Digital Ischemia

24/08/2019

A Manifesto, by the Omphaloskeptic Party

As we were waiting on the stair,
For a chance that wasn’t there,
We saw a wolf and then a bear,
And third a pregnant mountain hare.

These things have disappeared from our biotically denuded, cartridge case-littered isle. Also apparently under threat is the pregnant human. The honourable member for Waitrose Helensburgh raised the concern that Britain is shrivelling – that is, the human population thereof. Not himself personally, of course, for he is deliberately concentrating all his energy into the head end, ahem, and what becomes of the rest is unimportant. But if the falling reproductive rate of females – currently around 1.8 children per female – continues, ultimately the British will cease to exist as a race. This is not a personal exhortation, of course; all tacitly accept that my eggs are quite addled.

The Party’s broad sweep over social issues includes views on abortion. Although there are strong arguments pro, the venerable patron of Paisley Podiatrix would not like to ‘undertake’ the procedure himself. This is just as well, since his current inventory of surgical implements comprises a dazzling array of sugar-encrusted kitchen utensils and a pair of pliers for stubborn fastenings.

Next the Marks & Spencer-moccasined member asserted that single parents are on the rise. This is simple statistics: as a nation we are losing interest in breeding. Completely missing the point, I countered that people will not stop having sex; life is hard enough. Opinions have changed little since the 60s, when any of Hrabal’s young beauties would tell you you might as well be buried alive if the man in your life has a faulty fandangle, which sounds even more, er, galvanising in Czech.

We swivelled our bradawl-like intellects to the ethics of childminders. Mothers are under pressure from the backwash of the suffragette movement to exercise every single one of their hard-won rights. They must return to work full-time as soon as possible. No matter that gender parity is a hormonal beast. Women are entitled to work as long as men, just not for the same pay.

However, women are currently entitled to longer maternity leave. And to wrangle to their heart’s delight with the Dostoyevskian dilemma of flexible working patterns. Anything less than full-time remains an admission of inferiority. A lack of professional commitment. So they grasp ‘compressed hours’ – full-time hours over fewer days. Leaving them a longer ‘weekend’ to engage in ‘compressed hours’ full-time parenting. Because if you’re working in order to pay somebody to look after your children, like every stage in any process of value conversion, something gets lost.

Consequently, with unanimous support, we propose to introduce both parity of paternity leave, and parity of pressure on fathers to reduce their working hours commensurate with their partners to at most seventy-five percent. Thus, by equally sharing the professional shame of being a parent, we can accelerate the depopulation of Britain, and allow its recolonisation by more intelligent mammals.

Quoth Beethaven “Leonore!”, lightning to strike thrice, and that concludes this manifesto on behalf of the Omphaloskeptic Party, brought to you in dysfunction with powdered fresh ginkgo biloba leaves.

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23/06/2019

Fossoway Flora and the Croits: a sonata in A manor -r

Relationship counselling with three incarnations of the Kreutzer Sonata – radio script
(Other episodes in the Fossoway Flora series)

 

CAST LIST

FLORA (30s): Scottish, Female, Ecologist

LEO (60s): Russian, Male, Psychotherapist

ROD (30s): Scottish, Male, Music Promoter

SCENE (1) INT HALL

FX: DOOR SHUTS, ECHOEY

FLORA

We’re definitely in the right place: A Manor – Relationship Counselling.

ROD

Nobody here.

FLORA

I need to pee.

ROD

Aye, you disappear, then someone appears.

FX: RECEDING STEPS, RUFFLING MAGAZINES

ROD (CONT’D)

‘Romantic gardening’?!

FX: APPROACHING STEPS

FLORA

There’s an old Russian master in the toilet.

ROD

How do you ken he’s Russian?

FLORA

Apart from the accent? He’s fondling a samovar.

SCENE (2) INT TOILET

FX: BEETHOVEN VIOLIN SONATA NO.9 IN A MAJOR KREUTZER OP.47 EXCERPT; DOOR CREAK, SAMOVAR LID CLANG

LEO

(WAIL) How can they play that first presto in front of ladies? It’s irresponsible.

ROD

(LOUD, STILTED)

Do you know where the therapist is?

FLORA

(CLOSE) He is the therapist! This is Leo Tallstory! He has the ‘croits’.

ROD

(CLOSE) Well, he’s in the best place.

LEO

My complaint is caused by deletions made by literary executors.

