"Chuck some knickers in a bag, we're off to Blackpool for an overnighter."
These words from my other half struck fear into my heart, like a shard of glass.
We have grown up on the same housing estate, been to the same schools, shared some of the same friends, seen each other go through some rough stuff and finally got together just over a year ago.
We had never been away together before and he had never seen me pack. Did I ever mention to him I am a bit OCD? I don't remember.
Two sets of clothes each were duly laid out. One for good weather, one for bad.
Toileteries, towels, travel first aid kit and an assortment of coins for the car park were added to the pile, along with a note reminding us to unplug all the sockets and get fuel. *Check oil, water and wipers whilst we're there.
At this point he went and sat on the stairs, staring blankly ahead.
"I just wanted you to relax." He said.
I relented and put back one set of clothes each, twitching slightly.
We went to Blackpool and had a brilliant time. He paid for the room and everything was provided. I paid for the food on the seafront.
We went up the tower and rode the tram. Took the scenic route back, had an unplanned stop in Lytham, St. Annes, just because we could.
The travel bag stayed neatly packed, save for the fresh undies.
Next time? I'll try and just chuck some knickers in a bag.
We are all affected by what goes on in the wider world. Personally I am given to periods of introspection that sometimes don’t seem entirely healthy and as I look at the state of our species and our planet there is little to give cheer.
The Arctic ice has melted to the extent that the fabled north west passage, that explorers once died trying, and failing, to find is now open for tourists. Scientists now predict that before long the entire Arctic ice cap will melt in summer. In the midst of the global slaughter of our own race I bet there’s a really huge outcry about the polar bears when it does.
In various parts of the Middle East and Africa people are still killing each other in massive numbers for a variety of reasons, or non at all. Sometimes it’s really a power struggle. Sometimes at the base of the argument are conflicting aspects of a religion that those who are not members find hard to understand. In any event in the minds of some it has now become fair game to kill anyone who doesn’t belong. This has been evidenced by the killings, in numbers that admittedly don’t compare with the deaths in the war zones but are nevertheless perplexing, on European streets that seem to serve no purpose. Certainly they come with no clear demands or stated political objectives. They are just murders.
In some places young women are killed for not marrying slobbering old gits and local communities think that’s OK. Women who have been raped are stoned or whipped for adultery and in other news it’s considered acceptable in some places to cut off parts of their bodies, often with filthy knives, in the name of cleanliness?
Entire countries teeter on the brink of economic collapse because they are wedded to a high value currency they just can’t afford, but are just as scared of the consequences of letting go of the tiger they have by the tail.
In New Zealand they are moving towards banning the domestic cat.
We are learning that sporting contests may have been distorted by state sponsored and controlled performance enhancing drug use for years. It was always there of course, everyone knows that, but it was to have been hoped it was not on the scale that can be achieved by governments. But apparently it is so.
My own country is an international laughing stock. Leaving aside the EU referendum vote, which internationally still brings forth incredulity regardless of anyone’s personal opinion, and which we still insist on using a childish shorthand for (who was it said Brexit sounds like a breakfast cereal?). We have as our senior diplomat a man who was fired for telling lies, twice, has dangled from a wire waving the union flag and has acknowledged that he was often “disingenuous” in that recent hustings. A man who's insults turn more nations red on a world map then the British Empire at its height. With senior people actually in flight from China to sign up on a 30 billion dollar deal, after a major foreign company moves heaven and earth to pursue a highly risky project with us, with only hours to go, we choose to piss off both France and China by having second thoughts. With hours to go! Of course it might not be a good deal or even be a bad one but you just don’t do that at the last moment. You do these things differently, professionally and at the very least sooner. We look utterly stupid.
