Rose by any other name

Here’s a little bit of fun I wrote at Holmfirth Writers the other week. The perils of multiple identities ….

*****

“Mr Rose, it’s great to see you again!”  A Korean diplomat made a beeline for me from the far side of the room.

“But I’m not … “ The words were forming on my lips, but I managed to keep them in as the man pressed a drink into my hand. I vaguely recognised him. Some UN Arms Control committee, maybe? They blur into each other after a while.

But this was the G20, and today I was most definitely NOT William Rose, protocol attache to a junior foreign office minister. I was Angus McRea, Professor of Economics. And I was meant to be introducing myself to a potentially turn-able Chinese academic, not ligging with some joker I’d exchanged small talk with on a previous job.

I put on my best all-purpose grin and firmly grasped the hand that had given me the drink. I took a gulp and almost gagged. Oh God, Rose was supposed to like gin and tonic – vile stuff! It was all coming back to me now. Give me McRea’s single malt any day.

“So, how are you doing, Mr … Jong.” Thank God for name tags. Mercifully, a waiter bearing canapes bumped into Jong from behind, distracting him for the three seconds I needed to pour the rest of my drink into an empty glass on the table.

“I’m great, thanks, but what happened to you, Bill? Your hair’s gone white since I last saw you. Where did that flowing blond mane go? And what’s with the limp?”

I had to think fast. “Oh, it’s a long story. Car accident. It really hit me hard both physically and mentally. I was off work for a few months. But I’m fine now.”

Jong looked at me sympathetically. “Sorry to hear about your troubles, Bill. Glad you’re on the mend. But it seems to me you’ve got a condition that needs a lot of gin to keep it under control. I see you’ve already taken your medication.” He nodded at my empty glass and winked. “Let me get you another.”

This was turning into a disaster. Thank God he hadn’t picked up the Scottish accent yet!

“That would be great. But if you’ll excuse me for a minute, I’ve just got to go to the men’s room.

I gave him the sort of smile that was meant to say I’d be back in a couple of minutes, and mimed downing another G&T, then I legged it to the door and kept going. On the fire escape I spoke into my watch mike.

“This is Market Trader. Mission is compromised. I have been recognised. Am aborting.”

There was complete silence in my earpiece. What was wrong?

“This is Market Trader. Please acknowledge. This is Market Tr … oh shit, that was last week! Correction: this is Ivory Tower. Mission is compromised, repeat, mission is compromised.”

A pause. “Acknowledged, Ivory Tower. Proceed to location 451 where the extraction team will arrive in 45 minutes. Advise wearing protective arm pads.”

“Protective arm pads? Why?”

“Because when the Chief finds out you’ve cocked up again, you can expect a severe kick up the elbow. Correction ….”

*****

picture (c) cyclonebill 2010

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Welcome, Amanda

Today I am delighted to host a fine piece of flash fiction (highly commended in the Bare Fiction Prize 2015) from Amanda Huggins. Amanda also writes poetry, and is a fellow contributor to the Cotton Grass Appreciation Society anthology. You can find out more about Amanda and her work at the end of this post.

THE LAST OF MICHIKO

Every evening Hitoshi kneels on a blue cushion in the doorway that leads out to the garden. He leaves the shoji screens open regardless of the weather, and stays there until long after the sun has set. His heart knows that Michiko will never return, but his stubborn head still finds reasons to hope.

The wind chimes jingle softly through the house, as gentle as her voice, and in the sudden breeze they mimic her laugh. Hitoshi presses his face into a pink kimono, inhaling her faint scent. At his side stands a jar of her homemade adzuki bean paste, as sweet and red as her lips. He has rationed it carefully, but now this final jar is almost empty.

The day’s post is propped up against the screen, and Hitoshi reaches for the bills and a letter from his daughter. She writes each week and always asks him to go and stay. Sometimes he thinks he will, but the trip to Tokyo seems like such a long journey now, and the city blinds him. There are no distances; everything is too densely packed, too close to see. And what about Michiko? He couldn’t risk her returning in his absence.

