The Ambitious Drifter

Words, Images and The Occasional Noise


…sufficient bread for three minutes’ chewing…

Take the first sentence from your favorite book and make it the first sentence of your post.

Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes’ chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression. 

This is perhaps not the most memorable opening line ever written, but the author is leading us into the privacy of his mind and down the rabbit hole. He is writing a novel and we are going with him.

The blogsphere is full of sage advice for aspiring writers. Every day we are exhorted to kill our darlings, bleed all over our keyboards and eschew the use of adverbs. What can we learn then from a vacant eyed, would-be novelist with his mouth full of bread?  Flann O’Brien’s writing tips  are still astounding after seventy years.“one beginning and one ending for a book was a thing I did not agree with.”

‘At Swim Two-Birds’ is my favourite novel. It is a clever blending of multiple plots, keen observation and moments of great beauty. It combines lyrical poetry with high farce. O’Brien imports characters from Celtic mythology, pulp novels and the kind of folk seen by Leopold Bloom on his travels around Dublin. New characters are created, conscious of their newness and lack of a back-story. Good and Evil contend for their freshly created souls. The Pooka MacPhellimey, master of malediction, is a likeable chap. The Good Fairy is a bit of a prig. Characters revolt against their authors and begin writing their own novel, roughnecks revere poetry and Mad King Sweeney witters away in the background.

This is the kind of book that gets five star reviews or one star reviews. It’s a multi-layered masterpiece or it’s nonsense. It does help to know a little of Irish mythology, or at least have a bit of the Irish in you. You don’t have to have read  ‘Finnegans Wake’, perhaps because of this book you won’t need to.

It is metafiction, a book about writing a book. It’s a book where everybody knows that they are inside the story, except, of course, the reader. I am a would-be writer with a vacant expression and I find it inspiring, subversive and  whole lot of fun.


Formerly Trellis’s Red Swan Hotel, Dublin,  now much neglected




I dream about steam

Some flash fiction for the writing challenge

                                        From the memoirs of Latimer Naseby.
                                                      ICE, WATER & STEAM.
Father Brennan’s sermons were a little too modern for some of his flock. Ice, water and steam as states of your soul didn’t quite resonate like the fire and brimstone they’d been used to. I didn’t mind at all.
Like most of the crew at the Relaying Station, I took the steam bus up to Lisdoonvarna every Sunday morning. I can’t pretend that our troop of young engineers was particulatly devout, but it was a change from the wild coast and the ancient fishermen. Plus, one could meet some of the younger locals, bright boys and girls in their Sunday best. Afterwards there was always the lunch at the Inn, so much tastier than our canteen food!
Ice, water and steam, it was a sermon written for engineers. I still remember the sense of it, since it encapsulated my past, present and future.  The ice was still to come. One day I must tell you how I helped rescue the crew of the airship ‘America’ up beyond the Arctic Circle. I have an imagegraph somewhere of me with ‘Kiddo’ the famous dirigble cat.
Water and steam were, and are, my stock in trade. I majored in pneumatics, but I love all the magic of it. Is steam the soul of water? Certainly it is the life breath of my engines. I loved to watch the giant flywheel in the Atmospheric Transfer Station. Such rhythm, driven by the inhale/exhale of the machine. Next door it spun the relay mirrors with the delicacy and precision of a Swiss made watch.
I wouldn’t have been the first person to drift off during a sermon. I was lost in a cloud of steam. If I had pipe dreams they came from steam pipes. I thought of slide-valves, not saints that morning. Father Brennan was a young man, I’m sure he would have understood. The future was in that steam cloud. After almost a century, the real Age of Steam was about to begin.


The mysterious uses of steam, Kangaroo Island, South Australia


A New Flash Fiction Contest!

What’s the most important (or interesting, or unexpected) thing about blogging you know today that you didn’t know a month ago?

A new fiction contest, 225 words within the day. It’s a good creative exercise and it really makes my Friday.  There are prizes to be won! It’s from Faber’s, a famous name in publishing.  I love challenges and this contest really involves writing to a deadline. If you want some writing practice, add this to your calendar!

I submitted this piece to the Faber Academy  Quickfic challenge this week.

  I need to include the original prompt photo so that the piece makes sense. In line with the Ambitious Drifter’s house rules, I’ve also included one of my own photos.

faber promp2t

 The Family Album

 Do you remember this one? It was Florence, one of those weekends away. You  always were a different child, always the centre of attention, always with a crowd  around you. Showing off mainly, even at that age.  Mugging the pigeons for seed, I  think you thought they were getting peanuts or sweets. The talk! ‘Don’t they feed  that child?’ You know the kind of thing. Your poor Mum didn’t know where to put  her face. I suppose there’s always one, you were ours. No wonder Terry wouldn’t  come on holiday with us after that!

Getting you back wasn’t easy either. That bloody dog didn’t help one bit. I wasn’t surprised, but plenty were. Flying off like that. Couldn’t you have a been a normal kid and just run away with the circus?

If your Mum hadn’t had that Mars bar in her handbag I don’t know what we would have done. I’m sure there’s a photo of it somewhere, though I was too busy to take one myself. There you were, sitting on top of that frightful Neptune statue. Thank God it wasn’t the ‘David’ but that had netting around it. It’s lucky that the Carabinerie have a sense of humour, I suppose it’s the comic opera uniforms. Florentines are so laid back, ‘Bambini eh?’ a shrug, a smile. Perhaps they’d seen it all before.

Well, you grew out of it in the end, luckily. You probably don’t remember the seagulls at Whitby either. What a day that was!

wpid-img_20141206_003234.jpgFrom my lounge window, Figeac, France.

More Fiction

 Mr Faraday’s Cage & Other Tales of Obscure Science. 

Mostly Frank

 Copyright notice.


The List, My Wonderful Wonderful Past Lives

For this week’s challenge, I invite you to breathe new life into the established genre of the end-of-year countdown list.

  . . . rank things and to build coherent narratives out of the chaos of loosely-related events . . . 

Well maybe not a coherent narrative!

Year after year, I keep making this list, but then it gets lost. I’ve tried everything, engraved on stone (wears off in time), golden tablet (stolen, melted down) and eventually into some folk songs (people get the words wrong). Past lives eh? Who’d have ’em? Still, it’s immortality, (no bad thing), coupled with recycling, well that’s a good thing isn’t it?
There’s not many of us around, lots tried, but didn’t have the patience to get the spells right. Plus they got it wrong… you can’t live forever as the same person. Stands to reason. People start to notice, next thing they’re banging on the castle door with their pitchforks and flaming torches. It’s messy, I can tell you.

I won’t do the full list of who I’ve been, can’t be bothered. Some of them were dull anyway. ‘Foot soldier in Napoleon’s army’, yeah right, cold, boring, not enough to eat. I’ll give you a few of my Greatest Hits though. I doubt if this internet thing will outlast a slab of marble, but no one’s going to nick it, are they?

Julius Caesar.
Not bad, had fun with an army, crossed the Rubicon, didn’t really conquer Britannia, did alright in Gaul. Downside, male pattern baldness and some ungrateful folk who stabbed me. I could’ve done without that. Oh yeah, Cleopatra ditched me for Marc-Antony.

Alfred The Great.
And didn’t I put the ‘Great’ into that one! One of my best, took an obscure Saxon prince and got him to found an entire nation. Beat the Vikings too, yeah, don’t believe that burnt cakes nonsense.

Geoffrey Chaucer.
That was fun, all the kings and that were taken, so I went for the writer job. I knocked off a few nice stories, nicked a few off Boccaccio, but what the hell? There I am ‘father of English literature’ and I even got to slip in a few fart jokes. Happy days.

Eleanor of The Acquitaine.
…and of about everywhere worth having as well. I blagged a French king AND an English one…. not too shabby on the CV. The kids were a pain though, always fighting. Richard the Lionheart? Don’t make me laugh… and John, ‘Bad King John’…. what a joke. I outlived most of them though.

Richard the Third.
There was lots of potential in this one, I think I could have taken it further. I got a bad rap though, none of it was true. Alright, there were a few murders, but hey, it’s a Plantagenet thing, OK?

No, you’re guessing right, I didn’t get to be Shakespeare. Nope, popped back as Guido Fawkes that time…. ’nuff said. Seemed a good idea at the time.

Jamie Boswell.
…wrote that one down. Had fun? Ooh yes, read all about it. The first blogger,  for sure.

