Jul 31st


By Purple witch




Poised, ready to tumble
A powdered moon arcs below a trailing snare of star-shot sky,
And the soft dark clings to quiet sounds,
Listening for the cautious trilling and calling
that heralds the running of the herd.
Gently, it gathers and swells, held,
Briefly at the rim of the meadow, then, thundering serenely,
they race out from the edge of sorcery
with the scent of blossom falling from their flanks as they run.
And the joy of the running live in their voices.
Feathered hooves flash silver and gold in the moon shine,
And pennant manes fly against the air - brushing petal laden garlands
Hung at arched necks.
Their breath, sweet with the green taste of new meadow hay,
Warms the soul of the earth.
And the seed of their power scatters the air before them as they run:
The star-tipped, spiral horn, glistening, lance-like,
and dusted with earth-shine, sings of its glorious magic.
Running still, they pass from sight.  No dust rises,
or mark speaks of their passing,
Only the lacy pattern of their running, sounding,
& the smell and the warmth of their voices trailing like liquid in the air
Echoes the paths to dark-wrapped secret realms.

Jul 31st

Mystery gift

By Monica Handle

Saturday came, and with it the morning post.  There was an intriguing parcel from AbeBooks.  For those who don't know (hardly any on here, I'd have thought), this is the online marketplace for second-hand, rare and collectible books, art works, etc.  I've used it a few times.

I opened the package to find a book of short stories by Mark Leyner, titled 'My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist', published by Vintage Contemporaries in 1993.  I read the first couple of pages of the first story, and then randomly dipped into a few others - just testing the water.  It's a strange collection, which I find difficult to categorise.  Experimental fiction?  Or just eccentric?  Here's a sample:

"i presume that your're there     the weight of your invisible body straining the leather seat of my director's chair     that strange fart wafting past me like the mildew of old books     "

Anyhow, I like the book.  Quite a lot, in fact: right up my street.  But who sent it to me?  There was no card and no indication of the sender on the packaging.  All I could tell was that it came from a bookseller in the US.

My brother was the obvious culprit.  He's knows and shares my tastes in fiction, and is given to feeding me occasional, unrequested book gifts; the weirder the better.  I texted him: not me, was the answer.  I phoned him, in case he was toying with me, but I could tell from the tone that he was definitely not in the frame.  One of my sons, then?  They've gifted the odd book (in both senses) in the past.  But no - neither responsible.  Final throw off the dice - my father?  He may be 89, but he has a laptop and he knows about AbeBooks, so there was an outside chance. I rang my brother back, as he looks after the laptop maintenance, only to be told there was no chance whatsoever.  Something to do with my dad's unwillingness to commit any financial information to the internet.

So ... what's going on?  I checked my AbeBooks account, just in case I had sent it to myself during some sleep-keyboarding episode, or when very drunk.  Nope.  Account last used two years ago.  I changed the password, just in case, to something I won't remember.

I went back to the packing, after a brief rummage in the domestic refuse.  Ah ha!  A small clue beckoned: the sender had my street name correct, but had ommitted the house number.  It had reached me only thanks to the local knowledge of our nice postperson.  So - someone who knows my bookish tastes, but who only has partial knowledge of where I live.  Or just forgot to put in the house number, I suppose.

This is going to bother me until I get to the bottom of it, but it leaves me with a question for the Cloud:

What's the strangest mystery gift you've ever received, and how did you (if you did) find out who sent it?




Jul 30th

Looking back

By AlanP

I am having a big time clear out of over 20 years accumulations arising from never throwing anything out. I have come across stuff I wrote, oh, 30 years ago that I had completely forgotten about. This one, I have no memory of at all. Hand written on a scrap of paper at the bottom of a suspense file, almost overlooked, I came across a couple of lines of dialogue in my own handwriting, so it has to have been me. And the thing is I now have an urge to write the rest of it.

'Charles, you're supposed to be dead. I buried you last month.'

'I thought I must be seeing as I just read my obituary in your paper. I just wanted to make sure that you finish claiming the patent on the time travel stuff. It's in my desk drawer.'

Anyone else come across stuff they did years ago and completely forgot they had done?

Jul 30th

An Aversion to Italy

By Caducean Whisks

When I was seven, my parents took me to Italy on a Cosmos package holiday; to Rimini, my first trip abroad. 

I remember the Campari swing in the sea, and that Riccione smelt of fish.

We went again the next year. Saw the Sistine Chapel and Venice and San Marino. 


