curled and tied high on her head, blue eyes, full lips and an enigmatic smile stared back at him from the ground. He knelt to close the drawing pad, to push it back inside and secure the flap. That’s when he caught sight of the old woman in the shade of the tree and wondered where she had come from. Most of the locals and the old women chose to sit in the shade of the trees by the harbour enjoying the gossip and the relief of any breeze off the sea, not here amongst the stones and ruins with hardly a tree or shade in sight.  She was watching him intently and nodding, muttering something to herself which he could not quite make out. He thought about offering her a drink of water and started to pull the bottle out of the bag.

“Ohee, ef haristo, no, no thank you,” she said with a shake of the head holding up her hands palms towards him, waving him away.

He smiled, pushed the bottle back into his satchel and did up the flap. “Yasou, goodbye,” he said and turned to follow the two men and the woman who were already heading back towards their hot dusty car parked in the open by the rutted track. As he passed the site of their dig he stopped and looked back at the ancient land and the distant horizon shimmering in the haze. In the shade of the tree the lizard came out from beneath his rock. The old woman was nowhere to be seen.

 

Words and photographs Copyright 2017 by Antony J Waller

 

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Now available, my book in paperback
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…(or as an ebook download)

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NIK_11893

How many times have you thought it or even said it when asked by someone else for an opinion and replied, “That’s a good idea”. And then much later, with the benefit of hindsight or the turn of events, thinking that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all. Yes, we have all been there; only some more so than others!

“That’s a good idea” was this week’s theme for a story for my Writing Group only I couldn’t come up with a good idea for a story. I did, however, come up with a few ideas that others had come up with (some of them good and a few that proved to be not quite so good!)

This is just a brief selection and I’m sure you can think of many more. Unfortunately there’s no prize for guessing who may have uttered those immortal words, “that’s a good idea”….

 

White Star Line announcing they were going to build an unsinkable ship.

The Italian architect before he realised he was constructing a bell tower on soft ground.

An editor who sacked Walt Disney saying he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.

The US Cavalry officer who decided to attack 2,000 angry Indians with only a force of 210 men having left his artillery behind at the fort.

Thinking you could invade Russia before the weather turns.

Plotting to assassinating an arch duke.

Constructing what you thought to be an impregnable defensive wall on your eastern border, only to see your enemy go around it.

The American chemist, Spencer Silver, who failed to make his new adhesive glue strong enough and caused a stationery revolution.

The cost conscious Kellogg brothers who rather than throw away a cooking pot of stale wheat baked it and put it through some rollers.

The 1,009 times Colonel Sanders secret chicken recipe was rejected.

The theory and concepts of Communism, Democracy and Quantum Physics.

The Scottish biologist who was so keen to get away on his holidays he left his dirty petri dishes in the  sink.

The unknown Chinese cook who mixed together charcoal, sulphur and saltpetre and accidently blew up his kitchen.

The customer in a restaurant who kept sending his potatoes back to the kitchen saying they were too thick and not fried enough. The chef, George Crum, eventually sliced them so thin and fried them so much they became crisp.

And finally two of my own…

Buying self-assembly flat pack furniture from Ikea.

The selfie stick and all those sellers who think it’s de rigueur for tourists.

 

Words and photographs Copyright © 2015 by Antony J Waller

 

 

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He stared at me, pupils dilated to the size of ink spots either side of a hideous, bloated bulbous nose. Daring me to hold his gaze. His lips parted in a wide grin revealed a mouth of undulating broken teeth. Wild, unruly and unkempt long hair flared out behind him. He was a throwback to the Neanderthals, right down to the rock clenched in one hand, the stick held menacingly high in the other.

It wasn’t the first time we had met and he had barred my path. But today was different. Before I had ignored him. Now I couldn’t. He just kept staring, and I just kept staring right back. No words passed between us, nothing was said. That was the problem, the cause of the trouble. No words.

He wasn’t going to speak. It was not his way. He just stared, standing there barefoot, eyes unblinking.

Usually we looked at each other for a while, then I would smile and move on. Not today. Today I wasn’t smiling, and he never did. Deadlock. I tried a few words. Nothing. I glanced away trying to think, a way of phrasing what I had in mind to say, but the right words wouldn’t come. That was the problem, my mind was empty. I looked up again and of course he was still there, the rock held firm, the stick pointing in my direction.

I bunched my hands into fists, nails digging into the palms and tried again. A few words sprung to the fore, no gushing torrent as there should have been. A slow sentence dribbled out. Not that it made any difference. I knew it wouldn’t. He was still staring. He knew I was drawn to his ugly physog. He was right. I was staring. This time I knew he was winning.

I knew it couldn’t continue. It made no difference to him, he had all the time in the world and would still be there tomorrow. But I needed to be somewhere else. There were plenty of places I should be in, I wanted to be in, not here staring at him. Relax, I tried to tell myself, just ignore him and look away, take a step back. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, rubbed the tension out of fingers and hands and slowly exhaled. I opened my eyes and instinctively knew the spell had been broken, that for now he was gone, out of sight and out of my way. And of course that’s when the right words sprung to mind.

