Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mr Fitzgerald's Translation

It was a bitterly cold morning with a reluctant, grey light. Hastings, the housemaid, did not knock at the morning-room door because there was no reason for her to expect any member of the family to be inside at six o'clock. She nearly dropped her coal bucket therefore when she suddenly caught sight of the rear half of Mr Fitzgerald, still clad in evening dress. He was on his hands and knees behind the heavy brocade sofa. His front half rapidly appeared and he explained that he had been up all night searching for his latest manuscript. Hastings listened politely to this and then turned as soon as she could to attend to the grate. As she lifted out her papers to light it, Mr Fitzgerald seized upon them with delight.

How they had found their way into the kindling box was never discovered.

The family took breakfast at eight o'clock as usual, in their customary convivial silence, each immersed in their reading matter of choice. The smells of kidneys, smoked kippers and slightly burned porridge mingled with coal dust, and the only sounds were of silver against china and the crackles from the well-established coal fire. Mr Fitzgerald spread his pages out around his end of the table and nearly but not quite avoided getting marmelade on them. Before he had finished ordering them, Hastings knocked to say that his cab had arrived.

He gathered up the manuscript and his leather attache case, and out in the cold hall shrugged his shoulders into his great-coat. Hastings handed him his umbrella and hat, and opened the door.

The driver lent down to open the hansom cab door for him and he swung himself up into the red padded interior. There was an overwhelming smell of pipe tobacco from a previous occupant, and he lowered the window, but the rain immediately blew in so he hoisted it shut again. The cab rolled across the cobbles with the rhythmic swing of the horse's gait, and very shortly Mr Fitzgerald was sleeping soundly. His papers slipped down from his grasp to lodge behind the upholstery of the seat.

After a quarter of an hour the cab drew to a halt and the driver announced their arrival. It was only when he tapped with his whip against the door that his passenger awoke with a start and hurriedly sprang out, handed him a generous fare and eagerly ascended the steps of his publisher's premises. The cab moved off again down the street, and along with it went the manuscript.

The cab's next passenger, an elderly curate, read the first two pages and declared it to the driver to be a heathen abomination. The driver deduced the identity of the manuscript's owner without difficulty and retraced his route in the confident expectation of a tip that would be very handsome indeed, and in this he was not disappointed.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Alice surveyed the sea of mud around her that would tomorrow become her first show garden, whether it was ready or not. The site was a challenging one, facing north and near the main road, but her design had cleverly turned this to advantage. She thought of the neatly drawn circles on heavy quality cartridge paper and clenched her teeth to stop the tears. The early frown-lines deepened in her forehead and she swallowed hard. She bundled her latest revised timeplan for the final day's work into her portfolio and decided to run on gut instinct in the few hours that remained. First she had to have tea though.

She went into the back of the van and lit the stove. It was a risky business because the table was piled high with a precarious stack of plant labels, unopened envelopes, sweet-wrappers, and parking tickets. Alice turned her back but still felt them looming at her as she rinsed out the least dirty mug she could find. And then she realised it would have to be instant milk. She dug out another Tesco's Finest Belgian chocolate bar from a bag on the floor. There were two more but she was going to be sick of the stuff with nothing else to eat for the rest of the night.

She put the chocolate into the deepest pocket of her Barbour and climbed down from the van, wincing as she realised that yet again, she'd worn her mud-caked boots inside it. Tucked into her boots Alice wore a pair of vintage-style jodhurs with voluminous legs; in daylight hours she crammed an old felt Homburg hat on her head, all year round. She was an American's ideal English eccentric.

All along the front of the garden plot her plants waited in neat rows, tallest at the back, all painfully short of water. She couldn't water them now though because the supply had been turned off at 11pm. Alice put her tea down and tried but failed not to think how much she'd spent on those plants, not to mention the seeds ordered from Kew, the huge deliveries of specialist compost, all unused because she hadn't got round to sowing them herself in time.

She shivered in the cooling night-time air, and then stirred herself to start work again. She picked up two armfuls of pots and walked carefully across the uneven duck-boards that ran along the main bed of the plot. The earth lay in spade-sized clods, shining in the floodlights. Rough brushwood fencing from the adjoining plot formed the rear, and the sides were still open.

Alice felt so sick with nerves, she could hardly taste her tea as more than just scorching hot. From the road came the sound of the commercial bins being emptied, and a rancid smell drifted down on the wind. It was going to be a long night, and by now even Alice had to accept that it wouldn't be long enough.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Street scene, from a child's point of view (an exercise, 500 words)

Mum had gone off with Ed. She'd given me a mint Aero (one of the jumbo ones) and said she'd kill me if I wasn't right there when she came back.

I sat down on the step and looked under the red blanket at the back of it but there wasn't anything there and it smelled of wee. Then I took my phone out and texted Kaz but he didn't answer. People kept kicking into my feet which was really annoying so I sat back against the door.

I closed my eyes and went to look for Hawkwind. He was sitting by the river, fishing. He put a rod up for me too. All around us there were big high reeds, and crocodiles in the water, and buffaloes on the other bank. Then one of the crocodiles got hold of the end of Hawkwind's rod and pulled him in.

A woman was talking to me so I had to open my eyes, even though Hawkwind was shouting out for me. She had glasses on that made her look like she had two sets of eyes. I could tell she didn't know how to do her lipstick like Mum's and Nan's, and her ear-rings were really teensy little ones, just white.

"Are you alright, dear?" she was asking.

"Yes thanks".

"Is your Mummy with you?"

Well that was a pretty dumb question. You could see it was just me there, and the red blanket. I knew she couldn't see Hawkwind.

"Mum's going to be back soon, I'm waiting for her."

The woman stood up again, so I shut my eyes and went to rescue Hawkwind. He was thrashing about and screaming because the crocodile had his jaws round his middle. I waded out and climbed onto the crocodile's back, and reached down to grab his nose, but I had to stop again because the woman was asking me what my name was.

"Felix", I said. It was the first name I could think of, because our cat's called Felix.

She took a phone out. It was really old, with no camera or anything. She called someone up and said the person had to come really quickly. She looked at me and said she'd found something delektable. I was sure she was talking to the police and Mum would go ape if she found out. But I couldn't go back to the flat, because Nan would be seeing her visitors still.

I closed my eyes again and forgot about the crocodile. I could feel Hawkwind really close to me, and I tried to make really real. I tried with my brain to make him come into our world so he could help me this time.

The woman started to sit down with me. She was just finishing cleaning off her side of the step when Mum turned up, with no Ed this time, but looking all happy so I knew she was all right again. She gave the woman a funny look and we went back home again.