Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Hello dearests, here follows a Christmas tale for you all, a warning: strong language ( sorry, no nudity), so not the best for the youngest in your family. Enjoy

                                        The Shelf in Washington Street
   Dear Reader, here is a humble offering for you, my Friend. May its simplicity warm your heart and brighten your day.

   The Author

                                                                  The New Arrivals

Once upon a time, in Brighton.......

There was a hill whose inhabitants were famously fond of muesli and lived in rows of 19th century houses that, just like little rainbows, followed its gentle undulations.

Lovely coloured houses: yellow, blue, pink and white, on their roofs noisy seagulls nested amongst the chimneys, while on the pavements the prams wrestled against overflowing recycling boxes.

One of these rows was called Washington Street, only midway up the hill and yet from the top windows of the three storey houses one could already enjoy a pleasant view of the city and the surrounding Downs.

It was in Washington Street, in a house just past the little intersection that our two friends arrived on a rainy autumn day.

“What the fuck!- Exclaimed Fjord looking around the shelf. “This is a shit hole!”

“Come on, Fjord, keep it quiet” interrupted his friend Tome “We don't really need you to make a scene right now. We haven't even been introduced and in the end I am always the one who has to bear the consequence anyway....” he continued already defeated.

Yes, they had just arrived after a long journey. It had begun three years before in far away Taiwan when they had been shaped together. According to the ancient clay elves' beliefs, all clay elves were the sons and daughters of The Great Furnace and his wife The Great Mouldette. The former gave them life, the latter shape. In Taiwan a large amount of bubble wrap was tightened around them, that was followed by a long flight to Milan in Italy where they spent a year in a warehouse only to be eventually purchased and exposed in a bric a brac shop in a nearby town. It was in Brescia, this town, that a woman spent quite a lot of time looking at them in detail ( so much so that Fjord wanted to scream – What the fuck are you looking at?!-, but luckily didn't).

The woman liked what she saw and told her friend “I think this will be the perfect present for Matteo's and David's wedding!” and laughed at her own silliness in choosing such a gift.

“Matteo and David?! Just what I need: to end up with a couple of poofs!” shouted Fjord after they had been safely boxed and placed at the bottom of a bag left dangling at the back of Lucia's wheelchair.

The truth is that Fjord and Tome weren't meant to be together. They should have been two separate clay elves, Fjord was supposed to represent a violinist, while Tome was to be a more traditional elf, sitting by a mushroom reading a book. While their creation was taking place (The Great Mouldette was hard at work), that corner of Taiwan began to shake: an earthquake with violent tremors that lasted at least a minute. The moulds were thrown together, the figures smashed against one other, some shattered into a thousand pieces but others, who hadn't set yet, took on a new appearance. That's how our two friends came to form this awkward couple. Fjord's violin disappeared, his arms came down a bit, his hands were now clutched in fists, tight, but for the middle finger of the right hand that stuck out in what looked like a rude gesture. Tome's book and mushroom also vanished and he found himself sitting by the other elf, joined at the base, trapped forever with that miserable sod.

Yes, miserable. The earthquake had not only changed the appearance of our elves but also their emotions. Fjord's frustrated musicality was replaced by an uncontrollable anger and Tome's love of books, that could no longer be enjoyed, gave instead room to a subtle but persistent feeling of melancholy.

                                                     You are welcome

“No way I am going to stay in this shit hole!” Fjord reiterated, just in case his point hadn't been made clear enough.

“I am really sorry about my friend” explained Tome to the odd assemble of figures that had crowded around the two of them, “My name is Tome and my, well, my friend is Fjord. He is a bit tired you see, it's been a long journey for us, car, aeroplane, train and looks as if we have have been on them all really” he continued trying to explain Fjord's behaviour to the new neighbours.

They were an odd assortment indeed: there were other creations of the Great Oven and Mouldette, like the little yellow donkey, a Chinese cat with a big scar where he must have cracked years before, a French amphora with “oile de olive” written on it and a gnome scratching his head, this seemed to be the wise figure of the group and the others kind of looked up to him.

Then there was a small wooden art mannequin, all flexible with long pink woollen hair, a little colourful miniature plasticine sea star and a rotund lady-like figure dressed in red with painted black hair that used to be attached to a key ring, she also seemed to be of a certain importance within the small confines of the shelf they all stood on.

“You are very welcome here” said Rosa, the key ring, with a smile “Don't worry too much, Tome, I have come across many difficult types in my long life and an elf short on manners is not going to spoil my day!”

“There was a time, when I used to live on a desk in front of a TV, you know...those boxes with moving, talking pictures, and I happened to see somebody who behaved exactly like you, Fjord” said Wisey the gnome introducing himself “Yes, just like you. They said he was famous..wait a minute, I am trying to remember his name. Yes, I have got it now, his name was... Grumpy. He and his friends, there were seven of them, had to wake up a girl who had fallen asleep or something like that...”

