Thursday, 26 February 2015

Go Fish!

The neighbour's Siamese cat was poised over the bowl again. Its stalking face peering at its swimming prey as its paw rippled the water's calm surface as if to say, 'What a nice day we're having trying to catch little goldfishes.' So intent was he that he didn't see the resident coming through to his conservatory to relax amongst his potted plants with that morning's paper.
Darn cat!” He whacked the table with the rolled-up Daily telegraph. "Get outta here, scat!"
The water in the fish bowl dangerously swayed like a huge wave which upset the goldfishes' leisurely stroke and made the Siamese cat leap in the air with an arched back and all its claws extracted as if it had only just realised it had been napping on a hot tin roof. A natural gymnast, it landed neatly and squeezed through the wedged open door and out into the jungle.
The man with his plump, soft hands, which his wife, God rest her soul, called her winter warmers, steadied the fish bowl. His blue eyes were magnified in the sturdy glass as he carefully inspected each goldfish, “Swim my pretties and let me study you,” he encouraged them, but apart from some stressful gasps there didn't appear to be any scratches.
Satisfied, he lowered himself into the white wicker chair alongside them and tried to return to his usual routine: the perusal of the Telegraph, followed by a spot of amateur painting, but found all he wanted to do was dream. About life before old age and retirement.
The goldfish, now graceful and calm, blew air bubbles at him and enabled his mind to drift... They turned into hazy gold flashes as his mind's scummy anchor was hoisted up. Eroded metal, crusty barnacles and slimy seaweed dredged unwanted memories from the ocean bed.
His wife's last uttered words stung him like a stinging nettle, instead of as he had expected a sharp puncture, and in a memory sea there are no waving dock leaves to rub away the irritation. He knew why he had placed those words of hers in an underwater castle - because like her, they had puzzled him; he hadn't known what to make of them then and he still didn't, and so like Bluebeard he had let those words of hers rot in a locked chamber. Crumble, decompose, disintegrate letter by letter. Or at least that's what he thought, but it seems they had outstayed his wife's parting. That rib of his was bone dust.
She had been a faithful wife and did everything he asked of her. Eventually. Sometimes caving in for a quiet life, but oh, she had a mind of her own, so that when he assumed he had won, he had really lost. Come to think of it, she was a bit like a goldfish, his deceased wife, in colouring and manner. Honeyed skin and coppery hair with an unsure look about her; often opening her mouth to say something and then closing it again, letting the silence remain unbroken. He knew she didn't always agree with him and only tolerated some of his habits, but she loved him in her own way, which was why it was so alarming when on her death bed her tongue lashed out like a sea serpent.
A lot of it had been incomprehensible gibberish, but the syllables ripped from her with unusual violence, her eyes red-rimmed and ablaze with a strange inner light. Her last words sounded as if they'd been torn from her voice box, “For balance and grace, go fish!” Then the light in her eyes had suddenly died and her quietened spirit had been snatched, the force of which lay her flat on her back stone-cold dead.
For a few months after her death, he had tried to find the meaning to her spewed secret. He'd spent whole days line-fishing; he'd eaten fish in some recognisable or disguised form at every meal, until one day carrying on in this way had seemed pointless, so he buried the information she had tried to pass on with his last regrettable image of her.
But his retirement last year, a good ten years after her death, had again unsettled him. Widowed from life, loneliness had seeped into him like a teabag left to stew for too long, and so to combat that he'd bought some goldfish. “Yes,” his dear wife whispered like a breeze from beyond, “you finally got it.”

