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I felt like a shit today. But there was no need to worry. I didn’t need to go out and look for one. I already had me at home.

The fact is I gave a cold caller a hard time. It was unforgivable really. If I’d known I was going to I wouldn’t have taken his call. Perhaps, subconsciously, I did know, and that’s why I hadn’t asked him to call in the first place. But, the guy was just doing his job, following his script, trying to make me an offer that I wouldn’t refuse. It wasn’t as if I was in a bad mood. I’d just heard that I got a funny story into the longlist of a competition. I know. A long list is a long list. It’s not a short list. It’s so far off a commended as to be out of sight. It’s so far off the money as to be not worth worrying about. But hey, I don’t get into a long list every day, and besides, I re-read the story, and even if it doesn’t get into the shortlist, let alone any further than that, it made me laugh again. So I was in a good mood – when the guy rang.

He told me I was overpaying. It doesn’t matter what for. He told me his name was Dave. He had an interesting accent, for a Dave. Most Daves that I know don’t have interesting accents at all, from my perspective. I’m sure Dave knew he’d struck a bad one almost as soon as we got going. I could hear it in his voice, and if I’d been any sort of a gentleman I’d have pulled up there and then, put on the brakes, hauled down the mast, mixed myself a stiff metaphor, and put down the phone.

Yes, I said, to being the man of the house. What a quaint concept, by the way, and my guess is, that being a professional Dave knew right away that he was on a sticky wicket. My guess is Dave probably likes cricket. Personally I can’t stand it, but then they made me play it at school, and like most of the other things they made me play…well, let’s put it this way, it has been the things they tried to stop me from playing that I’ve always enjoyed the most.

But Dave went on, gamely, politely, professionally. He knew, he said, I was paying twenty pounds more than I should be. So that was where I jumped in with my size nines, and demanded to know how he knew that! Well, he said, they’d carried out a survey. But who did they ask, I asked? Was it my suppliers? Outrageous, I said, and I thanked him profusely for tipping me off, that someone out there was blabbing about my private affairs. I’ll take it up with them, I told him, and then I put the phone down.

It was a shitty thing to do. I mean, the guy’s just trying to make a living. Industry, and commerce, and services have got to be bought and sold. What’s the guy supposed to do?

49 stories,flash fictions and monologues by BHD

I’ve felt like a shit ever since, but as I type this, there’s a fuckin’ big grin on my face too!

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I had a ‘fork ’andles’ moment in Wigton today…. I’d gone into a local DIY shop to look for some cork tiles. I need to cover a shelf I said, and need some cork. The man showed me some glue. I need the cork, not the glue, I said. He pointed to the tin….cauk…. (RIP,RB)

Perusing The World’s Thousand Best Stories (Hammerton c1933) I dipped into the far reaches of volumes 17 & 18.

It often strikes me that there are lines that stand out, in poems and fiction, and, for that matter, in essays. They stand out when we first encounter them, and linger on in our memories long after other details of the piece of writing have faded, become garbled, and are ultimately forgotten. The explanation for this, it seems to me, is likely to be not so much in the nature of the lines themselves, but in their particular relationships to the details of our individual lives, and to our individual personalities.

In the introductory essay to volume 18 (The Spanish Story-Tellers), by Hammerton himself, he makes a remark in relation to a very short tale called The Biter Bit. An anonymous anecdote, it was ‘here included,’ he says, ‘to show how common to all European literature was this brief anecdote form.’

And suddenly all that woffle about the newness and originality of flash fiction is shattered into a thousand pieces, and it comes to me that somewhere else, reading about the short story form, I previously  had come across a reference to the ‘anecdote form.’ This, in some other book, had been a dismissive remark, suggesting that the short story had been born out of an evolution from the earlier, and implicitly inferior earlier and shorter form. Rather than seeing the ‘anecdote’ as a type of short story, and a venerable one at that, it saw it as a rather shameful background from which the genre needed to disconnect itself in order to become respectable.

There are parallels to that sort of thinking: to make more complex, to make merely bigger, is often assumed to be to make more worthwhile. The baroque and the rococo, the pretentious and the overblown will follow in its train. The five thousand word short story, must of necessity, it might be argued, be a better one than the five hundred word anecdote. But, not, of course, if four and a half thousand of the words are superfluous!

The Biter Bit, attributed to a fifteenth century anonymee, takes up a mere thirty three lines on the printed page, and I estimate it to run to no more than 350 words, is a delicious tale of three travellers. They are ‘two townsmen and a countryman, on a pilgrimage to Mecca.’ The Moorish origin of the tale is thus revealed. Their ‘victuals ran short, so that they had nothing left but a little flour-enough to make a loaf.’

The two townsmen plot to cheat the countryman out of his share, and across the centuries the anecdote stretches out its fingers to touch stories such as ‘Local Hero’ and ‘The Maggie’ (seen elsewhere on the blog!).  Their plan involves the trio sleeping while the loaf bakes, and the meal going to the one who has the most interesting dream. No elaboration is necessary – the implication is that the simple rustic will not be able to win!

But the rustic, as rustics will, cuts across this sophistication. He simply wakes early and eats the half baked loaf, and then goes back to sleep. The townsmen, a little later, wake also, and go through the motions of describing their dreams, which the countryman overhears. One of them says he has dreamt of being taken to heaven by two angels, the other that he has been similarly taken to hell. Then the rustic speaks, and ends the story (in traditional short story style, with the emphasis in the last word).

He begins by asking who it is he can hear talking. His companions tell him, it is they whom he hears. ‘Have ye returned?’ he asks. Where from? they ask him, and he delivers that final blow.

‘But now methought I saw two angels take the one of you to heaven, and then two other angels take the other to hell; and seeing this, and thinking you would neither return, I got up and ate the loaf.’

What I rather like about this ending is that it manages to pack a punch despite repeating a piece of information that we, the readers, already know. Could this be another one of those anecdotes that we might re-write for our own times? It must surely have been re-written many times before it reached its fifteenth century form, and no doubt has been many times since. Could it also be an example, and a clear one at that, of the content being what is ‘immortal’ in it, with the form serving to present that content for each contemporary audience or readership? OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA