Category Archives: Creative Writing

HOT OFF THE PRESS: What shall we do with the drunken seagull

Locals were confused when a seagull fell of a roof and staggered unevenly away.

Onlookers couldn’t understand the reason why so many seagulls had become unsteady on their feet.

Today, a fireman was alerted to the shocking truth by a a seagull who threw up on him; he immediately detected the odour of booze.

You’ve guessed it; it’s the latest of a spate of drunken seagull incidents, currently hitting the South West of England. This time rather than casually supping from half-empty beer cans which litter our beaches and parks, they’ve turned to blatant theft, mounting a cunning attack on a Somerset brewery.

An unreliable witness (me) claims that seagulls have been spotted wing-in-wing, merrily careening down the High Street, singing “Show me the way to go home”, and slurring “Ingerland, Ingerland, la la la, la la la,” before inexplicably balling their claws into fists and, shouting obscenities and clumsily hitting each other.

There are complaints that intoxicated seagulls are getting into fights outside these establishments, demanding half-eaten burgers and kebabs, then refusing to pay for them.

They muscle into night clubs and peck women’s rear ends. When they are finally thrown out, they tend to bring up their burgers, kebabs and a gallon of alcohol all over the doorman’s feet, before collapsing on the pavement for a cry. They tell anybody who will listen that their mother didn’t love them (judging by juvenile seagull behaviour, it’s no wonder). It’s best not to get involved with a drunken seagull at this stage; he’ll probably tell you you’re the only person who has ever understood him, and he’ll want to go home with you. When you refuse, he’ll punch you in the face.

I took the opportunity to interview a few fledgling seagulls outside one of the Bristol Universities. I asked them how they felt about the behaviour of their elders.

One said, “It’s so embarrassing. We are losing all respect in the eyes of the world.” She asked me to point out that the incidents of drunkenness were few and far between.

Another stuttered “If you don’t give me that can of beer in your hand I’ll peck your eyes out.” Then he fell over.

None of the others I spoke to were prepared to talk, mainly because they can’t – so most of this post is lies.

One thing is true – we have an alcohol problem in the South West seagull community. Unfortunately, I suspect that when a few seagulls discover a new attraction, word gets around. I think we’ll soon be hearing about all over the country.

The latest crowd of rowdy good-for-nothings have been rounded up by the animal police and placed in drunk tanks until they can learn to behave with the dignity we expect from the seagull population.

For the true story click HERE.

©Jane Paterson Basil

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Trinkets and Treats

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Seen from the street, the shop itself seems
neither eager for me to browse, nor to push me away.
It emits an air of indifferent dignity; the sense that –
should I frown – it will ignore me, yet if I show interest,
its welcome will be warm.

The window holds yesteryears’ extravagant
trinkets and treats;
their sepia hints pricked with the kind of modest pride
typical of old gold and porcelain.
If these elite items  vie for purchase,
they do so with quiet grace.

Inside, gifts of both love and duty, mingle with acquisitions
of status and desire.
They pose in glass cases and perch on polished shelves,
with large sculptures artfully arranged within their own floor space.
Some might conceal untold secrets, while the tales of others
were told and retold long ago, by glazed grandparents
to children who wriggled with impatience, their minds
scrabbling for cake tins or trees to climb.

Old treasures are looking-glasses of the dead –
those whose eyes are blind, who leave
no mist on the filigree mirror –
such pretties contain no memories;
yet they retain an air of history, even when separated
from the ghosts who wrote their stories.

Were the proprietor other than Mark Parkhouse,
I might suggest that the glinting acquisitions
were the pillage of thieves, but
I trust this antique dealer.

As I enter, a female assistant greets me.
Mr Parkhouse is a man who knows how to dress;
his quiet presence is such that I hardly
have time to register the grey suit
before my attention becomes concentrated on his face.
It is only when I walk away
that I picture all of him.

As I explain my mission, he rises
from behind his tidy desk and speaks in a warm tone.
I open the box, show him the brooch,
making my usual apologies; I doubt
that this example of costume jewellery has more
than miniscule monetary value,
but it is a beauty, and while I would like
to offer our customers the opportunity of ownership,
I want to charge whatever is due to it.

A lesser man
might fling it aside,
arrogantly spitting the words, “ten quid”,
but he shows respect for the charity that I represent
and for the small vanity which glitters in his hand.
Examining it, he tells me what to look for
and recommends a ten pound ticket.
When he says it hails from the 1930s,
I can’t resist a smile; it matches
my estimate.

The box contains two other brooches;
a slightly damaged, but charismatic marcasite
plus an attractive 1950s piece – another correct guess from me;
I’m getting better at this, but I am still
a beginner.
He takes the trouble to value
my humble offerings.

Before I leave, he exhorts me
not to be shy bringing my optimistic discoveries;
he will willingly impart
the knowledge of his forty years in the business,
and one day Oxfam might hit the jackpot.