ROD

Ouch.

LEO

Come to my consulting room.

SCENE (3) INT CONSULTING ROOM

FX: SAMOVAR LID CLANG

LEO

Flora. Rodney. We must begin with the social conditions in which amorous young people are forced, like cucumbers in a hot-bed!

ROD

Cucumbers?!

FLORA

This is exactly why we’re here, Mr Tallstory. We rather rushed—

LEO

Call me Leo. Our super-abundance of food, coupled with physical idleness, simply pushes us to the next biological need: food, shelter, etcetera, reproduction. Every day we consume huge quantities of meat and pastry and drinks of sugar. Where does all this energy go?

ROD

Er…

LEO

Into excesses of sensuality.

ROD

Is it hot in here?

FLORA

I did try fruitarianism.

LEO

It is a good start. Rod, do you admit to knowing pieces of music that make you feel happy or salad?

ROD

Is this a crime—? Wait: “salad”?

LEO

Somebody perhaps calls in to a radio show to share the piece of music that triggered them to propose marriage to their partner.

LEO (CONT’D)

This seems like a joyful story, yes? But this person says it was the worst mistake of their life and blames it on a false feeling incited by the music.

FLORA

Ooh! We really don’t understand how music affects our moods, choices—

ROD

That’s basically sympathising with state censorship of music!

FLORA

We’re just having a conversation!

ROD

So you say, then once again I’m the victim of mission creep.

LEO

What is your mission, Rodney?

ROD

Actually it’s Rodolphe.

LEO

The Kreutz! (SCREAM)

FX: SAMOVAR LID GRINDS, BEETHOVEN VIOLIN SONATA EXCERPT

LEO (CONT’D)

So sorry about that. He was the original dedicatee, you see – Rodolphe Kreutzer. He refused it.

ROD

And yet here it is.

LEO

Fate! What is your profession, Mr Kreutzer?

ROD

Music industry executive.

FLORA

(SNORT)

LEO

What do you do?

FLORA

Yes, what exactly?

ROD

Never mind your disrespecting! I promote bands, get them gigs, recording contracts… new strings.

LEO

Which ensembles are these?

ROD

Well, er, right now it’s mostly this band, you’ve maybe heard of them, er, this indie electro rock band, er, The Wankers?

FLORA

(SPLUTTER)

LEO

You produce them?

ROD

Aye! Respect at last!

LEO

You make them into a product to sell to as many people as possible, giving these ‘consumers’ unpredictable emotional stimulation, to generate profit for yourself?

ROD

Er, no, that’s not—

LEO

The machine of commercial production grinds and grinds to deliver more and more products for human consumption: the instant gratification of ever fainter desires. Millions of oppressed workers are drained to husks by soulless industry, predicated upon the fallacy of infinite economic growth, merely to satisfy woman’s caprice.

ROD

Ken how they feel.

FLORA

I only changed my mind once: when I met Rod I thought he was funny but now I realise it’s all just smut.

LEO

We must play the Kreutzer Sonata.

ROD

Is this one of your mind games?

FX: SAMOVAR LID GRINDS, BEETHOVEN VIOLIN SONATA EXCERPT

ROD (CONT’D)

Is that a wee radio you have in your sam-over?

LEO

It is an echo-chamber. Flora. How do you respond to music?

FLORA

Music transports me immediately into the emotional state of the composer.

FX: GLASS DISH DRAG

LEO

Correct. Would you like a lollipop? These are ants trapped in chocolate.

FLORA

Absolutely not. This is a macabre metaphor for the oppressed workers.

FX: CELLOPHANE SQUEAKS

LEO

But they taste of honey. And all these males sacrifice their entire existence for the queen.

ROD

Don’t get any ideas.

FLORA

They milk aphids for honeydew.

ROD

Milk?

FLORA

When the aphids are gorging on plant sap, the ants stroke the aphids’ abdomens until they excrete—

ROD

(AROUSED MOAN)

LEO

Rod! Who wrote the Kreutzer Sonata?

ROD

(TETCHY)

Doctor Bunsen Honeydew.

FLORA

Muppet.

LEO

Both wrong. Beethoven knew exactly why he was in that emotional state. That state drove the form of the music, which therefore had deep meaning for him. But for me it is inappropriate.

ROD

And me. Can I have one of your wee honeydew sweeties?

LEO

No.

ROD

Why?

