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. Tuesday’s is pretty weird this week…
The lift trundles downwards. It has been descending for nearly ten minutes now and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of it stopping. Inside the lift the usual social etiquette that restricts conversations between all of those inside has thawed as the occupants realise that this isn’t a normal lift ride. Three of the occupants are sat cross-legged on the floor and the rest laze against the walls. One has lifted himself up onto the section of the drill bit that is sharing their descent and seems to be trying to sleep.
The lift passes harsh lights at roughly twenty metre intervals and Gabbon’s mind reels at the thought of being asked to wire in those lights. Did they stop the lift and work from inside, or were the electricians lowered in a cage? The thought of opening the doors and looking into a bottomless shaft fills Gabbon with horror and a wash of bile makes it to the top of his throat before he manages to collect himself.
“How much lo-“ one of the men sitting on the floor starts to ask but is cut off as the lift quietly and efficiently stops and the doors roll open smoothly revealing the largest space that Gabbon has ever seen. He thinks briefly of the Grand Canyon which he visited in his teenage years, but this is bigger. The fact that it is so far under ground provokes a mix of emotions: surprise, excitement, fear.
The team step out of the lift, working their way around the drill section and look up and around trying to make out the cavern’s roof. With a start Gabbon notices a truck is driving towards them. At this distance it makes the truck seem comically small but as it approaches it becomes apparent that this is a normal-sized truck.
A woman wearing a hard hat and safety goggles opens the passenger door and swings her legs across the threshold and climbs down the truck’s four steps.
“Gentlemen, welcome to my mine. Anyone who isn’t already wearing their hard hat and goggles put them on now. This will be the only time I ask you to do this. If I see you without them from now on then you will be escorted back to the lift and removed without pay.”
A flurry as the men all guiltily don their safety equipment.
“Very soon, you will all feel the effects of dehydration. You are in a salt mine and the salt is greedier for the moisture in the air than you are, so the air you are breathing will have typically less than 0.0004% moisture. On the surface, this can be up to 3%. Use your camelbaks or your lips will crack, your vision will fail and before a day has gone you will look like a Californian Raisin. But a very dead raisin.”
We play a game at home called “BIRD!” and I’m going to explain how you can play it too. “BIRD!” is suitable for any number of players, of nearly any age. All you need is a window that is transparent and some people who can talk. The aim of the game is to look out of the window and when you see a bird then you shout, “BIRD!” No one else can claim the same bird, but it’s never really made explicit which bird you’ve seen as you don’t have to point at it. If the view from the window is relatively far, then you will end up with situations where the players cheat and just shout “BIRD!” almost constantly.
The shelf-life of this game – as in the time that you can play it for before you want to find a very heavy set of book-shelves and pull them down onto your body – is around three minutes. Despite this fact I find myself playing it with a greater degree of regularity, than I might have expected. Even now as I write this I am glancing out of the window and playing “BIRD!” with myself and extracting about as much joy out of it as I usually do.
“BIRD!” resists all attempts at strategy. It cannot be leveled-up. There is no sell-on merchandise or expansion pack. It doesn’t even have a box that we can put the majority of the pieces in and return it to a shelf, and then, in time, to the loft, and then, in time, to the charity shop. I created the game “BIRD!” and I am sorry for it.
At the assembly the head teacher read Jessica’s name out and she stood up from the school hall floor, with its weird glossy varnish and picked her way through the ranks of children sitting cross-legged on the floor. The head teacher had a strange habit of announcing children’s names with an ominous booming sound and making them come to the front of the hall before she declared whether it was good or bad. It was invariably good, but it didn’t stop Jessica from trembling slightly as she stood at the front. Her right foot rolled over her ankle repeatedly as she fidgeted in place.
“How do you spell locate, Jessica?” the head boomed. Jessica’s face fell. A hall full of children looked on eagerly, awaiting Jessica’s inevitable weeping.
“L-O-C-A-T-E?” she replied in barely more than a whisper.
“Correct!” said the head and another teacher moved from the plastic chairs at the side of the hall with a large box of Maltesers, which the head took from her and passed with a smile onto Jessica. “And that was just one of the words that you spelled correctly in the recent whole school spelling test and it’s why you won the prize!”
Jessica looked at the Maltesers that seemed to have materialised in her hands. The box was massive and as she held it you could hear the little chocolate globes rolling about inside. To our ears it sounded like there must have been thousands of them. Jessica blinked. The children clapped and the head moved on. Jessica and the large red box of sweets returned into the crowd of children. The box’s presence so unusual – a child, an actual child, allowed to roam freely with more chocolate than most of us saw outside of ten Halloweens.
