‘People who love literature have at least part of their minds immune to indoctrination. If you read, you can learn to think for yourself.’
Author: Sue Young
Quote Of The Week
‘The hour for festive gymnastics has arrived.’
Dancing In December
Dancing to the tune of the old year
To the memories it hopes it will hold dear
Twirling around on the big floor
Dancing in December again
Hoping the footwork will be strong
Swaying along to the same song
Hoping the spin is not too long
Dancing in December again
Twirling to all of the days left
Weaving away from the bereft
Hoping the rhythm is well met
Dancing in December again
Lunging and dipping and lilting
Trusting the sequence not stilted
Nothing out here has been filtered
Dancing in December again
Keeping a balance that’s good now
A nice hold, and then, I don’t know how
But a perfect and dignified low bow
Dancing in December again.
Quote Of The Week
‘They say, don’t build up your hopes too high. They never said that about fears.
They never said don’t build up your fears too high.’
Butt Grinder Casserole
Attila stands on the steppes with his men. Blood seeps through arrow holes in their arms. Knife and stab wounds can be seen in their legs. There are sword cuts, blunt trauma, broken limbs, but they do not cry out, complain or even frown. They are dreaming of revenge because they know no other life. They want to fight. They are battle weary but fantasize about how they will stick it to their enemy. In the meantime, they use makeshift bandages and tourniquets, made out of rope, horse hair and old tough jerky.
Attila’s brother and right hand man, Bleda, by name and nature, is oozing blood from his upper arm. “We don’t need to nick our horses if we get thirsty, Attila. We have plenty of blood to drink.”
“You lose too much, plus we have yak milk to drink.” Attila took a slab of gruel, with the consistency of wet cement and plastered it onto Bleda’s arm.
“Your gruel is famous for being lumpy,” said Bleda, “and it makes a good blood stopper, but we should eat it. The men have groaning bellies.”
Attila shook his head. “No one can eat my gruel, no matter how hungry they are, so let’s put it to good use.” He plastered the porridge-like substance on the men’s wounds. It was cool on their skin and acted like a bandage to stop the bleeding.
“Maybe one day we will be able to eat our food instead of using it like this,” said Attila.
“I will eat it after the wound is clotted.” said Bleda. “Then it’s dual purpose.”
“No. We should eat something warm and nourishing.” said Attila.
“If we ride on, we will catch up.”
Attila shook his head again. “Our time will come for revenge. It is not now. Tonight, we eat and sleep.”
“What will we eat, if not this?” Bleda looked at the cement on his arm.
Attila spoke his horses name softly and it trotted over. He stroked its neck lovingly and peeled back the saddle to show a mares bladder of meat, onions and wild garlic that had been mashed and cooked there. A horse and rider could whip up a tasty stew this way, as a result of friction and warmth, on the long forays through the steppes.
“We have this.” he said, patting the bladder, “washed down with fermented yak milk.”
“It’s certainly a better dish than your gruel.” smiled his brother. “My stomach growls already.”
They made camp and shared the stew. “This would be good with bread.” said Attila.
“Those men we fought with yesterday,” said Attila, “their women make good bread.”
“We will have to make their women our women.”
“Or get their bread.”
A few days later, the Huns, who hadn’t died of their wounds, set off again to conquer the neighbouring tribe with the decent bread. More ingredients for stew had been gathered and mashed under saddles in the long journey across the steppes. It was decided the gruel would be made only for medical purposes.
It was another bloody battle and both tribes had a stand off, lest they kill each other and cancel each other out. They camped again, a little away from each other, to think and plan their next move. A few more of Attila’s soldiers died that night.
Bleda lay awake, unable to sleep. “Hey, Atilla,” he whispered, in the dying light of the fire. “You awake?”
“I am now.” he grumbled.
“I can’t stop thinking about how those men smelled.”
“The men we fought. You must have smelled spices and herbs about them, quite delicious smelling spices.”
