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Now we have Brindley Hallam Dennis’s story published in Lit Sphere: https://strandspublishers.weebly.com/lit-sphere/ex

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Here’s a link to the second and third place winning stories in the Strands International Flash Fiction competition, Spring 2019:

https://strandspublishers.weebly.com/lit-sphere/lightning

https://strandspublishers.weebly.com/lit-sphere/the-library

BHD’s winning story posted tomorrow (21st April, coincidentally!)

BHD’s little story, Ex ended up on the shortlist in the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition: a six horse finish, with three prizes! At 499 words, excluding the title, it only just squeezes into the competition’s max word count.

I wrote it as a sample piece while teaching a Ghost Story course for Darren Harper’s Phil & Lit Society in Carlisle (England, just). It wasn’t a course I expected to teach, and wouldn’t have thought of doing, but when I looked into the back catalogue I did find I had written several in the genre, some of which had been published.

There was a rub. All of them had turned, irretrievably, and seemingly of their own accords, into comic pieces. Liars League took two: First Foot, which was rather Gothly dark, but not Grand Guignol by any means, and The Hotel Entrance, the heavy emphasis to underline the joke on the last syllable. That title came out of the weak joke, that on the basis of signage, Hotel Entrance is the most popular hotel name in the country! Insubstantiality (with a long sub-title), is just plain silly, and all three pop-up, or materialise perhaps, in the 2016 collection, Other Stories & Rosie Wreay.

49 stories,flash fictions and monologues by BHD

A comic ghost story, though, isn’t to my mind, really a ghost story. It’s a comic story. So I thought I ought to have a go at one that didn’t go the way of the others. I’d been reading Kipling (as you may have gathered from recent posts on this blog), and one story that I particularly liked was ‘They’. The speech marks are his. Whether or not it had any influence I’ll leave others to decide, but one of the elements about that story which I rather liked, was the ghostliness of the children, and in particular, the way that they haunted, rather than actually appeared in the story. There was also something about the back-story. It too was ghostly, and even more so than the children. So much so, that I’ve devoted a couple of thousand words to it elsewhere.

Another Ghost story that I’d been reading, and in fact read to the workshop group, was Matt Plass’s Next to Godliness, which appeared in The Fiction Desk New Ghost Stories II. If you get the chance to read it, do! I’ll not do a spoiler here, but it carries a surprise, and builds to a powerfully poignant ending on the back of it. I’ve written about that story too, in The Silent Life Within.

In my little ghost story, Ex, the intention was to get some of that Kiplingesque ghostliness into it: to make what is never explicitly stated the core of the story, with only two or three words to hint at the back-story, the hints, if taken, giving the explanation to what is actually going on. Of course, authorial intent, as I’ve often pointed out, has only a tenuous connection to the actual reading of a piece.

Curiously, perhaps, it seems that the stories of mine that get anywhere, are often the ones that have been written to find out if I can do something specific in the writing, rather than the ones that are centred on actually trying to say something….which might seem to undermine my generally held belief that what readers are interested in is what stories are about, rather than how they are written. (of course, competitions are usually judged by writers, rather than readers….)

BHD’s little story, Ex ended up on the shortlist in the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition: a six horse finish, with three prizes! At 499 words, excluding the title, it only just squeezes into the competition’s max word count.

I wrote it as a sample piece while teaching a Ghost Story course for Darren Harper’s Phil & Lit Society in Carlisle (England, just). It wasn’t a course I expected to teach, and wouldn’t have thought of doing, but when I looked into the back catalogue I did find I had written several in the genre, some of which had been published.

There was a rub. All of them had turned, irretrievably, and seemingly of their own accords, into comic pieces. Liars League took two: First Foot, which was rather Gothly dark, but not Grand Guignol by any means, and The Hotel Entrance, the heavy emphasis to underline the joke on the last syllable. That title came out of the weak joke, that on the basis of signage, Hotel Entrance is the most popular hotel name in the country! Insubstantiality (with a long sub-title), is just plain silly, and all three pop-up, or materialise perhaps, in the 2016 collection, Other Stories & Rosie Wreay.

A comic ghost story, though, isn’t to my mind, really a ghost story. It’s a comic story. So I thought I ought to have a go at one that didn’t go the way of the others. I’d been reading Kipling (as you may have gathered from recent posts on this blog), and one story that I particularly liked was ‘They’. The speech marks are his. Whether or not it had any influence I’ll leave others to decide, but one of the elements about that story which I rather liked, was the ghostliness of the children, and in particular, the way that they haunted, rather than actually appeared in the story. There was also something about the back-story. It too was ghostly, and even more so than the children. So much so, that I’ve devoted a couple of thousand words to it elsewhere.