His son lives nearer, but when Hitoshi sees the car pull up he stays out of sight and doesn’t answer the door. He is saving them from the words that neither can bear to say. His son was the last to see Michiko; he watched the dark water snatch her away as though she were a brittle twig. When Hitoshi imagines it he pictures her hair floating upwards like the darkest seaweed, her skin so pale it appears as blue as the sea.

And though he has tried not to, he blames his son for failing to save her.
Some evenings Hitoshi thinks he hears a faint knocking, but when he goes outside the narrow street is always empty. He peers into the darkness for a moment; remembering the clack of wooden geta on the cobbles, glimpsing the soft light of the lantern outside the noodle shop. He imagines the warmth inside; the kind face of Koko as she pours the sake, and his friend, Wada, sitting at the counter waiting to mull over the old days. But Hitoshi always goes back inside and sits alone again in the dark.

Tonight there is no knocking, but just after seven o’clock he hears the doorbell. When he opens the screen, his neighbour, the young widow Emiko, stands beneath the light cradling a jar in both hands.

‘I found this in the cupboard, Hitoshi-san, the last of Michiko’s bean paste.’

As he takes the jar, Hitoshi stumbles under the weight of its significance. He looks up at Emiko as she backs away, and when their eyes meet she pauses. He bows, and gestures her inside, apologising for his rudeness. She steps past him, her kimono sweeping the tatami like a new broom, and the wind chimes fall silent.

                                                        *****

Amanda Huggins writes short fiction and poetry, and was a runner-up in the 2018 Costa Short Story Award. Her work has been widely published in anthologies and magazines, and has been placed and shortlisted in numerous competitions including Bripdport, Fish, Bath, and the Colm Toibin Short Story Award. Her first full length short story collection, Separated From the Sea, was published last year by Retreat West Books, and received a Special Mention in the 2019 Saboteur Awards. She has a second collection coming out with them next Spring – Scratched Enamel Heart. The Last of Michiko also appears in her flash fiction collection, Brightly Coloured Horses (Chapeltown Books 2018).

Amanda grew up on the North Yorkshire coast, moved to London in the 1990s, and now lives in West Yorkshire and works full-time in engineering. She is currently writing her debut novella and has just completed a full length poetry collection.

You can hear Amanda read at The Red Shed, Wakefield, on November 4th.

Blog: https://troutiemcfishtales.blogspot.com/
Twitter: @troutiemcfish

An evening of poetry

Despite the rain, I had a great evening yesterday at Read. Holmfirth bookshop. I read some poems from Sea Without a Shore and enjoyed listening to Sheffield-based poet Rob Hindle reciting from his book, the Grail Road – a poetic weaving together of the Arthurian Grail story and the carnage of the western front in World War one.

Here’s one of the poems I read:

Release

You question me with patient tenderness.
 “I’m fine”, I lie: my leaden undertones
reveal what language struggles to express.    
This sullen murk that seeps into my bones:
I have no name for it, nor has it shape
or substance.  Stagnant, undefined, it sits
in hidden pools from which there’s no escape.
It is my prisoner, as I am its.  
But do not cease to ask: for you, each day
I try once more to picture it in words.
If I could make it concrete, find some way
to form it in the semblance of a bird
and, through the gift of wings, to set it free
then it would lift its cold embrace from me.

Welcome, Hannah!

Today I am delighted to host a visit (and a poem) from fellow Maytree poet Hannah Stone. Welcome Hannah! Tell us about your poetry, and in particular your most recent collection, Swn y Morloi.

Hi Tim. I like to write about the usual love/death/politics stuff and also a lot about the natural world and how humans are part of the wider eco-system. This impetus is behind my Maytree pamphlet, which takes the title of each poem from a bay on the Coastal Path of Pembrokeshire (OS map OL35 refers!) 

Here’s a short poem from that collection, which muses on the ancient cultures marked by the prehistoric remains that proliferate throughout this farming and fishing community and its stunning landscape.