Look, shush, I was so NOT Queen Victoria. That outfit, puhleez! No, I was Ada Lovelace… shoulda got more Likes for that one, not sure what went wrong. I was cute, clever, Lord Byron’s daughter….. invented programming. OK, so I got a Google Doodle…. bah, without me, no Google! How about ‘the face that launched a million nerds’?

Robert Johnson.
Well that was going real well till someone poisoned me. I had it all happening, just cut the first album. Blimey that Mick Jagger owes me a few bob, eh? I did put in a bid to come back as Jimi Hendrix after that, but I missed the cutoff date.

The Ambitious Drifter.
Oh well, not one of the biggies, but I haven’t been stabbed or poisoned. It’s good sometimes to have a quiet life, get a few moments to write it all down.

There’s a few more goodies in the list, but maybe next time huh?  I’ll tell you about the time I was Schrodinger’s Cat.


Postmortem Selfie –  Gloucester Cathedral. Wasn’t exactly a starring role, but the outfits were pretty nifty.


In My Beginning Is My End

I wrote this short piece for the Faber Academy‘s Friday QuickFic contest. Flash fictioneers should check it out!  Yes, it’s the ‘Faber’ from Faber & Faber, the famous publishers. This week’s prompt came from a  quote by TS Eliot, one of  their most illustrious writers. For some of us, he IS Faber. If you’ve never read it, I recommend you read ‘East Coker’.  My piece has references from the poem, although that wasn’t necessary for this fun creative exercise. 

I didn’t win, but a fellow WordPresser did, very good it was too!

In My Beginning Is My End

My kitchen is all old stones, I look to make sense of them every day. I’d have them plastered, but there’s words in there. One day when the light is right, I’ll see them clear enough. One wall was chopped out of the rock, too neat to be anybody but the Romans. What stood on this site is barely known, but the stones are everywhere along this road. I live in the kitchens of a castle, itself as old as Richard the First. In the mornings I am older than any of that and further along into my life. My knee is turning to stone as I shuffle down the stairs. Each day I am a little more of a fossil.

I live along a pilgrim road, older than the shrine they’re going to. The pilgrims are living artefacts, some trudge past each day. It’s a very long walk from here, but it doesn’t seem to stop them from coming. It will end in glory, even if they never get across those fierce mountains. They have begun and that is everything. To die on the road is reward itself. However is the ending, is the ending.

For me, another coffee, staring at the intriguing walls. I make patterns, I see patterns, patterns emerge. It’s my only pilgrimage, the best I can manage now. Surprised to be an old man, I must still be an explorer.


Dried vine tendril


Where Do You Come From?

Some flash fiction for this week’s challenge. Thought up as I got my dinner ready. The essential question, ‘Where do you come from?’

The storm, they said, was a once every two hundred years one. But I don’t know how they count off the time. The tree had been through two at least, but this one had been too much. I heard it go over, through the walls and with my feet. It sounded closer than it was.  It was off in the woods, a bit up the road. In the morning it stood out like a missing tooth, a gap in the trees where the light came in. The council men were already there, it’d blocked off half the road. The tree had gone clutching a fist of soil, wrenching out a crater and toppling rocks down the hill.  They’d already sawed the trunk in half.  In the hole there were stones and bones. The police had just been called.

They arrived in a hurry, as you’d expect, but didn’t stay here long. This may have once been a murder, but it was not for them. They taped off the scene and warned us all, ‘no taking souvenirs now!’  They left slowly, disappointed I think. Some time later, a white van came. Archaeologists, I guess. I’d fought the urge to fossick, but I was curious. Besides, I’d been left on guard. My neighbours had better things to do.

I’d spent a quiet hour staring at his skull, as close as I could be without touching. The jaw was intact, there were lots of teeth. His lower half was still in the soil, bones sticking out from the crumbling hill. He’d slept by the tree for some five hundred years, maybe more, they said.

It’s beyond the houses, there isn’t much here, just the forest and the ancient road. It’s a pilgrims’ way, still used today. Before the saints came it was a Roman road, but I don’t think he’d be that old. There was not much to see really, it was all quite quick. He hadn’t been buried with anything much. The leather he’d been wearing, gone with the cloth, it’s too damp here for much to survive. There were no spears, swords or treasures, just the bones were left. Good teeth, they told me, he was probably not old, and yes, he had been a man.