Another Ghost story that I’d been reading, and in fact read to the workshop group, was Matt Plass’s Next to Godliness, which appeared in The Fiction Desk New Ghost Stories II. If you get the chance to read it, do! I’ll not do a spoiler here, but it carries a surprise, and builds to a powerfully poignant ending on the back of it. I’ve written about that story too, in The Silent Life Within.

In my little ghost story, Ex, the intention was to get some of that Kiplingesque ghostliness into it: to make what is never explicitly stated the core of the story, with only two or three words to hint at the back-story, the hints, if taken, giving the explanation to what is actually going on. Of course, authorial intent, as I’ve often pointed out, has only a tenuous connection to the actual reading of a piece.

Curiously, perhaps, it seems that the stories of mine that get anywhere, are often the ones that have been written to find out if I can do something specific in the writing, rather than the ones that are centred on actually trying to say something….which might seem to undermine my generally held belief that what readers are interested in is what stories are about, rather than how they are written. (of course, competitions are usually judged by writers, rather than readers….)

Oh, btw, Ex won the first prize and will be published by Strands in the not-too-distant future.

I recently watched the last few episodes of the 1980s Granada TV series, Brideshead Revisiuted. The locations are superb, and so is the acting; the music, sensational, the costumes convincing. I can’t imagine anybody making such a slow and luxurious piece of storytelling in these fractious days. Yet once again, I found myself thinking that I what I liked most about it was the voice overs by Jeremy Irons. I confess I haven’t read the novel from which it was adapted, though it’s on my list, but I suspect that verbal storytelling is lifted closely from the original text. Even if it isn’t, it works as well, and perhaps better than the shown story.

Yet the telling is a performance in its own right. Another reading, in a different voice by another person would have been a different telling.

Voice overs, I’ve read, are thought to ‘kill’ the audio-visual movie, but perhaps it’s more that they overwhelm it, when the telling is done so beautifully. I’m sure I’ve blooged before about this adaptation, and I think I was concentrating on the sea-crossing episode, in which the whole thing is largely a voice over affair, but what this viewing reminded me was that the voice over, though intermittent, is continual throughout the piece, and without it, though the action and location and dialogue would still show us a story, much of the pointing would be absent. The tone of voice in which a story is told acts like the so-called ‘incidental’ music, which of course, rather than being incidental is central to nudging our responses in the intended direction.

I got to thinking in the half hour of contemplation that followed my viewing, about what Waugh’s story was actually trying to communicate. Rightly or wrongly, it seemed to me, that in this adaptation at least, that message was bound up with Marchmain’s death-bed conversion. Even more so than the consequences that follow from it, that making of the cross in extremis seemed to the point of the whole story, and if it had been a short story, I suspect it might have ended there, with Julia’s decision not to marry Ryder being implied and with reaction, both at the time and retrospectively being left to our speculation.

As it was the adaptation ran on, as novels often do, beyond the crisis of the story. Short stories, of course, run on after the crisis of the action, but usually to a scene, our understanding of which is, at least in part, contextualised by that crisis. The crisis or turning point is not in itself what the story is about, so much as is the reaction to, or consequence of it. But here, in the adaptation of Brideshead, for me at any rate, that was not the case. Waugh’s story was being taken to show, I think, the validity of the death bed reversion.

Perhaps the book will leave a different impression….

I’d just spent about an hour tidying up a story. It was written a couple of years ago, and it struck me it might be good enough to try on a particular magazine. It was the right length. It seemed to have a punch, or at least the implication of one. It was almost word perfect I thought (which, of course, is almost good enough). Being a putter in, I put in…three words to make something a little clearer. I changed a word, to close a little loophole I hadn’t spotted before, about who the first person narrator was talking to, when he was reporting what he’d said to someone else in the story he was telling (as opposed to the one I was).

Then I looked it up on my Submissions Log, to add the date of sending out, and where I was sending it, and when I might expect a response. That’s when I saw that it had been published in that particular magazine a couple of years ago. Sheesh!

Preparing a workshop session on dialogue in the short story for Darren Harper’s Lit & Phil Society, I deconstructed an Ernest Hemingway story – separating out the narrative from the direct speech (and a few speech tags).

