Fleeting

Fleeting fumbling writing

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Sweeties

Grandma was fat and ugly. Not fat-jolly or fat-cuddly, just fat-full, full of food, full of sweets.

Her favourites were penny sweets, the sort she could buy at the village shop when she was little. Rock-hard lollies on wooden sticks, mini sherbety Swizzlers, sweet cigarettes in cartons with pictures of cowboys on, tiny fruity balls called millions, gobstoppers with seeds in the middle and her favourite of all, tubes of Parma Violets she pretended were pills. Nowadays she could buy them all in the Co-op. Giant cellophane bags called “Children’s Party Selection” containing the lot. Not as much fun as choosing each one separately – but there were so many! She could suck down all of a tube of Parma Violets, the whole lot in one go. No need to keep some for later.

She ate so many she smelt of sweets. As she walked down the street kids would follow, sniffing her sugary scent, like the pied piper she would lure them to a cave and imprison them till their parents paid up. No not really – as she walked down the street nobody followed as nobody cared. Another fat, old, ugly lady full of sweets.

One day on her way to the Co-op she passed a new shop.

The new shop used to be a newsagent. She never used it as it was full of chocolate bars and crisps and she didn’t like them. The new shop smelt good. It smelt like her. She went in. The counters and shelves were stacked with the giant sugary sweets. Not the little sweets she knew but big, fat ones. Fat like her. Gross sugary bars of green and white and blue and purple. Stacks of giant balls coloured strawberry and cream with sprinkles on. Trays of blocks and spheres and cubes and pyramids and hearts in all the colours of refreshers and spangles and opal fruits and the flavours of the rainbow and best of all stacks and stacks of giant cakes of Parma violet. Grandma filled her basket. She bought tons. So many they sold her a fancy wicker basket to carry them all.

So, the fat, ugly, old Grandma walked home carrying her basket of sweets. On the way she met a Wolf who told her about another Grandma. No not really – on the way she met no one, and nobody talked to her as nobody cared.

When she got home, she set about eating her sweets. She started with the plainest looking ones so she could look forward to the fancy ones. She tore into the green and white bars. Mmmm! – they were so good. Then the blue and the purple. Next she licked the giant balls clean of their sprinkles down to a sticky pink and cream centre. She gorged on her basket of shapes, colours, textures and tastes until her mouth foamed, her eyes watered and her tongue was sore. Nearly everything was gone but the Parma violet were last.  ‘Ready’ she thought! She sucked her fingers clean.  Slowly and lovingly she ground the tablets to a grit that spattered and showered the roof of her mouth before bathing her taste buds in their perfumed soapiness. ‘Soapy’ she thought. ‘Soapy but so good.’

But then a bubble.

First one little bubbly fart slipped out. Who cares, nobody. Fat grandmas fart don’t they. But it was followed by another and then another. She waddled toward the toilet loudly projecting her continuous fragrant stream of sweetness as she went. She dropped her drawers and aimed her fat arse at the seat. Just in time for an avalanche of soapy bath products and sugar to thunder into the pan. It kept on coming, overspilling the pedestal and onto the lino forming a mosaic of multicoloured sugary crystals that spread about her just like Millions.

Next day Grandma was thin and popular. She was still old but now she looked like Joan Collins. People liked her because she smelt of soap and not sweeties but mainly because she was thin.

Panettone Cat – reprise

The Panettone cat
would never ever forget
the A&Gshaadi
Lardi lardi dardi

The memories rung like dumplings
Across the summer somethings
Sing
Sweet party party A&Gshaadi
We love the love hearty lee.

So with singing will make fly
the moulting pussy fur of time.
Them again – like a year ago,
really, so, wow!

Like a panettone boxed and bowed
Miaow, miaow, miaow
Oh love and shadi like a horse and carriage
Limoncello, vanilla, almond and chocolatt
We lap it up like a panettone cat

Sing
Sweet party party A&Gshaadi
We love the love hearty lee.

