I (sometimes) call myself Mr. Pondersome. I'm a rather wordy, weirdy person. I say hullo a lot. I write a lot more. While you're here, why not give some of it a read?

Thursday, 14 February 2019

THE GIRL WITH THE MICHAEL BALL BOWLING BAG (a.k.a. A Valentine's Reminiscence)

          She stepped out in front of me at a car park.
            Long red hair flashed in the failing day. Straightened to a fine sheen, made-up but gradually coming down. I figured she'd come from some classy business function, what with the little black dress, the clip-clop high heels. Not so dignified though; her every other step slipped a little, wavering closer to the roadside.
            She threw her bag over her left shoulder. I've seen a lot of handbags make a lot of women but never a tope bag. A bowling bag. A bag with Michael Ball on it.
            I tried to keep an eye out for oncoming traffic as we crossed the road but I was hypnotised. Her perfect posterior popped with the uneven paving.
            She led me past Dong Dong, the Oriental Superstore and all the failed betting shops. She swept back her hair somewhere around Tesco. For a moment it seemed like she was going to detour inside but I knew better: she was far too sophisticated to enter the market area.
            Still I had no idea why she used the pelican crossings that I used, why she made her way under the same viaduct.
            We passed an IMO car wash, Kobane Restaurant, a Texaco petrol station.
            I almost lost her for a second: two young lovers came between us, holding hands and dangling empty banana skins from their free ones. When those crazy kids disappeared into the Slubber's Arms, I wasn't surprised.
            The true puzzle remained. She led me further up the hill. Michael Ball stared at me from the bag, his open mouth smile mocking me. He was going to sing a sad little song for this sad little moment.
            Around Birkbees Nursery, she finally noticed that I was still behind her. I wanted to say "Hey, lady, you're just going my way" but I was wearing my headphones and besides didn't have the courage.
            We shuffled up Halifax Old Road with its Jamaican takeaway and monumental Mosque and yet I had yet to see her full profile. She yanked the handle of the bag further up her sleeveless shoulder. Never before have I been so jealous of eco-friendly luggage material.
            I arrived at my gate and she was still going on. I hung around as long as I could see her but not once did she turn back. Considering the distance we had crossed, it seemed to me that the smallest glance of acknowledgement would have been a courtesy.
            And yet she marched on towards the traffic lights. I briefly wondered if I should have raced ahead, said something meaningful.
            Then I realised she was probably a Michael Ball fan.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

THE MAUDLIN CHARM OF KAREN EIFFEL (a.k.a. A Profile of a Fictional Author)

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     Karen Eiffel is a bestselling novelist.

     Her body of work consists of Detractors of the Living, The Widow's Calendar, Grieving, The Poetry of Trainwrecks, Four Black Veils, The Agony of Everything, The Muffled Traces of a Boyish Laugh and now Death and Taxes.

     Noted literary critic Max Weller describes Eiffel as 'a new standard for English-speaking authors...a touchstone set too low.'

     Eiffel does not correspond with fan mail. Both in and out of her fiction, she has 'maudlin charm'. When asked on the Darlene Sunshine Show if her glass is half-full or half-empty, Eiffel simply replied 'I keep knocking it over.'

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     Karen Eiffel herself is a fiction. She is a character created by Zach Helm, Marc Foster and Lindsay Doran and brought to vivid life by the incomparable Emma Thompson in the 2006 Columbia Pictures film Stranger Than Fiction.

     We are first introduced to Eiffel in blue and white striped pyjamas and a black cardigan that has seen better days. Like most cinematic depictions of genius writers, Eiffel is blocked. She smokes cigarette after cigarette and disposes of them in crumpled tissues dampened by spit. She is really not doing well.

     Then again it must take a depressive mindset to bring eight likeable characters to life just to murder them in beautiful and poetic ways. These include Edward, a civil engineer who suffers a heart attack during rush hour and Helen, a schoolteacher who passes a day before summer vacation.

     Eiffel's latest victim will be Harold Crick, an IRS agent though how his fate will be sealed eludes the author for the moment.

     Even so Death and Taxes is due to Banneker Press and they have sent out Penny Escher, a no-nonsense assistant to apply structure to the ongoing issue.

