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?

Monday, 13 November 2017

WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A MAN FALLS FROM THE SKY by Leslie Nneka Arimah - A Short Story Collection Review (a.k.a. Something A Bit Different)

     I discovered this collection through Levar Burton Reads, an excellent podcast.
     The title story, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, proved itself to be a fascinating sociopolitical sci-fi tale featuring a subject that always gives me pause: grief.
     Indeed a few stories in Arimah's collection also deal with some kind of grief though I'll admit I wasn't drawn to the presentation of most of them.
    While it is eye-opening to explore the present state of African culture, the spectacle eventually wore off for me and something more unique was desired.
    Fortunately there were a few fantastical tales speckled throughout the collection which I cherished between the straightforward spouts of human conflict.
    I also loved the cheekiness of Arimah's omniscient third person narrator: without that, the 'reality' of her fictions would have just been crushing.
    A strong debut.

Notable Stories

  • ·         Windfalls - that last fall will haunt me every time I think of this collection: pure tragic irony.

  • ·         Who Will Greet You at Home - a hungry hair baby is not as horrifying as you might think...

  • ·         What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky - my entry point with strong world-building.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

HERE LIES VERNON COSSETT (a.k.a. A Halloween Return)

Yes! The beast has risen!

I haven't posted on here since the end of last year and feel an urgent need to resurrect this blog with a graveyard tale.

So, if you're housebound this Halloween, hiding from those pesky short door-to-door sugar fiends, then why not settle in with this unconventional ghost story?

Come one, come all. Gather round, gather round...

            The headstone read:



            Born a day before April Fool's Day and the day after Halloween. This made sense.
            Vernon Cossett had run a small but successful joke shop called Just Cossett Is which his son had since inherited.
            Patrick Cossett was now stood at his father's graveside, a squat man with a prominent bottom row of teeth and a ginger widow's peak. I gave him my ticket.
            "You're the first," he told me, "Usually there are a few Goth types that get in early but maybe the wind blew their big black jackets away."
            He laughed. I didn't.
            He looked me up and down. "I didn't see you last year."
`          He wouldn't have. Though I was aware of the spectacles surrounding Vernon Cossett's grave I was among those who had found them tacky and a deliberate ploy to pull in tourists.
            Patrick's eyes squinted as he gave a toothy grin. "You've heard the stories though, eh? Everyone's heard them." And yet he went on anyway.
            "Dad loved his pranks and japes. It became an integral part of my rearing, our household. He liked to make people laugh well enough but there was something far more worthwhile to him than that.
            "You know that short, sharp intake of breath you get when someone startles you? Dad was addicted to hearing that. The way he saw it, a laugh could be faked but not that, not a breath. And if everyone was smiling by the end of it then why should it be a bad thing?"      Patrick's laugh had a wet crackle to it, the kind that comes straight from the back of the throat. He saw how I was looking at him, suddenly seemed hurt.
            "He didn't want to be forgotten. No-one does. He was the only one to visit granddad's grave after he died. Sad but common enough. Dad didn't want that for himself." A glint came to Patrick's big wet eyes. "So he used his unique position as a 'purveyor of merriment' to prepare for his death. He made sure that no-one would forget about him, that he would still have visitors long after he passed."
            Patrick patted the headstone. It was indeed worn with age.
            "I didn't know about it at first. When this thing started bleeding in 2000, I was as shocked as everyone. I was overseas but the news coverage brought me back home soon enough.
            "No bugger would get close other than me. Blood is blood, after all. Still I had a hunch: the old man always had a love of fake blood. And fake it was: tiny capsules implanted in the deepest indentation at the top here. I reached inside and found a device; a timed trap, I suppose, rigged to crush the capsules around this time on the first Halloween of the 21st Century.
            "I admired his ingenuity. I knew of it but never realised how far he would actually go for this." Patrick grinned again. "It inspired me. I dug through his records and found a letter addressed to me with implicit instructions which I followed though not without some slight improvements.
            "The 'spectacles', as he called them, had to be done every three years. Dad knew that three would set off the supernaturally-minded folks and make it like a proper haunting. It gave me plenty of time to get the resources ready. My favourites were the light pads beneath the top soil, the sound deterrents set between here and the entrance, even the worm charming if it hadn't been a bitch trying to get them into a half-decent circle."
            Patrick stared down at the soil which he had so often disturbed.
            "Seventeen years now," he muttered, "And I'm still at it. I must be crazy. To be honest I'm thinking of capping it off in 2020, sort of a foresight joke, eh? Nah. It's a lot of work."
            I asked him what it would be this year. He looked the most amused that I'd seen him all night.
            "I can't tell you that, mate. That comes after. Then again," he said, looking behind me, "I don't know where everyone else is. The media tend to come in all-weather if no-one else."
            I told him they wouldn't be coming yet.
            "Why not?"
            I had stopped them from coming. All of them.
            I told him that I couldn't tell him that. I didn't mention anything about there being an 'after'.
            I heard it then, what his father had been talking about. That short, sharp intake of breath.
            Patrick forced a smile. "So it's come to this, eh? The last prank is that there is no last prank? There won't be anyone around to see it."
            I said that depends. Does anyone know that he is here?
            "Of course."
            Then there would always be someone to put on a show for.
            After that I checked for the latest graveside deception. Noise boxes in each of the surrounding trees. They made ghostly groans. He had been running out of ideas, after all.
            I took them all down, knowing they would be too much.
            The son half-buried in his father's grave would be surprise enough.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 (a.k.a. Some Thoughts on 'F**k 2016')

