W4W: Some kind of joke

Children's go karts

Image: Pixabay

‘This is some kind of joke, right?’ Nev stared at the go kart at his feet as another whizzed past, the wheel nearly clipping his ankle.

Standing in the pits in front of him were Si, Gav, Mac and Boz, Mac giggling so hard snot was dribbling from his nose.

‘You said you wanted a driving experience.’ Boz had gone purple from laughing, face swollen like a overripe blackberry.

Nev pointed at a passing go kart, the driver intent as a pint-sized Lewis Hamilton. ‘That kid’s no more than twelve. None of them are.’

He’d thought his mates might club together, have him driving a Porshe 911, sitting in the seat of a scarlet Ferrari, burning the tarmac of Brands Hatch. He’d at least hoped for something with a V8.

A man wearing a driving jumpsuit and a plastic smile approached them. ‘Right, so where’s the birthday boy, then?’

‘It’s not my …’ It was then Nev noticed the blue satin sash with HI, IT’S MY BIRTHDAY written across.

Si’s knees were buckling, his backside almost touching the floor.

And that was his Best Man? What else did they have in store for him?

This was going to be a very long stag do.

 


Written for Word for Wednesday – started by the lovely Kat – and for The Daily Post’s prompt JOKE. Hop on the link to take part and read the other posts.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, JOKE the noun is from the 1660s joque, from the Latin iocus. It was originally slang referring to ‘something of no real importance’, though I wonder what word we used before the seventeenth century. Do tell me if you know.

According to the OED, Black joke is old slang for “smutty song” (1733), from use of that phrase in the refrain of a then-popular song as a euphemism for “the monosyllable.” 

Though if you can tell me which monosyllable they’re referring to, I’d be grateful.

 

 

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The Devil of Moravia: Dark deeds crave no audience

Candle flame

Image: Pixabay

A week or so ago, I posted Murder and Mischief: Aunty Gloria tells a story, where the heavy-smoking reprobate Aunt tells her neice, Fiona, the terrifying history of the family’s grandfather clock. Here, Lord Edmund Spencer – gambler, bankrupt and original owner of The Clock, takes up the story. 


He swallowed the last dregs of the wine. And as he reached for his pistol, there came a mighty hammering at the front door …

The night was filthy, rain pelting the casement hard as thrown pebbles.

My bloodstream burned with cheap claret and the flintlock hung heavy in my fist. Anger flashed, a lightning bolt firing in my chest.

‘Can a man not put an end to his life in peace?’ I bellowed.

A mighty clap of thunder crashed so close – so loud – the stopper rattled in the decanter as if a ghostly hand was reaching to drink. I thought to call for Meadows, but remembered we had rowed over money and he’d stormed into the night, cursing my blood, swearing never to return.

I was alone.

The hammering came again, so loud it was like a second thunderbolt. I thought to ignore it, to continue the wretched task I had set myself. But dark deeds crave no audience and I knew the visitor must be repelled before I could finish.

Pistol in hand, I snatched the candlestick from the table and staggered for the door.

I had grown up in Moorfield Manor, lived every happy day of my childhood there, but it seemed to my crazed mind that the shadows were thicker than I had ever seen them, that every board creaked and groaned as if they were the timbers of a barque torn and tossed on the cruel waves of some distant ocean. I fancied that in the soughing of the wind through the house, I heard the crew crying to God to save them, weeping for their mothers as water filled their boots and they were dragged down, down to dance amid the seaweed.

It was the rough wine, my disordered state that caused me to hear such dreadful things. But even being close to death as I felt myself to be, I was almost grateful to reach the door, to have the company of a fellow man.

The hall was cold, the wind crept through every gap in door and windowframe, so that when I placed the candle on the floor, the flame stretched and shrunk my shadow, contorting my dark half to a giant, then a dwarf, until I doubted my true size.

Sweat turned cold beneath my wig, making my skin creep as if flee-ridden.

I was afraid. Afraid of my own house. Of what lay beyond the veil for a man dying at his own hand. And suddenly, dreadfully afraid of what lay in the night.

Cursing myself for a coward, I turned the key and flung wide the door.

Rain and wind and cold, wet leaves pelted my face, stinging my eyes. I stood like a fool, spitting and coughing.

Then above the howl of the wind, a voice. It sounded neither male nor female, young nor old, but in it I heard those killing waves, the sound of feasting crows.

‘Lord Edmund Spencer,’ said the creature. ‘I have something for you.’