It was an interesting experiment, showing not only that both speech and narrative told a story on their own, and nearly the same story, but also, by highlighting the two elements and putting them back together, the way that they are distributed throughout the piece.

In the case of that story, something like the first third was evenly mixed between the two, the second was predominantly narrative, and the third predominantly direct speech. I reasoned it out that to begin with, Hemingway needed to introduce both, but then needed to develop the situation with brief inputs from the characters. In the final section, by which time context has been well developed, the characters can talk to each other, with brief inputs from the author, to nudge the reader towards significant lines that might just be overlooked.

I also looked at the relative size of the contributions each type made to the whole. In terms of words, narrative took up about two thirds. In terms of space on the page, the two were roughly equal. In terms of time on the voice, when read aloud, perhaps not surprisingly, direct speech was back to a third of the whole. In the image below, speech is red, narrative yellow.

Looking at the highlighted distribution as a thumbnail, rather than as three pages of text, the pattern became more obvious. The different shapes of the two elements is perhaps the most obvious, disguising to some extent the true distribution, for speech tends to be strung out vertically over several half-filled lines, whereas narrative is stretched over fewer full length ones.  I wondered if a similar exercise were to be carried out on another story, if we would get something like a fingerprint for the story that might tell us something useful.

I looked at L.A.G.Strong’s delightful little story The Seal. A little bit longer, but still only 4/5 pages, this oblique analysis of a failing relationship – the woman watches and sings to a seal which is mesmerized by her, until her galumphing, obtuse and insensitive husband clumsily, but unintentionally frightens it away – has almost no direct speech in it…so little, in fact, that it seemed not worthwhile to create that fingerprint.

Yet there was a pattern, albeit a simpler one. There were two lessons to be drawn from the analysis. The first is that even here, the placing of the dialogue is important. It all comes within the last half of the three and a half page story, if we include her direct speech to the seal. The dialogue between the two characters all falls within the last half of that closing half page. Again, it is context created by the rest of the story that enables us to fully appreciate the significance of the words exchanged by the characters. The speech to the seal is more like ‘thinking aloud’, and not really dialogue, but it is direct speech as opposed to narration, being the actual words of the character.

The second lesson is that the distinction can be made between actual words spoken, and actual words thought, and between words actually exchanged with or heard by other characters and words only (but not necessarily merely) brought to the consciousness of a single character (and the reader).

Thoughts lead on to thoughts, and I turned back to a previously considered idea that short stories can veer closer to, or further from scripts, where what little narrative there is becomes stage directions. Writing plays, trying to, I should say, I’ve found scripts can veer towards short stories too, the stage directions becoming more like narrative.

I have written purely direct speech short stories. In one, two characters engage the ‘audience’ across the ‘fourth’ wall, as if it were a third member of their group. In another a group of unspecified number enters a bar and talks about a deceased colleague. None of the speeches is attributed to any specific character, so it up to the reader – or performer – to decide how many voices there are, and what each of them is saying. Some attributions will be obvious, others not so, and as with a musical score, the reader, imagining or performing, has to opt for a defining version. The story is framed by a traditional first person narrative, by the barman, who sees them come in and clears the table after they have left.

For me the issue of direct speech in short stories revolves around the contention that even when it is direct, the speech is being reported by the author’s proxy, the narrator. There is no-one else there! The more a story becomes like a script the harder that contention is to maintain – though it is still true, until you have multiple real narrators – or actors – mouth those spoken words.

There is, I believe, a fundamental difference between a narrator telling you what somebody says, even when that narrator ‘puts on’ what he or she is presenting as the speaker’s voice, and the voice of an actor – who, it seems to me, has for the moment hi-jacked the story from its narrator (and its author). With silent, solitary reading, of course, you imagine both voice, and narrator.

To voice direct speech with actors when a story is read out on radio, or stage, pushes the story into script, with the narrator becoming one of several voices, a quite different interpretation, to the narrator telling the story, and including his or her own version of the direct speakers, a version that is part and parcel of the telling, and which leaves, at least to some extent, the listener still to imagine the character.

Seeing the great disparity between Hemingway’s and Strong’s stories, in the amount of direct speech used, I was reminded of the vital role of the narrator in the telling of a story. The narrator, manipulated by the author, who constructs the story, tells it with an agenda, strongly or weakly implied. That narrator might be hidden or disguised, but even in my narrativeless stories the narrative perspective is there, to be imagined by the reader, or listener. If any ‘showing’ is being done, it is the author who is showing us the narrator at work. The narrator’s objectivity, or otherwise, cannot be taken for granted, nor the author’s.

