Lonesome Elements

The wind screamed a hollow song, spectral wailings engaging with a non-existent audience: the few souls that subsisted on the tiny island remained locked behind dilapidated storm shutters chewed away by time. Great swathes of desiccated grass sliced the landscape, blades bowed in a bid to remain unnoticed in the onyx shadows that dripped from sheer iron cliff faces eternalised with expressions of subdued defeat. Heavy clouds choked the sky with a gunmetal glare persistently smothering the wan rays of a despondent, jaundiced sun.

Regardless of how vehemently the wind howled, there was never a reply. The blank countenances of the cliffs became contemptuous in their reflection of the sound, forcing the gale to continually indulge in no other aural pleasure than that of its own voice. Ivory windmills stood high on the hillside. Their mechanical branches revolved steadily with quiet resolve; acknowledging the command of the air but like all else refusing to respond, consuming its lonesome shrieks for the benefit of the silent eyes that sat, waiting, in their small stone cottages.

(Prompts: stereotype map – God knows, maybe some sheep)

by Annie Milburn

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Pride and Prejudice

I only visited Bacup Borough the once. By courtesy of Ribble motors on account of the good doctor having axed the railway the year before. On arrival, I began to suspect that the news of the relief of Mafeking had yet to reach Bacup.
Upon arrival, as was my habit, I sought out a comfortable hostelry to partake of luncheon, instead I found the cobblers arms. an establishment that I at first mistook for a disused abattoir. If the exterior was dire, the inside was decidedly worse. Depressing, dark stained woodwork. Ancient lincrusta wallpaper that was out of fashion a century ago. Sepia photographs of long past, long forgotten events adorned every vacant space. A football team of long ago. Long baggy shorts, diver’s boots and long droopy moustaches. ‘Bolton wanderers,1907’ the caption said.
Behind the bar, on a chalk board was the ‘Bill of fare’ (No French menu’s here). There was tripe, but, disappointingly, no pigs trotters.
‘I declined the tripe and instead decided on black pudding served on bread fried in Dripping. (A local delicacy, I believe) I took a seat at the only vacant table.
‘If y’ ask me.’ (I hadn’t) the gent seated at the next table said loudly. ‘It’s them namby-pamby buggers down in’t London! Arrogant wankers, the bloody lot o’ them.’
‘Really?’ I said,
‘Aye lass, there worse than them gobby bastards down in’t Manchester!’
‘You don’t say?’ I said. ‘So you don’t like London?’
‘Nay lass, they gets REET oop me bloody nose. Near as bad as them bloody scousers. D’you know, if the dropped a nuclear bomb on Liverpool tomorrow, they’d reduce the social security budget by seventy per cent and the crime figures by something like ninety. But them namby pamby puffballs we send t’ parliament wouldn’t do that. Think, one nuclear bomb and ‘ow much would it save the poor bloody taxpayer.’ I felt that his argument lacked logic but I suspected that this line of argument would make little headway.
‘Anyone else you’d like to annihilate?’ I asked as the serving girl brought my black pudding.’
‘Aye, lass them bloody yorkies. Miserable bastards that they are. Thank god that he put the Pennines there t’ keep the buggers out’t Gods County. Imagine if they could just walk in? What with the Pennines they’re too lazy t’ walk and too mean t’ go by bus. Mind you, if y’ want rid o’t yorkies, just hold a flag day, that’ll get rid of them, First rattle of a collecting can and the miserable bastards are off like a scalded cat.’
‘What about the Brummies?’ I asked,
‘Thick as pig’s shite.’ Don’t even speak bloody English. Almost as stupid as the Welsh. THEY don’t speak English at all!’
‘I thought it best not to bring up the Scots and the Irish were out of the question’
‘BACUP! End of the road.’ A voice was shouting. Suddenly the room and my entertaining companion faded and I was on the Ribble 246, Burnley-Bacup. I yawned, stretched and looked around at the modern little town that sat on the western face of the Pennines. Sadly, of the Cobblers Arms, I could find no trace and had to dine in a modern patisserie instead. Seemingly, the pub had gone the same way as the Shoemaking industry that had made the town famous.

(prompts: stereotype map)

by Jane Jones

Skirmishing with Stereotypes?

It was one of those days. Reluctantly, Paula had dragged her weans (she’d heard the weegies call them that for years) on to the ferry at Wemyss Bay to go and visit her Nonna in her pensioner’s house on Rothesay. Nonna Maria at the ripe old age of 72, had such a magnetic personality that she still drew everyone to her. The island, so renowned for it’s gelaterie and summer tourism, had spewed forth it’s young folk into the bosom of the mainland during the 90’s in their own quest for a future. Paula looked forward to seeing Nonna, and making sure she remained a central part in her own children’s lives. Toni kicked Giorgio, he figured she was too busy hustling her 6 shopping bags into the lift behind them to see the twins’ altercation. “Basta!!”, she said rather loudly to them, as the lift doors swished shut behind them. The twins looked at the floor. It was their first time on the ferry to visit Bisnonna, no one else they knew had a great gran, she must be very old, even older than Mrs Doig their nursery teacher. They managed to reach the passenger lounge uneventfully and sat quietly, fidgeting with their Nintendos as the ferry began moving through the water. They had a good look around through the windows while mama read her latest Kindle download. Typical four-year-olds, they were fidgeting and poking each other under the table, until… it couldn’t be!… It looked like it!… It is!… Stereo pre-school age trebles, began uncontrollably shrieking, “Balamory! Balamory!”, and climbed over everyone to get a good view as we came into the pier. Paula went red, smiled shyly and grabbing her bags and bambini, and headed off into the crowd for her family reunion. Leaving us all with a good laugh and yet another sickening self-perpetuating Scottish stereotype.

