Chickencarnation

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A closeup of one of our four chickens (all called Gladys) who have just dined on cold pasta, custard, old quiche and lettuce. Chickens must be one of the most wonderful things in the world, along with onions, tea and most forms of cake.

Not only do they provide us with eggs in return for all their tasty scraps hurled out of the kitchen window but great entertainment: sunning themselves, squabbling  over spaghetti, running in that eccentric side-to-side lolloping gait, and the noises – an extraordinary range of warbles, squeaks and squarks.

How terribly sad that many of their kind never get the chance to scratch in real dirt, lazily recline under the sun or stand in a tray of water. The following short story (from ‘Dog, and other tales’) was written after seeing a particularly haunting Facebook post, and months before we actually got our own chickens. If you have a space for a chicken or two in your life, and garden/yard, they are totally recommendable: in every way.

 

CHICKENCARNATION

© Kate A. Hardy 2016

 

“Oh . . . oh . . . cockadoodledooooo!”

Margy shuffles up against the headboard and stares at me as I slump next to her.

“Ant – I’ve never in all our . . . God, how many times must it have been? – heard you do that. Oh, Baby, yes! Give it to me, etc, but not chicken noises.”

“Rooster, actually.”

“Poultry, generally, then.”

She runs a hand over my chest and squeezes a nipple. I push her hand away.

“Stop that. You know it makes me shudder.”

The hand stops and moves back, stopping at my patch of chest hair that grows oddly like a small grassy hollow between two bald mounds.

“Your hair feels odd, Ant.” She leans over and peers closer: “Have you been taking some weird hormones or something?”

“No! Why?”

“These hairs . . . they’re thick, stubby.”

I sit up and stare down my nose at the patch. She’s right. The hairs look more like thin plant stems, although dark grey – miniature quills, almost.

I roll from the bed and pull on a T-shirt.

“Coffee, Margy?”

She’s looking at me in a peculiar way as she wraps herself in that absurdly expensive dressing gown.

“Sure. I’ll just shower.”

I walk into our new, sleek kitchen – bought with that bonus for another supermarket contract found and signed.

I’d walked around the plot with the boss late that afternoon; him pointing out where the next hanger was going to be built. He’d lit a cigarette, sucked hard and blown the smoke into the northerly wind screaming past the first shed. I’d held my breath not wanting to inhale his smoke but caught a full lungful of chicken shit stench instead.

“Yer’ a good worker, lad,” he’d said. “Keep it up and there might be a manager’s job for you – better car too.”

 

“Where’s the coffee, then?”

I jump back to the present; chicken molecules morphing into anti-bacterial spray.

“Sorry, Marg. Just thinking.”

“You’ve been doing a lot of that lately – gazing into nothing,” she says.

I have. It’s true. Since that evening I’ve told no one about.

Clopping a coffee capsule into the machine, I listen to its small macerations as my mind wanders again.

 

I’d stayed on late, trying to catch up on emails. Smyth had left, his pale blue Jaguar swishing from the forecourt to reveal my lead-grey Mondeo with its fake walnut dash and miss-matched hubcaps.

Better car too

Feeling nauseous after one too many machine cappuccinos, I had walked out into the dusk air. The wind had dropped. A faint tapestry of sound leaked from the main shed.

Man of office, I had never actually observed the birds, imagining some sort of chaotic but faintly pastoral scene of clucking and soil scratching.

I walked over, the sound becoming strident. The door was open. It should have been locked, surely. I stepped into bright light and sickening smell; white feather dust, a million desperate eyes. Someone else was in there with me.

A girl stood taking photographs. She turned to look at me without fear.

“Are you the owner?”

“No . . . how did you get in here?”

“Bribed one of them – ginger hair, stupid face. Anything for a quick feel.”

“What are you doing?”

“Obvious, isn’t it?”

“Not entirely.”

She stepped carefully through the sea of bodies and showed me the back of her camera, passing a pale finger over the screen. Images of crammed birds passed: 1-2-3-4-5 . . .

“Pretty pictures, eh?”

“What do you intend to do with them?”

She ignored my question: “Have you ever seen chickens doing what chickens should do?”