LEO

Because, like the music, just the idea of this honeydew causes directly in you a surge of energy and emotion that is inappropriate to this time and place. And furthermore must have an outlet which can only be harmful.

ROD

I’ll just bottle it up then.

FLORA

I’m not sure—

LEO

Flora. How do you feel after hearing this music?

FLORA

I do feel that rush of extreme emotion: as if I’ve been betrayed and I want vengeance… but I’m constrained?

LEO

Exactly. I must pursue this man who seduces my wife! But I am not dressed! It is ridiculous to run after my wife’s lover wearing only socks. I do not wish to appear ridiculous but terrifying!

ROD

(SNIGGER)

FLORA

Should we consider the wife’s—?

FX: CD CASE SLIDES ACROSS TABLE

LEO

Your homework. This has been helpful. I see you next week.

FX: SAMOVAR LID CLANG

Library issue slip showing due dates in 1984, 1995, 2018

Popular book

SCENE (4) EXT DRIVEWAY

FX: STEPS CRUNCH GRAVEL

ROD

How does he get away with that?

FLORA

Some of his ideas really resonate.

ROD

Aye, great wee thing, that sam-over.

FLORA

Do you still have anything that plays CDs?

SCENE (5) INT FLAT

FX: POOR QUALITY PIANO CONCERTO EXCERPT

ROD

Did they forget to take the microphone out its case?

FLORA

Bit ‘soft focus’, isn’t it? And how do you end up missing sixteen bars? Did they lose a page from the score?

ROD

Could they just not fit it all on the one seventy-eight? How old is this?

FX: CD CASE CLICKS

FLORA

You’re right: was it not played or was it deleted?

FX: CD CASE DISINTEGRATES

FLORA (CONT’D)

Thanks for dismantling it.

ROD

Oh, that address is in Prague. I could ask when I’m there. Next again week. Since I’ll be in Prague to interview record company representatives.

FLORA

Still hawking your wares?

ROD

Offering them the chance to be part of global domination by The Wankers.

FLORA

They may have some experience with that.

SCENE (6) EXT GARDEN

FX: SAMOVAR LID CLANG, BG BIRDS, STEPS THROUGH GRASS

LEO

I extemporise best in my garden, and my clients seem to find it easier to reconnect with their own natures here.

FLORA

Does the nature have to be so… tamed?

LEO

Tamed… constrained… mutilated… Ah! I find myself paralysed in the greenhouse, my hand on an enormous Savoy cabbage. I feel its mesh of tiny ridges and gullies. I flex my fingertips to take in all the textural detail, but it’s smooth now: it has a hairline. It’s my best friend, Pavel.

ROD

(CLOSE) Do you think that gate’s locked?

LEO

He has a head of cabbage. (CHUCKLE)

FLORA

(CLOSE) Pay attention. This is costing fifty quid an hour.

SCENE (7) INT GREENHOUSE

FX: JANÁČEK STRING QUARTET NO.1 KREUTZER SONATA EXCERPT; GREENHOUSE DOOR RATTLE

ROD

(CLOSE) There’s no cabbages!

LEO

Flora. The code is in the music. Pavel is the musician. He plays pianos with ridiculous talent. He completely feels that poor woman: tormented, run down.

ROD

(CLOSE) There’s no pianos!

FX: PENCIL SCRIBBLES

FLORA

(CLOSE) Pavel… Krrzhzhpostulov! On that CD!

LEO

Pavel plays Beethoven and Janáček; he stops time. We’re squatting in a villa in Brno. Why? Because it has a piano, of course. Also a sinkhole in the kitchen floor – a casualty of the last explosion. I thought the cellar would be good shelter…

But it seems abandoned. Pavel says he won’t go down there until the piano does. He goes where the music goes, with his cabbage-like skull.

FX: SAMOVAR LID CLANG

LEO (CONT’D)

I always have Pavel with me.

ROD

(CLOSE) Shite, it’s an urn, isn’t it?!

LEO

I see you next week.

SCENE (8) EXT DRIVEWAY

FX: STEPS CRUNCH GRAVEL

ROD

Will you miss me? When I’m away to Prague? Next week?

FLORA

I miss… We’ve missed… All the great composers, the great writers, great artists, that we know of; they’re just the tiny minority who had the right talent in the right place at the right time to be recognised and perpetuated. What about all the others? Some of them were just as great, but due to some misfortune their work was not recognised, or was lost, or their lives were so short that they never got to share anything. All that lost talent! Lost effort!