There's a calendar on the wall. Pages peel off it, it's ink representing the months and the days of a year that no-one can predict nor judge nor prescribe much meaning to.
           There's a finger that keeps pointing at this calendar on the wall. As the pages fall away, things start to happen.
           Time leaves space open for consequence and reaction, allows those who perceive it to create in the blank white box of each day in the grid of each month in the sheaf of a year.
           Create and cause and change. Bold decisions are made, lousy cop-outs occur, births, deaths, naming of life and loss.
           Pictures and words stop being records of the moment and settle into the lengthy discoloured stint of archives.
           The record makers throw up their arms, extend their middle fingers and thoroughly express their displeasure at the calendar.
           It lied to them. It disappointed them. Those black lines on white paper once made sense.
           What a tease. What a cheat. What a rotten development. This year was meant to be a good year, the year on which only good things happened or nothing new happened at all.
           Through opening up to zeitgeist, the calendar made a promise it could not keep.
           The hand that pinned it to the wall, now rips it off. The fingers that smoothed it, tear it to pieces. Money is spent on the next calendar.
           The new year begins. Everybody waits for something to happen as they stumble forth, about their own and the world's business.
           The first day is marked.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

DAUGHTERS OF SANTA (a.k.a. A Timely Exploration of an Awfully Specific Festive Delusion)

            Eliza worked in a Christmas shop, the kind that pops up during the latter days of October and hangs around till the January sales.
            I stepped in for some wrapping paper and received the warmest grin I've ever seen. She exuded the heat of a cup of cocoa.
            She left her counter to assist me. I admitted to her that I was no good at gift wrapping. She offered to teach me.
            We dated for most of November and touched on December. Every time we met she would be wearing the same bright red tights.
            I loved the way there were always bits of tinsel on her seasonal jumpers, silver on green usually. What I didn't love was how twee she got on the countdown to the big day. It was like the twelve days of Christmas except with more exacting standards and a sweet-tempered impatience.        
            'Always heavy baubles at the bottom of the tree,' she used to tell me, 'Pinecones too. And if those ties don't work, don't come crying to me. I already suggested the ones at work but you said no.'
            The Christmas chatter could be cute but it never stopped. Eventually she gave me a black Santa hat with BAH HUMBUG on it.
            Eliza seemed desperate to convince me of some seasonal magic within her. Beforehand she had never really mentioned her parents and I just assumed that it was a touchy subject, but then she started dropping hint after hint about her father. He was fat, jovial, had a big white beard, sang songs, had a sweet way with children.
            'You seriously expect me to believe he's Father Christmas?' I blurted out one day.
            She looked hurt but didn't play this down.
            I asked when it would be possible to meet this great man. She insisted that he was far too busy at the moment but maybe in January. We would have to go out and meet him, of course, he would be dog-tired by then.
            It clearly wasn't a joke, it was a genuine delusion. I felt betrayed, annoyed and a little reckless in how I spoke about it. We had long arguments from the ninth day of Christmas onwards, about my cynicism, her obsession.
            We broke up the week before her father's big workday.