America: lord luv us. I really used to admire America. They put a man on the moon, they were on balance a force for more good than evil in the world and they had a good and generous heart. These days at any old time some unbalanced kid can walk into any gathering of people, pull out his piece, which may be a legally purchased assault rifle with a few thousand rounds of ammo ready to rock, and let it go on full automatic. The police appear to be killing people for little or no reason and the people appear to be killing the police in retaliation. There is a serious possibility that the most powerful nation in the world may soon be led by a man who says he wants to build a wall across their southern border yet states he loves hispanics, who suggests banning an entire religious class from entry is positive diplomacy, who encourages a foreign power to hack into his opponent’s private data, who isn’t sure if he would start a war with China, who once boasted that he could have nailed princess Diana, who ..… for ****’s sake, he really has a chance!
The oceans are so polluted with plastics and whatever other shit we’ve been dumping in there for years, that there are vast dead zones and some fish are now hazardous to human health due to mercury content.
In all this I see, for now, one reason to be cheerful. Despite being run by a bunch of crooks called the IOC, the Olympic movement has done a good thing. It has sponsored a stateless team of refugees to compete in Brazil. The individual survival stories of some of these people are amazing and I really don’t care what borders they crossed, if they are legally wherever they are, or not. It’s a small beacon of hope and for me it’s just one reason to be cheerful. And in these dark days, one will have to be enough.
My last railway blog was a bit complicated (though I still think it made a dramatic story), so here are two rather simpler tales. They both contain unsolved mysteries, the second one two for the price of one, and both involve night mail trains.
Long before a certain prime minister was born or thought of, Grantham had a place in railway history. It was the site of the most hauntingly mysterious of Britain’s railway accidents.
Though there have been other accidents due to driver error – passing signals at danger, excessive speed – where the cause has never been certainly established because the crew were killed, it has usually been possible to make some sort of sense out of them. But the Grantham accident involved more than simply running through signals or going too fast, and it has baffled commentators ever since.
All was quiet at Grantham Station at eleven o’clock on the evening of 19 September 1906. There were few people on the northbound platform except for the station staff, and postal workers waiting to load and unload mail from the night sleeper and mail train from King’s Cross to Edinburgh, which was due to stop there shortly.
The points outside the north end of the station were set for the line to Nottingham. A southbound goods train was approaching on that line and would be joining the main line while the mail train was standing in the station. Accordingly the distant signal at the south of the station was at caution, and all main line signals at the north end were at danger.
When the train came into sight a few minutes after eleven, it was going too fast for a train that had passed a caution signal and was about to stop. Puzzlement among the watchers on the platform quickly changed to astonishment and alarm as it came hammering straight past them. They testified that it was doing at least 40mph and that the brakes were off. Almost as soon as the train had disappeared into the darkness north of the station they heard a loud report, and saw a blaze of fire lighting up the North Yard.
The train had run through all the danger signals and had hit the junction with the Nottingham line at undiminished speed. The speed limit round the curves was 15mph. The result was inevitable, and 13 people were killed, including the driver and fireman.
Why didn’t the train stop? Did the crew not realise where they were? The driver was an experienced man (though the fireman wasn’t), and several other drivers testified that the approach to Grantham was quite unmistakeable, even at night.
Was there a brake failure? No fault was found with the brakes. Almost certainly the driver would have used his whistle to warn of a runaway (it was also normal, and this driver’s invariable practice, to sound the whistle if the train was going to run through Grantham Station without stopping), but witnesses were unanimous in stating that they didn’t hear any whistle.
It was suggested that the driver was drunk or had been taken ill, and the inexperienced fireman had gone to his aid, unaware that they were approaching Grantham. Somebody even proposed that the driver and fireman had been fighting. But the signalman at Grantham South box stated unequivocally that as the train passed him he had distinctly seen both driver and fireman standing perfectly still, looking forward out of the cab windows.
Even the official enquiry concluded ‘It is feared that the primary cause of this accident must forever remain a mystery,’ and so it has.
The locomotive was repaired and returned to traffic, but forever after many crews on the railway concerned, the Great Northern, regarded it as an engine of ill omen and disliked working on it. After the Great Northern was absorbed into the London and North Eastern in 1923 no time was lost in transferring it to another line.