ROD

This Pavel boy of Leo’s was one of the composers that nobody’s heard of?

FLORA

Who knows?

Library notice inside book cover stating lending rules

The Sanitary Inspector and other stories by Leo Tolstoy is also available

SCENE (9) INT FLAT

FX: JANÁČEK STRING QUARTET EXCERPT

ROD

(DISTORT) About the missing bars. They’re just two nerds in a basement with an eight-track.

FLORA

Thanks for trying.

ROD

(DISTORT) But! They Fourier-analysed the sound at the break. They showed me the graph of the harmonics. Each instrument has its own signature sound shape, but you only see it at the start of each note, just the first fraction of a second, after that it becomes a cleaner sound that doesn’t really identify the instrument.

FLORA

Ah! So the sounds immediately after the break…?

ROD

(DISTORT) Some are the start of notes but some aren’t. The recording was cut; it wasn’t performed that way.

FLORA

That’s really interesting. So why cut it?

ROD

(DISTORT) They thought those bits were plagiarised. Maybe I’ll find out in Brno tomorrow.

FLORA

Um, be careful.

SCENE (10) INT FLAT

FX: JANÁČEK STRING QUARTET EXCERPT

ROD

(DISTORT) I’m in this villa on Girasolov Street – I’m sure it’s the one Tallstory stayed in. It’s just a ruined shell. I’m in the cellar! I can see the bricks!

FLORA

What?!

ROD

(DISTORT) Where the cellar space turns a corner into a passage: the bricks are chalked white like a vertical piano keyboard. Pavel brought the piano to him.

FLORA

That’s actually quite touching.

ROD

(DISTORT) That’s not the best bit: wedged in cracks between the bricks are scraps of paper, wrappers, bits of paper bag, envelopes, all with music written on! Fences with beetles!

FX: PAPER CRACKLES

FLORA

Did you take them? No, you shouldn’t have. But that could be the missing—

ROD

(DISTORT) I know! I think I should get points for this: I photographed them!

FLORA

That’s brilliant!

ROD

(DISTORT) Er, OK.

SCENE (11) INT CONSULTING ROOM

FX: BEETHOVEN VIOLIN SONATA EXCERPT; SAMOVAR LID CLANG

FLORA

Old cabbage-head didn’t die. That was just an echo-chamber of your low self-esteem type thing.

ROD

He works delivering vegetables. His hair’s stripy white now – like piano keys!

LEO

You see him?!

ROD

I heard him. From the shed in his garden. He plays just for himself. A small crowd gathers. Very quietly in the shrubs.

LEO

(SOB)

FLORA

Maybe you need a nice bit of samovar?

FX: SAMOVAR LID SLIDE, JANÁČEK STRING QUARTET EXCERPT

ROD

(CLOSE) Are we, er, croitsed?

FLORA

(CLOSE) You can take it too far, can’t you?

FIN

05/01/2019

The Twelve Days of Twistmas part 12/12

The Christmas song twisted into a series of linked short tales, fabricated around tortuous puns. Begins at part 1.

I was fizzing with excitement as I approached Svendsen’s glasshouse. My hand floated to the door handle of its own accord. It was a turner, but so slack as to be redundant. The shiny, worn push-plate above it had survived better. I adored these and the missing paint from the edges. Carried away by the romance, I expected to be greeted like an old friend, a favourite customer or a revered benefactor. No-one made eye-contact.

That is to say all eye-contact was with the near end of assorted binoculars and telescopes. All focus was on the ridge of small hills. Ah, the birds. A party of twitchers? No cakes, then.

I tentatively enquired, “what have you got?” Then a final inspiration struck: “Dunlins?”

Drumhaugh’s dunlins?! I really was too excited. “Twelve?”

“Naw. Drumlins.”

I hadn’t seen that coming. And yet I had seen every single one of them coming. Every single one of the twelve of them, lining the blasted glen, as I came up the road: ‘mounds or small hills in a group.’

We, that is to say, they watched the small hills for a considerable time. I sniffed among the neglected foliage: I was prepared to lick a tropical flower if it tasted of vanilla.

Eventually I pinpointed the rear of Svendsen’s head and casually enquired about the provenance of the nimps.

“They kindae go with the territory.”

“Because it’s such a wonderful wilderness?”

Svendsen turned to look at me like I was half-baked with bodged icing.