“She must have been a good looking bir... hem girl to have seven of them lusting after her” commented Fjord wishing one day he would find a sleeping beauty himself

“I have met them, this Grumpy and the other six dwarves...” interrupted Lola the mannequin

“Dwarf my arse” corrected Fjord with his usual penchant for words.

....., Sleeping Beauty and that bore Prince Charming. We were all prizes in a raffle- continued Lola – Prince Charming couldn't take his eyes off me and Sleeping Beauty was so jealous she cried all the time, such a drama it was! Luckily Lucia won the prize and took me away

“So you were also brought here by Lucia?” asked Tome curious “Are you all Lucia's presents to her friend?”

“The poof, so you know” concluded Fjord with a malicious grin.

“Not all of us” answered Stella, the plasticine sea star “I am English, the little girl next door made me as a present for Matteo and David, that's why I am so colourful. Little Connie loves colours!” then continued “Rosa is not Italian either, she was a key ring made in Spain, a flamenco dancer!”

“Hola, Elves” winked Rosa “little Connie' s mums got me as a souvenir, I miss the sun muchissimo...”

“MUMS!? Where the fuck have we ended up Tome, heeelp!!”

Why are you so full of anger Fjord? What difference does it make to you anyway?” asked Wisey with kind gentleness, Remember: live and let live and the world would be a nicer place for all.”

I am not saying anything but two men or two women...what the fuck?” answered the elf less than convinced.

Well if you are not happy with it you might as well find yourself another shelf little elf, I bet you didn't even realize that I am a gender-free lady figure!” Lola cut him short with vehemence. Fjord and Tome paid a bit more attention to their new neighbour and only then noticed that despite the sensual voice and the long pink hair Lola didn't seem to have any definite sexual attributes.

“I bet that would have been a nice surprise for Prince Charming, eh, eh!”Fjord couldn't help himself saying with a laugh.

Tome felt the need to explain why Fjord was so full of anger all the time: the earthquake, the trauma, the artistic frustration, the coercive unity of the two of them “Try to understand him, he is not a bad elf, he has been through a lot and now he has to spend his time attached to an old bore like me...”

Come on, Tome, don't feel as if it is your fault now, it can't have been easy for you either. We just hope you will be happy on this shelf and we'll do our best to make you feel at home” Wisey reassured him

As Confucius once said: it's better a shelf full of friends than a palace by oneself” and so China the Chinese cat introduced himself

“Here we go, all we needed was Meow Tse Tung”

Fjord! As Confucius once said: a little grumpy elf doesn't brake the back of the patient cat” and with that China went to a corner to meditate

Bo-ring! All we miss now are the Amphora and the donkey and we have met all the members of this circus”

“Nice to meet you too Fjord...I am Brayn, your clever donkey!” replied the little figure not at all intimidated by the elf swagger.

Et voila`mes amis, my name is Philippe from la France, I am a present from Marco, Matteo's nephew, you will see you'll find yourselves tres bien here, je adore this shelf!”

“Oh well, if the amphora says it, it must be true...”

“For once Fjord, could you just shut up” Tome told him off.

And so it was, that our two unwilling friends began their new life in their English home.

Fjord couldn't help his manners, but soon enough all the others got used to his unrelenting flow of vulgarities. Tome, Wisey, Rosa and China, when possible took pleasure discussing the latest news that came from the inhabitants of High Shelf (on the opposite wall) whom, from their advantage point, could see what was going on outside the window. During these meetings Fjord, who couldn't not be there, limited himself to listening, commenting with the occasional swearword.

Things improved, when Fjord realized that Philippe wasn't full of olive oil but rather lovely wine: all of a sudden he felt as if he had to get to know his new friend a bit better spending more time with him and sipping the precious liquid while Tome and the others went on with their boring chats.

Yet, despite all that, often enough the precarious balance tipped on the wrong side of the scale: some times Fjords was so violently negative and rude that it just ruined the day for most of the inhabitants of the shelf. Those days, what was a mild amusement for the elf's eccentricity would turn into the serious worry that he was beyond any help, and that was bad news not just for Fjord but also for everybody else. Likewise, some days Tome would fall into a sort of stupor, where he wouldn't want to speak to anybody but just sit there thinking about his life, that to him looked like a landscape covered by a dull blanket of grey fog.

                                                       Merry Christmas!

October soon turned into November and this rolled quickly into December, the inhabitants of High Shelf, kept our friends informed on the changes in the outside world: the frequent rain, the leaves sweeping by, people walking outside the window wrapped up in coats that looked heavier and heavier as time passed and the days got shorter.

I can't bear it, it's only 4pm and it's already fucking dark” announced Fjord

I rather like this time of year myself” Lola told him, the two of them despite the initial hostility had become quite close to each other.

