GFC #1 Mercurial

Friday afternoon in the park. The sun smiled down on players and spectators alike. Thanks to the now experienced park-keeper and the early morning rain that day, the greens were immaculate. Everyone was looking forward to an excellent evening’s bowling. Club championship. First round. 64 of the best bowlers in the club pitting their skills against each other. And for the first time a woman had made it into the first round. Ginetta had won the junior championship three years running. Last year she had also partnered the club captain to the final of the pairs, losing only to her grandfather and his long-standing bowling partner. Polite applause, the closest thing you’ll get to enthusiasm in bowls, accompanied the arrival of the club secretary with the pairings. In his best monotone voice he read out the names, hesitating when he got to the fourth pairing:

“Mercetto Brintini…” He raised his eyes towards Mercetto before adding “… Ginetta Brintini.”

Try as he might it took at least three minutes for order to be re-established. This was going to be the game of day. For years Mercetto had been after the club championship; ever since he had been seduced to leave their oldest rivals and come and join them in Garwledd. It was the only prize to elude him. Pairs, fours, mixed pairs… some several times. But never the championship. Never, that is, until the previous year. Fate had smiled on him that year. A storm had brought a postponement of the original date set for the final. The rearranged tie was fixed for the day of Mercetto’s 60th birthday. The whole Brintini clan turned out to see him. His opponent had little choice. Win and get lynched or put a brave face on things.

Most people were convinced Mercetto would retire from championship bowls after that. He himself, had no such thoughts. He was the title holder, he was determined to defend his title. Walking towards their rink, a smile on his face, he proclaimed for all to hear:

“The chit will win the first two sets but then I’ll wipe her off the green.”

Ginetta herself, was delighted to be playing against her grandfather. She was a chip off the old block if ever there was one, but today it was her wisdom which shone through. She simply kept her mouth shut and let her bowling do the talking. Not that that had much to say, mind you. Despite her best efforts she lost the first set badly. Her length had gone to pieces and she wasn’t able to get any real draw on the woods. In the second she faired a little better but still lost, scoring just two points.

Mercetto was exasperated. He walked off the back of the rink and up to the club secretary who was refereeing their game.

“What did I tell you about letting girls into the championship. Girls were born to play girls. They have no business playing with us. They can’t even win when you let them.” And arms flaying he poured out a torrent of insults against his granddaughter. The referee stepped up and warned him but Mercetto continued.

“Mercetto docked one point for misbehaviour,” he announced.

“Mercetto docked one point… docked one point. You could dock me a hundred bloody points and I still couldn’t lose. She doesn’t know the first thing about bowling.”

The referee stood his ground. Any more of this and he would disqualify Mercetto. Then he caught sight of the tears streaming down Ginetta’s eyes. The girl was visibly shaken by the outburst but in her eyes he also saw the steely coldness of the Brindinis. She didn’t need a knight in shining armour to come to her rescue. She could do that herself.

“Play on!” he called out.

Now it was Mercetto’s turn to stutter. He lost the next set without winning a single point, before taking six straight points at the beginning of the next. With victory in sight, his smile came back but his bragging had stopped. Which was fortunate for him as Ginetta fought back and won 21 points in a row to take the set. And so the two locked horns for the final battle.

Ginetta took the early advantage and kept it by constantly changing the length of play. She knew her grandfather hated short lengths but by varying it, she stopped him from getting any regularity into his play. But Mercetto wasn’t a champion for nothing and once he succeeded in gaining a point, he played a series of long lengths and began picking up points. But his lead never extended itself to more than one or two points and when Ginetta took two points on a long jack which Mercetto had set up, they were locked at 19-19. What turned out to be the final rubber was fascinating. Ginetta had one wood to play with three woods were clustered around the jack. To the onlookers it seemed as if one point, maybe two would go to Mercetto. But the decision would be a tough one and would probably require the measure. Ginetta stepped up to the mat wood in hand. She had two options. Thunder the wood down the rink and try and take out her grandfather’s two or try and squeeze through the tiny gap and hope it ended near enough to give her the point. It was the final option she took and a gasp went up from the crowd as the wood drew through the gap coming to a stop just millimetres away from the jack. The point was hers, that much was obvious. The referee stooped measure in hand. Mercetto followed his every move. But he couldn’t fault him in the least. Her second wood must have been almost half a centimetre closer. Mercetto stalked away before the referee even had time to announce the result. Ginetta, a beaming smile on her face turned to acknowledge her grandfather but he was nowhere to be seen. The club captain came up and congratulated her, before leading the referee away into the office. Their deliberation was short and sweet.

