Comes the Darkness

Yesterday I did not write or blog. Instead I put together Adirondack chairs. Four of them. And it felt good. Sometimes you just have to push away from the computer and spend a day making things with your hands. The world will not miss you.

To those in the US –  have you been shopping for outdoor furniture in the last couple of years?  Holy Cow! Gone are the days of redwood picnic tables and folding chaise lounges. It’s a whole new world, as Joel and I found out when we set out to replace our worn out, odd assortment of hand-me-down outdoor furniture.

The first place we went was called Patio World.  I was hoping they sold furniture in a world of price ranges and styles. Wrong!  This is a place for people willing to spend thousands of dollars for a piece of furniture that’s going to sit outside in the sun and be pooped and peed on by an assortment of critters.    The cushions were thick and the fabric was guaranteed to outlive me. Luckily the salespeople at that high end joint ignored us.  Isn’t it funny how salespeople can spot shoppers who prefer not to go into debt just to keep up with the Joneses? I’ve heard it said that your shoes give you away.  I was in flip flops.

“Let’s check out the wine store,” Joel announced as we left. 

“Wine store?” 

He pointed to the big box store across the street.When I first started making treks down to San Francisco (back in the Ice Age), a trip to Cost Plus World Market was always number one on my list. Housed in a large windowless warehouse on Fisherman’s Wharf, it was a place where you could buy really cool stuff from all over the world: batiks from India, Japanese tea kettles, jewelry made from Indonesian seashells, Witch Doctor masks from Africa, bittersweet chocolates from Zanzibar, rattan furniture from the Philippines, just about anything you could imagine and more. 

It was nirvana for a kid from Reno Nevada where the most exotic thing you could buy with your hard-earned babysitting money was a taco from the town’s one Mexican restaurant.

 

Since then Cost Plus has been franchised all over the United States. A flagship store still sits on the Wharf but it’s no longer in a warehouse with a sawdust floor and you no longer enter through a fog of incense. Fertility Gods sit on shelves in well marked areas and not on bales of hay in poorly lit corners.  Most notably, salespeople are no longer free to wander around barefoot or smoke pot on their breaks. Today’s world market is a antiseptic, well-lit, big box store.

However, we know the wine buyer for the stores in our area and he assured us they bought good stuff so we wandered over.  Perhaps going home with at least one bottle of good wine might save the day, only – we never got to the wine department. Just beyond the front door we encountered a brightly colored display of Adirondack chairs, and they were on sale.  “They’ll do,” I said, to which Joel agreed.  Mexico was playing somebody (I forget who) and he wanted to get home to the World Cup.  

Have you ever tried assembling an Adirondack chair?  It’s not hard, but it’s confusing. The seat and back legs are one piece and the front legs are assembled at a V angle to them which has to be contrary to logical chair assembly. However after putting them on backwards a couple of times, I finally got the idea. The trick is not to tighten the bolts until you’ve assembled the whole chair.  Otherwise, you start over from scratch.

After finishing, I lined the chairs up on the deck facing the canyon.  What do you think?  I’m reminded of the deck of the Titanic.  I can almost hearing the band playing Nearer My God to Thee. 

Ah well.  With a few colorful cushions made in Vietnam, they’ll do.

 

The Embarrassment of Parenting by Geoff Le Pard

Today’s post comes from the delightful Geoff Le Pard who’s just published his first memoir, Apprenticed to My Mother.  I have read many chapters on his blog and they were both hilarious and poignant. In this bit, Geoff fondles a subject all of us can identify with…the gruesome thought of our parents having sex.

From Apprenticed to My Mother,

The Embarrassment of Parenting

Many things are going to embarrass you, if you are a child. Your parents being the most obvious. From kissing you by the school gates, to talking to you when you’re hanging out with your mates, to serving something wholesome when friends come round, to dancing at any stage, you will be mortified.

But perhaps the nadir of the urge to squirm comes when the subject of sex raises its ugly head (which is perhaps an unfortunate image with which to start this piece).

My parents were no different, though maybe they were slightly more aware of the impact it might have on the Archaeologist and me than some parents during the 1960s and 70s.

As is the case with all small children who sleep in a separate bedroom, the idea that my parents may be capable of any intimacy beyond a peck on the lips was anathema. Still is, in truth. I think I managed to make it to about 11 or 12 before the concept of parental congress became something that might, just have legs.

There was the incident with the baker’s delivery boy, who whilst walking around the side of our house was confronted by my father, red-faced, running away from my mother, broom in hand and calling, ‘Come back, Desmond, it’s Thursday and my turn…’ I heard about this third hand from the brother of a friend of the sister of the deliver boy. I think he might still be in counseling.

