Last night, for Culture Night 2015, I wrote postcard stories all evening inspired by a word or phrase which strangers gave me. I managed to write sixteen in three and a half hours. Then my hand fell off and my brain broke. As an extra added bonus the amazing Sarah Majury sat beside me all night illustrating each of the individual postcard stories. We’ll be popping them in the post this week and sending them out to sixteen of you. Hope they get your day off to a good start. Here are the sixteen new postcard stories written at speed with the word which inspired each of them:
The third of the baby giraffes came out wrong. Where his brother and sister were blessed with the long and skinny necks atypical of all giraffes, Simon had a short, stumpy neck and legs like a pink flamingo. He struggled to find socks long enough to keep the cold out, found it impossible to stand for more than a minute at a time and could not catch his balance on stairs and moving escalators. However, the unseemly length of Simon’s legs was a small shame in comparison to the inadequacy he felt every time he stood neck to neck with his siblings and, with his squat throat stretched to breaking point, could not reach even the lowest leaves and had to eat his dinner off the ground like a common sheep.
“There’s something we need to talk about,” you said.
“Does it have to be now?” I asked, “right here, in your parents’ living room with the cats and the potted plants listening in? Couldn’t it wait ‘til later?”
But it couldn’t wait ‘til later. You had to tell me now. When you stopped talking it was almost dark and there was no way to take the afternoon back. We would never be the same kind of together again. The tea had gone cold in my cup and when I went to stir it the spoon caught on the soggy half of my Penguin, drowned from anxious over-dipping. I hadn’t even noticed the loss of it.
In the beginning the planets, the stars and all those various floating entitieswhich make up the universe were given the opportunity to select, for themselves, a particular shape. All the planets were quick to pick circles. They were as practical as a heavenly body can be and understood the way a round thing will spin easier than, for example, a square. The stars looked up to the planets and therefore settled upon circles too, only later appearing as intertwined triangles in the scribbled drawings of human children. The moon was a rebel thing. She wished to be a diamond and was for a time before succumbing to peer pressure. From time to time when the moon recalls the confident days of her youth she draws breath and tries to be a diamond again. From a distance this may look like a crescent, like a sliver, like a wistful smile, inverted.
She kept birds in her fridge. This was not as cruel as it sounds. There was a hole in the door where the air could get in and every morning she fed them baby worms and peanuts on a china saucer. She talked to the birds at night, singing to them as if they were small children and could not sleep. She engineered it so the white light never went off, even when the fridge door was closed. She thought the birds were happy. She thought they would never leave her until, one morning, she went in for the milk and found the word, “sky” scratched into the surface of the margarine. Then she knew she could not keep the door closed on them any longer.
The world was big to Margaret and very scary. She was not a particularly little person just much afraid. Leaving her house each morning the trees were tall and the mountains were monstrous and even the road, snaking into the village seemed wide as a wide, wide world. Soon Margaret was too scared to leave the house. She stayed in her kitchen, eating her meals with teaspoons because they were tinier than regular spoons.
Then, her friend Patrick gave her an idea. “It’s all about how you see things, Margaret,” he said.
He gave her a pair of binoculars and she turned them backwards and wore them at all times, pressed to her eyes.
“This is minimalism,” he said, “or shrinking the world to a more manageable size.”
September came and the wheels fell off the car. We had only got as far as the border. We’d been planning to go so much farther. But the border was not the worst place to come adrift: one foot in one place, the other in the next.
“What should we do now?” you asked and I didn’t know.
So we slept on it and rising the next day decided to pitch a tent and call this home. We live here now, neither here nor there in a place we had not planned to live but have grown to love which is often what happens when the wheels come off.
Word: “Them’s the brakes”
“Them’s the brakes,” he said, “don’t be afraid to use them.”
She heard this with her ears but her feet weren’t listening. When they came to the bend with the evil twist her feet went feeling around in the dark of the car and, thinking they’d found the brakes, pressed hard on what turned out to be the accelerator. Which was how they came to find themselves upside down in a field with the cows staring in at them through the shattered windscreen and her feet still stretching frantically for the brakes.
Word: “waste not want not”
I no longer believe in wasting not and wanting not. I often find myself wasting things wit reckless abandonment. I squeeze whole tubes of toothpaste down the plughole and afterwards buy more toothpaste from the little Tesco’s at the top of the road. I spoil the milk just for the pleasure of seeing white islands form on the surface of it and let my bread turn solid on the board. I burn magazines, unread. Sometimes the flame from the magazines are green at the tip. This is beautiful to me like a sunset of a sad song on the radio. Afterwards I buy more things just to purposefully waste them. This is why we have shops. This is why we have money.
