Cant and Greta


Between the Cant and the Greta rivers there is a castle. In it lived a great chief, a warlord who was a King in his own right. His name was Bernard Maltravers and his success was due to his ability to not only fight, but to think. Maltravers lived like a king and one of the joys of his kingly life in the castle was the company of his ‘court Jester’, a Frenchman they called, simply, L’est. No one knew how the man had come by the name, and he never spoke if it, himself. But everyone called him by it…. except Lord Maltravers, who simply yelled out, “J’est” in a well-rehearsed parody whenever he wanted the services of his Fool.

“It’s Christmas, J’est,” he said, after the fourth measure of mead. “Should we get rid of most of the castle staff? Give them a holiday?”

L’est looked forlorn at the suggestion. He knew that if his wilful lord put the plan into action, he, the Jester, would end up doing most of the duties, such as cooking and cleaning, instead of what he was good at: intelligent and witty conversation – and provoking his master to just the right degree. However, Lord Maltravers had insisted that L’est join him in two of the goblets of mead and he was less in control of his mouth than usual… so he replied, “Why not, my Lord. In fact, why not break with tradition, altogether, and invite the local peasants into the rooms of the castle, they can abide with us throughout the season, truly making it one of goodwill to all men…”

Lord Maltravers had a short temper, which the excess of mead did little to ameliorate, so he ran the Fool through with his long sword.

As he died by the fireplace, L’est thought of the idea of peasants, happily living in the castle… he used all of his will to form the image into a spoken and enduring curse, letting it escape into the air and the stone of the castle as his last breath filled the space.


Lester Atkinson, standing in front of the estate agent’s window in the centre of Kendal and drenched by the spray from passing cars, had no idea why he had been drawn to the central panel of opulent properties, nor why he was having trouble suppressing his jollity.

“Take that,” he muttered, laughing aloud.

A passing woman looked at him accusingly.

“What did you say?”

“I really have no idea,” said Lester, walking his uncontrolled mirth away before it could do him any more harm. “But Merry Christmas, anyway.”

©Stephen Tanham

This is entirely a work of fiction… apart from the Estate Agent’s window.

Happy Christmas….


Antipodean Fragments – Foodoomooloo…


We are having breakfast at Charlie’s Foodamalloo, across the street from our hotel; the Ovolo. It’s a wonderful greasy spoon and reputed to be one of the best places for breakfast in Sydney – if you don’t mind the simple interior and the washed but stickily-aged wood and tiled tables.

The Ovolo is located on the redeveloped old giant wharf at Woolloomooloo. The beloved old cargo and passenger quayside is now home to twelve restaurants and Russell Crow’s luxury boat… and, it is rumoured, his penthouse, high above the dock.

There’s a man. He is noisily on his mobile and standing, partly blocking my view through the opened shuttered window. He looks very at home here but is not Australian. He sounds… perhaps Austrian?

Another man comes in, an Australian with a broad and deep accent. He walks past the two young naval officers putting their caps on, post breakfast. There is a large naval base along the quay. Yesterday, I’d taken several shots of a gleaming new warship before I got to the sign that said don’t.

The two men greet each other by swinging their hands together in a well-practised gesture. It produces a crack so intense that the two naval officers turn in alarm.

One of the men gets up to reassure the uniformed men, smiling. Their conversation turns to tobacco… interesting.

Bernie is having tea with her breakfast. The lovely Turkish lady who brought me my BLT tips over Bernie’s little steel milk jug. It goes all over my backpack on the floor. The young Turkish lady is mortified. She mops it up carefully with a cloth, then brings a mop and bucket to sort out the floor. I had no idea the little jugs held so much milk… She offers me a cloth Aldi bag in compensation. I reassure her that it’s okay…

There’s something weird in the Sydney air…

We’re staying at the Ovolo but breakfasting at Charlie’s. It’s much more interesting.

I hope it won’t rain all day… we can get this in Cumbria.

(Editor’s note: it did)

©Stephen Tanham

Old Blue Devil

Within the sky

You formed one day

I have you said

With dipping horn

Not gone away

I willed you go

Your old one eye


Inclined to stay

Declined my sigh

Am home, it cried

Among and in

The shallow mind

The narrow gaze

The snarling din

Resistant to

My magic frown

This hungry eye

Just widens now

And gazes ever down

©Stephen Tanham

The Writing Shed

Will I write in here as snows arrive

Locked eyes and fingers frenzied?

Imagined places, chattering teeth

With windows needing mended

Or will the soft and ancient chair

Seduce me in the corner?

