Surviving Time : a short story

From the damp stone wall the oppressive timepiece hammered out the death throes of a spirit: tock, tock, tock. The man fought to disassociate from the callous beat that marched down time, leaning back into the sharp bench slats and forcing his hard fists against his ears. Anything to block the unrelenting beat. He thought he’d try to meditate again, to put all his effort into this one act of oblivion. He saw the white light pulse through him, the other-worldness of dreams, blocking out the beat, beat momentarily. Then he was back in real time, hearing the seconds pounding away.

The man knew he needed to move, to strain immovable joints, to break the pain barrier that fenced him in. Gripping the front slat of the bench, clenching his teeth and emitting a hollow growl he levered his body out of its frame. He stretched himself out of the seat, putting unaccustomed weight onto unbending limbs. His sigh echoed around the bare room as he sank back down. He’d been too long in the one position that locked his knees and made the air hard to breathe. Too long, and the seconds were beating down to a close.

A sudden chink of light bled under the heavy door. Another soul was near. Maybe more. He strained to hear a movement, a sound. But the beat kept on, filling the room, filling his mind. He shook his head free of the noise, and forced himself to stand. Just six feet away was the heavy door with its rusted hinges and blocked keyhole.

Again and again he tested the weight upon his legs and feet knowing that relentless effort was his only hope, his only hope of destroying their power to hold him, to make him their man. He’d had the force of his will, knew the power of controlling his own destiny – before they tried to break him, to beat out everything he stood for. He would defy their petty oppression; he would defy their need to make him theirs.

The clock ticked on. With every second, and with every minute, and with every hour the man became stronger. He willed and worked his useless joints until he was free of their tyranny, until he could push a path to that door.

With blackened nails the man gouged a splinter from the wooden bench and began to dig into the keyhole, easing out piece by piece the matter that was blocking it. Within a day he could peer through the hole, and within another he could press his ear against the hole and hear the silence of the outer room. He would survive.

Thank you for reading my short story. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Most borrowed library books. What would yours be?

New York Public Library has published a top ten list of the most borrowed books in its 125-year history. In an article about the list a journalist commented that, surprisingly, the most checked-out book was a “children’s picture book”, and there are two more in the top four.

My take is that the journalist knows little about libraries / readership / children. Young children devour books. Especially picture books. It is not unusual to see parents leaving libraries carrying armfuls – and with just two or three children in tow.

What are their findings?

In the NY library’s top four are three classic children’s picture books: “The Snowy Day”, “The Cat in the Hat”, and “Where the Wild Things Are”. Together they equal 75% of all the top four titles checked-out which is not surprising as all four have individual figures in the 400,000s; the rating for these three books within the top ten is 38.4%. In the top ten there are four picture books and they account for 43.7% of all checkouts so their representation has increased overall. Why is this?

By companion two novels for older readers, “Charlotte’s Web” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”, together equal 15.8% of checked-out books; the four listed adult books, “1984”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Fahrenheit 451”, and “How to Win Friends and Influence People” total 40.5%.

Reasons for making it onto the shortlist as explained by the compilers:

Shorter books have a greater turnover

I think a great read has more to do with complexity and layers of meaning. 1984 and To Kill a Mockingbird may not have many pages but they sure pack a punch in every one of them. The Great Gatsby is a short novel (and one of my favourites) but it’s a relatively straightforward tale of loss, and love, and loss.

Stephen King writes a gripping narrative and but he’s written so much that there’s a wealth to choose from. I’ve got at least half-a-dozen on my bookshelves waiting to be read!

Then there’s the children’s books. They may be no more than a dozen pages but a child will want to be read to over and over. Even the same story. Once hooked on books they are insatiable.

And Harry Potter? By no stretch of the imagination are they short and they’re definitely not a quick read.

Length of time in print

How to Win Friends and Influence People has never been out of print since 1936 so for sheer staying power it deserves to feature at 8th place. How many would read it today is another matter but in its hey-day it seemed everyone knew of it. By contrast Harry Potter arrived at the library some 62 years later and yet it is in 9th place having been checked-out only 53,500 fewer times. The reason given is that it was “an absolute phenomenon”. More likely is that it appealed to readers of all ages, there were movie spin-offs, and a mass of merchandise hit the shops. You don’t catch many “I’m a people influencer” tee-shirts around.

