Fiction Month. Extract 1

If it’s November it’s Fiction Month on ‘Anecdotage’. This is the time I usually post short, new fiction stories. In a departure from short stories, however this year I’m posting some extracts from my new novel, ‘Til It’s Gone’, a work of speculative fiction telling the tale of a late 21st century Welsh farming family battling climate change, economic difficulties, sinister takeovers and a brutal killing within the boundaries of their property. This week’s post is part of the prologue…

                                                                         The Kill
The storm gathers for four days before keeping its promise, loosening a cacophony of thunder and howling winds and a deluge.
In the chaos, vessels buck and rage against their moorings. Dwellings shudder and creak in their weaknesses. People stay in, cowering, sheltering, whatever damage ensues. The hillside above the village becomes a furious torrent; a tumbling waterfall then a landslide as the soil gives way and a gushing brown channel of mud races down carrying soil, rocks, roots and debris.
In the sky intermittent flashes expose the silhouettes of the towering turbines across the hilltop, skeletal against jagged forks of lightning. Along the tunnels, tattered edges of white plastic flap like so much unruly laundry, beginning with a border here, a corner there then ripping in abandoned strips. Wind and water race into the gaping chasms they’ve made, desecrating all inside.
A tall eye on a stalk swivels in a slow revolution, water cascading from its top as it detects warmth and movement. A figure darts into view, swathed in a cape and hood, head first bent then upturned, reaching up to catch a flap of torn fabric, grasping, pinning down.
Below, in the darkness and the ferment an unlit vehicle approaches, creeping its way up along the track, lashed by the driving volley, buffeted by the cyclonic gusts and beset by loose rocks hurling themselves against its sides and beneath the sturdy, all-terrain wheels, two pale faces inside leaning forwards, straining for a view of the upward track as it curls around the hill, black water streaming across their route before hurtling down towards the river mouth.
Unknowing, the caped figure works on, lashed by the storm, pegging, weighing down, battening as the grey truck draws closer, invisible in the curtains of rain and silent in the screaming wind as it whips and sings around the tunnels.
The truck halts beyond the outer fence, disregarded by the frantic worker. More bolts of lightning split the sky illuminating vast structures shifting, protesting under the onslaught and giving brief insights into the hopelessness of the task; more and more material wrenching free to flap like hapless sails in a shipwreck.
Now the passenger is clambering out, reaching back inside for tools, hunched against the elements, chancing the small pinpoint of a flashlight. A blaze of lightning bursts over the razor wire as he inserts first one clip then another before applying bolt cutters. In a few moments a gap appears wide enough for the truck to pass through.
The caped one has disappeared up along the side of the tube, doing what he can, saving, preserving.
The truck pulls through into the security channel ready for the cutting process to be repeated on the other, inner fence and it rolls through the second breach. The driver emerges, fighting his way to the rear of the vehicle and wrenching the tailgate open before joining his companion. They move quickly into a breach in a tunnel, emerging with cartons, battered, fighting the gusts as they place their booty into the truck bed, returning for more, their arms piled with boxes four high, the shorter, slighter of the two staggering sideways as the bulkier and taller figure grips his arm. He indicates they should move on to the next tunnel as his partner hesitates. He stores his boxes then lifts his hand in protest.

         ‘Enough! Let’s go!’ But the other is off into the neighbouring cavern, reappearing with another load, water coursing down his face and beard. Then in an instant both figures freeze, one laden with cartons, the other by the truck’s open tailgate as the dark shape of a dog appears in front of them, a black shadow outlined by lightning flashes, long head low, sodden fur raised up in a barb of wet spikes along its back. Its ears are flat alongside its head and its open mouth a snarling saw of serrated teeth, white razor points dripping drool, slavering, growl unheard in the screech of the gale.
Bulky makes a gradual half turn to Slight, the indication clear.

          ‘Get in the truck!’