It is the dead hour before dawn on an October morning in 1928, and on the London Midland and Scottish Railway’s line from Birmingham to Bristol the Leeds to Bristol night mail and passenger train is approaching the Gloucestershire village of Charfield. It is a still night, and mist is rising from the fields and drifting over the line, so Driver Aldington tells his fireman to keep a sharp lookout for the Charfield distant signal, which is in the usual position to the left of the tracks. Although the LMS has standardised on left-hand drive, this particular engine was built by the old Midland Railway, and the driver’s position is on the right. To make sure, Aldington crosses the cab to stand behind Fireman Want, leaning his head out over the side. Both men see a green light through the mist. ‘He’s got it off, mate,’ says Want, and the train carries on towards Charfield at about 45mph.
At Charfield Station a goods train is slowly backing onto a refuge siding to clear the line for the mail train, a cumbersome procedure that was nevertheless common all over Britain for many years in the steam age. In Charfield signal box, Signalman Button is a bit fed-up. This shouldn’t have been necessary. The goods train should have been well clear of Charfield by now, and would have been but for an unscheduled and unannounced stop for water in the station by the previous train. Now the goods train will hardly have time to shunt clear before the mail arrives.
Fed-up, but not worried. There are three signals protecting the goods train, distant, outer home and inner home, and the indicators in Button’s box tell him that all three are correctly at danger. The worst that should happen is a slight delay to the mail train.
There is a track circuit just before the second signal, the outer home, which electronically detects whether a train is on the line there. The goods train is almost clear of the main line when Button sees his indicator change to ‘line occupied.’ The mail train is arriving as expected. But almost immediately the indicator changes back to ‘line clear.’ This can only mean one thing. The mail has gone straight through the track circuit. It has not stopped at the outer home signal as it should have done. It is running through all Button’s signals, and at speed. And the leading couple of wagons and the engine of the goods train are still fouling the main line.
There have been many accidents of which it could be said ‘It could have been a lot worse.’ Charfield wasn’t one of them. Everything conspired to make it about as bad as it could have been.
The goods train on the points was at an angle to the main line, so the engine of the mail train was deflected on impact onto the opposite line, but that line wasn’t empty. Another good train was coming the other way through the station, and the mail crashed into it. Worse, there was a road overbridge at that point, and though the engine’s momentum carried it through the archway the wreckage of the carriages piled up against it in a tangled heap. To complete the disaster, the mail train consisted of old wooden carriages, most of which were still lit by gas, and the wreckage quickly became an inferno.
Had the train involved not been a mail train running at dead of night the death toll would have been far higher than the official figure of 16.
And there lies one of the mysteries about the Charfield crash. According to the inquest, among the remains were those of two children. They were never identified, nor did anyone ever come forward to claim them. What were two children doing travelling on their own on a night train? And why did nobody miss them? The story was reinforced by the fact that for thirty years afterwards a woman in black used to arrive at the village in a chauffeur-driven limousine two or three times a year and visit the memorial in the churchyard. She never spoke to anybody and her identity remains unknown.
It may be that the children never existed. The intensity of the fire made positive identification of the bodies almost impossible, and decades later the daughter of the man who made the coffins said that her father had simply made two small coffins to contain human traces that couldn’t be identified. On the other hand, a porter at Gloucester Station, the train’s last stop before the accident, testified that he’d seen two unaccompanied children in the train.
But for those interested in railways there is another and just as intriguing mystery, and you may have spotted it already. All the signals were at danger, and yet Driver Aldington and Fireman Want saw a green light at the distant signal. Both men survived the accident, and neither made any attempt to justify their actions by citing the foggy weather or any other difficulty in seeing the signals. Both simply stuck to their story throughout the enquiry and the subsequent trial for manslaughter, insisting that there had been a green light and they had both seen it. The element of doubt was enough to get them acquitted, but the discrepancy has never been explained.
The interlocking between points and signals, a universal safety feature, made it impossible for that signal to show a clear indication while the points were set for the siding, unless there was a fault with the mechanism, but no fault was found.