            And that would have been that, just a sad ridiculous tale to tell in pubs with all the other Grinches.
            By October this year I had all but got over Eliza and then I saw a news story on TV. There was a letter writer in Canada claiming to answer children's letters to Santa on her father's behalf. I couldn't let it slide. I went out to Colorado.
            Her name was Bea and she was a little over ten years older than Eliza. She wore frumpy clothing with muted colours but she had the same smile. The exact same inviting open fire grin.
            'I do so love interviews,' Bea told me, 'Though, heaven forbid, it slows down my work.'
            I asked about the letter writing.
            'Dad would so love to get on with it himself but he's a busy fellow obviously.'
            I didn't like her effected speech, it seemed put on to me, something for these interviewers she was supposedly entertaining all the time. I pressed her on the point: did she pick this curious way of speaking from her father?
            'Yes. Santa loves precision in all things. Including language.'
            I asked her if she meant Nicholas. Santa meant Saint and who would refer to their father as that?
            'He's used to have so many names,' Bea replied, 'Incidentally, he loves it when people call him Nick.'
            I asked her if she would be seeing Nick before Christmas?
            'Probably not. He only ever drops off in places during the eve. He usually calls though.'
            Would she mind calling Nick now then?
            Bea gave me a flustered look: 'He'll be busy. He prefers evening calls and doesn't like to talk to strangers.'
            I point out how she said that there is at least one eve when he won't be making the call.
            'Why wouldn't he? There's a lot of space between drop-off points sometimes. He tends to ring then, even on the sleigh.'
            I ask her about her religion. Does she go to church?
            And would she agree that the day is more about Our Lord than one of his more reverent servants?
            'Of course.'
            Then where were the crosses in her office? Why was there only the Saturnalia tree and the Coca Cola red hat? Surely her father wouldn't really wear such a thing, would he?
            Bea folded her arms. 'He wears what he likes. Now would you mind if we talk about my letter-writing?'
            I apologised, asked her how many letters she answered in a day.
            'Somewhere between thirty and forty usually.'
            Did the children ever reply?
            'Frequently, yes.'
            Then didn't she feel horrible about lying to them?
            'I'm not lying, young man. I have my father's permission.'
            That doesn't mean that what you're doing isn't lying. You are actively deceiving children who do not know any better. Most of them seriously believe that they are in correspondence with the real Santa Claus.
            'And they are.'          
            I dispute this.
            'Forgive me for saying,' Bea said, 'But it seems like you don't believe, young man.'
            I admitted to not believing a lot of things but I could believe in a person deliberately misleading youth, prolonging their innocence to the point of arrested development.
            'I think this interview is over, dear,' Bea replied.
            I agreed. I couldn't stand being in the same room as that genial expression any longer. That being said: 'Do you know Eliza?'
            Bea looked bemused.
            'She must have been one of Old Nick's bastards then.'
            'Goodbye, young man.'
            Originally I thought, if the story was to go anywhere, it would surely need to broaden into a generalised view of people with Christmas-based delusions. I was sure that I would find more Santas labouring under a Miracle on 34th Street misconception, Christs reborn or even men who insisted that reindeer could fly.
            I did find an elf. Nora of Brisbane, Australia.
            'I was dropped off here for a very special mission,' she told me at a mall cafe.
            And what mission was that?
            'A family.'
            I almost rolled my eyes. I asked her if, by any chance, they were low on Christmas spirit?
            Nora nodded. 'Though personally I think it was to get me out of his white curly hair.'
            I had to laugh at this. The first thing I noticed about Nora was her obvious cheeky sense of humour. She was clearly well-aware of all the nonsense she was spewing. She was in her mid-twenties at earliest, looked more like a grotto Santa helper than an actual fairy. That being said, the ears were bright red and naturally pointed at the top.
            So didn't Father Christmas like her then?
            'He finds me...frustrating.'
            Frustrating how?
            She gave me a look. 'Ever seen that Will Ferrell film?'
            I had.
            'Height. Half-breed. All that stuff except for the blissful naivety.'
            So was that another reason? The fact that she wasn't in tune with the rest of... Elfkind?
            Nora shrugged. 'There's a reason why you don't see many teens in the workshop.'
            How long had she been here on her special mission?
            'Just under a year now.'     
            Had she approached her family yet?
            'Too late. The parents divorced. Irreconcilable differences.'
            She genuinely looked hurt by this. For the first time I had an inkling that this wasn't a joke for her. I almost felt sorry.
            So why hadn't the big man been to pick her up yet?
            'Like I said, I don't think he wants me back.'
            Nora had mentioned something in passing, something that you wouldn't think as ever being a mere thought: she described herself as a half-breed.
            'Half-elf, half-human.'
            Did she know her human parentage?
            She barely blinked. 'Three guesses.'
            This cinched it for me: I was now writing about a very particular group of holiday delusionals.
            Wasn't there a Mrs Claus?
            We despaired. A promiscuous saint.
            So the old man did have bastards. I kind of wanted to believe her now; the one thing I couldn't stand about Santa was how faultless he was. All that selfless gift-giving had to be a way of redressing a past.
            I asked her what she was doing now.
            Nora straightened up. 'I have a job.'
            She did. A mall Santa helper. She had just finished a shift when we met for the interview. When the green cap fits...
            Nevertheless what did she do the rest of the year? Three other seasons and not much call for elfin women.
            She shrugged. 'I'm here and there.'
            I asked her how she felt about Christmas now, all things considered.
            'I still like it well enough,' she said, 'Parts of it. The kids mostly. The songs drive me insane though.'
            I agreed. The Little Drummer Boy had been following me all around the world.
            'I put in earphones now so I can listen to something else during the day.'
            I asked her what her favourite music genre was.
            I was shocked.
            'What can I say? I'm a Marley girl.'
            I love Reggae. I love Marley.

