The Twisted Sporran

"You'll love this place." He said.

Across the street was a bar, yet another chain-experience with one of those differences that isn't really a difference at all but a lowest possible cost differentiator. In this case the cost saving was mostly in the waitresses uniforms. Imagine a Texan steakhouse where the waitresses wear stetsons to add authenticity to a bog standard American steak - admittedly delicious - or a mexican place with big-sombrero'd waitresses. This one was a girly-bar branded by breeding Scottish and Irish design cliches and hoping that no-one would notice the dissonance. The women wore kilts with hems designed to be within a millimetre of being crudely short and - I can see the big reveal in the pitch in my mind - the hem ain't straight. Their plaid tops were precision engineered to constrain heaving decolletage, even if there wasn't any decolletage to heave. The marketeers had turned the women to cartoons, killing any sense of the saucy, or sexy, or erotic. It didn't help that the place was huge and empty and the ladies were bored. They looked cold too, and their exposed skin was grey-white or bruised olive. Their expressions were similarly bored or icy which I personally prefered to the explosive fake smiles which crushed their eyes until they threatened to explode in a sparkly, perky, cheeky, zombie way. I ordered a margarita, raising a provocative 'ooooo' when I chose salt not sugar for the rim. Maybe I stumbled across some kind of code. Sometimes you look into someone's eyes and find someone screaming to get out. This was one of those places. The clothes are even designed to look half-stripped without the wear and tear.



I've added a new section focused on sound, rather than light. Here is a link to the first entry.




Blue Steel Balloons

In the way of these things, instead of debating where to eat after a long day, we picked a person who would chose. An address went around by text message and the satnav led us to a nondescript bar some miles from our hotel. It was part of a homely mom and pop chain of only a hundred or so branches in less than twenty states. Four TVs showed different sports channels in the traditional of US bars, except in this case they had the sound up. Music played, I think, and we stacked ourselves along a narrow table in the middle of the noisy bar so that try as I might, I couldn't speak to anyone or hear the conversation. The waitress asked what sides I wanted.

"Not for me, thanks."

"Just wings?"




"He's wierd, he's foreign. I'll take his fries," said a voice at my left.

I peered over at the TV and outside, in the fading lights, I saw balloons. There were dozens of balloons, all brand new, shining steely silver, with blue and white stars, some stripes, but predominantly blue. Metal blue balloons inflated until they are fit to pop and dancing in the blustery wind like so many shiny pogoing punks  bobbing up and down pinging their stiff strings like diddly-bows. Around the unit was an ironwork fence, painted smooth to give the ironwork a faux-plastic look. It had a line of curlicued, ball-topped spear tips on top of it and woven in and out there were tibbons. Yellow ribbons, not of the please-come-home kind, but police ribbons of the someone-is-never-coming-home kind.  The store itself was black inside in a strip-mall island of bright lights and bustling. A car passed, slowing, then it sped up again. The balloons pogoed some more in the wind. There was snow on the ground which was harsh in the street-lighting, piled against the faux-plastic fence so that its blunted spears looked stacked ready for battle. The concrete around the store was pristine. Brushed clean. I saw more ribbons, these were yellow, further out. I saw that the store wasn't dark at all, the windows were lined inside with black plastic so that no one could look inside. White light leaked around the edges of the blackout and shadows slid back and forth along those cracks of light.  The waitress slipped a diet cola in front of me. Followed my eye. Looked away. 

"Oh yeah." The voice at my side penetrated the lull in the noise like a retort, feigning surprise. "That's that place."

There was a stutter in the assault of noise. Faces looked up and scanned the long line of us on our high stools with dissapproval. The hubbub re-focussed away and got louder. No one looked at what I was looking at. No one bought into the bid for drama. The penny dropped. The taste slid off my chicken wing like a stunned calf falling. The other store was one of a chain that I use. Somewhere where asking for wholemeal isn't a crime or wierd. Somewhere where a semi-retired cop might try to make conversation with a man who has had problems, in the past, to ease him around, try to help, and be shot right in the face for his trouble. That's not wierd around here either, apparently.






Frost Storm Conversion Experience. Rehearsal.

Today was one of those days which most people will say was cold, grey and full of icy rain. Most people will say that it never really got light. Those people didn't see the sunrise.

It was 4C below when I set out and the ice was sitting on the teasels at the side of the road, stiff through the freezing fog. Leaving the fen-edge, where the land rises a little, the dawn light started to break through between the layers of mist and the low cloud turning the slow running river Ouse to molten brass. A little later, stuck in traffic, the sun made a glorious appearance, orange like a flourescent fishing float. The iced plants and trees at the side of the road glistened like carved white marble. The teasels combed the face of the sun into fractured patterns. The clouds overhead went from grey to crimson for a few moments. Just then my car, on random play, selected Ave Maria so I turned the volume to max and had the closest thing to a conversion experience that I've ever had.

Being a sad and possibly too proud person, I declined to be converted stuck on the road to Tesco due to a track selection by an automobile and reserved that pleasure for another day.

Disappointed, I suppose, the Sun climbed above the thin crack in the cloud, the world turned icy grey and it started to rain.


Kingfisher of Lost Souls

The Night Planted Orchard is toward the end of a long path and sits on the very fringe of the fen where the southern slope of the Isle of Ely meets its catchwater. At this point it begins to turn north, cradling the orchard and keeping it dry, if not unbattered by the winter winds. In the daylight the fen can look seamless from here, but on this endless night of the winter solstice wandering headlights betray its wounds and cast woeful xenon stares through the hedges and the not-yet-fallen sedge.


I am startled by an ambulance far away, running straight and hard, its blue lights a broken streak. It is the precise inverse of the kingfisher flying like a missile across the bright, warm midsummer noon.


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