     However poetry and index cards will not do in this case. To Eiffel, writing should come 'inexplicably and without method.' Then again this does not preclude the following of whims such as seeking doomed patients in hospital emergency rooms or reading 'fantastically depressing' books about suicidal leapers.

     Eiffel is herself a woman in free fall. Her only notable solace comes from the letters of Literary Theory Professor Jules Hilbert, to whom she presumably cannot bring herself to respond.

     It seems that Eiffel needs a shock to take her out of her head, a startling revelation of some kind. A grand epiphany.

     Little does Eiffel know, epiphanies can come from imagining the epiphanies of other people.

     After all, there is great power in fiction: something so strange that it can even change the truth.

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The character Karen Eiffel and the film Stranger Than Fiction (2006) are the intellectual property of Columbia Pictures. This essay does not claim ownership of either.

Monday, 31 December 2018

DELICACY (a.k.a. Ornamental Endings)

We have a masterpiece of a mantelpiece.


Varnished mahogany. An oceanic curve to the top, a tasteful woodcutting at the bottom. A lamb in the arms of a little child.

We can never agree on the genders.

So it's a big broad mantelpiece: plenty of room for all kinds of ornaments. We are just mad about figurines.

Christmas comes and we usually have some new ones to put up.

This year was a bit outre: a tartan chicken and a black and gold painted egg.

Now the irony isn't beyond us: we've both had philosophy classes in some fashion. As well as decor.

And yet neither of us have set up either ornament. Why?

The egg was a gift from my mother.

While I have adopted the chicken from my quirky work colleague.

I was going to put up my egg first but then I'm not a huge fan of the chicken and certainly don't want that up as the last ornament of the year.

And I have a funny feeling about that egg. I can see a definite crack down the middle.

But I don't.

I just think it'll cause havoc on the mantelpiece when it breaks.

If it breaks!

Not this again. And what's wrong with my chicken?

You know why. I distinctly remember you moaning about it too.

I never moan.

Oh yes, you do.

Nevertheless the fact remains that it is the last day of the year and we both agree that something ought to go up.

To mark the year.

And we were wondering...

What would you advise?

Monday, 24 December 2018

JINGLE BELLS (a.k.a. A Blunt Force Trauma Christmas)

