Attitude Problem

Prompt: None

Dear Wednesday,

One of the earliest mystery stories I ever encountered was a black and white movie I watched on TV with my family, called And Then There Were None. I was enthralled with not just the high drama and bloodless murders, but the sheer suspense and wtf? Who could possibly be the killer? This was based on a novel by Agatha Christie, and should have started me on a long love affair with the mystery genre, but alas, except for a tween series about a group of Swedish teenage mystery-solvers, I didn’t return to reading hard core mysteries until I was in my 20s.

For reasons unknown I started reading Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series. He was a dilettante, a snob, insufferably posh and upper class, sported a monocle, and was aided by his loyal manservant and by his lady friend, Harriet Vane. They were not terribly written, but what an odd choice for a first dive into the world of detectives. I stuck with the British-style stories because I favoured the manners and drawing room wit and yes, the lack of gory bloody sadistic murders, to the American-style hard-boiled detective, sexy blondes, and brutal crime scenes.

Probably my favourite American murder mystery to date is Scott Turow’s first novel, Presumed Innocent. It seemed everyone was reading it one summer, my friends and I  sharing our own theories about the plot and the guilty party— and we were all wrong!

I’ve enjoyed mostly British authors (except, funnily enough, Agatha Christie) like Josephine Tey, Ruth Rendell, Elizabeth George, Ngaio Marsh, and Ian Rankin; and lean towards political/spy mystery thrillers, especially by John Le Carré. Tinker Sailor Soldier Spy is an absolute classic!

One of the best things about mystery novelists? They generally write a series of books, so you know when one adventure ends, there is another delicious fat book awaiting.

As it is Wednesday, I’m including a selection of my favourite cartoons, the first of which is only tenuously related to today’s word prompt, “None”:

cartoon feminine qualities

cartoon attitude problem

cartoon goldfish

Have a happy and mysterious week!~~FP

Miss Monroe Broke Her Toe*

Prompt: Jolt


The illustration accompanying today’s prompt (“jolt”) prompted the above image which, in case you can’t see it, is a gif animation of power towers playing with jump ropes.

I wonder if kids play “skip” any more, or double dutch, or marbles, or hopscotch. Does anyone out there, parent or teacher, have an observation about this? As a child, playtime before school and at recess and lunch revolved around active games. Some of the skipping and double dutch games were detailed and challenging. Where I grew up all the kids had lacrosse balls too: they had multiple uses in games, especially for creative young children. Lacrosse balls are about the size of an orange, very hard with a good bounce.

An interesting thing about skip and marbles, for example, was that anyone at all could play. Get in line for your shot at facing the jump rope. If you didn’t make it, you took your turn looping the the rope for the others to skip. Got some marbles? Set up shop in the playground, or challenge another marble collector.

They were valuable lessons in cooperation, competition, and fair play. I love kids and don’t want to yell at them to get off my lawn, but what comparable activities do they now engage in at school and at play?

*Old skipping song:

Miss Monroe [referencing Marilyn Monroe, though as kids we didn’t realize that]
Broke her toe
Riding on a buffalo
The buffalo died
Miss Monroe cried
And that was the end of the buffalo ride.


Prompt: Prudent

View of Budapest at Night

When Hungary was still under Soviet rule, my friend Bethany and I paid a visit to her family members as part of a backpacking trip in Europe.

We had very little information about the country and virtually no one spoke English (and our Hungarian vocabulary was limited to the word “good” —, pronounced “yo”, which we mistakenly thought meant “yes”. ).

Bethany’s distant aunts and uncles and cousins mostly lived in a Budapest suburb, and they duly showed us the sights of that most impressive and grand city. Saint Stephen’s Basilica and many historic plazas and works of architecture. At one point an uncle took us to a wonderful lookout with a sweeping view of the Danube River, the lights of the bridges and upon its shore twinkling as the sun started to set, and told us a long and emotional tale, introducing us to the river as if it were a long-lost lover. Of course we had no inkling of the meaning of anything he said, but his speech brought tears to our eyes.

