The Ambitious Drifter

Words, Images and The Occasional Noise


Schrodinger Missed The Obvious

The Obvious Is Not Always Obvious.

I was drifting in Dublin the other week, happy to wander the streets. I chanced upon Merrion Square, a place I hadn’t been in many years. Could I find what I was looking for?  Did I dream it?  There it is!  The house of the famous theoretician Erwin Schrodinger.

As most of you will know, Erwin made a famous ‘thought experiment’ to prove a point about Quantum Mechanics.  You need capital letters for Big Ideas like those.  I wont go into it, it’s too complex, but essentially, he was able to prove that things, especially cats, can be in two states simultaneously.  This involves putting cats in boxes… never an easy task.

The boxed cat can be said to exist or not exist, or both.  I don’t know why he went to such trouble to work this out… he’d obviously never lived with a cat.  When you’re talking to a cat that isn’t listening (talking at a cat) it will make it quite clear that, despite appearances, it doesn’t exist at the moment. You don’t exist either, as far as the cat is concerned.

Given a different aspect of that other dimension, time,  the cat will choose to exist.  This can easily be seen at dinner time.

I have known for a long time that cats can exist in many states simultaneously. They can also travel through time, but that’s another story. You may have noticed  a cat clamouring at the door to got out…  ‘Didn’t I just let you out… or in?’   If you’re really lucky you might spot your cat at both sides of the door howling to come in/go out. It’s a minor temporal anomaly.

Schrodinger spent decades trying to establish the bleedin’ obvious. Just ask a cat.

Postscript. In later life Erwin found himself a nice white cat and became a Bond Villain.



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Dancing At All Hallows Eve – Flash Fiction

I still send a weekly  entry to the Faber Quickfic Challenge. I haven’t won recently, but it’s good writing practice. Being in Australia, it’s something to do after dinner on a Friday night. There’s always a photo, or a quote, which is the prompt.  The stories might not make too much sense without the prompt, but this one was for Halloween. I made up a tradition for my imaginary village of Schowham.

Dancing At All Hallows.

I’m always Horse at the bonfire, well since my Dad retired. Don’t think I don’t have to fight for it though. Part of the fun they say, just for the craic. Someone is named for it, then the old Horse must fight back. Fair means or foul…good for a laugh.

The old folk say it’s the Old Ways, ancient as the wheeling stars that hang above the Stones. They like that, most of them moved here after the bypass went in. Some of them came here because of the Stones… the ones my Dad helped choose from the garden centre for the Jubilee.   I’m The Horse and Rabbit is from one of the pubs. It’s the Lamb Inn or the Lion… take turns to select one. A daft singer came down from Dorset a few years back, called her The White Hare… but it’s Rabbit to us. Cracking nice girls too. I always get a snog, part of the fun. Boyfriend can’t be jealous eh? All tradition and that.

This year wasn’t hard. Rowley from the garage, mischievous old sod, goes and names that new young copper from over the way. Naming rights is whoever thinks of someone first. He’s not a bad lad really, we all got him a few pints when we heard. Best keep on the good side of the law.

He isn’t Horse though… I saw to that. Called away, surprisingly….Got Amazon to send him a DVD of ‘The Wicker Man’. Turns out I was right.

wpid-img_20151102_211742.jpgDoomsgate (next to Boots Chemists) Schowham, Morchestershire.


Of Necessary Things

I woke up on Saturday morning to find out that, once again, I was runner up in the Faber Quickfic contest. Entering has become a Friday night ritual for me. I like the idea of getting a prompt and writing up something in an hour or so. This week it was a quote  ‘We live in an age when unecessary things are our only necessities’ *.  This is what I wrote.

Of Necessary Things

Well, I still have my panache! I was able to read Rostand’s thing you know, didn’t get to see it played though. You could say I was otherwise engaged… in Reading. Didn’t read too bad, bit weak in the last scenes I felt.

Panache, what is that really? It’s the feather in your cap… the great flag of attitude. It was all I needed once. I thought it my only necessity, I’d been able to dispense with almost everything else. I was profligate in love, so needlessly in love! Many times you know, many times. The love that was given to me… I discarded that as freely as one loses a glove. There would always be more to come my way, if I kept that frantic feather aloft.

That mad bravado got me where I am. Didn’t work in court though. It was just bluster then. I had everything before that and none of it seemed the least bit essential. Then I was shown what was truly necessary… bread and water, a small patch of sky.

What’s left now then? I’ve got that same old ragged feather, but little else Monsieur, little else. I’m a shabby old peacock now sir, but still straining for the bon mot. Probably the last, yes, most definitely the last. Not necessary, you understand, but I feel the obligation.

Have I mentioned the wallpaper? I really can’t see the need for such vulgarity at my time in life.


Oscar Wilde, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’.   1891.  Ahead of his time, as usual.


