Something Borrowed, Something New | Short Story

Thimbles are old hat. As are hatpins, come to that.

We don’t skirt along wainscots anymore – linoleum and robot vacuum cleaners have made that too dangerous. Nor do we abseil down curtains – blinds are not nearly so conducive to a silent descent. And the pets…People still talk about Eggletina having been eaten by a cat, a story whose horror is not in any way reduced by its being apocryphal, but in modern Borrower life the Human Beans are far more eclectic in their tastes. Ferrets, parrots, tarantulas…my cousin Dimmer swears he had to squeeze through a letter box brush to escape a fucking micro pig. These days it is ventilation grilles, wood burners, and shimmying down USB cables.

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Very Good, Jeeves | Book Review

Very Good, Jeeves

P.G. Wodehouse

Penguin: Random House

ISBN: 9780099513728

£8.99

Review

There has been a glut of non-fiction in my reading diet recently. Doctoral literature has been eating up a lot of my at-home reading time, whilst I am finding that the commute to work lends itself more to non-fiction (history mostly) – my tendency to let my thoughts wander whilst driving means that I’m better able to plug back into a narrative I’m already familiar with. In an attempt to remedy this imbalance, I read my first Wodehouse, an author regularly cited as a bona fide genius by the likes of Stephen Fry and Kate Mosse. Wodehouse was prolific in later life, writing more than ninety books, two-hundred short stories, and forty plays. He is perhaps best known for his Wooster and Jeeves series of novels and short stories chronicling the chaotic, bumbling socialite Wooster and his long-suffering, brilliant manservant. I chose to start with ‘Very Good, Jeeves’, a collection of stories about the duo.

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HMS Cleopatra | Short Story | Finale

Read part one here…

Read part two here…

Read part three here…

Read part four here…

The woman showed no surprise at the midshipman’s entrance. She stared at him, a smile nudging at the corners of her lips.

Bligh stood with mouth hanging open; a small boy caught stealing apples from the orchard. He had seen this fine green dress once before; across Bantry Bay, on a captain’s wife with a kerchief pressed against her mouth because she could not bear the smell of the harbour. Gone was the timid, sickly looking woman who had rushed off in her carriage as soon as it was politic, replaced with this confident, sensual creature.

                   “I was looking for…” whispered Bligh. His voice sounded childlike and tiny amongst the oak beams.

                   “You were looking for Ugly Bertha,” prompted the woman, her voice low and melodious. Bligh could smell orange blossom from the woman, the scent replacing the dank rot of the hold.

The woman held out her arms to each side of her petite shoulders. “Here she is.”

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HMS Cleopatra | Short Story | Part Four

Read part one here…

Read part two here…

Read part three here…

The sound of rolling glass permeated Bligh’s slumber and he woke slowly to the smell of rot and dampness. Looking down from his repose, he saw an empty olive-green rum bottle rolling from beneath the surgeon’s desk and under a hammock occupied by Harper. The young topman lay sleeping and, judging by the rum fumes emanating from him, was well sedated. From what he could see of the boy’s ankles, Bligh did not think that the boy would ever again climb rigging. On top of the table lay slouched the surgeon himself, drunk. Bligh sighed and looked around him. As a place of well-being and recuperation, the sick bay of the Cleopatra left a lot to be desired. Situated in the aft part of the lower deck, there was little light and even less fresh air. Bligh took a moment to wonder why surgeons, always lecturing about how bad airs contributed to disease, were put to work in one of the dankest, dingiest parts of the ship.

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HMS Cleopatra | Short Story | Part Two

Read part one here…

It was two days after Captain Cowan’s arrival on HMS Cleopatra and the pale winter sun had spent itself, leaving the ship huddled in half-light on an iron-grey Bantry Bay. Any free time that the men had would usually be spent on the forecastle. There would be cock-fighting, story-telling, dancing, and dicing, but not today. Bligh was with the gun crew that he commanded, as well as a few others crowded around the galley stove. Its black hulk dominated the room, dimly lit by tallow candles sputtering inside lanterns of tin and translucent horn. Bligh preferred the company of his men as opposed to the other midshipmen in the cockpit, especially today.  He shivered, although whether at the damp threatening to invade every loose stitch in his clothing or the unease at what was being discussed he was not sure.

