Noodles and Nuts

The February 1000 word challenge proved to be a tricky one.  The working title I was given was “Noodle Camp” which meant absolutely nothing to me, and suggested no ideas at all!  I looked it up on the internet and found it was the name of a rather nice South Coast restaurant, and at last the germ of an idea presented itself:


Noodles and Nuts


His fingers were going numb.  His whole body shook with the effort of simply staying balanced in this place.  His head buzzed and his vision seemed to pulsate.  A long way away he thought he could hear a crowd stamping and voices shouting; “Jump!  Jump!  Jump!  Jump!”  Why?  Where to?


There was a white doorway just a few feet ahead.  It swayed in and out of focus.  Light scintillated around its edges.  There was nothing else to do, and nowhere else to go.  He jumped.


Aeons passed.  Light drifted and coalesced into swirling shapes around him.  He closed his eyes.  It made no difference.  The lights and clouds swarmed through his eyelids.  He clung on and swung, aware of his dead weight on the thing that supported him.  He felt like a shuttle on a giant loom:  to and fro, to and fro, to and fro – – – – – – –


Just as he had drifted to the furthest point of the universe, the clouds parted.  A spinning black hole shrank, doubled, and became a pair of eyes looking at him.  The eyes spoke.




The word reverberated and span away, pink and hot and wriggling.  With a sigh, he followed, falling upwards into darkness.


He could still hear the crowd far below, rumbling and muttering, and somehow he was right at the top of a mountain now.  Inky black sky above him, and a trembling through his feet.  Earthquake.  The whole world was swaying and creaking.  Why was it creaking?  Then the creak began to fade, and he was upright, rigid, blind, deaf and dumb:  lost in a miasma of white sparkling light.


Just as he began to float upwards again, away from the pounding rock, that felt as unsteady as a ship in a hurricane, something gripped his hand.  He felt his own hand fasten around it like a vice.  There was nothing he could do.  His body’s self-defence system had its own agenda, and it hung on hard.


The voice spoke again, cutting through the spiky buzz that filled his mind.


“AAAAAARRGH!”  It said.


His mouth framed an answer.  He could not hear it, but knew he had said “Sorry.  Can’t let go.”


He wanted to explain about the earthquake, the creaking, the blindness, the deafness, and the constant swaying all around him, but couldn’t frame the sentence in his head.


He could feel his fingers being prised and bent, but his body was as rigid as stone and would not – could not budge.


“Nuts?” asked the voice?  A tepid whiff of exasperation blew across the images in his head.  This was no time for self-analysis.


“Noodles?” enquired the voice?  “In Szechuan sauce?”  Not now, he thought desperately, feeling like a wooden marionette tethered to the blades of a fan.  Just let me alone.  Let me fly.


“What have you eaten?” persisted the voice.  “How much have you drunk?”  Why did it matter?  There was a reason – something important.


There was a word, a big word he must remember.  It was a huge, spinning word that would put everything back to the beginning.  It was at the epicentre of everything.


His head began to feel heavy, and he wondered how far down the ground was.  If he could just get his knees to bend – – – –


With a crash, the clouds released him.  His limbs twitched in an ecstasy of freedom, and his head bounced like a rubber ball.


The word he was missing formed lazily in his mind.  “Epipen.”  He said.


“Not on the menu,” the voice responded, reprovingly.  But someone must have realised what it meant because he felt a sharp prick, and the universe deflated around him.


He gazed around at feet, overturned chairs, broken crockery and traumatised diners.  He felt as limp as a jellyfish:  as sweetly content as an astronaut back on Mother Earth.  How could he explain how very far he had travelled?


He paid for the wine.  He apologised for the crockery and the inconvenience.  He asked why there had been peanuts in his meal, which could have killed him?  The waiter in the noodle bar massaged his bruised wrist, remembered the man’s superhumanly strong grip, and decided not to press the issue of the breakages and the delicate dishes of food, which were currently decorating the walls of the tasteful restaurant booth.


