Saturday, 28 January 2017

This blog's pageview stats tell me I'm getting a regular readership (or at least a "glancership") because it gets about 300 visits a day. The vast majority of you (6,685 last month) are in the USA.

On the basis that some of you might be looking for a touch of escapism right now, here's a story that has more than a suggestion of escape in it. Enjoy!

The Longest Day

 Jeanne Laporte’s journey had started more than a thousand miles away. Ahead was what could be the most difficult part, when the documents she carried would be subjected to the closest scrutiny. Again she took the little mirror out of her purse  and touched her hair. That gave her the chance to check if anyone was watching her. Even more important ly, she could briefly touch the papers that would be her passport to freedom.
     There had been many moments of doubt. A couple of times she’d nearly panicked. On the station at Schaumburg, just before the train pulled in, when she thought she was being watched by a man in an unfamiliar uniform; in the café at Henrieville when she’d spilled coffee on her ticket, the little piece of card that had cost her so much. She worried that it might be queried by the ticket-collector. With every incident she‘d become more anxious.
     ‘Don’t think about it,’ she said to herself, ‘Just do it. You’ve come this far. You’re almost there.’
     Always there was this feeling of being a stranger in an alien land. She knew the language of course, but the accent was different here. There was no one to turn to. She was on her own now.
     Sometimes she had the feeling she was being followed. She resisted the temptation to turn. ‘Feel confident and you’ll look confident,’ had been the advice.
     Now it was time for the last few steps, no more than the length of a football pitch. Just stand up from her table at the pavement café, pay the bill (she hadn’t spilled the coffee here - was that a good sign?), cross the street and enter the imposing building facing her. In less than an hour, once the paperwork was completed, she could be on another train, a train that would take her home.
     Her new home. The word had a different meaning now. No more looking over her shoulder. No panic at the late-night knock on the door . Freedom.

The highway out of town ran alongside the rail tracks. Just before the road swung away northwards, Jeanne saw again the sign she’d seen on the way into town. Now she saw it from the other side. “Al’s Diner and Gas Station. Get filled up before you leave Reno. There’s a whole lotta desert ahead.”

In case you think I’ve invented the town names to suggest this “escape” story is set in Europe , Schaumburg is in Illinois and Henrieville is in Utah.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Safe at Last!

It's well past the middle of January, so it's probably safe for me to go out. The gods of split eyebrows will have forgotten about me by now.
     The problems started on the 30th December 2014. I took Bess, our collie, out for her afternoon walk about 4.30 as usual. It was pretty dark as well as cold; Aberdeen is further north than Moscow and even some parts of Alaska. 
     I didn't realise it was icy underfoot till I was in the middle of a bumpy rough track leading to the woods. I tried to step carefully but my feet slid from under me and I crashed down on my left side. My head cracked on the frozen ground. I felt the shock go right through me. 
     I lay there for a few seconds, feeling sick, still holding Bess's lead and calling for her to come back to me. I watched the blood dripping from my head. I slid rather than crawled onto the grass where I could stand up.
     As usual, I didn't have a mobile phone with me; I hardly ever use it. Holding my eyebrow together with a folded tissue, I staggered back home. Martha cleaned the cut, examined it with a trained nurse's eye and said, 
           'That eyebrow needs stitching - and the other one's twitching. 
           You look like you've been in a fight.
           Blood's still flowing free, so you'll have to agree 
           That's it for the rest of the night.' 
     (She always speaks in verse during the pantomime season.)
     At Aberdeen Royal Infirmary they stitched me together and kept me in overnight in case the pain on my left side was an incipient heart problem. It wasn't; just bruising.
     That was 2014. Fast forward to 30th December 2015: same dog; same day; same time; different walk. Passing the library I saw a football abandoned in the car park, just sitting there waiting to be kicked. I can never resist a football. I took a run and whacked it against the library wall. It bounced off at an angle and I chased after it to try again.
     I didn't see the kerb that marks the parking spaces but I did notice that the ground came up very fast to meet my face. Not again! In seconds the other eyebrow was doing its best to incarnadine the car park - and making a pretty good job of it. 
     This time I was farther away from home so I had to call Martha and she brought the car to pick me up. Though I looked like one of Mike Tyson's sparring partners for a few days, this eyebrow didn't need any embroidery. 

     Needless to say, on 30th December 2016 I trod very carefully whenever I stepped outside the house.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Behind Every Caveman

This is, or might have been, the story of the world's first great inventor.

(22.49 Greenwich Meantime, UK. I've just discovered that this post has been sitting here for about four hours in a solid block of sans serif type, unformatted and all in caps. Goodness knows what happened. I shall now try to fix it. Apologies all round.)

23.15 Failed again. Put it down to Friday the 13th!

14.30, 17th: last try!