Memories flitted in my mind: sandy soil, scaly feet raking, low contented warbles and squeaks.

“Yes.”

“How can you work here, then?”

“It’s just a job. I have a mortgage to pay” –

She cut me short: “I’ll make you a deal. Quit this place and you won’t die unhappy. I’ll see to that.”

I had stared at her strange little sallow face, framed by yellow hair, and was unable to answer.

 

“Nat? Nat!”

Margy is glaring at me, hands on hips: “Oh, never mind, I’ll do it.” She pushes me aside and deals with the coffee. She’s somehow got dressed during my memory wanderings.

“Margy? You know . . . I was wondering about a change of direction. Perhaps that idea of a café we used to talk about.”

She snorts delicately: “With this mortgage. Are you insane? Anyway, you said you’d support me while I had another crack at public relations.” Knocking back her glass of coffee, she clicks it onto the marble surface and picks up her car keys. “I’ll be back at about six. I’m having early drinks with the guy from Zoidion Media – says he might be able to put something my way. Ciao.”

Ciao. When did she start saying that? When did I start becoming unaware of trees, clouds, perspective, water? Those sketch books had been heavy with pencil; books she had beguiled me into throwing out.

 ‘You won’t die unhappy.’

 

The day passes uneventfully in the office. I frequently turn from my computer’s glow to look towards the shed. Yellow machinery has appeared on the proposed site where Smyth paces in a hard-hat with clipboard-grasping people.

Dawn, the sandwich woman, looks blankly at me on her lunch round as I ask for crudities rather than chicken. I take the limp, off-white bread and smell the contents. Ghosts seem to rise from it. I fling it to the bin and eat a Mars Bar.

Tonight I cannot stay late. We have people coming round. Margy is going to cook – risking blemishing the new black hob.

I excuse myself to Smyth. He nods, suggests I can make up the time tomorrow.

 

Back at the house I can’t seem to go in. The garden seems far more interesting. I take off my shoes and socks and investigate cool soil with my toes.

The earth is quite loose – newly turned by that landscaper she’s employed; turned in preparation for an olive tree and ornamental grasses surrounded by shale. An olive tree in the Midlands?

I point my foot, ballet dancer-like and pull back it, scooping the soil. It feels good; as satisfying as scraping out a cake bowl, like I used to with Gran. I do it some more: left, left, left – switch – right, right, right. A large worm is revealed under the flickering street lamp. I bend forward, stoop, cock my head and stab towards the earth. I fall, knees hitting a pile of waiting York stone.

“Nat!”

Margy stands in the doorway wearing a never-before-used chef’s apron, hair freshly coiffured, new strappy sandals.

“Hi, just . . . dropped my keys.”

“Where are your shoes?”

“There, by the hydrangea bush. What time are the Frosts due round?”

“Eight-thirty. Look, do you think it might be a good idea to see . . . someone, perhaps.”

 

Half an hour later, mud is twirling into the shower drain. I rub a towel over the sink mirror prior to shaving and notice, not my face but my chest hair. The small ‘quills’ appear to have minute brown straggling hairs attached to them. Touching one, I observe iridescent green under the halogen glare.

Margy’s voice shrills from downstairs: “Nat . . . where are you? They’re here!”

After passing a hand once more over the hairs, I don the crisp, blue shirt and Armani jeans she has also bought on today’s credit card splurge.

A scent of roasting beast has infiltrated the air-freshener that she favours. Chat issues from the sitting room. I enter.

Toby Frost, a pale, wide person strides over.

“Nathan! Haven’t seen you for weeks. Champagne?”

Christ, she has been stretching the card: “Great, thanks.”

He slopes the glass and fills. His Aston Martin cufflinks glint under the chandelier light.

“Have you got the car to go with them yet?” I ask.

“Working on it – just the Porsche at the moment.”

We talk of cars and holidays. The women: hair and celebrities.

At some point, a forkful of chicken raised towards my mouth, I remember a beautiful field full of birds and wild flowers. The meat appears to writhe. I put the fork down.

“Nat?” enquires my wife.

“Sorry – what, Margy?”