However, the menu was altered the following day.  “May Contain Nuts” was translated into several languages and neatly pinned to the front page.  A certain illiterate chef was carefully questioned about how he could confuse Szechuan with Satay.  But the man with the allergy walked a little more lightly on the earth.  He had, in a few glorious moments, seen the universe in his head and it was wonderful.  He had shot away from the earth into infinite space, seen galaxies swirling, felt the rhythm of the planets, and then come safely to land.  He laughed, and ate his lunch – which did not contain nuts.





You will always find him in the kitchen at parties

My friend Dawn Nelson, author of the Blake Hetherington mysteries, has started a new short story challenge for 2016. in 1000 words or under, the participants have to tell a story based on her monthly prompt. January’s prompt is that famous line from the song about the loser always hanging around in the kitchen at parties, but my kitchen resident is not so much the loser – – –

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You will always find him in the kitchen at parties – – – – – – –

The party was the usual disaster. God knows why she had come. Against all previous experience, she always believed that next time it would be different. Next time there would be soft music, soft lights and a buzz of witty conversation against a background of subtly sensuous music – like in the Ferrero Rocher adverts. But no. Two hours in and Dez was drunk with his hand up the skirt of some bimbo with tattoos on her thighs, and everyone else thought it was so damn funny.

Some skinny hard-man had turned up with rap music and taken over the sound system. He looked as though he was made of knotted leather and rip-cord. There was no fat on him because the muscles took up all the room and they weren’t gym muscles either – they were street fighter’s muscles. Long, twisted, and feral.

The house was a huge barn of a place. She suspected it was actually a squat, but if Dez knew, he wouldn’t have told her. He knew she wouldn’t have come anywhere near a place like that. Why did he always lie to her? Her parents liked him. He talked a good game, did Dez. Double-barreled surname, and Mummy and Daddy were in the stud book. You listened to his posh accent and somehow it covered up what he was actually saying. Her parents would be horrified if they could see her now. She only came because Dez baited her about her uptight middle-class morality. ‘Is it not ‘nice’ enough for you, darling?’ he would ask, with his thin, challenging smile.

For God’s sake, where was the kitchen? She needed to get away from the noise, and the sweat. She needed to tip the rest of her drink down the sink because it tasted wrong. Dez had done that before – slipped Es in her drink when she wasn’t looking. She needed to make herself a cup of tea. Is that middle-class enough for you, Dez? she thought, savagely.

There seemed to be an endless number of rooms in this place. The thin carpet in the hall stuck to her shoes, and when she steadied herself against the wall, it felt spongy and damp. The party noise had diminished to a faint pounding rhythm behind her, and ahead she heard a thin high scream. The sound was familiar not from her own childhood, but from the childhood of her parents’ generation, perceived in a sort of stop-motion series of old photos, family memories and black and white films. It was the sound of an old-fashioned kettle whistling on a stove.

A light showed around a partially opened door and she pushed it open. Steam filled the room, and gradually revealed a man floating towards her. Floating? No, that was crazy. But just for a moment, the steam, and the strangled cry of the kettle played with her senses.

‘Have you had enough, love?’ he asked, with a wry grin. He wrenched the stiff whistle off the kettle, and poured water into a brown teapot. His face was still wreathed in steam, but she saw his clothes. He was wearing baggy brown trousers, held up with braces and an old-fashioned string vest! She fought down a shocked giggle.

‘Tea?’ he asked, pushing a mug towards her.
‘God, yes!’ she said, gratefully. ‘So, you live here?’
‘Aye, man and boy. Been here longer than that lot.’ He jerked his head in the direction of the dim pounding beat that seemed to be in another world.
‘Um, I’m Lorna. Lorna Turner. Who are you?’
‘Lorna eh? Nice name. So who am I? You can call me Adam.’ He smiled, pulled out two chairs and they both sat down at the old scrubbed table. His face still seemed to slide in and out of focus. What the hell had she been drinking? Desperately she gulped her tea and tried to concentrate. His eyes were brown, and crinkled at the corners.
‘Relax, lass, this is time out. Calm down and tell me what’s brought you here?’

