Author Archives: Sheila North

A Vigorous & Colourful Personality : a Blog for Mothering Sunday

Vigorous & Colourful, late 1980s

Hi Mom,

It’s that time, again, Mothering Sunday. Mother’s Day, in American, though the latter is in May, not March. I remember how I used to buy a card for you, in March, then post it in time for Mother’s Day. It was a good plan, those years when I actually remembered where I’d put the flippin’ card. Those forgetful years, you received a card with no verse: often, with a cat on the cover.

Here’s a photo of our latest, by the way. I know you’d love him, if you met him. If you still rang every week, the first thing you’d say, after hello, would be, “How is the cat?”

The latest grand-cat, Al “the Pal”

I was listening to Sinatra a few minutes ago. I remember you telling me, several times over the years, about the time you & your friend Christie went to see him, in New York, when you were in your early 20s. Apparently, you stayed in your seats after the first concert, so you could see him again. It’s the only time I know of that you (sort of) broke the law.

This is the Sinatra song I’m told Dad played at your funeral. I remember the album, which one of us would have had to play for you, on account of you never figuring out how to work the stereo. How did you manage to play all those lovely old singles you bought, in your teens, and pre-marriage 20s? The ones you lugged along through at least two house moves: not just Sinatra, but also Gershwin, including “Rhapsody in Blue?”

I don’t remember you ever saying which one was your favourite song. I know Dad liked “Set ’em Up Joe”. I liked this one. It appealed to my angst-ridden, teenaged soul.

This is the fourth time I’ve written to you, via my blog, and God(s), on Mothering Sunday. One year, adrift on a sea of nostalgia,I wrote it on Mother’s Day, instead.

That first blog-letter to you was also the very first blog I wrote, back in 2014. It’s kind of a tradition, now, for to write to you once a year, and note the passing of another blog year, as well.

Your birthday is coming up soon: you would have been 90. I try to imagine you at that age. Sadly, the mental pictures I get reflect what you were like those last two years, when Alzheimer’s combined with Myasthenia Gravis to blot out your “vigorous and colourful personality”.

The phrase is a quote from a book blurb describing Baroness Ocrzy, author of the “Scarlet Pimpernel” books. “Pimpernel” was one of the paperbacks in my sister’s desk drawers. I think it was assigned for a high school class. Later, while at Wayne, I read some of the sequels in the main Detroit library, when I should have been studying, instead.

You loved that library, and the time you spent working there. Hell, you loved all libraries.

The magnificence that is Detroit Public Library

Writing this has helped calm me down. I’ve been a bit hypomanic of late: chatty, struggling at times to keep my conversations from turning into downloads, and a bit loud with it, too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not too extreme, and the energy is great. Still, I have to watch it. I remember how, that first time I was in hospital, you drove to Fairlane, just to get me a lovely cat jumper, and some cat socks.

Summed it up, really

It’s a shame my version of your “vigorous & colourful personality” is bipolar-flavoured, but we can’t have it all, eh? If we could, you would never have developed Alzheimer’s. It’s a cruel disease, especially so for someone who lived to read, and think, and express her often Thatcher-esque opinions.

I like to think you understand why I destroyed those last few photos of you: the ones where your light was gone, and only a frail framework remained. I cannot imagine, had you still been able to express an opinion, you would have ever wanted to be photographed on such outstandingly bad hair days. You, the woman who always put on lipstick before she went out, even to the supermarket. Still, it gave Dad comfort to still be able to take your picture, I guess.

This is how I prefer to think of you: pretty in pink, bursting with pride at your son’s wedding. My vigorous, bookish, colourful mother.

Love,

Sheila

Mom, aka Mum, late 1980s

Tagged: alzheimer’s, Baroness Orczy, bereavement, bipolar, cats, dementia, Detroit, Detroit Public Library, Frank Sinatra, grief, hypomania, libraries, Michigan, Mother’s Day, Mothering Sunday, myasthenia gravis, September of My Years, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Wayne State University

Just Another Book Porn Wednesday

Tom the tomato contemplates books, whilst Rodin's Thinker contemplates Tom.

Tom the tomato contemplates books, whilst Rodin’s Thinker contemplates Tom.

” Books are a uniquely portable magic” – Stephen King

If you’re reading this because you’re hoping for smut, you’re out of luck. Book porn is about beautiful bindings, not bodacious boobies.

Bindings! Original dust jackets! Gilt-edged pages! Art work!

Up until recently, I was a utilitarian book buyer: paperbacks, unless there was a hardback version, & I really could not wait to read it.  If I bought an old book, it was because I wanted to read it, not display it.

Now, due in part to a lovely retro & vintage Doncaster shop called “Rewind”, I’ve discovered book porn. Yes, it’s about bindings, and the gleam of those lovely gilt-edged pages, but oh, so much more. Like the inscription on my latest “Rewind” purchase: a collection of the works of John Greenleaf (1) Whittier.

