December 2021

To E or not to E?

Finishing off the year, we thought we would look at lipograms. A lipogram, from the Ancient Greek, is constrained writing consisting of writing paragraphs or longer works in which a particular letter or group of letters is avoided. This could be an easy task were the letter to be a Z or J, or Q.  Sometimes, this can be quite unintentional. For example, Edgar Allen Poe wrote ‘The Raven’ without a Z. On the other hand, ‘A Void’ by Georges Perec is a complete novel where the author has left out the letter E. ‘A Void’ is still in print in translation from the French language and can be bought via Amazon. However, do look at how Amazon describes the content of the book: ‘Anton Vowl is missing. Ransacking his Paris flat, a group of his faithful companions trawl through his diary for any hint as to his location and, insidiously, a ghost from Vowl’s past starts to cast its malignant shadow.’  My compliments to the marketing people at Amazon as they managed to describe the book without, themselves, using the letter E.

The challenge was to write our own. The subject was a winter walk (A Christmas Walk – no E) and the letter E had to be avoided. Here follows our attempts. Careful, it is addictive!

A Christmas Walk

Snow still falls as I scrunch and slip my way up our road avoiding unknown lumps and bumps.

My dog, a corgi, runs in front. Short limbs plough a way through mini drifts. Now and again, by turning and looking my way, is the implication that I must catch up; Sunday’s lamb cooking slowly in our Aga is food for us and Judy.

Dusk brings with it a sly joy as curtains stay ajar and lights spill out of windows. Christmas has brought with it a magical fairy world transforming ordinary rooms into domains sparkling with mock diamonds, lapis lazuli, opals, and glowing gold charms. Artificial snow spills on windowsills and glass.

Knowing food will spoil, I plod on with vigour, risking skating on icy pools until our front door is in sight and a soaking Judy waits.

Helen

A winter walk. No ‘e’

Through a chink in my curtains I saw it. Snow! I got up and took in an amazing vista. I must go walking this morning.

A quick wash and a hasty hot drink and I was pulling on my walking boots and putting on my warm coat.

It was 7-30 am and soon I was in tranquil and sparkling surroundings at our local parkland. No sounds apart from birds, an odd woman with a dog and a guy on bird patrol.

I got out my Samsung for a photo of swans and ducks swimming by. Just as I was focusing, whoosh! I was sprawling on icy ground and my Samsung had shot out of my hand and was lying on a bank of mud.

‘Why didn’t you shift out my way you stupid old bag? Didn’t you clock my warning?’

Typical. A bloody cyclist! How would I know about him? I’m not that good on the audio front nowadays.

To say I was angry is putting it mildly. I was furious. I forgot my pain and got hold of ‘Wiggins’ and holding on to his grubby coat I told him what for.

He didn’t say a word just stood by his BMX which I saw was in bits. Payback!

Julia

Peter has given us two versions. One, a straight piece where he has used all of the vowels available and the second where he has left out the letter E. He has made it doubly difficult for himself by transferring the story directly and with a clever choice of words. Has he achieved his aim? I can feel his frustration…

A CHRISTMAS WALK

Christmas dinner is over, and the table has been cleared. Outside, snow is falling softly, and the grass sparkles with frost. The branches of the fir trees are bowed down, laden down with snow. No chance of an afternoon nap. Time to take the dog for a walk. Everyone loves a white Christmas, especially my German Shepherd, who runs ahead of me and makes for a deep snowdrift. She dives in and buries her nose deep into it. Emerging again, she turns over and rolls on her back, paws thrashing the air and tail swishing madly. She’s making a doggie snow angel! She looks back at me, upside down, radiating happiness. I’m sure she’s grinning, inviting me to join her. If only I could! But instead, I call her back to me. ‘Time to put your lead on, Tilly.’ I slip the lead over her head. ‘Good walk, wasn’t it? But we have to go home now.’ We make our way back, the dog trotting along happily beside me. Back indoors, I wipe her off and say ‘All done. Good girl. Now you’ll be able to dry your coat in front of the blazing log fire you love so much.’