“See, I told you, Sarah – he does that a lot.”

Toby laughs: “Been a long day, I expect. Merlot, Nat?”

I nod and he fills a glass.

A subject of conversation seems to be bubbling up within me. I can’t squash it. I glance around at all of them.

“Do you believe in reincarnation?”

Sarah giggles, wine-pinked face: “Why not? What would you come back as, Nathan?”

The quills itch.

“Some sort of bird perhaps . . . not in a cage. Free.”

The evening continues but I am not really there. Just a shirt, jeans and now-correct dinner party exchange.

 

I hang from one leg. Machinery grates; uncomprehending voices fill my ears, pleading, wailing. I pass through water that snickers with electricity. Agony. Dulled senses now, but not enough. I see white-feathered chests, sliced by a bladed machine. Scalding water beckons, the smell of seared flesh.

 

I heave myself up, pushing sheets back, shaking. Margy clicks on the bedside light and stares, dinner party makeup unremoved after too much alcohol.

“Nat?”

“Dream . . . awful. I was . . .”

She grunts, slumps back under covers, reassured, while I sit motionless, looking at my feet in the street lamp-light blur. One of my ankles hurts, as if the muscles had been ripped somehow.

Shuffling off the bed, I limp downstairs and make tea in the darkness. The shipwreck of a chicken skulks in the roasting tray. I had said I’d make stock, but somehow didn’t, retiring to bed with a much-thumbed copy of some comfort book.

I sit for a long time, possibly hours. I remember where that field was – Dorset. We had hiked over hills, talked of a café where we would serve cream teas and keep livestock.

 

She didn’t speak to me in the morning. God knows what else I had said after the fourth top up last night.

Now I’m at work, looking out on a drear, grey afternoon. Smyth has gone out for a meeting, leaving his second in command – me, in control.

Sandwiches were chicken again. I’d asked Dawn if there was an alternative, and she had looked at me as if I had asked for a cheese and plutonium bagel.

The new hanger already has foundations. I can hear the birds even in this room, or perhaps in my head. This spread sheet could be in hieroglyphics. Maybe Margy is right; I should see someone.

Three hours seem to have slunk off somewhere, and all I have to show is a selection of half empty mugs of coffee. Other employees have asked me questions and I have supplied answers, none of which I can recall.

Smyth is back, the Jaguar beaded with water. He gets out, locks the door and strides over, head bent against the rain. I hear him wiping those grey, pointed shoes on the corridor mat. He opens the door.

I have to say it.

I stand up, bag already in hand.

“Mr Smyth. I can no longer work for you.”

He shuts the door calmly, hangs his coat on the rack and turns to me.

“You do seem a little tired today, Nathan. Perhaps we could talk about this?”

“No, really. I have to leave here, now!”

Striding forward, I push the door and am standing outside in an early summer storm. The rain feels good. I’ll drive, sit on a hill somewhere.

I catch sight of Smyth staring from the office window as my fingers scrabble with the car door handle.

I fall into the seat, jab the key into the ignition, reverse, turn the wheel hard and screech into the estate’s main road.

The rain is heavy now, wiper blades furious. A white van is heading towards Smyth’s. I glance at its windscreen. Three people sit in the front, faces obscured by masks. The person with yellow hair protruding from a parka hood holds a gun. She nods at me, gives me the thumbs up.

I twist my gaze back to the road as a lorry approaches, lights flashing. I swerve but meet the brick wall of Parker’s Plastics very, very hard.

 

The field is longer than I recall, but then perhaps these eyes view things differently. To strut within these flowers is an intoxication.

My friends scratch in the earth, venturing into the meadow with me to peck at froghoppers and spiders. Of course, before, I never knew what the clucking was about. It’s fairly similar to any contented human’s conversation – weather, relationships, food . . . not so much about promotion, financial standing or political instability though.

The quills advanced and multiplied nicely, and when I catch my reflection in a puddle, well, you could say I’m a pretty good specimen.

Morning sunrays have reached the top of the line of oak trees. Light fans out, the early sky opal-green.

I stretch up and make the sound that welcomes in the day.