 


Written for W4W, a thread celebrating words, was started by the lovely Kat.

Today’s W4W has been brought to you by the word BARQUE. The name comes from the 15th C Middle French barque meaning small ship. Before the 18th century the term was used for any three-masted vessel with no definite category, but after that came to mean a square-rigged vessel with three to five masts and became one of the most common cargo carrying vessels of the 19th century – the container ship of its day.

Solar barques or barges were used in Ancient Egypt to transport the spirit of the Pharoah through the afterlife. One such wonderful survivor is the Khufu ship which may have transported the Pharoah along the Nile before being buried in a pit, ready for its ongoing voyage.

 

 

Friday Fictioneers : Attack of the Trolley Trolls

 

copyright -Janet Webb

PHOTO PROMPT © Janet Webb


 

‘How did they get there?’ said Steph.

Nick shrugged.

‘I mean, I know idiots throw them in the canal.’ She looked out at the expanse of shimmering grey water. ‘But the lake.’

‘How are they floating?’ said Nick.

‘I don’t know but it’s really weird.’

Nick lit a cigarette, watched the smoke drift towards the silver chariots. ‘Trolls.’

‘What?’

‘Trolley Trolls.’

‘Trolls that steal trolleys?’ Steph folded her arms. ‘To what purpose?’

‘Maybe they got smashed and went joyriding. Or they used them to go hunt for billy goats.’

She laughed, sliding her arm through his.

 


Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. Write 100 words or fewer based on the photo prompt above. See here for full Ts and Cs.

This week I’ve mixed the prompt with my weekly thread W4W and I bring you two words for the price of one. TROLLEY (according to the Online Etymology Dictionary) was originally a Suffolk dialect word for a cart, especially one running on tracks. TROLL, from the Old Norse for supernatural giant, could have derived from a word for general supernatural occurences, such as the Swedish trolla (to charm, bewitch) and the Old Norse trolldomr meaning witchcraft. In the sagas you can apparently find troll-bulls, boar-trolls, troll-maidens, troll-wives, troll-women and the trollman (a magician or wizard).

What a lot of trolls.

And then there’s the modern phenomenon of internet trolls but those vile and loathsome creatures will have to wait for another post.

Thanks to Kat, the founder of W4W and all round lovely lady.

 

 

 

W4W: A lesson in how to fail

Teacher in a classroom with a chalkbaord

Image: Pixabay

‘What does it mean to fail?’

Mr Franklin scans the class, not making eye contact with anyone, pretending he’s waiting for a response, but really just leaving enough of a gap so he looks like he’s waiting.

‘I don’t mean the dictionary definition,’ he says. ‘I can Google that.’

He chuckles as if to say hey, kids I use the net to look stuff up just like you do. I’m such a rebel. No one laughs. Another wait.

‘What I mean is,’ he perches on the edge of his desk, pushing a stack of papers aside with his butt, ‘what does it mean to you to fail.’ He picks a pen up, stabs the air with it. ‘To a world renowned pianist, failure might mean a missed note during a Chopin recital. To a Premiership goalie it might mean letting a ball in the net during a cup match.’ He takes a breath, taps his teeth with the pen. ‘To a parent, failure might mean a child in prison, or on heroin.’ There’s a triumphant glint in his eye for daring to mention drugs to a class of fifteen years olds. ‘I want you to write 500 words on what failure means to you.’

He jumps up from his desk, the kids surrounding me sigh, take out their books.

I pick up my pen, take off the lid. I open my exercise book at a fresh clean page and write in letters big enough to fill the space,

MR FRANKLIN


 

Today’s W4W is brought to you by the verb FAIL.  NOT the noun.

Let me assure readers, there will be no use of FAIL as a noun on this blog – epic or other wise.

Thanks to Kat, true blogging pal and originator of W4W.

For those interested, see the link to follow fail‘s journey from verb to noun through interjection to adjective.

W4W : Why the Devil wins more than just our sympathy

Man with two devils on his shoulders

Image : Pixabay

 

I’ve often said in blog posts that I’m drawn to the Dark Side.

Not in a Star Wars, having my hand lopped off by my power-crazed-wheezy Dad, finding a replacement Pops in a self-sacrificial-British-character-actor-who-lives-in- his-dressing-gown kind of way.

I just like fiction that grabs my hand and drags me along the deep alleyways of the soul.

Well, I say that, but I like my ‘darkness’ on the lighter side. Not for me extreme psychopathic torture porn, revelling in other people’s pain for the sake of it. Give me the Edwardian ghost stories of M.R James over tormenting the lovely Cary Elwes in Saw any day.