We visited other relatives who lived deep in the countryside, where you took a magazine on your visit to the outhouse, and not to keep up with the latest trends. A massive sow shared space with the outhouse. This was the largest pig I have ever seen (still) and I think now how unfair it was that she was in such close proximity to a human waste dump. She would hardly get the best impression of her captors, and no doubt had little respect for them, even when they emptied the slop can for her dining pleasure.

These rural family members were round— very fat in that jolly way that some people have. This was because their diet revolved about potatoes, white bread, and lard. Dinner might be mashed potatoes, fresh-baked bread with lard to spread upon it, cabbage, and a small piece of mutton.

They had a movie night in this country village, and Bethany and I attended the outdoor showing of a movie, perhaps a romantic comedy, not in English, as we sat in folding chairs under the stars. After the film the younger people of the village crowded around us as we walked back to the farm. They were excited and enthusiastic, and so were we, and I don’t know why. By this time, however, being clueless was my constant state, and it was rather relaxing.

Back at our base in Budapest, a young, rather dour “cousin”, Anna, offered to take us to a kind of club one night. Armed military personnel continuously stopped all of us on the street and in the club itself and asked for ID. Anna was extremely nervous when this happened. Anyway, it turned out Anna was a bit of a slut, since all the guys knew her and she was thrilled that the excuse of taking Bethany and I out for a little excursion gave her an opportunity to flirt and make out and make plans for future rendezvous. We thought Anna was pretty wonderful.

One night towards the end of our visit, we watched the news on television with Bethany’s “uncle” and one of the lead stories was coverage of a military parade in Moscow. Thousands of soldiers, hundreds of tanks, and a bold display of bombs and possibly nuclear weapons paraded before the crowds lining the streets. Bethany’s uncle pointed to the weapons on the screen, and said to us, complete with hand gestures: “USA… boom!”

USA… boom! This was the one bit of comprehensible conversation we had with anyone in Hungary. Of course times have changed. We now have wise and prudent governance in both America and Russia.*

USA… boom!

*As of April 3, 2017, no we don’t.

Fortune and Forgiveness

Prompt: Fortune


I didn’t know anything about dogs. I only liked them, and thought they all walked beside you off-leash, like my friend’s dog. Another friend had a big old brown mutt named Fortune, and one evening I offered to take them both for a walk over to the corner store to buy some 7-Up. They heeled beautifully, straying from my side only to lift their legs on the young trees that lined the street, trees supported by sturdy poles and straps.

A busy four-lane street lay ahead, with the shop window glowing on the other side. It was dark enough that the cars had their headlights on, and I quickly saw the situation from a dog’s eyes: a blur of red and white lights, movement, some danger… go quickly to the other side!

And that’s what Fortune did. He darted into the traffic. Brakes squealed. Fortune squealed too as he was dragged beneath the wheels of a car for half a block. I think I screamed, and grabbed the other dog by the collar.

We got Fortune to the curb. I ran back to the house and got my friends and we ran back to where Fortune —alive— was bleeding.

Fortune survived, and they refused the twenty dollars I offered to help offset the vet fees (because I was a student and dead broke). Fortune would not run into traffic again, and I would not walk precious animals near giant killing machines unless the dogs were on a leash and safe.

I think of that friendly brown mutt, Fortune, whenever I hear the word. Can’t help it. I don’t think of wealth or good luck or private jets (which I think about often). Fortune the dog, so trusting, and I let him down, but he survived and forgave me… but sometimes I still kick myself around the block a few times for my unforgivable carelessness.

Scorched and Day 20 of Nano

Prompt: Scorched


Are your memories of your first, really botched meals as pathetic as mine?

I rarely burned or scorched anything; in fact I had the opposite problem. On a long ago Thanksgiving I  roasted a turkey for my partner’s English boss and his wife. I was laying out a feast like the ones my mother used to do: the turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, gravy, roast turnips– the whole shootin’ match.

It seems food takes longer to cook at higher altitudes, and we’d recently moved to Calgary, altitude 1050m (3445 ft). The damn turkey just would not cook.