Me too, me too!” said Stella excited “And it will be Christmas soon, things are going to be marvellous in this room!”

And what the hell is it? This Christmas thing” asked Fjord interrupting Tome who was talking to Rosa.

To be honest, I have heard about it, but I am not that sure...” replied his friend for once short on knowledge.

Oh this is fun: two elves who don't know what Christmas is!!” laughed Brayn

“Hey you, four legs! Why don't you make us laugh as well? Who do you think you are? Black flipping Beauty?”

“Fjord! Brayn! Stop it now. I have to say though that the donkey is right, how come you don't know about Christmas?” asked Rosa looking inquiringly at Tome

You see, this is the first time that we are not in a warehouse and news was in rather short supply in there. I think to remember it has to do with a chubby old man dressed in red. Oh yes, I saw one once, we were having a chat when all of a sudden he was taken away, together with hundreds of others just like him. Wait a minute, his name was, was... Saint and Goals, strange name now that I think about it...

That's when they all begun to laugh out loud, even the serious China and Philippe, whom in doing so spilled some wine, making Fjord angrier than usual.

“Hee haww, hee hawww this is a good one: Saint and Goals” Brayn couldn't contain himself

If you don't stop it I 'll give you a good frigging reason to bray!” swore Fjord offended

When Wisey realized that that the two elves were honestly mortified by their reaction, he apologised on everybody's behalf and decided that the time was right to clarify the matter.

“You see, it's not your fault but...Saint and Goals, that's a good one indeed. No, the name is Santa Claus or you can call him Father Christmas. The funny thing is that you two, well really, you are supposed to be his official helpers!”

“I am in no mood for helping nobody, I want this clear!”

“Fjord! Be quiet please and listen. Who can explain it to us, please”- asked Tome

To which China who was always happy to show off his knowledge, replied with a concise history of elves' folklore:

Confucius once said that the elves belong to the tradition of the German and Scandinavian people. The name Elf is linked to the old German word for hiccup and nightmares, in fact it was thought that both were caused by the elves who inhabited the woodlands and had magic powers. They were clever little creatures whom, amongst other things, enjoyed spooking the humans who travelled in the wild. As time went by many famous authors, like Tolkien for example, introduced the elves into their narratives. Then, from the 19th century to this day people began to believe that a group of less malicious elves moved to the North Pole in order to help Santa Claus assemble the presents he would then deliver around the world in the wee hours of Christmas. You see, you have quite an interesting history, but judging from Fjord's attitude I would say the chances of him helping Santa are rather slim!”

I though it bleeding strange that you didn't come up with one of your cattish remarks!” added Fjord whom, the truth to be told, had been quite impressed by this tale, especially the bit about the magic powers.

But this isn't all there is to it, mon amis” said Philippe, who had been listening “the best part is that, before Christmas, David and Matteo bring more stuff on the shelf and in the room: festoons, wreaths, coloured lights that are a joy to look at...”

ohh...and baubles you can see yourself in” interrupted Lola with trepidation.

And, mon ami, before Christmas Matteo fills me up with the best cognac”

Hmm.. I'm beginning to like the sound of this Christmas”

Meow, meow... and Charcoal jumped on the desk right next to the shelf so that his face was just at the same level with the group of figures.

Hola, Charcoal. How's life?” asked Rosa to the newcomer.

Not too bad, thanks! I overheard you talking about Christmas and thought I'd give you the good news: David and Matteo have just gone up to the loft to get the decorations. Oh, and I have another bit of good news for you on High Shelf” he meowed louder get ready because we are going to get the first snow of the season, I was resting on the sofa by the telly and I heard the forecast

Wonderful, Charcoal, your news is always welcome!” answered all the small wooden elephants on High Shelf at once.

Charcoal was the local cat, as black as the deepest moonless night, he had no fixed abode and didn't belong to anybody, he appeared one day and often decided that the house in Washington Street was as good a place to spend a few hours on a comfy sofa. A free spirited guest whom the inhabitants of the shelves grew very fond of, Rosa in particular. Well all but Fjord, of course, who never failed to remark “I feel it in my clay that this black cat is cursed!”


Once Charcoal had gone our friends continued their chats: Lola and Stella tried to persuade Fjord of the joy of Christmas, he seemed still rather underwhelmed, Philippe and Brayne discussed their previous Christmases while Wisey, China and Rosa answered Tome's questions who wanted to know more details about the elves' folklore.

All of a sudden they heard some steps and ran to their positions immediately. Just like Charcoal had said David and Matteo entered the room with a green cotton bag followed by the cat.

Hey Charcoal, how come you like this room so much? Have you got some invisible friends by any chance?”