Omen Weather

Omen Weather

Today we’re having omen weather, the clouds are making fantastical shapes. They drift and twist before my eyes. I can’t possibly make out what they all mean, most of them are not meant for me. Who are all these shapes meant for? Some are there just to entertain. There’s a really good one of a small dog with a feathery tail. A West Highland terrier by the look of it.

I see my sign, the one meant especially for me. It’s a dragon, a proper Chinese New Year’s dragon. I can see its gaping mouth. That’s really interesting because I saw the same thing last week. I’d never seen such a thing before. Usually my dragons are fanciful seahorses, very rare as well. They’re always shaped like an ‘S’.  Once I saw three together, a very propitious omen. Two weeks later my whole life changed.

There’s rules, of course. You can’t spend your days staring at the sky. You cannot look too long. The brain will make sense of the shapes and colour the sky with your idle dreams. There are too many false omens as it is.

You need to catch them out of the corner of your eye when you’re not wishing, not brooding or sad. A clear eye is needed, they’re best noticed as you go about your business. When nothing particular is happening to you, that’s when you can see what will happen next.

This omen sky needs a good clean wind. It’s best not to dwell too much on the future.


An omen, but not meant for me.


The Old Man’s Glasses

The Old Man’s Glasses

They came to me eventually, shoved in a box with his wallet, the scratchy faced watch and a mobile phone he never answered. The Old Man’s glasses. He often said he could see his friends through them, old friends gone a while ago. He knew they were already gone because they didn’t get any older. It worked with me too. Even after I’d turned fifty he could still see the child in me.

I tried them on, they weren’t too bad. I guess our eyes were very much of the same type. That was good, so I kept them as a spare pair. My own are fairly scuffed and scratched, plus I’m often too lazy to give them a good clean.

I was back in the town for his funeral, just for a couple of days really. I’d not lived there for thirty or more years. I hadn’t made frequent visits back either. As my parents slowly died I could not bear to be there. Now I can see it’s not a bad place really, not a lot has changed. I remember being happy when I went to university here. The pubs are pretty much the same as they were. I can’t find the record shops we used to haunt, but record shops are rare everywhere these days.

In the streets I see faces, a lot of them familiar, still young. They were the type of girls I adored from afar, or chatted nervously to in the uni bar. There’s young men too, almost comical with their unlikely beards. Hey, I was just like that!

I must be wearing the Old Man’s glasses, I can see what he said was true. I might be looking at ghosts and phantoms, or maybe they’re the grand kids of long lost friends. My Dad was not upset by his visions of the friendly spirits he saw. Me neither, it’s rather charming in its way.

 Some flash fiction for a Sunday. I wrote this one on the train going to the shops. It’s not the Faber Quickfic challenge this time, I’ll save that one for later.

Copyright J P Horsam 2015

Even after I’d turned fifty he could still see the child in me.


Good Time Girl

Another exercise for the Faber Quickfic contest. The challenge photo was of a young couple dancing, probably from the 1940s.         This is what I wrote.

A Good Time Girl

My granny was a Good Time Girl, she told me that herself. ‘Use capitals’, she’d said, ‘it was the name of our troupe.’ She’d fought her war by dancing, church halls, bases, work canteens. The nurses said they liked her, she laughed a lot and joked. Some of the other ladies were not so keen. She flirted with their boyfriends, that was what they’d said. Poor boys who’d died in ’42…. still alive in memory, brought back to life by dementia. Perhaps it was true, back then in some dance hall before the sirens went.

Flirted, well she might. Not too much though, she was devoted to my grandfather. He was Diamond Jack Wilson, always good for a song, a dance, a laugh. The war took him, gun crew in North Africa. Nothing much left to bury, they’d said.

In the end she forgot almost everything. No one there ever forgot who she was. She’d been somebody, she always said that. It was true. It seems recent, but it’s thirty years now since she went. I was a young man at the funeral, surrounded by her old pals, laughing, croaking, sounded much the same really.

Now they talk to me in loud kind voices, as if I’m deaf or daft. Just like they talked to her. Always my first name,that’s annoying. No, I’m Mr Wilson to you, young woman. I’m going to need my granny’s strength, her wicked laugh. I’ve got to start telling them, I’ve been someone, you know.

wpid-img_20150322_203336.jpgHad to add one of my own photos. When my grandmother was young, dream palaces looked like this.

Tuschinski Theatre, Amsterdam


Two Short Pieces

Some flash fiction for a Sunday. Two pieces today, but they’re linked. The first was from this week’s Quickfic challenge. The second came from a Yorkshire Arts Journal submission request…’Afterglow’.

Both pieces are set in Toulouse, where I was first diagnosed and subsequently cured.

“There’s a journey we must go on and no more delay”

The slightly odd syntax – he’s speaking English for my benefit. The ‘we’ here, well that’s me really. It’s the medical sense of the word, as in ‘We’ve been eating a little too well, haven’t we?’ He’s a doctor, so it’s permissible, I suppose. This will be my journey, he, the tour guide Charon, will see me safely along.

