Dec 242017
 

Something a little different for Christmas Eve – a short monologue for you to listen to while making mince pies or peeling and crossing your sprouts. Words by David Smith, performed by Peppy Scott… 

Don’t do that, Georgina

A reception class in the mid-sixties. Some have observed that the teacher, Miss Eels, bears a remarkable resemblance to the great Joyce Grenfell. To listen, just hit “play”. If you prefer to read, the text can be found HERE.

 

Dec 232017
 

A somewhat longer post for our penultimate day, with a twofer offering poetry and prose. A veritable feast, then, from TWW newbies Nigella Sterky and Chris P. Tatas. Verse things first…  


The Paradox of Time

Everything starts somewhere,
‘Though many physicists disagree
But time’s no longer linear
Like it used to be

Those brainy sorts who hypothesise
In the world of quantum physics
Are nowadays inclined to think
It’s more likely to be cyclic!

Those of us who go round and round
Never making progress
Would have said that was quite obvious
And right before their noses!

Now Christmas is a paradox
It happens every year
The date is fixed, it never moves
The scheduling’s quite clear

I always think I’ve loads of time
When it kicks off in September
So why do days grow shorter
Once we hit December?

A week to go, I’ve cards to write
And I haven’t got a turkey
There are gifts to buy, I’m getting stressed
And I think I’ve caught the lurgy!

My throat is sore, I’m feeling grim
I need medicinal brandy
I know it’s meant for Uncle Jim
Nah! Socks are always handy!

Next year I will get to grips
With the vagaries of time
The way it just moves faster
The more you are behind!

I’ll sort the cards and presents
Early in September
Then take some time to enjoy
The festivities of December!

 

 

And so to prose…

The Red Button

Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree. Charles Law is a physicist, but not a disagreeable one; he believes that everything has a beginning, including the universe. Charles believes that the universe – the multiverse – is an infinite loop, but also believes that infinite loops have to start somewhere, which sounds oxymoronic to many, but not to Charles. It was the idea of the infinite loop that first attracted Charles to physics (well, that and his natural talent in higher maths – always plural, in Charles’ mental dictionary, despite anything the Americans might have to say on the matter) as a career; a choice that the rest of his family found baffling. Charles is the first in his family to show any aptitude for maths, or, indeed, for any other field of study, and it is a running joke, given the family surname, that Charles is “the first law of physics”. Charles loves that joke, though the rest of his family grew tired of it very quickly. But I digress…

Charles Law believes that even circles (or infinite loops) have beginnings, and he has made it his life’s quest to find the one that underpins everything. His theory imagines a blank canvas, or sheet of paper, on which a circle is drawn. When complete, the circle is unbroken, with no beginning or end, but Charles’ obsession is with the point of contact that starts it all, the initial fraction of a fraction of a second when pencil-tip makes contact with paper for the very first time. That is that catalyst that starts it all, that is the beginning of everything that comes after. But what is the spark that sparks that catalystic event? And who, or what, is holding or directing the pencil?

Charles has a theory, and after years of research and speculation and further research and speculation he has developed a machine to test that theory that makes the Large Hadron Collider look like a child’s toy. It’s a very small machine, about half the size of a common house brick, but the implications of its workings are immeasurable. It is painted white, and has a small, red, mushroom-shaped button at its centre. Charles calls it his LITE box, for it is the physical manifestation of his life’s work: Law’s Infinite Timeline Extrapolation.

Now, standing over his machine, Charles is finally ready to hit the red button. It is Christmas Eve, and this is Charles’ present to himself. He has spent several months checking and rechecking every step and symbol in the formula of his equation, and he is supremely confident of its accuracy. Which is just as well, because the implications should it be wrong are… well, let’s not dwell on that.

It is only now, with his finger poised over the button, that the irony of the acronym he has chosen for his theory occurs to him. He smiles, delighted, and as his finger makes contact with the red button beneath it he verbalises his delight with four small words: Let there be LITE… …

 

Dec 222017
 

What could be more Christmassy than a Christmas tree? Here’s a story from Sue Marlow…  

The Christmas Tree

Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree, and when it came to decorating the Christmas tree Mother had always started at the bottom and Father at the top.