At secondary school, I was good at French so was streamed to learn Latin in the second year. 

I kicked up a helluva stink. ‘No! I don’t want to learn a dead language. I want to learn German.’ 

Teachers smiled benevolently but I was incandescent. Stomped about. Banged down books. ’No. You can’t make me. Shan’t. Won’t.’

I wrote a huffy letter to the school and got my dad to sign it. 

School capitulated and I went to the German class instead. 

In later years, I’ve wondered about this and somewhat regretted not learning Latin formally. 

I pursued a scientific career in biology where much of the terminology derives from Latin. 

I like words and languages in general, and Latin would have come in handy. I’ve kinda taught myself in reverse, but a solid grounding wouldn’t have gone amiss. However, I do remember how strongly I felt at the time - as though my world would end if they forced me to learn Latin.


I’ve been to Italy a few more times since - or rather through it on the way to or from somewhere else. I’ve travelled the length of it but never felt comfortable. I’ve thought about taking a villa in Tuscany, or a cookery course - but always swerved away. 


Just about everything irritates me about Italy. Those double Ls in the words, the round, oily, pudginess of the sounds, the food with all those tomatoes, the colours of the flag. All entirely irrational, I know, but there we are. 


I’m in my late fifties now, and I’ve only just made a connection between all this, and something that happened in my early thirties. 


From my late twenties on, I became engrossed with all matters New Age (as it was termed then). 

Spiritualism, Theosophy, Astrology, Dreamwork, Afterlife, Mysticism, Auras, Chakras, Karma and Reincarnation. 

I’m a bit OCD when something interests me, and study it to the nth degree. Thirsting for knowledge. I have a veritable library of works on these subjects. I took serious courses on them. I’m the only person I know who’s read a thick volume on the Tibetan Book of the Dead and thumbed the Egyptian book of same. I have Kirlian photographs of my hands. I’ve been for Spiritual Healing that was so intense it had me in floods of tears. 

My first encounter with reincarnation-in-action was at a meeting of the Rosicrucians, where we apparently ‘saw’ someone’s past lives flash across their face. 

No, that was my second encounter. The first was when I was nineteen and stayed in a monastery in Lumbini in Nepal - the birthplace of Buddha. The head monk was doing a PhD on Reincarnation and I thought what a bizarre thing to do a PhD on. We had discussions. 

Reincarnation made a lot of sense to me then. Now, I don’t think I believe it any more, but I still think it’s a good way to lead your life - as if you’ll be accountable at some point for everything you do and don’t do. However, I did firmly adhere to it, back then. And there are things that I can’t explain without that theory; so I believe and don’t, all at the same time. 

Here’s one of those things: 

In my early thirties, I went to be regressed to my own past lives. 

I experienced three. Whether or not they really were past lives, is not the issue; it can’t be proved one way or the other, and could have been generated as images from my own subconscious, in the same was as dreams. So whether they’re true or not, doesn’t matter. What does matter, is that they were hugely significant to me. I recognised patterns, recognised people I know in this life, people who I’m deeply connected to; they say that you can be reincarnated in groups - i.e. the same souls come back together, time and time again, although not necessarily in the same relationship to each other. So a husband and wife in one life, may come back as mother and son. They say you keep coming back together until you’ve worked out the issues between you. And the issues will get more-and-more intense until you do work them out. That’s reincarnation for you. If you don’t get it right this time around, you have to come back and do it all over again. 

I think I can recognise a karmic relationship now - one that’s totally irrational but utterly compulsive. Such as my aversion to Italy.


Anyway. Back to my regression. So many things fell into place; anomalies in my life suddenly made sense. Believe it or not, the experience made a huge difference to me.

The third life I went to, I felt so deeply and painfully, that it moves me to this day, over twenty years later. Something else has just fallen into place.


I was a slave somewhere in ancient Italy. A young girl. I’d been romantically involved with a young nobleman, a patrician. I loved him dearly and believed he loved me. I’m smiling now, when I remember how happy we were. 

My vision opened as I stood in the centre of a circus. Crowds all around. Laughing, eating, chatting to each other. 

I knew I was about to die for the entertainment of the audience. How, I don’t know. Wild animals, perhaps? 

I look everywhere. No escape. So vulnerable. Difficult to stand up. The smell of sweat, the fear, trickling down my back, the heat. I seek my lover in the baying crowd, catch his eye. He’s in the special seats; his family are running this event. Save me, please save me. 

He laughs, dismisses me and turns to the man next to him, continues his conversation. 