Being available in different languages

This probably has a lot to do with length of time in print as well as widespread appeal as it wouldn’t be economically viable to have small print runs. For whatever reason the more languages available will result in more being borrowed. The Snowy Day is not only available in other languages it was also one of the earliest children’s books to feature diversity. 

Final thoughts

Initially the figures may not appear to be fantastic bearing in mind that these are totals for New York’s Public Library over a 125-year period, and Dale Carnegie’s bestseller has been on the shelves for 84 years. But my quick calculations indicate that Carnegie has been checked-out 65 times a week (on average over those 80 years) and Harry Potter a staggering 202.
Now that’s phenomenal.

For the foreseeable future there will always be a demand for beautifully illustrated children’s literature, especially picture books for the youngest bibliophiles. With the easy availability of e-books and audio books the statistics from New York serve as a testament to the enduring appeal of the physical book.
Now that’s heartening.

Give-away!

Instead of the usual ‘Take-away’ at the end of an article, here’s a ‘Give-away’ –
a fun tote in a lightweight cotton ‘bookworm print’ fabric, large enough to carry your favourite book and magazine. It’s fully lined and has internal pockets for a small notebook, lots of pens, and a phone.

Please add your ‘top three’ titles and the reason you need a new book bag to the Comments below. I’ll post the bag to the person who has the most convincing argument.
NB I’m sorry, but for anyone outside British mainland I’ll need to apply a postage charge.

Bookworm Tote, showing inside pockets
Close-up of bookworm fabric

The Top Ten – for those who like to see the figures

  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, 1962 – 485,583 checkouts
  • The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss, 1957 – 469,650 checkouts
  • 1984 by George Orwell, 1949 – 441,770 checkouts
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, 1963 – 436,016 checkouts
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, 1960 – 422,912 checkouts
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, 1952 – 337,948 checkouts
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, 1953 – 316,404 checkouts
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, 1936 – 284,524 checkouts
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, 1998 – 231,022 checkouts
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, 1969 – 189,550 checkouts

I hope you have enjoyed the news from New York Public Library.
Thank you for reading and I hope to read your top titles soon.

Sussex Saga: a passive protest

Well the news is in and I can only respond with a Passive Protest.

The Queen’s statement following the ‘Sandringham Summit’ appears to be offering everything the Sussexes want. Let me re-phrase that, everything Ms Markle wants.

Now I cannot fathom which of two reasons would have led the Royal Family (vis The Queen, Prince Charles, and Prince William) to come to this decision:
1. they are too accommodating for their own good
2. the blackmail got to them

I’m against the first one as I fear this will set a terrible precedent for the Markle Mind Machinations
I’m against the second because bullying should not be allowed to win

For those who have not heard about the ‘blackmail’, the Sussexes have let it be known that if they do not get the deal they want then there will be a ‘no-holds-barred’ interview which their journalist friend says will ‘not be pretty’. They have threatened to tell all about their life within the Royal circle – whatever that may mean.

However you look at it, this is deplorable.

To accompany this post I’ve decided to include a few of the artworks I made during Art Therapy sessions in a Psychiatric Hospital. They were my responses to feelings of helplessness, overwhelming societal pressures, and invalidation.

I have no objection to anyone wanting to ‘go their own way’. What I do object to is when it comes with a sustained attack on others in a way that makes you appear the victim. This is malicious. Maybe even malevolent.

I hope the whole situation takes a turn for the better. And soon. The Queen certainly deserves that having been treated so disrespectfully.
It has afforded foreign newspapers the chance to ridicule, and given a foot in the door to republicans. If the Sussexes were hoping to continue receiving the privileges of royalty they will have to look to themselves if the system comes crashing down around them.

Thank you for reading my thoughts and heartfelt grievances.
Let’s look forward to a brighter future, and a better world.

Surreal Sunday: more veggie fun

With all the ‘less-than-great’ news doing the rounds I thought I’d inject some sun into Funday Night.

As in my previous ‘fun veggie faces’ post, both these images are of actual vegetables that have found their way to my chopping board. These guys are rather special. I prepare lots of veg every day and in the past couple of months only these two have been immortalised.