 

 

 

 

 

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Wirksworth festival

About twenty years ago I lived in a fascinating little town set in the Derbyshire hills – Wirksworth; place of winding little secret lanes, ancient church, many pubs, glorious countryside and eclectic mix of people – original Wirksworthians, artists, musicians, teachers, etc – many people drawn to the town for its unusually ‘genuine’feel – no chain shops or cafés . . .

After a few years, a group of friends including myself, started up an art trail to encourage people to explore the town’s very interesting architecture. A couple of seasons on the art trail became attached to the festival, which then grew each year to become what it is now – a nationally recognised and much appreciated yearly art and music event.

This year, Mark (musician husband who also worked on the festival in the early years) and myself have been invited back to participate.

Mark will be performing, ‘Resonance’ a series of piano works influenced by landscape, and I will be ‘assisting’ (not quite sure in what capacity yet) with the performance/readings of extracts from my novel Hoxton.

Londonia 2090 – extracts from Kate A. Hardy’s novel Hoxton, performed by The Sureditch Drinking House Players

DATE: TUESDAY 13TH SEPTEMBER 2016
TIME: 7.30PM
VENUE: THE TOWN HALL
EVENT TYPE: PERFORMANCE PROGRAMME

Hoxton is with an agency at the moment, so I won’t have books to sell – who knows what further edits will lie ahead . . .  but I will have copies of my short stories available – Dog, and Other Tales. And . . . I have been assured by a grammar specialist that my gut feeling about a comma after Dog was the right decision, ha! (Does anyone really know?)

Wirksworth festival starts from the 9th of September and runs for two weeks. The art trail is on the first weekend, this year showing over a hundred and fifty artists’ work.

 

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Mixed Bag

Or book contents.

I’ve finally rounded up six of my short stories into a book format. I was originally going to write to a theme – make collections of stories about certain themes: Landscape or love; travel or horror, etc, but it hasn’t happened thus, my influences and ideas being a very mixed bag themselves.

So now on the last (hopefully) edit and onto the next bag, or book of tales.

 

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Dog, and other tales will be available at The Wirksworth Festival during readings of my novel Hoxton on the 13th of September. For anyone within reach of Wirksworth, Derbyshire, the festival and art trail are well worth attending.

Link: http://www.wirksworthfestival.co.uk/the-festival

Cats Like Plain Crisps

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somebody’s cat – sorry not sure whose, or whose image but we don’t at present have a cat to photo, with or without crisps

At present I’m re-editing my short stories with a view to making them into a ‘collection’.

What to call the book? one of the titles perhaps? or something random; something to encapsulate the wandering, miscellaneous subjects . . .

As sometimes happens, my brain (and I assume with most other peoples’) suddenly decided to present me with a curious phrase I haven’t recollected for about forty years. Cats Like Plain Crisps.

The whole figment came back to me – complete in every detail:  1974 or so, Mum driving round a roundabout in West London in the aged Hillman Minx; me in the back staring out on a grey, sleazy day after a school holiday spent in the Hovis-ad-like countryside of Dorset.

Mum, negotiating the rush-hour traffic and probably saying ‘bugger off’ to other motorists, failed to acknowledge this wonderment of graffiti – hand sprayed in large black letters on the blank end of a house, but I obviously logged it away for use forty years later.

Except . . . that it’s actually quite well documented. I checked on Google and there are images of the writing, not of the wall I had seen, but other walls, and on bridges, and padlocks, even. Apparently the first ever ‘Cats like plain crisps’ was scrawled on a kitchen wall in a Grosvenor Rd squat, Twickenham, and then reproduced possibly by the same wonderfully-deranged person in other areas of West London.

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Oh well, just another 40 million words/phrases to choose from . . .

Weasels Dislike Chamber Music?

 

 

Tangents

I’m very good at these – going off, wandering about, throwing in new ideas, which can be exciting or frustrating depending what I’m trying to achieve, writing wise.

 

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I once saw a film of a writer (can’t remember who) as they were planning a book. The walls of the studio were plastered with a sort of time scale plan – each chapter planned out: what was going to happen to who, where and when.