To doze and dream-up worlds galore

While Spring drifts by in wonder

But it’s unlikely that this shed

Will grace me with it’s favours

The ancient box: creative pride

Belongs to next door neighbours

©Stephen Tanham


Such beauty in your pristine edge

Precision killer of my stroll

When summer’s heat extends

And pant to unclad leg migrates

In summer breeze that soothes the soul

Exposing flesh to that which rends

No wrath to insects, bees or sheep

Just to my naive naked limb

From what beneath the ivy bends

©Stephen Tanham

The Fickle Finger

Fickler FingerAA

I’m not really a ‘pub’ person. I love a glass of wine or three, and an occasional pint of beer; but I’m not a regular at our local pub. One of the reasons for that is, probably, that it’s a half hour walk away in this sodden part of Cumbria, and the journey usually involves a walk in total darkness to get home. Not that such a stroll is a problem in itself, just that when you’re faced with that versus a glass of wine at home in the warm comfort and your favourite and deeply understanding settee, well, you get my drift…

But, increasingly, I miss the sort of ‘chaps’ camaraderie that used to grace the occasional visit to various pubs in my former, gainfully employed years. Being dropped off for a ‘Sesh’ (our word for a drinking session) was one of the occasional highlights of the year – particularly in the run-up to Christmas.

I’m not complaining – I love my new life as a writer and one of the Silent Eye’s directors, and we certainly make up for any interim lack of camaraderie when the group of us who run the School get together for one of our workshops. Everyone’s invited of course, the more the merrier…

But back to the chaps thing. This Christmas, whose memory is now fading so fast into fuzzy history, we had a lovely meal with three friends. One was my wife’s sister, Joanne, the other two, Tony and Mary, were family friends of the two sisters and have recently got back in touch. Tony is now retired but spent his working life in complex parts of the world delivering amazingly complex civil engineering projects with scant resources. He’s my sort of person, and has the sort of gritty humour born of the constant facing of such adversity.

Ensconced in our ‘local’ pub, The Strickland Arms, for a pre-Christmas meal, he and I, surrounded by the gentle conversation of the ladies, began to actually talk, rather than just passing the time in pleasantries. Within an astonishing hour, we were deep in the nature of the human psyche, both amazed that the other shared the same pathways of conclusions and wonderings. Stopping for the essential lubrication of a second pint of bitter, we then ventured into our favourite amusing ‘pet-hates’.

And that’s when the fickle finger surfaced.

I had better explain… I am a self-confessed techno-lover. I have always gained deep pleasure and satisfaction from the creative power endowed by a personal computer. I count myself blessed to be incarnated into a generation which has seen the capability of such devices evolve from the humble word processor, to the sort of creative power offered by modern image and presentation software. As an amateur photographer, what I can do with a simple image taken on my iPhone astonishes me.

My techno-armoury includes an Apple Mac, an Apple iPhone and a Retina-screened iPad. I am lucky to have such devices at my disposal. Conscious of this, I do my best to share the fruits of their power with anyone interesting in my musings… It’s a kind of duty, and a very pleasant one.

But I have an issue… and increasingly, it’s driving me crazy; as part two of our impromptu sesh at the pub went on to consider.

My MacBook has one of the best finger-tracking devices I’ve ever used. I’ve stopped using a mouse at all – and I never thought I’d say that- because the exactness of using the MacBook’s trackpad is so delightful… and that extends to doing drawings and editing photos as well.  So I know what Apple can do, given the will.

But here’s the rub. I bought my iPad so that I would always have a smart and creative device with me when I travel. The iPad is a leading soldier in the army of ‘persuaders’ that are trying to get us away from conventional laptops… and it just doesn’t hack it. Don’t get me wrong, I love browsing on my iPad, it’s brilliant at it, with its high-res screen and ability to sit on your knee with that cup of coffee… but, and it’s a big but, the finger is a rubbish replacement for a mouse… or a trackpad for that matter.

I’ve lost track of the hours I’ve wasted trying to work complex programs that have promised an ‘identical experience’ of the same program that I know and love on my desktop or laptop devices. Identical experience – rubbish! And the worst things is that it’s not the program’s fault, its the useless accuracy of the finger-pointing device in the core operating system.

Get me a small plane and a good pilot and I’ll write it in the sky over Cupertino, “Listen Apple, the rush to dumb down the ‘device’ is leaving behind all those fans who love you so much…” And it’s not just Apple, of course, all the major device manufacturers are moving to ‘finger’ devices in the mistaken belief that you can do the same job on them. Bollocks… Take away our ‘mouses’ at your peril…

The core problem is that the finger is a hundred times wider than the tip of a mouse or trackpad-driven cursor. And there’s no getting round that as far as I know. When I want large scale pointing, I’m happy with my finger tip; when I want accuracy, I want something much more precise…

So come on, Apple; and the rest of you – start shipping optional ‘trackpads’ with our dumbed-down technology and take us out of this finger-pointed misery.

This more of less was the course of the conversation Tony and I had, over the course of the next beer or two, while the ladies, I have to say, seemed glad to be out of it… funny that.

So, my new friend and I have decided that, once a month, I will get on a southbound train at Oxenholme and get off, twelve minutes later, at Lancaster, not far from where he lives. He is tasked with finding an old-fashioned pub, one with no machines ringing bells at what’s left of people’s minds, and graced with a log fire… There, in our new-found snug, we will put to rights the ills of the world, safe in the pleasant glow of a good beer or two. My understanding wife has offered to collect me off the train as long as I can still speak.

It may form the stuff of an occasional ‘curmudgeon’s diary’. I think I’ll call it ‘Sodden Tales..”

I’ll bring the finger and we can decide where to point it on arrival.