Were, then, both men particularly determined and convincing liars? Driver Aldington’s behaviour suggests otherwise. After the accident he was trapped in his cab for twenty minutes, buried in coal from the tender. When he was freed the first thing he did was to march over to the signal box and demand of Signalman Button what the hell he thought he’d been playing at. This is the action of a man who is quite certain of what he has seen, but how he and his fireman saw a green light where no green light should have been remains a mystery.
In 1973 I won the title Smoker of the Year. This came with about a dozen assorted packs of cigarettes, a brief speech and a round of applause, all conducted in the Sixth Form Common Room at St Bartholomew’s School, Newbury. It was a curious competition organised by my friend Tim and cut short by our summons to morning assembly. By then I had been smoking for two years and was getting through, perhaps, fifteen to twenty a day. The substantial school rule book prohibited smoking, but my parents were from an older generation that saw little wrong with it, so I was able to have a couple before school, one in the morning break – a two minute stroll across the road to the park – a couple at home during lunch, one in the afternoon break and however many I wanted in the evening.
I loved smoking. So did the entire world, or so it seemed to me. Everybody smoked.
I began, as many do, with a need to fit in. So when, at the age of fifteen my friend Angus offered me a Consulate as we sat in the Bandarlog café discussing girls, I accepted and entered into a love affair that was to last until I had smoked for half my life. Somehow, the seductive menthol of the Consulate didn’t produce the wild head-spinning of an abortive puff a few years earlier. The smoke was cool, smoking was cool, I was cool.
Kate smoked Camels. She was cool - and hot. Tim smoked Rothmans. We all had our preferred brands and what conversations we had in that café over their many and varied merits. But smoking was the main thing.
Saturday morning was the best time of all. After breakfast I would wander down to the paper shop and collect my paper-round wages. I might buy 20 Number 6 straight away as that only accounted for 21p. Very probably, I would then wander on to complete an important ritual, a visit to the tobacconist shop in the arcade. Wonderland! A library, a gallery, a museum of tobacco products. Lighters of every kind, devices for trimming cigars, assorted hand-rolling machines, bizarre chrome-plated engines that I will never know the purpose of, devices for cleaning pipes, pipes, pipe tobacco – but most of all, what I was there for, cigarettes.
I liked to pick a different brand at every visit, although some I had decided were so wonderful that I bought them again, or not, as the mood took me. It did not take me long to dismiss the showy Sobranie Black Russians or their companions, the Sobranie Cocktail range. Black Russians, as the name suggests, are rolled in a black paper. They have a gold foil filter and come in a posh presentation box. I quite liked the flavour, but as they were smoked by every single person who ever wanted to look flashy, I gave them a miss. The Balkan Sobranie Turkish on the other hand – that was a different matter. I liked these. The filtered version was tubular whereas the plain was oval. Actually, that may not be generally true, but it was how I bought them. I don’t know whether they are still available, but they came in a white pack with a landscape drawn in black and white. A couple of Turkish peasants enjoyed cigarettes in the foreground while wagons of tobacco leaf passed behind them.
But without doubt, my out and out favourite, the incomparable treat for a Saturday, was a packet of Passing Clouds. I fell in love with these at first sight from the oversized bright pink box to the ridiculous portrait of a cavalier settled in a chair smoking. The plain, oval cigarettes had a more dignified star logo and that was all. The taste was nectar: rich, smooth, Virginia. The down side was the price. At 36p it was quite an investment. The thing is, it was worth it.
Skip forwards, past the smoking award, past school, past college and university, all the way to 15 June 1986. In a week I would be thirty. I was smoking forty to fifty cigarettes a day and had just finished a pack of 200 that Dominique’s parents had brought me from their holiday in about four days. My normal routine was to buy a packet on the way to work and another on the way home and with the unexpected gift of 200 Marlboro, I had forgotten to buy any and had run out.