Meet Red Onion Face #2.

This little chap has the cutest eyebrows that give him a wistful look. Perhaps he’s dreaming of better times ahead.

Meet Celeriac Head.
(confession: although I did not alter the ‘eye sockets’ I did blend the colours)

Despite appearance celeriac has the most delicate flavour. If you haven’t tried it, the taste is akin to celery. Clue’s in the name.
Now I have to admit that celeriac can be a pretty ugly brute. (Oxymoron? Not quite.) Whenever I see them I wonder if it was a celeriac that inspired the aliens in Star Trek and Star Wars. And although not a Dead Ringer, I often think of Jabba the Hutt when I’ve one on my chopping board.

Recipe alert: I prepared this one for lunch today: boiled small chunks; drained then mashed with olive oil; thickened with ground almonds; flavoured with black pepper and home-made honey & cider mustard.

How did I get these images? Photoshop Elements.

For those of you who may want to have a go I’ve listed basic instructions below. If it’s not clear enough please let me know.

  • remove background – usually my worktop (kitchen counter) with the usual cooking preparation clutter
  • tweak image with the ‘shadows’ and ‘saturation’ functions – not too much as I didn’t want them to look totally unrealistic
  • open a New Layer for the background
  • move the image onto the new background layer
  • from the thumbnails at the bottom of the screen open a second image
  • using ‘image’ menu flip the image horizontally
  • at this point you decide the mirrored effect you are after; the part of the image you don’t want is the one you need to ‘cut’ in the next stage
  • using the rectangular marquee select the side of the image you do not plan on using; use ‘edit’ – ‘cut’ to remove
  • from thumbnails at bottom of screen select the main layer with tweaked image
  • using ‘move’ slide the cut image onto the main layer; rearrange layers if this isn’t on the top
  • use ‘move’ arrows to position top layer so that the mirrored image you want is achieved

I hope you’ve enjoyed my post. I’ve enjoyed creating my fun veggies.
If you find any interesting or fun items in your fruit or veggie baskets please share. What’s the strangest fruit or veg you’ve come across?

Thank you for reading.

Window on my world: art and artists

After my previous ‘heavy’ posts I wanted to share some of my lighter moments on this wet and windy Saturday.

I’ve written about my need to be creative and posted photographs taken on my travels, surreal images, as well as examples of my craft work.
Stashed away at the moment are my various painting and sketching resources. This form of creativity is something I’ve dipped into over the decades although the majority of my work is fairly dark, being a fundamental part of my therapy.

So for my first ‘Saturday Share’ here are a few of my artworks. The genres and media are eclectic.


A graphite sketch I composed by combining two separate images of Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel.

In Ulverston, a small town in Cumbria, there’s a Laurel & Hardy museum that I visited in the 1980s. It was quite small but packed with such interesting memorabilia. There was also a wonderful tiny cinema – red plush upholstery – screening ‘Sons of the Desert’ over and over. Fantastic!
Why here? Ulverston is the birthplace of Stan Laurel.

Henry VIII hand puppet
Felt vegetables stitched onto a hessian background

Every so often I’ll do a major sewing project – usually for a specific purpose.
As part of the Art component of my Bachelor of Education we were taught to sew hand puppets. This was fantastic as it allowed us to practise so many techniques. Deciding on my character was a no-brainer as I had been drawing and painting Henry VIII for years.
I decided to stitch the veggie collage for my first term with my first class. It was the Autumn Term and one of the topics was ‘Harvest’. It has stood the test of time – 32 years later and it is hanging in my kitchen! That’s the reason the cauliflower is looking rather faded.

Must admit I’ve found acrylic much more forgiving than watercolour.

copied from: Lane of Poplars near Nuenen, van Gogh
copied from: Cornfield with Cypresses, van Gogh

I don’t copy because it’s easier. I find it concentrates my mind more and pushes me towards a greater discipline. More importantly it helps me toward a finer appreciation of the way artists create.
I admire the ‘Impressionists’ and find the way that van Gogh could describe mental anguish in a few brushstrokes truly inspiring. I also enjoy the assured work of the Pre-Raphaelites, the deftness of Turner, the finesse of Ingres and Durer. Oh, and so much more – from Giotto to Georgia O’Keeffe, Holbein to Hopper, Kahlo to Kandinsky.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my first ‘Saturday Share’.
Happy Saturday. Happy Weekend. Happy Everyday.