I don’t understand. You love me. How can you let this happen? You said you loved me. You have the power to save me, yet you’re going to watch me torn to pieces. 


The vision faded and left me overwhelmed by the enormity of his betrayal. He’d lied, played with me, misused me shamefully. I’d believed he valued me but none of it was true. None of it.


And the final cold dagger to the heart? I recognised that young man. I’ve known him in this life, too.


Jul 28th

novella in flash

By Hil

Any of you who have looked at the Bath Flash Fiction Award site in the last couple of years may have noticed that last year they launched a new competition - for Novella in Flash.

Here's the link:


I'd seen the term without really thinking about what it was (I think novella put me off for some reason), and then decided to have a look. I already enjoy writing flash fiction and short stories, and I now I'm fascinated by the idea of creating a longer work by means of linked pieces of flash. At the moment I'm reading, but who knows - I might have a go.  

I've acquired some of the titles recommended by Meg Pokrass and am currently reading 'Mr Bridge' by Evan S. Connell.

Just wondered if anyone else had read much of this form, or had a go at writing it. What are your thoughts?

Jul 28th

Just a fun poem

By Hil

I just found this in my documents - wrote it years ago for a competition that required the use of foreign words and phrases.

It's not really for critique, which is why it's not in critiques - it's just for a bit of fun.

BTW, needless to say, it didn't get anywhere in the comp!



Cause Célèbre (or urban myth)

There’s a caveat for free in a famous royal faux pas,

Vis-à-vis how not to be persona non grata.

Keep it sotto voce if it isn’t à la carte;

La vita won’t be dolce if your riposte sounds too tart.   

If Marie Antoinette hadn’t mooted haute cuisine,

She’d have missed her tête-à-tête with Madame Guillotine.

She’d said ‘Just eat brioche’ (à propos lack of bread).

For the hoi polloi – too posh. Ergo she lost her head



Jul 28th

Let's talk nerdy for a minute

By AlanP

Just a little prompt. Some of you may have read about a new virus ish threat to smart phones called Broadpwn. How do they come up with these names? So far there is no known bunch of bastards actually exploiting it, but since the person who found it announced it to the world at a conference recently, they will do soon.

However, it is already fixed so long as you apply the update. iPhone or Android smartphone users are used to their apps updating any old time. Don't be fooled, that isn't the update you need. The update is to the operating system

Your operating system doesn't update so often, in fact you may not have it set to automatically update at all. You might not be up to date. It's easy to do. Be sure you are on a WiFi broadband signal as this will eat your data allowance and be sure you are fully charged or connected to a charger. Head into the settings app, find the software version and tap manual update. Take any offered OS update and choose install now. Then go and make a cup of coffee while it does what it does.

That's all folks.

Jul 27th

Romeo and Juliet - query

By mike

        This is a small query about ‘Romeo and Juliet’  I am no Shakespeare scholar but, earlier this year, I saw a production  that was beyond my comprehension.I recently read though the play with ‘Spark Notes’ and a watched a DVD  of a very traditional production.

     Can you portray Juliet as a bitch on heat, who is in her twenties, wears a negligee  all the time,  and seems keen on masturbating while having the hots for Romeo?  If you look at the play, there is an early scene in which Juliet’s father speaks of his daughter as his one love. She is not yet fourteen and could not an ‘arranged’ marriage be put off just for the moment?    I have no objection to ‘re-imagining Shakespeare’ but can the former interpretation be justified by the text?  


Jul 25th

Looking Ahead

By Woolleybeans

For the past 15 years or so, I have taught English to ages 11 – 18. This means I’ve seen the steady increase in workload, the increase in targets and the various changes to the curriculum. I’ve loved teaching, and I’ve loathed parts of it. I’ve fought my way from near breakdown (okay, not so much ‘near’ as ‘long and stubbornly not quite going over the final edge’) up to being one of the most successful and respected teachers at my current school.

And I’d made my peace, more or less, with staying in teaching.

Partly, this consisted of not thinking about what it would be like to have even the current workload and expectations at 68 years of age, but I’d survived thus far and so what if I was using myself up to do so? It just took thinking of my body and mental health and energy as a kind of coal – it would be mined until it was gone. And then I’d die.

I was quite cheerful about it, to be honest, which might have been a warning sign in and of itself.

Nevertheless, kids were getting value out of my lessons, progress was being made and colleagues appreciated my work and support. Could be a lot worse.