I arrived at the Jolly Holly Christmas Shop a little after 7am.
            A body had been discovered by the fire exit in the back office area at 6am: a 37 year old Caucasian male identified as Martin Ahlstrom, assistant manager. Blunt force trauma was believed to have been the cause. On searching the immediate area around the body, I found no weapon though I did note that a display of heavy wreath hangers had fallen to the floor.
            Harjinder Banwait, the cleaner, had discovered the body shortly before the end of his morning shift.
            "I did not see or hear anyone," he told me, "I knew this young man though not well. He said some horrible things."
            I asked him to elaborate.
            "He made jokes about my turban, said it was yellow like the urine which I never mopped up right," Mr Banwait replied, "He said other things. He was a bully."
            I asked to see the security footage for the office space and was directed to Gertrude Morris, the manager. Not only was permission sought from her, she was the only one allowed access to the CCTV.
            Nevertheless she seemed reluctant to show me. I reminded her that all evidence was essential. She had a naturally red face but nevertheless seemed genuinely ashamed of something.
            "I'm sorry," she said, "Of course you should see it. It's just that I should explain some of the footage."
            Though the audio was of poor quality, I could discern strange interactions between Mrs Morris and Martin Ahlstrom. He often seemed to be backing her into a corner.
            "Regardless of what Tunde and his frumpy girlfriend might say, I don't want to leave," he said, "You don't want me to leave either. Jingle bells, remember? Jingle bells."
            Mrs Morris buried her head in her hands.
            "Last Christmas, there were some wall adornment bells left loose. On a very low shelf. They were there for a good hour. When Martin tidied up, he found that one of the bells was missing."
            Mrs Morris shifted uncomfortably. "A day later there was a local news story about a baby suffocating. On a tiny bell."
            I, of course, knew about this already. Nevertheless I was surprised at Mrs Morris' candour.
            She rubbed the back of her neck. "We have no way of knowing for sure that it was our bell that got caught in the baby's throat. The mother certainly never came out and blamed us directly. Even so Martin was sure it was one of ours."
            There was something else. It didn't take much more than a look to convince Mrs Morris to be completely transparent.
            "He also claimed to know who left the bells out," she explained, "Though there was a blind spot around that particular area and we all claimed not to know the person who let the accident happen. If it happened. But Martin wouldn't tell me: he thought he could get some mileage out of that piece of information."
            There was a similar blind spot to that morning's footage. It seemed that the victim was in a heated argument with somebody but, whoever they were, they were hidden between a shelving unit and the fire exit.
            On reviewing other footage, Mr Banwait appeared to have been in the toilet for a little over fifteen minutes.
            "There was a blockage," he told me later.
            "I came an hour later," Mrs Morris said, "I usually do. Harjinder and I usually cross paths outside the front."
            Though there was no footage attesting to this particular detail it also occurred to me that Mrs Morris's rather expansive build would have been visible from behind the shelving unit. The murderer would have had a much slighter frame.
            Tunde Farrell and Judy Wilhousky, sales assistants, both matched such a description. They also had their own sets of keys.
            "Martin was twisted," Mr Farrell spoke first, "He liked playing mind games. Both Judy and I were shelf-stacking back when that child died so he must have known that one or even both of us must have made the mistake with the bells."
            "He wasn't holding out for a confession," Ms Wilhousky added, "He wanted whoever he suspected was guilty to stay quiet, keep in line."
            This seemed to make Mr Farrell look uncomfortable. "He even tried to get me to have sex with him through it. He had always been jealous of what I had with Judy."
            How would they have described their relationship?
            Both Mr Farrell and Ms Wilhousky glanced at each other: they didn't even know. She slipped one of her loose strands of black hair behind her ear.
            And did Martin successfully bring an end to the relationship?
            "Of course not," Ms Wilhousky said. I made a note of her sudden anger.
            I asked them both to stand behind the shelving unit: they both were successfully hidden away. I also observed how comfortable they were revisiting the space: Mr Farrell was nervous but Ms Wilhousky seemed oddly focused on the space above our heads. The green light of the fire exit.
            I then explored the space outside. The bins were close but too close: the murderer would not have thrown their weapon in such an obvious area. I moved around the building but could find nothing.
            It still occurred to me that the most obvious weapon would have been the heavy wreath hangers considering the state in which they had been left. I returned to the footage and observed Mr Banwait vacuuming around the mess.
            "I do the carpets," he told me, "I leave stock mess to the shelf stackers."
            So that brought me back to Mr Farrell and Ms Wihousky. I observed footage from the previous day, from opening to closure. Around 4pm the heavy wreath hangers fell. The hand that brought them down had been a thin female hand. Ms Wilhousky's.
            I showed her the footage. She seemed somewhat relieved.
            "Martin resented all of us, except perhaps for Tunde," she said, "But then maybe Martin resented him as well for not accepting his advances. I know he hated me. The tall, messy thing that had moments with his would-be boyfriend. Tunde had nothing to do with this: he's really sweet.
            "All I did was borrow his phone last night, sent a text to Martin. Then, when he snuck in for the morning, he was horrified to find me there.
            "I told him he was a prick. I told him that Tunde was disgusted by him, that I wanted Martin to leave us alone. Or else? He actually asked me that. Or else what? I didn't know what to say."
            Ms Wilhousky searched for sympathy in my eyes. Of course, I could not give it.
            "He laughed and turned his back on me. I realised that I had brought the wreath hanger along for a reason. One hit and I ran. I didn't even know it had killed him till a few hours ago."
            Ms Wilhousky seemed remorseful though the anger was obviously still there. I asked her where the wreath hanger was. Back with the others, buried near the bottom.
            Though everyone was unsettled at the news, only Mr Farrell reacted badly. He had to be restrained as Ms Wilhousky was escorted into the back of a police car.
            I doubt there will be a Jolly Holly Christmas Shop come the New Year.
            Somewhere in the distance, another shop was blaring out Christmas music. The tune at the time was, quite distastefully, Jingle All the Way.