Behind every Caveman

When Wyzat the Inquisitive struck the first-ever spark off the first-ever flint, Mrs Wyzat was not impressed.
     'Listen! I work my fingernails off gathering nuts and berries, and what do you do? You sit in here banging stones together and burning the mammoth steaks for dinner. Are you listening to me? Where are you going now?'
     'I won't be long. Must get back to the drawing slate. Just had an idea.'
     'Another idea! Well, don't fill the cave full of smoke with this one. You're worse than that idiot who thinks he's an artist, painting dirty great animals all over people's caves faster than I can rub them off. Think yourself lucky you've got a cave-proud wife, not like that Mrs Ugg Lazybitch in three down. I haven't forgotten that you fixed up a pretty little sling thing to stop her oversize baby-feeders from wobbling about. And - don't think I didn't hear you offer to fit it for her.'
     'That was totally impersonal, my sweet. I'm a thinker, an inventor. I like to make things that other people haven't thought of.'
     'Well, make something useful for a change. The twins are getting too big to carry around. My back feels like I've been building bluestone henges all week. Why don't you make me a something - I don't know - something I can roll them around in?'
     'Roll?' pondered Wyzat, gazing at the full moon, 'Roll?'

Friday, 6 January 2017

A true story to start 2017.

Readers Stateside need to be aware that I'm talking soccer here, not the American brand of football. And the era will be ancient history to many readers - an era when our boots had hard leather toecaps, the ball never swerved unless there was a high wind, and overlapping full-backs hadn't been invented.

Two and a Half Moments of Glory

I was always a left back at football, even in my schooldays – and I don’t mean the old joke, “left back in the dressing-room”.
     I never scored, of course; full backs then didn’t aspire to scoring goals. We were defenders, pure and simple. Our job was to clatter the opposing winger, over the touch-line if possible. Getting the ball as well was a bonus.
     If we chanced to stray anywhere near the opponents’ territory, our legs started to shake; crossing the halfway line meant a full-on nose-bleed.  
    I said “always a left back”. That was true, until my last year at secondary school, when a newcomer usurped the position I’d held for four years. Four years of faithful service, chasing speedy wingers, tripping up inside-forwards and stopping free kicks with my face – all counted for nothing when that new boy arrived. He was tall and sort of good-looking, I suppose, in a Teutonic kind of way. Certainly the girls from the nearby convent school seemed to think so.
     He was Peter von Manteuffel – a German, for Pete’s sake!
     We’d just spent six years beating the schnitzel out of them all over Europe, and they had the gall to send one of their blond-haired blue-eyed Aryan supermen to steal the affections of the flower of our girlhood and my place in the school team.
     He did that in the usual sneaky German way, by being faster, fitter and great at taking penalties. His name meant “Man-Devil”. What can you expect?
     Later, in the Army, I played for the Intelligence Corps Depot, then for our unit team in Cyprus, on sun-baked pitches that had never seen a blade of grass – murder on your knees if you went to ground – and still never scored a goal.
     Then I came to Aberdeen, 32 years old, married with two sons but still a goal-scoring virgin. I played for YMCA Rovers. One Saturday I turned up at Hazlehead but found we already had a full team. I looked around the other pitches and saw that Castle Rovers were one short.
     ‘Do you need one more, boys?’ I asked.
     ‘Aye, fit’s yer name?’
     ‘OK, Tom,. You’re centre-forward.’
     Centre-forward! Ah, well, a game’s a game. I can go and hide afterwards.
     We got a corner on the left in our first attack. I was as short then as I am now, so I didn’t stay in the middle to try to outjump their six-foot defenders. I ran towards the corner to lure one of them away from the goalmouth. Our corner-taker, instead of lofting the ball towards the goal as I expected, saw me, mistook me for a proper centre-forward and passed it straight to my feet.
     Not me, you idiot! I’m a full-back. What do I do now? The defender was right behind me. I jinked to the left to go infield, then cut back towards the goal-line. Not exactly your Johan Cruyff but it worked - fooled him completely. I still savour that moment.
     I chipped the ball high into the goalmouth; one of our boys rose above the defenders and headed it into the net. One-nil to Castle Rovers; slaps on the back for Tom (aka Don). We didn’t do hugging and I would have been appalled to be underneath a writhing mass of celebrating sweaty bodies.
     Early in the second half it got even better. I cut in from the right with the ball at my feet and banged over a hopeful left foot cross towards the far post. Next thing I knew, my team were celebrating their second goal. The ball had sneaked in at the top corner.
     Our third goal was a carbon copy of the second. I found myself in the same position and thought,’Why not?’ Into the net it went. The crowd of seven men, one mum and a dog went crazy.
     Pinpoint accuracy. As if I’d been working on it for years. David Beckham, eat your heart out! “Bend it like Don (or Tom).”
     But even the short report in the Evening Express got my name wrong: “Castle Rovers beat Northfield 3-0. Scorers were Buchan and Will (2).”
     I wonder if old Rovers players sit around now with their arthritic hips and replacement knees, nursing their pints and telling tales of the legend who was Tom Will, the mystery man who appeared out of nowhere, gave a false name, won the game for them, then disappeared, never to be seen again.