Fuck it, don’t you just hate it when you can’t think what to write!

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That’s it, it’s so easy, my new book. An instant hit, an ‘International Best-Seller’ and I don’t even have to write a word. A work of pure genius, a plot unsurpassed and a story to top all others and it’s as long or as short as you like. Available NOW, just send your cheque to….

At this point you are probably thinking, “What on earth is he rattling on about!”

There’s a new art exhibition at the Hayward gallery in London entitled ‘Invisible’ where visitors will be asked to “look beyond material objects” and “find that there is plenty to see and experience in this exhibition of invisible art”. Yes, I kid you not. It’s an exhibition of invisible art! Pay the £8 admission fee and you too can wander through empty rooms admiring empty plinths and empty canvasses.

Exhibits include ‘Invisible Sculpture’ by Andy Warhol, an empty plinth upon which he once fleetingly stood. Another ‘1000 Hours of Staring’, a blank piece of paper stared at over a period of 5 years by artist Tom Friedman. And ‘Invisible Labyrinth’ by Jeppe Heine where you can negotiate your way round an invisible maze wearing headsets activated by infra-red beams.

According to the gallery blurb, “works invoke invisibility to underscore the limits of our perceptual capacities or to emphasise the role of our imagination in responding to works of art.”

There’s probably more to it than that, there surely has to be, but that seems to be the gist of it. You can call me a philistine where Modern Art is concerned, I don’t mind.  I just don’t get it.

But it did get me thinking. I am a writer, so by taking the concept a step further…. As I said at the beginning, I have this great idea for a new book!

If only it was that simple.

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I have already mentioned I recently joined a local writing group and we task ourselves to produce a written ‘piece’. The brief this week was to “take a significant day in your life”, so I chose the day I met Sharanne Neidermeyer Armstrong. Some readers may already be acquainted with my dear friend, but for those of you who are not…

2nd August (a few years ago)

It was the 2nd August that Adolph Hitler became leader in Germany, Iraq invaded Kuwait, Peter O’Toole and Dutch Shultz drew their first breaths, Will Bill Hickok (shot by a drunken stranger) and Thomas Gainsborough gasped their last, and the day Sharanne Neidermeyer Armstrong entered my life.

I was standing on the platform waiting for the metro into Newcastle. A typical summer’s day with a monsoon wind blowing up the River Tyne forcing folk to huddle into their raincoats to shelter from the horizontal onslaught of the driving rain. All folk that is except one. And that one person, dressed in a pair of pink flip flops, tight jeans and an even tighter white Tshirt and clutching a plastic Netto carrier bag, was standing next to me like the proverbial drowned rat.

“Lovely day, I spent a fortune getting me hair done. Ruined. Would yers mind, pet?”

And before I could she had thrust the carrier bag into my chest and started wringing out her bedraggled tresses dripping more water into the pools congregating around her feet.

“Least I’ve kept me jacket and Prada shoes dry though me bra and pants are a bit wet an’ clingy. Don’t scrunch me bag, pet, me speech is in there ‘n all. I’m attending the Symposium on climate change at the Sage. It’s a bugga, this global warming. Missed the forecast for today mind. Ee, what’m I like. Where’s me manners. Thanks for holding me bag by the way. I’m Shazza or Shaz to me mates.”

Before I could reply the train arrived and I was propelled aboard and into an empty seat by the window.

“Will yers pass me handbag, it’s in there somewhere. Let’s see if I can at least salvage a bit of decorum before I stand up in front of all those bearded tweedies. I met that Deborah Meaden there yesterday. Yer knaas, the huffy one off Dragons Den. You’d think with all that money she’d make a better show of hersen. Hah, she’d have the last laugh today if she could see me now. Do yer like Shakespeare by any chance? I’ve got a spare ticket for the Theatre Royal tonight, Midsummer Nights Dream.”

It was the kind of day you don’t forget in a hurry. I was hooked. Shazza had suddenly crashed into my life like an invading army, a veritable blitzkrieg, a one woman Geordie ‘Wild West’ fully equipped for shoot outs like some prohibition gangster. She filled your stage with her screen presence and yet still found time to paint life with the gentle brush strokes of an old master.

And as I was to discover over the following years there was more to this statuesque girl educated on the terraced streets of Gateshead with a degree from Spearmint Rhino than met the eye. Hidden depths ‘Wor Shaz’, equally at home discussing who should wear the no 9 shirt for her beloved Magpies as she was analysing UK tourism trends with Deborah Meaden or quantitative easing with Mervyn King . As for her address book, you wouldn’t believe who she knows, or who has her number. But that’s for another day!

If you would like to read more of life with Shazza simply click the drop down menu on the right hand side under Categories and select ‘Shazza’.

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