The Champion of Charades

Tipples toppled down merry throats, the guests warming themselves by crackling fire—some slouched whilst patting their overstuffed tummies, others arranged their legs in lotus position, backs straight and eager to glean what adventures awaited them before dessert.

‘Charades?’ Maurice queried the group of eleven other warm beings sat around the skewed circle, an equal balance of men and women.

Jonty extracted vintage briar pipe from pursed lips, his other hand pinching the lapel of tartan waistcoat and proclaimed: ‘A champion idea!’

‘Indeed!’ The rest of the gaggle agreed.

‘Bunny is the charades champion!’ Boasted Maurice, Bunny’s fiancé who idled most at his days at Father’s vineyard, savouring liquid grapes before firing purple streams of wine into spittoons.

‘Good girl yourself, Bunny!’ Puffed out Pierre, circulating a stock of Montblanc pens and watermarked paper to his guests. ‘A champion girl!’

Bunny beamed with pride at this affirmation from her old school chums. She had never been champion of anything at school—hardly passed a subject each term—but Mother’s call to the Headmaster of Claridge’s Day School netted Bunny admission despite her universally-acknowledged inferior intelligence. Requiring little reminding to the Headmaster, Bunny was Bunny Richmond of the Richmond Richmonds, a family dripping with riches and titles. Whilst her brain was under no pressure to perform at school, Bunny had excelled to inspire fellow Claridge pupils in all matters of disguising provocative brassieres beneath cashmere twinsets and mastering the art of peeling curly lemon twists for martinis. She was a good-time girl.

‘Oh, Maurice! That was a million years ago at summer camp!’

‘Yes, but when you are crowned a champion you are a champion, m’dear,’ her fiancé clarified. ‘And if I remember rightly, you were the champion of strip charades!’

At his risqué disclosure, the ensemble tittered and guffawed, some tinkled expensive pens lightly against their lead-crystal flutes of bubbly. Bunny blushed at the yesteryear memory of late-night frolicking with fellow campers amongst the lush Welsh cabins on the lake. That was a summer to remember. There, the posh young teens assembled in secret when those in charge tucked into bed on 300-count sheets. There, the boys with exploding Adam’s apples enticed girls blossoming to womanhood to kick off the games with Spin the Bottle, then Truth or Dare. Strip Charades was the finale of the night and, like tonight, a youthful and rather bawdy Maurice had played compere.

‘A jolly good night that was! One to remember, Bunny. One to remember!’ Shouted Jonty, looking her up and down with obvious jut of his strong jaw, evoking a greater volume of guffaw from the guests.

Lord Harquest’s daughter, Angelica, tried to calm the throng sprawled out across the wall-to-wall Persian carpet her father had imported to match the floor-to-ceiling crimson curtains. ‘Shush now! This time we’ll keep our clothes on—we were kids then! These are the teams.’

Angelica reeled off the list of six names, followed by confirmation of the other six who would oppose them. Half a dozen then retreated to the drawing room with paper and pens, the other half remained in situ and began writing their charade clues—ones that surely the other team would never guess.

Fifteen minutes and three more bottles of Dom Perignon later, the full group reassembled and each team captain released their folded clues into shiny brass bowls atop either end of white marble mantelpiece. Jonty stoked the fire, illuminating the room further and reddening the guests’ cheeks.

‘The champion must go first!’ Christina heralded from her supine perch on chaise lounge.

‘Here, here! The champion!’

Butterflies fluttered Bunny’s belly and, were she not feeling increasingly squiffy from three hefty glasses of Barolo with the Beef Wellington and six flutes of champagne since, she would have retreated. But it was stirring to hear herself be proclaimed ‘a champion.’ Such victory had not been bestowed upon her bodacious and audacious self since life was a day of dreaming of her future.

‘And we have the perfect clue for you to start us off, Bunny.’

Antonia pressed a small, folded paper into Bunny’s manicured hand which Bunny unfolded, careful not to allow her team a glimpse. She stared at the word, written in neat and fanciful blue ink, gulped a weighty dose of oxygen then nodded to Pierre who clutched his gold Apple Watch, timer primed for countdown.

‘Go!’

Bunny slid the folded paper up the inside of her left wrist, tucking it inside the her pink cardigan cuff. To her team of faces staring agog, Bunny clasped her hands together, making sweeping gestures over her head in celebration. Her team remained mute. No guesses.