Meow, meow answered the cat

“Come here”, Matteo began to stroke the belly that Charcoal offered in a moment of bliss followed by a noisy, satisfied purr.

”We are going to change a few things around here today, Charcoal” Matteo kept talking to the cat as if he could understand

“See that shelf near the desk? David is going to pull it off the wall and move it next to the other one, up there, what do you think? Not much I gather...-

Meanwhile our friends received the news in absolute silence and stillness even if inside they wanted to shout and dance with joy.

Matteo took them off the shelf one by one and propped them on the desk, while David unscrewed the brackets, drilled some new holes by the High Shelf and eventually put it all back together in the new location. Then the two of them began to pull out several objects from the green bag: the coloured lights that they ran around the shelves and the walls, the wreaths, a metal box with a painted Robin, the baubles; here Lola couldn't help it and let out a sigh, but luckily neither of the humans heard it, and at last a rag doll Santa Claus that usually sat by the fire place in the living room on the ground floor.

“I think it looks good, what do you think, Charcoal?” asked David.

Meow, meow......

“Let's put these back on the shelf, shall we?”

And so Matteo began the removal of our friends to their new home: Star next to Lola followed by Brayn, Wisey, Philippe, Rosa, China and last Fjord and Tome, but right then, a sudden blast of icy cold air made Charcoal jump off the desk scared, he took refuge between Matteo's feet, who lost his balance and fell. He knew he would have crashed against the desk and to avoid the worst he let the statuettes go. It was an instant, If that was possible, Matteo would later swear that while he was falling he heard someone say- I told you that the black cat is cursed!-, then a crack, followed by that unnatural silence that often succeeded a conflagration.

From the corner where he hid, still not sure of what had gotten into him, all that Charcoal could see were the smashed fragments of the clay elves.


Lola, Wisey and the others lay stone still, what a horrible situation! There was absolutely nothing they could do, only hope for the best. Stella, who was the smallest figure, slowly slowly crept to the edge of the shelf and looked down. Matteo was still on the floor, David was next to him and between them were scattered Fjord's and Tome's little fragments, then suddenly Matteo moved and David helped him to stand up

“Are you OK? God you are clumsy!”

Cheers, I love you too! Oh look at those two, such a shame!”

Come here, Charcoal, don't worry: it wasn't your fault” The cat, shaking and feeling guilty moved towards Matteo whom sat back on the floor and stroked him gently.

Let's see,...hmm, I think these two elves are ready for the garbage bin, shame, they have been with us for so little, I will have to tell Lucia..

The inhabitants of the shelf listened to this development with great horror and sadness: in the last two months they had grown very close to the new arrivals, yes, even Fjord!

David picked up the two larger remnants, the two figures had split exactly where the earthquake had joined them, all those years before. In one hand was Fjord, the pointy hat was broken in half and the right leg laid somewhere on the floor but for the rest the figure was more or less there, even the middle finger was still sticking out with determination.

In the other hand, Tome had taken the brunt of the fall: the legs had smashed in tiny pieces and so had the arms and the chest, only his face and hat seemed to have survived the fall unscathed.

When David and Matteo left the room to get the dust pen and bin, the friends from the shelf hurried to the hedge and called the elves, but they only got silence for an answer. Charcoal looked up and full of remorse said “I am so, so sorry! I don't know what happened to me....”

A moment later Matteo came back into the room, picked up Fjord's remains and looked around for the missing leg. He sat at the desk, opened the drawer and pulled out a small yellow tube. After ten minutes or so he looked at Charcoal and said “I think we have managed to rescue it, it's a bit cracked, but really, I don't feel like throwing away a present from Lucia, well, at least half of it..”.

And so saying, Matteo delicately placed Fjord on the shelf next to Lola, then he took the dustpan and brush and swept Tome's remains off the floor putting them in a black rubbish bag.

Before leaving the room, Matteo turned the coloured lights on. Immediately the baubles sparkled and the room took on a warm, colourful atmosphere, then he left to go and dispose of Tome.

                                                "It's all your fault!”

Yellow, red, green, white and blue, the reflections were everywhere, any other time the joy on the shelf would have been tangible, but not that day.

They all crowded around Fjord whom, so far, had remained silent, Lola hugged him with her jointed arms, she hugged him hard but not so hard as to break him again!

I am sure I am speaking for all of us Fjord, we are so sorry, at least you are OK. Listen whatever happens we will always be here for you....”

Here for me? That's the last thing I need” answered Fjord shaking with anger “I have had enough of you all and your stupid Christmas, it's all his fault anyway” and he pointed at the Santa Claus doll that up to then had remained quiet and lifeless in a corner of the shelf “And the cat, where is that fucking cat? I have always said he would bring bad luck and nobody believed me, and look what's happened: Tome is gone...forever” had he been less angry or desperate he would have cried, but he couldn't, there was no room for tears in Fjord's dark world.