Or, the occasion of the engrossing TV drama when Mum, cup of coffee in hand, leant forward to absorb the tension and missed her mouth. The scalding liquid made its unerring way into her top and thence into her bra. She did the only sensible thing: she began ripping off her clothes, quickly revealing her bra to the gaze of three startled males. I assume my father had seen this before and my brother may have too, but, whilst I had seen the garment in the washing, I had never been present when it was disported.

‘Barbara, the boys.’ My father’s panic mirrored my own. By now my mother was pulling the material away from her skin and at risk of revealing more than was clearly thought appropriate.

‘Oh for goodness sake. Pathetic.’ Mum stood and, still trying to ensure the skin was not melting into the upholstery, headed for the kitchen.

This is but one example of the cruelty of TV when each family had one screen and only two or three channels. Nowadays, if a programme might be embarrassing, there is at least the option to watch on different screens or on a laptop or Mac. Not then. We all shared the experience, for good or bad.

In many ways the 1960s were a watershed, bringing smut directly into our living rooms in the guise of ‘modern’ dramas. Dennis Potter and Harold Pinter appeared as playwrights who were as liable to put swearing in the small screen as nudity. And it was the nudity that caused the most problems.

Picture the scene; a 25 inch TV sat in one corner of the living room. Facing it from the right was my father, positioned next to the fire so as to get first dibs on any warmth the sclerotic gas burner might deign to throw out. His chair was ancient with wings behind which he could hide if needs be. Next, my mother in her small chair, almost too small for her. It hugged her sides and had low arms which allowed her to reach all around and pick up whatever project she would be working  on while watching the TV: shelling broad beans, mending trousers or socks, quilting or embroidering in a ring, making a stuffed toy for some raffle. Then there came the Archaeologist and me, squeezed onto a two seater sofa next to the door to the hall through which an incessant and bleak draught blew; necessarily I was next to the door.

On the TV is a BBC drama. Therese Raquin by Emile Zola. This adaptation is in a number of parts and my mother has done well to persuade my father that they should watch it. For an educated man, he wasn’t keen on ‘improving’ TV. We have reached episode four when Therese and her lover have killed Therese’s husband. They are in bed together.

My father is, as was often the case, asleep in his chair, his head lolling to one side. My mother is squeezed into hers, her hands full of wool. I’m not sure if the Archaeologist is present – I think not, but perhaps my attention is distracted. You see, in the previous episode there have been some glimpses of interesting parts of the female anatomy with which I was less than familiar at that point. I have hopes, given the rumpty-tumpty that is continuing on screen.

Therese and her lover are finding congress difficult in the light of the murder they have recently undertaken. Tension is building and then then…  It all happens so quickly. The lover rips back the sheets, exposing both actors to the camera. The man – sadly – leaps from his bed, his voice rising well above the soft tones of moments before.

In his chair Dad stirs. Mum, seeing the full frontal nudity unfolding as it were in front of her, begins to stand but is inhibited by her chair, gripping her sides. She is doing what comes naturally in such moments: she is heading for the panel that will let her change channels – oh, for a remote, she might have thought, had such things existed.

I, and the Archaeologist are trying a complex maneuvering that will enable our body language to scream ‘we aren’t looking, hardly interested really, you won’t get us watching smut’ while all the time making sure we have a clear an unimpeded view of the screen. The lover stands, face to camera. In a voice tremulous with emotion and self-disgust he intones:

‘We must master fate.’

Rarely have pauses been more pregnant. My mother stops, halfway out of her chair. Despite the compelling sight of a completely naked couple filling the screen, the Archaeologist and I are now staring at Dad. Dad, in turn is ogling the screen, his eyes flitting back to Mum and then the actor. He couldn’t look more distressed, a disappointment redolent of the sort of let down that follows unreasoning hopes. ‘Surely he’s not, Barbs. Surely not on the BBC.’

At that moment the actor cups his exposed genitals, a belated attempt at modesty but sadly, given my father’s mishearing, merely convincing him that he is, indeed, about to witness the first example of televisual onanism that has been broadcast.

I don’t think any of us really recovered from that moment. It took years to bring some sort of stability to the evening’s entertainment. Dad never really trusted mum’s judgement around dramas and Mum felt obliged to perfect her up, out and ‘let’s see what’s one the other side’ movements. such that even the most harmless of inappropriate phrases could lead to a change of channels.

As for actual sex, well, I remain to be convinced. I suppose I feel, like most children, it would be a kindness to believe I was adopted.


Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes poetry, short fiction and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls. He also cooks with passion if not precision.

My Father and Other Liars is a thriller set in the near future and takes its heroes, Maurice and Lori-Ann on a helter-skelter chase across continents.

Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle is a coming of age story. Set in 1976 the hero Harry Spittle is home from university for the holidays. He has three goals: to keep away from his family, earn money and hopefully have sex. Inevitably his summer turns out to be very different to that anticipated.

