A TASTE OF NORMANDY (winner in November 2016)
What went wrong? That’s what I keep asking myself as I sit at here at home, convalescing after my operation. But of course, I already know the answer.
It all started when that bloody brochure hurtled through my letterbox. ‘Can you imagine anything more wonderful?’ it asked, ‘a week cruising down the Seine, visiting beautiful places and enjoying great food?’
‘No,’ I thought, ‘I can’t,’ so I signed up for it. Mind you, being a bit of a fitness fanatic, I intended to use the gym every day and take long walks around the sun deck to make sure I didn’t put on weight.
And so it was that, on day one, I rose early as usual, left my cabin and headed for the fitness room. As I passed through the lounge I found that plates of pastries had been laid out for early risers like me, so naturally I sat and nibbled a few, just to keep my energy up. I was still there when breakfast was announced.
Ah yes, breakfast! There was food of every imaginable kind heaped up in the restaurant. As I was in France, I decided on a simple continental breakfast, so I picked up a couple of croissants and a dollop of confiture and washed them down with a cup of coffee – and very nice they were too.
But then I had a thought. What a waste of food it would be if everyone just nibbled at a croissant, so I helped myself to some cold meats, and a few slices of cheese as well. Nothing too filling, you understand.
Then, just as I was finishing my coffee, a couple came up and asked if they could share my table. Naturally I said yes but then, I thought, I couldn’t just get up and leave, could I? It wouldn’t have been polite would it? So I opted for a couple of eggs and a sausage or two, and waffles with maple syrup, plus all the usual trimmings, and I ate those as well.
I did feel a bit bloated when I reported for the day’s tour, but they’d laid on a coach so that was all right. Halfway through the morning there was a coffee break at a little café and I couldn’t really refuse a slice of gateau with everyone else, could I? You can’t be unsociable, can you? And I could always go without lunch.
Ah yes, lunch! There were big meals in the restaurant and light lunches in the lounge, so I just sat in a quiet corner there with a book, but then a charming hostess said, ‘You are not eating sir. Do you not like our food?’ She looked so concerned
that I felt obliged to visit the buffet table. I was sensible, though. I just had a bowl of soup, a few slices of this and a helping or two of that, plus a couple of puddings – all in moderation you understand.
But, halfway through the afternoon tour, I just couldn’t keep up with the others, so I found a seat in a little bistro to await their return. Not surprisingly, le patron asked what I wanted to order, so I had a couple of crêpes and a beer before we returned to the boat for dinner.
Ah yes, dinner! I decided to settle for something modest, but our table waiter was called Attila. Yes, really! He looked insulted when I ordered just two light courses, and you don’t like to argue with someone with a name like that, do you, so I had to go through the whole menu. Afterwards I staggered back to the lounge and fell asleep, and when I woke at about ten thirty, I found that a late buffet had been set out. I’m sorry, but that is something I really don’t want to talk about.
And so it went on, day after day, and I got hooked on this endless feast. I never visited the fitness room or took long walks on the sun deck. At mealtimes, I used to wolf down my food as fast as I could, until soon no one would sit with me. By then I didn’t care. I was always the first into the restaurant, sometimes pushing aside little old ladies who got in my way. But I sensed that disaster was looming and I was right. It happened like this…
I was lying on my bed one afternoon when our tour director announced a special event in the lounge – A Taste of Normandy. ‘Ah,’ I thought, ‘A glass of Calvados. That’ll be nice.’ So I headed for the lift because, by now, I couldn’t even manage the few stairs to the lounge. But when I got there, it wasn’t just a glass of Calvados. It was an absolute feast of Normandy delicacies.
Looking back, I realise now that I shouldn’t have barged my way to the tables, scattering more little old ladies in my wake, but by then I’d lost my self-control. I grabbed a couple of plates and heaped them high with meats and cheeses, quiches and strudels and looked around for a table, noticing how other guests scattered at my approach.
I will never know how I managed to eat a huge dinner after that, but by then I was in a feeding frenzy, and the final few days of the cruise passed in a sort of haze. I had to be taken to the airport in an ambulance and then pay for an extra seat before I was allowed on the plane.