I wondered, I still think now, why was he left out here? It’s twenty minutes to the centre of town, was he close as that, or had he just set out? I think he was a stranger, to be buried right out here. I’m sure he was a pilgrim, come from far away. There were no friends or family, that’s why he was resting here. It doesn’t matter now if he had made it to the shrine. He died on a pilgrim road, so his salvation was assured.

I dreamt of him several times, but it wasn’t with any fear. I think he’d had a pleasant face, maybe an honest smile. I wish we could have talked, but all I’d want to ask, is ‘Where do you come from?’ and listen to him speak.  I would not want to ask him  now  ‘Where are you going?’  It  doesn’t seem to matter after all this time.


Forest road, La Curie, France.

More Fiction

 Mr Faraday’s Cage & Other Tales of Obscure Science. 

Mostly Frank

 Copyright notice.


When The Trees Came Down

Our ten-minute free-write is back for another round! Tap away on whatever comes to mind, no filters attached. (Feel free to edit later, or just publish as-is).

OK, I haven’t blogged a poem for a while. 10 minutes worth it is………….

When The Trees Came Down

When the trees came down, such weight!
I felt the sound deep through my feet,
The ground passed on the strain.
I thought it strange then, so loud an end,
I had not ever heard them rise.
Only the sly deep rumble,
That was background to my life.


What’s left of the trees in the field by my house

More words…. .

Mostly Frank

Latimer Naseby. 

 Copyright notice.


The Pie In The Sky

A Weekly Writing Challenge. 

This week I invite you to write about pie.

Flash fiction fresh out of the oven. Oh goody, no one’s used it yet….

I’m not sure when we all began calling it ‘the pie’, probably after our stupid media guy did his last interview. Management had hated it, the press had gone wild. Dull subject, great tagline.   ‘Yep’ he’d said ‘It’s just like a fly on a pie. We’re gonna land, penetrate the crust, scoop up a bit of what’s inside and go home.’     It was my line originally, but I’m not owning up to it. He’d wanted an analogy. You know what those are? Yeah, one of those. The probe was just a six hundred million dollar fly. There was a four mile wide pie hurtling past the Moon. Yep, they have a crust. We wanna know what’s in it. My bad, should have drawn a few more pictures for him.

The press were delighted. You can guess what came next. ‘Pie in the sky’. Alright, we now know that six hundred million dollars worth of pie could feed a lot of orphans for a long time. Somebody worked out the numbers. You’re ahead of me, aren’t you? Yep, they made a pie chart. Management again, not amused, especially the nameless ones that have to talk to the Senate Committee about the money.

It wasn’t all our money either. The Brits had put in a few pounds and a team of helpers with incomprehensible accents and  long sideburns. ‘We have finger in pie!’ screamed the Daily Morrow. Not much text, but a large photo of an undiscovered model called  ‘Miss Delia Honeypie’. The team at Nullborough University didn’t mind that at all. I gather she’s in line for an honorary doctorate if the probe gets home.

I was the one that had to front the angry mob, my bosses bosses bosses. I’d expected to be one of those fairly cute extras in a zombie film that gets eaten alive early on. It wasn’t that bad. It turned out that our rulers are practical people. They’d weathered great storms than this one.    ‘So what’s in it for us?’ they asked. Several people asked that in different ways. It was only the last of them that summed it up so succinctly. I’d got this worked out already.

‘It’s like  that Bruce Willis film.’ I said ‘Where he saves the world and all that.’ There was a sigh of relief. Of course, saved by popular culture.

‘Anyway, if we know what’s in these things, we’ll know what to do if one crashes into us.’ That went down well. ‘So we can blow up the pie, right?’ said someone who hadn’t said anything yet.     ‘I guess so’ I said, ‘if we armed a probe.’ They seemed disappointed, wasn’t that the right answer?      ‘Erm’ said someone ‘we can’t blow this one up?’ I explained. We don’t know what it’s made of, we haven’t got a bomb and no one would see it anyway. It’s the wrong side of the moon. Well that seemed to work.

All was good. The new media person was able to get a selfie with Bruce Willis. It turned out he was quite willing to help out his country by standing next to Miss Delia Honeypie. She’d cost us an airfare from London, but we got a lot of positive coverage. It’s all mathematics really. The less coverage she wore, the more coverage she got.