I smoked at work, I smoked in shops and houses, cinemas, railway stations. I smoked the moment I woke up. I thought nothing of walking into an office of non-smokers and lighting up. I smoked in the street, on trains, in cars, while cycling. I would probably have smoked in the shower if that could have been arranged. I smoked through a severe bout of flu with a chest infection. I smoked before and after a chest X-Ray. I smoked next to the hospital bed where my friend Paul was recovering from an operation and he smoked too. I set off smoke alarms, caused rumours of Papal elections and could be hired to fumigate sheds and out-houses. My lungs were black, my fingers were yellow and I stank of cigarettes from head to toe.
So there I was, nearly thirty, with no damned fags, on a Sunday when the shops were shut and the pubs wouldn’t open until seven.
So I gave up. Cold turkey. No gum, no patches, nada! It was easy. What I meant to say was that it was easily the hardest thing I’d done.
So here we all are, thirty years on from then, and how different the UK seems. I saw people smoking in town today – they still do, of course; but I did notice them whereas it only seems like yesterday that the non-smokers on the street were the exception. The thing is, I wasn’t at all unusual with my habit, or in thinking it quite acceptable to puff away in a café with a young family seated next to me. Mum and Dad would probably be smoking anyway. Just astonishing to recall that so many of the major events in my earlier life were accompanied by a roll of burning tobacco, and that smoke so often stuttered out of my mouth in time with my speech.
I think it was a Number 6 advertisement that featured a man sitting on a mountain peak smoking with the slogan ‘It seemed the natural thing to do.’
Well, it really did.
A few months ago, a rare opportunity presented itself: to run a cafe for a couple of months this summer, by the seaside on the other side of the country.
The logistics of doing so, were staggering: I’d have to shut my house up with its increasingly alarming maintenance problems, abandon my fight with the brambles and the garden with its newly planted orchard and raised vegetable beds; the cat and chickens would have to come too, which severely limited where I myself could stay, and entirely relocate the rest of my life - mail, phone calls, doctors, friends and family.
Nevertheless, the idea planted itself and refused to go away. Why? Because it sounded such fun. To be clear, this wasn’t some kind of scam - it was to help out a friend of some years standing who’d been left in a predicament by someone else.
The notional deal was that I’d have free rein to do what I liked in a rent-free cafe with fully equipped kitchen. Indoor and outdoor eating areas, guaranteed footfall. All the tables, chairs, crockery, cutlery, pots and pans, chiller cabinets and coffee-makers in place. Hours to suit.
The only overhead as far as I could see, was the cost of the food. And accommodation for me and my menagerie. And the time and disruption to my real life, including moving everyone up there, accommodating them appropriately, settling them in, finding out where the bank was, the shops, the suppliers, the purveyors of straw, the vet.
But it sounded such fun!
Unable to sleep much that night when the idea first took hold, my brain whirred into action and I was on the case.
My friend has a field by the cafe. How about a static caravan for me and the cat? And I could build another chicken enclosure and henhouse, so we’d all be together. Off I went to eBay and We-Buy-Any-Caravan, to see what such things cost. All seemed do-able. What would I do with all this apparatus at the end of the term? Donate it? Sell it on? Bring it home? It would mean several trips up there to sort things out, and the same at the end. Going away is always a problem, finding carers for the menagerie. But let’s not sweat the small stuff. There’d be an answer.
Remember the fun, Whisks. Carte Blanche in a cafe. I could be as conservative or ambitious as I liked. Stick to coffee and cake, add in soup and bread, then mains and puds? What about theme days? Vegetarian? Barbecues on Sundays? A juice bar? All possible. I even found out about getting a liquor licence and it’s not so hard - or expensive.
I began to quail at the thought of doing it all on my own, and schmoozed a few F&F to come in with me and share work and profits. Amazingly, I found someone who’s also up for it. Good.
Next, let’s find out about running a cafe. I’ve no idea really, but I’ve watched Masterchef. How hard can it be?
I read endless government leaflets on such things. Made phone calls to DEFRA, Food Safety, the Council, and asked a lot of questions.