Here’s another BHD tale from 2017. A couple of elements within it were told to me, one way or another, miles, and years apart. The narrator’s accent is, well, almost wholly spurious…..

 

 

The Sixteen Foot Drain

 Come it old George died, who was Brenda’s cousin on her father’s side, Maisie Wannup rang to let her av the bad news, and to bring her up to date with all as ud bin gowin’ on the family them twenty years past. Maisie always was a precocious beggar.

She’d gone down south long afore that mind, ‘ad Brenda, and then moved herself out west almost as far as Wales, seemed like to Maisie. When George come to the end of his rode, it weren’t on account, as you might be expectin’, of the drink, though he’d been on two bottles a day of Johnny Walker since his dad had died and left him farm, which ‘is missus run, she being the trousers and the brains of the outfit all along.

A course, she was still alive when George put his car, it were only an old Ford Anglia or summat like that in them days, put his car nose first into Sixteen Foot Drain on his way to the Ring o’ Bells, which were his local. How he survived that crash I don’t know, and neither does no-one else I reckon, but he did, and clawed his way up outta water and up bank onto tarmac, and then he walked a mile to Sam Davies’ place who died these ten years gone of cancer of the larynx on account of him smoking. He said to Sam, call you the AA up to come and pull my car out of the Sixteen Foot, which they did, though he’d ‘a bin better off if’n they’d ‘a called t’other AA and got poor bugger dried out. As t’was they took’s licence off him, and arter that he must pedal old push bike three miles each way ‘tween home and Ring o’ Bells, which he must ha’ done best part a twenty years, but he still got his two bottles a Johnny Walker ever’ day.

When his missus passed on he went in a home, though not soon enough some said, and they gev him a bath, and another ever’ week after, aye, and a ‘ot meal too, more an’ one a day. Like a pig in it he were, last couple years o’s life, but he had to do without whisky, and maybe that’s what killed ‘im in end.

Maisie said, well, at least whisky kept ‘im happy all them years, but Brenda, who knew story well enough, she said, don’t it never did, and ‘ad a quaver like in her voice, which Maisie oughta a took notice of. Well, maybe it numbed pain a while, Maisie said, which were like a red rag to a bull, and Brenda said, what pain? He never lost his daddy at four year’s old, no! Nor saw his mother broken hearted for rest of her life.

Brenda’s mum took to drinkin’ too, which Maisie shoulda remembered, but Brenda’s mum were Pimms and Champagne, and she didn’t put no cars in that Sixteen Foot Drain neither.

 

 

Tidbit

 

The man stepped back from the door and shook his head. Then he stepped across to the next door down and knocked on that. The front doors in that part of town all open directly onto the pavement. The sound of barking came from within, and the man smiled.

Joe opened the door.

Shut it, he snapped at the dog, which was behind his legs. He kicked back with one foot and it fell silent and looked up at him. It was a dark, heavily built dog, perhaps a Rotweiler. Well? He said to the man, who was waiting patiently.

Can I take a moment of your time? The man asked. He was a small, nondescript man in a navy suit that hadn’t been smart for a long time. He had greyish hair, brushed back.

You selling something?

No. I’m going round the neighbourhood. Something happened last night, in the area. I think everyone needs to know about it.

What are you talking about?

Could I step inside?

What’s wrong with here?

It’s…The man glanced from side to side. It’s a private matter. It’ll only a take a minute, he said.

Go on, then. Joe stepped back into the corridor and held the door open. The man looked down at the dog, which looked back at him. He won’t hurt you, Joe said, unless I tell him to.  He pointed to a door on the left. In there, he said.

The man went into the little sitting room and stood waiting. Joe followed him in and pointed to the sofa, which the man sat down on. Joe sat in the armchair opposite. The dog eased itself down onto the carpet beside him.

So what is it?

There was an animal loose last night, a big animal. It came into the garden belonging to a friend of mine.

So what’s that got to do with me? Joe lazed back into his chair and picked his teeth. The man sat forward on the edge of the sofa with his knees together.

It was a dog, maybe, he said. A dog like that, perhaps. He pointed at the Rotweiler.

What do you want?

A dog like that, any animal that big…

Yes?

If it attacked you, you would have to consider it a life threatening event, wouldn’t you say?

So who got attacked?