           Slight stands fast. The dog raises its head, mouth open, tensing to spring. Bulky lifts the cartons high and hurls them in the beast’s direction before jumping sideways into the open aperture of the cab. The dog leaps towards him as the door closes on its head, its jaws fastened tight upon Bulky’s arm. He works in a frantic bid to free it, smashing the door repeatedly with his right hand until it withdraws then slamming it shut. One in, one out. Slight still stands amongst the crates, rooted…

 

I’ll be posting more extracts from ‘Til It’s Gone’ this month. Feedback will be very much appreciated. Thanks in anticipation!

A Four Part Story-Part 1 of ‘A Neighbourly Manor’

The remainder of fiction month consists of a longer short story, ‘A Neighbourly Manor’, in which Lena and Richard encounter a complex and not entirely conventional household.

A Neighbourly Manor

‘I wonder what she sees in him?’ I kept saying.
‘Leave it alone, can’t you?’ Richard grumbled, or he would shake out a new page of his newspaper in a crackling signal of finality. But one month on the events following that afternoon dogged me as I weeded the border or strolled along the lane to the farm for eggs.
After we’d received the invitation I’d been full of excited zeal, wanting to make a reciprocal gesture before we’d even taken a step along the wide sweep of their driveway, but Richard had curbed my ambitions by frowning,
‘Let’s wait and see how it goes. We haven’t met them yet. We are only neighbours, nothing more. By all accounts they are society people so I don’t suppose we will be of any interest to them except as a kind of ‘country bumpkin’ story for their London friends.’
Despite my husband’s dashing of cold water I continued to harbour fanciful thoughts of what might transpire. I knew that the manor house next door received a constant flow of visitors despite the seedy state of its accommodation. Some were well known figures in publishing, the media or the arts, invoking thrilling fantasies of meeting someone famous. Who knew what might transpire? This could be the beginning of a series of gatherings to which we were part. I began to run a mental inventory of the contents of my wardrobe and concluded it was lacking in some areas.
The previous occupant’s attempt to run Chiddlehampton Manor as a hotel had failed in a gurgling whirlpool of bankruptcy, depression and alcohol dependency. Villagers who had worked there told of stained carpets and mouldy en suites in the twenty three bedrooms, slimy, brown grease covering kitchen surfaces, dwindling bottles in the wine cellar, failed initiatives such as ‘poker breaks’ or ‘murder mystery weekends’ attracting a desultory handful of revellers and resulting in increasing event cancellations.
The parlous nature of the building lent even more urgency to my desire to see it and to meet the latest occupants, who wanted it for a country retreat, no less. A country retreat! Twenty three bedrooms and bathrooms, a ballroom, eight acres of grounds containing stables and seven cottages for staff plus a vast, walled garden with endless greenhouses-all now fallen into disrepair; disintegrating into the chalky, Dorset soil from which it had risen.
There was a blustery March wind gusting across the fields as we walked through the open gate into the driveway; gaps in the two rows of elegant beeches that bordered the sweeping drive, and fallen branches. Weeds punctuated the centre of the crumbling tarmac as it curled around to reveal the yellow stone manor house nestling in a dip below.
I stopped for a moment to admire it, tucking the box of homemade shortbread under my arm. Richard had scoffed.
‘They won’t want that. Their sort is used to posh nosh; Fortnum and Mason, Harrods, all that sort of thing’. I’d ignored him of course, as only one who is shackled to a curmudgeon for thirty two years can.
Even in a decadent state the manor is beautiful, a graceful old house whose romantic symmetry complements the rustic setting of rolling Dorset countryside. As we approached the columns of the grand portico I shivered, hanging back as Richard strode up to the vast, oak door and pressed the bell in his no-nonsense way.
In the ensuing hiatus my misgivings expanded. ‘Do you think they’ve forgotten?’
Richard snorted. ‘Let’s hope so! Then we can go home and have a cup of tea.’ But steps could be heard echoing inside.