Once home, my doctor sent me to hospital to have my stomach stapled up and for the last month I’ve been fed through a drip. I was discharged only yesterday and I have sworn that I will never again go on a holiday like that.
But what is this? A brochure has just landed on my doormat and I’m looking at a cruise down the Danube. It includes a trip to Vienna, where there are strudels galore, vienershcnitzel and, every afternoon, the traditional four o’clock routine of kaffee und kuchen – coffee and cake.
So, perhaps if I was very sensible…
Don Jones © 2016
AN ACCIDENTAL LIFE
This is the story of my life, told in accidents, but it really starts with my Dad.
I was the youngest of six kids, being born sixteen years after my eldest brother. I’m guessing that my conception turned out to be my Dad’s last fling, because I remained the baby of the family, an expression Mum used to embarrass me with even in my teens.
Anyway, as soon as I was old enough to understand, I realised that I myself was an accident, and perhaps that turned out to be the ‘raison d’être’ for my whole life.
Was it heredity? Dad always used to reckon that he himself had led a charmed life. Sent to the Somme in the Great War, he was shot in the head but survived to tell the tale. That the rest of Dad remained in good working order is witnessed by the fact that his six kids were all conceived after his return to Blighty.
During the second unpleasantness, Dad, not one to shirk his duty, joined the Home Guard. On the day for practising with live ammunition, another private accidentally discharged his rifle in the Drill Hall and the bullet creased Dad’s forehead. What Mum said when he returned home, with his head bandaged, I cannot remember but, if I inherited anything else from Dad, in addition to his accident-prone nature, it was his survival ability.
Let’s move on to myself. When I was a little boy, I was playing in the next-door garden with the son of that house. That was unusual in itself, because his parents considered all the other kids in the street as being unsuitable for their precious son to play with.
In this, their prejudice was understandable. Around us at the start of the war were half-built houses which, by VE Day, we had reduced to their concrete bases as we kids systematically demolished them to build brick cars, brick boats – everything but spaceships. The words Beam me up Scotty were a long way in the future.
We were a bunch of thugs and Desmond, for such was the name of the golden boy next door, was sternly forbidden to join us. As I played in Desmond’s garden that day, he took it upon himself to see what damage could be inflicted upon the head of a child by smiting it with a heavy stick. His father was a policeman so perhaps it was a truncheon. The result must have been deeply satisfying for Desmond, though not for myself.
The usual way to treat such an injury was to create a steaming-hot bread poultice to the wound and to hold it in place with yards of bandages in order to draw any infection from the wound. I must have smelt like a human bread pudding.
I digress. The destruction of the partly-built houses was followed by a ‘Look at me, I can carry more bricks than you’ competition and I firmly believe, as our gallant troops fought through the Battle of Britain and the D Day landings, that I myself lost every nail in fingers, thumbs and toes as I gallantly but stupidly tried to carry just one more brick.
Thinking back, if I could have dropped just one brick on any of Desmond’s precious digits, I would have considered any punishment to be well worth it, but that was not to be. In adult life he went on to become headmaster of a very posh school, where he was known for his complete absence of a sense of humour.
When I was fourteen, I went on a school trip to Switzerland where we were introduced to the game of pétanque. Eagerly, as I craned my neck over the lane to watch progress, a pétanque hurtled past my ear, ricocheted off another one, lying close by, and rebounded, hitting me on the head. As I staggered around, to universal laughter, one boy suggested that pétanque was the sound it made as bounced off my head. ‘Pétanque, pétanque,’ they chortled as I fought to stop tears coursing down my cheeks. Kids can be so cruel.
Adulthood arrived and I tried to impress the girl who was to be my future bride with my prowess on the cricket field. The opposing, batting, team was giving us a hammering and, exasperated, our pace bowler took a really long run up before producing the fastest delivery of his life. Unfazed, the receiving batsman followed the ball through with his bat, causing a further acceleration, whilst the wicket keeper, showing a fine sense of self-preservation, threw himself to the ground.
This should have been my finest hour, the moment when I showed my beloved what a brilliant fielder I could be, as I stood there at longstop, quickly cupping my hands in front of my face ready to seize the ball as it sped on to me. I was not quick enough. The ball sped between my hands and hit me squarely on the nose before speeding on its merry way to the boundary.