“A distressing accident”

I love this: it sets the wheels going in my writer’s mind. What was the kindness? What was the accident, and why was it “distressing”? What, if any, was Mrs Brown’s relationship with C Dawson, or did they meet for the first time due to the accident?

I also like this, found on the inside cover of a collection of Longfellow’s poetry:

Well done!

A book doesn’t have to be old to qualify as book porn. I bought this gorgeous little hardback at last year’s “Turn the Page” festival, purely for that wonderfully evocative drawing on the book’s dust jacket.

The ideal hideaway for walkers who are also writers, and writers who are also walkers.

Old hardbacks can even supply a few laughs, such as this one my husband bought me, also from Rewind:

I bet he wears socks with his sandals.

I know Sir Percy Blakney is a fop, and a dandy, but really? The last time I saw dress sense that bad, I was watching a DVD of Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor. (2)

Notebooks can also be a form of book porn. I am a pushover for a nice notebook, and often buy them to commemorate special events, such as successfully surviving my breast cancer op last year, or returning to work after a period of illness. Here’s one I purchased earlier this year. Can you see why I couldn’t resist it?

A thing of beauty, indeed

I love this notebook, & hope to put it to use writing my next Sherlock Jones story, “The Adventure of the Cooper Leeches”. Meanwhile, there’s still work to be done before I bring out my next collection of humoruos “cozy crime” stories. Titled “A Yorkshireman in Ohio”, it includes the long short story, “Sherlock Jones and the Geek Interventionist”. Set mainly at the Doncaster Cosplay Convention, it once again features Sherlock “Sherl” Jones, a writer with a line in detection, and his crossword-loving friend, Bozzie Badger.

Happy reading!

Boswell “Bozzie” Badger, cosplaying the 4th Doctor

(1) The clear winner in the category “Best Middle Name Ever Had by a Poet”
(2) Sorry, Mr Baker: I know it wasn’t your fault your costume was so awful.

Tagged: A Yorkshireman in Ohio, badgers, book porn, Books, bookshops, cosplay, Doctor Who, John Greenleaf Whittier, Longfellow, retro, Rewind, Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Jones, Sherlock Jones and the Geek Interventionist, Stephen King, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Thurber, Turn the Page, vintage

“With Extra Points for Neatness”

2015-02-27-12-42-52

“Hello from the other side”

Some February fiction for you …

With Extra Points for Neatness

by Sheila North

Margaret Pennyworth was nothing if not direct.

“I’ve decided to deactivate you. I am sorry.”

Her parents had been big on superficial politeness, so the phrase, “I am sorry” was only to be expected. They both knew she didn’t mean it.

“Will you please stop looking at me like that? It’s extremely off putting.”

Margaret shuffled through the paperwork, which she had shoved into the bread bin, the day it arrived. There was no bread in the bin, hadn’t been since Colin died in their marital bed: his beautiful eyes gradually becoming as cold as the rest of his body. Bread was fattening, or so the beings who ran Planet Diet said. On those rare occasions when Margaret reflected on things, she wondered how an alien life form which existed entirely on the waste products of others could know so much about carbs, or, indeed, food.

A small pile of paperwork was rapidly accumulating on the otherwise spotless kitchen floor. Inwardly, Margaret Pennyworth sighed. It really was an excellent housekeeper – and bookkeeper, and cook, and bottle washer. But even the best products have their flaws, and Margaret had had enough.

Item 99462M was everything The Houseboy Company (TM) had claimed: well, almost everything. It was the expression: that fixed smile; even worse, those marble blue eyes. They’d been so different those first 38 years of their 40 year relationship. What had she been thinking of – besides a tidy home – paying for her late husband’s neat-freak mind to be lodged in that metal body, and behind those eyes, oh, those eyes!

“Shall I dust and vac the master bedroom, first?” the flat voice asked, its eyes as cold, and unblinking, as ever.

enough-adulting-already

What do you do with some drunken Cybermen?

Tagged: fiction, flash fiction, sci fi, writing

Books v Kebab Boxes

Book worms rule okay!

Book worms rule okay!

I was quite glad I hoovered the carpet, the day before we had three paramedics in our bedroom. They weren’t there for any kind of hi-jinks: my idea of a good time doesn’t involve having three ECGs in the course of two hours.

Both the first paramedic, who arrived by himself in a car; and the other two, who came by ambulance, remarked on the number of books we have.

Lots of books? Don't know whatcha mean, mate.

Lots of books? Don’t know whatcha mean, mate.

The first paramedic mentioned the books in passing. The other two said how nice it was, seeing all those books. You didn’t think it was too excessive? I asked, with a sigh of relief that no one had tripped over the book piles that march their way up our steep, ca-1890s staircase.

Oh, no, one of the paramedics replied. It’s much better than loads of empty kebab boxes. Do you see those a lot, or just with people who have suspected heart problems? I asked. I wasn’t terribly surprised when they said the latter.

Don’t look at me like that: I didn’t ring 999 for an ambulance because I thought I was having a heart attack. Those nice folks at 111, “NHS Direct” made the call.