            We talked again the following morning. Seeing how vulnerable encroaching sunlight makes people, I asked her the hard questions again.
            'Are you really an elf?'
            'In a manner of speaking.'
            'Are you really Santa's daughter?'
            'That's what I was told.'
            'Is Santa real?'
            'Now that would be telling, wouldn't it?'
            'How many other daughters are there?'
            This gave her pause for thought. I leant in closer to hear her answer.
            'I'm not sure.'
            'Have you ever heard of Bea?'
            'Who hasn't?'
            'And Eliza?'
            'Nice girl.'
            And I realised that she was a nice girl. For all of her obvious shortcomings, she was still angelic.
            I had to pull away right then, had to get out of there. My objectivity was completely compromised.

            Nevertheless I've put everything down. I won't ever make an investigative journalist but then that's not what I set out to do. I didn't even set out to be a writer. I set out to fall in love and then find a reason for it.
            I'm not sure that I did. What I am sure of, however, is that Eliza wasn't the only one suffering such delusions. Apparently it's a problem all over the world, a complex that hasn't received its fancy name yet.
            These aren't case studies. No tests have been given, no objectivity applied. I just met people. They would have you believe that they were eccentric but no. Eccentricity, if anything, is a coping mechanism.
            It's hard this time of year. All the bright lights and colours lure you outside and then a bitter wind bites down on your every extremity. Besides you have things to buy, food to prepare, promises to keep. And there's such little time. It's dark out before you even know it.
            And yet you cling to the magic. There's still a child inside that tells you to go out and find it everywhere. Some people really don't know when to say no to children.
            I think I understand now, a part of it at least. I hope I do.