“Fjord, believe me, I don't know what to say, I know that there are no excuses and you will never be able to forgive me, if only I hadn't jumped off the desk, I don't know... a shiver...” Charcoal said tentatively.

“Please, just shut up because you have already done enough damage for one day!”

Wisey tried to calm Fjord down, he told him that his reaction was normal but all that anger wouldn't have brought Tome back. Our friends on the shelf formed a circle around Fjord and one by one gave him a hug even if he didn't want to hear about it, in the end he walked to one corner giving them his back eventually falling into a dreamless, uncomfortable sleep.

The night passed slowly, in the morning the humans went to work. Fjord spent most of the day in his corner, wrapped in his misery, avoiding the others and cursing them when they tried to comfort him.

The day passed, darkness came and with it the yellow light filtering from the street lamp. Matteo and David came back home, turned the coloured lights back on, but the room remained cold and joyless.

Suddenly Fjord came out of his stupor and ran to the side of the shelf where Santa Claus had sat still and silent.

Hey, you, what language do you speak? I am talking to you, it's all your fault, yours and that stupid cat's, don' t pretend you can't hear me!”

The others tried to create a barrier between the two.

“If you hadn't arrived, with your silly lights and the baubles and the fucking rest, if you didn't exist Tome would be still here with me, I say it again, it's all your fault that I have lost my best friend!”

Santa Claus opened one eye, then the other and turned to look at Fjord, he smiled and with a gentle but deep voice replied:

I see, now Tome has become your best friend, I don't seem to remember that that was the case when he was here...wait a minute, who said things like “you are the most boring elf ever” or “if I could only get rid of you”, even “my greatest desire is for you to fu...” well I can't say that, let's say “my greatest desire is for you to... disappear”?Oh yes! YOU said all of those things and much, much worse. They were your wishes and I, well I made your wishes come true, I am Santa after all! So now Fjord don't come here and complain to me: if this is somebody's fault, maybe then it is only yours

Fjord stood there speechless: it was all true, those were the things that day after day he repeated into poor, patient Tome's ears, a never ending flow of recriminations since the day they were joined together.

In the last few years Fjord had never realized how much he actually cared for his forced companion, how fond he had grown of him, how much he loved him even. And of course how much he had taken his friendship for granted.

It was only then, that for the first time in his life Fjord began to cry, first two lonely timid tears that soon opened the way to an unstoppable sobbing.

Fjord was still crying, with his back to the door and it was only at the last moment that he realized that Matteo had entered the room and reached the shelf. He stood immediately still, just like all the others and heard Matteo say to the cat “This is strange: I don't remember arranging the figures like this...and the shelf is wet. Do you know anything about this, Charcoal?”

Meow, meow answered the cat, Matteo looked at him and left the room, his questions unanswered.

Once the human's steps sounded distant enough, Charcoal shouted “He is gone, you can move now!”

Fjord with his eyes fixed on Santa Claus finally managed to say “It's all true, it's my fault that Tome is no longer with us. I wish I was the one in a thousand pieces, it would be better for you too, no more complaints, no more troubles...”

Fjord didn't realize that his friends had stopped listening to him, all of them but Santa. They were looking behind his back, surprised and amused at the same time.

Then he also turned around.

And he will never forget what he saw: with a crack here and there, a chipped shoulder and a smile on his face, Tome stood still in front of him.

Without the need of saying anything the two elves ran into each other and hugged tightly, after a long while Fjord found the strength to talk.

Tome! is you, isn't it? You are not taking the piss?! I am so sorry Tome, sorry for everything, it must have been torture living with somebody like me, I promise I will never call you boring again or nerd or twat or...- - it's OK Fjord I have got the jist!” answered his friend, and the two of them laughed out loud surrounded by the others who also couldn't believe Tome was back on the shelf.

Eventually, after they all had a chance to speak to him and say how happy they were for his return, Tome managed to explain that David and Matteo, once they put all of his remains in the rubbish bag, had decided, instead of throwing him away, to take him to a specialized shop. The shop owner then recommended a very specific and super strong glue and finally the humans put all the pieces painstakingly back together “Well almost all of them, and then they stuck me between two books for a day, so that the glue could dry properly” concluded Tome grinning with joy.

I won't be telling you what happened after in detail, suffice to say that all the friends on the shelf asked Tome a thousand and a half questions, they all wanted to make sure that he was well, but of course it was Fjord who looked after his friend as if he were the most precious thing in the universe.

It was only later, when everybody's curiosity was fulfilled, that Fjord walked back towards Santa whom, up to then, had kept quiet letting the merry company enjoy the reunion.

“I need to apologize” Fjord begun, at first hesitantly, not being used to say sorry “I should really think a hundred times before I open my mouth. Anyway, I wanted to say...em..I really hope you are not too upset with me and that we will manage to get along.” He blurted out the rest, afraid that if he didn't say it fast, he might not be able to say it at all.