“Because you’re living in a hag’s hoose?”

I stuttered, “It’s a fishing hut!”

Another ornithological obsessive cried, “crone’s cottage!”

I continued bleating. “It’s called ‘ha’e grouse’ or something…!?”

“Hag house.”

Obvious now. Rotten, crooked… ‘h’ becomes ‘r’. “I’m leaving tomorrow anyway.”

“Dinnae think so.” I didn’t know which of them said this, or rather mumbled into the recesses of the opticals.

“Who’s going to stop me?! Imaginary creatures twelve centimetres tall?!”

Svendsen quietly muttered, “try them.” At some unseen signal he continued, “but first, try this.”

There followed the smack and shudder of a door over-opening, an angry rustle of foliage, and a small group cheer of self-congratulation at disaster averted. An enormous celebratory meal of a cake, with several courses served in several articulated constructions, lurched into view, borne upon several pairs of very small legs. Woohoo!

On the twelve days of Christmas my new hov-el gave to me…? I’ll get back to you.

END

For two SPs.

04/01/2019

The Twelve Days of Twistmas part 11/12

The Christmas song twisted into a series of linked short tales, fabricated around tortuous puns. Begins at part 1.

My advent aviary and I enjoyed our afternoon sleigh rides so much that we have continued our daily strolls along the glen tracks since the snow melted. Not very far initially, what with inappropriate footgear and, well, feet. Consequently I exhumed a pallet and filched a couple pairs of ladder wheels from the shed emporium. We now have a wheeled sleigh with more comfy straw and we trundle until I get tired of the rattling. I pull the affair with a length of twine. I like the walk and have no desire to sit in bird shit as the nine of us free-wheel into a bog.

We headed downstream.

Bad choice. Error. There were probably only one or two, but they sounded like a whole herd of rabid cats in heat. Nimps banishing the last vestiges of their hangovers with the absolute worst tiny bagpipe-playing.

I had a nauseating vision of the laddies troupe reeling to this cacophony. Yet they would need to be going about the place pretty soon to prepare their grand finale. Santa, the hens, the collared doves and I about-turned and instead made a small foray in the opposite direction.

We found ourselves on the road, as the sound seemed to carry along the water like Sirens wailing. Before long we reached the limit of Svendsen’s estate. His sign was in much better condition: Drumshaugh. Drums, eh? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

We wandered in, curious about our new-found favourite neighbour’s activities the day before the party. It all looked quite different coming from the other side, and what I thought was the mill turned out to be a bakery, but on a scale of stupendous proportions. The smell had us all salivating; me for the vanilla; them for the grain.

We tilted toward the first window, pressing our noses/beaks in the traditional fashion. Through the steam we could make out industrial scale conveyor belts of cakes, tarts, pies and patisseries. A collective of feathered confectioners attended the production line… with pointy ears.

What were these fellows: Turnstones? Snipe? Goblins? I’ll look it up, but what was more remarkable was how they were skilfully operating shiny chrome levers with their long, elegant toes, whilst manoeuvring shiny chrome nozzles with their long, elegant beaks, thereby producing the most enchanting rainbow of sugar-based decorations. Cakes of all sizes were being adorned with the fanciest of furls and flora. A thoroughly diabetes-inducing team icing effort.

Elven Sandpipers Piping.

The Twelve Days of Twistmas concludes at part 12

03/01/2019

The Twelve Days of Twistmas part 10/12

The Christmas song twisted into a series of linked short tales, fabricated around tortuous puns. Begins at part 1.

Woke up far too early. Excited. Drat. Festive spirits probably dripping through the roof. But I was confident against all probability that today would be a quiet and amusing-encounter-free day.

After fearlessly performing feeding duties, I took a wee wander around the yard; what had seemed neglected and empty to begin with was growing on me. Things I hadn’t noticed before began to seem enchantingly wild: an old oak tree trunk enmeshed in lattice of ivy stems. I peered.

Something I was definitely sure there hadn’t been: a little fold of sparkly pink paper. At a node where two ivy stems crossed, the postage stamp sized origami was carefully tucked to sit as a diamond backdrop. I admired the shapes, the lines and the weaving; the pink, grey and green. But these were all a mental smokescreen: my hand was reaching for the paper before I even admitted my curiosity.

Blank. Unfolded, flipped about, held up to the sky where the sun should be. No message.