Careg Sampson

Surely something is trapped here,
where tractors hem the selvage
of grass round the burial chamber.

Slabbed roof and uprights are freighted with purpose, 
the whole site jealous of the liberties taken 
by breezes blowing inshore between the stones.

It seems impertinent
to look through the gap
for a sea view to wrap this sight in,

as if admiring the sun's dalliance
with clouds might cause amnesia
about the lives buried here,

beneath rock, beneath sod, earthed
in rites old and lost as their bones,
hidden in antique fonts on the map.

Thank you for sharing that lovely poem with us, Hannah!

Any readers who happen to be in Wales next month might like to know that Hannah will be reading from her collection on Wednesday 7 August at 7.30pm in Newport Community Library, Canolfan Croeso, 1-2 Bank Cottages, Long Street, Newport SA42 OTN.

Hannah Stone was born in London but has made Leeds her home for the last 30 years. After the usual teenage angst-therapy-writing malarkey she started writing a lot more poetry while studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University, where she worked with York based poets Oz Hardwick and Amina Alyal. Publications followed swiftly, with Lodestone in 2016, Missing Miles in 2017 and the inaugural Maytree Press pamphlet Swn y Morloi in 2019. She comperes the Wordspace spoken word event in Horsforth on the first Wednesday of every month, and co-convenes the poets/composers forum for the annual Leeds Lieder festival. Hannah is especially interested in collaborating with other poets and creative artists such as composers, and is widely published in journals and anthologies. She set up the Wordspace Imprint for the Leeds Trinity University writing community; its inaugural publication was a collaboration called An After DInner’s Sleep, involving Hannah, Maria Preston and Gill Lambert (established poets and creative writing teachers in Yorkshire), and they thoroughly enjoyed presenting this at the Ilkley LIterature Festival. Her latest collaboration is another Wordspace volume, Holding up Half the Sky, written with historian Rosemary Mitchell  to give voice to real and imagined women throughout history, using ‘found’ elements such as tombstones, embroidery, political speeches and highly redacted accounts by male historians. She is embarking on her ninth collaboration with a Leeds based composer, Matt Ogsleby. In other lives she is a teacher for the Open University, scholar of the Early Eastern Christian church,forager, allotmenteer, singer, cat owner and hill-walker  – so the launch of the Maytree Press anthology The Cotton Grass Appreciation Society at the Marsden Writers and walkers festival on 21 September is an especial delight. Increasingly she is turning to prose poetry as an outlet and was thrilled to contribute to the symposium which launched the Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry in July.  

Find Hannah on Facebook.

Cotton Grass Poetry

I’m thrilled to announce that my poem The Trees are Dancing is now available in the Maytree Press anthology The Cotton Grass Appreciation Society, a celebration of the landscape and people of the South Pennines.

I’m in great company, alongside poets such as Gaia Holmes, Roy Marshall, Jo Haslam, Alison Lock, fellow Holme Valley Poets Sally Brown and Anne Steward … and a certain Simon Armitage!

The Anthology is officially released on 1 August, but is already available to order from the Maytree Shop. The launch event for the anthology will be on 21 September, at 6pm in Marsden Library, as part of the Marsden Walking Festival.

But in the meantime, I’ll be reading The Trees are Dancing (and lots of other poems) at the next outing for my own collection, Sea Without a Shore, at Read. Holmfirth, 41 Huddersfield Road, Holmfirth, at 8pm on Tuesday 30 July – a double bill with Sheffield-based poet Rob Hindle. Hope to see you there!

Join me at the launch!

Readers of this blog will be aware that my first poetry collection, Sea Without a Shore, has been published by Maytree Press. I’m getting very excited about the launch event next Tuesday, 2 July, at 7pm in Holmfirth Library.

I will be reading poems from the collection, and there will be guest spots from two fine poets: Jacqueline Pemberton and Alison Lock. There will also be music, refreshments and plenty of opportunity to mingle and chat with other people interested in poetry.

To whet your appetite, here’s one of the poems that will feature in the event (first published in Acumen in January of this year). Hope to see you there – should be a great night!