I have only a sketchy memory of being carried into the pavilion before being taken to the Leicester Royal Infirmary. However, I do remember my follow-up visit there. ‘Are you happy that the bone has set straight?’ I was asked. I looked at myself through the mirror he was holding. ‘No, I don’t think so,’ I replied.
‘Not to worry, I can always break it again,’ he smiled and it was at that moment that I realised that I liked it just as it then was and has been ever since.
My wife now always keeps a close eye on me in case I do something silly, but recently we went to a party where our hosts allowed us to go on the bouncy castle. I decided to prove just how careful I now am. ‘Look,’ I shouted as I rose high in the air, only to knock over their four-year-old son as I came down.
The air turned blue. I didn’t think four-year-olds knew words like that.
Don Jones © 2016
DECISIONS, DECISIONS (joint winner in August)
I rapped the gavel on the table to call the meeting to attention. ‘Lady and Gentlemen,’ I said, ‘I thank you for coming here today to help me to solve a problem which has divided the kitchens in the South West for generations. Now, please be good enough to introduce yourselves to the rest of the group.’
A man at the far end of the table took to his feet. ‘I am Winston Churchill, saviour of the world and national hero.’
He waved his hand, shedding cigar ash all over the table and exhaled a cloud of smoke, causing Noddy, who had been driving up and down the table in his car, to disappear. He reappeared again, hatless and weeping. ‘What has happened to my Looby Loo?’ he sobbed.
Next to Churchill, in her usual state of undress, Page Three Girl gave a giggle. ‘ I’ve heard it called some odd things, but that’s a new one on me. Anyway, I am here because I am always ready to present the naked truth to the public.’
Winston silenced her with a glance. ‘Never before,’ he intoned, ‘in the field of human problems have I ever been interrupted. Only I, Winston Churchill, can lead the way to solve once and for all this culinary dichotomy. Raise your hands if you wish me to be your titular head.’
Page Three Girl giggled. ‘Titular head? Ooh, you are cheeky, Winston. And at your age too.’
I banged the table again for order. ‘Let us first hear from our next member. Over to you, Will.’
The Bard ran an ink-stained finger around his collar as he addressed the table. ‘When the gods and goddesses of the culinary arts did fail to solve this problem, then did the proud people of England call on me, saying, ‘Wilt thou create a character who shall be wise as Solomon, brave as a lion and as strong as Goliath? Someone like Dale Winton, who will gird up his loins…’
‘Gird up his loins?’ squealed Page Three Girl. ‘Ooh, ’ark at ’im. He don’t half turn me on.’
‘Silence wench,’ cried Will. ‘I am about to create a character, one who shall persevere until a decision shall be made. And, in years to come, men of lesser steel shall count themselves accursed they were not here, upon this, St Valentine’s Day.’
‘Valentine’s Day?’ shrieked Page Three Girl. ‘But I ain’t ’ad a single card. Ain’t none of you sent me a card?’
Shakespeare eyed her naked bosom. ‘Verily, I would like to give thee one,’ he muttered.
Page Three Girl winked at him. ‘Room twenty-four,’ she whispered,’ you’re next after Winston.’
I interrupted. ‘And now you, Noddy. Why did you volunteer for this council?’
Noddy sobbed. ‘I didn’t. It was PC Plod. He caught me doing something I shouldn’t have with my Looby Loo – again.’
Page Three Girl gave another snigger until silenced by Winston.
‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘Now, as you all know, this is the momentous problem which you are here to solve. What goes onto a scone first? Is it the jam or is it the cream?’ I turned to Page Three Girl. ‘Will you take notes, please? Just the bare facts.’
‘Cheeky,’ she said.
The bard rose to his feet. ‘Truly,’ he said, ‘thou dost pose a problem which, since the dawn of time, hath baffled both the learned in their ivory towers and the common herd in their hovels. Throughout this sceptre isle, this earth, this realm, this England, this question for centuries unresolv-ed has remained, causing misery and sobbing…’ He stopped as Page Three Girl called out, ‘How do you spell sobbing?’