In the early years of marriage they had met half way, wrapped in tinsel, good humour and an expectation that their love would last forever. However forty years later compromise was no longer an option. Love had disintegrated into disappointment, resentment and a stubborn determination to win at all costs. The family tradition of decorating the tree on Christmas Eve had, to the dismay of their son and daughter, become the focal point of their year of discord.

When Helen and Mark each arrived with their young families their feuding parents took a short cease-fire to welcome them. However by the time the three grand-children, George, Alice and Millie were nestled all snug in their beds, the battle of the tree was raging again. Father had piled the presents in front of the hearth to avoid trampling and offers of assistance from their son, daughter and partners were declined. To escape the increasing seasonal bad will they soon followed their children to bed.

Untraditionally the children didn’t wake until six o’clock on Christmas morning but were immediately fully alert and eager to see what Father Christmas had left under the tree. Their parents all needed coffee before reaching the same degree of wakefulness that their children had achieved instantaneously so they all crept quietly downstairs to the kitchen. As the coffee brewed the three children were given permission to take a peek in the sitting room.

‘Goodness they are quiet!’ said Helen and went to investigate.

The children were standing just inside the sitting room door, motionless. The tree lights were twinkling in circles around the tree up to the mid-way point where upon they diverted towards the floor and trailed along Mother’s horizontal body, ending their journey in a number of tight coils around her neck. The alternating effects and colours of the lights illuminated her strangulated expression in a very unbecoming fashion.

Father lay on his back on top of the pile of presents by the hearth. There was a look of triumph on his face and his hand clutched the star which had been destined for the top of the tree. The step ladder was at an unnerving angle resting against the curtains and Father’s thinning hair exposed a large clump of dried blood on the side of his head.

The two young families remained in the kitchen while the police and ambulance crew inspected the carnage around the Christmas tree. The senior police officer apologetically interrupted their disbelief. He looked exhausted and in need of cheer but his eyes showed genuine compassion. ‘I’m so sorry I have to ask you questions at this difficult time but can you tell me who discovered the  b… er… lady and gentleman?’

George stepped forward. ‘It was me,’ he said with great solemnity, ‘and I know who did it!’ Tiny gasps flitted around the kitchen. ‘There is only one person who could have got into a locked house on Christmas Eve,’ George announced triumphantly. ‘It must have been Father Christmas!’

Alice let out a tiny cry of horror and her bottom lip quivered as she began to sob, ‘Father Christmas killed Nana and Grandpa?’

The police officer did not reveal the slightest hint of a smile but his weary eyes struggled to conceal his amusement.

He knelt down in front of Alice. ‘There is no way it could have been Father Christmas,’ he said, ‘because I know for certain that he was hundreds of miles away delivering presents to my own grandchildren who are about the same age as you. It’s what we call a watertight alibi!’

Alice’s sobs began to slow as she clung tightly around her father’s neck and with a sound of relief she spluttered, ‘they did argue lots and lots…. but they were good sometimes!’

The officer turned to George. ‘That was a very clever piece of deduction though.’ he said. ‘When you grow up you would make a fine detective.’ And George grew upward by two inches, there and then.

A young policeman tapped on the kitchen door. ‘Forensics are here, Sir’

‘I think we should have breakfast,’ said Helen and began rummaging in the cupboards even though no-one had any inclination to eat.

After a while the senior police officer asked Helen and Mark to step into the hall. ‘It seems a fairly straightforward case,’ he said. ‘Your father appears to have strangled your mother and then fallen from the step ladder, hitting his head on the mantel piece as he fell, in what proved to be a fatal blow. Had he not hit his head the pile of presents on which he landed would have certainly cushioned his fall and prevented serious injury. I’m afraid though that most of the presents were smashed by the impact or have been splattered with blood. I think it best not to allow the children near them.  It would probably be advisable to leave the house once we have removed the bodies. Do you have somewhere else you can go? Would you like me to arrange for someone to get in touch with you… to offer counselling for this very traumatic incident?’

The event had undoubtedly put a bit of a damper on Christmas morning but later the families agreed that at least their parents had died doing what they loved best!

‘What shall we do?’ asked Helen.  ‘I’m so worried about the children. This shouldn’t be their memory of Christmas!’ She thought for a moment and then the panic began to rise. ‘And what about when George goes back to school and Mrs Pratchett asks them to stand up in front of the class and tell the other children about their Christmas?’ Everyone envisaged the scenario and shuddered.

