Starter for Ten is a daily writing exercise where the aim is simply to write for a full 10 minutes. No editing or revision is allowed after the 10 minutes is up and blank pages are not allowed – if all else fails type out song lyrics. The aim is to try new things, experiment with voices and styles and be bold!
Suckage often occurs. Wednesday’s is best this week…
W: What is your problem?
M: I was waiting to pull into that space. You already had a space, so move back.
W: Why should I? There was no one in the space so I pulled into it. I can see now you were looking at moving into that space, but I did first.
M: It was mine.
W: If it was yours then I would have crashed into you, you arsehole.
M: Lovely attitude you’ve got. Do you talk to your husband like that?
W: Did you talk to your ex-wife like that?
M: Jokes on you, I’m not divorced.
W: Good things come to those who wait.
M: Listen, just give me that space back.
M: Because it’s the one that I was waiting to pull into!
W: There’s loads of space.
M: Yeah, but I want to go there.
W: As we’ve already established, you clearly didn’t have the space in the first place, otherwise I’d currently be parked on top of your head – which is an attractive thought right at the moment.
M: Oh so you’re threatening me now? Did you hear that mate?
S: What’s that?
M: Did you hear what she said about driving into my face?
W: I didn’t say that – I pointed out that it wasn’t “your space” because I was in it first.
M: That’s not the point!
B: Mum! Dad! Why can’t you just enjoy the dodgems like any other normal people?
There’s a bad energy in the room. Jokes that would usually land are falling flat. He’s hoping that it’s something to do with this fucking mouth ulcer. Every time his tongue probes a certain point on his inside lip it stings and his attention is momentarily distracted. He’s changed his delivery ever-so minutely and it’s enough to screw his timing.
But he’s experienced, he’s been doing stand-up a long time and he knows enough to sell the lines with physical movements. His arm movements become bigger and his hands start to push the punchlines; after twenty minutes his face muscles are exhausted because he’s pantomiming the fuck out of the evening.
“I’m not one of those self-hating Jews,” he says and he realises that the word “Jews” is the perfect storm for this ulcer – the pursing of the lips for the J and the little thrust of the tongue for the S antagonise it perfectly and he winces. He notices a lady react to the wince and pushes quickly on. “My mother does that for me.”
A small laugh – maybe a 5. That line is usually a solid 7 out of 10 laugh and it allows him to build from it, this section is going to be tough. Mentally he computes how well this section would deliver if he had to prune the word Jews out of it. Somehow even thinking the word makes his lip wince – he bails.
“But enough about Je-ow the adherents of the Hebrew faith, let’s talk about…”
The mouse crashed through a pile of leaf mould, scattering fragments in the air and skittered on the wet gravel. He turned hard right and ploughed again through the deep piles of oak leaves that sat on the road. The cat sprang and landed on the pile, padding at the various movements with his claws, thrusting into where he hoped the mouse would be. A noise over on the right alerted the cat that he had miscalculated and he tore through the leaves, swiping clusters of them to one side in the hope of revealing the small, damp creature. It would make no more than a mouthful, but this was about more than hunger now – it was about humiliation. The cat felt it and longed to inflict it.
The cat approached the trunk of the tree and swished at the remaining leaves. The mouse scuttled quickly around the edge of the trunk, a fraction too slow to stop the cat from driving the claws of its right paw through the bed of its tail. It peeped with anxiety and pain and the cat reveled in the moment. The chase was beautiful but the kill was art – first a wound to ensure that any subsequent chase would be very one-sided. Then a parody of the morning’s back and forth, to rehearse for the next and to celebrate the kill. Then a small meal – it’s body and innards, leaving the spine and skull for the birds.
He drove his claw in further and the mouse peeped again and shook. It shivered and looked up just in time to see the bulldog tiptoeing up behind the cat, with the largest metal skillet the mouse had ever seen, raised over its head.
There’s something really satisfying about pouring sugar into a container. Opening the folds of a large packet of sugar and tipping it into the caddy that will be its home. In part this is because the sugar is, at this stage, pristine white and is yet to accumulate the mysterious brown flecks that characterise the look of latter-stage sugar caddy sugar. You can kid yourself that this time you’ll keep to the rules, it will be dry teaspoons only that will be used. But really, who can be bothered to get a spoon to fish out the tea bag from the cup and another spoon to get the sugar. That’s where the brown flecks come from, crystallised drops of tea.
The other thing that’s nice about tipping the sugar into the caddy is the aesthetic of it. It whooshes out and builds into a peak in the centre which a quick nudge on the caddy will flatten. The grains of sugar behave according to some laws of fluids, in the same way that you get waves in banks of sand. Enough atoms of sugar are pushed into the atmosphere to sweeten the very air. The echoing caddy soon takes on a deeper sound as the weight of material builds. The entire bag fits in and means that you won’t have to fold the bag over and keep yet another scrag end of a bag in the cupboard with the odds and sods of flours and powders.
The lid sits snug on the container, a rubber seal keeping the contents pristine – a new hope that this time it will be better and that the area around the kettle will not attract chaos. This time it will all work out.
Afternoon tea? A four tier platter of sandwiches, cakes, petits fours, a glass of champagne, a vole and a pot of perfectly-brewed tea. All served by a waiter who is so smart he could be off to a wedding and he’s wearing white gloves.
Yes that sounds lovely. I’m wondering though if you’d accept some feedback?
It’s the vole, isn’t it.
It is the vole, yes.
It’s an outlier, isn’t it.
I’m not sure I’d even describe it as an outlier, I’d simply say it’s an irrelevance. You’ve done really well with the rest of the offer – the good, the drinks, the service. I’m just not sure what a woodland creature adds to the ensemble.
On the first week you said that we needed a USP. I looked it up when I got home and it means Unique. A Unique Selling Point.
None of the other hotels do a vole with their afternoon tea.
I googled it, there is no other hotel anywhere in the world that offers voles. The niche is entirely empty.
Right. Let’s for the moment establish that the vole provides the U in this situation.
Right. What I think you might want to ponder on is whether this same element brings the S.
That’s right. If I compared offerings between your hotel and the one next door would the vole raise an eyebrow? Certainly. Would it get me through the doors? No.
How far have you gone with the marketing?
Not far. Barely anywhere.
Just a banner.
OK, well that can be removed.
And a thing in the paper.
All of them.
A skywriter. I’ve renamed the business to The Voletel.
And I’ve ordered fifteen thousand voles. And employed a vole handler.
I thought people might want to choose their vole from a bucket of live ones. Like lobsters.