Shakespeare scratched his head. ‘Two ‘b’s or not two ‘b’s. That is the question. And thou has caused me to lose mine train of thought.’
Before he could collect himself, Winston took to his feet. ‘Never,’ he declaimed. ‘in the field of human refreshment has such a question been posed by so many to so few. So, let us take up arms, let our wise counsel rise to heights hitherto unknown, that we may find an answer so that generations to come shall say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ Now, give us the buns and we shall finish the job.’
At this, Shakespeare rose to his feet again. ‘Winston, when wilt thou learn?’ he declared. ‘Each time that a question doth arise, thou dost need to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war. Listen now to my opinion.’ He struck a pose.
‘When problems which are most extreme
Give way to one of jam and cream
Then I conclude that life is heaven
In Cornwall, as it is in Devon.’
Bowing his head in defeat, Winston replied:
‘With my new friend I must concur
Tho’ he’s a bard and I’m a Sir
Enough of this, let’s get us hence.
Tell folks to use their common sense.’
With those words, he sidled up to Page Three Girl. ‘I fear that our rendezvous must be postponed,’ he whispered.
‘And mine also,’ murmured Shakespeare. ‘What a waste of a hotel room.
‘You are wrong,’ said Page Three Girl. ‘Come and listen at the door.’
As they stood there, their faces broke into smiles as they heard a familiar little voice cry out,’ ‘Oh, Looby Loo, shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’
© Don Jones 2016
BY JOVE! (Winner of Trophy in March)
How can I start this new assignment?
Though all my stars are in alignment,
And horseshoes hang on ev’ry door,
With four-leafed clovers by the score,
And house just humming with feng shui,
No inspiration comes my way.
So, dull of mind and feeling ropey,
I seek the help of Calliope.
Of epic poetry she’s the muse,
But she declines to light the fuse
To set my dormant mind ablaze
With tales of kings from bygone days.
Nor will Erato – muse of love
Send inspiration from above,
Or let young lovers fill my mind
With limbs and bodies intertwined,
Whilst lusty lads, on summer’s day
Make sport with milkmaids in the hay.
And Polyhymnia, muse divine
Won’t help me to refresh my mind,
Or with great thoughts my soul inspire
To set the very world on fire;
Nor charm me with a heavenly chorus,
So I can win that dinosaurus.
When muses fail me, my heart sinks.
My pen still has no need for ink,
And, in despair, I beg my wife,
‘Please help me in this hour of strife,’
Then with blunt words, she solves my plight.
‘Shut up, sit down and start to write!’
Then, faster than a count of ten,
Pure, golden words pour from my pen.
And on the page, in fulgent prose
A tale of knights and dragons flows.
With battles, valiant deeds of old
Villains cruel and heroes bold.
At this, does Zeus his muses call,
With angry face address them all.
‘You would not help someone on earth
Not one of you has proved her worth.
I’ve found a muse of commonsense
To lead you all, now get you hence.’
And that is how it comes to pass as,
On the slopes of Mount Parnassus,
Ten muses Zeus decides upon,
With Commonsense at number one.
Now, at his side, the muses’ Queen
Of Commonsense, sits – Jacqueline.
Amongst the gods, her life’s much rosier
She dines on nectar and ambrosia.
But whilst in Grecian heaven she soars
I’m left on earth to do the chores
Then sleep, when I run out of steam
And when I wake, it’s not a dream.
© Don Jones 2016
You Must Be Joking!
(winning story of the Triceratops Trophy, (T. T.)Aug 2015)
Fourth floor – stationery, bulldozers, piranha fish and ladies’ lingerie – going up!
There, I’ve started my story in a lift, like you told me to. We have had some odd assignments at Jurassic Writers but this one, set by a smartphone app, really takes the biscuit.
I don’t even like smartphones! I could never understand how to operate one. I have an ordinary mobile phone that I carry around for use in dire emergency, such as forgetting to put my trousers on, and last year it cost me only £10 to top it up. You won’t run a smartphone on £10 a year.