I stayed up for three days and nights trying to manoeuvre the probe onto the pie. Flies make it look really easy. Then again, this pie wasn’t just left out on the windowsill to cool down. It was zipping along at 34,058 miles an hour. Well about that. We made it up really. Anyway, we landed finally and I went off to bed. Team Krusty over at Nullborough could do the rest. Little Jack Horner had sat quietly in his corner for long enough. Time to put in the thumb. This was the proof of the pudding. See? I’ve been reading too many English newspapers.

I got about six hours of the well deserved and then the phone rang. I put in another two hours happy slumber and the damn thing rang again. Better see what’s happened. ‘Yeah, me’ I said, ‘What?’.       Well some good news. ‘You’ve won the sweep!’. We’d all put in suggestions as to what we’d find up there. ‘Giant carbon dioxide slurpee’ was generally expected to win. We’d all put in a few silly ones too. Hey, we’re scientists!

‘So?’ I said, trying to sound interested. ‘It’s a muddy icecube then? Water?’. There was a silence. Then one of those ‘erms’ that people say before the have to say things they really don’t want to say.  Another silence. ‘It’s a chocolate raisin!’. Oh not again. Mars had been bad enough, how could we cover this one up?  The universe is one big sweetshop. Still, I’d beaten Hoskins again. At least it wasn’t really a pie.


From the International Pie Observatory. La Curie, France.

More fiction

Mr Faraday’s Cage & Other Tales of Obscure Science’. 

Mostly Frank

 Copyright notice.


Sorry Is A Hard Word

Someone’s left you a voicemail message, but all you can make out are the last words: “I’m sorry. I should’ve told you months ago. Bye.” Who is it from, and what is this about?

A Daily Prompt

I played it back a few times, it wasn’t a voice I knew. After about the fifth time, I did know something though.  It wasn’t a voice I liked.  The message system was running fine, nothing had been missed. She was simply one of those people who picks up the phone and starts talking. ‘Wait for the beep’ I’d said… in English and bad French.Someone hadn’t waited.

I’m a creative type of guy, good imagination (some days). My mind did what minds do in this situation. It ran a gamut. That’s a gamut of emotions. Is there any other sort of gamut out there worth running?  My mind wandered. A flash of clear light, gamut…. en francais that’s ‘gamme’… a range.  Running a gamut and wandering off, that’s just like me.I’ve got a  whole range of emotions in no particular order.


 It wasn’t my doctor, he’s French. I ruled out that particular aspect of bad news.  Was the news actually bad?  My caller’s voice hadn’t made that clear.  There was a slight impatience there, I could hear that.  There was also some kind of relief. This was something she’d finally been able to get off her chest. It was also something she’d meant to say a long time ago. It was almost boring for her now.    I’m being dumped?  I’m being dumped by a woman who’s voice I don’t recognise?  Well no wonder she dumped me. Maybe I’ve failed to get a job I can’t remember applying for. I wouldn’t hire me then, my memory is no good.

Was it good news, somewhat postponed? There’s always the Lotto, but I check my own numbers. It was all a puzzle, but I’d run out of gamut.  If I hadn’t been told months ago, then I didn’t need to be told today did I?   I ran a quick survey of the bleedin’ obvious for the ‘well duh!’ scenarios. Nope. She hadn’t told me, no one else  had told me either. I made amental note to look up gamut and promptly forgot about it.

A few days later I was down in the kitchen when I heard the sound of my own voice. Someone was talking over me. Ah yes. The answering machine, my ‘not at home’ speech. I didn’t quite dash, that’s not my style, but I got upstairs anyway. I’d recognised the voice. A successful lunge for the receiver, she was still there. ‘Hello?’ I said, friendly but questioning. Silence. Then about another half a silence, then a breath. ‘Oh’ said the voice ‘Wrong number, sorry. Bye!’.

Twice this woman has rung me up to tell me she’s sorry. I think it must be a quite  hard word for her to say. I’ll never know though, will I?


My mind went blank. I was in a very dull place.

More Fiction

Mr Faraday’s Cage & Other Tales of Obscure Science’. 

Mostly Frank

 Copyright notice.