I’d heard plenty about him from villagers, in the pub or at the community shop but I was still unprepared for the experience of meeting Jackson Agnew. That he was ‘upper class’, ‘stinking rich’and ‘ponsy’ was circulating the public bar of The Cuckoo, with ‘a bleeding, towny nob’ thrown in by Noah Barnes, Bendick Farm’s cowman, who was not known for holding back on his opinions. Little had been expressed about Dr Agnew’s companion; whether she was partner or wife or daughter no one knew, only that she was ‘posh totty’ [Noah Barnes again] and thought by some to be a model or an actress.
The door was not so much opened as flung wide and filled with him; with Jackson Agnew. His frame crammed the doorway, everything broad, everything extended, from his lengthy arm and thin fingers reaching out to shake Richard’s to his gaping grin and booming ‘Hello hello-Welcome to my humble abode!’
Once I’d followed my husband into the hallway my own hand was enveloped and squeezed. ‘We meet at last!’ he said and his voice was like a deep, mellow gong echoing around the cavern of a hall with its bare walls and floorboards. After I’d glanced around the barren space I noticed he was scrutinising our faces, hungry for our reactions.
‘I expect you’ve been in here hundreds of times, haven’t you?’
Richard was peering up at the ceiling, eager for a sign of damp, death watch or woodworm. He avoided Jackson’s gaze as he replied.
‘We haven’t lived in the village all that long ourselves; retired here from Bristol eighteen months ago. We had no cause to come to the hotel. If we want a drink we go to the pub.’
‘We met the Judds, of course, out and about, you know, when walking the dog,’ I added.
Jackson grinned. ‘Yes. Pour souls. What a state they got into. Shall we move into the lounge and we can rustle up a cup of tea, or something stronger if you like?’ He looked beyond us to an open doorway, calling, ‘Darling, our neighbours are here.’
We walked through into what had been the hotel bar but was now being used as a makeshift kitchen and dining room. Here, overhead the ceiling was adorned in an ornate series of murals decorated in gold leaf portraying rotund cherubs cavorting with plump maidens in diaphanous robes. Jackson caught me scrutinising it and barked in noisy mirth.
‘What do you think of that? Someone went to town, didn’t they? Are you familiar with the Baroque style at all? Ah, there she is! Darling! These are our nearest neighbours, Richard and er…’
I broke in. ‘Lena’
‘Lena, of course. Richard and Lena.’
She was standing behind the bar, motionless, an almost smile on her lips; eyes that had been fixed upon him moving in a slow turn towards Richard and myself. In that moment I understood why all of the descriptions of her had been correct and at the same time wrong, because while she was young and undeniably beautiful there was no element of Hollywood style; no trappings that could be considered cosmetic enhancement. And one thing was clear. She could not in any way be mistaken for his daughter, since no daughter in the world would ever look at her father like that.
She moved around to join us, extending a hand, first to me.
‘Imogen.’

Cheering Myself Up-

You have only to take a glancing interest in the news on a regular basis to begin to feel that the world is a gloomy place-and becoming gloomier by the day.

  • In various parts of the world there are the usual, horrific subjugations of parts of society by other parts [such as in Myanmar]. [It is difficult to understand, in this case how a woman with a history of persecution cannot bring herself to support and alleviate the suffering of her fellow countrymen].
  • Ill-conceived and pointless terrorist attempts continue to be made-the latest a horrific explosion on an underground train in London, in which a number of innocent people were injured for merely going about their business.
  • In the UK a debt mountain is growing and threatening to eclipse all previous peaks.
  • The USA and North Korea between them seem to have decided to blow the planet to smithereens.
  • Our beleaguered health service is [yet again] facing a crisis winter without sufficient resources, staff or funding, although if the previous story goes the full chapter the health service will not be necessary…

But overall, all of these grim stories almost pale into irritations compared to the ghastly weather incidents that have been occurring on an increasing scale this year. The Caribbean and the Eastern part of North America has seen devastating events as has Asia, with hurricanes, unrelenting rain, flooding and ravaging winds destroying the lives, homes and livelihoods of thousands.