There’s another reason that I don’t like smartphones. Selfies. What sort of person wants to go around takings pictures of himself, often with some so-called celebrity in the background? The expression ‘get a life’ comes to mind. As you know, I normally have a wonderfully sunny disposition, but last week, when someone insisted on showing me a selfie of himself with Ed Milliband, my immediate reaction (apart from thinking ‘Who the hell is Ed Milliband?’) was to yell, – well, I can’t repeat that here.
There’s another thing about smartphones. They come with Apps! Why do they call them Apps? What’s wrong with saying applications? Is life so short that you’ve not got time to say applications?
I am old enough to remember the time when you could go on a train journey without a sound being heard, thanks to the typical reserve of the average Englishman. Then mobile phones came along and BR introduced Quiet coaches where phones were forbidden. Not any more, though! Now my peace is drowned by a dozen voices droning on about nothing at all, until even someone with a sunny disposition like myself wants to grab their phones and chuck them out of the window. Sometimes I feel like plonking myself down beside them and singing Rule Britannia at the top of my voice. I don’t, of course, because we’ve not been introduced.
It’s not just mobile phones. There are so many things about modern life that I don’t like. Take lifts for instance. (There, I’ve got lifts into the assignment again. Are you happy now?) Or, better still, don’t take lifts. Get a bit of exercise, instead of crowding into a box filled with germ-ridden strangers with halitosis and the inevitable screaming kid or two, who wipe their noses or ice-cream cornets over your clothes.
Escalators are just as bad. They’re too narrow. Even at my age, I’m good on escalators and I always try to overtake the slower travellers, but there is always some doddering old fool standing on the wrong side. Despite my aforesaid sunny disposition, whenever I’m going down an escalator, I have to resist the urge to give the silly old fools a kick up the backside to speed them on their way.
Now, this is where I’m supposed to segue seamlessly from lifts to stalkers, but I can’t do it. Why? Because the Application didn’t tell me what kind of stalker it wanted us to write about. By the way, did you notice that? I said Application instead of App. See, no problem. But the Application should have made itself clear, shouldn’t it? Are we supposed to be writing about a stalker who sits in a fruit processing plant removing the stalks from strawberries?
Or is it a stalker who stalks pretty young girls as they walk home alone late at night from some club or other, wearing skimpy clothes that look like nighties?
Anyway, could the Application mean someone from the Highlands of Scotland, stalking a majestic stag, so that some wealthy Hooray Henry can slaughter the poor thing using a gun with a telescopic sight so powerful that he just can’t miss?
You see, I am being let down by inadequate data. If the so-called Information Super-Highway can’t even be precise, what is the point in it? Someone with a less sunny disposition than I could get quite cross about it.
Now, where was I? I’ve mentioned lifts and stalkers but I haven’t got round to including a courageous thirty-year old or envy, which the stupid Application demands of me.
I used to be thirty years old once. It’s easy to be courageous at that age because you have all your faculties about you. It’s not so easy when you’re eighty, staggering to the rescue with your Zimmer frame, and then forgetting why you’re there once you’ve arrived. I think that the Application was making a grossly insensitive ageist assumption. It’s a good think that I have a sunny disposition or I could get quite cross.
That just leaves envy, so it’s time to be honest and confess here and now that all my complaining and moaning in this piece have been motivated by pure envy. I can’t afford a smartphone. The reason I don’t like lifts is because I have shrunk so much in old age that I can’t reach the buttons any more. And as for stalking anyone, even on an invalid tricycle I wouldn’t get above a speed of four miles an hour.
There, I have completed my assignment, but I have to make one small confession, which you may find it difficult to believe. I don’t actually have a sunny disposition. No, really.
© Don Jones 2015
A VERY HAPPY CAMEL ( Winner of the T.T. Nov 2015)
‘Is that the time?’
I was stalling, because I didn’t have the answer to the all-important quiz question. It was the final question, too, and our hopes of winning the coveted prize of a bottle of Algerian Chardonnay and a year’s supply of camelburgers seemed doomed to disappointment. I would have let my family down.
You must be wondering where all this is leading to, so let me get back to the story. It all started in January when Sunshine Kebabs launched the Small Towns Quiz Championships. ‘Are you the cleverest family in your town’ the billboards screamed. ‘Then sign up for our quiz to win a year’s supply of our delicious Camelburgers. Yes, Camelburgers – The Snack from Iraq!’