One problem was the impact on my writing. It can hardly be a surprise that writing is my dream, my passion and my way of being most myself. That’s the case for plenty of people on here. And many people have made it, in various forms, whilst still working.

Unfortunately, it was looking less and less likely I’d be able to do the same. I simply don’t have the energy reserves. Even before viral fatigue hit me a few years back I have been exhausted, suddenly and inescapably, before I feel I should be.

At work, I run on adrenaline. I am awake and energetic and buzzing (apart from when I blank out and become a vaguely human shaped cloud of fog, but even then I can usually fake being awake to the kids), but when I get in from work I zone out.

If I don’t actually fall asleep, which at several points of my life has been almost inevitable, I just shut down in terms of being able to do anything. It’s annoying. It also doesn’t go away because people suggest doing x, even though lots of people like to suggest a whole range of x’s. 

Again, I’d made my peace with it. I would just hibernate at home, and sometimes manage to write. So it goes.

And then Mr WB messaged me when I was at work, saying a job he could go for had come up in Scotland and what did I think about him applying? He included a link to a map.

He was talking about moving to the Outer Hebrides.

It was intriguing, and, although at that point we were mostly joking about it, we looked into it a little more. Not a big deal. We often do fantasy shopping for new lives – I love house shows and wandering about Rightmove and the like, and having a semi-realistic context just makes it more fun to me.

Only the idea wouldn’t go away.

Several weeks later, in half-term, we found ourselves on a plan, flying into Stornoway airport for a slightly less than 24-hour visit. At the end of that visit, we decided he’d apply.

During the Easter holidays, we went back again. This time, for the interview. He got the job.

Now, it became apparent pretty early on that, with one secondary school on the island and a few other blocks to me getting a job, we couldn’t go for this if I needed to get employment up there to make it work. Over the next weeks, we moved from we could try it and I could look for something up there to Mr WB being the one who said, well, why not take this as a chance to really have a stab at the writing?

Mr WB goes up to the island in just under 6 weeks – we’re up searching for houses next week – and I won’t join him right away. Irritatingly, the interview was just after the deadline to resign for the end of the summer term.

I’ll be here until at least Christmas, and possibly the full school year, looking after our dogs and our existing house and hoping not too many spiders turn up, because otherwise I’ll be living at work. And hiding the dogs in a cupboard. No-one goes in that one stockroom anyway.

When I do go up, though, I won’t be teaching. We’re going to make sure our new place has space for a writing desk.

Six months ago, I thought I would be in teaching until I died, possibly in front of a group of kids who didn’t see why they had to write about language in a language question. Now, I am looking at ‘retiring’ in a year.

I may go back to teaching. Hell, we may make it a few weeks and move back down here, who knows? But it’s a chance I was thinking I wouldn’t get, and I’m now both excited and kind of anxious about taking it. (I mean, I’m anxious about most things – that’ll be the generalised anxiety, the lovely thing)

It’s going to take some mental adjustment, but it does feel good to be looking ahead to something new, something different.

And I already have a list of projects I want to get finished.


Jul 25th

cricket and friendship

By mike

   This is for Whisks and is about friendship - or for anybody interested in cricket.  But there seems to be some psychologists on the site.  The post is an essay that Kathleen Watkins wrote about her friendship with Sir Neville Cardus.  It was published in ‘The Cricketer’ just after Cardus’s death.

         When I wrote an introduction to Kathleen’s essays, the news was full of Jimmy Saville and other celebs who had mi-used their fame in respect of young girls.  I was rather put off.   But you cannot make assumptions.  If you read Kathleen’s essay you can see their relationship was completely different, or she would have written otherwise.  This was staring me in the face. .

      But  I can see an actress might suggest more.  Kathleen did not go to see Cardus before his death,  There are a few letters in which he asks for a visit.  I think regret and sadness might be the theme.  But it is clear to me that Cardus was the big influence in her life.     

    Another essay was published in which she describes the young girl who had entertained Cardus - the critic and humourist.,

       Kathleen came from Manchester.  But one of her essays is about elocution lessons.  She had wanted to be an actress and would have been very good.  Any comic actress of a certain age could impersonate her, but the person who comes to my mind is Wendy Hiller.     I only remember visiting a suburban housewife and someone who had lived with us when I was a child.   But I can see that someone like Cardus would have found her an entertaining companion.  Humour was something they shared,  Her husband had a very dry wit too, Another relation said that Cardus would have been rather pleased to walk around London with such an attractive woman on his arm.