As previously stated in this blog, I am not medically trained. However, I thought alternating pains in my stomach, sternum area, and lower jaw merited a 111 call. The words “heart attack” did cross my mind, but, all save the jaw pain was so mild, it barely merited the description “pain”. Plus, I didn’t have pains down my left arm, or what one of my first aid instructors memorably described as “a feeling of impending doom“. (1)

Ironically, whilst I know that feelings of anxiety can sometimes be mistaken for a heart attack, I was feeling pretty laid back that morning, after weeks and weeks of that old wheeze, depression and extreme – and I do mean extreme – anxiety. But that was then: that morning, I was feeling quite mellow. Well, as mellow as someone who’s mid-way through several loads of laundry can be.

Al the Cat, who supports his catnip habit by giving lessons in relaxation, and Mindfulness.

Al the Cat, who supports his catnip habit by giving lessons in relaxation, and Mindfulness.

It was jaw pain which led to my ringing 111, and agreeing to wait for an ambulance. The pain was pretty bad, and I couldn’t think of anything which could explain it. I stayed calm, right up to when the paramedic on the other end of the line said to sit down: no, don’t get up to look for the ambulance, or to get your coat, or even to pee.

Yikes.

My heart is fine. It took six hours from feeling that first twinge, to finally leaving hospital: three ECGs, and one x-ray later. I don’t begrudge the time: if that’s what it took to put my mind at rest, fair enough. So, a great big THANK YOU! to the NHS, for stepping up to the plate. And an equally big BOOO! to the saddo who wasted no time in taking Obamacare away from his less fortunate fellow Americans.

I’ve now used the NHS for three different things – cancer, mental health, and a suspected heart attack – in one year. I’m hoping that – aided by regular Mindfulness practice – I don’t need its help for more than a year. Make that a decade. Scratch that, make it a lifetime.

I’m also grateful that I turned veggie before I thought to try a kebab. After all, three out of three paramedics say reading is much better for you.

Or is it the empty boxes that are the real problem?

Thank heavens they didn't mention sweet wrappers!

Thank heavens they didn’t mention sweet wrappers!

(1) Once heard, a phrase that is never forgotten.

Tagged: 111, ambulance, anxiety, Books, breakfast, cats, depression, ECG, heart attack, hospital, kebabs, laundry, Mindfulness, NHS, NHS Direct, Obamacare, paramedics, reading, socialised medicine

The Double Act, & the Crown

Hang on, said the unicorn, what're you guys doing with that there crown?

What’re you guys doing with that crown? asked the unicorn.

Some short fiction for you, while you’re waiting for the turkey to defrost

I didn’t ask for this, you know. Charging all around town, fighting a lion, for a crown. A crown, I ask you! What’s a self-respecting unicorn want with a bit of a jewellry for a hat?

I already had plenty of street cred: magical horn; hanging out with beautiful young women; promoted from the minors of rhinohood, and narwhalness, to a beautiful white equine, with a hipster beard, eternal life, and, of course, that wondrous horn. What more could any mythical beast want?

No, I am not a dog. Yes, my Spockin' nose itches. Now leave me alone.

The eternal opponent: York, Nr Yorkshire

Of course, I did get something from my long-standing disagreement with a puss who’s too big for his boots. My image is displayed on every law court in the land, as well as lots of other public buildings, including quite a few palaces. Mine is one of the best known faces, and bodies, in this United Kingdom.

Sure, I have to share my glory with a big, dumb feline, but hey, every one loves a double act: Morecambe and Wise; Laurel and Hardy, cheese and pickle: we outshine them all.

Despair? Indigestion? Forgot to put the Lottery numbers on? Chatsworth.

Cheese sarnies, again? Bring me a pastrami on rye with Russian dressing, & make it snappy

It’s me who writes all our scripts: have done, for centuries. His paws are too clumsy, but I have the perfect pen, right on my head. It took a bit of working out, at first: how to dip my horn into an inkwell. It was the lion’s suggestion that I use birch bark for my first drafts, and calf, or pig skin, for the final one. As a life-long vegetarian, I found this rather distasteful, but he can’t help being a carnivore. Besides, it’s just another form of recycling.

We didn’t prepare the skins ourselves, or the bark, for that matter. We entered into an agreement with a tanner, and a woodsman. It was a symbiotic relationship: they prepared out paper, and skins, and we promised not to gore them, or eat them.

Morning sun: late December, 2015

Are these the trees which launch a thousand scripts? Winter, 2015

In the beginning, it was a rough, knockabout sort of act. We’d chase around a bit, then, “Give me that crown!” I’d neigh, in a way which was nicely nuanced between the noble, and the supernatural. “It’s mine, you horny son of a mare!” he’d shout back. Then, we’d charge about the marketplace a bit; stop; catch our breath – or, rather, Percy would, he’s not built for distance running – and then go through our lines all over again.

It seemed to tickle the peasants who lived in the town near our magical glade, although Tom the Tanner said they weren’t amused, just terrified.