I began to quail again. There are such a lot of rules. This must be stored below 4 degrees, that below eleven. This can’t come into contact with that. Warm rice can only be kept warm for twenty minutes, after which is must be thrown away. I should keep accurate records of ingredients, their sources and sell-by dates, in case of allergies and whatnot. There are rules on disinfecting, on fridge temperatures, on the exact heat to be applied to meat. How far away from the sink the soap dispenser is. What you should and shouldn’t do if you cut yourself. Fire regs. First aid. Crikey Moses.
My putative partner used to work in MacDonalds and became a shift manager. I may not want to run a MacDonalds style cafe, but he’s been well-trained in Food Safety and all that, so his experience is most valuable. However, he’s bumming around Europe just now, so not available on a day-to-day basis for chats. Besides, he’s young - my cousin’s son. So I’d take responsibility for the business side of things, he’d contribute some muscle, know how and eye candy, and we’d share the cookery and other chores. We’d split the profits 50:50, if there were any.
A couple of months working by the seaside? What’s not to like?
However, my enthusiasm withered, in the face of the bureaucracy and logistics required for such a short stint. Yes, it would have been a lot of work, but only for a couple of months. I tried to remember what fun it would be; but the obstacles mounted.
Then two things put the kibosh on it once and for all. I asked some detailed questions of the council and they couldn’t answer them; I discovered I needed a dedicated Environmental Officer to ‘interpret the law for me’. And needed to register the business at least twenty-eight days before trading began. There simply wasn’t enough lead time for this summer.
And then a circumstance in my friend’s life meant that the plan was off for a few months, anyway.
So we abandoned negotiations.
Until now. It has occurred to me that if I could do longer, next year, say from end-March to July or August, it might be more worth my while to upheave. And other circs in my life mean that I might have to move out for a few months next year, anyway. So could this be a win-win?
I still have to run this by my friend who may have other plans, but nevertheless, da Whisk was back on de case. Dem ol' thinkin’ cogs was whirrin’ demselves off de pole.
Even though I found so many notions daunting, but there is time to go on a course. I’m not a complete numpty and there are plenty of numpties running cafes who don’t seem to tie themselves in as many knots as me. If numpties could navigate their way through the morass of red tape, why couldn’t I?
Which brings us to last Friday. I was lunching with a friend in the High Street. A new restaurant has recently opened - Turkish - and has proved immensely popular, very quickly, in a street already well served by restaurants. It’s spilled outside and is heaving with customers, while the waiters from nearby restaurants stand in doorways, waving napkins and looking at the sky. We went to see what the fuss was about.
Well, it was Very Nice. Fresh, yummy, interesting food, pleasant atmosphere, a pleasure. Will defo eat there again. I told my friend about my abortive cafe plans. She pointed out a notice in the window: experienced waiting staff required, and said, ‘You should go for that.’
Long story short (or is it?), I popped in the next day (yesterday). Spoke to the manager. Said I’d been a barmaid, er, a long time ago. His eyes lit up. ‘So you can mix drinks and that?’
‘Er, no, not really.’
Never mind. He didn’t asked my name, my NI number, references, or anything. I like that. Someone frantically busy, getting on with the job, alert for possibilities.
I’m very interested to see how a commercial kitchen actually functions. How they produce so much varied food so quickly. How does it work in Real Life? The process of the business.
Upshot is, I start at 3pm today. My new waitressing career may be over by tomorrow. Last time I used a till, it had moving parts.
I’m using this as part of the fun - see what it’s really like. Research. I may hate it. Be rubbish at it. Expect I’ll be exhausted by 11pm tonight, and all for a minimum wage plus tips. But whichever way it goes, it’ll be interesting and I’ll learn something; I’m ravenous for that.
I’m stupidly nervous. I’ve eaten in loads of restaurants. How hard can it be? Well, I’m about to go undercover and find out.
Eek! 2pm already. Better get going. Wish me luck.
The paramount thing about brand creation and marketing is the message it leaves you with. I advance this view with no small amount of trepidation as I know there are several experts in the field out there in our cloud. If you aren’t left with a memorable feeling, you won’t have a trigger for the memory of how you enjoyed that one, so when you see another you’ll select it.