            Eliza, I'll admit I was unfair. I'm done with all this. Honestly.
            I can't face the New Year without you.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

CHRISTMAS SONGS GO ON AND ON (a.k.a. A Festive Thought about Replay Value)

            People are complaining about Christmas songs being played up and down shop aisles. You've heard maybe two songs and one of them was Stay Another Day which isn't really a Christmas song; it was just popular during the season two decades ago.
            So you play Wizzard. You play Slade. You play Wizzard more than Slade because Slade really has been overdone. You give Fairytale of New York a rest.
            You take Wizzard, Mudd, Jona Lewie and all their friends from Christmases long, long ago with you as you move around.
            With your headphones in you feel gleefully against the world. You can keep your Christmassy mood quiet until everybody gives in and catches up.
            A matter of weeks later and that glee has gone. Showaddywaddy becomes shoddy and, if you hear the perfect blend of Bowie and Crosby one more time, you might just be relieved that neither lived to see this Christmas.
            So you change tact, you try lesser-known Christmas songs. Drinking White Wine in the Sun by Tim Minchin fills you with a lovely warmth. I'm Walking Backwards for Christmas by The Goons helps you to accept the mad stumbling around. I Believe in Father Christmas is always a good song to listen to when you're fed up of Winter Wonderlands and whatever Santa is doing in them. Like Greg Lake, you start really thinking about this time of year.
            You run out of shops on the first bars of Maria Carey's melisma, you avoid all carol singers and especially Carols from King's. You might put a music channel on for Christmas morning but it's usually covers of really old songs.
            By Boxing Day all these sleigh bell tunes are defunct, packed away as you unpack all your goodies. Jingle, jingle, rattle, gone.
            Prince pops into your head and you start humming 1999. You seek out New Year's Day by U2. Thankfully these aren't mandatory and their relevance is done within a week.

Monday, 31 October 2016

HORROR FOR 99p! (a.k.a. Affordable Fright for All Hallows' Eve)

    Here's what I did for my kid last Halloween.
    I went down to Pound Trove, went straight to their shitty seasonal section.
    Cut-up bin bag capes, slutty makeup packs, bone gloves with the plastic knuckles already coming off. American pumpkin trick or treat bowls, glow-in-the-dark bat stickers, fangs that would snap as soon as you bit down properly.
    I sifted through the bargain bucket full of scythes, bright red pitchforks and even sodding skull axes. Double-edged, mind.
    He said he wanted one of those but one pound for a plastic stick that would fall apart as soon as batter a wall? I left them all exactly where they were.
    I went down the way to the 99p shop. I bought a mop, a trowel, a squeezy bottle of super glue and some silver glitter. I was home in half an hour.
    First things first, I cut the mop in two; just needed half the black handle really. Then I took the trowel out to the garden and found Dusty. I brought her up to the surface.
    Have you ever seen a pug's skull? Ugly, deformed thing. Pitiable but also nasty. I stuck it right on the end of the mop. I managed to fix the tube into one of the eye sockets. Those crooked teeth really shone when I started painting them.
    At the end I had a truly fucking horrible mace. If he hit one of the neighbour kids with that, I thought, I'll marmalise him.
    There was just one thing missing: with all the glitter paint it looked far too camp. So I cut open my ring fingertip and let a little trickle of blood out, winding down the stick. I even briefly considered one of Dusty's feet as a stopper for the other end but that would be cruel to her memory.
    So I left it at that, let the boy have the thing.
    Chuffed, he was. Didn't get many treats though.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

VOWEL LOVE (a.k.a. Something That Struck Me As Funny the Night Before)

Shall wee saaay goooodniiiiight?
Suuuuuureeeeeeely aaaaaaaa kiiiiiiiiiss wiiiiiiiiiill  dooooooooooo?

Yeeeeeeeeeeees, aaaaaaaaaaaaa beeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuuuuuuutiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiifuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuul seeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeentiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiimeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeent beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiips!