EDitorial ± 30-Sep-2014

TT1415, Week 2

Already week two but another strong three (how's that!) providing opposition tonight in the trusty Adastral aerodrome. It's a trio of familiar foes, those being timely Rosemary and local boy Mick (both previously) and separate whack-a-mole and ex-Wren Anton. Like the packets you see going cheap in Sainsburys bakery about 7:30pm, them's some tough cookies.

Heavy on the Y chromosome for team Defiants with Ed and Steve again and, for his first competitive match of the new season, Dr Yang. Our warm-up gets us even warmer before the ping-pong warmongering kicks off. In brief:

  • null points and just the one end (against Mick) for Steve
  • also a big fat zero for Yang though he had a matchpoint against Rosemary before losing out in five ends
  • amazing 3/3 for Ed, slipping and sweating to beat Rosemary in three, Anton in four and, best of all, Mick in five clammy ends

Let's not pay too much heed to the nondescript doubles performance phoned in by Ed and Yang: another 7-3 defeat it is. All team points to Ed thus far: come on everybody else!

EDitorial ± 28-Sep-2014

130Story: Cart / Owl / Drive / Sour / Tea

The rules of 130Story are simple: given a random seed word, write a story in 130 characters.






More to follow.

EDitorial ± 24-Sep-2014

Light Lunches: The Bistro, Saxmundham

As per the last two outings to Garnett's and Jars Of Clay, we find Kev and Ed at the mercy of Andy's rigourously safe driving. Today, however, things are spookily quiet. Boyton Boy has somehow borrowed a car of the future, a Vauxhall Ampera. It doesn't hover -- shame -- but it is part electric. Let's hope that our battery lasts longer than Andy's iPhone.

Third of an hour gone and we're cruising past the new Mayflower Green development on the blurred edge of Saxmundham. Eyes peeled for a caff near the station and it's nowhere to be seen. Market day too so can't park anywhere near pre-visited and perfectly pleasant Trinity's Cafe. Nabbing a spot outside Waitrose, we saunter down a side path (past a Pump Street Citroen) and emerge on the high street. There, opposite the superbly symmetrical Bell Hotel, sits the dark blue frontage of The Bistro. More like a restaurant? Our guidelines being as loose as they are, that "coffee shop" lettering is sufficient to lure us in.

Not much room in the front bit. Through to comfy sofas in the middle bit and finally to even more tables at the rear. First impressions excellent with its cosy atmostphere, artwork on the walls, and, considering we're here on a decidedly average Wednesday, bloomin' busy. Tempting menu with its exotically cheesed paninis and diverse sandwich options: salami and gherkins, anyone? Specials today include a lamb kofte too. We um, we ah, then order from the patient waitress:

  • chorizo and comte (posh cheese) panini for Andy
  • club sandwich for me, plus Frobishers (they know juice) cranberry
  • houmous with a whole bulb of roasted garlic and pitta bread for Kev

Given the hordes, not too bad a wait before we're tucking in. It's good. In fact it's very good, and easily the best we've had on our travels since the Cult Cafe. Hugely disappointed, though, that there just isn't time for dessert. That pistachio slice had my name on it. Be brisk and beat a path to The Bistro.

If it was a car -- Subaru Vivio Bistro.
If they were passing by -- Quentin Willson.

EDitorial ± 23-Sep-2014

TT1415, Week 1

Previously on Defiants TV: a five-man team comprised of Ed, Andy, Yang, Steve and Kev did enough to finish third in division 3. That was sufficient to gain promotion. Then, over the summer, Kev announced another Sinatra-like retirement from the game and Andy decided that he'd rather remain in div 3 in a newly formed team. In a further twist, Defiants acquired another player in the guise of young Natalie from Bright Stars. Up to speed?

Team picks itself tonight: Ed, Steve and Natalie. Except that new girl's hobbling with a last minute hockey injury and has to pull out. Ed texts, makes calls and even looks in the reduced BT phone book before a replacement is found: step forward Andy, keen volunteer and lifesaver. He's on his way to Adastral Park before Ed thinks to inform Andy that the game's up at the Defoe Dome.

Us not-so-young boys are up against old boys the Britannia Petrels, these particular birds being powerful Peter, lefty John and chopchop Bernie. Average age of their team: 73 years. They're a solid div 2 side with guile galore. We're a newly promoted div 3 side and possibly out of our depth. In brief:

  • no points and just the one end for guest star Andy, nonetheless helping to tire them out
  • similar stats for Steve despite some cracking rallies
  • good 2/3 for Ed, somehow emerging victorious in five-setters against both John (10-6 down in final end) and sweary Bernie before sweatily losing to Peter

Decent of Andy to score the doubles played by Ed and Steve, our boys grabbing a precious point in another five-ender to end with a satisfactory 7-3 defeat. Plenty more points to be played this season.

