Category Archives: Witter
The internet creaks with people giving you writing advice, telling you exactly how to construct your tale. My writing advice: don’t listen to writing advice. Including this, if it doesn’t suit you. Write what makes your heart sing, your mind spark and your inner self go whoop-di-doo. Write people you fall in love with and characters you despise. Create beings who shock you and betray your trust, sending your story spinning off into uncharted skies undreamt of when you filed your flight plan. Write people. People with reasons for the things they do. People who think they are the goodies. Or, you know, sprout-creatures from the planet Pobble if you’re writing weird SF.
Ignore any ‘expert’ that tries to restrain what words you can use before you actually use them – they also likely believe that their anus emits sunlight. Especially dismiss that often-repeated shit about never using adverbs. Employ deftly; elegantly bedizen your doing words with adverbs like shimmering jewels on a smooth cleavage. Use the buggers, but yes, use them sparingly, with meaning and thought. Telling a new writer not to use adverbs is like taking the screwdriver out of a toolkit. Well alright, maybe a spanner.
So, no blanket rules, okay? Although… is “Edit the shizz out of your drafts, then edit again, then get someone else to edit them” a rule? I’d advise that one. Otherwise, write what you want – then edit it to a high sheen so that the reader will almost smell the sprouts. These are metaphorical sprouts – you get that, right?
So don’t listen to writing advice – but do listen, intently, to editing advice, even it comes from inside your own head. Oh, and if you can’t be wazzocked to edit, re-edit, re-re-edit yourself, then hire a good editor. I happen to know a superb editor – she’s here.
I was chatting the other day (on Twitter, not that that matters) about street games we used to play as children, back in the days when only one person on the street actually had a car (an Austin A30). No one but me had ever heard of one of my favourite games – Finger Thumber Dumber Little Granny.
The gang of kids divided into two teams, via picksies. One player of the defending team was Cush, and stood against the wall. His* teammates bent down, the first with his head in the cush’s stomach, the others in a line behind to form a line of backs. The other team would, one by one, run up behind and leap onto the backs of those bending, trying to make them collapse. If they did succumb, the leaping team ‘won’ and got to inflict the punishment again. If the defenders stood strong, the leader of the leapers would shout “Finger thumber dumber little granny!” and hold up either a forefinger, thumb, fist (dumber) or little finger (little granny). One of those bent over would have to guess which he held up, ostensibly unaided by the Cush, although I’m sure Steve Maltby cheated sometimes. If the guess was wrong, the leapers got to go again. If right, the defenders got their turn at inflicting pain and suffering on their playmates. It was a remarkably sophisticated in a satisfyingly violent way. I always wanted to be on Alan Bower’s team as he weighed about the same as the weekly pop lorry and was an expert at collapsing opponents.
Extensive research (I Googled) shows that as early as the 1500s, children in Europe and the Near East played “Bucca Bucca quot sunt hic?” which name lives on in the States as ‘Buck Buck’. Pieter Bruegel’s painting “Children’s Games” (1560) depicts children playing a variant of the game (bottom right of the painting).
*for some reason girls never wanted to play this
Welcome to my wacky world of vexillology. Who doesn’t love a flag, and the dafter the better? These are my favourites. I’ve also added one awesome one at the end because JUST LOOK AT IT. Thanks to @sjcoltrane for the Benine Empire dialogue.
1. The Benin Empire. The putative flag of the Benin Empire is a real West African flag that was brought to Britain after their successful campaign against the Benin Empire in 1897. The original flag is currently in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (see a picture of the original flag here).
“No do not come closer for I hav a sharp thing.”
“There I said so. Now look what u hav done.”
2. The North Caucasian Emirate, Russia (1918-1921).
“We need a crescent moon and three stars. We should arrange them carefully.”
“Look, the pub’s open, lets finish designing it there.”
3. The Sicilian flag bears three legs in the shape of a triskelion which, according to my beloved Pliny the Elder, is supposed to represent the three corners of the island. The winged head is that of Medusa. I don’t know why you’d insert wheat there, no.
“We have so much wheat in Sicily that we’ve thought of another use for it.”
4. The Seychelles. Apparently the radiating bands are meant to symbolise a dynamic new country moving into the future, and not that the designer let his eight-year-old daughter do the job.
“Daddy, my red and blue crayons have run out.”
“Just use yellow and green instead, Jocasta.”
5. Irkutsk – when devised in 1690 this was described as a tiger (“babr”) with a sable in its mouth. In 1870 a heraldist mistakenly assumed that ‘babr’ was a mis-spelling of ‘bobr’, meaning beaver. Confusion has reigned since, and with the depiction now is of a fabulous half-beaver half-tiger.
“What’s wrong with your tiger-beaver’s EYES?”
“It’s just seen what the Sicilians do with wheat.”
