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.




Friday Fictioneers : Attack of the Trolley Trolls


copyright -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.’


‘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 : 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,


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.




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.


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?



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


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: Why all writers must be swots

Exam paper

Image : Pixabay

Exam season is drawing to a close here in the UK.

After months of preparation and stress, thousands of GCSE students will face their final papers before kicking back for few weeks, while trying to ignore the shadow of gloom that is Results Day.

Remembering my own experiences of this time is uncomfortable.

When I took my GCSEs, they were called O Levels (a simpler name for a harder exam, if the tabloids are to be believed) I don’t remember learning how to


I’m not saying I wasn’t taught the techniques, merely that I don’t recall the information being passed on to me.

But then, my mind is hazy about a lot of things from that time: how to calculate the area of a circle; why I stood outside the school gates, holding a cigarette for the Head Girl, before being caught by the evil harpy that was Miss Brown and losing my Prefect’s badge; why I chickened out of meeting Dominic behind the print works after school, even though he was pretty good looking and no one else had asked me out through the whole of Secondary School.

I think I might have glanced through a handful of old test papers, but in the main my revision technique was

(1) Wake up thinking about upcoming exam.

(2) Experience a sickening feeling of dread.

(3) Attempt to cover up sickening feeling of dread by playing the Seven and the Ragged Tiger by Duran Duran very loud.

(4) Eat oven chips.

(5) Got to bed.

(6) Wake up thinking about upcoming exam …

I passed most of my exams – some scraped more than passed – but would have got an A in The Union of the Snake,  if it had been on the curriculum.

When it came to studying for my degree, I took the whole thing rather more seriously.

I read, re-read, annotated, drew crazy looking diagrams with five different coloured luminous markers,  bought a stack of old exam papers and spent every evening for weeks on the run up sitting mock exams in my dining room until I could answer a question about Religious Observance or Women’s Role in Roman Society blindfold with my hands tied behind my back, scratching my answers into the wall with a spoon clenched between my toes.

I got a First.

Now, writing a novel is rather like sitting an exam that’s really important to you but has no time limit and which you’re never quite sure is over until someone buys your answer papers from you.


I’ve revised my YA novel many, many times. I’ve sent it out to four agents, three of which have come back pretty quickly with a big no and the fourth has yet to answer at all.

So far, I have failed the exam.

But an editor has just looked through my first chapter for free, covering the page in lovely squiggly red comments.

Now I’m back to revision.

Maybe this time I’ll pass the resit.



Written for Kat’s W4W prompt.

The editor in question was James at Storymedic. I’m not sure if he’ll read any more chapters for free, but read his blog anyway – in it you’ll find some brilliant guidance for writers.

W4W : Why William Shatner should never play Macbeth

Comedy Hamlet and Yorrick scene

Image : Pixabay


As an Englishwoman, subject of this sceptre isle, this precious stone set in the silver sea, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve spent very little time watching or studying Shakespeare since leaving school.

As a teen, I was besotted by the stage – the lights, the attention, the thrill of stumbling over props and stagehands in semi darkness.

I acted in youth theatre, though this foray into the seedy world of Thespia was in part due to the attractions of the young male lead in my troupe, a loose hipped, loose lipped, self-adoring monster intriguingly named Conan. A barbarian like his namesake, this glorious creature was monstrous in the way only attractive teenage boys can be. I learned my lines (barely), threw myself around rehearsals (embarrassingly) and he hardly flickered an unfeasibly  long eyelash my way.

As compensation for my failure as an actress, I trotted along to every school theatre trip going. Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Edward II, Midsummer Night’s Dream, even Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Coppelia got a look in, though I later decided I’m not a fan of ballet, preferring blood and guts high opera and its tendency towards morbidly extended death scenes over ballet’s pallid and picturesque drowning Swan Princesses.

In a moment of madness, I used my hard earned deli counter wages to buy a pre-loved copy of the complete works of Shakespeare. It had yellowed pages spotted with damp and a spine that crumbled more with every read. Unfortunately,  I found it disappointingly impenetrable and soon put it aside in favour of what I viewed at the time as easier prey such as Equus. I must have been a very weird teenager.  

As an adult, my


experiences have not improved.

Years ago, I went to see a production of Macbeth (always one of my favourites, due to its high body count and obsessions with personal hygiene and the supernatural) starring an actor from Blake’s 7. Those living in the UK and of a certain age will no doubt remember Blake’s 7 for its shaky sets (imagine the original Star Trek with half the budget), camp costumes, overacting and its terrifically downbeat ending where after following the crew across the universe for four years, all our heroes die in a bloodless laser gun shootout.