Percy? Oh, that’s the lion. His full name is Richard William Percival Coeur de Lion, but after over 400 years together, I just call him Percy. He’s not such a bad sort, when you get to know him.

Yes, it’s the same lion. Is he mythical? Hard to say, but if he’s not immortal, he’s certainly had a good innings, with no sign of leaving the pitch anytime soon.

Alternative feline career: Sheffield, 2016

Alternative magical feline career: Sheffield, 2016

These days, as well as our double act, we both do solo gigs. Percy’s a regular in films, usually about some chap called Aslan, or in musicals, chiefly, “The Wizard of Oz”, “Wicked”, and “The Lion King”. I tend to do life modelling for tapestries, and paintings, though I’ve branched out a bit more, over the years: fantasy novels, and films, plus some merchandising. It can get a bit twee: cuddly toys, snowstorm paperweights, that sort of thing. I’ve got a new line coming out soon, called “My Little Unicorn”.

Not another lion! cried the unicorn: London, 2016

Another flippin’ lion! cried the unicorn: London, 2016

Anyway, by the time a couple of centuries had gone by, our quick and crude comedies had become a bit boring: to us, and our audiences. Percy said we needed to up our game, become more of a brand, and appeal to a more cultured, sophisticated clientele. That last bit makes Percy out to be a bit more literate than he really is. He learned words like “sophisticated” and “clientele” from me.

Percy may be more brawn, than brains, but we both wanted to move with the times. By the time the late 19th century came along, I’d moved from using more horn like a quill, to being a one-horn typist. A century or so later, I was one of the first magical beings in the country to try out a ZX Spectrum, as well as the Commodore 64. Percy’s no comedy genius, but he helped in his own way. Over the decades, he’s terrorized more people into building and painting scenery, and making props, than I can shake a horn at.

He does have a gift for sniffing out media opportunities. partly because he’s spent an awful lot of the late 20th and early 21st centuries going to the pictures, and watching the box. He’s a great cinema companion: he can empty a theatre really quickly. Percy loves action pictures, and horror, while I prefer rom-coms, and fantasy.

Did you know we were the first double act to appear on Channel 5? Or that we were extras in an upcoming production of “The Lion in Winter”? Unfortunately, we ended up on the cutting room floor. Which is a shame, as the location filming was nearly the death of poor Percy. He’s not really built for winter.

A field in winter: December 2014

A field in winter: December 2014

I didn’t ask for this crown business, but like a lot of things we don’t want, or go looking for, it’s turned out ok. We eat well, these days: no more black bread, or brown. It’s steak for him, and the finest vegetarian option, for me. At The Ivy, no less.

A unicorn, at last: drawing by Tom Brown, from “Koi Carpe Diem

Talk about the high life: we’re appearing at the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium next year. As Percy says, we’re bound to be a rip-roaring success.

Wishing everyone in America a happy, & peaceful, Thanksgiving Day.

Tagged: Britain, Koi Carpe Diem, lions, nursery rhymes, short stories, short story collection, Thanksgiving, Tom Brown, unicorns, writing

Struggling Up That Hill: Anger, Bipolar, & Me

Dawn near one of those hills: Nov 2016

Dawn near one of those hills: Nov 2016

Warnings for: the usual really – whinging, swearing, self pity

If I only could / I’d make a deal with God …” – Kate Bush

Today’s song is, of course, this one. Lately, I’ve been absent from this blog, due partly to depression, and partly because of other commitments. One of those commitments is National Short Story Week, which ended yesterdat. This is at least the third year that Sine FM and my show, Book It! has been involved. It’s hard work at times, but also good fun.

If you fancy hearing some cracking stories, you can listen to the podcast.

I’ve also been running up that work hill: night shifts, plus changes to work patterns, mean it’s been more of a struggle than usual, at times. I’ve written before about my tendency to feckin’ swear, sometimes at considerable length, and with additional blasphemy. This can upset listeners, and passersby. Which is fair enough, even if swearing helps relieve my stress.

Recently, I’ve been running up another hill, as well as the sort of thing which, given I’m fat, in my late 50s, and have a knackered left knee, might as well be hills:

Over the bridge, & far away: Doncaster, Nov 2016

Over the bridge, & far away: Doncaster, Nov 2016

Many fellow Doncastrians will recognise the bridge above: it’s at the non-shopping bit of Lakeside. The internet tells me that the artificial lake was created in the mid 90s, which helps explain why the small hills which were created in the process are looking more and more, well, natural.

A plethora of plants: Nov 2016

A plethora of plants: Nov 2016

I’ve started jogging for a variety of reasons: training for a race in March 2017; hopes of using that race to raise money for mental health charities; a desire to get fit, and – cross fingers – lose weight, plus, I know being out in Nature helps me.

In addition, I was inspired by a young man with bipolar, talking about how running helps him. He was one of several people, including Alistair Campbell, and Frank Bruno, who spoke frankly about their mental health, in a recent programme on Channel 5. While there were at least two who talked about bipolar, it was this (formerly) angry young man who I identified with the most. If running helps him with his anger, highs, and lows, why not me, too?

