Mind The Gap: The Clumsy Me Test

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The Clumsy Me Test

Astrid lugged her bag up the steps of St Paul’s, the strap digging further into her shoulder with each step she took. She didn’t know why she’d agreed to this stupid ‘book-off’ with Felicity. She just couldn’t stand the way Felicity waved her e-reader around at work like it was going to revolutionise reading and save the world at the same time. She was determined to prove to Felicity that books should be made of paper and ink not plastic and megabites.

Felicity was standing at the top of the steps, leaning against a column. A slim leather handbag was draped over her shoulder. She laughed when Astrid reached the top.

‘You brought them then?’ she said, adjusting her glasses.

‘Yes, fifteen books, like we agreed,’ Astrid dropped her bag onto the floor and rubbed her shoulder before opening the bag to reveal two rows of paperbacks of assorted sizes.

Felicity slipped her reader out of her bag and waved it at Astrid, ‘Two hundred and thirty-nine books,’ she said, ‘And considerably lighter than your fifteen. I think I win the first test. Your turn.’

Astrid slumped on the floor next to her bag, her shoulder still ached from her short trip from the bus stop, ‘Let’s try a speed test: pick a book and start reading.’ Astrid reached into her bag and grabbed a book.

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‘Wait! I’m not ready. Give me a title and count to three.’

‘You might not have the same books.’

Felicity peered into Astrid’s bag, ‘Yep, got them all.’

‘Fine, Douglas Adams, Hitchikers Guide. Ready? One two three, go!’

Astrid plucked the book out of her bag and flicked to the front page. She glanced at Felicity who was still fiddling with the screen on her e-reader. Astrid grinned and started to read:

“The house stood on a slight rise just on the edge of the village-,“

‘Wait! Nearly there, okay, scroll down, select, here it is.’ Felicity stopped and looked at Astrid who was halfway down the first page, ‘Okay, fine. You win that one, but I wasn’t far behind. Me next. Come on.’

Felicity walked off through the entrance to St Paul’s. Astrid sighed, lifted her bag back onto her painful shoulder and hurried after her.

‘It’s so dark in here,’ Astrid said, her voice echoing.

‘Precisely. Now read.’ Felicity switched her e-reader on, her face lit up by the gentle glow of the screen. Not to be outdone, Astrid pulled her book out of her bag, but try as she might, she couldn’t make out more than the odd word or two in the dimly lit entrance.

‘Fine,’ Astrid said, ‘You can have that one. My turn.’ She picked her bag up and walked back out into the sunshine. Once outside she shuffled through her books until she found the one she was looking for. She handed it to Felicity, ‘Read the inscription,’ she said.

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Felicity looked at the book, it was Wuthering Heights. She opened it and read:

‘“To my very own Cathy, I will always be your Heathcliff.” Yuck! Really?’

Astrid snatched the book back, ‘We were sixteen. It was romantic. And I was trying to make the point that my books aren’t just books, they’re memories, pieces of history. You don’t get that with your electronic doodah.’

‘What happened to Heathcliff?’

‘He got off with Maria Prendergast at my seventeenth birthday party.’

Felicity laughed, ‘I’ll let you have that one, but only because I feel sorry for your poor cheesy seventeen-year-old self. Now it’s my turn. For this challenge, you have to find a quote in a book that you’d like to remember, highlight it, then close the book, open it and try to find it again.’

Astrid stared at her in horror, ‘Deface my books? What kind of heathen are you?!’

‘I can do it with my e-reader, are you saying you can’t do it with your antiquated printed booky thing?’ Felicity jabbed a manicured finger nail at Wuthering Heights. Astrid pulled the book out of her reach, clutching it tightly to her chest.

‘I could. With post-it notes.’

‘Do you have any post-it notes?’

Astrid shook her head.

‘Fine, then it’s my point. Your turn.’

‘The Clumsy Me Test,’ Astrid announced. ‘Wait here.’ She slipped Wuthering Heights back into her bag, pulled out another book and ran down the steps.

‘The Whaty-what test?’ Felicity called after her.

At the foot of the steps, Astrid watched the passersby for a while then began strolling up the pavement, the book open in front of her, reading as she went.

‘I can read while I’m walking along with my e-reader, too!’ Felicity shouted down from the top of the steps.

Astrid smiled and let the book slip between her fingers. It landed at the feet of a tall man walking in the opposite direction.

‘Oops! Clumsy me!’ Astrid said, ducking down to pick up the book at the exact same time as the tall man reached for it. Their fingers brushed together.

‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo!’ the man said. ‘One of my favourites.’

‘Me too,’ said Astrid. ‘Did you read them all?’

‘Couldn’t put them down.’

Five minutes later, having given her number to her tall dark stranger, Astrid ran back up the steps. Felicity was nowhere to be seen. Astrid’s bag lay where she’d left it, wide open. She bent down to zip it up and noticed Felicity’s e-reader discarded on top of her copy of Atonement. She grinned, then turned and scanned the pavement, finally spotting Felicity a few yards away, a copy of Life of Pi in her hand.