Saying all this I have noticed in my writing a tendency towards a certain demonic head honcho, that wielder of hellfire, the boss man of down below,

SATAN.

A few times I’ve found myself writing short stories that included the Dark Lord as a main character.

One recent example was based on a painting that has in the background a carving of the Big D. Naturally, I turned him into a gymnastic little sprite with a lazy charm, a gambler’s nature and a glad eye for the ladies. In another, I had his Supreme Hoofedness hold court to a door to door salesman. Previously, I’d written a story in which the main character was a child whose best friends were close associates of his Sulphurous Majesty. I also toyed with a book idea about a man who was Himself incarnate, though the human Him was a soft hearted soul, prone to kindness and spontaneous humanitarian acts – a study in nurture over nature.

So what is my fixation with the Devil all about?

Well, I can see why he was created, why people are attracted to the idea.

How much nicer is it to believe that evil comes from a third party influence rather than being born of ordinary human beings who might live on the same street or buy the same breakfast cereal as us?

It’s a comfort to think evil has a face and it’s not human.

As societies looked for scientific reasons for destructive behaviour or events, we see the Devil – as Jagger and Co did – in a more sympathetic light.

Cue cracking tune.

 

It’s easier to give the Horned One the benefit of the doubt when you don’t really believe in his existence, that your soul may be in danger from him, that one of his disciples might spoil your harvest or make your favourite cow sterile (which was apparently the kind of thing the Devil got up to before he invented the internet).

Truth is, as a writer it’s just plain fun to make up stories about his Infernal Majesty, to explore why he’s able to influence people the way he does. His charm, his wickedness – whether he’s out and out bad or just a mixed up guy who gets a bad rap and has a tough job to do under difficult circumstances.

You only need to look around to see I’m not the only one to have a Devil fixation …

Dante’s Inferno, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Goethe’s Faust, Gaiman’s The Sandman, King’s The Stand, Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, The Omen, Lucifer (based on Gaiman’s Devil, where Luci decamps from Hell to LA to open a bar) –  I could go on, but I fear your attention is wandering.

So now he’s transformed himself from the hoofed, horned, Pan-like fallen angel into an urbane chap, prone to witty quips, wearing sharp suits and serving cocktails in La La Land, I thought I’d share some of his less well known names – just in case you bump into him one dark night.

Angel of Light.

Apollyon.

Belial.

Deceiver.

Father of Lies.

King of the Bottomless Pit.

Little Horn.

Prince of the Power of the Air.

Serpent of old.

Son of Perdition.

Great Dragon.

Abaddon.

So, if a Mr Abaddon comes calling with an offer to give you the world on a plate, if only you’ll do this one tiny thing for him … My advice is to politely refuse and make a beeline for the door.

And if he offers you a cocktail?

Run.

 


Written for W4W. With thanks to Kat, the founder of the feast.

W4W: What insane kings, painters and fictional detectives can teach us

Black and white photograph of an old man

Image: Pixabay

 

Our son is away in Spain at the moment – no doubt desperately trying to forget he has parents – so on Sunday, husband and I decided to stop obsessively checking our phones to see if he’d texted* and find a way of entertaining ourselves. Through this experiment in distraction, I stumbled upon the ideal way of contemplating my own

MORTALITY.

This is how.

In the morning, we mauled our way up Park Street (not – as a passing drunk wearing a beanie hat and carrying a stuffed monkey once told me –the  UK’s steepest shopping street, though it does a pretty good impression) to see the National Gallery touring exhibit Self-Portrait at the age of 63 by Rembrandt (below).

 

 

It’s a painting I’d seen in reproduction may times, but never as it where in the oily flesh. It’s stunning. From the reddened, bloated nose to the Bassett hound wrinkles around the eyes and the tufts of springy hair like fluffy headphones, Rembrandt looks like the kind of older man who’s seen a lot, done a lot, loved a lot, regrets some, but definitely not all. He looks like he has some great stories to tell and will relate every single one over many pints of beer – as long as you’re paying.

After breathing in the seventeenth-century,  we rolled back down the hill to the 250-year-old Theatre Royal to see one of the country’s finest stage actors ‒ Timothy West ‒  tackle King Lear. (See here for a pretty fair review).