These days one of the objectives of writers is to establish their brand. Or at least I contend it’s so. I also think that it always has been, but currently it is much more significant. Here in our little community many people who post discuss topics that clearly show they hope to establish a series, and thereby a brand. Not all of us, but many. If you buy a Bernard Cornwell or a Jo Jo Moyes these days you know pretty precisely the shape of what you are going to get.
We place a lot of significance on openings, how to get people reading and keep their attention. But is the ending more important to leave that brand impression.
Take Frederick Forsythe for example. OK, his halcyon days were forty some years ago. But consider his endings; one of them at least. At the end of The Odessa file, ignoring his epilogue, he wraps up the story, the final episode, in about 1,500 leisurely words all in the same mood as this closing extract, not really about the story, yet at the same time all about it:
“Yisgaddal, Veyiskadddash, Shemay rabbah.. And so it was that twenty one years after it died at Riga, a major of paratroops of the army of Israel, standing on a hill in the Promised Land, finally said kaddish for the soul of Salomon Tauber.”
It's about the book, not the story. Forsyth writes/wrote “bloke-lit” adventures in the political/military genre. He was a foreign correspondent and wrote what he knew about. I think, at least then, he was natural storyteller. As an ending I think it simply leaves a memory of the core of what drove the story and plants the book firmly in the mind because he wrote out what he had in his own mind.
Harper Lee really only wrote one book – I don’t count the recent money grab by others. Many say it’s their favourite book of all time. Whatever, it’s a leisurely storytelling experience, albeit of dark and dangerous times. She wraps up with something over 2,500 words that are about as comfortable as a well worn cardigan - ending with:
“He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning”.
Masterly writing. It encapsulates not the story but the essence of how it was told, which is from the point of view of a child. What you felt as you read the book takes root somewhere deep in your soul. Although the story was fiction, it was very true to the childhood of Harper Lee and if you can’t ignore the machinations of Truman Capote, then it was about his childhood. Had she written another, you’d buy it in a heartbeat. But she didn’t.
Those are examples from years back. Joanne Harris is a fine writer, I haven’t read one of her books that I haven’t enjoyed. She is a professional writer as a career choice - she was a teacher and I hope not a witch. She has a bit of a French background though. She wraps Chocolat, perfectly capturing the essence of what the book was about in about 600 words. I won’t repeat it here, but trust me there’s a bit of occult, a bit of France, a bit of bitter Chocolat and overall sweetness. Makes sure you’ll buy another.
My point is, the ending is shorter and more targeted, more modern perhaps? Joanne Harris knows her craft and can do it again and again. That ending does the same job as the others, but much faster. More suited to our sound bite culture, perhaps.
As, more and more, market led writing dominates our little world and if my conception of brand establishment is correct how long is it before a closure will be done like … well read on..
One of the best brand establishers and communicators in the modern world is Michael Duben (Search Dollar Shave Club on YouTube if he has somehow passed you by). He does brand communication like Lionel Messi does goals. In an ad for One Wipe Charlies (work it out) he closes out with:
“Great things can happen when your butt smells good”.
It leaves you with the core message of the whole thing, hopefully a memory of a warm and comforting experience and all in fewer than ten words.
Is this the shape of things to come?
The tyranny of taste..
Many thanks to word clouders who wrote kind comments about some posts of mine on various sites. Sadly your views were not shared by Richard and Judy; I was not even shortlisted for their competition. It is possible I had submitted a complex structure, in which case I would not have understood my own novel. But any pain caused has been overridden by the actions of an Ercol sofa who has been behaving in the most inconsiderate manner!
I met Ercol many years ago when a sofa was exhibited for sale in the window of a furniture store in suburban Kent. Closer inspection informed me that Ercol was a display model to be sold at a bargain price. Even when placed in such a humiliating position, the sofa commanded respect and distanced itself from the other sofas that were for sale with great subtlety.