I’ve travelled a lot, I’m in a strange place. It’s easy enough to say that it’s all in the journey, but where am I headed to this time? In walking terms, a hard and dangerous trek is an ‘epic’, especially where there’s been accidents and injuries along the way. Am I in for an epic? Is it going to be a jaunt? Will I have stories to tell at the end of it? I’m staring out of his window at some interesting hills, looks like good walking up that way. I’m glazing over, drifting off. There seems to be a lot of small talk. Do I want to hire a wig? There must be things to sign.

Many journeys are most enjoyable when they’re safely over. That’s when epics are made, not while you’re up to your waist in mud. Is he coming with me? Well yes, he knows the track. It should end well, he says. If not, then it just ends.    Tuesday, there can be no delay. The tests are all in, now it is certain.


This place still glows long after the gloom has settled on the medieval streets. I have learned to look up, it’s a photographers’ trick. Any distraction is a good one now. I wish I’d come here sooner. I would have seen it differently, sketched out food reviews, not these failing elegies.

In Toulouse the sun sets slowly, it’s a long shadow across the plains. I’m trying to make a poem, but it isn’t coming easily. I’m counting my sunsets now, watching some of them from my hospital window. I don’t feel all that sick, but the tumour in my throat begs to differ.

I’d like to spend my evenings in Place Capitole with a glass of champagne, relaxing like a local as the buildings light up. This is my own sunset, but I’m not seeing an afterglow. There’s others in here, no one is glowing. You’d think from the radiation we’d be shiny at least, but it turns us all to grey.

The poem won’t work, I’m not really old enough for it. The evening of my years should not be now. Old is a far off time when maybe I can give sunset tours, teaching the tourists to look up.

The vision is a good one, but far from elusive. It’ll still appear when I’m gone.

I’m sorting through my photos now, It seems I was just waning, not fading. The poems, I thought they’d be many, never did get made. Still, I’ve got the time now, waiting for customers for my sunset tour. rue de taur

Rue du Taur, Toulouse, France.



Red For Safety

Some flash fiction I knocked up for last week’s Quickfic challenge.

Red For Safety.

It was so close she could see their faces, but the cries were torn away by the sea. She felt the same old dual perspective, seeing the shore, being there on the shore.

This was how the dream repeated, the timbers being wrenched apart, she feeling oddly calm. There was always someone on the beach, a young woman in red. An immobile figure, not capable of helping, but unable to look away.

Which had been first? Was it the story or the dream? The bay had taken a thousand lives or more, tales of the wrecks were common. Which ship was this? She’d never known its name. Stood on the deck as it broke up around her, it seemed hardly a ship at all. Who was it standing there beside her? That changed, sometimes it was someone from school, other times it was a face she’d seen on the bus. The dream was quite calming, an old friend. ‘ I cannot go down with the ship’ she thought ‘I am there alive on the shore.’

She came to the bay as often as she could, but that was annually now. Her father was gone and her mother barely knew her. The sea might be calm or furious. It had not ceased from claiming souls.

Call it a superstition if you will, she had always worn red to come here. ‘For safety’ she said. She waved, she’d never done that before. Then she turned away and went off to face another year.

 cliffs of moher

The Quickfic challenge had a photo of a person in a red coat looking out to sea. In keeping with the Drifter’s house rules, here’s one of my own photos of the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland.


Bradley’s Journal

Last Friday I was lucky enough to be a runner up in the Faber Quickfic Weekly Challenge.  It’s a lot of fun to do and it’s good exercise for a wannabe writer like myself.  I took my photos for this week’s photo challenge on Bradley’s Beach. I took the liberty of inventing a journal entry for the Lieutenant, who enjoyed pretty much the same view as I did.

From the journal of Lieutenant William Bradley, 7th March 1788.

After a day’s rowing from Sydney Cove we had made good progress. Following a somewhat turbulent passage across the new bay we had landed at a sheltered beach on a small island. It being coming on for dusk, there was no possibility of taking a walk that day. I was struck by the way the sailors appeared to consider their labours light work indeed. My knees and calves told me I was no longer a young man, but I had not time to stretch my legs.

I set the men to casting the nets and shortly we had a good haul of the local mullet. Our shared meal was a jolly one, considerations of rank being little observed. I believe we all felt the same exhilaration that evening. I can still recall the lapping of the calm water, the gentle noises of the forest at our backs. Above us, the stars were fiercely clear, an unaccustomed blaze of signs, symbols and pointers. I had seen the skies above the Southern Seas many times, but here I was struck by the newness of the sight. An idea possessed me somewhat, it was I who was the newcomer. This was an ancient place. The sea and the stars had been here since they had been first made. We had sought to bring the place into our own era, but I felt myself carried far back into a time I could scarcely imagine.


Bradley’s Beach, Dangar Island, Australia








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