The book tumbled through Felicity’s fingers.

‘Oops, clumsy me!’ she said.

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Written for the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge: Mind The Gap – Books versus E-readers. I think I’ve proved that books win. Hands down. Every time. 😉

The Devil’s In The Detail (DP Challenge)


The Devil’s In The Detail

It was Blind Beryl who taught me how to see. Her full name’s Beryl Cook, like the artist, and she takes her fashion sense from Cook’s pictures: loud, gaudy frocks and even louder make up. Beryl’s had cataracts for years, which might explain her love for bright colours. She can’t see at all now, so I have to see for both of us.

I visit her twice a week to give her place a bit of a clean, but mostly she doesn’t want any cleaning done, she wants to sit and have a cup of tea. The agency charges her twelve quid an hour, but I see less than half of that, so if she wants to pay me to drink tea, I don’t have a problem with that.

This one time, we were sitting in her front room with a cuppa and a plate of custard creams when she asked me to look out of the window.

‘What do you see?’ Beryl said.

‘Nothing much. There’s a boy playing in the yard.’

‘What’s he like, the boy?’ she asked.

‘What do you mean?’

‘What does he look like, does he look like my Albert?’ She fumbled about on the crowded table next to her chair until her fingers rested on a silver photo frame. She held it out to me.

‘He looks a bit like your Albert, only his hair’s longer, it’s flopping about in front of his face. He has to keep pushing it back.’

Beryl wasn’t satisfied, ‘What colour is his hair?’

‘It looks black from here, but when the sun hits it, you can see gold and red, like it’s on fire.’ I was beginning to get what she wanted, ‘His face is round and smooth, with dimples, like those cherubs you get in fancy churches. I reckon he’s about the same age as your Albert was when this was taken, and -,’

Beryl interrupted, ‘He was twelve. He never saw thirteen, poor little mite. Influenza.’ She paused, her sightless eyes staring out into space, ‘Tell me about the yard, is that tree still there? It was a chestnut tree, I think.’

‘There’s a tree, I couldn’t tell you if it was a chestnut, though. It’s huge, it takes up most of the yard. There’s hardly any grass, must be too shady for it to grow. Of course, it’s autumn so there’s no leaves on the tree, plenty on the ground, though.’

‘What’s the boy doing?’

‘He’s playing.’ I pre-empted her next question, ‘I think he’s playing some kind of pretend game, looks like he’s in a world of his own. Maybe he’s being a knight or something. He’s got a branch, he’s using it as a sword and having a sword fight with the tree.’

‘With the tree?’ Beryl chuckled, ‘Maybe he’s playing David and Goliath. Albert used to play that with his Dad.’ She took another sip of her tea. ‘Does he look happy?’

‘Yes, he’s smiling. He looks like he’s enjoying himself.’

‘My Albert used to smell of conkers, do you think this boy smells of conkers?’

‘I don’t know, he looks a bit dirty, there’s patches of grime on his face. He probably smells a bit ripe.’

‘What do you think his name is? I bet it’s Robert. Does he look like a Robert? If I’d had another child I’d have called him Robert, but I only ever had my Albert.’

‘I don’t know if he looks like a Robert, what does a Robert look like?’ I asked. I checked my watch. One advantage of working with Beryl was that I could check the time when I liked without her noticing. ‘I have to go, Beryl, sorry. But I’ll see you Thursday.’

‘You’ll see me, but I won’t see you!’ Beryl cackled at her own joke. ‘I’ll see the boy in the yard, though, thanks to you.’

I popped the tea things back in the kitchen and grabbed my coat. Beryl called me back.

‘Will you ask him his name, when you go? For me?’

I stepped out into the bracing October air, there wasn’t much of a wind, but what there was stung my cheeks all the same. I pulled my coat tighter round me. The boy was still playing his game.

‘Excuse me,’ I said. ‘I hope you don’t mind me asking, would you tell me your name?’

The boy stopped playing and turned, his stick hanging by his side. He looked less cherub-like close up. And I saw that the marks on his face weren’t dirt, they were bruises.

‘Give us a fiver and I’ll tell ya,’ he said.

‘Five pounds? That’s almost an hour’s wages.’

‘Like I care! D’you wanna know or not?’

‘Never mind.’

‘Get lost then, you stupid cow!’ the boy snarled, giving me the finger. He turned and went back to beating the crap out of the tree with his stick, a manic grin on his face. I tucked my bag inside my coat and hurried home.

When I went back to Beryl’s on Thursday, she asked after the boy in the yard.

‘You were right,’ I said. ‘He is called Robert. We had a lovely chat.’

Beryl smiled and held Albert’s photo to her chest.


This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge from the Daily Post was to practice our powers of observation: “Take any person, place, or event, and write three paragraphs describing the subject in great detail.”

Sorry, Daily Post, I’m not very good at doing as I’m told, so I haven’t stuck to the three paragraphs. I’ve written a short story instead, which I hope conveys that the devil really is in the detail.