Thank you for reading my post and checking out what I’m up to.
Please share your favourite artists or artworks. And if you have any tips for working in different media I’d be very pleased to read them.

Harry and Meghan: polarising a nation

Harry and Meghan hit the headlines again and once more it wasn’t for the ‘right’ reasons. This time they are polarising opinion, and not just in Britain.

Back in July I wrote about Meghan and at that time I was sympathetic to her plight. I posed the question “Are her friends doing her a disservice?”.

Now the situation is very different. What has happened to change my opinion?

The Public

As the months have gone by Meghan has come across as a bit of a prima-donna. Air-fresheners in an ancient edifice; insisting that no photographs of her at Wimbledon were to be taken by members of the public. Reports from her staff complaining she was overly demanding / critical.

People at Wimbledon didn’t even realise she was there until she got security to speak to those near her; one chap who was singled out was taking a selfie.

The Press

There have been repeated complaints by both Harry and Meghan about the intrusiveness of the press. She has gone so far as to sue a newspaper for publishing a letter she wrote to her father. It is being said that the press (and the British public) are racist and misogynistic in their attitude toward her.

The press has been no more intrusive with them as they have been with anyone else. They are members of the Royal Family and, in effect, ‘public property’. Harry had no choice, Meghan did. There was no way she could have had no notion of what it would be like. Even a little research would have helped. She wasn’t exactly playing house with the boy down the block.

As for other newbies, Kate Middleton had a similar experience – more so in fact as she was the potential ‘Queen of England’. The story of Diana is well-documented. And as for the accusations of racism? How does that stack up with the treatment of Kate and Diana?

Lastly, the letter. Her father offered it to the newspaper. Enough said.

The Royal Family

There has been a comment, “They want their cake and eat it.”
I can’t help but agree.

Spend only half the year in Britain. Keep Frogmore Cottage as their home here. What about the upkeep of an ‘empty’ property? What about staff?

Refurbishments to Frogmore Cottage took place less than a year ago. The costs were in the millions. Of taxpayers’ money. They had deep discussions about living out of Britain months ago. Was there no overlap? Did they never think it was a huge expense for a place they didn’t want as a permanent home? Or exactly who would foot the bill?

Step back from being ‘Senior Royals’. Make their own way in the world. Become financially independent.
Until then, live at the taxpayers’ expense. The taxpayers in a country they have rejected as their permanent home. And be heavily subsidised by Harry’s father.

Final insult? Not discussing it with the people who matter. The people who are not only Harry’s father, brother, and grandmother, but the Queen, and two future kings. It is not surprising that they are all upset and disappointed – not as family, not as members of the same ‘firm’, but as monarchs.

I accept that people outside Britain will very possibly be in support of what the Sussexes have decided. But I do wonder if they would feel the same if it was their tax that was being squandered. If it was their Royal Family (or equivalent) that was being ridden roughshod over.
And now the republicans here are boldly stepping out of the woodwork to ask ‘do we need the Royal Family?’.

I shall come clean. I am a monarchist. I love the very notion of having the Queen on the throne. But I’m not blinkered. I prefer the feistiness of the Princess Royal and Prince Philip to the fustiness of Prince Charles. I prefer the WYSIWYG of Camilla to the two-faced simpering of Diana. I like strong individuals. But I abhor people who are so self-satisfied that they think it their right to, in effect, just take the piss! And the sympathy vote. And the money.
And what do I feel about Harry? I honestly feel sorry for him. And this is when I do lay the blame at the feet of his family. It has little to do with his age when his mother died. It has all to do with his personality. He couldn’t cope with his emotions. This led to the trauma, feelings of persecution, paranoia, call it how you will. He needed, and still needs, bereavement counselling.

Unusually for me I’ve made some pretty contentious comments. But I have been riled by the reports and tweets I’ve read that are so critical of the press and the public in Britain.
People who live in glass houses … ” comes to mind.

Hopefully both sides will come to an amicable arrangement. The rest of us will have to wait and see.
If you have thoughts on this matter please share them. Join the conversation in what could be one of the ground-breaking events of this year. Thank you for reading.