EDitorial ± 22-Sep-2014

Let Them All Talk

Chronological literary eventualities:

October 2013
Ahead of one of those Ipswich writers' cafe thingies, I knocked together a one page story entitled Strumble Head. After reading it to the scribblers (and that Emma Healey), a very nice lady had a quiet word. Your tale, she said, no offence, would be ideal for a women's magazine. Ooh.

November 2013
In the local M&S, I bought a copy of the Woman's Weekly Fiction Special with "20 fabulous stories to brighten your day." Even the shorter ones were around 1000 words, double the length of mine. I planned how best to extend my few paragraphs and, over time, did nothing whatsoever about it.

15 May 2014
On the table at Brightwell Barns was a copy of Let's Talk, "East Anglia's best-loved magazine", full of nostalgia, gardening, etc. Not quite my demographic, but hey. What caught my eye was the short story competition mentioned on the cover. Entries must be received by June 30th, it said. Thought bubble: maybe I could redo my story from six months back.

June 2014
Checking the magazine's website, they'd published the best entries to last year's competition. A count of the winning story produced a tally of around 1400 words. Yikes. Many more words required. Unlike almost every other competition I've gone in for, entries to this one had to be postal. Meaning, can't wait until the night before. I diligently burnt a midnight energy saving bulb at the dining room table with a few days to go, did a last edit or two at work, spent five minutes thinking of a better title, printed it out and posted it early evening on June 29th at the sorting office. Got to be in it to win it.

22 July 2014
Off to lunch one Tuesday and the mobile pipes up. Unrecognised number. Is that Ed? It's Let's Talk magazine here. I'm delighted to say you've won our short story competition. (Yes!) Can you come up to Norwich sometime to have your photo taken?

1 August 2014
2pm on a super sunny day and I'm in Jarrold, the flagship department store in that Norwich. Meeting me are Peter and Helen from the magazine (they comprise half of the four person team of competition judges), a photographer, plus Carole Slaughter from Jarrold, the contest sponsors. I'm presented with a glass of champagne -- awkward -- and pictures are taken, me mugging up, sparkly in one hand, photocopied story in the other. It's all very lovely and flattering, made lovelier still by receiving a bunch of vouchers to spend in store. More yay!

14 August 2014
Come the publication date, we're on hols in France. No matter, since Mum comes up trumps by going out to buy a copy in l'Angleterre. She emails through a photo of the double page spread plus my embarrassing champagne snap. Story came out well. Mighty chuffed.

September 2014
My story pops up on the Let's Talk website. Not sure how long it'll remain there so there's a copy here. That title? Comes from a poem about Grace Darling by a chap named William Wordsworth. Now, there's a proper writer.

EDitorial ± 14-Sep-2014

130Story: Bank / Heat / Belt / Honey / Page / Rat

The rules of 130Story are simple: given a random seed word, write a story in 130 characters.







More to follow.

EDitorial ± 10-Sep-2014

Light Lunches: Garnett's Gardens, Hacheston

We have a day, that day being Wednesday. We have a car, that car being Andy's green machine. We have a gang, that gang comprising Andy, Ed, and, for the second week running, Kev. We don't as yet have a destination. Running out of lunchtime places? Like tragic Karen, we've only just begun.

Yours truly makes a suggestion which is duly accepted. Nearing Woodbridge's very own Wyevale, we ignore the turn-off to Hasketon (that way lies Grange Barn) and instead veer the VW towards confusingly named Hacheston. Where? On the way to Sheeranville if that helps. That Parham sign tells us we've arrived: greetings, Garnett's, the none too central garden centre.

In on the right, shimmy to the left and crikey, it's coffee corner. Do you order at the counter? Nope. Do you wait to be served? Nein-nein. In a move of which William Woolard would be proud, this is entirely self-service. Snag one of the Barnies prepacked sarnies from the fridge. Add a drink. Pick a plate. Collect some cutlery. Grab a glass. Take a pew at one of the pine tables. Consume. Enjoy staring at the seed packets.

Egg mayo & bacon sandwiches for them, pork & onion chutney pork pie for me plus a pack of Corker's onion crisps. They're gonna love me at work this afternoon. Bottles of Fentimans all round. We're not alone, other tables being occupied by coffee-supping ladies and leathered bikers. It's fine. OK, it's a bit weird. Nursery noshing-wise, certainly ain't no Bizzi Beans.