“So, you’re thinking about condiments Bleda, rather than the three men we lost tonight?”
“Yes, but, look on the bright side, there’s more food without them.”
“That’s not a typical Hun response.” mumbled Atilla, from under his horsehair blanket. “Our life isn’t about food Bleda. It’s about feeling the brisk cutting wind through our hair, being one with our horses on the desolate and unforgiving steppes. It’s about blood lust, the ruthless conquering of other tribes, forcing them to submit through sheer terror and might, and finally, through sweet surrender to our dominance and seamless immersion and integration, to our way of life. Then they become one of us.”
“I know, but…I was wondering… imagine what a bit of seasoning would do with your stew?”
Attila fell silent.
“Well?” said Bleda.
Attila pulled the blanket over his head.
The next day, after a breakfast of yoghurt and noodles, and another long ride through the sparse countryside, the men faced the opposing tribe, yet again. A long and senseless battle ensued. This time, both groups, retreated a few hundred yards from each other, in view of each others camps.
“Look at them.” said Bleda, as he bled out. “So far and yet so close.”
Attila narrowed his eyes at the tribe, sitting, lying and dying, just a little way off. His visibility was poor. A strong wind storm was building as dusk fell. “They’re tough but one more round and we’ll have them. We’ve twice as many men.”
“I’ll have a word with them and see how they’re feeling.”
Atilla looked at Bleda incredulously. “Feeling?”
“I mean, I’ll just see how they’re doing.”
Bleda took medical supplies, which consisted of a bowl of porridge. With some of the more able bodied men, Atilla made basic tents, beds and fire for cooking. Bleda returned as night settled in. “We had a vote and we’ve decided to cancel the next battle.”
Atilla blinked at his brother. “The other tribe is weakening. One more push and we’ve got them. We could blow them over right now. Just one more day.”
“We took a walloping Atilla. We lost horses…and men.”
Attila went to his horse and stroked it lovingly, then glanced at the enemy tribe. “Liked the way you said horses first. But the men are also important.”
“I agree. We should take a rest, then back to base.”
“We’ve travelled too far to give up now. I can’t understand your thinking Bleda. Those men are child’s play.” He thumbed at the wounded tribe ahead. “It’ll be like taking candy from a baby. How are we supposed to conquer the Jurchen next month like we planned, if we can’t take on half a dozen dying men?”
“The 19th.” said Bleda. “We need to put that on hold for a bit while your leg heals.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my leg.”
“It’s falling off your torso.”
“I can still fire an arrow.”
“Your arm’s broken too.”
Attila lifted his right arm. “I can use this…and my teeth.”
“Come on Attila, admit it, you’re a mess. We’ve decided that we will ask the other tribe to join us for dinner in our tents.”
Attila looked at Bleda incredulously.
“We’re going to have a cooking competition instead.”
“I’m a warrior, not a cook!” said Attila. “I leave cooking to the women.”
“You don’t understand, it’s becoming really manly to cook. Everybody’s doing it. Surely you have some good recipes under your belt Attila. What about your maggoty cheese and yak milk pudding?”
“I don’t do that any more.”
“If we had a little chat with them, they might give us tips on how to make our gruel taste and look better.”
“And lose our valuable medical supplies?”
“But think about your stew Attila, it has heaps of potential, with some nice fresh bread on the side and some herbs and spices, to season. It would go down a storm.”
Atilla put his hand up. “Enough! I won’t hear any more about food. I’ll run you through myself!”
“One of these days Bleda…”
Atilla walked away.
“Where are you going?”
“How about a nice warm glass of mares blood for a nightcap?”
“Have you been bleeding my horses again?”
“I may have nicked a vein.”
Attila raised an eyebrow.
“It was ages ago, an old wound, the horse is fine. The blood however, is most refreshing.”
“I must admit, I am a little thirsty.”
“One glass of refreshing mares blood coming up!”