Can there be anyone left other than Donald Trump who still refuses to believe that the Earth’s climate is changing?

I can’t help feeling we have an obligation at least to know about terrible news events, rather than ignoring it all. But knowing can induce a sensation of helplessness-even despair. In order to mitigate these reactions I determined to trawl through the news and attempt to find some uplifting, heartening or entertaining snippets:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale, a book I read some years ago and recently watched on TV has won the prestigious Emmy award. And quite right, too! Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite writers with her thought-provoking tales of dystopian futures.
  • Some wonderful movie posters dating from the 1930s and 1940s have been discovered under a carpet near Cardiff in Wales, UK. They were sold at auction for £72,000. I like to hear that discoveries such as this are still possible!
  • A Polish lemonade company wanted to market a new product and call it ‘John Lemon’. What a relief they were stopped! Yoko Ono massed some big legal guns; now it’s to be called ‘On Lemon’ which would be unlikely to offend anyone.
  • A Welsh [yes, Wales again] teenager walked up Mount Snowdon [for the uninitiated this is the highest peak in England and Wales] wearing only his underwear, in order to raise money for a dementia charity. He gained the top but became very ill with hypothermia, having not realised that the temperature would be considerably colder than at the base of the mountain. Fortunately the lad was transported down on the train and treated by paramedics. That he recovered goes without saying-or I would not have included the story in the ‘uplifting’ section.

There you have it! Bad news/good news-a game we played as children. The second list was harder to find. Make of it what you will…

Fiction Month: Renaissance.

      Fiction month concludes today with an extra story-dedicated to anyone who, like myself was a child of the fifties when television was in its infancy and children’s programmes reflected the times. This was an era that pre-dated political correctness, colour TV, children’s presenters and all that ensued and for all its crude presentation held a kind of naive innocence. One of my own childhood favourites was ‘The Woodentops’ which first aired in 1955. To view a sample, visit youtube.

Renaissance

                She stirs. Her eyelids part in a narrow slit although it is still dark. What has woken her? She shudders and feels a sharp intrusive dig on her left side, wedged as she is between two others.  There it is again; a blow to her ribs. Her eyelids widen as she gasps, feeling around with her right hand for the offending weapon. An elbow.

‘Jenny!’

She stiffens. ‘Get off me! What are you doing?’ Her small, high voice is thick and slurred from under-use.

‘There’s someone out there. I can hear sounds-steps. Listen.’

Jenny groans. ‘Leave me alone, Will. I’m asleep.’

‘You’re not asleep. You are talking to me.’

She lifts her head as far as the space will allow. In the oppressive darkness of their space there are rhythmic snores amid the sighing breaths and snuffles of sleep as well as an occasional whimpering yap from the dog as he dreams of biscuits and buried bones.

‘There!’

She feels her brother’s hissing breath as the sound of steps approaching and receding invades her consciousness. In the gloom she knows he is listening too just as she knows everything he is thinking. After a moment a thin strip of light appears below them along the floor. She takes in a sharp breath and needs to cough but stifles it, reaching instead for her twin’s hand. There is an abrupt rattle as the door knob is twisted which prompts rousing from the others and whimpering from the baby, who threatens to howl.

‘Did you hear the voices?’ Jenny can feel Will trembling. The dog is stirring, a low growl heralding what could become a tirade of barking.

‘Don’t panic. I’ve got him.’ It is their father who has wrapped a restraining hand around the dog’s muzzle.

They are all awake now and straining to hear. The footsteps have disappeared but the light remains. Jenny frowns, trying to think how long they’ve been here and what prompted them to have been banished to this dark, musty cell. She can remember someone saying they should be kept as she was brought in but none of them knew what they did to be banished and hidden away like pariahs. If the footsteps return they might find out. She allows herself to hope.

She tries to stretch her limbs but in doing so elicits an outraged ‘Oy! Watch yourself!’’ from Sam who is squeezed next to her other side.