Thanks, mate. I wish I remembered your name. Because, so far, so good.

A clay snail I made in the ward around 10 years ago, and gave to a friend, and symbolizes my current running pace

A clay snail I made in the ward years ago, and gave to a friend, symbolizes my current running pace

Tagged: anger, bipolar, charity, Doncaster, Kate Bush, mental health, National Short Story Week, nature, radio, short stories, Sine FM, work, writing

James and the Saucer of Vengeful Doom

James? Is that you?

James? Is that you?

This is a story I read last October at a horror night at the Doncaster Brewery & Tap, which was held by author Craig Hallam. It helps if you like “The Princess Bride”, as well as Halloween.

Warning: Swearing; also, do not read while eating, or if you have a weak stomach.

For Colin, who said he liked it.

James and the Saucer of Vengeful Doom

James Harrington celebrated his last Halloween alone: eating the fun-size Smarties his ex-girlfriend bought for the trick-or-treaters, drinking beer, and watching “The Princess Bride”. His ex was disgusted by the sweetie eating, and contemptuous of his film choice.

“The Princess Bride’ isn’t a Halloween film, and all those sweeties and beer will make you fat,” Nikki managed to say before James rang off, leaving the question of whether or not there was an “er” at the word end of “fat”. By then, disgust and contempt were Nikki’s factory settings: the ones she reverted to whenever she was speaking to James.

That Halloween, when evening had not yet given the nod to night, he had happiness: crunchy, rainbow-coloured joy, with beery, carb-filled bliss, and Inigo Montoya on top.

A rainbow of light: a window display at Lord Hurst's, a fab Doncaster teashop

A rainbow of light: a window display at Lord Hurst’s, a fab Doncaster teashop

“’You murdered my father: prepare to die’!” James bellowed at the telly. There was only him, and the goldfish, to hear it, now Nikki was gone. That speech was his favourite, and the brave swordsman Inigo by far his favourite character.

In truth, he loved them all. Even the princess: who, although bossy, at least loved the hero. Unlike a certain, recent ex, James thought, as he took a final swig of “Town Fields” ale, and reached for another bottle of beer.

He wiped his mouth, and observed the smear of red, green and blue Smarties on his right hand, and wrist. Observed, but did nothing about it. Who was to know? The trick or treaters who weren’t likely to arrive at half nine at night, and whose treats he had eaten? Bob the goldfish? The film’s princess, who had other things on her mind?

Not another goldfish: art by Tom Brown, from "Koi Carpe Diem"

Not another goldfish: art by Tom Brown, from “Koi Carpe Diem”

James could do whatever he wanted, now: eat all the sweets, drink all the beer, sit around in his pants with the central heating up full blast. So what if Nikki said he was “damaging the environment”? He paid all the bills. Well, most of them.

He’d taken his shirt off awhile ago. Now, as he stood up to remove his jeans, and reveal his Spider-man pants in all their red and blue glory, he caught a foot in a leg of his trousers, and stumbled, knocking over his beer in the process.

“Tragedy!” James sang, not caring whether Abba and the film’s background music went together well. “Trag – Oh, – !”

James broke off the song, and swore, as realisation hit him like a sword blow from Inigo Montoya himself. The bottle of Hobgoblin which was spilling its liquid guts all over the hardwood floor was his last beer.

James swore for England, France, Scotland: all five of the rugby nations, plus some football teams, too. He couldn’t go for more beer: not at this hour, not in his Spidey pants. Nikki might not have been a lot of help with the bills – well, except for food, and heating, and lighting – but she did do most of the cooking, and all of the washing up, gardening, and laundry. Plus, the washer was hers, and it was gone: removed by her brothers several days before Nikki left. Perhaps, James thought, as he watched his last pair of clean trousers turn into a pub towel, he should have seen their break-up coming, after all.

Of course, James’s thought process was not actually that coherent. It was more like this: “Washer! Fuck! Beer! Offie? Asda? … pants! Pants, pants, pants!”

Then, oozing out of his mouth like drool, “Beer … sponge. Beer … saucer.”

Even when pissed, Nikki had certain. .. standards, she called them. James’s usual response was to blow a raspberry or three. Yet, he’d fallen, mostly, into line, and hadn’t had a single cold, and only one case of food poisoning, during their two year relationship.

“Saucer!” James yelped, as he tripped over his own, wet trousers.

This is not going to end well, the garden gnome thought, with a smile

This is not going to end well, the garden gnome thought, with a smile

For Nikki, the garden meant time alone with her thoughts, and the local sparrow, blackbird, and robin populations. For James, the small, grassy area behind their house was some place he visited twice a year: on summer Bank Holidays, when he poked meaty, smoky objects with a long fork, whilst holding a cold one in the other hand, and wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and sandals. Hobbling out there with no shoes, and no clothing except for a pair of beer-soaked Spiderman pants, on a cold, dark night at the end of October, was a new experience. Some might even call it –

“A quest!” James slurred. “I’m goin onna quest!