(Prompts: stereotype map)

by Elizabeth Ann Woods

The Tiger

When he thought on the affair he always thought of the colour red. Red, the colour of unquenchable passion. He remembered those nights feverently. When she had purred so gently in his arms and then her lust unleashed with the prowess of an untamed animal. Rose stained kisses on his chest. Crimson streaks down his back. Desperate hands knotted through scarlet hair. Ecstatic limbs casting dancing shadows in the moonlight. White sheets falling and sighing against the tangle of rouge desire. And then her sultry breath on his neck, in his ear “Liam…”. And he his eyes would hungrily devour her voluptuous figure in the afterglow. And his breath would stagger, knowing that he could never hope to pick this English rose. They were from two different worlds and could never be. All his affluence, his fame could never hope to buy him the woman he truly loved. Oh but for those nights he held her affections and she held his heart, always.

(Prompts: stereotype map, Liam Neeson)

by Hayley Rutherford

In a Dance-Floor of the Club

The sweat of a hundred bodies, hanging on bloated air. The people dance, drunk, and a stinking creeper scuttles, clad in paper charm and cheap cologne.

The ears are thrashed by music, beaten dull with heavy fists. The music- it throws each competing noise to the floor and stamps on it, reducing all to a quiet rasp. Our voices are lost to the monolith.

Over at the wall there’s a pair of girls, impaled on spikes of light. Vodka and regrets tumble from their shoulders as they clutch each other, mumbling words in hushed breaths. The world withers and dies by their feet, but neither care. They tread the frantic Eden that dwells on lips alone.

(Prompts: Stereotype map – Perpetually drunk)

by Paul Inglis

Spare

“Where did you say you were from again?” the interviewer’s eyes reduced to slits as she looked closely at the girl sitting before her.

“Oh, I’m from Ayr. It’s a town in Ayrshire – South West Scotland.” The girl nodded vigorously. She had been crossing and uncrossing her legs for the last half hour to relieve her nervous tension, and now she felt cramp fizzle up her left calf. She tried not to wince.

“You’re going to have to speak slower love,” the interviewer said in her crisp R.P. accent, “I’ll admit it’s been a struggle to understand you so far!”

“I – I’m sorry.” The girl took a deep breath. “Ayrshire. I’m – from – Ayrshire.”

“Ayrshire…Ayrshire…” the interview pronounced ‘Ayr’ as one pronounces ‘air’. She said ‘shire’ as if she were talking about the place inhabited by Hobbits in Lord of the Rings; not as the girl pronounced it with one quick ‘shur’.

“Isn’t that…” the interviewer glanced down at her iPad and swiped the screen to bring up a map.

“Ah yes, the ‘spare bit’ of Scotland, as they say.” She chuckled. “Well, we’ll be using you as a bit of a spare bit if I take you on as an intern, won’t we?” The girl nodded slowly, following the interviewer’s eyes. Underneath the desk, her manicured fingernails gouged into her thighs.

It seemed that all her recent interviews had followed a similar pattern to this. She had thought that in London, you could walk into any job. Of course, she knew that she would have to be a P.A first to get a leg up into her chosen industry, but she had not known that an unpaid internship was necessary to entertain thoughts of even being a P.A. She was also unaware that, to Londoners at least, her accent was impenetrably thick. Interviewers had looked hopefully at her well-fitting suit and groomed blonde hair when she walked in, but as soon as she opened her mouth to speak she could see them visibly wince. They did not understand her at all, and the indignity of it cut her deeply.

She got a job eventually. It was a good year or so later that the girl found herself at 10pm on a Friday night, alone in a cramped office where she couldn’t see the walls for the amount of paper that was stacked everywhere. There was a deadline to get things sorted before Monday. Not just things: everything. There were documents to be filed, records to be stacked, numbers to crunch, papers to shred and fold and stuff in envelopes. As always, the watery taste of stamps on her tongue mingled with the acidic tang of Red Bull that lingered in the back of her throat.

She thought, then, of the sea – Ayr – the smell of salt stinging her eyes. Somewhere distant, different and beautiful. The cobbled street that led down to the shore and the old boat moored up by the new flats, where as a teenager she used to drink. You could walk from one end of the town to the other in half an hour; you could stand at the harbour wall and feel part of the vastness of the extending ocean. The warm glow that came off the Gulf Stream and flooded her veins like home.

In the office, the caffeine was making her nerves tremble. She took deep breaths and tried to stand up, but doing so upset a cascade of paper around her. The girl’s heart was juddering in her chest, sending stabbing pains up to her head. She slammed the door of the office behind her and rushed over to the nearest window for air. The last cleaner had switched the heating off hours ago now, and the open space of the main office billowed with various icy drafts. The dust made her sneeze as she thrust open the window, climbing into the ledge behind the blinds that collapsed around her. She could not get the window open further than a few centimetres.

Still, she looked out to the skyline that ran on endlessly: terrifying and sublime. She wondered whether she would ever feel happy here; happy, at least, in the way she thought she would. In every glittering window she saw the glint of possible success. There was hope and grandeur in these buildings. They were built for it: every one and all. And yet, as she sat there, cramped and shivering, she had never felt so small.

(Prompts: map of British regional stereotypes)

by Maria Rose Sledmere