Buttercups in May

Photo by Benjamin Grant on UnsplashI’ve long wanted to write a villanelle (eg “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas, or “Mad Girl’s Love Song” by Sylvia Plath). Here it is, inspired by the lovely force of nature that is  @ShamblesAndFuss . I suspect it could also do with one more polish once I’ve let it rest for a few days.


Naked she sings on a hot sunny day.
The river drifts soft, slow as sluggish air.
She makes me think of buttercups in May.

Unhurried water drifts petals away.
She threads tiny blooms in her sunflower hair:
Naked she sings on a hot sunny day

A cloud of birdsong, a piping hurray,
She lies me down in fern and bedstraw.
She makes me think of buttercups in May.

Weightless with youth as new lovers we lay,
Entwining excited, breathless and bare.
Naked she sings on a hot sunny day.

Her name is long gone: lost in yesterday.
Her song, though, remains with me everywhere.
She makes me think of buttercups in May.

Decades disappear, I return to today
Through dusty years back to the photograph where
Naked she sings on a hot sunny day.
She makes me think of buttercups in May.

Scorched Pages Found In A Ruined Observatory

Scorched pagesStargazing journal, 67th evening of observation:

I cannot abide this place any longer. From my first observation of that distant globe, a glorious blue jewel, and through all subsequent examinations, I have realised that my time on this ugly metal world, in this tainted city, would have to end soon. How could I possibly rest content in this quagmire of filth, corruption and religious fanaticism, when there exists up there an entirely new world, just within my reach, ripe for exploration?

After two years of ceaseless effort, the means of my departure is almost within my grasp … despite the recent setback. Fossick was a fine young apprentice, and a dedicated laboratory assistant. I miss him enormously. Oh, you cannot appreciate the keening anguish I suffered as I pulled his entrails from the main plaza’s great statue. Worst of all, I realise now that it was my miscalculations that cost the lad his life.

How could I have been so dense? The scientific principle is sound, I am sure. Using my patented Sunsplode Device – an explosive of the highest magnitude – a thick wooden box can pierce the heavens and travel the distance needed to reach the stars. How stupid of me on the first trial not to include a protective layer of lead.

But the past is exactly that, and it is time to move on. I have today hired a new assistant; a drunken old crone named Hilde, who will make the next test flight tomorrow morning. I will place the reconfigured Sunsplode Device beneath the box, and ignite it from a distance. Fortunate Hilde will be the first traveller to soar to that beautiful new world.

Once there, she will communicate with me via smoke signals when it is safe for me to proceed there myself. She is, of course, a bit nervous about climbing into a box perched upon a mighty explosive, but a pint of aged gin should be enough to put her fears to rest.

Tomorrow, then – to the stars!

Mirror

MirrorAn old man stares.
His face is wrinkled, bewhiskered long.
His thoughts are clear.
He sees in my eyes his summer song,

his air-filled youth
when laughter bubbled like liquid birds
joining the high
murmuration of his lovers’ words.

He sees a day,
skyglimmer on a green river slow;
wine-drinking girls
kiss him in turn in buttersun glow.

Still, now it’s late.
His slipswift days are nearing their goal.
A sigh. A nod.
Silent acceptance of this last role.

Amaranthine

AmaranthineA brief tale inspired by @purplequeennl’s Midweek Flash.

AMARANTHINE adj. 1660s, coined by Milton.

1. Of the amaranth flower.

2. Eternally beautiful and unfading; everlasting.

3. Deep purple-red.

Maintenance duty is my favourite task. As Chief Engineer it falls to me to ensure that The Queen runs smoothly, day after day, providing for and regulating the lives of the population. No-one but me knows her on this level. No-one but me can look inside and see just what makes her tick. No one but me can adjust her servos exactly the right way and make her sigh with contentment.

I stroke my fingertip along the slender lines that run down her spine from the nape of her neck. They reflect the light with a metallic purple sheen. My fingers rest where the lines come together, just above the swell of her buttocks.

“These allow you to cast spells, I know that,” I say, “but I’ve never been able to figure out exactly how.”

She turns and catches my gaze. “They translate and transfer magic between my mind and my body.”

“I know that, but the how of it escapes me. It’s of no matter, Majesty. They are beautiful.”

She smiles. I move my hand around her hip to her belly, and trace the deep scratch in the metal of her abdomen. I lie down and nuzzle my cheek against a dent in her shoulder.

“I could repair all of this damage, you know.”

“No,” she says. “I like to show the world what I’ve been through. The battles I’ve fought in order to continue to serve.” She kisses the scar on my neck and smiles. “Just like you.”

I watched Brief Encounter 1974 so you don’t have to

Percy FilthIf you’ve known me a while, you’ll know I love the Celia Johnson / Trevor Howard film ‘Brief Encounter’ from 1945. A true classic in all senses of the word, a romance of its time, a tale of physical innocence and emotional adultery. Inimitable. Or at least, that’s what I thought until yesterday, when I discovered it HAD been remade, with Richard Burton and, as that typical, plain, ordinary Forties English housewife – um, Sophia Loren. I mean WTF?

I watched it this morning, and kids, it was awful. I mean, I like Burton and I like Loren, but here they were woefully miscast, desperately under-rehearsed, and unbelievably stilted. The secondary parts (Stanley Holloway’s Albert, and Joyce Carey’s Myrtle, so beautifully drawn in the original – “Now look at me Banburies all over the floor!”) are here mere cardboard cut-outs, shouting away in the background. I think their only director’s note must have been “Wait until the main actor starts talking then just give it some welly.” John Le Mesurier is a welcome exception, bringing a little gravitas to his two minutes on screen despite appearing to be half-pissed.

The film as a whole is brash, noisy, ugly and horribly seedy – at one point Burton slobbers over Sophia’s tits; and don’t start me on that white headboard – Burton’s thickly-applied hair dye will soon make a mess of that. There are no interesting camera angles, or lighting, to underscore the narrative. It’s as if my dad had persuaded Burton and Loren to visit our 70s South Yorkshire home and filmed them with his little cine camera.

There’s no magic here. None. Avoid it and instead join me in watching the original yet again.

Twanta 2020–Twitter Secret Santa’s 11th year

twanta (2)Pop your chestnuts on an open fire, me hearties, it’s time for #TWANTA2020 to shove another tree up another fairy’s frock and display its shiny balls for the eleventh year in succession. I hope this year in particular, Twanta can offer at least a little joy and much-needed respite from the horrors of pandemic and Brexit. I reckon we’ll need BIGARSED patience as postal services struggle, but I will attempt to ameliorate that by assigning comparatively nearby Twantees wherever possible.

For the uninitiated, those taking part in Twanta send a cheap but fun Christmas gift to someone that I nominate, possibly a complete stranger, and in return they receive a similar pressie from someone else. Those who send the gifts can choose to remain anonymous, hence “TWANTA” – TWitter secret sANTA, see? As usual I’ll link you here to the blog post from @davidtims which beautifully sums up the spirit of Twanta.

FOR NOW, JUST TELL ME IF YOU WANT TO TAKE PART so that I can add you to the TwantaTwenty master computer here at Twanta Towers.

I’ll give people a couple of weeks to join, and shortly after that you’ll receive the name of your Twantee by DM. Old hands of Twanta will know all the following already, but for any newcomers here’s a summary of how the whole thing works. Terms and conditions apply. Steep hills may go down as well as up.


SharkStar You must have specifically asked @twanta_hohoho (or @wombat37, the puppetmaster) to take part, and I must have confirmed that you’re accepted before you can join in. I reserve the right to reject anyone that I suspect of being dodgy – this is due to one or two wobbles in the past when some twazzock refused to actually send a present once they’d received theirs. If you are unknown to me, you can still join in and be welcomed enthusiastically, but I may ask you to post a selfie of yourself raising your right hand and swearing fealty to the Twanta Code.

Star Make sure you follow @twanta_hohoho on Twitter. He will follow you back (it’s me really, but don’t tell the little tweeters. Let’s not spoil the magic, eh?). DM your address to him so that he can pass it on to your own Secret Twanta when everyone is linked up. I do remember some of your addresses from last year, but once #Twanta2020 is over I will delete the addresses of those who ask.

GinStar Tell me if there are any mortal enemies that you don’t want to be linked with. We don’t want to be responsible for any “incidents”. You can also make other special requests (e.g. if you’re allergic to chocolate, or perhaps you don’t want to post anything to a different country). We are a benign Twanta, and will accept all reasonable requests.

Star Very occasionally things go awry, and when that happens Twanta Fairies step in to send a gift at short notice. Please, therefore, also let us know if you would be happy to be a volunteer Fairy, should any be required (though that’s only rarely necessary).

Duck / bookStar Once @twanta_hohoho has everyone’s address, he’ll DM you to let you know to whom (grammar) you should send a gift, together with their address. You might want to spend a little while researching the recipient’s timeline to find out a little bit about them. Yes, that’s a bit stalkery, but you’ll be able to make your gift more personalised that way.

Star Buy a pressie for your twantee (as the recipients have somehow come to be known) and send it to them. Mark the envelope #TWANTA2020 so they know what it is. Let @twanta_hohoho know that you’ve posted it (so I can keep track in case anything goes missing). It’s entirely up to you whether you remain anonymous or expose yourself *snigger*.

Space thingiesStar You should not spend a fortune. Small, fun and imaginative is the rule of thumb, but don’t send an actual thumb. That would be hideous. I recommend spending no more than a tenner, though in the end, of course, it’s up to you. The photographs accompanying this post are of some previous gifts, should you need inspiration.

Star When you receive your own #TWANTA pressie, again let @twanta_hohoho know. Challenge yourself to wait until Christmas Eve or Day to open the thing. Harness your willpower, young warrior.

Star When your willpower fails, take a photo of your gift ready to post on Twitter on Christmas Day. Post it then including the hashtag #TWANTA2020, so that we can all follow the fun, and I’ll reveal each person’s gift-giver, unless specifically asked not to.

Don’t worry – I know this seems a lot, but I’ll hold your hand throughout. Have fun, and, if it all goes tits up, remember that it was originally all the idea of that @captain_doodle, and have a go at him. Not me, oh no, leave me alone.


PhotoFunia-1601545566Twantionary – a Twanta glossary

New to Twanta this year? Having trouble separating your twanta from your twantee? Completed your trifecta yet? Got no bloody idea what I’m talking about? Then this section will save you from social embarrassment akin to leaving the public loos with your skirt tucked into the back of your knickers. As actually happened to me once, but that’s a tale for another time.

Star TWANTA – this word has two meanings. Firstly it is the all-encompassing name for the whole cosy event itself, although usually with the relevant year attached to its arse (eg #TWANTA2020). Secondly, the Twanta is the person sending a gift. It is the Twanta’s own choice whether or not to remain secret.

Star TWANTEE – the person receiving said gift, with a smile and a song and possibly other things beginning with ‘S’.

Star TWANTADOR – general term for anyone taking part, bless their little cotton reindeer socks.

Star TRIFECTA – the magic three milestones achieved by a TWANTADOR who has (1) sent a gift, (2) learned that it has arrived, and (3) received their own.

Star TWAZZOCK – a dirty rapscallion who fails to send a gift as promised.

Star FAIRY – a good-hearted TWANTADOR who volunteers to step in and provide a gift at short notice for anyone who falls victim to a TWAZZOCK.

Star TWANTAVERSE – every bloody thing to do with Twanta. Constantly expanding.

Star EPISTLETOE – a hand-written letter included with the gift to add a virtual Christmas kiss and a personal touch. Not to be confused with camel toe, which is something entirely different.

Madame Monvoisin’s Emporium, the Preamble

For those who haven’t read it yet, Madame Monvoisin’s Emporium of Extraordinary Adventures has an introduction where the two main characters discuss what the book actually is. Yes, I know, it’s a bit meta and destroys the fourth wall, but I enjoyed writing it and hope it proved far more interesting than a simple dry explanation.


adame“I don’t understand what we’re doing here,” said Étienne.

“Well,” said Catherine, “Monsieur le Wombat has written a book about our adventures, and has invited us to introduce it.”

“But we don’t know each other at the start of the book.”

“Does that matter? We know each other now.”

“Of course it matters.” Étienne’s mouth twisted unto a sulk. “It’s weird. And we do not know what will happen at the end of the book.”

“That’s of little consequence,” Catherine said. “We wouldn’t want to give away the ending, would we? This preamble is simply where we describe what the book is, rather than telling the actual story.”