Santa stared at him, his dark eyes buried in the fluffy white cloud that was his beard and eyebrows, and, after a moment replied

“You see Fjord, the thing is that you WERE right! It was all my fault!”

The elf and the rest looked at Santa surprised.

Since you have arrived in Washington street, even if I was up in the loft, I could still hear everything that happened down here, through the chimney, I could hear all the swearwords, the fights, the anger...And so I thought that maybe I could do something to help that little angry elf and bring some peace to the shelf. When Matteo tried to place me on the mantelpiece downstairs, I made myself fall, luckily I am made of cloth! It worked: he gave up and decided to bring me up here with the rest of the decorations. When the time was right I managed to invoke the Arctic Wind, the one I use to make the reindeer fly, and I channelled it towards the desk where poor Charcoal was sitting peacefully. No wonder he jumped scared!”They were all following Santa's tale of loving deception taking it in fascinated.

From then on” he continued, “you all know what happened, luckily I judged Matteo and David well enough to know they wouldn't get rid of you. And here you are again! My job is done” he finished with a satisfied smile

Fjord, for once speechless, looked at Santa, walked closer and without saying anything gave him a hug sinking in the soft red fabric.

Hee haww, hee haww, look at that!” Shouted Brayn pointing towards the window with his hoof.

They all turned to look in the direction of the hoof and gasped at what they saw: a blur of big, fluffy snow flakes gently falling from the dark sky and lying on a velvety white blanket already enveloping the cars in the street. It must had been going on for a while, but they had been to busy to notice. The inhabitants of the Low shelf had never seen the snow before and what was happening before their own eyes surpassed the expectations. That and the sparkle of the coloured lights reflecting on the baubles had transformed the room in a magical place, the perfect place to witness a magical moment.

Even if it was late, our friends decided to stay awake to enjoy the snow fall, and celebrate being all back together, even with the friends of High Shelf. It was only in the small hours of the morning that one by one they succumbed to a deep sleep, a sleep that came with dreams as sweet as gingerbread. The last to go were Tome and Fjord: too many things to say to each other; being separated they had never been so close before.

Christmas came, Matteo and David went to spend some time in quaint Littlehampton with the rest of the family.

The house in Washington street was empty. Or so it seemed: if you had listened carefully you could have noticed that something was happening in that room, yes, the one with the Christmas decorations.

A great celebration! Everybody on the two adjacent shelves took part: the wooden elephants offered the music with their powerful trumpets, two rubber piglets became Brayn's best friends, a metal Buddha spent hours discussing philosophy with Santa, Wisey and China. Two plastic winged angels helped Lola and Rosa organize a hot flamenco dance to which Fjord and Philippe, amongst others, assisted with great enjoyment, even taking part in it, while little Stella, when it became too late, fell asleep wrapped up in Charcoal's warm fur! Yes, Charcoal still had the freedom of the house: enough food was left aside for him and he had found a way to jump on the shelf without causing damage.

And so time went by, Santa and the decorations went back to the loft, not before him saying -I have had such a wonderful time! Best Christmas ever, and keep me informed, remember I can hear everything from up there. See you next year!- which was followed by another big hug from a teary Fjord.

Something had changed that Christmas time in Washington Street. Something extraordinary had happened in the clay hearts of our two elves. Tome realized that there was no point in feeling melancholic simply because he hadn't turned out the way he was supposed to, especially now that he had met great friends to discuss life with, like Rosa, Wisey, Buddha and China. And when he grew tired of erudite conversation he always had his best friend to turn to: Fjord whom, luckily was never short of things to say.

Oh yes, our Fjord had changed the most that Christmas: our little elf learnt that all that anger wasn't doing him any good, but only pushing away those he loved the most, he learnt to enjoy the goodness that was around him and rather then behaving like a frustrated musician he directed his temper, and his vocabulary towards something buried within himself he didn't know he possessed. He could tell a story and so he did.

From that Christmas, especially in the long winter nights or grey rainy afternoons, Fjord would ask his friends to form a circle and then he would entertain them for hours with tales of far away places, charmed kingdoms and once upon a times. Places where fantasy ran free towards happy forever after. Tales where wolves and Little Red Riding Hoods were friends for life, deer and huntsmen ran together for fun, little dwarves and knobbly witches helped each other looking after Sleeping Beauties whom sometimes fell in love with Princes Charmings, sometimes with Cinderellas or sometimes didn't fall in love at all, but had great friends, and that was OK too.