Mrs Scrubitt’s voice is tremulous as she utters, voicing all their thoughts into the half- light. “What are they going to do with us? They might be having a clear-out, like. Will they be…doing away with us, do you think?’

Jenny trembles. Sam’s mum is right. They could be cast into a bin somewhere or thrown on to a bonfire. Mummy intervenes. ‘There’s no use in worrying what’ll happen. What will be, will be. Whatever they do we’ll be all together, like always.’

They are startled into silence then as the footsteps return, more this time. There are voices at the door and they hear a key in the lock. The door opens, deluging their small closet with blinding light, forcing them to wince and squint at the unaccustomed brightness.

Jenny swallows and lifts her chin as they prepare to face whatever fate awaits them. A large face looms into hers and she shrinks back into a space she does not have. There are two of them scrutinising, exclaiming.

‘Take care! They’re very old, you know-nearly seventy years!’ The voice booms like a fog-horn in the little cupboard until Jenny’s ears feel like exploding balloons.

‘They’re in good shape though!’ The second voice is softer. After a moment a warm, scooping hand envelops her and she is off the shelf, travelling outside the safety of the cubby-hole and along a bright, white corridor. She closes her eyes as the glare prompts tears to stream down her face. Then she is in a large room, comforted to be sitting on a surface she recognises as wood and mummy and baby are placed next to her.

The two giants discuss them. ‘Of course, if we’re going to remake it there will need to be changes. The show was made before political correctness was thought of.’

The other one chuckles. ‘Yes of course. We can’t have a Mrs Scrubitt and we’ll need to address the nuclear family issue. Plus the fact that they are all white, fully-abled and middle class.’

Jenny glances across at Mrs Scrubitt whose face has become an unnerving, chalky white and whose mouth is open in a silent cry.

‘I’m not so sure that they were middle class. He is a farmer.’

‘Yes but Mum doesn’t go out to work and they can afford to employ servants.’

‘OK. Well maybe we can use Mrs Scrubitt as extended family and Mum can be a farm worker, too? And how about giving one of the twins a disability? I don’t know about Sam Scrubitt though. There may not be a role for him.’

Jenny and Will exchange a stricken look as Mrs Scrubitt claps a terrified hand over her mouth.

 

Four months later they are on set. Jenny has become adept at the sign language she must use to communicate with her twin, they have all learned to call Mrs Scrubitt ‘Grandma’, Mum has had a new wardrobe consisting of overalls, has got the hang of the power tools she must use and they’ve all adjusted to their new, ebony colour as well as remembering to call Sam, who’s been given some exuberant dreadlocks, ‘Denzil’.

So Long Leonard!

So Long Marianne

We did love our Leonard Cohen! We’d sit around singing along to ‘Hey That’s No Way to say Goodbye’, or ‘Suzanne’, instead of sweating over essays or reading the next chapter of ‘Ethics and Education’.

“Why does she give him milk and oranges?” I’d always say. “It’s a horrible combination.”

We knew all the harmonies, even recording our own versions of the songs on her battered reel-to-reel tape recorder then shrieking with laughter at hearing ourselves on the playback.

When we went out we’d communicate in code, using pre-arranged phrases for unwanted attention from members of the opposite sex. At the never missed Thursday night discos we leapt around to the Rolling Stones or The Faces until a slow number prompted one of the lads to ask us to dance; then we revolved as couples, coming into contact with each orbit, when she’d make faces at me and whisper. “Double Gristle!” she’d hiss, meaning ‘Get me out of this’.

We lavished too much of our meagre grants on cheap wine from plastic barrels in the Union bar, resulting in puerile practical joking such as crawling back to our rooms on hands and knees or writing notices for all the doors we passed; the inevitable outcome of over indulgence being our failure to attend any of the following day’s lectures. We had endless discussions analysing budding or fading relationships, boys we liked, boys we wanted to be rid of, whether we had, whether we hadn’t, wishing, regretting.