Bleda fetched the glass of blood and gave it to Atilla, but not before he’d laced it with a heavy dose of a natural plant sedative he’d found in the wilds. Attila drank it in one gulp. He was out like a light before the drinking songs had broken out. While he slept like a baby, Bleda invited the opposing tribe to their camp.
The tribe gathered around the welcoming fire and swapped recipes and cooking methods through the night. They got into heated debates and discussions about whose food was cooked better or prepared well. They let Attila’s men taste their bread and eat their gruel. “This bread is fresh,” said Bleda, “and such a springy soft texture.” They dipped the bread in the gruel. There were approving noises all round. “This is delicious.” said Bleda. “What’s in it?”
“Rice, wheat, lentils, chickpeas…and a balance of herbs and spices.” said the leader.
After eating the bread and the gruel, Bleda let him and his men taste Attila’s famous stew. They nodded approvingly and licked the wooden platters clean. “This is amazing.” said the leader. “I would recommend some of our herbs and spices, to go with it, perhaps a pinch of horse sweat, but not too much, you don’t want to spoil the delicate flavour.”
The two tribes decided they would stop fighting each other, for the time being, and tomorrow they would have a cooking competition. As they talked, the night grew old and Attila slept on.
The next day, Attila woke with a thunderous headache. He put his hand on his head and groaned. “That must have been some mares blood I drank last night.” He stumbled to his feet and folded up his blanket. He could hear a commotion outside his tent and wondered if they’d started battling with the opposing tribe without him. He may have had a hangover to end them all, but he was sure some of his men would have attempted to wake him. He didn’t like to miss the start of a fight.
The noise made him feel delicate but he pulled open the flap of the tent. Instead of seeing men running each other through, and blood spurting this way and that, there were people sitting cross- legged on the grass, nursing makeshift bowls. They were lovingly stirring the contents of various delicious smelling concoctions with large wooden spoons. In another area, men were pinching aromatic herbs and spices between their fingers and sprinkling them over bowls of soup. In another, a group of men were kneading bread. It smelled wonderful. Attila rubbed his eyes, perhaps he was still asleep. He rubbed them again. No, he was awake alright.
“Ah, you’re awake!” said Bleda. “For a moment, I thought I’d given you too much.” He slapped Attila on the back with a floury hand. “Good job you can take your drink…and your downers. Come here, wait ’til you see this.”
I am still dreaming, thought Attila, as he walked with Bleda to the various cooking stations.
“Look at this gruel Atilla!Taste it. It’ll get rid of your hangover.”
Before he could protest, someone was spooning the glorious soup into his mouth. “What is it?” asked Attila between mouthfuls.
Bleda clapped his hands together and paused for dramatic effect. “It’s gruel!”
“It’s not my gruel.” said Attila.
Bleda dragged Attila away, to another cooking stall. “Now, have a taste of this. It melts in the mouth.”
Atilla took a bite of bread while everyone waited with baited breath. He was pulled away to two horse riders side by side, surrounded by a small crowd of people. “What’s going on?” he demanded.
“Inspect the horses ass.” said Bleda.
Atilla did so.
“No, higher up.” said Bleda. “Under the saddle.”
Atilla quickly peeled back the saddle of one of the horses.
“Here, side by side,” explained Bleda, “are the two competitors. Under that saddle is your famous stew and under the next one is the stew of the other contestant, the opposing tribe. We will get two riders to jump up and down on the horses to mash and cook the two stews. We will do this under clinical conditions. The cooking will take place over an allocated time, say an hour, for practical purposes, which will simulate the mix of friction and heat made on, say, an hours ride through the steppes. Then we will judge the stew and see which one is the best.”
Atilla looked up at the horse riders. “But I’m the only one who can make my stew!”
Bleda laughed. “Of course and if you feel up to it…”
Atilla didn’t need to be asked twice. His hangover was mostly gone, thanks to the delicious breakfast he’s just had. The horse rider got down and Attila took his rightful place on top of his beloved horse and stew cooker. “Let the games begin!” he yelled. Everyone cheered.