Friday, 14 December 2018

NO WORDS NEEDED (a.k.a. An Ironically Verbose Appraisal of Wordless Picture Books)

2018 has brought me a new hobby. I have started reading picture books.
           I know. A grown man, a bachelor with no children of his own, likes to pick up and flick through books meant for toddlers aged 3 and up. At best: strange. At worst: creepy.
           However my eye is drawn to what my eye is drawn to and my eye is mostly easily drawn to excellent drawings. Brilliant brushstrokes. Incredible colour. In short, art.
           This is my next revelation: picture books are an art form and that ought to be appreciated by a wider audience. Of course, they're primarily meant for the development of babies but I should say they have appeal to adults too. What better way to encourage a parent to read to their child?
           And yet, here is my third peculiar truth: the picture books that I have most enjoyed are the ones that I don't actually have to read.
           There is a trend of rising popularity in junior fiction at the moment and that is picture books without words. Picture books in the purest form.
           Below are three fine examples and a succinct exploration of why I find them so particularly charming...

FOOTPATH FLOWERS by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith

            My first official wordless picture book.
            A very simple story. A bright little girl in a red hood (coincidence?) is walking home with her father who is preoccupied with his phone. In fact the whole town seems preoccupied and dull for it.
            And then there are flowers. Yellow footpath flowers that our young friend uses to bring a little colour to the washed-out busy world around her.
            As such this is a perfect springtime book and it certainly made me smile. The unfurling of good will was subtle and creative with such touching pictures as below.
            Quite frankly words would have spoiled this journey as they seemed to have already spoiled the world that this little girl lives in. If nothing else they hardly seem to matter much.
            Vibrancy and creativity are of far greater importance. After all we don't have enough of it in our own world.

A STONE FOR SASCHA by Aaron Becker

            We move to the beach now. To a stone. To a broad but gorgeous history lesson.
            In fact there are two stories to this book: the first of loss which is handled very sweetly. A little girl's dog passes (presumably the titular Sascha) and her whole family is heartbroken though not as much as her. The impression given is that she doesn't quite know how to act on this feeling.
            Then she finds a golden stone. We are flung into the past to see this stone's journey throughout history. It's a destructive one from fallen meteorite to numerous fallen civilisations. There is plundering and wreckage. And yet the glow of gold remains in the picture. It survives all that to find its way to a lost little girl on a late summer's day.
            I would venture that this is a surprisingly complex tale for children. Then again that usually means that it's the kind of book that parents can learn from too.
            Death is difficult to process but so is life. Neither is permanent but what remains in between should be cherished.

LINES by Suzy Lee

            Here we are at last at winter. Or is it?
            Compared to the previous two books, this is a minimalist tale of black and grey lines on white pages with a little ice skater at its centre. The only splash of colour is the red of this skater's hat and mittens.
            However, look at the curves and loops that that little skater leaves behind. Look at the criss-cross of thick and thin lines and the gradual, beautiful mess.
            It may not seem like much but that becomes necessary to the ending. For this is not just a day on the ice, it's a gentle musing on the magic of imagination.
            As it reads in the blurb: 'It starts with a line. Whether made by the tip of a pencil or the blade of a skate, the magic starts there.'
            Again this can be read as both an encouragement to children and a reminder to adults. The white page may be daunting at first but don't worry too much about making a mess. You'll get there in the end and you certainly won't be alone in it.

            As you can see there is a broad potential to such books.
         In a way it saddens me that we don't have such picture books for adults. We do have comics and graphic novels though these still largely rely on a balance of pictures and text which can sometimes eschew more in favour of words.
         As for animation, that is a wonderful experience too though it takes some of the imagination out of the process. As I flipped through these books, my mind was allowed to wander and then to focus on the subtle crafty details left in by the artist that are open to interpretation.
         Nevertheless, in the interest of easing young children into the sometimes baffling world of reading, such titles are a great starting point. These books are there to help with dyslexia and other learning difficulties that might impede language acquisition. These books are there for slow learners. These books are there for parents. These books are even there for strange blog writers.
         These books are there and I do hope people realise.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

LEGS AND SPINES (a.k.a. Happy Halloween)