Nobody that I know of.

So what the fuck do you want?

I just thought people should know, in the vicinity, should be warned, the man said. If it took you by surprise, you wouldn’t stand much of a chance.

You wouldn’t stand much of a chance whether you were surprised or not, Joe said, if Tebbit had a go.

Is that his name? Tebbit? The man smiled and glanced at the dog. Clever.

The man at the kennel gave it to him, the name. After some politician.

Yes, I guessed that. The man made a shrug. You wouldn’t have many options, I think, if Tebbit was on the loose and chose to have a go, as you call it.

Tebbit wasn’t on the loose.

The dog, the animal, looked very like him, the man said.

You saw it?

Oh, yes.

So, what’s the problem? Nobody got hurt, you said.

The dog, the animal, shat on my friend’s lawn.

Joe grinned and leaned forward. Do you want to borrow a shovel, is that it?

No. The man laughed softly. That isn’t it. You see, I often get called in to clear up shit for my friends. He put a hand in his trouser pocket and leaned back. Tebbit yawned.

You must have lots of friends, Joe said. He put his hands on the arms of the chair and said, is that it?

But then a fat woman in brown slacks and wearing a loose grey blouse in which her breasts swilled like blancmanges in a bag stepped into the room.

Who’s this? She asked. The man glanced up at her, but she was already looking to Joe.

He came to see us about the dog.

What’s the dog done now?

He says it shat on his friend’s lawn. The woman looked at the man, who smiled. She looked down at the dog. Joe looked up at her. I offered him a shovel, he said.

Shit, Tebbit, the woman said. She looked back at the man and he wondered for a moment if she were about to ask him for something, but she stepped back out into the corridor and out of sight. Joe and the man looked at each other. Tebbit rested his snout on his paws.

We’re done, the man said. I said it wouldn’t take long. He stood, and Joe got up too, and Tebbit looked from one to the other. I shouldn’t let him go out on his own, nights, the man said. Tebbit. You never know what trouble he might get into, especially if there’s some animal on the loose.

Tebbit can look after himself, Joe said.

They went out of the room and into the corridor, and Joe opened the door and the man stepped over the threshold. Tebbit had followed them out and stood behind his master again. Then the man turned on the pavement and drew his hand out of his pocket and threw something small to the dog, which it caught and swallowed.

I’d train him not to accept tidbits from strangers, if I were you, the man said. Especially if he’s out on his own.

Then he turned away and walked off, and Joe and Tebbit watched him go, all the way down the street.

 

 

Postface to ‘Tidbit’. This story came to me while I was weeding a garden. At Mawbray as it happens. It was probably a four or five hundred word story as I heard it in my head. I only heard the dialogue, I guess. The narrative was filled in later, and incrementally. The story, at 874 words, is some fifty words longer than the first written draft. Stephen King, being a ‘taker-out’ suggest a 10% reduction will always help, but as a ‘putter-in’, I’m always aiming to strengthen the context in which my final scene will take place. If the density of the story can be deepened, the weight it brings to bear, then I’m happy.

Late in this story, came the third sentence, for example – in order to clarify the location. There were also additions at the turning point after the woman speaks. I still wondered if she should say more, and after a comment by Nick Dowson, gave her some more ‘business’. This didn’t involve any additional dialogue, but merely looks exchanged between her and the man, and a speculation by him that she might be about to speak. The reader, I hoped, might wonder what she would have to say. The woman was there early on, while I was still weeding, and I knew she was overweight. Originally she was more bluntly rude: ‘Who the fuck’s this?’, but that didn’t make it on to the computer. I dressed her later, and the man, come to that. ‘Tebbit’ and ‘tidbit’ came late in the process. They came separately, but I liked the resonance between them, the echo. The ‘rotweiler’ came before either of them, and it was only after they arrived that I recalled the ‘real’ Tebbit had been described that way.

As happens sometimes, writing it was more an exercise of finding out what it was saying, than creating it. Having heard the two men go and having stumbled on that final exchange, I wrote it down to see more clearly what I’d got.

The question in my head, and not just in relation to this ‘story’, is what are stories, and how do we know when we’ve got one? Do we, in fact, ever know for sure? I’m always conscious of that distinction between writers – how is it done? – and readers – what’s it about? And I’m pretty sure that, however excited we, as writers and readers, get about the way stories are written, the key element that makes us want to read them, or hear them, again, is what they have to say – and that’s more to do with what they are about.