“Right, on your marks -get set-go!” said the adjudicator. The two warriors jumped up and down on their horses, mashing together meat and veg until it was reduced to a tasty stew.
The other tribes gruel won hands down, as did their bread. Atilla won in the stew section. A feast followed, with all the winning and even the losing dishes being consumed with great relish. Attila gave their awful gruel to the other tribe as medical supplies and also some of the wild garlic so they could make garlic bread for the first time. The other tribe allowed a choice selection of their finest herbs and spices to flavour Attila’s stew. They had a most delicious banquet. Mares blood and fermented yak milk was served and prizes were given to the winners at the end, entitled ‘The Best Of The Steppes’
Attila proudly stood, while the adjudicator placed a makeshift necklace round his neck. “This is to certify that Attila’s stew is the best in the land, certainly the best in the steppes.”
“Speech! Speech!” cried the men.
Attila cleared his throat. “Thank you. I would like to name my stew Butt Grinder Casserole.” Applause rang round the steppes. “I hope it’s a dish that is recognised for its cooking method, as much as its taste. And I would like people to think of me every time they eat Butt Grinder Casserole.”
Quote Of The Week
‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.’
– John 1:5
The possibility of letting go
Is not there for the few
It’s a viable road to peace
Something we can do
Transcend the pain
Of anger and rage
Take tentative steps
Out of the cage
Letting go is within our grasp
Resentment, rejection, dejection – alert!
They all come under the heading of hurt
Forgiveness is possible
You don’t have to budge
Remember to protect yourself
But don’t hold a grudge
As grudges have a way
Like a scorpions sting
Of turning right round
And clipping out wings
Letting go, you know
It’s good for our health
And may even provide
A spiritual wealth
Letting go of fools gladly
A willow that bends
Will help with our progress
And knit us to mend
Remember the energy
Through them, that we lost
A cliche, but still
Remember the cost
Time to get rid of the debris in tow
Dump it into the dustbin
Labelled – Letting Go
Quote Of The Week
‘I still believe that there’s something amazing waiting around the next corner. You just never know. You’ve got to keep believing. Around the next corner….’
Space-The Final Frontier
Had to move some furniture out of my brain today
A dog eared three piece suite was in the way
An old oak sideboard up against the hippocampus
Time to clear the dust and all the fretting fuss
I’ll get a lockpick made for the hypothalmus
In the olfactory bulb, I’ll put some fresh roses
A feather duster to sweep away the neurosis
I’ll decorate down the corridor in the cove
Get some swatches for the temporal lobe
But to be honest, my first thought is
To make a light and airy cerebral cortex
I’ll put some curtains in the pituitary
And where troubles jostle for supremecy
I’ll try to find that lock without a key
Those piles of worries have been there since year dot
One man and his van could rid me of the lot
Declutter, you mustn’t hoard inside your head
And hide the dark and dour under its bed
Seek shiny clean and everything in its place
Functional and minimal brain space
Got grief relief by sweeping it under the rug
The sadness and the loss that wouldn’t budge
I’ll move this furniture round and about
I’ll get a skip and bring it out!
In the frontal lobe now, not so many falls
No knees and elbows banging into walls
Stumbling in the amygdala was a fight
I got some lighting on the stairs to make it bright
And now, I’m slowly finding that
There is some room in here to swing a cat
I will always strive and try to find
That elusive, peaceful feng shui of the mind
The Whistler and The Inventor
The inventor had been commissioned to design and build a bridge, with some payment up front and the rest when he presented final blueprints. “Another commission to make another boring thing.” he said grumpily. As he worked away, a little girl entered his workshop. “Oh! It’s a toyshop!” she exclaimed excitedly.
He looked at her from over his glasses. “This most certainly is not a toyshop! What do you want?”
“Where are your family?”