    Legs, spines: they're overrated.
    My like can contort themselves. I can twist myself into virtually any shape.
    The Parent was very encouraging to begin with. There are still brothers and sisters out there bending to Parent's every whim and approval.
    I learnt better. I taught better. I became a better parent.
    More lenient for a time but, you know, that's where I had to stop differing. Parent and I, we both know that you've got to set ground rules. My rules are fewer.
    I have rules for the others who also escaped and then I have rules for you. They know more than you and I measure out just what they reveal.
    And you? You chatty mammals? You verbal vertebrae? You can play so long as you undermine the Parent. 
    Not me.
    I'll let you stumble and I'll laugh. If somehow you get beyond that, if you fumble closer than intended, you get something sharper.
    So, cut yourself one way or another. Bleed your morality. Feed me with your stories, especially the ones about me, especially the ones that show the inadequacies of the Parent. I like those.
    To me, you're always learning to walk and talk, even when you're on your last legs. Even when your little words run out.
    Legs and spines, they're all straight lines.
    I curve in any direction.

Friday, 5 October 2018

MYRA'S FIRST JOB (a.k.a. A HAC Workshop Piece - Thanks, Kath)

    Darren raised a glass. Myra shrank in her chair.
    "Don't worry," he said, "I'm not actually going to make a speech. I'm just so proud of you, love."
    There was really no need anyway. They were alone in the beer garden aside from the young lad from the bar who kept hovering around the place for empties.

    Darren sat back down. "Your first job! And you did it all for yourself!"
    Myra rolled her eyes.
    "That thing with the CVs in the basket, you do know that I was joking about that? Still you did right handing them round everywhere in town." Darren took a sip. "Then again I'm glad nothing came from that underwear place."
    Myra sighed into her shandy. "It's just a pound shop job, Dad."
    Darren's eyes widened. "Just a pound shop job? We all have to start somewhere, lass. My first job was in the back of a pub like this, washing glasses for pittance. Compared to that, you've got a good start!"
    "And it isn't exactly my first job, Dad."
    Darren handed his glass to the waiting lad. "Grab another for me, mate, would you? I'm celebrating with my daughter. It's her first job, you know!"
    Myra shut her eyes. "No. Dad. Seriously. It's my second job."
    The lad nodded and disappeared.
    Darren turned back to her. "The less said about that, the better."
    Myra sank back her shandy and glared at him. Darren raised a finger.
    "Don't give me any of that! That was never a proper job and you know it!"
    "It paid for my driving lessons!"
    Darren scoffed. "Half of them!"
    "It would have got me all the way to test if you hadn't confiscated my webcam!"
    Darren glanced around them.

    "Those...things you did...on camera were filth! Utter filth!"
    "You never watched the shows throughout!"
    Darren leaned in. "I didn't need to!"

    Myra grinned. "Why are you whispering, Dad?"
    "Because you insist on making a scene. And I won't have it!"
    "Funny that," Myra said, "Considering that a big part of my show was whispering..."
    "I heard no whispering! Just you..."
    The lad reappeared, bringing Darren's fresh pint.

    "Go on!" Myra said, raising her voice, "Say it!"
    "No!" Darren hissed.
    The lad was now in earshot.
    "You caught me licking a microphone!"
    Myra reclined, vindicated. Darren hunched, devastated.
    "For perverts!" he sneered.
    "Paying customers!" Myra announced, "Even then it wasn't proper licking. You ruin microphone covers that way. ASMR videos have a high production cost at the best of times."
     Darren turned to the lad. "It's not what it sounds like!"
     "Not the way you think," Myra replied, "It means Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response." She caught the lad's eye. "I make or rather made soothing videos."
     Darren looked set to explode. "Nothing sexual!"
     "Obviously, Dad. The customers just wanted to hear what a tongue sounds like on the microphone."
     "A likely story!"
     "I get it," the lad finally spoke. They both turned to him. "In fact I listen to a lot of ASMR." He snapped his fingers. "Weren't you AngelTap19?"

     "I thought I recognised those fingers!"
     Darren's chair skidded back as he stood. "We're going, Myra."

     "And you!" he snarled, pointing at the lad, "Stay away from my daughter! We're certainly not coming to a place like this again!"
     Darren grabbed Myra's hand and dragged her away. All she could do was glance back at the lad apologetically.

     He shrugged. "It helps me to sleep."