   The End                                                                                         Fjord

Sunday, 8 January 2012

A touch of tagine

Hello, happy new year to all.
Due to an overwhelming demand (Rookie, who thinks writing this is a good way for me to shut up) I am going to share with you a recipe. The inspiration came when I opened the fridge and found a few ageing peppers and  tomatoes . I didn't know I was going to write about it so I didn't take any pictures, sorry folks and folkesses.
It is very simple but the result is, if I may say so myself... delizioso ( oh, I can't help the Italian in me ).
The following list makes enough for  2 people ( or even 4 if you are serving it as an accompaniment) , I served my Tagine with home made "artichoke and potato" filoparcels. You could serve it with cous cous, Bulgar, or even, as I did with the leftovers, having it cold as a salad the day after with some warmed up focaccia bread which I got from Infinity Foods
- 1 tin of  chickpeas, drained ( or 400gr frozen cooked  chickpeas )                                                           
- 2 medium tomatoes roughly chopped or 5 cherry tomatoes  halved                    
- 3 sweet peppers , red or yellow but not green, cut in thin stripes
- 2 tbs olive oil 
- 1/2 cup of water
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped or crushed
- 2 tsp dried mint
- 2 tsp  dried oregano
- 2 tsp tagine spice mix *
- 1/4 cup dried dates or apricot ( chopped up ) or raisins 
- salt and pepper
- a pinch of chilly powder ( optional )
- a pinch of vegetable bouillon or a few drops of soy sauce.
Pre heat  the oven  at 200° C ( gas mark 6-7 , 392° F ) meanwhile in a glass ( I prefer it so I can see what's going on in the oven world) ovenproof dish mix all of the above ingredients but the peppers and the water , ( if using frozen chickpeas it is fine if they are still rock hard !) make sure all is well combined. Then add the water and last scatter the peppers on the top, cover the dish with tin foil and insert in the oven .
Bake for about 40 mins ( but check how it looks after 1/2 an hour , you know how ovens are like, each with their own little attitude ), then remove the foil and bake for another 15mins .
Your tagine is  ready, give it a good stir so that the peppers combine with the rest of the ingredients and serve with any middle east inspired food or with whatever you fancy and think might go well with it . Enjoy !!

Just a few words about the ingredients , I am very much of the Do It As You Like It philosophy, the amount of spices is just as a reference, by all means feel free to play with it according to your taste, if anything remember that all the flavours should blend together rather than fight each other .
If like me you are vegan, you are bound to use lots of pulses in your life, it makes financial sense to buy dry pulses, cook them in batches in a pressure cooker ( such a time saver) , wait for them to cool and store them in containers in the freezer ( remember to freeze them in " recipe friendly " amounts roughly 400/500 gr  per container ) .

* if you don't have the tagine mix you can make it yourself with the following ingredients :
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cardamon
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
Do not panic if you don't have  some of the above spices: you may do with just a mix of some of them as long as you include the cinnamon and a bit of heat from the cayenne pepper  which are what  give the tagine its taginess. If you don't have the cinnamon I am damn sure that you can use any spice mix and the dish will still be great but a tagine it will be not !

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Lakes

Hello followers. Just like every other blogger I am going to apologise with you all ( yes the four of you ) for having been quite absent of late. I have been busy and, oh by the way I am much much better, thank you, my back pain is nothing but a distant memory. So distant that since we have last spoken to each other ( I like to view this as a dialogue, you see) , I must have walked about 100 miles , all right 50 but most of them vertical which has to be taken into account .
Rookie and I have a tradition which he started on the first anniversary of us getting together: we take a few days off, first was Cambridge, than St Ives in Cornwall, Settle in the Yorkshire Dales and this year Keswick in the Lake District (  more and more adventurous as the years go by I hear you thinking ).
Well, it was sensational: the mild autumn worked in our favour so that the trees were still covered in warm tinted leaves, heavy big clouds interspersed by deep blue skyes and very little rain. But let me take you through a photographic journey
This is Newlands, a valley just off Keswick to the west, one of my favourite places and the starting point of so many walks, just to add a touch of exoticism I liked to call it Newfoundlands, such a creative imagination!

This is still Newlands but seen from Catbell ( originally meaning wild cat shelter, eat your heart out Wiki) one of the most popular hills of the lakes, a nice long circular route joining Maiden Moor, High Spy and eventually Borrowdale

Lovely Sunday morning walking up to Skiddaw, this is the valley just to the north of Keswick. It is a very steep but popular route, apparently too too busy in summer, but being November it wasn't crowded at all.