Walking back to Oxfam,
a wide grin splits my face.
I let it stay, making the most of the moment.
My heels and my joints are suddenly
well-oiled springs.

Mr Parkhouse knows a lot. This
is what he doesn’t know:
raising the maximum for the charity
matters a great deal to me, but more to the point,
this gentle, rare man
adds bonus points to my store of happiness.
It doesn’t matter that when I see him,
he doesn’t seem to recall having met me before,
all that is important
is that he is
there.

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©Jane Paterson Basil

On Leonard and Leadership

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A leadership gene has been identified. It is documented that while leadership qualities can be learned, this gene can make the difference between success and failure in the leadership game, but how is leadership defined?

There are various kinds of leadership, and a variety of routes to success.

Some leaders come from humble beginnings, to arduously work their way to the summit, using a combination of wit and skill. Others inherit the mountain from their forbears.

“All roads lead to Rome.” This saying has been carried down to us from the 12th century, when Roman roads were straight, and radiated outwards from the centre, like the spokes of a wheel. Our history books tell of the days when Rome was the self-professed capital of the known world, leading by force.

My roads are twisted and of inconsistent width. Back in my teens, Leonard Cohen achieved success with his song, Suzanne, and along with millions of others, I have trailed behind him ever since. Surely this makes him a leader.

For almost 50 years his voice has comforted me. As I eat breakfast I hear him inside my head, singing a farewell song to Marianne or describing the life of a French Partisan. Sometimes he stands back, not wanting to hog my thoughts. Unselfishly, he lets Buffy Saint Marie step in, or Tracy Chapman tell her raw stories, or Roy Orbison with his hope, his brief joy and all of his pain. I enjoy these brief intermissions, but I always return to Leonard. While I chew my dinner he asks a lucky woman to dance him to the end of love. I want to tell him there is no end to love. In bed, I roll onto my side, preparing to sleep. He sings that it’s no way to say goodbye.

“Never goodbye, only goodnight,” whisper.

Millions of appreciative fans feel the same way about him. He touched our lives while he was with us, and he continues to do so after his death, so I say he is a leader. This post is about leadership, but it could be about any one of a thousand subjects which would always lead back to Leonard.

I’d like to commit to writing a Leonard Cohen post one day every week, highlighting a different song each time, but although he is always with me, it’s unlikely it will happen. So, no promises.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Fascinating!

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I’m fascinated by the small details of nature:

The way the fronds of a feather lock into place – a technique that we crudely imitate in the production of zips.

The fragile beauty of a leaf skeleton after the body has fallen away.
It’s like the complex criss-cross of lines on my youngest daughter’s hand. A palmist would have field day with Laura’s reading.

The freshly fallen fruit of the horse-chestnut tree – the spiky outer layer, the whorled pattern on the conker as it vacates its soft, fleshy womb.

Tiny green shoots emerging from the ground, illustrating the complexity of life and the miracle of survival.

When it snows, I hold my hand out and watch the soft flakes melt, although it leaves me with a fleeting feeling of sadness, like when icicles drip away to nothing.

I watch bees collecting pollen, butterflies enjoying a midsummer dance, ants pushing clods of food toward their nest, flowers breaking out of their buds, the varying species of seaweed on the seashore, seashells, and even the smallest chunks of worn-away glass and driftwood.

I am riveted by giant forces of nature, too:

The shapes and colours in the sky, at sunrise, sunset, noon and night. Each season and every mood of weather brings its own interest.

Storms excite and revitalise me. I like to be outside, with the rain pelting down, and the lightening throwing brief, dramatic images across the landscape.

Wild seas draw my attention; the sight of waves as they break, splash and crash, the music in the sound the ocean makes.

But trees are the most fascinating of all; those gentle plants with their beauty and variety, the abundance of flora and fauna they harmoniously support and live alongside, while they help to hold the planet together, clean the air and make it safe for us to breathe.

Finally, I used to get a kick out of casually observing the clumsy art of adolescent flirtation, amused by how subtle they considered themselves. For example:

A small group of girls encounters a small clutch of boys. Without warning, the girls crank their voices up a couple of notches. The boys ignore them, so the girls get louder. They say things like.

“Oh no! It’s them. I hope they haven’t seen us.”

“I don’t think so. We’d better get out of here before they do.”

If that doesn’t work, they switch to high-pitched, giggly, theatrical chatter about make-up, or they might bitch about the latest victim of spots or bad hair. Eventually the boys notice them. There’s a flicker of interest. Time to repeat “Oh no! I hope they haven’t seen us”, et al, and flounce off, weaving around a bit so that it’s easier for the boys to catch them up. Half-an-hour later, they all reappear as a single group. The girls are insulting the boys. The boys are lapping it up, although  their carefully practised lazy gait is distracting them somewhat. The girls are flapping their arms about, energetically twisting and turning. 

Job done!

It’s all changed. The progressively smutty lure of time has stolen their innocence. I prefer to close my ears to the obscenity. I’ve heard eleven year old girls claiming to have been party to sexual experiments that I have never dabbled in, and wouldn’t wish to.