Folded or oriented? Origami after all? Geometric puzzle? Was the message even actually intended for me? Disappointed, I furtively glanced about, then re-folded the paper and returned it to its position. I tried staring at it from different angles and distances.

From about twenty metres away the artwork was pretty fuzzy, but I caught the blur of movement. I strode back up to the trunk and practically bumped my nose into the arse of the mover. The nimp was wrestling the paper that was bigger than his arm. He muttered invectives, but these seemed less about his task and more about the halo of flies buzzing around his head. He noticed my shadow.

His head flicked around with a resentful expression that clearly said “mine.” The pink paper came free, he pressed it over his face like a flannel and inhaled. He then crumpled it into his mouth, chewed briefly and swallowed.

The nimp scurried down the ivy lattice like a sailor navigating rigging and disappeared into a root crevice. A phone was ringing.

I reached the golden mobile just before Narcisse swept it off the bunker onto the floor with her tail feathers. The fascia already looked lightly clawed; apparently not a hens-free model. Ho ho.

The caller was Svendsen inviting me to a party on Saturday. Of course he knew about the pink paper diamond. Nimps can’t read, so he communicates with them via a trail of vanilla or other bakery scents. That was some hangover to sanction eating cinnamon-doused paper.

And so it was quiet. As always follows from nimp laddies carousing.

Tender heids a-lowping.

The Twelve Days of Twistmas continues at part 11

02/01/2019

The Twelve Days of Twistmas part 9/12

The Christmas song twisted into a series of linked short tales, fabricated around tortuous puns. Begins at part 1.

I awoke to ice crystals whisking the glass. I bravely extended one arm to open the curtain and watch the soothing swirl. Everything became transfixingly silent.

As the snowfall abated, I emerged to attend les poulets Française. A glint of movement drew my eyes straight to the pens, but it seemed to be just a snow sparkle. As I trudged nearer, there appeared very small footprints, forming a loop. Neither bird nor mammal. Reptiles unlikely to be abroad in snow.

Nicole and Narcisse were cluckling habitually. Noelle, however, was perturbed. Unsettled. I respectfully rummaged in her nest, wondering if I had accidentally introduced an uncomfortable stone or similar indignity with yesterday’s fresh straw.

A very small voice complained, “ooh-yah!”
I retrieved a warm, round, egg-sized object. Not an egg. Rather startled, I let it roll back on to the straw. There it unfolded to about twelve centimetres high, expressed its own startlement, emitted a very quiet “shite” and vanished into the woodwork.

I decided to walk the road solo as the promised convolutions would suit my cogitations. Nimps. Mysterious bird migrations? Nimps. Other random translocations? Nimps. Nimps could explain the lot. Mischief. Magic. How inevitably seasonal.

I turned back to the hut. I missed the entire scenery in reverse as well. But for the first time I noticed a rotten, crooked sign beside the rotten, crooked fence by the hut. “Hagrouse”. Bit of Scots there? Theme of country hunting? My thoughts returned to things that go whump in the night. And clatter.

If I timed this exactly right, turned off all the lights, pretended to be away to bed as usual… Tum-ti-tum… Snuck back to the kitchen door, turned the handle so very quietly… Stepped silently into the yard…

How does the verse go again?
When up on the roof there arose such a clatter,
As yon dafty nimps were aye gettin’ battered.

Something like that. And there, on the roof, in the statutory moonbeam: a ring of tiny rollicking revellers. Ice crystals whisking their glasses too. Plenty whisky-ing their glasses.

Nimp laddies dancing.

The Twelve Days of Twistmas continues at part 10

01/01/2019

The Twelve Days of Twistmas part 8/12

The Christmas song twisted into a series of linked short tales, fabricated around tortuous puns. Begins at part 1.

Svendsen was a fellow feather fancier, although not as sordid as that sounds. He said he collected them. At first I thought he meant for shooting or just for having captive. But after being caught seemingly stringing some up, I tried not to jump to conclusions.

Indeed I had misunderstood: the ‘collecting’ was a sort of passive magnetism as the assorted birds arrived as refugees from neighbouring estates, and were welcomed with food and shelter. And were free to leave. I suspect some of my recent companions had wandered over from his hostelry. Annoyingly I found all this heart-warming.

In any case, we were all invited over for New Year tea; to share, not to be roasted for.