The role of Lear’s one of those that makes actors wish decades of their lives away, as they get to play adoring, irrational, raging, grieving, playful, barking mad – and finally dead – in the space of an afternoon. I rarely find Shakespeare moving – perhaps the language takes it too far away from our own time to make a strong connection – but the late scenes between blind Gloucester (played by David Hargreaves) and his believed-to-be-lost- but-actually-just-naked-and-pretending-to-be-the-crazy-beggar-Poor-Tom son Edgar, genuinely brought a lump to the throat.

Three hours and a stage full of death later, we staggered home to eat chilli, stoke up Amazon Prime and watch another English knight – Sir Ian McKellen – as the  great detective, Mr Holmes. Based on Mitch Cullin’s novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind, this Sherlock is reduced to living in the countryside, away from the intrigue and peasoupers of London. He’s reduced in his faculties too, as the once sharpest mind in Britain has its deductive powers near destroyed by dementia. He has to write people’s names on his sleeve to remember them. Details of old cases float through his consciousness, dashing away before he can catch them. He’s still brusque, still superior, but McKellen gives him a fragile dignity as his mind crumbles that makes his portrayal the most sympathetic Holmes yet.

So, after a day stuffed with old men, what commonalities did I dwell on as I hugged my cocoa to me and sleep’s sticky fingers tugged my eyelids?

Well, that these depictions reminded me how mortal we all are, of course. That even the greatest of us – genius artists, kings, great minds – all face death the same. Also that there are many different ways to age: you could make the worst decision, with terrifying consequences for yourself and your loved ones as Lear does; or feel you have one more thing to prove, one more puzzle to solve, as Holmes does; or be alone, resigned, a little sad, as Rembrandt seems in one of the last portraits he painted before he died.

But one thing these old chaps (Rembrandt, West, Hargreaves, McKellen and Holmes) all have in common is showing that something wonderful, something great and beautiful – something near perfection – can be achieved no matter how many more years you have behind you than before.

Not a bad lesson to learn.


Written for dear Kat’s W4W.

*If you’re wondering, the answer was yes during his journey through France, but no from the moment the glorious Mediterranean sun hit his face. Rotten little swine.

 

W4W : Scratch

Drawing of child's face

Image : Pixabay

Helen picks up the scalpel, presses it firm between thumb and forefinger. The point digs into the flesh of the paper. Her hand shakes. She has to be careful , follow the outline to the millimetre. If she leaves a scrap behind …

What if she’s wrong?

The print sings from the book, black ink on a discoloured page, the surface sunk  under thick lines where the wood block has bitten. She studies the picture for the thousandth time.

There’s a forest clearing surrounded by fir trees scaly with cones, prickled dark with needles. A tawny owl sits high on a branch, watching. A family of mice huddle at the base of an oak, though she only noticed them after the fourth night poring over the image.

What she always returns to is the clearing.

Ankle deep in clover flowers tiny as rice grains, is a girl in a white dress, stitching crisscrossing her bodice. Helen imagines the thread to be red and yellow, though only black shows on the print. Around the girl’s shoulders hangs a cloak, the hood fallen, exposing pale plaits. The bow unravelled on one hints something is wrong. Will be wrong. Is wrong.

But the face … Dark, fear filled eyes, mouth open in a gasp. From her left hand hangs a stuffed teddy – threadbare through love – with one button eye.

Helen looks up to the wall, to a picture frame hanging there. The same eyes – joyful then – the same plaits, yellow and red diamonds on her favourite party dress.  It’s the photograph the police used for the Missing Person poster, though they focussed on her daughter’s face, Bear only visible in the bottom corner. Helen found his other eye after they’d searched the bedrooms.

She turns back to the book, scalpel shaking.

‘Hold on,’ she whispers. ‘Hold on.’

The blade scratches the surface.

 


 

Here’s a Wednesday Word Tangle – a W4W – with a difference. Today, I’ve used my chosen word as a jumping off point for a story.

The word of the day is SCRATCH, which according to the Online Eymology Dictionary is from the early 15th century and probably a fusion of two Middle English words – crachen and scratten, meaning, well, scratch. Aren’t they brilliant?

Fancy a good scratten? Crachen my back and I’ll crach yours?

To accompany this is the nickname for the Devil – Old Scratch – probably from the Old Norse skratte, meaning goblin or wizard. Similar words for goblins and imps abound in the colder climbs of Europe – such as the German schratt and Polish skrzat.

So, we have scratching, the Devil and my new found love of paper cutting … What else could I write but a wood pulp bound fairy tale?

Thanks to Kat, as always – blogging pal and founder of W4W.