The actor from Blake 7 gave a perturbing performance, gurning, sucking his cheeks and staring into the middle distance (a la James Tiberius Kirk) which I think was supposed to convey inner turmoil, but just looked as if he was having trouble with his wisdom teeth.

Hoping for a more positive experience and plumping for ‘proper’ stage actors this time over ex sci-fi telly bods, we saw Twelfth Night a while after that, but though a better production, the story line itself is horrible.

Have you seen it? It’s a ‘comedy’, which is tricky to pull off at the best of times. I for instance, would be a Spaced or My Name is Earl kind of person, where the majority of the world seems to be more Terry and June or Two and a Half Men. I suspect Twelfth Night is the Early Modern equivalent of the latter, having as its central figure of fun Malvolio, a lowly steward who is humiliated and imprisoned by higher status tormentors just for being a bit of a pranny.  You had to be there, I guess.

Anyway, I’m hoping an upcoming Shakespeare play will rejuvenate my love of all things Bard.

For I have tickets to see the great British actor, Timothy West as King Lear in a few weeks’ time. Lear’s much more up my street than Twelfth Night. There may not be any witches, but there is madness, betrayal and enough pointless death in the last act to make Hamlet puce with envy.

So, wish me luck and be warned – I may soon be in the market for a second-hand complete works. Though not, be assured, teenage boy actors.


Thanks to dear Kat, founder of W4W.

W4W:King Arthur, ZZ Top and oceans of mud


Muddy music festival

Image: Pixabay

What do Art Garfunkel, ZZ Top, Earth, Wind and Fire, a British physicist and a hand puppet shaped like a fox have in common?

They’re all playing Glastonbury Festival 2016, of course.

It’s a bit of a local phenomenon, old Glasto.

What happens is the Wednesday before Glastonbury weekend, half of the population of under 30s in Bristol pack Wellington boots, tents, sleeping rolls, bikinis, sun cream, sun hats, body glitter, lighters, baby wipes, giant flags and inflatable crocodiles in their back packs, tie scarves, beads, feathers and anything else vaguely ethnic or sparkly in their hair and head, backs bent but hearts high, for the train station.

They don’t bother to pack food, as there are several dozen food outlets selling scrumptious if pricey samosas and tofu burgers on site, though they might pack toilet roll as the plumbing at Glastonbury is legendary in the sense that only wading knee deep in mud and human effluent can become legendary. Though, this overflowing of all things brown only happens in the years when the Somerset weather is particularly rainy, which in light of global warming and as we’re on the West of the country, bravely facing the long, open sweep of the Atlantic Ocean, is only once every two or three years.

I’m reliably informed seasoned festival goers don’t waste time queuing for the showers when they could be watching giant metal spiders breath fire or leviathans of the music industry pelt out their hits during a thunderstorm – hence the baby wipes. After all, a wipe’s as a good as a wash when everyone else smells too.

And if you’re wondering why the happy campers of Bristol and so many other towns near and far arrive at the site days before ZZ Top have even shampooed their beards or Earth, Wind and Fire have dusted off their leotards and replaced their missing sequins, then it’s because an encampment the size of a town is established in the grounds of Worthy Farm for the week and the earlier you set up camp, the closer you’ll be to the stages.

If you’ve ever had to walk home from the pub after downing a yard of ale, a jar of pickled eggs and ten tequila slammers, then you’ll appreciate why cutting down staggering time is so important.

The stampede for tickets takes place months before and always before any of the acts have been confirmed, which only adds to the notion that the festival is more about the experience, man – good and stinking – rather than the music.

It’s a far cry from Glastonbury’s origins.

The word


comes from the Old English, Glestingabyrigbyrig meaning stronghold, inga meaning of the people and Glaston, possibly meaning woad place, woad being a plant from which troublemakers like Braveheart Mel Gibson – err, sorry, William Wallace – were keen to extract the blue dye and smear it over their presumably (being Scots) pallid bodies.

So, a fort of the people of the woad place has become a camp for the children beloved of body glitter, which is as close as rural Somerset is likely to get to Braveheart these days.