Svendsen had advised that we follow the river upstream, rather than the road, which was more circuitous. I should stress that I stuck firmly to the river bank. The gentle incline was a decent work-out and none of us were water-going.

As we passed alongside a wider, slower-moving section, three ducks—–one drake——kept pace with us, hugging the far bank, weaving in and out of the weeds and exposed tree roots. In fact, they seemed surprisingly purposeful in their speed and direction. As we wound upstream a regular splashing——bigger than any of our efforts——grew louder.

The looming of a giant wooden wheel suggested that we were approaching chez Svendsen. We pulled up to admire the renovated mill-wheel. Svendsen had created a New Lanark for the 21st century: birds of all shapes and sizes were offered not just food and shelter, but also employment as water-mill engineers. And they made flour that made very nice buns.

The vista was bird-boggling. Like one of those tedious maths puzzles where you have to work out where to place a minimum number of individuals around a building so that the number in view from any window etc. I tried to focus on ducks. Some ducks appeared to be clocking-off and heading back downstream. Our three companions appeared to be starting their shifts. Somewhere in all that milling…

Eight mallards milling? Any creaking you may hear is not the mill-wheel, but the sound of puns being stretched to the limit.

The Twelve Days of Twistmas continues at part 9

31/12/2018

The Twelve Days of Twistmas part 7/12

The Christmas song twisted into a series of linked short tales, fabricated around tortuous puns. Begins at part 1.

Yesterday’s inaugural sleigh run was a tame affair and thoroughly exhausted the flat area around the hut. Having converted all that snow to an ice rink, and itching for a little reckless speed, we set out along the track seeking a slope.

Obviously we are surrounded by slopes, being situated in a glen. However, we were after ones that went down. Not really concerning ourselves with the having to come back up again afterward.

Entering unexplored territory, the fluffters seemed quite content as passengers, and the dove made occasional navigational recces ahead. What she’d seen remained secret.

The landscape unfolded slowly until, as we emerged through a half-dozen spindly old pines, we spied a water body, a loch, well, pond, well, to be entirely truthful: a swampy puddle. Not fussed. Downhill all the way and remember to brake before your feet get wet.

We wasted no time lining up on the banking. Santa, the hens and the dove took the forward positions; I wedged myself in the back, feeling much like ballast. I rocked the sleigh back-and-forth a little, checking the grease.

“Brace yourselves, girls!”
We were off. Accelerating through degrees of amusement, excitement and mild palpitations. How wonderfully refreshing to feel the wind through your feathers. And where I was sitting the feathered breeze was not unpleasant. The scenery moved fast enough to be interesting and the ride was sufficiently cushioned by straw. Certainly there was enough interest to keep my mind well off the subject of swans.

Two-thirds of the way to the pond, my glance took in a blackened, splayed, dead tree trunk. In the fraction of a second that my brain took to suggest that a tree was unlikely to grow in the middle of a pond, one of its branches moved. Instinctively I dropped both my feet off the sleigh and into the snow, unafraid of snapping like a wishbone, and waited for the braking effect. Left foot won, we slewed around, and were all gently deposited on a white crispy blanket, to the right of the sleigh.

I wobbled upright, and re-orientated myself. The dark, sodden human figure in the pond flailed again. I frantically grasped at the rope and set off toward the edge of the pond, pausing only briefly when the end that was still attached to the front of the sleigh yanked me back.

I was watching my feet so carefully that when I reached the edge of the pond and looked up, the figure had vanished. The feathered entourage soon caught up, making assorted sympathetic noises. I gathered the rope in an effort at preparedness. I tried to persuade the collared dove to take the end out across the water à la sleigh-lasso. Tricky when she could see no destination. I willed the figure to resurface.

“Are you trying to drown the bird?”
The voice completely startled me, and had to repeat itself. When I calmed myself down from full alert, and explained unconvincingly about the dove and the noose, my newly-discovered neighbour introduced himself——Svendsen——and his penchant for wild swimming. Waving not drowning.

Svendsen swimming.

The Twelve Days of Twistmas continues at part 8

30/12/2018

The Twelve Days of Twistmas part 6/12

The Christmas song twisted into a series of linked short tales, fabricated around tortuous puns. Begins at part 1.

Things often go whump in the night. Two or three days later I discover a fallen box or a crockery avalanche or small dazed bird. I now had a surfeit of dazed birds. We were getting used to each other.