At break time Jessica attracted a crowd on the playground. Well, Jessica was to some extent an irrelevance. Sure, she could spell, but it was what her spelling had unlocked that us children were interested in. Her right leg rolled over her ankle again as the crowd around her built until it was easily four deep.
“Show us the box.”
“Yeah, hold it up.”
Jessica knew nothing of crowd control, so she blithely did as the loud voices requested.
“Give us one.”
“Yeah, can I have one?”
Jessica could have said no. They were her chocolates. But the sheer number of them. You could hear it from the trundling sound that they made inside that there must have been easily a hundred Maltesers per child in a box of that magnitude.
“Well, I suppose-“ Jessica began and inserted her finger into the perfect circle of the box and pulled back the perforated cardboard tab that kept them all in.
All the hands.
Jessica could do nothing more than hold the box aloft. The hands pushed past her. My own hand among them. The hands of the crowd reaching and grabbing and dispersing.
The hands were gone.
Jessica held the slightly crumpled red box without a single Malteser in it. It seemed smaller now, like a magic trick when you figure out how it’s done. Jessica held onto the box.
Barry hated the word Barista. In part this was because it opened up too many jokes about his name. “You can’t spell Barista without Barry!” his shift manager was fond of saying. It wasn’t just inane it was inaccurate. You could clearly say Barista without Barry. The joke felt too close to the truth to Barry, like some sort of nominative determinism that he couldn’t escape. He kept thinking of the card game Happy Families and wondering if he was just another in a line of Mr Bun the Baker people. It reinforced the power of branding. If only his parents had thought to christen him Billionaire instead. Barry chuckled to himself as he realised that there probably was some poor chump called Billy O’Nare, who had even more of a reason to hate his parents.
Such was his attention to this particular day dream that Barry didn’t realise that his hand was directly under the hot water spigot as he span the handle and steam gouted out of the grubby silver opening. The pain was instant and all-consuming. He dropped the cup as he reflexively pulled his damaged hand to his chest. He span on his heel and barged his way past Erin as he made for the sink. A searing belt of pain reached his senses and he risked a look at the back of his hand. It was a sweaty, red colour and there was blood leaching out from under what looked like a cut. Bubbles of yellow were raising on the skin and Barry could feel the drool of repulsion gathering in his mouth.
Erin had finally understood what was going on and was shouting for Tom. Barry heard the customer asking if he could get his drink as he ran the tap on full power and forced his hand into the stream.
I studied the blade for several years. The katana, shuriken, bo-staff, those over-sized pasta fork things. They do have a name but I can’t remember it. I was actually going to go to Japan to study at one of the temples they have but there were quite a lot of entry requirements and between one thing and another I didn’t get in.
So most of my martial arts these days are tai-chi. It’s actually pronounced TAY-CHWEE but lots of people don’t get what you’re talking about if you invite them to come to a TAY-CHWEE taster session. There was a bit of awkwardness where an older lady thought it was a sort of afternoon tea thing and then she started shouting about having a voucher from Groupon and in the end I just made her a sandwich and a brew and she calmed down.
People often mistake tai-chi for an exercise for geriatrics. Not so. It’s by far the most deadly martial art out there. It shits all over krav maga and your BJJ. There’s this story that Bruce Lee would fight anyone and all sorts of people would turn up at his dojo – wrestlers, karate men, boxers and he wiped the floor with all of them – one inch punched them out of the ring. But one day this guy turns up asking to fight and Lee asks him what he studied. This guy goes “tai-chi” and Lee turns as white as a sheet and gives him a thousand dollars to go away. This guy says I want ten thousand and Lee goes straight to the bank and gets it for him.
That’s a true story.
You see tai-chi only looks slow because that’s how it was smuggled out. There was this ancient master and he created tai-chi but it was full speed tai-chi, with punching and kicking. And the ruling emporer at the time said, “This is the best martial art in the world, a lot better than krav maga, we need to keep this secret” and they used tanks and bombs to try and kill everyone who knew tai-chi. But this ancient master escaped and started to teach it as a slower exercise. It was the same moves, he just slowed them right down to about a thousandth of the speed. The emporer never realises that’s what’s happened and tai-chi sneaks under the radar – this emporer even ends up taking lessons himself!
Oh look, seems like we’ve been cleared for take-off. I’m Martin by the way.