A bass amp’s throw from the Glastonbury site is Glastonbury Tor, centre of religious activity for a few thousand years. Not only is it the picturesque setting for a small parish church, it also has mysterious terracing running round the mound, rumoured to be an ancient labyrinth and is supposedly the Isle of Avalon, the mythic resting place of England’s Once and Future King – Arthur.

King Arthur – yes, that one, the husband of that cheating minx Guinevere, founder of the Round Table and hunter of the Holy Grail – is supposed to have been buried there, to return at a time of when the country is in great peril. Many have questioned why he didn’t pop up during the Norman Invasion of 1066, during the wars with Napoleon or the Blitz, when bombs rained on the heads of his subjects and the Nazis were one hop across the Channel away from invasion.

But then, considering he’s had a really long nap and he might need to wake up a little before leaping into action, may I suggest he opens with something smaller.

Handing out rain hats and galoshes as the Somerset rain pelts festival goers could be a great place to start.

With thanks to Kat, founder of W4W.


W4W : Why my inspiration monkey has lost his thinking cap

Banker and a small boy

Image: Pixabay


I confess we’re all thrown out of kilter here at Shamble Towers.

My Inspiration Monkey, Cyril, has lost his thinking cap. The twins Prevarication and Procrastination are camped out in the living room and are currently building a fort from my old note books and all those half-finished ‘great’ ideas that never got any further than a midnight scribble and an hour’s excitement before the leaden gloom of disillusionment set in.

And the word Schedule seems to have vanished from my lexicon completely. I suspect it’s packed its bags and is at this very moment boarding a plane to Acapulco where it will assume a new identity – possibly under the name of Jorge or Arturo – and begin a new life serving drinks at a pool bar wearing nothing but cut off denim shorts and a winning smile.

In other words, over the last few days my creativity has sprouted wings, flown out of the window and straight into a passing lorry load of frozen chickens.

You see, I’ve built up a routine of lovely writing prompts beginning Monday and continuing through to Friday or Saturday, depending on how inspired I’m feeling. However, I’ve missed two of these prompt already this week and do you want to know why?

Well, it’s partly because I’ve recently had two rejections from literary agents. Both terrifically polite, encouraging me to submit elsewhere, but basically saying thanks but no thanks. Of course, being the ‘creative’ I am, my subconscious interprets these encouraging missives as

Lord No! What were you thinking, sending this piece of over written, under developed derivative rubbish to us? Go and sit in a quiet corner until you’ve come up with something worthy of our attention.*

But to be honest, it’s mainly because this past Monday was a


here in England.

Now, for those of you unused to the term, a Bank Holiday is just another word for public holiday. Several of them fall on Mondays here, giving us all a nice long weekend in which to cover our gardens with decking, repaint every inch of our scruffy abodes and barbeque and water slide our way into a foaming frenzy – if the television adverts which surround these days are anything to go by.

They’re called Bank Holidays not because we have a particularly exalted opinion of banks and bankers and feel the poor things could do with some extra time off (we really, really don’t see bankers that way) but because they’re some of the few week days when the Bank of England and the high street banks close their doors, making it (before the days of the internet) impossible to trade.

Until the 1830s, the banks closed for the traditional 33 saints’ and holy days, but in 1871 the first Bank Holiday legislation was passed by politician (and funnily enough, banker) Sir John Lubbock. Apparently for a while after the law was passed, many people called them St Lubbock’s Days, which I think is rather lovely.

We’re now down to 8 public holidays (which include Christmas and New Year), which might not sound like much compared to our forebears, but they didn’t have statutory holiday entitlements, so we’re doing okay.

What these events lead to is the Monday feeling like a Sunday and the nation as a whole spending the rest of the week muttering to itself

Wednesday? Could have sworn it was Tuesday today. These Bank Holidays really throw you out, don’t they?

Bank Holidays – a blessing for bankers, a curse for bloggers.


*Yes, I did think this for one moment, then I scoured Google (with the over dramatic search term how many literary agents should I contact before I give up) and discovered that James Patterson’s The Thomas Berryman Number was rejected by 31 publishers before finding a home and 25 literary agents turned down Audrey Niffenegger and The Time Traveller’s Wife before she found success. I really am an amateur at this rejection game. More here.

Many thanks to the lovely Kat, founder of W4W.

W4W : A piggsvin by any other name …



Image: Pixabay

Today’s Wednesday Word Tangle is dedicated to that most endearing of bread and milk eating species*. An animal generally regarded as cute, an animal most of us would rather like wandering into our gardens, but which has an  in-built in armoury of tiny speers and carries enough fleas on its back to keep you itching from now until the turn of the next millenium – well, alright, maybe not, but they have a lot anyway.