Now at Thanksgiving, the appetizers are light and few, because of the massive feast to come, but our guests had eaten all the pickles and olives and neatly sliced celery. They were getting close to licking the dainty little plates they were served in. Everything else was mashed, buttered, stirred, plated, and bowled and inevitably getting dry and cold.

The turkey, about 7 kilos (or 15 lb) was gorgeous. Golden brown, glistening, plump– but mostly raw in the middle. Unless we planned to eat after midnight, we had to take it out of the oven. We put it on a platter and partner proudly showed it to our guests, by now sucking on the ice cubes from their drinks, and quite possibly biting their nails in hunger, before taking it into the kitchen to be carved.

The top part of each breast was cooked beautifully, so we carved that and put it on the platter. It was skimpy and would not feed four people. The drumsticks, thighs, wings, everything else were bloody at the joint, inedible, but they were duly carved and place decoratively on the platter. I put some parsley sprigs around it. Garnish is important.

We sat at the table and passed around all the delicious vegetables and stuffing to our guests, but when it came time to pass the turkey around, my partner and I were horribly rude. We picked what we wanted first! I took a drumstick and thigh and a wing, so did partner.  More meat than a reasonable person could consume. This left only a few perfectly cooked slices of white meat and several sprigs of parsley for our guests.

I remember the boss’ wife, let’s say her name was Vivian. Vivian could not hide how she felt– she tried, and said the right words, but her face always betrayed her. When they’d first arrived to our apartment that evening, she simply could not disguise that she found Calgary quite frigid and horrible, despite saying they were settling in “fine”.

So she looked at our plates heaped with turkey, and the meagre white slices given to her and her husband, and a look of horror and disgust briefly crossed her face.

“Dig in!” said my partner.

It was all very tasty, especially the gravy, and partner and I ate most of the skin from the drumsticks and thighs, and filled up on mash and stuffing.

We became friends with these people, but never told them about the raw turkey. Vivian just believes I am the worst cook and most piggish host ever.

Percolate and Day 17

Prompt: Percolate


Our coffee percolator looked nothing like this one.

One aspect of NaNoWriMo culture is its fixation with coffee, not just the many “write-ins” that occur in coffee shops, but also the romantic notion that novelists are fuelled by masses amounts of coffee. If you love coffee, have you thought of writing a book?

I used to be quite the caffeine fiend— seriously, before I had my morning fix I was truly a bear. My family and friends feared me, and did their best to have the coffee brewing by the time I growled out of bed. I had to stop drinking coffee by three pm, or be awake all night. When I had to be awake all night (finish an assignment, at a party or whatever), I ran on adrenaline and idiocy, as a rule. My very favourite coffee came out of an electric percolator: very hot, not like the lukewarm drips you get from a boxy machine.

I’m off caffeine but still love a good cup of decaf now and again, especially with ideal pairings, like, say, a donut or cake. Tea, usually green, with a bit of lemon, is my beverage of choice, in the interests of health and calmness. Not sure it has those effects on me, though.

Flames and Day 12

Prompt: Flames


Much as I tried, only one thought skated its way into my head with the prompt Flames: the Calgary Flames hockey team; specifically, the 1989 Flames who won the Stanley Cup, hockey’s FA Cup, Super Bowl trophy, World Series title, all those things. Before the league was watered down and almost ruined by the current commissioner, who shall remain nameless, hockey was truly a majestic sport. Honest!

The Flames were not one of the original six teams (Montreal, Toronto, Boston, New York, Detroit, Chicago) but they were magic in the late 80’s. I sat in the Saddledome in Calgary for one or two of the play-off games, and it was plain as pie that this team would win it all. That’s an experience of premonition you don’t have every day.

Everyone in the city was involved that season. We’d just moved into a new house in Calgary and threw ourselves a party, but since the playoffs were on, so was the TV. Our festivities were interrupted all evening. We all, women and men, knew every Flames player, every stat, every rule, every nuance of the game that year.

Tonight, the Flames play one of the original six, the NY Rangers, on Hockey Night in Canada. They are not the 1989 team by any stretch, but loyalties live on.

PS: I am at 17,082 words of my NaNoWriMo novel, and yes, the 82 words, even the 2 words are important! I’m behind, but slogging away.