We are going up, through the clouds and beyond
This is from the top of Skiddaw

The day after we decided to go for a longish walk ( 12 miles, remember mostly vertical !), the so called Eel Crag horseshoe , that was one of the most amazing walks, at times even hazardous and down right frightening ,but then again it is me writing this blog, not exactly a mountain goat, an April lamb if anything.
This is part of it, you can see dear little Keswick down by the lake and the Skiddaw range in the background.
What follows really surprised me, it is filmed from the top of Eel Crag, you can see Scotland from there and me pointing at the rude finger and making funny faces , lets see if you can figure out what happened and yes, got the fingers mixed up

OK, if that is too obscure I will enlighten you: on the top of the Crag , Rookie went down on his knee and proposed, like in the movies, he couldn't have chosen a better place. My answer was pretty obvious considering that we have been planning to end living in sinful ways in the year 2012 since holiday No 2 ( that's St Ives, well done). Never the less I was quite taken aback and surprised hence the messing up with the finger.
Many other walks have taken place, all beautiful until the second last day when we decided to go to Borrowdale starting our walk at Seatoler , which apparently is the wettest inhabited place in England where it rains  2 days out of 3. We were on the wrong side of the statistic.
OK folks this is it for now: the trick to a good blog is to keep it sweet and short and I might have already failed at that . Ciao ciao my followers . Ivan

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Quote of the day

"Cox juice is the sweetest" .
This, according to an over enthusiastic customer , we are talking apples here ....I think.

Thursday, 3 November 2011


The lady pharmacist, yesterday, was rather nice , she smiled and I explained what had happened to me. She; Jane  the company badge read, picked up my accent in no time and for reasons unknown to me decided to drop several articles and conjunctions during our short conversation, possibly to make herself clearer." 5 days no better you go doctor "Jane said after having recommended a hot rub for my back " rest but move or muscles weak ".
So this morning I woke up feeling a bit better but still not ready for work , shortly after 8 my phone rang ( not an unknown thing to do for a mobile but quite unusual for mine ). It was Lee my friend and former tour guide teacher whom I had last seen 6 years ago since he  had moved to the green valleys of Wales.
He was driving into Brighton, was I free? The wise words spoken by Jane about keeping active came to my mind and so I agreed to meet him for coffee somewhere by the pier .
While Lee and I were finalizing the logistics, dear Rookie came into the room to say goodbye, ready to go to work, cluing up on what was being said, once I finished, he gave me one of his charming smiles and rather dryly commented "If you are well enough to go for a coffee you are well enough to go to work .."Jesus! My catholic ( albeit no more ) sense of guilt resurrected faster then dear old Lazarus. Thankfully Jane's words came to the rescue " I go work back hurt more you no understand " and with that said I wished Rookie a nice day .

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Blog for bed bound

Happy with my purchase ( a hat , £ 4.99 ), I kissed Rookie, wished him a nice rest of his day off and went to work . It was only when I stretched to reach a pasta box that I noticed a serious pain in my lower back , it will go away I thought . Eight hours later when I approached the door to leave the shop and walk back home , the pain was still there if anything more acute , I 'll have to sleep it over I thought...
 I like it when the nights come early , it is only the second day since we have  said good bye to the summertime and it still feels like a surprise when it's 4pm , you look out of the big windows , Kensington Gardens is still full of life but the light is fading away ,as if behind a smoke screen , it's like hot cocoa ,with spices and cinnamon .
But yesterday I left the shop later, hours after the last customer had left, so outside it was proper dark , warm though: my jacket laid folded in my bag , how very unseasonal especially with all these living dead walking beside me, going from pub to pub , from party to party , from trick to treat, at least a little fog would have helped , a bit of chill...nothing, it didn't even rain until hours later .
I walked slowly being careful to avoid any position that might exacerbate the pain in my back and thinking voraciously about the roast dinner waiting for me at home .
Got the keys out of my pockets opened the door and was welcomed by the music coming from the basement ( disco , not my favorite ) and the smell of roasting veg ( fabulous). " Are we going out tonight ?" I shouted " No , not tonight" came the answer " Oh shame , OK I'll lock the door then ".
You must know that this exchange happens every night when one of us comes home from work and the other is cooking , there's no need for it really , we don't do going out . NEVER , we like to think we would like to but the truth is that we are quite happy staying in and be wild watching ..I don't know ..Strictly , Downton Abbey and Doc Martin , possibly on the same night on catch up !
God , this makes for an exciting blog ,
The truth is I didn't even think I was going to write one until a few hours ago when I woke up and yes the pain was still pretty much there , I am virtually bed bound ( although I managed to go downstairs and make myself a cup of coffee while Rookie was still snoring next to me ).Got the Internet on and started to read a few blogs like Post Punk Kitchen and Vegan in Brighton then I thought  I might as well give it a go myself and this is the result : a literary revelation !
Please be patient with me ( who am I exactly talking to?) bare in mind this is my second language and I still need to find my writing voice ( as well as my singing one ) and above all I beg you to  learn to appreciate the joy of imperfection. Thanks , Ivan

Here follows a little tale I came up with a few years back when I was still in London , the writing is rough ( very ) but if I may say so myself ( yes , thank you) ...there 's something in it