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HMS Cleopatra | Short Story | Part One

1801, Bantry Bay, Ireland

Thirty.

A ship was comparable to a small town. There were glaziers and glassblowers, farmers and fishermen, shoe cleaners and snuff makers. Shoehorning such a population into a seventy-four gun ship like HMS Cleopatra however, meant that the intrigues and undercurrents that ran through any town were multiplied many times over.

Thirty-six.

Added to this already potent brew was the fact that the majority of seamen on board were not there by choice. After being pressganged into service, torn away from loved ones, and kept at sea for months on end, there was an unspoken contract between captain and crew stating that a seaman’s welfare was the responsibility of his commanding officer. This was an agreement that had just been trodden into the oaken planks by a pair of immaculately polished hessian boots.

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The Mirror and the Light | Book Review

The Mirror and the Light

Hilary Mantel

Fourth Estate

ISBN: 9780007480999

£25

‘The scuffling and haste, the sudden vanishing of papers, the shushing, the whisk of skirts and the slammed doors; the indrawn breath, the glance, the sigh, the sideways look, and the pit-pat of slippered feet; the rapid scribble with the ink still wet; a trail of sealing wax, of scent. All spring, we scrutinised Anne the queen, her person, her practices; her guards and gates, her doors, her secret chambers. We glimpsed the privy chamber gentlemen, sleek in black velvet, invisible except where moonlight plays on a beaded cuff. We picked out, with the inner eye, the shape of someone where no one should be – a man creeping along the quays to a skiff where a patient oarsman with a bowed head is paid for silence, and nothing to tell the tale but the small wash and ripple of the Thames; the river has seen so much, with its grey blink.

Review

That Hilary Mantel’s ‘The Mirror and the Light’ did not win the Booker was not sad in itself – there was a worthy winner in the form of ‘Shuggie Bain’ by Douglas Stuart – and after winning a Booker apiece for ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the Bodies’ Mantel is hardly in need of literary gravitas. Nevertheless, it was disappointing in that the lack of such a prize did take attention from what is undoubtedly an astonishing achievement. As a sidenote, I did find it refreshing that Mantel was upfront in her disappointment at not making the shortlist, the obvious tendency amongst people being to denigrate or shrug off baubles which they do not win. Real judgement perhaps lies in legacy, and in this the Wolf Hall trilogy is unparalleled. I doubt that any writer in my lifetime will dare to attempt a similar project. Mantel’s Cromwell is the fictional portrayal by which any other will be judged, and she has probably gone beyond a fictional remit in influencing the debate about Henry VIII’s chief minister.

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The Stretch | Short Story

Clink of bottle upon rock and cackle of teen laughter lie light upon the damp river air. It is cold. When hands are not cradling cheap cider they are thrust inside puffer jackets or, in the case of the boys, down jogging bottoms. Breath billows into the night along with swearing so thick it has become a tic rather than a conversational trait.

The boy pauses, crouched above the water. Six feet of rushing, peat-stained froth separate him from the drunken cheers of his classmates and glory. Six feet between him, the southern softie new to the area, and acceptance. The goading is loud in his ears, but both he and his fellow students know that the Stretch is no laughing matter.

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Zenith | Short Story

The app notification took the edge off the vista, but it was nothing really. Tim shifted the vibration in his pocket to the back of his mind. It was important to stay in the moment, and what a moment it had been.

Tim had felt the seawater slapping against the wooden pier underneath his feet. He had smelled drying seaweed and salt and gritty sunscreen. The low-throttled thrum of a water-ski in the distance had mingled with the babble of his children playing in the sand, arguing softly about who was in charge of building the sandcastle. A wisp of cloud trailed across the sky, its presence only serving to illustrate the expanse of blue above it.

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The Lure | Short Story

And cast…

Wind it in, wind it in, wind it in…

The line lands noiselessly between the waves. Arthur hasn’t got long – a great grandfather’s absence at a christening for any length of time is bound to cause concern. He has not gone far – the music is still faintly audible down here on the darkling pier.

And cast…

Wind, wind…

Arthur’s fingers never used to hurt when he spun for mackerel. His hands didn’t used to look like this, either – thick-knuckled and eel-veined.

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