He crashed into a bush. If Nikki had been there, she could have told him it was a hydrangea. To James, whose eyes couldn’t have differentiated between a dustbin, and a Dalek, that was no hydrangea, that was a Triffid: an exceptionally hungry, angry one.

“Bollocsh!”James screamed, whilst leaping into the air as a firework exploded into noisy colour, high over his neighbour’s garden, then landed in what one of the nurses at A & E later told him was a holly bush. A keen gardener, she recognised the leaves she and her colleagues removed from his pants.

He’d all but forgotten what he was after, why he was even outside. Then, he saw it.

“Beer!”

He tipped the contents of the first saucer down his throat.

“Sausher!” James cried, as he guzzled the contents of the next, deeper one.

It was a bit lumpy. James put that down to a stray berry, or three. Yes, that was it: brambles, maybe a stone. No harm in a pebble, was there?

“Bit of roughash,” James said, as he felt his way round the damp garden. “Good for you … hair on chesh.” Unlike some of his mates, James thought waxing was for girls, and moustaches.

“Housh,” he murmured, as he began making his way back toward the path. “Warm housh.” The effects of crawling around on wet earth, and grass, in just his Spidie pants, was starting to dawn on James. He pulled over one gnome, two small, defunct lights, and several thorny branches in his way back to the path, earning a couple of bramble battle scars along the way, as well as a stain on his Spidie’s which looked, and smelt, suspiciously like a pooh from Scruffy, his neighbour’s cat.

You can call me what you like, it doesn't mean I'll show up.

Scruffy? Who you calling scruffy?

“Fuckin’ ‘ell,” he muttered, as he pulled himself up to a Neanderthal version of a standing position, and felt the shock of cold cement on bare feet. No film character, however heroic, could have moved faster than James, as he sprinted into the kitchen.

Having pillaged a cupboard for a can of shandy, and a packet of peanuts, he collapsed on the sofa, where he surveyed his bramble-scratched legs, and arms, and the shit stain on his pants.

“No pain, no gain,” James said, as he pulled the ring on the shandy, and glugged it down. “Better than nothing,” he told the characters on the film.

They had reached James’s favourite part of the film: the scene where Inigo confronts his father’s killer.

“’You murdered my father, prepare to die!’,” James recited along with the actor, although in James’s case, it was said with half a packet of peanuts in his mouth.

Sweeties!

Sweeties!

Peanuts which went the wrong way, as James realised that a third person was saying Inigo’s lines.

“Wha – cough! – the – cough! cough,” James wheezed, as he clutched his throat with a grass and Smartie coloured hand,

“Prepare to die!” cried a tiny voice.

This time there was no mistake: the only sounds from the telly was dramatic music, and the clash of blades; from James himself, that of a bloke choking on salted peanuts.

There was someone else in the room: someone small, and very, very angry.

“Back – ackk! – door,” James managed to say.

“You murdered my father, prepare to die!” the little voice insisted.

Half-doubled over, James focused streaming eyes on something the size and shape of a small, glistening, beige-coloured turd.

“You’re a – acck! Wheeze! – slug!”

“And you’re a murderer!” it replied, fixing him with its stalked eyes.

“I’m an – acckk! – accountant!” James wheezed.

“You’re a murderer!”

“I’m a – hack! Splutter! – wimp! Ask – ack! – anyone! I tell people I don’t wax my chesh because it’s for girls, but it’s because it hurtsh! I’ve never killed anyone.”

A glint of silver flashed before James’s streaming, pain-filled eyes. Was that … a needle? Or a tooth-pick sized sword the slug held in his … okay, it wasn’t a hand .. tail?

James gulped, and swallowed, hard.

Acckkk!” James said. “Your father? I didn’t know slugs had – cough! – fathers.”

“Of course, we have fathers. I had a father, ’til you murdered him.”

James looked at the slimy thing which was standing – did slugs stand? James wondered – on the floor, lit by the flickering of the television screen. The small, sharp object glittered like the larger sword held by the now victorious Inigo, in the film.

“Murdered? I told you, I’m a wimp. I don’t kill slugs. You’re thinking of Nikki. She – “

James’s eyes, still wet from his chocking incident, widened. “That … in the beer. That was no pebble. That – “

“ – was my father,” the slug finished James’s sentence. “He was already dead, but …” the slug trailed off, and flourished his miniature sword, “I want his body.”

Had the circumstances been slightly different, James would’ve been proud of the volume, and depth of colour, which he spewed onto the carpet. As it was, he could only heave, as he watched the slug pick through the vomit with the point of his sword.

“Peanut … Smartie … pizza!” it said, as James gipped, and whimpered.

“See,” James said, “I didn’t kill your dad. I didn’t even swallow him.”

James wretched again.

The slug turned his stalk-eyes back onto the young man who cowered on the leather sofa.

“Oh, you swallowed him, all right,” the slug said. His stalks swivelled, one looking upwards, the other further down James’s body. “The question is … where to start?”