200 words

Christmas lunch is kaput, and the family is taking a pause. From my window, I watch snow falling softly onto grass still sparkling with frost. Fir boughs are curving downwards, struggling to support a thick load of snow. No possibility of an afternoon nap, though. Got to walk the dog. Wintry conditions are joyful, particularly for my Alsatian, who runs out and bounds on in front, making for a snowdrift, diving in, and burying that soft moist snout into it. Popping up again, Tilly turns and rolls in the cold snow, paws thrashing and tail swishing madly, making a kind of doggy snow ghost. Tilly looks back, wrong way up, radiating joy. Is that a grin, an invitation to join in? If only I could! But I can’t, so I call her. ‘Come, Tilly, let’s put your chain on.’ I slip it on. ‘Good walk, wasn’t it? Must go back now.’ I plod my way down a snowy road, with Tilly trotting along happily. Back indoors, I wipe Tilly’s paws with an old cloth and say ‘All done. Good girl. Now you can go and dry your coat off in front of that big warm radiator in the living room.’

200 words

Two versions from Frances. Thanks to Frances for the overall title – To e or not to e.

A Christmas Walk (80 ‘e’s)

Outside the garden pond is frozen solid. It has been snowing all morning. December has been treacherous. Buses and trains have struggled. It’s the worst winter I’ve experienced in my forty years.

 My parents always go for a walk after dinner on Christmas afternoon, but it’s too cold for me. I’m full of turkey and pudding and I want to stay snug by the fire, with a couple of glasses of whiskey.

‘Won’t be late,’ my mother calls, but at four they’re still not back. It’s getting dark and I’m starting to worry. Pulling on my socks and wellies, I venture gingerly down the path. There’s no one about on the avenue, not even footprints, just mounds of piled-up whiteness, so that I can hardly see.

Then I hear a weird moan. The piles of snow are moving slightly.

‘Mother!’ I call, realising in a moment what has happened. ‘Is that Father? I’m here! No need to worry now.’

I slide my hands into my pocket and dial for an ambulance.

A Christmas Walk (no ‘e’s)

Out of doors our pond is solid with frost. Snowfall all morning. This month was hazardous, with transport struggling. I can’t call to mind anything so bad, and I’m forty.

At Christmas Mum and Dad always go for a post-prandial walk, but I think it’s too cold. I’m full of roast and pudding and I want to stay snug and warm, with a glass of malt.

‘Back by four,’ Mum calls, but at four o’clock no sound or sign. It’s almost dark and I’m starting to worry. Pulling on my socks and boots, I try to stay upright, on icy ground. Not a man or woman around, no footprints, just mounds of dazzling snow, making my vision blurry.

A curious moan. A hillock of snow is moving slightly.

‘Mum!’ I call, clocking quickly what’s going on. ‘Is that Dad? I’m on to it! Don’t worry!’

I run indoors and dial 999.

Frances

A Christmas Walk   No E

I look out,

Crisp snow lays,

Do not disturb,

Pull on my boots,

Follow my son,

Towards parkland,

A solitary robin chirps,

From a rooftop,

A big snowman grins,

Small child tugs a tartan scarf,

Gazing at an icy pond,

A mirror portrait,

Smiling, I turn,

Both of us walk back.

Erica

Another example of one written with the letter e and the same story without…

A Christmas Walk

Bloody dog!

If proof were needed that my dog was smarter than me, here it was. I’m dressed in boots, jeans, three jumpers, a coat, a scarf, hat and gloves and Rex is minus his warm overcoat, lying on the rug by the radiator.

I rattle the kibble box but he ignores it.

‘I’m going anyway,’ I tell him. ‘It’s too nice a day to stay in.’

Still annoyed, I slam the front door and start down the path. That’s when I realise I haven’t picked up my bag.

‘Oh, no!’

I rush back and push at the door but of course it won’t open. I peer through the side window and there’s my bag on the hall floor, full of my money, keys and a flask of hot chocolate.

‘Now what?’

I check the back door and the windows but no luck, so reluctantly I pull out my phone and dial himself.

‘Hi, darling,’ I say through chattering teeth.

‘What have you done?’

‘What makes you think I’ve done anything?’

‘Because I know you.’

‘Okay, I need your help.’

I explain about the bag.