You had to enter a team of four, with each member having to answer questions on his or her own subject. The team with the most wins would take the prize.
My wife, Sharon, confidently went first. She had chosen Current Affairs because she reads Hello magazine at the hairdressers, but she was so shocked to find that there wasn’t a single question about Harry Styles, David Beckham or Mick Jagger that she simply said ‘pass’ to every question. That meant that we other three all had to win to stand a chance of the prize.
Our eldest lad, Wayne, had opted for African History because he’d once been on a Club Med holiday in Morocco. Only for two days, mind you, before he was forcibly thrown onto a plane home. A pal of his, a member of an opposing team, tried to sabotage his chances by buying him an old atlas from a junkshop. It had countries like German West Africa and the Belgian Congo in it and we’d encouraged him at home, as he recited such names and capitals as Southern Rhodesia and Salisbury. But he came out of the quiz studio with a big grin on his face and munching on a Jumbo Camelburger with extra onions because all the questions had been about Africa before World War Two. So, one win for us.
Next came Roger, our youngest lad. He’d chosen The British Rail Network because, as an avid soccer fan, he could remember the names of hundreds of railway stations around the country, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. ‘On the platform at Birmingham,’ he’d say, ‘I threw up all over the Station Master, after we lost to Stoke in the quarter-finals. About Crewe, ‘Oh yes, I remember. It’s where we all mooned against the windows after winning away against Everton.’ Naturally he won easily, so that was two wins to us. No other team had managed even three wins so now it was all down to me.
Going back to the beginning of this story, I’d chosen Food and Drink. I do all the shopping and cooking at home because we risk food poisoning if my wife is in the kitchen. She ignores sell-by and use-by dates. If you complain that something is mouldy, she’ll say, ‘They make penicillin out of mould, so mould must be good for you, mustn’t it?’
I don’t want to mislead you. When I say I do the cooking, I really mean the heating-up, because I usually buy ready-meals. I’d become an expert on E numbers because I’d always looked for them on the packaging. Mind you, I used to think they were a good thing, and I used to buy only stuff that was packed with E numbers, until that day when we all finished up at the A & E.
Anyway I answered all the E number stuff easily, but then came the final question. ‘This is about herbs,’ the question master said. ‘All you have to do is sniff at this little muslin bag and tell me which herb it is.’
Herbs? I’d never bothered with stuff like that. What were herbs? I didn’t know. As I became lost in thought, the question was repeated with a touch of impatience. I knew we were beaten and that’s when I’d glanced at my watch, and just to give me a few more seconds I muttered, ‘Is that the time?
‘Sorry, what was that you said?’
Oh well, I guessed the game was up. Goodbye camelburgers. ‘Is that the time?’ I repeated, as I stared defeat in the face.
‘Correct! Well done, Mr Harris. The answer is thyme. As the best team, you have won a bottle of Algerian Chardonnay and a year’s supply of Sunshine Kebabs Camelburgers.’
So, apart from my wife’s abject defeat, three of us had won. A moment later, to boos and cheers, we were presented with our prizes. The camelburgers were ours.
Sadly, our prizes were a mixed blessing. The wine tasted like paint stripper, and Camelburgers every day were becoming a bit boring, however cleverly I disguised them with names like Burger du Chameau (that’s French for camel), Desert Dessert and Oasis Surprise.
Then came an announcement from the Ministry of Health, banning all sales of camelburgers because of reported side effects. Unfortunately, that was too late for us, because I had already started having dreams about galloping through the desert with Omar Sharif – on my back. My wife, Sharon, puts on a niqab before she goes to Tesco, and Roger now wears a turban and has started to learn the Koran. Wayne, our eldest, has left to join the French Foreign Legion, which I think is something like the British Legion, but with sand.
Then, two weeks ago, I saw a traffic warden putting a ticket on my car, so, naturally, I raced over and spat in his face – like us camels do. I was arrested, questioned by a couple of shrinks, and then sectioned. I’m not allowed visitors, and they keep forgetting to feed me, but I don’t mind. This padded cell is very comfortable and, as everyone knows, I can go for days and days without food and water.
I am a very happy camel.
© Don Jones 2015