When, in the second year I was forced out into a depressing bed-sit with a repressive landlady I missed her so much I spent regular nights propped up at the end of her bed eating cheese and pickles, envying her for having the foresight to claim ill health and keep her room at the halls of residence.

Once it was clear I’d have to undertake some work if I was to gain a qualification that would lead to employment I began to knuckle down, completing mediocre essays, attending lacklustre lectures, keeping appointments with disapproving tutors and applying myself to placements. As the lucky recipient of a modest income from some shares, Marianne did not feel the pressure to strive for academic success and continued to maintain a hectic social life, made all the more pleasurable by the acquisition of a small car. She continued to live in her tiny room, spend her days shopping in ‘Chelsea Girl’ or ‘Top Shop’, date hapless men and leave a string of lovelorn boyfriends in her wake. Her health issues, a useful weapon in the defence against obligation or duty, morphed slowly into hypochondria and each time we met she regaled me with some new symptoms she’d noticed, or tests or treatment she’d been undergoing, difficulties that prevented her from completing the course.

With no other option than to join the grown up world, at the end of the three years I became a career woman with a flat and a boyfriend I’d picked up along the way. I still met up with Marianne, though less often. She’d found another tiny room, a bedsit in a shared house that eked out the modest income she still had. She spent her days attending hospital appointments, researching alternative therapies and taking courses in obscure, esoteric fields. Our lives began to diverge. I was promoted to a new and better job, split with the boyfriend, moved to a different, leafier part of town. She took a course as a ‘holistic’ healer and did freelance astrology readings in between courses of treatment for various ailments. She moved to a small flat, subsisting on benefits to augment her income, inconsistent now that the shares had crashed.

In another ten years I’d married, moved away to the coast, taken a career break and had two children. We corresponded, letters documenting lives that seemed to be led on separate planets. I was mired in the minutiae of domestic triviality; she was taking to the stage in her debut as an exotic dancer whilst continuing in her quest to find the perfect man, though available men were becoming scarcer and more selective.

I resumed my career, became single again and sought to rekindle friendships that had foundered in the wake of my marriage. When I began a long distance relationship with a London man I contacted her and arranged to visit her at her Streatham flat during one of my metropolis weekends.

 

I got to her road. I stood on the pavement opposite her house and gazed up at her window; but I didn’t cross over, didn’t ring the bell. I turned back and made the long trek back to Hampstead. She rang me, later.

“Where were you?” she said.

“I rang the bell and no one answered” I lied. She was angry. I felt tearful. There would never be another chance.

I continued to send letters and cards for a couple more years with no response. I look at the photos she sent me of herself posing in a leopard print bikini against a background of tropical plants on a night club stage and I wonder what she is doing now, but the clock is set firm in the present; no going back. Here’s to you, Marianne. So Long!

 

 

 

Fiction Month 2016.

This week marks the start of Fiction Month on Anecdotage. In this first, dark story two very different daughters attend a celebration of their father’s life-only to find that his young widow is absent. But where on Earth can she be?

The Crackling Feast [Part 1]

                Who are all these people? Alex squints into the still bright glare of the late afternoon sun as she tries to identify someone-anyone amongst the chattering guests. She watches them standing around on the paths and the lawn, glasses in hand, appearing and disappearing in the intermittent billowing smoke. This disconnect must come from living at the opposite end of the country and having become an infrequent visitor.

“He knew a lot of folks, your dad. He was involved in everything, you know; amateur dramatics, music society, history society, Scouts, gardening club, church council…”

“I know.” She cuts him off. It is Reg, her father’s old scouting friend. He is bent and frail, the hand enclosing his supporting cane wrinkled and liver spotted. His voice has grown tremulous.

“He was generous with his time and his money. Look at all this! Even at the end he made sure that everyone he knew could have a get together and have a good time. But Jacintha’s not here. I find that odd, don’t you? Do you know why she chose not to attend?”