‘Didn’t Mother have some hidden savings?’ Mark asked, ‘so that she could have the holiday of a lifetime once Father… well, you know.’

Helen nodded.

‘Any idea where she kept them?’

By that evening the two families were at the airport bound for a Christmas holiday they had never expected. And when George stood in front of the class to tell them all about his Christmas he recounted the families’ amazing trip to Disneyland, Florida adding that it was an extra special present from Nana and Grandpa!

 

Dec 212017
 

A twofer today with a brace of poems from Peppy Scott…  

EVERYTHING STARTS SOMEWHERE [I] 

Everything starts somewhere
although many physicists disagree
(although physicists disagree
about many things, so
what do they actually know?)

Twisted strings in theorists’ threads
perform contortions in the head,
concepts of infinities too much to conceive
without the faith to believe
in virgin birth

***

EVERYTHING STARTS SOMEWHERE [II] 

Everything starts somewhere,
though many physicists disagree,
so why rely on physicists to see
the first signs of disrepair –

wear and tear to the fabric,
revealed to the eye that gleans
the moving messages, and what it means
to mourn the loss of magic.

When did this start to set in
and that which was right go wrong?
The list would be too long –
and where on earth would I begin?

 

Dec 202017
 

Not a story, not a poem, not really sure what it is TBH. But David Smith wrote it…  

Let There be Light 

  • ‘Let there be light,’ he said, and there was light.
  • First there was a singularity, so small it hardly existed at all. Then it exploded and created everything…
  • Once there was a void. Then there was a gap in the void. Everything lighter than the void floated up to make the heavens. Everything heavier than the void fell and made the earth…
  • Once there was a nose and a Great Green Arkleseizure…
  • Once there was chaos, a yawning nothingness. Nyx. From chaos emerged the gods of creation: Gaia, Eros, Tarterus, Erebus…
  • Once there was only Theta, a life force, an energy. Then Theta created MEST…
  • Once there was a turtle and on that turtle’s back was a great, flat disc…
  • Once there was a great Cosmic Ocean…
  • Once there was a great Cosmic Egg…
  • Once there was a virgin who found herself with child…
  • Once there was a programmer who wrote a new code…

Let’s face it, we haven’t got a clue, really, have we? We’re arguing over things we know nothing about.

Science thinks it knows – well, likes to think it thinks it knows – but it’s chased its own tail up so many wrong paths it’s hard for anyone to say what exactly it is it thinks it thinks it knows anymore. All it’s really come up with, in terms of the much-sought Theory of Everything, are two favoured models, both theoretically proven to the nth degree and each completely incompatible with the other. We know two wrongs can’t make a right, but how many wrongs do two rights make? Is it two wrongs, one big wrong, or are both those rights wrong in the first place? And if it’s the latter, where’s the third right – the right right – that can make sense of it all? Oh. M Theory. That’s something to look forward to then… Basically, it boils down to “we haven’t got all the answers yet, but if we put our faith in science one day we will have”. Now where have I heard that word faith before?

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands (I should really Google it but I can’t be arsed*) of different religions in which believers can put their faith, and they all seem sure they’ve got the definitive answer. Many of them have arrived at pretty-much the same answer, but they put a great deal of time, energy and venom into arguing over the details. The details, depending on your personal taste in idioms, can contain god or the devil, but ironically both variations effectively mean the same thing. So that doesn’t help much, does it? Whichever you pick, nine times out of ten the evils that man collectively inflicts on his fellow man are purportedly sanctioned by some god or other, so good and evil, it would seem, are intimately intertwined.

Of course, I am completely ignorant. I’m not a great physicist or a learned theologian or inspired philosopher; I’m just a rather poorly educated bloke with a word processor and access to the internet. But it strikes me that in this stuff we’re all ignorant – just ignorant to different degrees and in different ways. And if we’re all ignorant, then what gives any of us the right to point the finger at anyone else? Such arrogance!