*Picture credit: Goldfish by Henri Matisse

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Go-Between

Cheesegrater to Gherkin: How do you feel about spaghetti? Over.
Gherkin to Cheesegrater: I like it with tuna, or black pepper, a knob of butter and a sprinkle of cheese. Al dente, plain and simple. Now you're talking! Over.
Walkie-talkie to Cheesegrater and Gherkin: Have you guys finished? I'm bored of transmitting this conversation...
Cheesegrater and Gherkin: Spoilsport!
Gherkin to Walkie-talkie: Yeah mate, some of us have a hot date! Is someone a little jealous?
(Gherkin croons) Will you be lonesome tonight...
Cheesegrater laughs.
Gherkin to Cheesegrater: See you at eight. Over and out.
Every day between the hours of 6am and 8pm the Walkie-talkie acts as a go-between; helps the Cheesegrater and Gherkin arrange their rendezvous, their dinner dates, for they were forbidden by the State to have contact, unless it was outside those set times. What would happen if they did had never been tried as each was scared of losing their privileged position in the London skyline, despite all three being agreed that it was a stupid work regulation.
The Gherkin could easily see the Cheesegrater, whereas the Walkie-talkie who had to play piggy-in-the-middle, wasn't even in the middle, he was the furtherest away, and what's more he couldn't stand all the smutty, fluffy dialogue that the pair often exchanged. He was however extremely grateful that he didn't have to be their voice and ears after Big Ben struck eight.
The Walkie-talkie occasionally wondered what it would be like to have a regular dinner date, but the one he'd had with the Eye had been a disaster. He'd been fifteen minutes early, she'd run forty five minutes late, and when she finally did show up she talked non-stop at him. Her verbal diarrhoea had been exhausting. But the problem right from the start was that she was an owl and he was a lark. As blind dates went, it was not a success. A second date was not on the cards, and it had slightly marred their professional relationship.
The Eye would now only send coded messages through him unlike her usual witty remarks, preferring instead to find another way to spread her malicious gossip. She failed to realise she'd hurt his pride, and yes structures do share that mortal feeling, as he remained silent on the subject and chose to abandon any regard for her he might have previously felt.
No, the Walkie-talkie would never again contemplate coupling with any London landmark, not even the Shard who was said to be asexual, which would have taken off the pressure. Playing matchmaker and 'agony uncle' was quite enough; he could do without romantic complications.
Okay, so not every day was hunky-dory, but on those rare occasions he would claim a bad line, a weak signal, or garble messages. It was one of his rights to do so, he felt. Technology was allowed a quota of malfunction days, like paid holiday, and so he felt entitled to use it without giving notice. Why not put a spanner in the works? And besides he really rather enjoyed messing up plans for the Cheesegrater and Gherkin, who were the most tiresome pair he'd ever had the misfortune to be the go-between for.
Gherkin to Cheesegrater: How would you like your burger tonight? Rare, medium or well-done? On a plain or sesame seed bun? Over.
Gherkin: Cheesegrater, do you read me? Come in Cheesegrater...Where are you?!
Ha, ha, the Walkie-talkie thought, that's another dinner date foiled.

Picture Credit: Peter Francis

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Turtle Soup

I was once prescribed turtle soup to cure a headache, and so despite it being against my dietary preferences and principles set out to obtain some or failing that, a green sea turtle to make my own. And before you write in to express your horror at one, the professional who recommended this, and two, my willingness to abandon my so-called committed vegetarian lifestyle, I advise you read my side of the story before casting a judgemental stone.
It was not, as you may think, a decision I made lightly. I abhorred the very suggestion that I should consider it and initially dismissed it as a potential remedy, but when your head feels as though it's clamped in a nutcracker your morals instantly disappear like white rabbits in top hats, and when they do magically come back after your attack, the damage has already been done.
Stabs, jabs, and jolts...a red hot poker, the swing of a mallet and the whirring grind of a chain saw. And no, this is not my indelicate way to expound how to prise the shell from the turtle's flesh, although I'm sure there are those in the trade who would be this brutal, but my description of suicidal headaches in blunt adjective words.
This type of pain has been likened to an ice pick. A sharp burst that comes out of nowhere as if a mountaineer is attempting to find a firm foothold. Chip! Chip! There he goes again behind the eye or in the temple. But for others, it's more like a barman mixing a drink: he retrieves the ice with a chink-chink, then clonks these into an empty tumbler, unscrews a bottle of spirit with a twist and generously sloshes this on the transparent rocks so that they neatly collide with one another.
Described thus, this kind of headache could be said to imitate art, which I guess it does in a metaphorical way. Sufferers, like myself, often verbalise and visualise pain as a metaphor or analogy, and as one symptom generally leads neatly to another, a similar jab in a different spot or an entirely new stab in the exact same location, paint a comic strip where each frame flows effortlessly. Everything in a headache scenario comes together perfectly like a page-turning detective plot or a handed-down recipe, which of course brings me again to the subject of this discourse, the turtle. Aren't I clever to have made us come full circle?
After an episode of five debilitating days of seeing coloured stars like a cartoon figure and with changeable, but nonetheless painful symptoms, which at one point made me want to crack my skull open to release the pressure, I was finally ready to reconsider the matter of the turtle. Now, I'm not one for medicating myself with over-the-counter drugs, as I prefer to either let things take their natural course or find an alternative solution, and diet is, unfortunately or fortunately depending at how you look at it, one of these measures. A friend qualified in this area, as well as herbalism and Chinese Medicine, recommended turtle soup.
I thought turtle flesh was an aphrodisiac and a delicacy, not a migraine remedy, I told her. No, she said, it has recently been proven to have pain-relief effects. Maybe you should try it. I really didn't like the sound of it, but with my current head I just couldn't function. I wasn't comfortable with buying a can on the internet or getting involved with an unscrupulous trader as I couldn't be sure how the turtle had been treated or if the flesh was the genuine article, so I made for the London Aquarium, thinking maybe that if I could just get up close to one I might be able to steal it. Well, what I can say, except my brain made a dubious scheme seem doable.
However when I saw a live turtle with my befuddled eyes, my plan immediately fell by the wayside. It was too beautiful! And weirdly seeing it in its natural soup of salt water and tropical fish did vanquish my headache.