Alex turns from the photos she’s been inspecting, the visual archive of her father’s life. She’s in some of them, a grinning toddler wielding a beach bucket or sitting squarely with a large dog. There’s one of them all together; she and Christina, their mother and father, posed against a backdrop of the Houses of Parliament.

“No. I’ve no idea why she isn’t here, Reg. Have you asked the solicitor?”

The old man shakes his head, shuffling away towards the bar and muttering. “It’s not my place to pry.”

Now her sister is making her way across the grass, clutching her wine glass, wrinkling her nose as a drift of smoke engulfs her. “Darling!” she drawls, kissing Alex on the cheek. “Good God-was that us?” She bends towards the photo, a slender vision of elegance in pale green shot silk. “Whose idea was it to have this ghastly hog thing? It’ll make everyone’s clothes smell like a bloody bonfire, not to mention greasy drips all over everything. I can’t believe Jacintha allowed it; she being such a rampant vegan and all that other hippy stuff.”

“Jacintha’s not here.”

“No, she isn’t, is she? There might be a God after all.”

Alex raises a brow at her sister. “She made Dad happy, Chrissie and looked after him when his health failed. You surely didn’t begrudge him some happiness in his last years.”

Christina straightens and takes a sip of dry, white wine. “I don’t begrudge him getting a wife younger than us. I do begrudge her taking our inheritance. I don’t know about you, darling but I could just do with a few grand at the moment.”

Alex sighs. “Divorce is expensive, you know that better than most.”

Her sister’s impudent grin is accentuated by the jaunty hat perched on the salon-perfect highlighted hair. “It is an essential, darling, not a luxury. Have you met Simon yet?”

Alex frowns. She must mean Simon Patterson, their father’s solicitor. How is Chrissie already on first name terms? Feeling an urge to escape the sibling she cannot relate to she leaves her with the photographs and wanders out towards the source of the smoke, where a rectangular metal box like a coffin revolves over a nest of coals. Here, intense heat has not deterred a throng of spectators all fascinated by the revolving steel casket. Upon each revolution an oblong window reveals a glimpse into the interior, where the russet skin has already wrinkled and cracked in glistening rivulets of fat, a plump carcass sizzling and spitting on its long skewer. The watchers murmur together in a shared commentary of greedy anticipation and disgust. “Mmm-smells wonderful, doesn’t it?” “How long until it’s ready?” “Not sure if I fancy it now”.

Alex stares, fascinated as the window comes around. Whatever body part is visible has not burnt enough to obliterate a dark blue shape like a stamp.

She leaves them to their ghoulish observations and returns to the house; the home that they grew up in, now customised by Jacintha’s enormous paintings, batiks, weavings, appliqués, pots, sculptures and installations. She’d been nothing if not prolific in her output, filling every wall, alcove, shelf, nook and cranny with her creations, eradicating every vestige of their mother in a sustained and vigorous onslaught; elimination by pottery. Alex climbs the stairs.  From the landing window she can see the carvery taking place below on a trestle table which is also laden with bread rolls, paper plates, bowls of salad and plastic boxes of apple sauce

In their marital bedroom she opens the door to an immense old oak wardrobe in which the profusion of Jacintha’s hand-dyed flowing skirts, shawls and dresses is barely contained and wonders where her father kept his clothes? A musty scent emanates from the clothing-faded perfume overlaid with hints of her skin. She’d been into anything alternative and believed that a rigorous regime of personal hygiene destroyed the body’s natural oils. Alex can remember the shock she and Chrissie had experienced on meeting her, almost ten years ago now. They hadn’t been prepared for their father to begin a new relationship, still less with a pierced, tattooed, dreadlocked artist wearing rainbow harem pants.

She is startled by her sister’s voice calling upstairs and returns to the landing to look down.

“There she is! We were looking for you darling! Come down and meet Simon.”