I don’t seem to be able to do this, and I have tried. I start with characters and a vague idea of what might happen, but then the plot invariably changes and veers off in some other direction, characters leading the way and me stumbling along: “Er, hello . . . wait.”

 

A review of one of my most tangenty stories, where the reader (luckily) enjoyed following my unknown path.

I really enjoyed this and it was hugely compelling, I had absolutely no problem zipping through to the end. The concept is really original, and in the best sense – intriguing! The writing is jaunty, the story feels like it has direction. And this isn’t even hugely important, as you have the rare gift of being able to grab a reader and string them along, you could digress and go on weird tangents and I’d follow you as you clearly know what you’re doing.

 

Major tangent-wise, I’ve just started another short story inspired by a flight into Stanstead recently. Supposed to be 6,000 words, it’s already out of control and heading into book shape, now taking over the novel I was already writing – the second instalment of Hoxton, Smithi.

It’s all good practice . . .

 

My stuff at the moment:

Three stories with ‘Cracked Eye’ online magazine – 158th book out, The couch and Rose, to appear at some point.

Trilogy: ‘Going Out in the Midday Sun, on Amazon as paperback and ebooks.

Hoxton: (not Horton, thank you spell check) to be on Amazon, or to order with fancy hand-made cover, from me, in the New Year.

Smith: Follow-up to Hoxton, to ne published, hopefully by late spring.

Dog: A short/long story/novel, in progress, and length to be decided.

Some illustrations from Hoxton:

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Peer reviewing sites

My last post here was about Youwriteon, and this one is about Youwriteon.

I suppose most of us writers have gone through this route; or if we haven’t, we should.

When I had finished ‘Going out in the midday sun’ I was happily sending out the first three chapters to agents, vaguely keeping an eye on the rejections and wondering what to do next. Then I discovered a whole other world out there, totally by chance. The peer reviewing sites. Youwriteon looked quite friendly with its pink and beige site, so I duly loaded up the first seven thousand words, not really knowing what the site was about. Amazing . . . people read the words and sent back reviews: some pathetic, some enlightening.

A couple of weeks later I logged on and found I was in the Top Ten; I hadn’t even noticed there was one. Then I was hooked. It became a sort of neurotic game: logging on rather too often to see if someone had ‘booked out’ my chapters, and doing rather too many reviews in an addicted fashion. The book hovered around in the top ten for a couple of weeks and then someone ‘sunk it’ with a very good, probably accurate in many places, review, and I was mortified. Then comes the point where you have a lot of reviews and the annoying pointless sniper attack ones start to weigh against the good ones, moving the book down the charts.

This is probably the time to re-load the book with its alterations and get new reviews, or forget it and take the advice and suggestions that were valuable. Easy to say . . . just another — shit, a stupid write up where someone has filled their statuary hundred words and given you two’s out of five’s.

What the site, and presumably others are good for:

Totally and unbelievably useful as a sounding board and general leveler: is your stuff as good as you think? How can it be improved? People out there don’t know you — EXPOSED, you are; how does the work stand up to public scrutiny?

I found it to be an inspiration to write more, push myself, experiment. Also, critiquing other people’s work is useful: annoying sometimes, but on the whole, rewarding, inspiring and a great learning curve. Without the site I probably never would have found the enjoyment in writing short stories which are to my mind such a brilliant tool for playing, trying ideas and prodding the grey matter.

I’ve learned SO much about grammar — a weak point for me having fallen into the 1970’s comprehensive system. Still learning!

My short story that was at number one, did make it through into the ‘best seller’chart and at that point I did breath a small sigh of relief, so perhaps the competitive thing would still be there if it hadn’t have gone through — difficult to say.

What they are not so good for:

Well nothing really; it’s just how YOU use them. Load up the stuff, take the useful crits (sometimes fantastically detailed, thoughtful and SO valuable) ignore the stupid ones (I just had one that praised me very highly, then said at the end, ‘I wish I had given you higher marks as you are obviously a very good writer’ then proceeded to award me dismal marks — useless on all counts.) celebrate if you get high up in the charts, but remember it’s not the reason you have put the stuff up there.