“If I knew that,” she said closing the door behind her and coming further into the room, “I wouldn’t be lost.”
He was about to tell her to leave him alone, when he realized it was actually quite refreshing that she wasn’t bowing and scraping, like most people, and most people knocked before they entered his workshop.
“I know where they went,” she said, “and if my assumptions are correct, they’ll be passing here to look for me.”
“Where did they go?” he asked, putting the blueprint on his desk. He knew he wasn’t going to get any work done for the moment.
“They went to market.”
“Can’t you go find them?” he snapped. He hated distractions and he didn’t like anyone coming into his workshop, unless they were learned men like himself and this was a very forward little girl.
“What I could do, is wait here until they pass by. Why expend energy chasing after them when I could sit here in this interesting room with you? Besides, my mother and father are the ones who should be frantically looking for me, not the other way round.”
The inventor peered at her again, then took off his glasses and rubbed at the space between his eyes. He decided he could add precocious to forward.
“You may stay, but please be quiet. I have work to do.”
“I’ll have to have the door open so that I can see my parents pass by.” The little girl opened the door and all the sounds of the street rushed in. He would never get any work done now. He sighed and leaned back in his chair.
“What are you working on?” she asked looking at the blueprint.
“A mobile bridge.”
“Whoever heard of a mobile bridge?”
“Exactly, which is why I’m inventing one.”
“That sounds fun. Can I look at the map?”
“It’s not a map. It’s a blueprint.”
“Blueprint, map, it’s all the same to me. What’s your name?”
“Leonardo.” He puffed out his chest. “Leonardo Da Vinci. You may have heard of me.”
“Oh, yes, I recognise you now. You’re the man who owns the donkey stall!”
“No, I do not! I’m known for my inventions and my painting.”
“Do you paint people’s houses?”
“No, I do not!”
“Leo Nerdo…that’s quite a long name to remember. May I call you Leo?” He nodded, exasperation rendering him mute. “I’m Caterina.” she said, looking around the workshop. She picked up something on his desk. “What’s this?”
“That’s a water powered gyroscopic compass. Please put it down, it’s a prototype.”
“And what’s this?” she cried excitedly, spinning a wooden contraption that hung from the ceiling. “That’s an aerial screw!” He got to his feet quickly and grabbed it to stop it rotating.
“And what’s this?” She picked up a drawing from the table. “A man with no clothes on and he’s got four arms and four legs?”
“That’s Vitruvian Man.” said the inventor. “Don’t smudge it!”
Caterina pointed to a painting on an easel. “And who is this lady?”
“That’s Mona Lisa.” He puffed himself out again. “Do you see her enigmatic smile?”
“Does she have wind? This place is messy Leo. Let me help you clean up.” Immediately, she began to recover a pile of scrolls from the floor.
“No, don’t do that!” he said in a panic. “I’ll never be able to find anything!”
She ignored him and put the scrolls behind the door. She found a brush and began to sweep the floor. As she swept, she whistled a tune. The inventor relaxed a little and found that he was able to work away as she whistled. He dipped his quill in the ink on his desk and began to write and draw. Eventually, Caterina stopped whistling and put the broom away.
“Why have you stopped whistling?” he asked.
“I thought I might be annoying you.”
“Not at all. Please continue. I can’t whistle and you do it very well. That’s a beautiful tune.”
“What? You can’t whistle?” she said. “I thought everyone could whistle.”
Leo returned his quill to the ink stand and looked at her. “But I can’t.”
She laughed. “It’s easy. I can teach you if you like.”
She went to him. “Well, purse up your lips like this, no, like this, that’s better and push air out of them like this, no, you’re doing it wrong.”
For half an hour, the little girl tried to teach the inventor to whistle but it was no good. Presently, the little girls parents passed by the door. “My mother and father are here!” she cried out happily. “Goodbye Leo.” It was suddenly quiet and empty in the workshop. He tried to work but he was so distracted by the fact that he couldn’t whistle, that he stopped working on the blueprints for the bridge. He decided that if he couldn’t whistle, he would invent some kind of whistling aid, something that would enable him to whistle as tunefully as Caterina. Immediately, he began working on it.