He sighs heavily. ‘I can’t leave the shop right now, Jack’s gone out for supplies and I’m on my own. You’ll have to come here.’

‘But my car keys are in the house.’

‘Take a bus.’

‘I don’t have any cash or cards with me.’

‘So walk.’

‘It’s three miles.’

‘And?’

Shaking with cold, I kick at a few plant pots on my way back to the front gate. Yes, I was going for a walk but it was supposed to be a quick trip to the park not a hike. Still muttering, I set off in the direction of town.

‘Bloody dog!’

A Christmas Walk

I stand staring at my dog laying on the rug by the radiator, snug and warm.

‘Want a walk?’ I say to him and shake the dog biscuit box. He grunts and curls up again.

‘Bloody dog.’

I walk down our hall, put on all my warm stuff, go out the front door and slam it shut.

‘Oh, no!’ I wail. ‘My bag!’

I rush back and push at the door but it won’t shift. I look through the window. My bag is on the hall floor and in it is all my stuff including a flask of hot choccy milk.

I kick at the door. No good.

I rush down our path, and try the back door, but it’s also shut tightly.  I look at windows. Also shut, and why not? It’s cold.

Reluctantly I call my husband.

‘Hi, darling,’ I say through rattling molars.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘How do you know anything’s wrong?’

‘I know you.’

‘Okay,’ I sigh, explain about my mishap and ask him to assist his poor missus.

‘I can’t.  Jack is out buying stock and I’m on my own.  Why don’t you catch a bus into town.’

‘I can’t. No cash or cards.’

‘So walk.’

‘What!’

‘You always say you enjoy walking.’

‘Not that far!’

‘Up to you.’

He signs off so I put my Samsung away again and go towards town, cursing as I go.

‘Bloody dog!’

This challenge has also attracted non-group members as the following piece proves. It is addictive!

“Fancy a Scottish Highlands and Islands tour?”  said John to Mary.  “OK,” said Mary, ” but you must sort out a good plan.”  

“Right” said John, “following a fortnight’s thought, my trip is as follows:”

Starting in Galloway, at Kirkcudbright, a famous artists’ town, our first day will go through Ayr and Troon (but not stopping to play golf, with or without Donald Trump), bypassing Glasgow and on via Stirling to Pitlochry, a small town to stay for two nights, doing a bit of salmon fishing, walks in old Scottish birch woods and by sparkling lochs.  Our trip will go northwards  by train, along a track that skirts Cairngorm National Park, and Cairngorm mountain (noticing a lack of snow on it in July) and on, visiting whisky towns such as Dingwall, Dornoch, Tain and Wick, finishing in Thurso. Is a quick outing by cab to John O’Groats also a thing to do?  Back in Thurso, our tour will follow a wild north-coast road (possibly trying to spot Hoy and its “Old Man”, if mist allows) until, following a turn southwards, I stop our car at a layby with a sign for “Sandwood Bay”.  Sandwood Bay is amazing, but hard work to visit – a four- hour-plus walk in and out again.  You OK with that? Now, our tour transits Ullapool, to cross by boat to Stornaway and Harris, on via Uig and Broadford, a third boat to Mallaig and a train, full, no doubt,  of railway buffs and tourists, to Fort William.  Day six is by car again, along a stunning , but narrow, coastal road to Oban, a busy port with lots of holiday attractions.  From Oban, it is by car, or possibly railway, if you wish, back to Glasgow, our final stop, to find a good inn to stay at, with a concluding drink or two and good Scottish nosh such as haggis. OK?.

Andrew Johnston

A WINTER WALK

(The story with the letter ‘e’ included in the text.)

The grandchildren came to the front door all dressed for their winter walk in the woods.

‘Aren’t you ready yet Grandad?’ they asked impatiently.

‘Just putting my boots and hat on.’ I said.

‘Hurry up then!’ said Freddie.

‘I will.’ I replied.

We caught the tram to the woods and soon we were walking through the dappled shade cast by the snow covered trees.  The weather was warming up and a large dollop of snow slipped off a bough and fell onto my head, which made the children roar with laughter. 

So I picked up some snow, made a snowball and threw it at the kids, and that’s how the battle began.

It lasted a good twenty minutes by which time everybody had turned into happily tired snowpeople.

We walked a little further until we came to a place where we knew there was a bench and table. We cleared them of snow and sat down to enjoy some warm mulled wine accompanied by warm sausage rolls and mince pies, a treat that we all enjoyed immensely.

Afterwards we trudged back to the tram, and a few of us nodded off inside the warm cosy streetcar. And when we finallygot home we were greeted by the illuminated Christmas tree in the hall, and the cosy log fire exuding that delightful homecoming warmth, in the lounge. 

© Bob Reader December 2021 – 228 words

A CHRISTMAS WALK

(2. The revised story with no ‘e’s in the text)

Grandkids in warm clothing howling ‘Dadda, hurry up!’

‘Just putting my boots and hat on!’ I said.

‘Tardy Grandad !’ said grandson John.

‘I am!’ I said.

Soon all of us sat aboard a tram in Nottingham which was going to a glorious wood not far away from Blidworth.

It took half an hour to turn up at Blidworth Woods, and quitting our transport all of us quickly got walking into wondrous woodland.

It was warming up and big dollops of snow constantly struck my crown.  I took in much guffawing, chortling and giggling which was coming my way from my companions! 

A hastily built snowball shot towards my grandchild. 

Thud! It hit!

An icy and snowy affray quickly got going, lasting about half an hour, and making lots of original snow animals out of all of us.

Following that all and sundry sat on a big log and partook of warm ‘vin du pays’, whilst consuming pork and pastry rolls and thinly cut up – and spicy –  bull and cow Christmas tarts, all piquant, savoury and tasty!

In a twinkling all food and drink at hand lay in various thankfully full stomachs!

Following that, a warm cosy tram to Nottingham took us back to our starting point, and in our bungalow’s hall sat our lit up Christmas sapling, and a cosy burning log on the dog irons in the living room, which said ‘Hullo’! © Bob Reader December 2021 244 words

A walk

Why did they dump me the dining room? It was time to escape from the cage like crib at the side of the bureau. The French window wasn’t locked. Luckily. I threw on my coat and booted up, I wasn’t going to wander in my thermal pyjamas. Cooped up too long. This night was mine. I knew exactly where I needed to go, I grabbed the stainless steel servers and stuck them into my shoe bag together with my mobile, I pocketed the torch. I can barely remember the walk there. The dim path was a major hazard, the fading beam of the torch barely picked up the roots and mouse holes. Creepy even in broad daylight. Despite a couple of skirmishes with large stones I made it to the Scout hut in 10 minutes. He was there waiting for me. Without a word he gave me the brown package and walked away towards the car park. I pressed the button on my phone camera, I’d remembered to set it at ‘night’ setting and hurried back to the garden along the wooded path. I emptied out a potted rhododendron and secreted the envelope at the bottom. I replaced the plant. I was back in bed when the explosion lit up the garden. Phew.

A walk with no e’s?

Why did that man dump me in his dining room for a nap? It was a good opportunity to vanish, to quit this animal hutch – camping by the rocking chair. The glass door had no latch, it was firmly shut. Luckily. I put on my coat and boots. I wasn’t going to scout around in my cosy pyjamas. Cooped up too long. This night was my domain. I was familiar with my surroundings and spots I should go. I took four solid iron spoons and forks, down in my cloth bag, accompanying my bag was my Samsung Galaxy Z. Bob’s torch was in my hand. I can hardly call to mind anything of my walk. A dim path was a major hazard, the fading torch light hardly lit up the roots and rabbit burrows. Forbidding in broad daylight. Notwithstanding various scraps with large rocks I saw a scout hut quickly – although it was a long walk away. Bob was waiting. Without a word I took a brown box from his hand, at that point that odd fellow ran slowly towards a car park. I took a photo of his back. It was a foot slog back through dark, dank oaks and prickly plants. In my own domain again I saw the potbound rhubarb plant. It slid out. I put my brown box in the vacant pot, stuffing the thirsty rhubarb on top. I was back in my night “hutch” couch as the room lit up. The bomb had burst. Wow.

Margaret Christopoulos