Trees are sticklers for tradition. Unlike young teens, they are always discreet.

Written for Calen’s Sandbox Challenge, Exercise 10.

©Jane Paterson Basil

To Everyone

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Our calendars tell us that 2017 is drawing to a close, and while I know that hours, days, weeks, months and years were designed purely to make the progression of time less confusing, yet still I will celebrate the arrival of 2018, along with the rest of the world.

I have so much to celebrate. It almost feels greedy to be the recipient of this degree of wellness.

I’ll rinse off the detritus of the early part of the year, and also the dirt of the sixteen years that preceded it, holding only happy memories in the archive of my brain. There will be no sad or fearful past to grieve over. It will be gone. My children will create a better  future for themselves.

Next year will begin, continue and conclude joyfully.

I’d like to mark the occasion by standing on a hilltop with my children, standing in a circle, holding hands as we wait for the sunrise. At the first sight of dawn we would break apart, and dance wildly around each other. That will not be possible, but I’ll think of something to make the filigree bonds that tie us as a family, glow silver in the light of a new era.

That’s a week away. Meanwhile, let’s celebrate Christmas.

Love and peace to you all, tomorrow and always,

Jane xoxo

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©Jane Paterson Basil

If you are Ginger

 

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Here in the UK, if you have ginger hair, you learn at an early age, to approach strangers gingerly.

Until they’re confronted with a head of glowing copper or titian locks, their faces don’t show whether they are gingerphiles, gingerthropes, or cringing gingerphobes.

Few folk are ginger-indifferent, so some try to knock the gingers down, deflate them, break their self esteem; and they often succeed.

Not many people know that I’m ginger, since the brightness faded away many years ago, leaving only hints of it between the blonde. So you could  accuse me of being a ginger in disguise — although that would be unfair, since I don’t deliberately hide my ginger status.

Do my blonde tresses make me acceptable to the gingerthropes of the world, or would they consider me subversive for hiding my true colours? Should I dye my hair to reveal the truth about myself, even though by doing so I would be lying about the current condition of my hair?

And why should anyone care, anyway?

Gingerphile – my word for someone who loves ginger hair.
Gingerthrope – my word for someone who hates ginger hair.
Gingerphobe – my word for someone who is afraid of ginger hair.

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©Jane Paterson Basil

Healing. Part 2

 

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This is part two of my response to Reena’s Exploration Challenge Week 11. You can find part 1 HERE.

The first part of my post covers the first question – although it doesn’t do so until you reach almost to the end of the poem. 🙂 Now for my answer to the second question:

I described my daughter as an angry fox. I chose the metaphor to match her hair; some of you will know it has a lovely red glow to it. Also, owing to my surname and the colour of my own hair (which has since faded to a lighter colour) I used to go by the nickname of Basil Brush. Basil Brush was a fictional fox in the form of a puppet that starred in a popular children’s comedy TV show in the ’70s.

It wasn’t the best metaphor I could have chosen, but once I started, I decided to run with it. The most accurate thing about my story is its ending. The night my youngest daughter came to me, broken and bleeding after a violent attack, from a man who tried but failed to break her neck (the memory of which still makes me cry), I knew there had been a change in her perspective, and if she could hold onto it for long enough to make that change a reality, I knew it would change my life.

Has my perspective changed? Yes, it has. Laura has risen far above my highest expectations. She’s made me more proud than I ever thought possible, and more than that, she’s been instrumental in my son’s recovery from addiction. Paul’s journey has been hard; he’s undertaking his recovery in his home town, learning to avoid the triggers which must pop up daily. Even the staircase to my flat is a trigger. I don’t often speak  about Paul; his addiction stripped him of all compassion, leading him to  hurt me deeply throughout those torturous years. The wounds are slow to heal, but we’re making good progress. He switched to a vegan diet a while ago, so lot of his attention is concentrated on food. He and his girlfriend have offered to cook me a meal next week. I look forward to it with relish. He’s a good cook, but more than that, it will be another step towards healing.

Now it is time to turn my mind to the rest of my family. My two elder daughters have suffered too, but through their suffering, I have always known I can count on their support. My oldest grandson has been witness to things he should never have seen, but he’s come through like the champion he is. It’s been difficult to maintain close relationships with my four younger grandsons, so I have a lot of ground to make up.

(Life is not always easy for the siblings of prodigal children. I must tell them that my pride is not limited to those who have recently returned to the fold. I must let them know that they are magnificent.)

Looking back at my life, I can see how my strength has increased, along with the increasing difficulties I’ve faced. It’s a bit like weight lifting – as the weights get heavier, your muscles split and heal continuously.  My mental health has suffered, but I do my best to keep on top of it, constantly reviewing and learning.

I’m stronger than I ever thought I could be, and happier than I had come to expect.

Yes, yes, yes; my perspective has changed, but only for the better.

©Jane Paterson Basil