6. Friesland, in the Netherlands. The seven water-lily splots are a reference to the Frisian “sea countries” in the Middle Ages. I imagine.
7. Zheleznogorsk, a closed Siberian city founded in 1950 to develop weapons-grade plutonium, chose this design of an angry hula-hooping bear trying to peel an enormous hard-boiled egg.
“Hang on, why do we need a flag if we’re a closed city?”
“So that 65 years from now someone can make fun of it in a blog post.”
“What’s a blog post?”
8. Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, a province of central Ukraine.
“I can’t decide between stars, waves, curly things or a bloke in a nightie.”
“What the shazbat, bung ‘em all in.”
9. Pskov, yet another Russian city. Those Russians love their daft flags.
“Why have you added the karate chop from God?”
“I have NO idea, and Googling didn’t help at all.”
10. Anadyr, yet another Russian city – the easternmost, fact fans. In Russia’s tough political climate it really is heartening to see a flag that celebrates the tender, non-traditional love of a smiley bear and a fish.
“Let us design the BEST FLAG IN THE WORLD!”
“Start with a smiley bear. Everybody loves a smiley bear.”
“I think that’s just you, Oleg.”
And finally, as relief against the silliness, one final flag of complete awesomeness. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the magnificence of THIS from Bhutan, featuring features Druk, the Thunder Dragon of Bhutanese mythology clutching four magnificent jewels. Because wow.
Ever the busy wombat, I’ve been thinking up titles for stories that I will never write. Feel free to use any you like.
Twisted Dog Killers
Surprised by Violet
The Eye of Evening
Eight, Nine, Tentacles
You only have to Google ‘trees eating things’, of course, to find lots of examples of the power of trees to absorb, including this remarkable picture, but this occasion on the right here, unimaginably far back in 2000, was the first time I’d ever come across such a thing. It fascinated me, as you will see by the expression on that innocent face. It led me to think about the inexorable, irresistible force of trees, a power that goes mostly unnoticed because it’s so gradual. It also led me to the realisation that trees are the most powerful beings on earth. Not only for this ability to encroach upon and absorb anything in their path, but also because they hold our existence in their roots and branches. If we do, finally, disastrously, end up killing them all, then we’ll all die too, and good riddance.
(The title is a quote from Leonora Speyer)
I once told a good friend that trees make a reasonable metaphor for people’s lives – each bifurcation, each branching off, representing a path taken or not taken at different points in our individual existences. I was thinking about that when I took this photograph, and wondering to which of the tiny snow-limned twiglets at the top of the tree my personal life decisions had taken me. Would different choices have taken me to a stronger, or higher branch? Most likely, but then again the twig where I am now does have a reasonable view and is at least high in the air, rather than being a stunted limb much further down.
Aside from all that, I like this photo simply because snow on trees is so very beautiful. I also like this picture because it has in it the stick that I made myself, from young offshoots of ash in Chesham Wood. I chose a slightly bent stick deliberately, as it was far more interesting than its perfectly straight brethren.
Trees. Love ‘em.
The title of this post is a quote from Nelson Henderson.
I rageweep at these fucking iron hooks piercing my torn, bloody heart and dragging it into the filth. Tell me this, oh Wise One – what’s the point of love when people just rip your optimistic little soul into shreds? What’s the point of decades spent on the snowfrozen outside of experience, smearing your pathetic tears across the ice-laced windows of the laughter and warmth of others? What’s the point of daubing on that ludicrous smile and fool-dancing in the pitiful hope that you’ll be liked? What’s the point of putting one foot in front of the other?
What’s the fucking point of anything?
The orang-utan may have been male, I suppose, but let’s assume not. When I pushed Mombat’s wheelchair up onto the quiet, deserted balcony it was late, and most of the zoo’s visitors had already left. We were the only people in the area, and the enclosure looked empty of life.
I almost missed her, curled into a dark corner, one eye peering out of a mound of sacking. She lowered her cloth, perhaps intrigued by our movement, and observed us curiously. I stopped and, I know not why, lifted both arms over my head, palms towards her. She stood, and swung the five metres or so over to the glass where we stood. We looked into each other’s eyes, hers sad yet curious, mine, I hoped, sympathetic and reassuring. A flicker of understanding passed between us. I laid my hand against the glass, a gesture of friendship. She placed her palm against mine, separated only by the thin layer of silicate. She pressed her lips to the barrier between us, and I kissed her.
The moment was shattered by a group of young rowdies entering the balcony. She returned to her sacking, while I pushed Mombat back out into the sunlight. Behind us we could hear the raucous laughter of the youths, who commenced to make loud monkey noises. The moment of understanding was over.