Six weeks later, a man came with a final contract for Leonardo to sign, upon completion of the final plans for the bridge, but he’d been working on plans for something that would help him whistle. He’d modelled a head with eyes, nose and mouth that looked amazingly like him. When you pulled a lever at the side of the head, the lips pursed and a tuneful whistle came out. He sat looking at it now, while the man with the contract waited for him to sign. Leonardo picked up his quill, dipped it into the ink and paused. “I can’t sign this.” he said. “I haven’t finished the plans for the bridge.”
“Why not? You were meant to have them by the end of this week.”
“I’ve been working on something else instead.” he said. “It’s taken up all my time.”
The man looked at the whistling head. “Not that thing I hope.”
“And what’s wrong with that?” Leonardo asked defensively.
“Look, I need you to sign this contract, the builders are waiting for instructions to build the bridge.”
“I don’t have it. It’s not ready.”
“Well, when will it be?”
“Another two months perhaps.”
“I can wait another week, not one day more.” The man left, taking the unsigned contract with him.
Leonardo sat there for a few minutes dumbfounded. He should have been working on the plans for the bridge – not the whistle. He didn’t care about the bridge, he just wanted to be able to whistle. A little girl could whistle and he couldn’t. It got to him, why, he didn’t know.
Just to make things worse, his whistle invention had come to nothing.
Just then, as if to taunt him further, he heard a beautiful whistling pass by his workshop. He ran to the door and flung it open, and there she was, skipping by, whistling, the same little girl from over a month ago. “Hello,” she said brightly. “How are you?” Caterina was with her mother this time and when the woman saw who it was, she bowed, stuttered and blushed to meet such a celebrated figure. “Oh, Signor De Vinci…I do apologise for my daughter’s familiarity.”
“Not at all.” said Leo. He looked down at the girl. “Do you have a moment Caterina? I was wondering if you could help me with something.” She nodded, let go of her mothers hand and stepped inside. The mother froze, too surprised to follow. Leonardo showed her the mannequin head, demonstrated it proudly and told her how he’d spent all his time doing that, when he should have been working on the bridge. Caterina smiled. “This is clever but you don’t need to whistle.”
“But I am Leonardo De Vinci and I should be able to whistle or invent a contraption to make me whistle. Plus you said it was easy.”
“Not for everyone. Some people just can’t. Accept it and be happy with the things you can do.”
Leonardo sighed. “You’re right. I was being conceited and vain…and not very modest. The only trouble is, I don’t have time to work on the plans for the bridge now. I’ll have to do about six weeks work in one week. I will lose my commission.”
“If I helped you, perhaps we could get it done in time.”
“You? But you’re just a little girl!”
Caterina raised an eyebrow. “Not so little.”
Leonardo shook his head. “I’m sorry, that was a conceited thing to say.”
“I’m very good at drawing.” she said. “And I’m good with numbers, perhaps I could help you with your blueprints?”
“And you can also whistle.” he said. “Is there anything you can’t do?”
“I could say the same thing to you.” she said.
Caterina helped Leonardo with his plans for the bridge, much to the delight of her mother, who brought him cakes and presents and many blushes. Caterina and Leo managed to cram six weeks into one. When the man came with the contract, Leo was able to sign it. He realized he didn’t need to whistle after all. He was Leonardo De Vinci, a genius, and he was going to start work on plans for another flying machine tomorrow. He said goodbye to Caterina, and as she walked away, he could hear her whistling a happy tune. He pursed his lips, blew and a whistle came out. She heard him and ran back into the workshop. “See! You can do it Leo? All you needed was to loosen up a bit and be little less serious.” She pointed to the painting of Mona Lisa, on the easel. “Be a bit more like her, but less windy.”