Adam was a good listener. In moments it had all spilled out. How she met Dez at a friend’s wedding, when he’d turned up with one of the bridesmaids. How he’d ditched the bridesmaid and gone off with her – probably because she was sober enough to drive him home afterwards. How he seemed to go out of his way to humiliate her in front of his snobby friends. How she really hated doing drugs and drink, but he was her boyfriend, and she was fat and unattractive, and so pathetically grateful that he kept showing up to take her out. How she couldn’t really afford to keep up with them all, and didn’t know how she was going to pay off her credit card, but she’d needed a party dress and shoes. How she couldn’t tell her parents what he was really like because they wouldn’t believe her.

She was crying, and turned her face away, embarrassed. Adam’s hand gently turned her face around, and she felt his coarse cotton handkerchief carefully blotting her tears.

‘Now hear me,’ he said. ‘Lorna Turner, I tell you this, and you will understand. Know that you are beautiful, inside and out. Know that you deserve happiness. Know that you will find it.’

The words seemed to fill her up with warmth and purpose and relief. Suddenly it was obvious what must be done.

‘Thank you,’ she said, and smiled.

Then she simply walked away, out of the house and went home. Life was too wonderful, too full of glorious potential to spend playing Dez’s games. Freedom was just a choice, and she had made it.

From a wraith of steam in the kitchen, a smiling brown-eyed woman emerged.
‘Did I do well?’ asked Adam.
‘Aye, you did, my love. There’s no joy greater than to rescue one of our children,’ replied Eve.

Chance encounters

I was dusting yesterday (how sad is that!) and looking at the two new ornaments in my life.  They are wooden.  One is a leaping animal, and the other a tiny diorama of a fishing hut, with a boat and a little seated figure.  Both are made from tag ends of wood and driftwood by an Icelandic artist.  I might never have met this man if someone hadn’t suggested we check out the little museum at the end of the bay.  We had time on our hands, so off we went.

You couldn’t miss the house, because it had a huge fish skeleton outside it, or perhaps a dolphin. Certainly something big and powerful had inhabited those bones.  The house was tucked into the folds of a steep terraced garden and everywhere we looked there were sculptures made from pebbles, wood, wire and all the detritus of a regularly combed beach.  This man could put one stone on top of another, and suddenly it was a puffin.

It was the dog who greeted us.  A soggy old football bounced sluggishly down the terraces towards us, and we looked up into cheerful brown eyes and one pricked ear.  Playtime!  A slim black collie ran to and fro on the highest terrace waiting to get its ball thrown back.  Some time later, when we had run to and fro, flinging the ball erratically up the slope and laughing as the dog sprang to catch it, we became aware of the man in the doorway.  He was tall and spare, shabbily dressed, with sea-blue eyes.  A lifetime of smiling – or perhaps squinting against the the light on the water of the bay – had etched a deep “V” at the corner of each eye.

He spoke English a little haltingly, with a lyrical Icelandic rhythm to his words as he showed us his treasures.  Boxes of bones, feathers and pebbles. Wooden sculptures in a spare, simple style that captured the essence of the thing with one or two swift cuts.

He told us a little of the history of the bay.  How the Icelandic navy was advised not to learn to swim, as the water was so cold that if they went overboard, swimming would only make for a “longer death”.  He spoke prosaically of the various disasters Iceland had survived – volcanoes, floods, the war – and how the older generation never spoke of their feelings, but just carried on.  We couldn’t tell if this was a compliment or a criticism – his face gave nothing away.

The dog trotted in, sleek and shining, and bounded up onto its favourite chair, and they smiled at each other.

We all bought some of his work.  “I am not artist, I am carpenter,” he said, and gave us a discount.  Perhaps because we had played with his dog.


Sharing your stash with a friend

I have been a quilter so long now that I’m sure my fingers are shorter and knobblier than they used to be.  I’ve made big quilts, lap quilts, picture quilts pictures, bags – – – – and the list goes on.  So it’s not surprising that once in a while I look at the burgeoning fabric stash with a sense of bewilderment, and wonder whether I’ve done it for long enough.  Perhaps it’s time to get rid of everything and take up free-fall parachuting, or pottery or something.  Anything rather than tackle what’s in those disorganised stash boxes!

So it is wonderful when a friend comes to visit to look through the fabric to glean a few bits and pieces for her own project.  As she sorts through each box, she reminds me of all the wonderful colours in there.  Fabrics I’d forgotten I had.  Ideas start leaping into life in my head.  I want to start cutting then and there.  Blues, greens, yellows and golds pass under her hands.  And as she shakes each piece out to look at it, she methodically folds it away again, leaving me with everything perfectly sorted and tidied.