       Last night I went to the theatre and saw a play about friendship.  I had not intended to see this play.  On the Saturday, I had crossed Leicester Square where a kiosk sells discounted theatre seats on the day.  £15 was the price for a stall seat for a play called ‘I loved Lucy.’  As a fan of sitcoms, it seemed a must.  But I bravely got a bottle of wine and went home.  I drank the wine and watched ‘Mamma Mia’ on the TV.  My time could have been better spent.   Yesterday, I went to the theatre and got a £15 front seat.  It was press night,   The play was not what I thought   A distant relation of Lucille Ball - a homosexual  had visited the actress in her old age.  He is ‘I loved Lucy’ and the play is about  their  developing friendship.



“Cricketer’ - fondly remembered


A tender tribute from Kathleen Watkins


    My first memories of Neville Cardus go back to an autumn morning fifty years ago.           

   From the summer when, as a small girl, I was given an old bat, cricket absorbed me beyond all matters. I played against a lamp-post in the suburban avenue where I lived near Manchester, covered the bedroom wallpaper with action pictures ranging from Fuller Pitch to Jack Hobs and borrowed among other cricket books, John Nyren’s ‘The Young Cricketer’s Tutor’,  from the public library.

    Then I started to read the writings of ‘The Cricketer’ in my father’s Manchester Guardian.

     A determined desire to preserve them prompted me to buy very large scrapbooks in which, summer after summer, with flour-paste thick as sago pudding, laying flat on my stomach, on the drawing-room carpet, I pasted in the cricket cuttings.

    The magical name of ‘Cricketer’ became an Open Sesame to activities far beyond the avenue lamp-post.  Through ‘Cricketer’s articles I travelled to all the county grounds -- Lord’s, Canterbury, Liverpool...the scrapbooks became more elaborate, decorative with crayon drawings, alive with flashing bats and flaying arms.  It was a full time job executed with a craftsman’s loving care. ‘Cricketer’ himself I imagined sitting at the grounds wearing a trilby hat pulled over his eyes and a high coated-collar turned up over his ears.  For so he appeared in the photograph snipped from the Radio Times and set on a table by my bed.

    One autumn day it was suggested by a schoolmistress that I send one of the scrapbooks for ‘Cricketer’ to look at in the Manchester Guardian office.  This bold step filled me with both delight and awe.  Could I dare hope that he would be interested in looking at a book containing his own writings collected by an unknown child?

    But ‘Cricketer’ was interested.  Like a winged epistle from regions only dreamed of came a letter requesting me to call at the office in Cross Street the following Monday.  He would be happy to discuss the scrapbook in detail.

    It was a fine September morning when, wearing a panama hat, gym slip and blazer on which was pinned a badge marked Captain, I walked on air to a room at the top of the Manchester Guardian building.  I knocked soundlessly on ‘Cricketer’s’ door.  It was like knocking up a familiar but hitherto inaccessible god.  He was leaning nonchalantly against a desk, smiling kindly as I trembled forward.  My mother I had left waiting far below in Cross Street.

    This delectable meeting was followed by -  glory of glories - a telegram emblazoned with

‘Best wishes from Cricketer’, an immense box of chocolates, a pantomime and a ride in a taxi.

    And so the cricket seasons went by, with scrapbooks flowing into the Manchester Guardian office, less gluey now, more ‘artistic.’  Each summer ‘Cricketer’ sent me a season ticket for the Ladies’ Pavilion at Old Trafford where I sat with him among the tea-cups and waitresses, sometimes catching a glimpse beyond the pavilion of my favourite  batsman, Ernest Tyldesley.  It was a heavenly remove from my usual seat by the roller on the popular side.  There were visits to watch Lancashire play at Aigburth, Buxton and Leeds, with dinner on the train in the evening,  ‘Cricketer’ did not wear a trilby hat and upturned collar but an immaculate double-breasted suit and he carried a rolled umbrella.  I wore a slightly battered straw hat wreathed with raffia rosebuds and the red rose of Lancashire was embroidered on my white organdie collar.

   I shall always remember ‘Cricketer’ listening attentively as if all one said was of the utmost importance; doubling up with laughing at what he called a Barrie-ish remark; the philosophic gentleness of manner, the wisdom and culture he brought to a small girl whose one claim to meeting him was that she loved cricket and the lyrical quality of his writings

  Shorty before his death Neville Cardus spoke to me on the telephone.  “Do come and see me - I have been going through the old scrapbooks again.  Do you realise it is fifty years since you sent me the first one - a long, long time ago.’



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