Small, spiky worm eaters, they are as much part of the British countryside as open fields, dry stone walls, hikers, nuclear power plants and casual racism.

The word comes from the Late Middle English heyghoge, so called because they live in hedgerows and have porcine snouts.

Erinaceous is the adjective you need if you’d like to say something resembles a hedgehog  and if you have a family of them move into your garden and set about your wormery, the collective noun for them is an array or rather more colourfully, a prickle.

Other English names for them are urchin, hedgepig and furze-pig but the Anglo-Saxons called them igil or il and in Bengali they are kata chua (spikey mouse), in Chinese, ci-wei (needle animal), in Norwegian, piggsvin and in Welsh, draenog.

Beatrix Potter’s hedgehog Mrs Tiggy-Winkle was based on an old Scottish washerwoman (Kitty MacDonald) she employed over several years, who was ‘a tiny body, brown as a berry, beady black eyes and much wrinkled according to Potter.

In the early 1970s, the Royal Ballet made a film based on the Beatrix Potter characters and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle was one of the stars whose story was put to music.


And here for no other reason than I saw it as a child and was impressed by how high the dancer could leap, is The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher.



*If you find one snuffling in your back yard, under no circumstances feed a hedgehog bread and milk! If you’d like to know how to take care of them, pop along to the RSPCA’s website to find out.

Thank to Kat, the founder of W4W.

W4W: Stonehenge and why the Lannisters make rubbish neighbours



Image: Pixabay

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

So said L.P Hartley in his novel The Go Between and you can see his point.

It’s hard for most of us to understand how people from the past thought and felt about anything. We’d like to believe there’s some common ground between us and our ancestors – surely they cherished their kids like we do, made idiots of themselves for love just as we do.

But think on this …

Imagine a family day out in the 18th century – instead of popping to Alton Towers or Disneyland to queue for three quarters of an hour to be thrown around in a small metal cart on tracks, parents might take the kids to watch a public execution in the morning, grab a handful of oysters from a vendor with poor personal hygiene for lunch, before paying a few old pence to visit Bedlam for an afternoon watching the lunatics beat their heads on the nearest wall.

Or you could be the Roman Emperor Nero and believe it to be perfectly acceptable to persecute a rival religion by capturing its practitioners, pouring pitch over their heads, setting fire to them and using them as night lights at social gatherings.

Yes, times have changed. We all might enjoy watching the Lannisters on TV murder and rape their way to the Iron Throne, but if they moved in next door, we’d be on the phone to the police complaining about the noise and writing strong letters to our local MP about the family’s taste in weapon based furniture.

I was pondering these mysteries of human society when we visited Stonehenge a couple of weeks ago. For you see, even after centuries of study, no one’s quite sure how or why it was built.

There’s much talk of the Summer Solstice – and the site is still open every year to pagans and hippies and those who love the shivery, dew dampened feeling in their underwear that you can only really experience if you’ve drunk a lot of cider and dozed through a long Wiltshire night, before gazing bleary eyed at some big rocks as the sun sneaks lazily over the heads of the local constabulary.

Apparently the Winter Solstice – that shortest day that heralds the slow return of the sun – was much more important to our ancestors, though I’ve noticed it attracts fewer Druids and New Agers and 21st century flower children these days than its warmer cousin does.

Yes, the stones probably had something to do with astronomy, but who built them and exactly why may remain a mystery forever. That’s the problem with Bronze Age Brits – too busy smelting shiny metal into magical swords and hefting stones across the Severn Estuary to bother with writing anything down – no administrative infrastructure, you see. 

In case you’re wondering, today’s Wednesday Word Tangle is


The word is classed as a back formation from Stonehenge, derived from the Middle English Stanenges or Stanheng – which basically meant ‘hanging stones’.

So is the place a burial site? A big Bronze Age hospital? An auditorium for musical performances? An early attempt at the Guinness Record for giant domino toppling?

We don’t know, because you see, we don’t share the same priorities as our forebears. And for this – especially when it comes to mental health, gender politics and relgion – we should be most grateful.


With thanks to Kat, the lovely founder of W4W.

And, if you’re wondering what it’s like to see Stonehenge in the ‘flesh’ – surreal is the answer. Not quite as surreal as this, though …