The letter, informing Mercetto of his immediate suspension came as he himself was putting pen to paper to inform the secretary of his decision to resign.

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The Dead End Man

I couldn’t help wondering how many days he’d before I actually noticed him. I’d probably never even done that if it hadn’t been for Julia.

“Get out, find people, observe them, draw them and let them talk.” Those had been her closing words to the small group of would-be artists huddled around the café table. To be honest I wasn’t sure what to think of that. I was very much of the let-your-imagination-wander school and had had some success with that. Still, it could do no harm trying.

What drew my attention to him was the fact that he was standing in the middle of the square, head slightly raised. He piqued my curiosity when he started muttering. I couldn’t catch what it was he was saying and after a few minutes, I moved on. He was back the next day. This was interesting. A real live Julia guinea-pig right on my front door. I took out my sketchbook and sat down. Some 20 minutes later I was just finishing up a rough sketch when he turned and went. He was back and I was able to finish in a few minutes. First the lines, then the shame… My shame that grew line by line as the guinea-pig was transformed into The Dead End Man.

Divorced. Early forties… But these were nothing but statistics. I looked up, trying to find a way past his leathery hide. The Dead-End Man. That was what his wife had called him before walking out. That was the start of the beginning with an aching chasm spanning the two. He’d not gone spiralling out of control. He’s not descended headfirst into an alcoholic hell. He’d just been pounded from one attempt at life to another by mindless upstarts who didn’t even see in him as much as a guinea-pig. The few times he’d succeeded in scrambling to his feet, a new boot landed. One boot per line. Yet his eyes told another story. One of dignity and confidence, moving on to friendship. The foreman who take time every day to thank him for his otherwise thankless work; the chance to impress taken behind closed doors when no one was looking; the foreman’s acumen in realising it could have been no one else. The summons to hear the boss offer him the chance to train – at his age no one spoke of apprenticeship. Eyes with a shimmer of hope.

And so he was here, driven not by the desire to put things right or to prove her wrong – she who had dubbed him dead-end. His one desire now was to see the one fruit his eyes had never set eyes on. He’d dropped a photo in the letterbox, The Dead End Man inscribed across the back. Had she got it? Was he interested? How could he know. Yet until he did, he’d stand sentry like the faithful guard who sworn never to desert his post.

It must have been the fifth day after my first seeing him. A window opened on that second floor. A head poked itself out.

“I’ll be right down.”

The shimmer in his eyes turned to fierce anticipation casting off years of waiting.

As the door opened he took a few hesitating steps towards the girl. She moved briskly out onto the square, out past his shaking outstretched hand. Hooking her arm into that of her waiting friend they both descended out of sight.

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Dreaming Is Living

This week’s Fiction Friday prompt is “I have a dream.” And after you’ve read this, you might like to see what others have made of it.

 

I have a dream. Don’t mock! The kids did… at first. I’d have done the same a few years ago; last week even. A dream at sixty-eight and a half… And the only dreams I’d ever had until then were culinary nightmares and vague hopes that grandchildren might come soon.

It came on me all of a sudden. Mitsy was never a close friend. But when I heard she was dying – guess that happens a lot at our age – I had to visit. We spent all afternoon talking about nothing. But she was so glad to see me, to have someone to talk to, so she said. So little, yet she was so happy. Is that what life boils down to? I want more. So, now I have a dream.

At first, my dream was just to dream. You see, I wanted a dream but didn’t know what to dream. So I just dreamt. I dreamt and followed each and every dream along the by-ways and pathways it took me. Until I found the dream… the one I could call my dream.

It gripped me from the first. It sent me into a frenzy of activity. How, what, where, why, when? All those question words my Joseph used to drill into his language students when he was still with us. It was up to me to find answers. Now.