Life in a Grain of Sand is a 30 story anthology covering many genres: fantasy, romance, humour, thriller, espionage, conspiracy theories, MG and indeed something for everyone. All the stories were written during Nano 2015

Salisbury Square is a dark thriller set in present day London where a homeless woman and a Polish man, escaping the police at home, form an unlikely alliance to save themselves.

Available here

 

Buster & Moo is about about two couples and the dog whose ownership passes from one to the other. When the couples meet, via the dog, the previously hidden cracks in their relationships surface and events begin to spiral out of control. If the relationships are to survive there is room for only one hero but who will that be?

Life in a Flash is a set of super short fiction, flash and micro fiction that should keep you engaged and amused for ages

Apprenticed To My Mother describes the period after my father died when I thought I was to play the role of dutiful son, while Mum wanted a new, improved version of her husband – a sort of Desmond 2.0. We both had a lot to learn in those five years, with a lot of laughs and a few tears as we went.

Mr. Tinker Tries to Make a Deal

Heartbreaking but beautifully written.

tin hats

Waiting for life to load…

A message appears on his Skype.  Malcolm Staples wants to discuss some property.  Who is Malcolm Staples he thinks.  A veterinarian is supposed to be here in a few minutes, but the vet will probably be late, so maybe there is time for a quick call.  The man dials Malcolm’s number.  The phone rings and a young voice answers.

“I’d like to speak with Malcom Staples please.”

“Yes, this is he.  Is this Mr. Tinker?”

“The same,” he says.

“I’m glad you called back Mr. Tinker, I went by your houses, the ones for sale across from the football stadium, and I just wanted to ask a few questions.”

“Sure,” the man said, “but first who am I speaking with?”

Malcolm tells his story.  He is a developer/builder/real estate agent who used to work for one of the biggest home builders in Texas, but has…

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#ThursdayDoors: Siberia

My friend, who just returned from a trip to Russia, China and Tibet, said these doors and windows reminded her of me.  How sweet!  Thank you Mary Alice!  

She was in Irkutsk which is the capital of Siberia. According to Wikipedia, many journalists, writers and artists were exiled to this city in the 19th century because they irritated the factions currently in charge.

I won’t even attempt to fathom the history of Russia.  Whites, Reds, Bolsheviks, Communists – it’s like trying to sort out the history of British Royalty.  So many rebellions and power struggles.  Ugh.

The dissidents were sent to Siberia because it’s remote and the weather can be brutal but they certainly do have a lot of style.

According to Mary Alice, these are wooden windows. She did a great job on this shot, don’t you think?  Nice reflection.

I googled Irkutsk and was amazed by how many famous people were born in Siberia, Arguably the most famous was Rudolph Nureyev, born here in 1936.

This is an interesting little cabin.  From some reason, it made me think of Lincoln Logs.

 

Check out other doors from around the world at Norm’s Place.

 

 

 

Jan’s Ice Cream Parlor #ThursdayDoors

My husband has two passions: cooking and trains.  Today he’s making his signature dish, wickedly good Garlic Mac and Cheese, and so I was able to sneak into his train room. For those of you who aren’t involved in that particular hobby, modeling is extremely detail oriented work, particularly when you’re talking about the smaller gauges.  Above is an HO gauge model of the Pacific Fruit Express which is approximately five inches long and two inches tall. It was built from a kit, as were all the trains and buildings I’ll be showing today.

Above are some of the more complicated trains that he’s put together recently.  But there are thousands more.  Believe me.

The passenger trains even have passengers however, they don’t look very healthy.  This must be the Train of the Damned.  

Can you spot the conductor at the door?  He looks like he’s either waving or trying to get out.  Perhaps he’s realized the passengers are all zombies.

The one thing model railroaders are absolutely fanatical about is realism, which means weathering. They’ll spot a rusted building on the side of the road and have to stop to take pictures.  Then they obsess for days over how to achieve that particular look.

Realism also means that buildings must have lights. This factory along the tracks contains over thirty little tiny lights that had to be hand-wired.

I’m not sure but I think this is a loading dock of some sort. I’ve been to model railroad conventions and met women every bit as gung-ho as their partner but that’s not me folks.

Actually, I lied.  I’ve only been to one convention and it was in Redding California back when the romance was fresh, if you know what I mean. If you’re not into trains, you have to be really in love to go to a model train convention. The layouts and exhibits are great but sitting through a one hour forum on  “ways to support your train guy,” well, it’s just not for me.

Below is the Cameramadoodle Ding Dong Candy Factory.

Named for our son Cameron.  Model Railroaders aren’t that imaginative and if you live with one, you’re gonna end up on a marquee.  Did I mention the second floor of Jan’s Ice Cream Parlor is a brothel?  I guess my clients enter through the back door. I don’t know how they get up to it.  I guess they must be awfully horny.

And here, just for Norm, the conductor of the ThursdayDoors challenge, is a door.