Burnt

Our car was a Ford Cortina in beige. Once it might have been gold but by the third owners – us – it had lost its glister. The colour fitted the occupants. We lived in a beige Bromley suburb in a beige brick house behind a ‘hint of caramel’ front door – beige. Our life was dull and safe. That is until Dad discovered Campingaz.

Dad was a fan of camping shops, though he had never camped. He was a thrifty chap and the idea of a holiday which required no investment in such necessaries as a tiled roof appealed to him. Thus our Saturday morning shopping trips to Bromley High Street typically ended with the three of us in Blacks cataloguing the tents, sleeping bags, guy ropes, and walking boots. At twelve years old, these goods promised the sort of adventures that my timid self could imagine but never execute, but to Dad they offered ‘savings’.

‘Adventure’ to Dad and Mum was framed by the experience of being bombed almost to blazes in the war. Dad described to me the occasion when an oil bomb ripped through their flat, and the scraping and rattling sound of shrapnel from the anti-aircraft guns dropping onto the ruptured roof as they waited for the bomb to explode. (It didn’t.) Dad had only one leg so he was a warden, specialising in preparing for a gas attack. Luckily one never occurred, but how he managed to scramble over the nightly accumulation of rubble in the Lewisham housing estates I really don’t know. As she was walking back from work Mum saw a stray bomb land on a primary school in Catford. That was how they met, picking up burnt bits of children.

Nowadays ‘adventure’ meant going to the library, shopping in Marks, walking our vicious red setter Grace, and frequent Saturday afternoon car rides. The Campingaz was intended as an enhancement to the car rides. Cocooned in its blue tin box, printed with instructions in French and English a luggage catch hid a series of deft flaps that displayed two spare canisters and a base to rest the burner.

Caution determined that we avoid too much excitement all in one go. This particular car ride would be unambitious, no more than 25 miles there and back. The participants would not include my sister, a perpetual dieter and dismisser of fried food, thus allowing room in the car for Grace, who in any case forbade us from leaving her at home if there was any prospect of a walk.

Mum intended a tea consisting of Walls sausages, fried eggs, and tinned tomatoes. This would be complemented by a fresh cream cake, delivered by the milkman this morning and currently defrosting, and McVities chocolate digestives. As the Gaz stove would be occupied with frying, she also prepared a small flask of tea with sugar for me, and a larger flask of Gold Blend, with a plastic bag of Coffeemate (a recent and much-admired discovery on the shelves of Safeway). To top off this assortment, she had found a bag of barley sugars left over from some travel sickness incident, and a single Express Dairy yogurt which nobody wanted but she insisted had to be eaten. For Grace, there were Bonio biscuits.

After a forty-five-minute drive, the Cortina was berthed in a lay-by somewhere north of Tunbridge Wells. We were sitting on folding chairs between the open car doors, which acted as a windbreak, squeezing some warmth from an indifferent English sun. The view was of a field through a gap in the hedge. The spot was chosen for the grass, a bin provided by Sevenoaks District Council, and the gap in the hedge, which provided access to unobserved penny-spending, invisible even to a double decker bus.

Dad took care to remove the spare canisters and place them on the parcel shelf before lighting the stove. At the beginning of the year, Miss Hutchinson had instructed us at length about the danger of Bunsen burners, but given Dad’s war time expertise we knew we were in good hands. The blue tin provided a sort of tent for the device as well as a flat base. Because it was outside and in common with a tradition that hitherto I had been unaware of, dad cooked. This tradition emerged quite naturally from nowhere. I had never seen Dad cook before and it was almost as embarrassing as catching him without his artificial leg on a night-time hop to the toilet. Once the Spry Crisp and Dry was bubbling, Mum opened the packet of sausages, Dad lanced them with a fork and dropped them into the pan. The eggs and tomatoes would wait until a later round of frying. Dad’s face beamed with delight. We knew why, and Mum and I joined in with the beaming. This was hot food outdoors. Proper food, smelling – and soon to be tasting – just like the food Dad had more or less every day. No reading restaurant menus outside to check the prices, no awkward looking at the tablecloth while we were served, no non-Walls sausages, and best of all no bill. Mum and I felt loved and hungry.