Dessert is DIY ditto. Servez-vous with a slice of cake, a choice of coffee or farmer's fruity loaf, and bevvy up courtesy of the FreshMore vending machine. Left spout for coffee, right for tea. Cafe au lait was alright though short of the high standards set by French service station machines. All done, we took our selection of dead wrappers up to the counter and paid the smiling lady. Job's a good 'un. Given that the village shop has forsaken comestibles in favour of pine furniture, Garnett's must come in handy with its fruit, veg, newspapers, cans of food and cordials. And the odd ornamental dog.

If it was a car -- Ford Granada Mark III.
If they were passing by -- Warren Mitchell.

EDitorial ± 8-Sep-2014

A Few May Yet Be Saved

(my winning entry in the 2014 short story competition run by Let's Talk magazine and also published on the Let's Talk website)

I already had the torch. A really good one, as it happens, and that rarest of items, a useful Christmas present from Jane's brother. This particular model was "in use by the Las Vegas PD" if you believe that marketing spiel. Torch, tick.

Sourcing a bright yellow sou'wester and matching rain cap (complete with chin strap) presented far more of a challenge. Turns out there's a half-dozen or more camping and outdoor places in town. Maybe they're in a turf war with the mobile phone shops? Not sure why there are so many when they all appear to sell much the same stock. No, I didn't need a two season sleeping bag, nor a basic survival kit, nor indeed any mint cake. What I did need was some fashionably old-fashioned waterproof clothing. Come the third or fourth shop, I stopped using the word "sou'wester". Too much confusion in their pimpled faces. It's possible that I may have got a little shirty in Blacks once they declined my not unreasonable request to scavenge in their store room.

Nursing a consolation cappuccino and wishing that Gracie was there to dip her little finger in the chocolate foam, it came to me: not Blacks, but White's. Surely that esteemed gentleman outfitters with its correct apostrophe had gone the way of cravats and spats? First left, second right and there it stood, a period rose between the modern thorns of AroundAPound and U-Bronze. Entering White's was akin to stepping in to the pages of something by HG Wells.

"May I assist, sir?"

Wow. I hadn't seen this chap since being fitted for my school blazer best part of a quarter of a century ago. One of us had aged, for sure.

"Er, I don't suppose you might stock a sou'wester?"

In White's, one used the correct terminology for one's raiments.

"And cap, if you have one."

"Certainly, sir. Would that be with or without a chin strap?"

Once I had the raincoat sorted, tracking down a pipe was, relatively speaking, child's play. Your normal workaday smoking type pipe would have been easy. However, not wanting to set a bad example in a few days, I wanted one that was, above all else, edible. Like I remembered sucking on while sat in front of The Generation Game on a Saturday night. Back on the high street, Adams, where we used to buy cute animal baby grows for Gracie, had been replaced by Mr Parminter's, "purveyors of retro confectionery". Parma violets, cola cubes, toffee bonbons. I was like a little boy in, well, a sweet shop.

"A pipe? Of course. Liquorice or chocolate? Milk or dark?"

I scratched my chin. Far too smooth. One more purchase required. Anyone who's lived in this town long enough knows about Jugglers in the arcade. Kids come here for their fun snaps and silly string. Adults come here for their superhero costumes.

"White, please, and as big and bushy as you have."

Torch, sou'wester, pipe and the hairiest fake beard you ever saw. Outfit complete.

What did I want with these random artifacts? Well, it's my own fault, as Jane has said to me on more than one occasion. She's right, naturally. She's right most of the time, truth be told. Please don't tell her I said that.

See, earlier that week I'd managed, for once, to get home in time for tea with the family. Made a pleasant change to eat food that was properly hot rather than reheated. Microwaves and pasta do not go. We were getting on famously, the three of us, though I was trying not to get too wound up by that pile of peas which Gracie was trying and failing to hide under her cutlery. Jane got up.

"Right, since you're here in good time, I'm going to give that yoga class another go. Can I leave you two to clean up?"

"'Course, Mummy. I'll show Daddy how you fill the dishwasher."

Jane made a face, kissed both of us on the head, grabbed a kit bag and was gone. Whoosh.

"OK, I said, "we'll take these plates through. Careful with those peas" - Gracie stuck out her tongue - "and let's see if can catch the end of CBeebies."

Ten minutes later we waved bye-bye to Makka Pakka, Upsy Daisy and the rest of the gang. Gracie, clearly well trained by her mother, turned off the TV - "Goodnight, gogglebox!" - then took a running jump in my direction. We rolled around on the carpet, me still in my work shirt, Gracie in her favourite Wibbly Pig PJs, until she was perched cross-legged on my chest. A cloud rolled over her face as she came over all serious.

"Daddy, you know Mia, my friend? Well, her daddy fixes people's pipes. And Fran's daddy is a postman. Me and Mummy sometimes see him on the way to school. He's always in shorts."