The sofa has a simple wooden frame into which is thrown a plethora of cushions. In later years, when we achieved first name terms, I came to understand the shame - not to say anger - of Ercol whose feelings were, undoubtably, those of a slave to be sold in an Athenian marketplace.
Ercol, we feel your pain.
I bought the sofa and the salesman seemed delighted with the sale, for he threw in extra cushions with what seemed reckless abandon. I had no misgivings at the time, but the salesman’s joy at the departure of the sofa was a frightening forewarning of things to come.
Ercol had been bought for my mother to laze upon while watching the TV. The previous incumbent had developed a severe propensity to sag and had to go, despite the protestations of my mother. We were the poor relations and lived among cast offs from more successful cousins and uncles. Perhaps she did not wish the cousins to pay a visit and find their gifts displaced? Perhaps it was this unwelcome from my mother that precipitated a series of unfortunate events?
For a time Ercol shared the living space with two Ikea armchairs. These were provided by Dutch uncle and their premier virtue was, undoubtedly, their price, No better than they should be, we shall comment. The Ikea chairs were bought to replace Parker Knolls, one of which - a rocking chair - had come off its rockers. The Ikea chairs soon disassembled themselves with the same panache with which they had been put together.
Now Ercol is on his own having outlived, as it were, any infringement of his domain. I recall one frightening morning when It seemed that during the night, the sofa had advanced towards the centre of the room where Ercol could command a more dominating aspect.
But relationships were never easy. I am well aware that Ercol is the most appalling snob; albeit a snob of distinction. But we are of a literary persuasion and disdain such words as ‘snob - it is a relative value judgement.
Ercol is too proud to display symptoms outwardly, but he is clearly far more stressed than the tension of his wooden frame would suggest.
Recent discoveries have thrown light on Ercol’s inconsiderate behaviour and I have became aware that the sofa is in need of deep and severe counselling of which I have little experience.
There had been a tendency for visitors to perch on the edge of Ercol as though they were awaiting an interview for a job or a doctor’s appointment. Ladies would clutch at their bags with both hands and their gentlemen looked askance, one can only now presume, for the security of the high backed wings of a Parker Knoll. Sadly, visitors were uncomfortable with Ercol. They did not relax into the sofa. No - not even with the extra cushions so generously provided by the salesman. Relax, chill out, the sofa encouraged consistently, but the offer was consistently repelled.
It was while looking for some companions for Ercol on a web site, that I found two armchairs of of the same design. They were advertised in an on-line antique shop. But what is this? Why the name Renaissance and why mention that they are low backed? Ercol still manufactures Renaissance sofas and armchairs of the same design, but they are high backed. Low backs could not be to the English taste. But what of this? Lucian Randolph Ercolani, the founder and designer of Ercol is of Italian descent. He is from Tuscany. Things fall into place. Ercol is most certainly not a sofa; it is a couch for reclining, peeling grapes and suchlike. Ercol sofas are designed for living, not for sitting upon. Show some goddamn respect! Such is the tyranny of taste. Does Ercol require my blood?
Last week I made an attempt to appease Ercol as he has become the bench mark for the room. There is an adjacent daybed in an adjoining conservatory. It has a simple while metal frame on which is hung an undistinguished grey bedspread from BHS.
The Ercol sofa is in deep yellow and I have bought a yellow throw from Habitat. Would Ercol accommodate? Ercol’s yellow is subdued with flecks of a darker hue. It is pastel - impressionist - one might almost say post-impressionist - while Habitat is Dulux gloss.
I have added a bedspread from John Lewis which might act as a moderator between the two. It is of a rather subdued Victorian mauve colour. It is made in China and I have just noticed on the reverse of the label that this product not intended to be used as a cover for upholstery. I had been warned........One can almost feel the colours flinch....
I was once interupted in my attempt
to expand our sex life by being told by Her-indoors "right airport... Wrong runway..." And I've stolen that and put it in the WIP. She just read it and laughed to hysterics protesting that I can't use it....
What lines from your life have worked themselves into your stories?
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