 

Maybe it doesn’t matter

I haven’t been blogging lately because I’ve been editing a story I started way back in 1998.  I have no idea how many times I’ve edited this particular story but after years and the countless renditions, there are only a few sections I can reread without finding a word or a phrase that stops me in my tracks with it’s banality. Any sensible person would have given up and moved on to puzzles they know the answers to but not me.The story is based on the contentious relationship between my grandmother and my Auntie Dottie who had more in common than they would ever have admitted during their lifetimes.  Both were on their own emotionally from an early age; both were not shy about giving their opinions, and both were far braver and willing to take risks than the men they married. 

They spent the majority of their lives in a small town that, on the surface, is postcard perfect New England.  However veer off Main Street and the stray dogs scrounging for food will tell the story of a town that strains to stay true to the qualities once so important in small town America:  respectability, civic duty, and charity. The decline began after WWII when the mills and factories supporting the town began closing. Many of the young men who went off to war, didn’t return.  They moved to larger cities where their GI benefits went further.  The situation worsened when increasing crime and corruption rates in nearby Springfield Massachusetts made the hills surrounding the town appealing for commuters. The resulting increase in property values forced families who’d been squatting peacefully in the woods down into town and on welfare. You can probably guess the rest. 

My grandmother was born in the town during its years of prosperity but her parents were fresh off the boat.  In fact, they probably jumped off the boat. Letters from relatives in Sweden suggest that Great Gramps was in trouble with the Swedish military. Since he was a milliner by trade, maybe the Swedish army didn’t like his hats.  Who knows?  Great Gramps was a man of few words and none of them Swedish.  When his wife died young leaving him with a teenage daughter, he promptly boarded the girl at a “teaching” hospital in Springfield where she would learn a trade and not be a burden on him.  Years later she would return to the town with her husband and daughter to take care of him and there she would stay the rest of her life.

Dottie showed up on my grandmother’s doorstep in the early 1950s, married to her soft-hearted son and pregnant. She hid her painful past with a laugh that could trigger a tsunami and lived life in fast gear as if knowing she would die young. Any money she and my uncle earned was immediately spent on gaudy, flashy items which were far out of the arena of necessary.  In my grandmother’s time the things Dottie became legendary for would have gotten a woman shunned and ostracized. But the town was changing. 

I spent the summers of my youth in the twilight of my grandmother’s world and the emergent reality of my aunt’s.  I’m not sure if it’s the story of a relationship or the story of a town.

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

Do you ever keep returning to a story again and again knowing you may never get it right?

Riding the Zephyr: #ThursdayDoors

Dirty back window of the Zephyr

From time to time I have to travel to Reno Nevada for family business, both pleasurable and otherwise. Reno is a four hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area that used to be a fairly pleasant.  You’d pass orchards, cow pastures and rice patties before hitting the always dramatic Sierra Nevadas.  However, over the years the orchards and cow pastures have been replaced with housing developments and industrial tracts leading to massive traffic headaches. So we opt for the train when possible.

The Zephyr departs from Oakland California and travels due east to Reno, Salt Lake City, Denver, Omaha and finally ends its run in Chicago three days later. It is considered one of the most beautiful routes in the world. Below is Donner Lake as taken from the back of the train.

I’ve taken the Zephyr as far as Helper, a sooty outpost smack dab in the middle of Utah so named because it’s where “helper” engines are often added to give coal carrying trains the extra oomph they need to get through the Wasatch Mountains.

We generally catch the train in Martinez, the last point of departure in the Bay Area.  Martinez is an antique-shop town overlooking the Carquinez Strait.

From there the train crosses an old iron bridge and heads inland, passing low-lying swamps which provide homes for all sorts of species of birds and ducks.  It’s one of my favorite stretches, particularly in the Spring.

Another favorite stretch is just beyond Roseville as the train begins to climb up into the mountains.  The foothills are home to many ranches and on a Spring day, nothing beats the sight of horses romping through green pastures with their tails in the air.

In the mountains, the train passes through dozens of tunnels, many built to provide refuge during heavy snow storms.

For my husband, who is crazy about trains, we had an especially interesting trip through the mountains.  On Amtrak you’re assigned seating based on your destination.  Sometimes passengers for Reno are seated at the front of the train and sometimes they’re seated at the rear.  This trip we were seated in the very last car.

We’d just reached Colfax, a town in the high foothills, when the engineer ran past us on his way to the back door.  Then he opened the door and grabbed a hose.”Set to release?” he asked over the walkie talkie.  The next moment smoke erupted from the hose with a loud hissing sound that startled all the passengers.

It turns out there was a disabled freight train on the tracks ahead.  We would need to back down the track and switch over to the westbound track to get past the disabled train.  The engineer had been testing the brakes to prevent a runaway train.

Check out other exciting door adventures over at Norm’s Place.