I could see where this might be heading.

"So, Daddy," - here it came - "what is it you do exactly?"

"Well, sweetie, I, er..."

The office flopped into view, a featureless building within a faceless out-of-town business park. Open-plan, air-conditioned when it was working, and blessed with windows that were impossible to open. Laminated health and safety notices. The dull glare of monitors. The interminable whirr of laptop fans. A million miles from the locomotive or football pitch or outer space where I'd dreamed of spending my adult life.

"You know, Daddy, your job?"

Her face was perfect but for a horizontal wrinkle of pure concentration. Trying to parallel park out the front was next door's car. Over her shoulder, I watched as its beam scoured the coving from left to right.

"Gracie, darling, I'm... I'm a lighthouse keeper."

What a ridiculous thing to say. I was lying to my own daughter, for goodness sake.


How could a grin be that wide?

"Miss says to bring our daddies in to talk about their work. I've already said you're coming in. There's a note in my bag with the time. That's alright, isn't it, Daddy?"

"Great! That's great."

Which was how I found myself the following Tuesday afternoon at St Augustine's Infants. To be specific, in the gents. I pictured myself like Superman, entering the cubicle as humble Mike Hurst, certified IT admin level 4, emerging seconds later as - what had Jane called me? - Captain Birdseye, guardian of the rocks. In full keeper's regalia, I made my way to the corridor outside Gracie's classroom, familiar from the previous parents' evening. Inside, a huge postbag attached to a wiry man in shorts (Fran's dad!) was standing by the whiteboard. Pacing up and down, I waited for my cue, sweating in the surprisingly well insulated sou'wester. White's always did sell only the best. Out popped Miss Smeaton's head - she looked me up and down and didn't miss a beat - and in I bounded to deliver my opening line.

"Hello, children! How long have I been a lighthouse keeper? Even since I was a buoy!"

Quite why I decided to talk like a pirate, I really couldn't say. That just happened. But if you'd asked me to sit my lighthouse GCSE there and then, I'd have aced it. This was going to be fun but I was keen for the children to learn something too.

Thanks to Wikipedia, I gave them the A-Z from Alexandria, one of the seven wonders of the world, through Portland Bill, opened 1906, to the amazing Stevensons, an entire family of lighthouse builders. Then, thanks to an old BBC documentary I'd found on YouTube, I described my strictly imaginary working day.

To finish my talk, I thought I should demonstrate the extreme conditions in which I worked. I handed out a small bottle of water to each of the kids at the front and invited them to squirt me while I spun around with the torch on my head. I was approaching my fourth or fifth rotation and halfway through eating my pipe when Miss Smeaton interrupted.

"Sorry to butt in, Mr Hurst, but Trinity House just called. They need you back rather urgently, I'm afraid. Thanks awfully for coming ashore."

I swallowed the rest of the pipe.

"No problem. Arrr."

"Also," - she took me to one side - "our secretary's PC has been playing up for the last few days. Gracie said you might be able to help?"

EDitorial ± 3-Sep-2014

Light Lunches: Jars Of Clay, Rendlesham

No, no, no, that can't be right. I've just now looked up when the Light Lunch team jollied along to Jars Of Clay in its previous home in that Woodbridge. 20th of the month, yes. July, yes. Wet day, yes. But 2007? Seven years ago? No, no, no. Can that be right?

Fed up of the perenially soggy conditions in the 'Bridge, JoC has ridden its potter's wheel out to a small and sunny Rendlesham business park. Better parking, larger area, improved climate. Not quite sufficient solar power to tempt us outside to the pink and yellow seating: there's plenty indoors. On what could be that dreaded last day of the summer hols, some kids are spashing paint on some saucers (not far to the UFO trail). Kev, frustrated artist that he is, is very tempted to decorate an owl.

What's on the menu? Same as last time. Toast. Just toast. White or brown and you get to express yourself with your choice of topping. Pate for one, pate for all. Friendly young lady uses half a loaf and brings us some good sized pate slabs. Limited choice can, at times, be cleansing for the soul. Accompanying bottled raspberry smoothie is super fruity though the contents resemble tidy-up time at the after school art club.

If we weren't discussing creepy Worzel Gummidge and scary Catweazel, we'd be taking advantage of the free WiFi and many mags. Only me for a jolt, a half-decent Paddy & Scotts latte with, on the side, a rather scrum Twistie biscuit stick. And, slightly further to the side, a vg slice of carrot cake from the under the counter sweet trolley. If you're in the area as part of SETI and in need of a beam-me-up, direct your tractor beam this way.

If it was a car -- Triumph TR2.
If they were passing by -- Paul Young.