“Stories plural.”

“Ah yes, you are right, mon cher! Many stories indeed.” Catherine gave Étienne’s hand a pat. “Look, let’s just get on with it, and afterwards I’ll make you a spiced chocolate drink, yes?”

“With cinnamon powder?”

“Only if you’re good. Deal?”

“Deal.”

“Then let’s begin. Dear Reader—”

“Who?”

“The reader. That person out there, look, reading these words.” Catherine’s fingers toyed with her hair-ribbon. “Actually, they’re very attractive, don’t you think?”

“Oh, stop fluttering, madame. They’re not all that.”

“Very well. Though, really, you have no joy about you today at all.” Catherine cleared her throat and sat up straight. “Dear Reader, Monsieur le Wombat here collects all of the stories he has written that did not appear in his first anthology—”

“The Museum of White Walls.”

“Thank you, Étienne. All of his stories since then, into a book.”

“Into TWO books, because there are so many stories. Oh so many. Honestly, the man never shuts up. Blah blah blah.”

“Yes, quite right, there will be two volumes. This is the first. Now, rather cleverly I think, rather than simply present them mundanely and tediously, one after another, he has instead woven them into a brand new tale.”

“A brand new tale about you and me, which is exciting.”

“Yes, indeed. This is a book of hidden stories, dear reader. They are hidden within our own narrative, and you must find them. Stories inside a story, that will lead you further to yet another. They are all links in a chain, intertwined. In musical terms, this is a concept album.”

“I don’t know what that is, Catherine. Is it from the future?”

“It is. Don’t worry your pretty little head about it, Étienne. Please, dear reader, have a glass of wine and join our adventure. Relax and see where the stories take you. Enjoy the day, my friend.”

“Chocolate now?”

“Chocolate now.”

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Madame Monvoisin’s Emporium of Extraordinary Adventures–THE INTRODUCTION

MM cover revealThe paperback of my new book is out now. Here’s the introduction that explains what the book is. You can buy it here: http://mybook.to/madamemonvoisin1


“I don’t understand what we’re doing here,” said Étienne.

“Well,” said Catherine, “Monsieur le Wombat has written a book about our adventures, and has invited us to introduce it.”

“But we don’t know each other at the start of the book.”

“Does that matter? We know each other now.”

“Of course it matters.” Étienne’s mouth twisted unto a sulk. “It’s weird. And we do not know what will happen at the end of the book.”

“That’s of little consequence,” Catherine said. “We wouldn’t want to give away the ending, would we? This preamble is simply where we describe what the book is, rather than telling the actual story.”

“Stories plural.”

“Ah yes, you are right, mon cher! Many stories indeed.” Catherine gave Étienne’s hand a pat. “Look, let’s just get on with it, and afterwards I’ll make you a spiced chocolate drink, yes?”

“With cinnamon powder?”

“Only if you’re good. Deal?”

“Deal.”

“Then let’s begin. Dear Reader—”

“Who?”

“The reader. That person out there, look, reading these words.” Catherine’s fingers toyed with her hair-ribbon. “Actually, they’re very attractive, don’t you think?”

“Oh, stop fluttering, madame. They’re not all that.”

“Very well. Though, really, you have no joy about you today at all.” Catherine cleared her throat and sat up straight. “Dear Reader, Monsieur le Wombat here collects all of the stories he has written that did not appear in his first anthology—”

“The Museum of White Walls.”

“Thank you, Étienne. All of his stories since then, into a book.”

“Into TWO books, because there are so many stories. Oh so many. Honestly, the man never shuts up. Blah blah blah.”

“Yes, quite right, there will be two volumes. This is the first. Now, rather cleverly I think, rather than simply present them mundanely and tediously, one after another, he has instead woven them into a brand new tale.”

“A brand new tale about you and me, which is exciting.”

“Yes, indeed. This is a book of hidden stories, dear reader. They are hidden within our own narrative, and you must find them. Stories inside a story, that will lead you further to yet another. They are all links in a chain, intertwined. In musical terms, this is a concept album.”

“I don’t know what that is, Catherine. Is it from the future?”

“It is. Don’t worry your pretty little head about it, Étienne. Please, dear reader, have a glass of wine and join our adventure. Relax and see where the stories take you. Enjoy the day, my friend.”