I went to see Gilly. Of course, I hat to tell her. I needed her help. You see she was a surf-whizz-kid. I guess that had been her dream.

Gilly was a real sport. We got onto the internet at once. I was surprised to find others had had the same dream before me. But that didn’t put me off. What did they have that I didn’t. I was going to make it.

Now came the grind. I went back to school, took a private trainer, joined a choir. I wanted to give myself every chance of getting there. That’s when I had to tell the kids. I wish I hadn’t. I only did so because I was never at home whenever they phoned. They wanted to know what I was up to. Wonder what they actually thought?

It turned out the telling was the biggest hurdle. Sure they mocked a bit at first, but they understood, they helped and they promised to come see me if I made it. Not sure I liked that if. For me there was no doubt. I’d get to the stadium if it killed me.

Hurdles one and two came and went. Then, the nerves set in. The day before the final round. The one that was to decide my dream once and for all. My stomach started churning. I went into the forest to let off steam. My voice wobbled. In its indecision it sang all four parts together – a kind of harmonic kaleidoscope. Now kaleidoscopes are beautiful things to look, but try listening to one…

Strangely enough, my battle against nerves never affected my mind. I was more determined than ever to see it through. A good night’s sleep and I sailed through the morning auditions, despite a couple of wobbly notes. In the afternoon I finished a respectable 16th. More than good enough to make the final cut. I was on my way to Cardiff.

That’s my dream. I’m here now. I’m loving every bit of it. We’re being spoilt left, right and centre. This evening, the banquet. Tomorrow, the dream becomes reality. I have a dream. For now, I just want to lie back and savour those words. I have a dream. I’ve lived with it for the best part of a year now. I’ve lived with it, I’ve lived for it. I’m tired. I may not get up for the banquet. I may not even get up tomorrow.

I had a dream. I lived for it. I failed. Who cares? It’s the living that counts. No living without the dream. But I lived. That’s why they’ll put on my tombstone: I have a dream.

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Where you’d rather be?

This week’s 3WW words: brutal, sullen, trust. I’ve just finished writing a letter to students and thought what if…

 

Dear Friends,

I have been asked by the direction to write you a letter which will motivate you to sign up for our new Learning English Through Literature course. Trust me. There are a thousand and one other things I’d rather be doing right now, but the boss is the boss and a pay cut, – yes, he really did threaten me with a pay cut if I refused – is a pay cut, so here we go. However, the thought of your sullen faces and the brutal way you chased my predecessor out of the school, do not fill me with pure delight at the prospect of spending the next months studying together.

I have decided we shall look together at the works of the greatest and most prolific playwright in English history, Mr. William Shakespeare. I must admit, I was at first worried about what connotations this name would bring to you, imagining in my mind crazy savages conducting ecstatic speer-shaking war dances around the main auditorium… but the phonetics teaching assures me you are just too plain stupid to see the link between the orthography and the pronunciation of this great name.

You may well ask why Shakespeare? Why study someone who wrote and subsequently died over 400 years ago. Well, firstly it is because his language covers such a wide variety of expression, ranging from the base to the sublime. In addition, Shakespeare wrote at a time when English was still in its formative period. It has not yet developed into the universal and universally used language it is today. This makes things a lot easier for you as the subject matter is far more limited.

After mature consideration, I have decided we shall study three of the Bard’s works. I am providing you here with three a rough and ready synopsis of these plays. You might want to compare them with a list of Shakespeare’s complete works and try to guess each play’s proper title. And no this is not your first assignment. Let’s call it a pre-assignment assignment. You know Shakespeare loved playing around with words.

Brutal Brutus (now why didn’t the Bard himself think of that one?) and his underhanded assassination of King Jules.

Sullen Malvolio and how his cronies got the last laugh.

Trust and betrayal – and yes, you’ve guessed it, it’s all over a woman.

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Anti-Resolutions – A Calendar Full

Keeping with time-honoured tradition, this week’s Fiction Friday asks us to list our Anti-Resolutions for the New Year. Here a trip through the year with me and for each anti-resolution you’ll find a corresponding resolution. Read other writers’ anti-resolutions.

 

In January I will not succumb to the skiing bug despite all the pressure my friends may put me under. I will, however, placate them by promising to go in July.