Word: “Horse with wings”
That one day when it was your birthday and you got to be God you used all your special powers in one go and invented a horse with wings. This horse was immediately lonely and so you invented a second horse with wings. You called these creatures John and Patricia after your parents who had only recently died. You thought you might keep them in the back garden with the chickens. You thought we could walk them on leads down the road, to the primary school where the children would gather at the window to stare. You shouldn’t have invented them wings. They stayed an afternoon, nibbling on the strawberry plants then flew off. It was no longer your birthday. You were no longer God. You couldn’t invent anything else for a year at least.
We had not come out looking for adventure. We had only come to buy milk and cheese and something tasty for Saturday night’s dinner. But the supermarket was doing a two for one offer on genuine adventures and this was too good a deal to miss. We bought four, which equated to eight whole adventures in total, enough to last a week. You called in sick at work and I wrote the kids a note, excusing them from regular school. We felt like teenagers or newlyweds. For seven days straight we ran and swam and chased our tails on beaches and foresty glens. We laughed hard and the sound of our laughter was something to wear against the colder months to come.
Word: “Amazing, amazing grace.”
When we were younger and every Sunday forced to church two times at least, my brother and I would make it through the services by taking part in the sort of secret games adults could not see, even adults in the pulpit. We twitched on purpose each time the word Jesus was spoken and, undercover of the pews, made origami butterflies from the orders of service. We snuck extra words into the hymns like old men stuttering over the old, old stories. “Amazing, amazing grace,” we sang, and, “rugged, rugged cross,” and, “thine be the glory, glory,” as if there was more power in saying a true thing twice. As if we might actually believe ourselves then.
Word: “Morning Glory”
The day that Oasis’ second album, “(What’s the Story), Morning Glory?” was released I queued outside Woolworths to buy a copy on cassette. After this I went to Boots and bought my first box of hair dye, a rather tame reddish brown which would lead to blonde, and then pink, and a brief flirtation with lime green, (instantly regretted). This was almost twenty years ago and while I have long since grown out of Oasis, I have yet to grow out of home-dyed hair and am even now wondering about the possibility of purple.
The main differences between pheasants and peasants:
- The peasants we will always have with us
- Pheasants are regularly found in the kitchens and dining rooms of the ruling classes.
- Peasants will run quite fast when threatened with a shotgun or firearm of any kind. Pheasants will fly.
- Pheasants are pleasantly feathered.
- Peasants eat cheese. Pheasants as a rule, do not.
- A single flaccid H.
I woke up this morning with the lyrics of an old song stuck in my head. “Let’s play Twister, let’s play Risk;” six words which would not shift and would not link to anything else so I hummed them over and over in the hope that they would eventually catch on to a full memory. When they didn’t I fed them into Google and even before the answer came up, remembered they belonged to REM though this was not the memory I was after. I was trying to catch the picture of you and me, singing in the front seat of the car, somewhere between one Port and the other, with the whole of our lives, lying open in front of us. “Let’s play Twister, let’s play Risk,” which was in a way, the shape of things to come.
One must take care when cutting a courgette. While the skin is reasonably tough like the outer skin of a pepper or Granny Smith apple, the inner part is soft and slightly spongey, best compared perhaps to the soft flesh of a mushroom. When cutting a courgette one should not apply too much pressure. One should hold the end firmly and progress slowly forwards, moving the knife in semi-circular movements. The only time I have amputated my own finger was whilst cutting courgettes, recklessly with a too sharp knife. The blood got everywhere and the stew was impossible to save.
Word: “Lemon Chiffon”
In other places -Nashville, Tennessee for example- lemon chiffon is a frock worn by a young girl to a debutante ball, or a kind of bridesmaid’s dress, perhaps. In Ballymena, County Antrim, lemon chiffon is a fancy desert served in small trifle dishes with a dollop of cream sitting on top like a single, squat nipple. It is the sort of thing you roll out for pudding, when the minister and his wife come round for Sunday lunch. You would serve the lemon chiffon up in Waterford crystal bowls, which you received as a wedding present some twenty five years ago. You would hope your neighbor who had the minister and his wife round last week didn’t do the same desert or, worse still, made lemon chiffon better than yours.