I told her she could come again any time she wanted.  I don’t think she realised just how sincerely I meant it!


Canine Rituals

The ways of the dog are many and strange, and their lives are full of little rituals.  Chopper’s day is a complex pattern of naps, snacks, farewells and greetings.  His day has two major highlights:  the Walk and the Return of the Other Parent, which is an incredibly important thing, since this triggers that blissful word  “Teatime”.

Sometimes I think he is more OCD than ACD*, and this is why:

1.  6.30am.  Get up, eat breakfast, ignore the parent who has fed him, rush upstairs and lick the other parent on the nose, then settle down for a nap.

2.  At 7.45am precisely, leave the bedroom and resume napping on the sofa downstairs.

3.  At 8am, tour the garden for signs of intruders, scratch at the doormat until it has turned precisely 90 degrees from its original position, stretch luxuriously, with every appearance of having completed an exhausting and complex task, and retire to the sofa for another nap.

4.  12 noon.  Bark at the postman, whether or not he is delivering to us.

5.  12.30.  Demand a walk.  During this process, the stairs must be run up and down twice before the lead is attached.

6.  1.00pm.  Demand a treat.  This must be eaten outside, and the back door must be used as an exit, regardless of whether the patio door is open.  In cases of extreme bad weather, this may be eaten on one of the living room rugs, but only on the left hand one, never on the right hand one.

7.  1.05pm to 3pm.  Nap time.

8.  3pm.  Demand cuddle.

9.  3.05pm.  Demand another treat.  When this is refused, throw dog bedding around the room, then suddenly lose interest, and fall asleep in the middle of the mess.

10.  5.50pm.  Stand with ears pricked in the living room, and remain so until the car can be heard returning to the driveway.  Hurl himself at the returning parent and attempt to disembowel him, then demand a treat.

11. 6.00pm.  Lie outside the kitchen in an attitude of terminal starvation

12.  6.01pm.  Eat dinner.

13.  6.30pm.  Whine disconsolately and drool until one parent cracks and offers another treat.  Sometimes this is given to him in a puzzle ball, which he attacks with grim determination, and the definite impression that he would be swearing under his breath if he had the right kind of vocal chords.

14.  11.30pm.  Bedtime.  Run downstairs, exit the house, turn straight round and run  upstairs again and wait for the final biscuit of the day.

15.  2.00am.  Wake up. Remember that he hasn’t had a pee.  Bark at the back door until someone lets him out.

– – – – at least we know where we are with him!

*ACD = Australian Cattle Dog


Five Ways to Disappoint your Dog

1. Take him away from Exmoor
2. Make a pit-stop at some woods, but refuse to let him off the short lead
3. Make him get back in the car as soon as he’s been emptied
4. Take him home, then surround him with luggage
5. Mow the lawn just when he’s gone outside for some peace

Chopper has decided that nothing good will ever happen to him again, and is looking very depressed indeed. Still, tomorrow we will go up to the Downs

My First Blog Post

This is the first day of a new resolution:  to keep a blog of day by day events, and stay in touch with my friends, who seem to be scattering further and further apart geographically.

Today is a rainy day on Exmoor:  the last full day of our holiday, and we are in that uncomfortable state of being partially packed, and mentally part-way home to Denmead.  It’s been a good holiday, with plenty of R&R and plenty of time to see our friends and walk the dog.  The dog has picked up on the half-way state of things, and is barking restlessly at everything he thinks he can hear.  Outside, in the pouring rain, preparations are under way for a big wedding tomorrow.  People have been scurrying to and fro under umbrellas, the marquee has been erected, and everything looks wonderful – – – – apart from the torrential rain!  We won’t be here for the wedding – we will be the last of the holiday guests to leave before the bride arrives, I suspect.  Still, it will be nice to look on the website of Little Quarme Cottages at Wheddon Cross to see if there are any photos.  Well, that’s it for today.  Tomorrow I shall be facing the jungle that is our garden after two weeks of neglect, and trying to remember where everything is in the kitchen!