 The Old Couple
 
When they were young
their love was a thing of flame.
Colliding like two asteroids
they were magnificent
but sparks would leap from jagged edges.
Incandescent, they would fly apart,
only to spiral inwards once again.
 
Look at them now,
sitting to watch the sun go down,
still warmed by the embers of that ancient fire.
She leans on him, and he on her;
time has smoothed their curves and hollows,
sanded them to fit each other
like pebbles rubbed together by the sea.

The Illusionist

Here’s a little story I wrote at Meltham Writers a little while back. A prisoner with an unusual skill ….

The sergeant had long since finished his newspaper and was reduced to counting the gleaming buttons on his uniform. Seventeen. A ridiculous amount of buttons, when you came to think of it. He counted them again. Yep, still seventeen.

Well, that was that, then. He looked desperately around the room for something else to divert his attention. Only now did he notice that, in the single jail cell, the prisoner was doing something rather odd with a handkerchief.

“Oi, what you doing in there?”

“Just practising, you know. Passes the time.”

“Practising what?”

“Tricks. I’m an illusionist by profession. A magician.”

“Oh yeah? Seems to me you’re more of a thief and a fraudster. But we’ll let the jury decide that, won’t we?”

“Indeed we shall. Hopefully they will be more discerning than you officers of the law.”

There was a sort of aristocratic charm in the way the man spoke that really irritated the sergeant. But right now he was so bored he’d talk to anybody.

“Show us, then.”

“Oh, I can’t possibly let you see me practising. Trade secrets and all that. I’d have to kill you afterwards.” The prisoner grinned and gave a little wink.

“Well, can you do some tricks for me, then? You know, ones you’ve already practised, like.”

“Why certainly, officer. I charge £50 for a half hour session, £80 for the full hour. I take all major credit cards, travellers’ cheques, you name it.”

“Ha ha, very funny. You know damn well I can’t pay you. I was just thinking it would be a way of making the time pass less slowly for both of us. Or else I can move my chair over by the bars and stare at you so can’t do your secret practising, and we can both sit here getting bored to death.”

The prisoner thought for a few seconds. “Oh very well. I suppose these are special circumstances. Alright, I’ll do a few tricks for you. You might want to bring that chair over here anyway, to get a better view.” The sergeant did so, and the prisoner prepared to begin.

“Behold this handkerchief!” He draped a rather grubby hanky over his arm with an ostentatious flourish. Then suddenly, he clapped his hands and the handkerchief was nowhere to be seen.

“Oh, that’s clever. Where’s it gone?”

“But sir, why are you asking me? I believe you have it yourself.” He stretched a hand through the bars and produced the handkerchief, apparently from the policeman’s ear.

“Very clever. Another one!”

“There’s only so much you can do with a handkerchief. But if you’d be willing to lend me some props, I could show you another trick.”

“What do you want?”

“I need a coin, three paper cups and a pair of handcuffs.”

“All right.” He fetched the items and gave them to the prisoner, who placed the cups on the floor near the bars of the cell.

“Now, just to make it more difficult, I’d like you to put your left hand on this cup, and your right hand on that one.”  The sergeant did so, and the prisoner placed the coin under the third cup.

“Now, remember where the coin is.” He began to move the cup about, slowly at first, then faster and faster, around the other two stationary cups. Finally, he moved it away again and stopped.

“Now tell me sir, where is the coin?”

“Well, I’m supposed to think it’s still under that cup of yours, aren’t I?”

“Think what you like, sir, but I don’t have it.” He turned over the cup, which sure enough contained no coin.

“I think you may have it yourself, sir.” And he produced the coin, apparently from the policeman’s top pocket.

“Very good, very good! But what did you do with the handcuffs? Oh.” Looking down, he saw the answer. They were around his wrists, fastening him to the bars of the cell.

The prisoner reached out and removed a set of keys from the policeman’s belt.

“I hope you enjoyed the free show, sir. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be on my way.”

pic (c) Klaus with K 2005