This story is about two men who have a conversation that I hope tells us more than the actual words say; and that final scene, in which the man energises the title by throwing the ‘tidbit’, and giving his warning, I hope carries a threat that we recognise. I hope too that we recognise that Joe will understand also, but perhaps not so clearly.

One small element that intrigues me, is why I write this story from ‘behind’ the man, yet give the name to Joe. Perhaps the story is more about Joe, and how he might react, or not, and perhaps even about what sort of relationship he might have with the woman. I’m conscious too, that, as a short story writer, my focus should be, and was, on the situation, rather than on the characters – as a reader of short stories, the writer poses a question about you, rather than answering ones about them.

Pritchett writes about the short story ‘revealing’ what real life only ‘implies’, but there is a temptation to make that revelation as subtle and unobtrusive, almost invisible, as we can; even to ourselves as its creators.

[I originally wrote this piece, and the story it postfaces, a couple of years ago. When I came to re-read both, I noticed the word ‘fat’, a prejudicial word. I changed it in the postface, but felt that in the story it had to stay in. When the woman is introduced to us, it needs to be prejudicially. When the narrator tells us what she says the reader’s view might change. In fact, the view of her and of Joe might change as the story progresses – if I’ve got it right, and so might that of ‘the man’. A story is a view from/of a perspective. Tebbit, I think, is the same throughout.] 

There’s a story by H.E.Bates, A Great Day for Bonzo, which you can find in the collection The Watercress Girl, first published in 1959. The clue is in the title, if you read it with the emphasis on Bonzo! Dog stories can be irritating, I find, but this one is deeply satisfying, and of course, isn’t really about the dog.

I’ve been going back through files of my own stories. I always find it difficult to send stuff out. There’s a resistance. It exhausts me, even in these days of filling in a form online, uploading and clicking a couple of times. The act of making submissions is heavier work than rolling boulders uphill (something my cardiologist warned me against years ago). Since then I’ve rolled more boulders than I have sent out stories, and I know which is easier.

Consequently my annual folders of short stories all have several that I intended to send out, but never got around to. SO, here’s the first of a handful from 2017. It too is a dog story that’s not really about the dog.

 

The Dog’s Bollocks

We’d gone walking between the Yorkshire Dales and the English Lake District, leaving the car at a friendly farm and sketching out a circular route that would take us no more than three days. We carried one-man tents, and on the first afternoon, for the last mile, one tired Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

The pub was a mile from the campsite, but that evening the dog had recovered enough to waddle down under his own steam, though he flaked out under the little round table and slept the sleep of the guileless from the moment we arrived till the time came to leave.

He was always a cute dog. We called him the bachelor’s friend because on the street women would come over and say hello and begin stroking him. The pub was crowded that night, and a couple sat down at our table. She was about our age, but older, and he was about her age, but younger.

Do you mind? She asked, and we piled our supper plates, and you took them to the bar to make room for their drinks. I’m not really a breast man, but sometimes I can see what those eighteenth century writers were getting at when they used the plump bird metaphor. Besides, anything nestled in lace looks inviting. Her skirt came to the knee and her free hand kept it in disorder and constant movement: a red rag to a bull.

Whatever our likes and dislikes, ignoring her partner, she was keen to engage.

Ah, she said, looking down at the dog, he’s worn out, poor lamb. Then she looked up at us and asked, have you come far?

All the way to here, you said, which was as good a way as kicking it off as any.

And how far will you go? she asked.

As far as we can, you said. The boyfriend, or whatever he was, looked uncomfortable.

She reached down, leaning forward, and tickled the dog’s underbelly. He was lying on his side with his legs stretched out in front and behind. He shifted slightly and whiffled in his sleep. Anybody would have, in the circumstances.

We were getting to the end of our first pints, and might have gone back to the tents, being as tired as the dog was, but she said, is there anything you’d like, boys? And she knew we were thinking, anything you can spare, all of it, yes, please!

Get them a drink, Jack, she said, and her partner, rising to his feet, said, a couple of pints, lads?

Poor sod, I thought.

She stroked the dog again with her fingertips, on the bare skin above his haunch. Look at his little dangly-do, she said. He whiffled and shuddered, and his dangly-do twitched. Oh, she said, he likes that.

Me too, I thought.

Walking back to the tents, you asked, did you get a hard on when she was doing all that dangly-do stuff?

What do you think? I said, and added, I wonder what Jack thought.

You grinned and said, Jack was looking forward to getting home.