By the time he’d recovered enough to ring for an ambulance, the slug was gone. All James could tell the staff at A & E was that he didn’t know what the chap who made the small, precise cuts to his stomach did for a living, but he was reasonably certain he wasn’t a surgeon.

Slug eyes? Don't think so, but they sure look angry.

Slug eyes? Don’t think so, but they sure look angry.

If you enjoyed this story, please check out my short story collections, “What! No Pudding?” and “Koi Carpe Diem“. If you fancy a signed print copy of “Koi Carpe” with art by Tom Brown, please contact me. For something a bit more sinister, please check out my dark fantasy, “The Woodcutter’s Son“.

Tagged: Craig Hallam, Doncaster Brewery & Tap, fantasy, fiction, Floristry at Lord Hurst’s, Hallowe’en, horror, humour, Koi Carpe Diem, short story collection, speculative fiction, surrealism, The Princess Bride, The Woodcutter’s Son, Tom Brown, What! No Pudding?

Mindfulness, Samhain, and Loss

Twilight angel: Hyde Park Cemetery, 2015

Twilight angel: Hyde Park Cemetery, 2015

Samhain is the Pagan name for Hallow’een. Like most holidays, it’s a bit of a mix: feasting, remembrance of the dead, and the turning of the year. I love a good midnight feast, as well as having two New Years. As for loss, well, it’s been a rough Celtic year, featuring the death of two friends, as well as other losses.

So much for grief, but where does Mindfulness fit in? It comes down, at least in part, to my often shaky mental health. I had what I now call an “emotional Adriana” last weekend. The phrase comes from a scene in the Sopranos, in which one of the characters becomes so distressed that, well … whatever you do, don’t watch this whilst eating, or if you have a weak stomach.

Things can build up, and overwhelm me, resulting in a loss of confidence, motivation, and faith. Faith in myself, belief in possibilities, and, inevitably, loss. Overwhelmed with distress, everything I love can feel both pointless, and threatened. Last weekend, this resulted in a mercifully brief – though it didn’t feel like it at the time – “emotional Adriana”.

"Stay with me": lovely Al

“Stay with me”: lovely Al

You name it, I was crying about it: work, guilt, the fear of being ill over Samhain, even this chap (see photo, right), who is in fine, rat catching fettle. At times like this, assuming I’m not hiding in bed, or sobbing on the sofa, I flee to Youtube, and weep over clips like this, or this, or, of course, this.

Inevitably, those choices reflect the fact that I’m getting older, and my awareness of mortality – even worse, that of those I love – is increasing with the passing years.

"Hello from the other side"

“Hello from the other side”

Is it strange to seek out a cemetery where no one you know is buried, at times like this? If I wanted to, I could go into the myth about real life witches visiting cemeteries for goulish reasons. Suffice it to say it is a myth, and one full of bullshit.

My visits to Hyde Park Cemetery do have a connection to my own, rather ecclectic Paganism. That connection is nature.

Recently, I’ve been spending even more time than usual indoors, and away from the fresh air, bird song, and greenery which my body and soul crave. The local cemetery is only a short walk away, and is a quiet space in which to collect my thoughts, take photos, and appreciate the life which is all around me in this land dedicated to the dead.

Shelter: Hyde Park Cemetery,October 2016

Oriental Plane Tree: Hyde Park Cemetery,October 2016

There, I can practice Mindfulness at its most basic: being in the present moment. Observing the trees, and the headstones, and listening to the birds.

The cemetery has also been a source of inspiration for my writing. The first, unpublished novel I ever wrote provided me with a name for one of my characters. More recently, it’s the setting for one of my favourite stories in “Koi Carpe Diem“, titled “The Unseemly Disappearance of Bunty Jennings, Tree Whisperer”. It was a pleasure bringing Bunty back in “The Peculiar Profession of Bill Morris: Tree Whisperer”, one of the stories in my upcoming collection, “A Yorkshireman in Ohio”.

As you can tell from the titles above, Bunty has moved on since his first story. Some things, however, haven’t changed. His best friend is still a tree:

Oriental Plane: Hyde Park Cemetery, 2016

Oriental Plane: Hyde Park Cemetery, 2016

I wish you and yours a happy Halloween, and a blessed Samhain.

Headstone, Hyde Park Cemetery, 2016

Headstone, Hyde Park Cemetery, 2016

Tagged: A Yorkshireman in Ohio, Adele, bereavement, bipolar, Bunty Jennings, Doctor Who, emotional Adriana, grief, Hallowe’en, Hyde Park Cemetery, Koi Carpe Diem, loss, mental health, Mindfulness, photography, Samhain, Shakespears Sister, Sting, The Sopranos, trees

F*ck This Sh*t

Missing the light: Chatsworth, Autumn 2015

Missing the light: Chatsworth, Autumn 2015

Warnings for: Anger; lots of feckin’ swearing; brief mention of suicide; PIP

This is a blog about being a bipolar writer. Or a wannabe bipolar writer. Or a wannabe writer who happens to be bipolar.

Make up your own goddamn minds. I don’t bloody care.

Or so I am telling myself, in an effort to get myself going, again. I’ve managed to drag my sorry arse back out of bed, despite feeling like the veritable bag of useless, despairing shite. This is known as fueling the Muse with anger.

It’s cheaper than chocolate.

Cat tray with obliging fake cat. With thanks to Stephanie who gave me the cat.

Once more into the cat tray of life, elusive readers/listeners, once more

Cutting to the chase: I died last night, at a spoken word gig. You couldn’t see the beer for the tumbleweeds which went rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ past, as I read an allegedly comic, admittedly surreal, story.

Honestly, it was the longest 646 words of my life. I got more laughs talking about suicide to some students at a mental health event earlier this week.

In a previous blog, I asked whether I could be an author pimp, writer, or both. Well, at the moment, the world and its literate dog is telling me that I should stick to author pimping, shove my writing in a drawer, and spending spoken word nights in front of the telly.

In other shitty news:

1) The Personal Independence Payment (PIP) people are on my tail: oh, be joyful.
2) A recent team meeting was more packed with drama than your average soap
3) An author who’s far more successful than me (1) told me one of my stories was “nice and inoffensive” (2)
4) Got yet another rejection from the Daily Science Fiction (3)
5) I’ve apparently pissed off a dear friend, probably by being overly needy
6) I cannot afford a feckin’ day out, let alone a bloody holiday, because my house needs more work than could be completed or paid for in one averagely paid lifetime, plus my paid work continues to look shaky
7) I do not deal well with dark nights.
8) Or cold in a house with no central heating.
9) A presidential candidate has been boasting about a) assaulting women, and b) not paying tax. Plus, someone actually asked me if I support that arse! Oh endless, endless floods of tears from sweet baby bejesus!!

Oh, and I’m worried that one of my favourite bipolar bloggers is dead. Which, after all, is not outside of the range of possibilities.

Brief, thankful pause: If you are one of the 60 or so people who took advantage of the free offer of my e-book, “Koi Carpe Diem“, thank you! 

Brief plug which may sound arrogant but isn’t: if you like Terry Pratchett, and Jasper Fforde, you may like my stuff. I am *not* claiming to have anything approaching their talent, or wit. If however you prefer your fantasy served up with more surrealism and humour, than shiny swords, and unicorns, I may be your woman.

Although, so there is a unicorn.

Lance the unicorn, from "The St Jude Care Home for Mythical Creatures". Art by the fabulous Tom Brown

Lance the unicorn, from “The St Jude Care Home for Mythical Creatures”. Art by the fabulous Tom Brown

(1) Aren’t they all?
(2) A friend says I shouldn’t be discouraged or upset by this comment. Huh.
(3) Not that bothered, to be honest. I’ve had almost as much short fic rejected by them as poetry by “The North”.

Tagged: anger, bipolar, Donald Trump, fantasy, humour, Jasper Fforde, Koi Carpe Diem, PIP, surrealism, Terry Pratchett, Tom Brown, unicorns, US presidential election, whinging for Britain, worry, writing

Beer Goggles, Toolboxes, & Time to Change: World Mental Health Day 2016

A few of my favourite things: mental health toolbox

A few of my favourite things: mental health toolbox

I spent part of this year’s World Mental Health Day (WMHD) at the student’s union at Sheffield University. Each WMHD has a theme: this year’s was psychological first aide. Unfortunately, I thought it was the “wellness toolbox” from the wellness recovery action plan (WRAP) which was invented & developed by Mary Ellen Copeland.

Whilst gathering together my Time to Change materials, I also grabbed a few things which represent things which help keep me well, eg, writing, Doctor Who, music, cake, tea, and nature. I also took along some sticky notes & pens, so visitors to the event could list the things that would go in their mental health toolboxes.

The Peanuts sticky notes (see below) were a gift from my mother, who died six years ago. Sometimes thinking about her helps, sometimes it doesn’t. Similarly, sometimes none of my toolbox items help me. Other times, I don’t use them soon enough.

Wellness toolbox, complete with illustrations

Wellness toolbox, complete with illustrations

It wasn’t until well into the event that I remembered that the character of Lucy was the one who used to set up a stand with the sign “The Doctor is in”, and charge five cents to listen to the others – usually, Charlie Brown – tell her their problems.

The “beer goggles” in the blog’s title refers to the stand run by Sheffield Health and Social Care’s drug and alcohol services. They also had a pair of “drug goggles”. Both give the wearer the impression of what it’s like to be under the influence of alcohol, or drugs.

Beer googles: a flattering look, I'm sure you'll agree

Beer googles: a flattering look, I’m sure you’ll agree

Whatever is in your wellness toolbox, I wish you a happy, healthy – if belated – World Mental Health Day.

At the Time to Change Stand.

At the Time to Change Stand

Tagged: beer goggles, cake, Doctor Who, drug goggles, mental health, mental health toolbox, nature, Peanuts, Sheffield, tea, Time to Change, World Mental Health Day, WRAP, writing