Alex makes a slow descent to shake the hand of a tall, angular man standing by her sister. He is a man who is accustomed to a luxurious lifestyle, judging by the sweep of his grey hair and his casual but expensive clothes. A pale blue cotton sweater is slung around his shoulders and his feet are bare inside designer deck shoes. “I own a classy yacht” the clothes say and the deep, tanned skin is a clue to where he sails it.

“I’m delighted to meet you”, he tells her, his voice deep, rich and aristocratic. Chrissie is wearing an expression Alex has seen before on too many occasions, like a child with the run of a sweet shop. “Come on Alex. Let’s all go and get some food. We should sit down or we won’t get a table. The firm that supplies these hog roasts is something else, you know. All their carcasses bear a trade mark. I saw it come in on the truck, proudly displaying a shield in blue ink on its rear end.”

She follows the two of them outside and over to the counter, where a queue has formed for rolls stuffed with hot, greasy pork, crisp crackling and sweet apple sauce. Next to them in the line a woman is also explaining to her companion that each hog carcass is etched with a code in some kind of hieroglyphics detailing the heritage of the pig, its lineage and place of birth. “It seems almost indecent, doesn’t it?” she laughs. “As if we were eating someone we’ve been introduced to!” Her friend is chuckling and Alex feels a slight nausea at the idea of the greasy meat topped with crisp, bubbly crackling. Ahead of her she can see Chrissie and Simon sharing a joke or an intimacy, her head tilted up towards his, her lips parted in a smile. The familiarity of this scene makes her weary. She breaks free of the queue and walks down to the end of the lawn to sit on a bench in the shade.

Read Part 2 of ‘The Crackling Feast’, the conclusion, next Sunday- 

No News would be Good

Maybe it’s because we are submerged in a waiting limbo or maybe because in other circumstances we would be away in foreign fields that I’ve become impatient to the point of fury with many of this month’s stories and trends. Here, in no particular order are some of the worst:

  • Brexit or Bremain

Not a day passes without a debate, an angle, a row or a ‘celebrity’ opinion for one side or the other. Even Facebook contacts are pushing their particular views [many, I fear culled from a certain tabloid rag]. The fact that it is not known for certain what will happen should we stay or should we go deters no one. Personally I have never been in any doubt about what Britain should do but it is one opinion I won’t be boring anyone else with [I’m not promising not to bore over other stuff].

  • The American Candidates

Yes, Donald Trump represents everything intolerant, bigoted, illiberal and reactionary. Yes, we can’t understand how he got into this elevated position. We would hope that America comes to its senses. Enough said.

  • Leicester City Football

I accept that being a football refusenik may have influenced my descent into ennui regarding what the sporting press call Leicester’s ‘fairytale’ success, nevertheless, surely the eulogising, analysing, filming, interviewing and repetition must be boring the undies off even the most die-hard Leicester fan? The only, tiny morsels of interest in this story are the bits about the manager [who should be cast as the cat stroking baddie in the next Bond film, so sinister-sounding is his accent] treating the players to a pizza making class or the team being bought beer and doughnuts. And if I have to hear their accomplishment described as fairytale one more time I’ll have to throw the TV from the window, rock star style. I presume the team members don’t object to being described as fairies, although there are certain [non-PC] connotations to the word…

  • Political In-fighting

Years ago [yes, yes I realise I’m coming over all ‘old bid’] politicians had lofty ideals. I’m sure there was a notion of serving communities and all that. Think of Aneurin Bevan and the start of the National Health Service. Is anyone else tired of spiteful niggling and back-biting and racial slurs? How good it would be to hear some real policies, some ideas about how society and quality of life might be improved for everyone. Is it too much to expect? Yes-obviously.

  • Beyoncé

How come I am unable to scroll down more than a centimetre of the Guardian website without having to accelerate past some new article about her? I’m sure that fans of Beyoncé are beyond delighted to be able to devour every, minute crumb of information about what she wore [or didn’t], sang, earned or had for breakfast but I’m sceptical as to whether your typical Guardian website reader is a Beyoncé fan. Maybe someone can enlighten me.

 

Here endeth this week’s rant-