The morning seemed bright so I got cracking with feeding duties. Reversing my new grain supply trolley (mini wheelbarrow) out the back door, my heel stepped in something crunchy and soft. Not a creature, thankfully. Snow. A considerable whumpful, having built up on the roof edge beyond teetering point. Apparently that north-easter had collided with the more usual sodden south-wester. Abandoned wheels. Inappropriate vehicle.

The chickens were most patient as I brought their grain in unsteady scoopfuls. This day was Narcisse’s turn to present her effort. However, her egg was more a cylinder; a tub with a screwed lid. I unscrewed. A generous dollop of goup. Slightly melted across the top by warm nether regions. I cautiously sniffed. Goose fat. That one would be past her laying days then. Cooked.

I turned toward the hut. An ominous shadow fell across the sun. Something on the roof was eclipsing the sun. Something new. Tricky to identify, what with the snow albedo and the sun corona. A scintillating lateral thought prompted me to walk around the other side of the hut and look from there.

A sleigh. All wooden curlicues and shiny varnish. Perfectly balanced on the roof apex. Rather seasonal. And impressively quietly landed.

I completed the feeding round with my mind on the roof. I spent the rest of the morning fretting over whether the sleigh was less unsafe to be left where it was or to be dislodged. By the end of lunchtime the allure of the snow had won. I hoped the pilot wasn’t wanting it back just yet.

Santa Partridge, and Nicole, Narcisse and Noelle were persuaded into a makeshift bunker constructed badly from empty grain sacks and old planks at a safe distance. Two collared doves were co-opted to lasso the front of the sleigh. I cleared an escape path and tentatively pulled the rope. A crunch, a scrape, a shuddering crash and a lot of luck.

One of the collared doves found this such a thrill she alighted on the ‘windshield’ and perched there like a mascot. Partridge and chickens settled with a little stability straw for corners. Tow rope sorted. Somewhat resistant to gliding initially, but I’m sure you’ve figured the solution to that more quickly than me.

Six go greased-sleighing? Ah, who cares?

The Twelve Days of Twistmas continues at part 7

29/12/2018

The Twelve Days of Twistmas part 5/12

The Christmas song twisted into a series of linked short tales, fabricated around tortuous puns. Begins at part 1.

After yesterday’s excitement, I had silently subsided on to the sofa, fallen into a ninety minute hypnogogic hallucination, and woken with five squares of chocolate smudgily imprinted on my cheek.

This day I was looking forward to a bird-free encounter, at least after my rapidly-becoming-habitual rounds of the advent aviary. It’s not that I’m irritated that my time isn’t my own; I have absolutely nothing else in my schedule. Deliberately. The problem is I’m quite enjoying the game.

My traipsings in and out needed wiped up. I slightly overdosed the floor-mopping detergent. Nicole, Narcisse and Noelle (on day release) became fascinated with the bubbles. I had to physically restrain them from launching in and paddling against all evolutionary directives. I felt like I was dealing with a reverse oil spill. The indignant clucking reached a crescendo.

In the middle of this storm of froth and feathers, a phone rang. I say ‘a’ because I wasn’t aware there was one. By concentrating extremely hard and firmly blotting out the collective umbrage of Nicole, Narcisse and Noelle, I located the ringing to behind a full length curtain, in an upholstered basket, on the back of the front door. Never used it. Apparently there’s a letter box.

Basket found to contain: two colourful leaflets of unmissable offers on biscuits, fizzy pop and bog roll from the village shop (what more could I need?), a hawker’s card advertising roof/drive/tree-meddling (the hut has none of these; its roof is a ‘living sward’ or somesuch; probably not by design, but enough moss has established to enable a proper botanical succession to get going), a considerable amount of fluff, and … and a mobile phone. Ooh.

By the time I’d segregated all these deliveries into appropriate waste streams (what are the constituents of fluff?) the phone’s tootlings had long since subsided. The one missed call was just a meaningless number. I put it on the counter and returned to the foam party just in time to witness Nicole moonwalking at an increasing pace on the bucket’s drainer.

A splash, a fountain of foam, launched one impressively large soap bubble into serene orbit past my nose. My eyes crossed as they irresistibly tried to focus on the looming, shimmering, metallic, curved reflection. The bubble popped, the tiniest soap splash sailed into my eye, and the origin of the rectangular golden reflection hit me: I hadn’t been counting, but I would bet there had been five rings.

The Twelve Days of Twistmas continues at part 6

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