Grace meanwhile had smelled the sausages. She had been resting in the grass unenthusiastically licking a Bonio. With no one to bark at and no other dogs to bite she was much less present than normal and we had all forgotten about her. Grace combined athleticism with focus. This was demonstrated by the acceleration she achieved in crossing the ten yards from her dining spot to the frying pan, and the precision with which she hit pan, Campingaz stove, and Dad simultaneously before disappearing with a sausage through the gap in the hedge into the fields. Meanwhile Dad, Mum and I spectated this event as if we were catching up with an old Laurel and Hardy movie. By the time we had gathered ourselves the entire back seat of the Cortina was ablaze. Instinctively I stepped back into the council bin, which seemed to hold me like a supportive adult at the scene of an accident. Which I suppose this was.

And then wonder came to pass.

With uncanny agility Dad leapt to the back of the car, opened the boot, and threw Mum a large can of water used to fill the radiator. For himself he grabbed an old blanket he kept for the frequent winter breakdowns or when Grace’s blanket became too unsavoury for the back seat. He threw it on the grass and Mum doused it with the entire contents of the can. As Dad shut the front kerbside door, Mum moved to the other side of the blanket. The two of them raised it as though folding laundry and somehow managed to launch the blanket like a salmon over the back seat. Dad snatched the two spare canisters from the parcel shelf and Mum slammed the door. Almost immediately the flames subsided, black smoke filled the car, and the back window cracked. Mum and Dad retreated to the council bin and cuddled me.

A green double decker bus swung round the corner and pulled up down the road. Inside, a crowd of primary school children, presumably on a weekend trip, massed at the windows. Grey faces peered at us. The driver came over. Were we OK, what had happened, the car was ruined, did we want a lift, tell the dog to stop barking.

We wanted a lift.

I was designated the front seat with Grace, who was asleep. I had the best view of the overhanging tree branches before they scraped the roof of the bus and enjoyed being the eldest on board other than Mum and Dad and the driver. Mum and Dad were in the back row, bathing in children, who had already forgotten about the smoking Cortina that smelled like breakfast and were singing songs. The children did not seem to notice that Mum and Dad were crying. I knew it wasn’t about our Cortina, or our burnt tea.

Goat pie

Tuffin is going out for a walk. He will take his usual walk for Tuesday, the one to the goat. He brings a rucksack with some treats. He knows she will eat anything but hotpot is good goat food. He also brings a new book. It is by J. Galsworthy and has been in Tuffin’s parlour bookcase since he can remember. It is from The Reprint Society. He has lots of books from Reprint Society all with the same leatherette covers. They are famous books but he hasn’t read any of them preferring to give them to the goat.

Tuffin wears his camel coloured Macintosh and carries his collapsible umbrella. He wears his rucksack on both shoulders with the waist strap fixed around his waist, so he doesn’t need a belt for his mac, he takes the belt off, roles it up and leaves it on the hall table. ‘Wait there’ he says. He wears his second-best black lace-ups. They are very shiny.

His route takes him down the hill, past the station at the bottom and then left. At the station a dustbin has tipped over, ‘Must be the wind’ thinks Tuffin. A large crab lies flat as an ashtray, pink against the metal grey sky. ‘Join us’ says Tuffin.

The road is wet with new tarmac. Tuffins shoes stick on the tarmac. ‘Good call’ thinks Tuffin looking at his shoes. The smell of tar is his favourite smell and he stops to sniff. The sniffing makes him sneeze so he takes a pressed white handkerchief from the pocket of his mac and blows. The sticking, sniffing and blowing disturbs the cheeping crickets who perch on the long grass either side of the road. They raise their legs and holler. ‘Come along’ says Tuffin.

Tuffin walks past the burnt-out barn where the wind rattles the rusting, corrugated bits of roof. Past the crumbling brick buildings where an old tractor, empty of its engine, nudges its pink nose out like a rat.  ‘Don’t miss out’ says Tuffin.

A little further on, a row of abandoned workers cottages overgrown with ivy, announces the field with the goat.

At the goat Tuffin stops.

The goat stands in a field behind fences arranged in a rough square. Either side are two identical fields. Both are empty. The ground is muddy and pitted by the goats hooves. The goat is very muddy. The mud cakes her sides, her back, her tail and her tummy. The mud and the sky are sticky, her feet and Tuffins shoes are sticky and black. ‘Toffee’ says Tuffin.

Tuffin removes the goat’s treat from his rucksack. The hotpot is wrapped in silver foil in a tin. Tuffin lays the foil on the grass and unwraps it. It is in a jumble but it’s still warm. Tuffin arranges the meat and potato on the foil and adds gravy from a thermos. He pushes the dish closer toward the goat. The goat breathes steam and waits. Tuffin slides away the foil and the gravy soaks away into the mud. ‘Gravy’ says Tuffin.

The goat remains still and silent as the wind winds up. Tuffin removes the J. Galsworthy from his rucksack and cracks the spine. The pages fan in the wind as he lays the book, page down, onto the treat making a crust. ‘A pie.’ Tuffin whispers to the goat. The layers of mud, grass, gravy, meat, potatoes and Galsworthy smoke before the goat. ‘A J. Galsworthy Pie’ says Tuffin.

Now the wind whips up and it starts to rain very, very hard. ‘It’s a flood’ thinks Tuffin ‘l knew it’. Tuffin opens his umbrella shielding the pie from the downpour. He raises the collar on his mac as the rains drenches the goat’s sides, back, tail and tummy. Her horns are washed into short spears and her beard turns as white as Tuffins hanky. She lowers her head and looks at Tuffin’s tin and rucksack. She looks at his second-best shoes now thick with mud. She looks at the Reprint Society edition of the Forsyth’s Saga. She looks at the pages soaked in gravy and the meat and potato piled underneath. The rain flattens the wool around her neck like eagle feathers, her eyes fill with rain and her mouth gapes. Tuffin, the crickets, the rat and the crab watch the goat eat the pie in two bites.

The rain stops.

Tuffin puts the tin back into his rucksack and brushes the mud off his knees. ‘Good job’ he says to the goat. The goat gleams and smokes as the sun shines.

The sticky road is wetter now. Puddles of oily water illuminate Tuffin’s route home like stepping stones. Tuffin paddles in the nearest puddle until his shoes shine again. ‘Till next Tuesday’ Tuffin says to everyone, ‘It’s Hemmingway.’

Tank

Tuffin glues his face to the glass.

Tuffin’s tank is empty of fish but there is a castle and shells and coral and a mermaid sitting on a rock and pebbles with numbers on.

Today he has a new addition. A pebble from Deal with a number 11 on.

It joins pebbles from Folkstone and Hastings and Sandwich and Herne Bay and Camber Sands and Dymchurch and Beachy Head. They all have numbers on.

“Each rock marks the spot.” He thinks.

Now Deal is in his tank –

  • and the shells
  • and the coral
  • and the castle
  • and the mermaid

    and all the faces glued to the glass.

Television

  1. Tuffin’s sitting room is in his house behind a window and a tall dense green garden.
  2. Tuffin’s television set is in an alcove behind a pair of red velvet curtains.

He turns the television on to warm it up and then turns the light off.

The sitting room is very dark even in the day.

Now it smells of warm dust.

He sits down and opens the velvet curtains, with a pulley and a long string.

“Ta da.”

When the red velvet curtains open the room goes blue except for the red carpet and the velvet curtains that go black.

Through the window the tall dense green garden goes blue too.

He watches the people and listens to them.

After an hour he closes the red velvet curtains and turns the light on.

He stands in the hall and drinks orange squash and eats chocolate raisins and he goes to the toilet.

He is looking forward to the next bit.

After fifteen minutes he has finished his orange and raisins and goes out of the hall into the sitting room.

He turns the light out and sits down and opens the red velvet curtains with the pulley and the string.

“Ta da.”

He watches the people and listens to them.

Behind him, through the window, the light from the tall dense blue garden.

After forty minutes Tuffin turns off the set and closes the red velvet curtains

and exits.

Blind

Here is Tuffin occupying the best seat in the station waiting room, near the gas fire on Sunday so no trains are expected so no one is here. He puffs on his pipe and makes smoke like a train.

A blind man and a dog come in. The blind man sits opposite and the dog sits with Tuffin and leans his head on Tuffin’s lap but Tuffin likes dogs and this one is a fine one. Tuffin is not sure if the blind man knows he is here so he stays very quiet so as not to startle him. The blind man farts so Tuffin puffs on his pipe a bit more. The dog drools on Tuffin’s lap.

Tuffin dare not move despite the fart and the drool. As it is Sunday no one else is likely to want to wait.

  1. The blind man takes out a book. He doesn’t look at the book at all but he turns the pages one at a time and reads out loud.
    Tuffin wishes he had bought a book too.
  2. The blind man takes out a plastic bag and eats the sandwiches and biscuits.
    Tuffin wishes he had a biscuit.
  3. The blind man removes his shoes and stretches across several seats.
    Tuffin wishes he could remove his shoes and put on his slippers like he would later.

The dog scratches.
The blind man scratches and makes a pillow with his bag and falls asleep and snores.
So does the dog.

…Now Tuffin goes to the door and leaves the waiting room.
…But he waits at the platform puffing on his pipe and making smoke like a train.

A train stops and the blind man gets on without the dog, with the book and with the bag but it’s Sunday.

Tuffin goes back to the waiting room and the dog is occupying the best seat by the gas fire and he is awake.

Garden

 

Tuffin’s garden was a square like everyone else’s. He planted only green and leafy and bushy and tall things, no coloured flowers at all. He put a path around all four sides just wide enough for him to walk round, and used a ladder and a plank and a spirit level to clip everything very straight and flat and to keep them from growing too tall and annoying anyone.

The garden grew into a giant and dense and green cube.

Tuffin knew how to squeeze into his garden without disturbing a single thing. Inside everything was clipped to perfection making a square room with leaf green walls and a leaf green ceiling and a grass green floor. The floor was painted green as the room was dark and real grass did not thrive.

In his garden Tuffin would do all the usual garden things. He would hoe and water and weed and take tea at a table and as he worked he would hum and whistle along to the wireless. He set up a tiny badminton court to pop pop on and set the mower blades high enough that he could mow the grass in stripes and make the clickety clickety noise quietly.

Tuffin’s garden was the same in the day and the night. Birds did not nest in the trees and local cats did not litter. Butterflies passed by and bees and wasps did not bother. Neither the sun nor the moon ever shone and rain never fell. It annoyed no one.

Floor

Tuffin’s house was new, when he was new, and now both of them were 60 years old.

At 11:15pm on Thursday he sat in his chair in the sitting room.

He knew that beneath his feet was a red rug, a brown carpet, grey linoleum and wooden floorboards.

He went to the tool shed. He selected a jemmy and a claw hammer.

He moved his chair, lifted the rug, rolled up the carpet and peeled back the Lino.

With the jemmy and the claw hammer he removed a small area of floorboard.

He exposed the joists and the brickwork but it was dark.

Tuffin went to the tool shed again and collected a torch.

With the torch he was able to see down beneath the joists.

Beneath the red rug, the brown carpet, the grey linoleum and the wooden floorboards a thick layer of grey dust covered a concrete floor.

Embedded in the dust were several fresh footprints as finely wrought as the finest filigree.