When you wake up at entirely the wrong part of your sleep cycle and for the next hour feel like you’re wearing an invisible balaclava that was knitted by your Nan in the Fifties using itchy wool that was too heavy and needles that were slightly too large, so that your eyeballs themselves ache with longing for the loving arms and tender lunatic dreams of Morpheus, then it becomes problematic in the extreme to post a coherent status that makes sense without rambling on until the last syllable of recorded time, like a runaway train of the mind on which the brakes have failed and all the thoughts and ideas that are passengers thereon die screaming as the hard granite surface of the end of the sentence finally smashes into them.
Think I’ll have a nap.
Wednesday 24th January 1990
“Bugger me, I’m a Dad! I wonder if all these people can tell?” I glanced above my head, but there was no illuminated sign to announce my new fatherhood. The thoughts ricocheted around my head as I drifted along The Rock in Bury. It was a cold, snow-drifted winter day. Freezing wind ran its icy fingers through my hair; back then I still had some. Snow flurries eddied about my feet.
Nine months before, Rotherham United had won at Stockport to clinch promotion (goals by Des Hazel and Raggy Goodwin, fact fans). That evening, in celebration, Mary dressed in naught but a Rotherham shirt, with inevitable consequences, and a new life was sparked.
This baby (‘James’ perhaps, or maybe ‘Grace’) had proven its independence throughout the pregnancy by absolutely refusing to turn the right way round for an easy exit. This tiny bundle of stubbornness insisted on remaining the wrong way, with one foot dangling down the birth canal. A footling, we were told, which necessitated a Caesarean delivery.
The operation had been arranged for ten o’clock in the morning. Mary was already in the hospital, and I made sure that I awoke early. I was a bit surprised by how bright the light in the room was, but I discovered the reason when I threw back the curtains.
Snow. Lots of snow. More snow than you could shake a stick at, if that’s your idea of a good time. Snow which meant problems for anyone like me who had to drive. I quickly threw on clothes and leapt into the car, skidding out of the village. The hospital wasn’t that far, a couple of miles at most, but as I descended the hill to the main road I could see that the short journey wasn’t going to be easy. Traffic heading south into town was at a standstill.
I waited a short while but nope, nothing was moving. Oh bollocky bollocks. All was not lost, however, as I brought my alternative route into play. I headed away from town to join the motorway heading south, relieved to see that the slip road had been gritted. And what did I see as I sailed, relieved, down that slip road? Yes, the motorway was at a standstill too.
It was getting late. I had about ten minutes to get to the hospital. I wasn’t about to miss the birth of my first child however, so I swung onto the hard shoulder and floored the accelerator. I glanced to my right at faces glaring at me from stationary cars as I sped past. I turned my eyes back to the front to see an obstacle in my path. A police-car-shaped obstacle with beautiful flashing lights. Oh BIG bollocky bollocks. I slowed to a halt just behind and a frowning officer with a sad moustache approached crossly.
“What are you playing at, Sunshine?”
“Gibber gibber baby gibber birth gibber gibber ten minutes gibber hospital.”
“Right. Well, don’t drive on the fucking hard shoulder again. Now follow us and concentrate on your driving.”
It was wonderful. I swaggered in my seat (actually, is that possible?) as the queuing drivers watched the patrol car lead me down the hard shoulder to the next exit and up the road to the hospital. At one point he used siren and lights to move a recalcitrant van. We reached the hospital just after ten. I was effusive in my thanks, but PC Moustache just said “Go on, bugger off and good luck. Promise me you WON’T call the baby Bobby after me.”
I legged it inside, delighted to have got there on time, only to find that the snow had delayed the consultant anyway, and we would have to wait until he arrived. Why hadn’t I thought of that?
By the time the consultant was ready we had completed the Times crossword. Mary went off to be prepped, and I was taken to a nearby room by a student nurse named Stuart, who was going to observe. Stuart was quite excited as this would be his first Caesarean. He made me wear baggy trousers, a smock, face mask and clogs. Clogs, FFS! I walked like a Dutch ice-skater in a painting by Brueghel.
Stuart took me into the theatre where Mary lay with a green sheet bunched across her waist so that we wouldn’t see the consultant, one Dr. Wake, rummaging about her insides. He put on our tape of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony and began his work. Mary and I held hands and chatted to Dr. Wake about our choice of music.
You know, it’s funny – I still wasn’t completely certain that there was a real live baby in there. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Maybe Sooty would pop up from behind the bundled sheet and squirt me with his water pistol. But no, Dr. Wake lifted up a squirming purple thing and announced “Here she is!”
A girl! A girl a girl a girl a girl a girl! Whoa, spinnyhead. Our new daughter was rested on her Mum’s breast for a first cuddle, while Dr. Wake began repairing Mary. We both (and Stuart, I noticed) had moist eyes as Ellie was measured and wrapped.
I eventually left Mary to be ‘sorted out’ and clog-skated up to the ward, where I got to hold my new child and gaze in amazement at this fragile wonder. I felt her little breath on my face, and I told her all about Stockport against Rotherham. She gave a little yip when I told her about Raggy’s goal.