“Chocolate now?”

“Chocolate now.”

Code Red

PhotoFunia-1594639067Dorothy eased her needle through the thick material and sighed deeply. Court gowns again. Why did the agents always want court gowns? Surely they could go as peasants occasionally? And what did they do in the past to so often destroy her beautiful creations? It was depressing to see something she had spent hours creating brought back in tatters. She looked up as the door hissed open.

“Hey, Dorothy.”

“Agent Wilson.” This one wasn’t so bad, and at least seemed to appreciate the effort involved in Dorothy’s work.

“Call me Alexa, please. Dorothy, I need a fourteenth century kirtle, suitable for court. I’m sorry, but it’s a rush job. Something big’s happening along the timelines and there’s a Code Red. Anyway, I thought blue, studded with pearls and—”

“Where’s the hamerock?”

“What?”

“That beaded Viking dress. You’ve not returned it yet. It took me ages to make.”

“Ah, yes, that. Sorry. That sort of got burnt.”

“Of course it did.” Dorothy sighed. “What happened this time?”

“Oh, you know. Erik Bloodaxe. Pillaging, raping … burning women’s clothes.”

Dorothy sighed again. Why were agents incapable of looking after their garments? They managed to look after their time-gauntlets, after all; why couldn’t they treat their costumes with the same care? She’d never heard of a time-gauntlet being destroyed, and they were flimsy things, not unlike fingerless gloves. Yet they always survived, while over half of Dorothy’s exquisitely-crafted outfits either were so damaged as to be unusable or never came back at all. She looked Agent Wilson in the eye. “Which half?” she said.

“What?”

“Which half of the fourteenth century?”

“Oh. Does it matter?”

“Of course it matters. In the year thirteen-hundred, clothes were straightforward, simple and practical. Three decades later it all changed, with different sleeve-cuts, more figure-hugging shapes, and ridiculously pointed shoes. I thought time agents were supposed to know about history? I thought that was the point?”

“We don’t sweat the boring stuff. We—”

The door hissed open again, to reveal a furious man with a bristling beard. He was wearing the shredded remains of a red and yellow silk kimono. “Dorothy, Code Red! You fucked up!” he spat.

“Excuse me, Agent Rehnman,” said Agent Wilson. “I was here first.”

The man ignored her, glaring at Dorothy. “They attacked me! Wealthy, refined chonin in eighteen-seventeen attacked me!”

“Eighteen-seventeen? You told me eighteen-seventy,” Dorothy said.

“Same thing,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand.

“The fuck it is! Before the eighteen-sixties, sumptuary laws restricted the kind of fabrics and colours chonin could wear. Especially bright reds! No wonder they set about you. Why don’t you time agents know these things?”

“Look, I wasn’t there to peacock about like a fashion—”

The door hissed again, and three agents strode into the ever-more crowded Wardrobe Department. Agents Gebreel, D’Hulster and Karezman, all engrossed with their time-gauntlets, spoke at once.

“Code Red! This could be the big one! I need an outfit for third-century Cornwall, now!”

“Timequake, Dorothy – Code Red! I desperately need a nineteenth-century crinoline.”

“Fit me out with a fifteenth-century codpiece, large, as quick as you can. Code Red, woman!”

Dorothy put down her sewing. She stood up, fists clenched. She glared at the time agents, and bellowed at them.

“Third-century Cornwall? Does it look like I have time to dye wool? And I made four crinolines last week. You can wait till one of them gets back. And you?” She threw a block of wood at Agent Kerezman. “Carve as big a fake cock as you want!”

She reached forward and tore Agent Gebreel’s time-gauntlet from him. She thrust her hand into it, made frantic time/location signature-shapes with her fingers, and disappeared with a soft phut.

“Bollocks,” said Agent Wilson.

“Did you watch her gestures?” said Agent D’Hulster. “When and where did she go?”

“I’m not sure, but … Pleistocene Africa, I think,” said Agent Gebreel.

“Blimey,” said Agent Kerezman. “She was hardly dressed for prehistory, was she? I wonder what they’ll make of her?”

***

The Neanderthal fingered Dorothy’s sleeve. “Ungh?” he said.

“Yes, dear, it’s called a cardigan. I could make one for you if you like?”

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