In February I will not reply to any of the hundreds of Valentine cards I receive from my fans and other admirers. I will, however, continue to dream about the cards piling up in my letter box.

In March I will not show any glee whatsoever when Wales beat France in this years six nations championship. I will, however, accept any offers of a drink my friends offer me as compensation.

In April I will not order a case of Champagne to celebrate my birthday. I will, however, accept with joy any offers to do so.

In May I will not spend 50% of every lesson reminding my students about the importance of correct use of the comma and semi-colon in spoken English. Instead, I will make them read Lynne Truss’ book every week of the month.

In June I will not put the microphones at full blast during our concert for the annual music festival. Instead, I will use my natural, stentorian voice to make just as much noise without using the microphones.

In July, I will not weigh down my suitcase with books. In fact, less than half the weight of my case will be due to books. Good job the kilobytes on my e-book reader don’t weigh a thing.

In August I will neither sing, nor dance, nor revel in any other than way during the International Celtic Festival at Lorient. Instead, I will get my wife to tie me down to a chair to prevent such excesses occurring. Of course, it will have to be a wheelchair so that the chair can do all the dancing for me.

In September I will not buy yet another tie I only wear for my business classes. I will search for a tie swapping site on the internet to give the false impression I’m keeping up with the Joneses.

In October I will refuse to shed any tears when my daughter leaves home for a year’s study in Russia. Instead I will drown myself in the pools of water caused by all the tears I will not shed. But the resurrection will come in time to visit her sometime during her stay.

In November I will not join the population of France as they tear through the shopping centres in a bid to find the ultimate present that’s not wanted for the persons you really don’t want to give anything to anyway. Presents, sure but simple and sincere.

In December I will waste no time thinking up anti-resolutions for 2013. So expect to see a repeat performance this time next year. Don’t worry, I’m very bad at keeping my resolutions, both the genuine and the anti- variety.

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To do…

I was challenged the other day to write a story in the form of a To Do list. Here’s the result. It certainly creates an interesting perspective. Each element in the list takes place chronologically after the previous one.

 

Phone doctor.
Demolish false hopes.
Inform family.
Make list of friends I still want to see.
Decide on arrangements for New Year’s party. Quiet or raucous?
Invite some more people – don’t want to be alone.
Write to all those who’ve turned me down.
Transform bitterness into something creative.
Inform lawyer of my final resolution.
Meet undertakers and priest.
Prepare final invitations – they’ll all come this time.
Get lawyer to send them out the day after…

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What On Earth Is It?

As the singinhg died down, my daughter stepped into the centre of the circle, a small paper-wrapped package in her not much bigger hands. This was her moment. She’d been wearing that self-same smirk for weeks. It was evident that this was going to be a special moment.

Not used to speeches, she just handed the package over, adding, “This is from your writing friends.”

I took it from her and felt it over, trying to guess what might be inside. This was the culmination of weeks of cryptic questions and whisperings. All eyes were on me, some belonging to faces wracked with contorsion in a hopeless bid to repress a smile. I decided to put these people out of their misery. Besides, I wanted to know myself what was inside. As the package began to shed its skin, a jersey began to appear, a red jersey, a rugby jersey, with the number 1 written on the front and back… A personalised, Welsh, rugby jersey – just for me.

I hope, dear reader, this is not an anti-climax for you. Although I couln’t blame you if it were. You see, you’re not Welsh, and you’re not a Welshman living in exile, and most of you may have nothing mote than a vague idea about what rugby is. But to me…; well I think I’ve already said enough to make my feelings clear.

I’ve worn this jersey for every Wales match since my 50th birthday. I’ve worn it to concerts I’ve sung in together with my two musician friends as we’ve sought to infuse others with the joy and enthusiasm only Celtic music can bring. On one very special occasion, I wore it as, with my son beside, we sang our way through the centre of Paris and on upto the Stade de France, our impromptu choir swelling by the minute whilst onlooking Frenchmen cheered enthusiastically. And I’ll be donning it again in just under an hour’s time as Wales seek to win their way into yhe quarter finals of the Rugby World Cup.

This is my present, a constant witness of the creativity and care of some very special friends.

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