*No turtles suffered in the research of or the making of this story, as it is entirely fictional.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

The Giant Swimmer

Normally I dislike those stories that begin with 'when I was young...', but in this instance there is no other (or better) alternative, so here goes... Oh, and before you cry, “Well, how old is she? She can't be more than twelve!” I'll have you know I'm thirty four, but feel closer to fifty. With that trifling matter cleared up, I'll say it again, here goes...
When I was young, I had an unusual role model. Unusual in the sense that he was a version of my dad, only three times taller and bigger all over. Dad then was roughly five foot eleven, his statute now is shrinking, but at eight years of age that seemed tall and we were always comparing as Mum was only five foot three and I was desperate to overshoot her. And I did by three inches eventually and being willowy, or if you prefer beanpole-like I managed to look even taller. Anyhow that's beside the point and makes not the slightest difference to this story.
As my parents worked full-time, most of my summers were spent at the seaside, Middleton-on-Sea to be exact, with my grandparents, the Good Witch and Troll, and occasionally Uncle Dingle and the cousins, Sam-Sam and Judo Nell, and this was where in '89 I stumbled on the Giant. And yes, stumble is the right word as not looking where I was going, as per usual, I tripped over one of his pasty calves while he was sun-bathing. Ordinary people don't do that in Bognor, sun-bathing that is, but admiring your footprints in the sand is I assure you quite normal. Backwards walking is a common sport that all ages partake of.
But let's return to his calf, which to me seemed to resemble an uncooked chicken drumstick, only thrice the length and size. I pondered if a flock of seagulls might have dropped it as I had not yet allowed my eyes to travel further up, and when they did, I admit I momentarily froze. I'd never seen a man built like this – King Kong, yes, but not a Dad on a grand scale.
Fortunately, my clumsy trip didn't seem to have disturbed him. He probably didn't feel a thing, and so when I'd recovered from my shock I chose to zoom in, as a photographer's daughter naturally does, and study him closer up. His flesh was chalky white and marbled with blue veins. His legs were smooth, but his arms and chest were covered with dark, curly hairs. His large nose was mottled pink and there was the beginnings of a grey shadow on his chin. His head hair was plastered down, being still damp, and on the crown there was a tiny bald spot like a desert island surrounded by its own sea of chestnut brown. There were many contradictions in his elongated frame, but that he was a man and a giant I was pretty much convinced, especially as he wore similar swimming trunks to my dad's, except his were pearly, seashell white, and dad's were navy blue.
I was just about to check he was napping and not dead, when he opened one eye and regarded me like a tired dog keeping watch over its owner. He stretched his lean arms overhead, “Hello imp!” he said in a broad Dorset accent which came out as a boom, and then broke into a toothy grin, “Cat got your tongue?”
I shook my head, “I didn't think so,” he said, “but you've been taught never to speak to strangers. Am I right?” I soundlessly nodded in reply. “Good. Go get your nan.” I raced off as he slowly peeled himself off the sand, and hurried back, pulling the Good Witch by the hand, to where the Giant now stood in all his magnificent height.
Greetings Mil, I thought she was your girl.”
Oh, it's you John!”
The Good Witch turned to me and said, “This is a friend of ours – John Hurrell. He's a giant swimmer,” and then she shouted up to the cloud-scattered blue sky, “and this, John, is my granddaughter.”
Pleased to meet you,” the Giant said sticking out a large pinkie finger which I clasped with my child-sized hand.
Introductions made, when summers came I always went to find the giant swimmer.

Picture credit: A Swimmer, Paul Cezanne