Next, Bunny extended both arms out each side of her body, bending them at the elbow then crunching fists together to show off her muscles. No guesses, just silence staring back at her.

‘One minute left,’ chirped Pierre.

She decided acting out the word was a fruitless exercise. She would break the word down into syllables.

Then they were on a roll. Three syllables they guessed when she brandished three fingers from right hand on left arm. Bunny nodded affirmation.

Third syllable was an easy guess: she acted out various prepositions of place and, once the team shouted out a stream of ‘ins’ and ‘behinds’ and other guesses, they correctly nailed ‘on.’

The second syllable called for more brazen actions. Bunny squatted and mimed that she was unrolling loo roll from the wall.

‘Pee!’ Blared Georgina, smug look on her flawless face when Bunny nodded.

‘So,’ Maurice said swiftly. ‘Three syllables. Something-pee-on.’

Bunny nodded.

‘Anyone?’ Maurice asked his team.

‘Fifteen seconds!’ Cut in Pierre.

Bunny was now desperate. How could her team be so dim? How could she lose this, lose her title? It may not be much, but she had her reputation to preserve.

In mad flurry, Bunny resorted to the only means for ensuring victory: she tore off her clothing until only the smallest of smalls shielded view from her most private of privates. The room fell collectively silent with twenty-two pairs of glassy eyes taking in the performance of Bunny’s lifetime.

Bunny ran to the mahogany coffee table which Jonty had pushed into the corner to make room for their game. Her long, bare legs leapt gracefully onto the wood. Upon landing on the table, Bunny extended her arms above head, imagining herself grasping a gleaming trophy, engraved clearly for all to see: ‘Bunny Richmond, the Charades—‘

‘Champion!’ They shouted in unison.

Indeed—Bunny was victorious!

 

via Daily Prompt: Champion

On the Cusp of My Circus

Yesterday, I craved to write. A drought of days where I had not written a word had kept me awake at night for four days. Frustratingly, when a surge of words rumbled to my consciousness, I was either too busy prioritising other people’s needs or, on rare occasion, either floating in the bath or driving–both settings not conducive for tapping on a keyboard. Then last night, this stunning Chagall painting (The Blue Circus) popped up in my photos, along with a quote from the painter:

My hands were too soft…I had to find some special occupation, some kind of work that would not force me to turn away from the sky and the stars, that would allow me to discover the meaning of life.

At risk of hurtling over the wall into sentimentality, Chagall’s words broke through the writing barrier that had contained my creativity since last Friday. Understand this: far from bigging up my ego to the size of a buffalo, I confess that my writing is a slow-burn at the moment. My projects are diverse: two fiction manuscripts, a screenplay idea I am tweaking, a thickening compilation of short-stories ready to print and a pushed-to-capacity external hard-drive packed with ideas begging me to develop them to publication. Too many projects distracting me from mastering just one.

‘There is not enough time in the day!’ I shout at files in my laptop. My head often feels dizzy. It would be easier if I had not made the decision to write full-time; instead, be a casual writer, scribbling Haikus on beermats and banging out flash-fiction when a spare fifteen minutes cleared in my diary.

But I am on the cusp. I feel it. I felt it strongly last night when staring at Chagall’s upside-down woman painted brazenly red, the yellow moon aside her with violin, the green goat against vibrant blues in a chaotic masterpiece. Some days my life is a chaotic masterpiece. My writing is a chaotic masterpiece. It is a circus. Chagall said:

 For me a circus is a magic show that appears and disappears like a world.

So, today I begin to write again. Mundanely and monotonously, I was brushing my teeth this morning when a breakthrough idea about the protagonist in my novel burst in my head. I recognised that fluttering of excitement in belly, that urgency to transfer the idea from grey matter to grey MacBook before it evaporated. I strode with vengeance to computer. An hour later, I am here and my protagonist, Billie, has enjoyed a romp at The Metropolitan Museum of Art within the confines of a 3,000-word chapter. Apparently the answer for Billie was that I as starving her of art, so I delivered my main character to The Met where she, too, can stare at the beauty of Chagall.

With this new chapter added to my manuscript this morning, returning to my blog felt the next step. I sit here, ruminating over the supremely expressive Chagall, his paintings and his words again: ‘…some kind of work that would not force me to turn away from the sky and the stars, that would allow me to discover the meaning of life.’

I may not have discovered the meaning of life today but, damn it, I sit here on the cusp of creating a world of beauty for my life in words.

via Daily Prompt: Cusp

Dense: A Grammarly Photo Challenge

Dense. Speak the word aloud. The mouth experiences tightness of one syllable being expressed. The word is itself dense–an expressive adjective, a photographic theme that ranges from lush greenery to dim-witted souls.

I am a writer consumed by and attuned to words so I leapt at this week’s Daily Post Photo Challenge. Such prompt encouraged me to scour my portfolio this afternoon. Quelle menage de dense!

Dense is defined by The Cambridge Dictionary as boasting three adjectival meanings:

  1. Thick: ‘having parts that are close together so that it is difficult to go or see through’

IMG_7578.JPGThe density of these woods one gorgeously warm day last summer offered us coveted shade where our bodies cooled amongst beauty, whilst still glimpsing the sun.

2. Matter: ‘physics (of a substance) containing a lot of matter in a small place’

IMG_7367.jpgLike my luscious, three-tiered chocolate cake pictured above, these homemade brown bread baked goods are every morsel an adventure in delicious density.

3. Stupid: self-explanatory (unless you consider yourself to be dense)

Dense Far Side – Version 3

My all-time favourite The Far Side single-panel comic. Gary Larson encapsulates human denseness with artistic panache!

Dense woods, dense deliciousness, dense mind–I am mulling over the sublime and the ridiculous of language today while ogling my photographs. I also think about a brilliant music festival I am looking forward to attending soon, with its exciting spectacle of observing and joining a dense crowd of dancing bodies in a sunny field. Magic awaits when you slip into the dense.

My Alternative World

When I was eight, I thought this was hilarious:

‘When is a door not a door? When it’s ajar.’

This morning, I awake to a lorry-load of baffling reports online, on the radio, on the telly, carving a wider trench between ‘fake news’ and fact.

My head hurts from unraveling facts cloaked in hype when I read; my ears hurt from listening to politicians barking out bile about other politicians. Yet, curiously, mixed with my frustration is an unsettling sense of amusement. It does not feel like real life but as if I am captivated by reality television on the grandest scale: world-wide Big Brother. And we are all watching.

When is a carrot not a carrot? When it’s mnuchin.

When are children not children? When they’re pancakes.

What a folly-filled world it would be to point at things and declare them to be something else. For such actions to persist without someone shouting ‘Desist!’ is madness.

Perhaps Trump is right and Obama is actually Lucille Ball. Oh—see what I did there? Trump didn’t actually say that, did he? Or did he? I can no longer discern the truth.

I don’t want to live in a world of ‘Alternative Facts’. That’s why I am a writer. I can inhabit that world, if I choose, by powering up my MacBook. Other people can watch reruns of The Flintstones or Twilight Zone to get their ‘Alternate World’ fix. Sadly, if we ultimately vote for people who drag the world (and let’s face it, this is symptomatic of many present-day rulers) into an automaton existence of inhabiting a one-religion, one-colour, one-way-of-thinking life, then there will soon be no door from which to exit. No off button on the remote. No escape over the wall. `No exit, no Brexit, no text it, no correct it.’

The only other choice is that we all have a collective lobotomy—reminiscent of Randle being brain-neutered at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Me? I don’t want to end up staring at ceiling tiles, thinking there is no hope or way out of this political mess. I don’t want to look at my feet and call them peppers, nor point at a map in the morning and wonder if by the time I go to sleep the UK will comprise of two, three or four countries.

If politicians keep making up facts, they’ll eventually put us writers out of a job. No one will need to buy fiction anymore. Sort it out, all ye political folk!

[Rant over—enjoy your weekend.]

Arts: St. Patrick’s Landscape Legacy

Ireland’s lush greens, serene bogs and staggering peaks rise up against skies, the purple Burren rock, snaking canals and silver lakes…the magnitude of inspiration one small island has ignited in writers, poets, artists, musicians and creatives. On this St. Patrick’s Day I scan the landscape and cast mind over Ireland’s history, tipping my hat to the country which steeps deep within my writing, my photography, my art.

I snapped this photo on a warm summer’s evening in Mayo. Drive along this road another mile or two and you pass Croagh Patrick, the legendary peak linked with Ireland’s patron saint: St. Patrick. Much we know about St. Patrick as Christian Missionary—indeed, many do not care a shilling about his religious background but embrace this mighty green holiday by trouncing up streets around the world, sporting shamrock, glugging Guinness and saluting brass bands. But this sacred spot in Ireland is linked with St. Patrick because here, it is said, Patrick fasted for forty days at Croagh Patrick’s summit and now flocks of people climb this peak in their droves, some 25,000 humans making the annual pilgrimage with gusto, stepping the steep landscape barefoot. Casting aside footwear for religious purposes—or for the lark—is serious business so do we honour these folks for their dedication or chide for undertaking such mad trek sans shoes?

Rain befalls Ireland almost daily, though sunshine oft breaks through and illuminates fields, brightly-painted villages and just the every-day ordinary landscape of people going about their lives. In literature, Ireland of yesterday has been preserved and celebrated, and today, Ireland continues to thrive as a truly brilliant culture of life and craic, the central point for stories, films and art.

I am writing today. Fiction and poetry. I am reminded of Yeats and Wilde, Roddy Doyle and Colm Tóibín, Seamus Heaney and Marian Keyes, Father Ted and Mrs. Doyle. I am connecting to the roughness and beauty of the West. No marching bands, just a MacBook and definitely a few pints tonight.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit!

Celestial Blue Haiku [Weekly Photo Challenge]

Summer Blues

Crisp Oxford, cyan

Grey March forgets your beauty

I wish for blue skies

 

Simple, right? A simple, sun-filled sky. Pure Blue. Pure beauty.

I could wish for riches today, good health, love of family and friends, success of seismic proportions. But today, the dull March skies overhead, an every-morning-awakening to threat of rain pellets frizzing my straightened bonnet and a daily longing for a slick shot of Vitamin D is getting me down.

Thanks to The Daily Post’s Photo Challenge for nudging me to dig into my huge catalogue of images and reflect on this week’s topic: Wish. This photo is far from a standout in my portfolio but I love its randomness and the surge of joy felt when I took it. It was snapped last August on a 7am meander in a seaside town–a cloudless morning before tourists attacked footpaths yet a healthy gaggle of smiling joggers were already enticed to join me by the promised sizzle of the day. Lovely.

The colour of this sky is blue. Bluest blue. On grungy-skied days like today, I close my eyes and wish for more days when my feet stroll paths under seabirds creating patterns against cyan. Today, summer wishes are stirring as spring begins.

Book Bound in 17 Syllables

Book Bound

Musty, old book smell

Shrapnelled, leather-bound Tolstoy

Gripped in my left hand

Is it the emotive heavy scent of yesteryear or the heaviness in hand that boosts the importance of leather-bound books when we peruse a library or open their yellowing pages?

Today’s New York Times piece about bookbinding is fascinating insight into what I had thought was a lost art but am grateful for a glimpse of what remains a thriving, daily day at the office. Stitching, slicing, pressing leafs of printed paper together where an author’s work is enshrined in one beautifully-produced tome. Book-binding–a true craft.

For writers, readers and antiquarians, the video footage in this article is worth the price of admission:

The Revolution Will Be Televised

‘I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.’

A beautiful bombardment of writing about International Women’s Day buzzes online today, nudging me to reflect on my life as not only a writer but as a female writer. Is there any relevant distinction, any greater challenge or any added responsibility in being a woman writing than a man?

The quote above is Emma Goldman’s, writing about her commitment to the anarchistic cause. It reminds me of growing up with a brilliant mother who wrote and aligned herself with feminism and who, when I was a teenager, gave me an Emma Goldman badge which I wore on my jacket. The badge was the circumference of an oversized coffee mug so it did not sit daintily on my denim jacket’s left-breast pocket, bouncing against my chest when I walked, so it rarely got an outing. However, I loved the (attributed) Emma Goldman quote printed around the edges with Goldman’s sketched face in the centre:

‘If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.’

Politics, philosophy and literature were at the heart of my childhood so I loved this anarchistic message I was sporting like some spotty-faced billboard trying to rouse a flicker of feminism amongst the girls I romped about with. But that’s not what happened. Mostly, my teen friends thought my Goldman statement was about dancing—and my mates decided the ‘revolution’ reference was about shunning bands we thought were twee and listening instead to indie and punk. None of this was true but that didn’t matter. That Goldman quote and badge was my teenage mantra, my inside joke, my connection to a woman who bravely wrote about her life as a woman in an age when her voice was diminished, though she spoke it with gusto. That quote at the top was written in 1931—has much changed since then?

I want my own freedom, the right to self-expression…my right to beautiful, radiant things. Best of all? I have the power and platform to share my voice about women, writing and, yes, I might even toss in a bit of anarchy along the way.

Happy International Women’s Day to all women: those who inspire, who heal, who mother, who create, who support, who overcome challenges to remain upright each day and to all of you who contribute to this multi-coloured world of ours. I want to be part of your revolution.

Much More Than a Peaceful Read

World Book Day last Friday prompted my reflection of books I read before hitting the landmark age of 18—what lingering impact did certain novels have on my life, books that packed a literary punch I have yet to shake (and likely never will) and I pondered the everlasting question of ‘why’ those novels and not others.

Lionel Shriver once again upped the Radio 4 listening stakes on Valentine’s Day when she appeared on Harriett Gilbert’s A Good Read slot. Shriver’s choice of a good read? A Separate Peace by John Knowles, promoted as ‘an intense story of adolescent friendship and betrayal’. It had been decades since I read A Separate Peace but, just as Shriver highlighted and the panel agreed: this is a clever coming-of-age novel (Knowles’ first) that ‘wrong-foots’ the reader and is well worth the read whatever the reader’s age.

This is a novel that embeds beneath the skin. The decades elapsed since its 1959 publication have not diminished nor dated this story. Being reminded of its plot, characters and twists by the BBC last week triggered my teenage self to float reluctantly to the surface. I felt nostalgic and teary-eye for that teenage girl I was when I first read Fowles’ novel, but I also felt grief for this story of two distinctly different boys who cascade down a waterfall of adolescent descent together.

Are there homoerotic undertones to this book? The reader is left to intuit what they wish; what is clear, however, is that A Separate Peace can still rattle the bones of its audience and is relevant today.

Looking for a book to share with a teenager or seeking a novel to engage your adult self—this is a mighty fine choice. If my recommendation isn’t enough, Lionel Shriver apparently knows a thing or two about what makes an enduring, captivating classic.

Check it out:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08dnrqg

World Book Day in Motion!

Astounding books! Books that rattle the soul, that linger since childhood, that propel children into a world of reading. Adventures of fantasy on the page (yes, a big tip of wizard hat to Rowling), biographies that intrigue us about lives that are not our own. And then there are the fictional tomes that draw readers into ‘ordinary’ families bracing themselves against catalyst events (Ann Tyler being the High Priestess of such books) which stack up on our bookshelves. My shelves have Seuss competing for space with Kafka, dusty Nancy Drew mysteries wedged between Dexter’s Morse. What books engrossed your imagination as a child, what authors continue to captivate you as adults? Happy World Book Day to this global community!

This morning I drove past three primary schools before 9am. By contrast to usual grey winter mornings, the environmental dullness of the landscape sparked alive with costumes: trails of glittery princess gowns cut through dried brown leaves on the footpaths, a gaggle of red and white striped tees made it doubly-difficult to discover exactly where was Wally. I manoevered the roads and traffic lights, gawking at the bold colours, the eclectic choices, the incredible creativity invested in these costumes. I admit to being slightly disappointed not to glimpse any boy brave enough to concoct a costume-salute to Dennis, the truly progressive revelation created by David Walliams in his brilliant Boy in the Dress (cue couture organza frock accessorised with a football) but books have a habit of encouraging change in attitudes as time thrusts forward…perhaps Dennis will make an appearance next year.

Three schools I past this morning, each of them buzzing with costumes of children aged four to eleven declaring their visual love for literary characters who springboard excitement and escapism into their to-date short lives. What folly but also what a brilliant concept for capturing imagination!

Are you adults celebrating World Book Day? Are you donning a Jane Eyre pinafore or purple Willy Wonka top hat? Enquiring minds want to know.

Here are some fantastic shots of inspiration from children around the UK:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/39127997

Poet Tree

Tough love meets the sharp prickles of a monkey puzzle tree in today’s five-minute poetry writing task. A few lines here, surely this poem shall expand:

The Fix

I can’t fix you

The broken boy crying out for a mend

The tall monkey puzzle from where you descend

Firing critical bullets, unable to bend

I can only fix me