I’m not sure where Christmas comes into all this, but I think it does, and I think that over the years it’s become a word that many are uncomfortable with. Mainly that’s because of the “Christ” bit, which is sacred to some and anathema to others, but I think that’s far too much power to invest in a single word, especially when for many it means nothing more than an old and inconsistently told fairytale. So you don’t need to bore me with explanations of its pagan origins in the winter solstice and its usurpation by the Christian church, or the Romans and Saturnalia, or the feast offered to the sun god, Sol, on the very day that some now celebrate the birth of Christ… Christmas is just a sound, a noise made by the human larynx to express a concept that means many different things to many different people. That is all.

But everything starts somewhere (though some physicists might disagree), and for me Christmas starts with fond memories of loved ones who are no longer here and the very simple idea that for just one or two days of the year we can all try that little bit harder to be nicer to one another and to get along. Whether it started with a bang, or a sneeze, or a river, or an egg, the idea of a special day to celebrate that incredibly improbable event seems a good one, and aligning it to a date – however accurately or inaccurately – that’s been so significant for so long for so many seems a good idea too. It’s all part of the line, the continuum, between then and now.

While the bigger question of how all this came about remains unanswered (and perhaps unanswerable) there is one thing we can all, hand on heart, say with a degree of certainty: we could all try a little bit harder to be a little bit kinder. A couple of days is probably the most we can keep that up for (if we can manage that, horrid, selfish, argumentative little creatures that we are!), but the rest of the year will be none the worse for that.

Merry Christmas. […insertnamehere…] bless us, every one.

 

* I did in the end… around four to four-and-a-half- thousand was the first answer I got, and that’ll do for me.

 

Dec 192017
 

Today’s story comes from a Tunbridge Wells Writers virgin, Matthew Frank, who found the project outline here and bravely threw his hat into the ring at the last minute! We look forward to meeting you in the flesh in 2018, Matthew, and thank you for your contribution today….  

Laugh Out Loud

Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.” – The Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett. One of Dobby’s favourite lines. Stark liked to keep an open mind. The Physicist had been at this properly for a century or so and there’d been enough theory swerves to keep the suspense alive.

Stark fell into the books of Terry Pratchett in Headley Court Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre, after devouring just about everything else on offer. His mum brought books, pre-loved, but despaired of the speed he devoured them. He needed a Kindle, she said, but he forbad the expense. Her money was always tight, and he liked paper. Books were artefacts, not pixels.

Headley Court’s library was well enough stocked. There were far more Andy McNab and Chris Ryan style books than you’d expect – well-thumbed, through foxed to positively badgered. It might be nice to believe his fellow inmates enjoyed scoffing at such times-ten exploits but for some strange reason the luckless and limbless of the British war machine still loved a military adventure romp. Not Stark. He’d never seen the appeal, and now it just reminded him of horrors and hopes past.

At least he was reading again. After two months of physio, therapy, agony and boredom… And before that, a roundabout of surgeries, recoveries, scans and consultations and more surgeries at Selly Oak Hospital, seeing the other poor sods ship in and out… Books couldn’t keep it out. Nothing could. His poor mum confused at the unread book stack, worried at his empty assurances…

Shipping out to Headley Court shifted his focus. No more surgeries, for now at least. Reuniting with familiar faces from Selly Oak, less grey, coming back to life, coming to terms…

Coming to terms – or saying so. Soldiers tackling the problem before them, attacking physio, enduring therapy, seeing improvements, ignoring the onrushing plateau… the inevitable tailing off of improvement, the darkening dawn. Stark was the lucky one. Limbs, eyes and essentials present and correct; insides mending – only the mind in bits, and to hell with that. And then, finally, the boredom between terrors, picking up the same book from atop the same pile and opening the first page yet again… but finally turning it, and the second, and on… Until the stack was gone, and his neighbours’, and the librarian moving from amusement to exasperation.

And then Dobby arrived…

Private Kevin Dobson. Nineteen. Two legs, one arm and both eyes gone. IED, midway through his excited first tour of Helmand. Stark had made three full tours, and a day. One of many days best forgotten, frequently re-visited.

Dobby liked Terry Pratchett and Stark read aloud to him. Dobby’s favourite character was Death, but Stark quickly developed a fondness for Granny Weatherwax and Sam Vimes.

They read almost the whole canon together before Dobby shipped out. The docs could do nothing more for him, the prosthetics guys had him up on short pegs, the shrinks thought he was doing amazingly well and his family wanted him home for Christmas.

So did Stark’s, but in a rare agreement with the shrinks, he stayed put.

They stayed up late the night before Dobby’s off to finish The Hogfather, Pratchett’s take on Father Christmas, Dobby laughing. He’d heard all the jokes before, he’d read them all before he lost his eyes, but they just got better, he said. Stark was sitting alone in the common room a week later, watching the leaden sky for signs of snow, when the chief head-shrink appeared.

‘I’m sorry, Joe,’ was all he could add. ‘I know you two were close…’

Boxing Day. Dobby had made it through his first Christmas and called it a day. His poor family had no inkling, and blamed themselves… How could a blind boy with one arm and no legs hang himself?

Stark knew the answer as well as the shrink. The British Army, best in the world, churning out capable, determined, resourceful young men and women… Soldiers, tackling the problems before them.

Stark opened the book on his lap. The Hogfather. Dobby’s parting gift.

‘Some things are fairly obvious when it’s a seven-foot skeleton with a scythe telling you them,’ he read, recalling Dobby laugh out loud.

The shrink nodded without understanding, and left Stark to his book.

 

 

 

Dec 182017
 

Today’s offering starts with a question from Karen Tucker…  

A Merry Christmas?

Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree. But what do they know?  After all, they can’t even find more than half the matter they’re so sure there is out there in the Universe!

If your story is what you tell yourself and others about your life, then my story started when she left.  Before that day I was reasonably happy, I suppose.  I loved her, she loved me (or so I thought), and life was tootling along fairly OK.

She had to pick Christmas Day to make her dramatic departure of course.  Ruined the holiday for me ever since.  Can’t stand Christmas now.

‘Bah humbug!’  I’m with Scrooge. What’s to be merry about I should like to know?

With a snarl of anger, I pass by yet another tin-rattling group of carol singers.  What a racket!  I’d be more likely to pay them to shut up and go away!  What makes them think they’re adding anything to people’s lives?  Why would anyone give them a penny?  But there goes one now, dropping two whole pound coins in the bucket.  Sheep, that’s what they are.  Oh, is everyone else having a good time and spending lots of cash on people they don’t even like?  Then I’d better do it too!

Can’t be doing with it, and they can call me ‘Miser Smith’ all they like.  I wouldn’t be out on Christmas Eve anyway, except I need some baccy. Can’t stand it.  Thank God all the little sods round my way have learned what they’ll get if they come to my front door with their stupid warbling!

Then, in an instant, the whole world changes.  With just one word.

‘John?’

I know that voice!  A memory from decades ago dredged up in a split second.  Kisses stolen behind the bike shed and maybe something more too.

I whirl around and there she is.  Oh she’s changed, of course.  So have I!  But I’d know that cheeky smile anywhere and the way it brings out a dimple in her chin.

‘It is John, isn’t it?’

‘Yes!’  Despite myself hope floods back into my heart, making it tighten painfully like pins and needles.

She spreads her arms wide.  ‘After all these years!  Come and give me a hug my love!’  I walk into her embrace and it’s like I’ve never been away.

Turns out she’s widowed so that’s perfect, though of course I’m sorry for her loss.  But she’s got used to it.  And she’s more than happy to keep an old man company on Christmas Day – and for the rest of our natural lives.

So I’ll be having a wonderful Merry Christmas after all!  And that story goes back way further than the miserable one I’ve left behind.  Thought she’d ruined my Christmas, eh?  We’ll see about that!

 

Dec 172017
 

Haiku. Bless you! An unconstrained nineteen-syllable offering from David Hensley, and an even more exuberant two stanza “chain” from Sue Marlow. Bah, humbug and fie to your 5-7-5!    

Everything starts somewhere
Flowering brighter better times
Start in a dark place

***

The General Theory of Relativity in A Christmas Carol

Many disagree
But ev’rything starts somewhere
As the clock strikes one

Past, present, future
A persistent illusion
All done in one night

 

 

 

 

Dec 162017
 

Today’s offering, a short story, comes from that crusty ol’ codger, David Smith…  

Let There be Lights

Everything starts somewhere, we’re told, though I’ve heard it said that many physicists disagree. The amount of time I’ve spent trying to find the start of these fairy lights I’m beginning to think they might be on to something; if I ever find the first bulb and get them unravelled it’ll be a Christmas bloody miracle! My own fault, I suppose, because I was so busy sorting the rest of the decorations back into their box last January I let the boy sort these out. ‘Make sure you wind ‘em round the slotted spacer thingy and thread them on one by one,’ I said, ‘or we’ll never untangle ‘em next year.’

Two minutes later he says, ‘all done! What’s next dad?’ and I actually winced as he said it.

I go to look, and the box – and the slotted spacer – are both still on the floor and there’s a dirty-great black bin liner bulging at the seams with what looks like a green plastic tumbleweed poking out the neck of it. The little coloured lamps seem to be winking at me conspiratorially, but it must be a trick of the light (if you’ll excuse the pun) because they’re nowhere near an electricity supply.

‘What happened to the box,’ I ask, ‘and the slotted spacer? Why didn’t you use the spacer?’

‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I forgot,’ he said.

‘But I only just said… … …’

‘Calm down, dear, it is Christmas after all,’ said the missus.

Technically Christmas was all done and dusted, but I wasn’t daft enough to pick her up on it, so I just sighed and got back to putting the baubles away. I think I might have snapped the head off one of the little redcoat soldiers, but I haven’t found him yet. That’s easily sorted – a bit of superglue and he’ll be good as new. Not like these bloody fairy lights.

Sometimes I’m my own worst enemy. There’s been plenty of time to sort them out. If I’d done it straight away I wouldn’t have this problem now, but after all the other Christmas stuff I just couldn’t be arsed, and once they were back in the loft I just forgot all about them. Until now. Not just the boy who forgets stuff, then. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Or the fairy light from the Christmas tree in this case.

I can’t even see the fuse bulb. God knows. I’ve got the plug – well can see it at least – so that’s the business end sorted, but it’s right at the centre of the tumbleweed, and if I reach in and yank it out I’ll be tying all sorts of new knots that’ll make things even worse. Come on, you little white bugger, show yourself! It’ll still be like unravelling spaghetti, but once I lay my hands on you I’ll at least have a fighting chance.

She’s no help either. I say it every year: if we had lots of smaller sets it would be much easier to sort ‘em out. One big string’s just asking for trouble.

‘But I don’t trust them extension cords and four-way adaptors,’ she says, ‘and we need the other outlet for the telly.’

That’s her dad’s fault. He nearly burnt their house down one year trying to plug about eighteen things into one of them little five amp round-pin sockets. She’s been paranoid about electrics ever since.

Ah. There you are… Gotcha! Now we’re getting somewhere… I hope you’re not blown after all this…

WHAT? What love…?

Well tell him to sort it out himself, I’ve just found the fuse bulb and I don’t want to lose it again!

Well what does he expect me to do about it? If Rudolph’s got the squits again there’s sod all I can do about it! One of the others will have to stand in for him. Besides, we’ve got headlights on the sleigh now, so Rudolph’s more tradition than necessity. Tell him I’ll be back at the workshop in a couple of hours, and if he can’t handle things himself until then I’ll be looking for a new foreman in January…

Bloody Christmas.    

 

Dec 152017
 

A short story today from Katrina Ray. I’m a poet and I don’t know it!    

The External Interference Effect

Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.

But it was an ending currently occupying Michael’s mind. In retrospect Caroline’s departure should not have been a wholly unexpected outcome but it was not a permutation he had predicted. It was precisely this insistence on applying inherent reasoning to all aspects of his life that had, in the end, been the crucial factor in the failure of this particular experiment.

He, she said, always insisted on attempting to quantify the unquantifiable. And when this was not possible he was unable to respond appropriately within acceptable parameters. (Her words.) Quite what acceptable parameters are he was at a loss to define, but was beginning to suspect that a) she demonstrably did not adhere to the same standard criterion of data interpretation as he; b) an empirical logic-based approach was incompatible with the actuality of a successfully functioning relationship.

‘I hate doing this to you right before Christmas,’ she’d said as she left.

Yet what possible significance could the timing of her departure be on the outcome of the situation? He had, incorrectly as it turned out, assumed this would not be a differentiating factor. And although clearly this was impossible to accurately measure, somehow, it was. Seasonal songs provoked unexpected responses in his cerebral cortex. Jostling crowds in the shopping centres were more than just the usual annoyance. Groups of friends celebrating in pubs and bars stirred unexpected emotions; evoked feelings even. It was unfamiliar, unexplainable. So, he had done the only sensible thing and walked away from the hustle and bustle to the top of the hill to more efficiently process this strange and irrational phenomenon.

The bench underneath him was cold but he welcomed the discomfort, finding it sharpened his thoughts as he sought clarity. The gaping yaw of the dark common lay below him, the bright lights of the town a little further away. Those of a romantic disposition, Caroline for example, would probably describe the scene as like something on a Christmas card. But Michael instead saw the lights and the darkness as a pattern to decipher. He was observer rather than participant, and all would make perfect sense with the enhanced perspective that distance offered. All he required was this blessed solitude.

‘Shit, it’s freezing up here. Still, at least there’s somewhere to sit. I can’t walk another bloody step in these heels.’

Michael turned to the stranger who had intruded so abruptly into his contemplation, ready to utter a sharp response, but the breath caught in his throat. She had long black hair, pale skin, cheeks rosy with cold. Her short sequinned dress and thin jacket were entirely inadequate protection against the elements. Puffing in the chilly air, she rummaged in a plastic carrier bag on the bench next to her. Michael watched in stunned fascination as she pulled out a multipack of brand new socks and snapped the plastic ties with her teeth. Peeling off a pair, she kicked off the impractical heels and wriggled her delicate feet into the thick socks. They had clearly been purchased for a man, being far too large for her, but she didn’t seem to care and instead sighed with apparent pleasure and relief.

‘Ah, that’s better. Not elegant, I admit, but a bloody sight more comfortable.’

For the first time she appeared to notice Michael’s strained expression.

‘Sorry. Am I interrupting something?’

He wanted to say yes, to ask her to go away, but no words came out.

‘Okay, quiet boy. I’ll take that as a no. Drink?’

She pulled out a bottle of whisky, unscrewed the lid and took a deep draught before proffering it towards him. He almost declined out of habit but something made him hesitate and he reached for the bottle. Trying not to think about germs or the fact his mouth was in the exact spot hers had been just a few seconds previously he took a nervous swig. It burned, fire and ice at once, unfamiliar yet not entirely unwelcome.

‘I’m like a trusty St Bernard, bringing medicinal alcohol to those suffering in the snow,’ she said.

‘Drinking alcohol dilates the blood vessels and can induce hypothermia in freezing conditions. The notion these dogs carried kegs of brandy is a complete fabrication, due entirely to the extensive artistic liberties taken by Landseer in one of his paintings.’

She stared at him, incredulous, then shrugged.

‘That’s me told. And I suppose it isn’t snowing yet. Won’t it be lovely if we have a white Christmas?’

‘We won’t. The air pressure is all wrong. It’s going to rain.’

‘O-kay. And I suppose you wouldn’t enjoy it if it did, anyway.’

‘What makes you say that?’

‘Well, I’ve only known you a brief while but I’m sensing you’re not the type to bunk off work to go sledging or make snow angels. It would be a pain in the arse rather than fun.’

‘I can do fun,’ he replied, wondering if this was at all true. Caroline hadn’t thought so. Maybe her surmise had been correct.

‘Have one of these,’ she said, rummaging again in her bag before handing him a small object like a grenade.

‘What is it?’

‘A seed bomb,’ she said, as if it were obvious. ‘I bought them for my sister but let’s throw them down onto the common.’

‘Why?’

‘So that hopefully in a few months lots of wildflowers will grow here.’

‘Don’t the council take care of the landscaping?’

‘This isn’t about careful landscaping, it’s about the creation of random beauty. And all this rain you’re predicting will get them off to a good start. Come on.’

She hurled her seed bomb down into the black abyss of the common below, then grabbed his arm. He flinched at the sensation, but it wasn’t entirely unpleasant as she drew his arm back and helped him throw.

‘There!’ she said, eyes blazing beautifully as she turned triumphantly towards him. ‘They’ll be so pretty.’

‘If they grow.’

‘They’ll grow.’

And it was a beginning, of sorts.

 

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