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Three String Blues

by Tuppworth 

Posted: 01 August 2006
Word Count: 2835
Summary: Three String Blues is an offbeat comedy, which explores a single father’s attempt to reconcile the three loves of his life: his three children, the Blues and a woman he hasn’t yet met. Stumbling through the daily ritual of working at the local Further Education College, juggling domesticity with regular gigs at a variety of stick-floored music venues and a continual search for a brief encounter that might have a semblance of permanency, keep Harry on an emotional roller-coaster.

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Chapter 1.
My name is Cousins, Harry Cousins, and I’ve been thinking about that awkward transformation between the ages of six and seven, when most things appeared simple like watching James Bond films, everlasting gobstoppers and farting in class.
At that time, I liked going to school (Rookery Lane Primary, just down the road from the open-air swimming pool and abattoir), and I especially enjoyed play times, when we were suddenly transformed from pre-pubescent school-kids into super heroes, prepared to save the planet from assimilation into the tribe of myopic megalomaniacs who were certain they knew what was best for us. I didn’t like the idea of growing-up or my body morphing into a hormonal nightmare, I’d seen how much trouble it’d given my parents and I didn’t want any of it.
Sometimes we’d recreate the Battle of Hastings. I hated playing King Harold, it involved a lot of shouting, looking up in to the sky and then lying on the floor for ages until everyone got bored and decided to change into interplanetary travellers and boldly go to split the infinitive. I don’t think they meant to, but sometimes, they didn’t tell me what was going on, and then wondered what a dead Harold was doing lying on the floor of their spaceship. I didn’t like it when they decided to play Joan of Arc either, but that’s another story. Oh, just thought I’d better make it clear that the abattoir and swimming pool were not the same place, although it was easy to get them mixed up with the amount of odorous meat on show at both places.
Life at school had been sort of OK, until one day, when even the clouds competed with each other for altitude and wind was a distant memory, (except in the classroom where the odour was a constant reminder of thirty sets of intestines busily rummaging through assorted breakfasts), me and three other boys had reached the finals of the annual ‘Pee up the wall’ competition. None of the girls were allowed to join in because, as rumour had it, Josie Royston had recently perfected the handstand technique, and it was thought she would have an unfair height advantage. The girls were still allowed to watch, but whether it was to witness sporting technique or just out of biological curiosity, we never knew. Still, what we did know was that if we got caught the consequences could be fairly serious, but we went ahead anyway, it was a matter of prestige. If you won, your status in the class would be sky high (which was a damn sight higher than any of us could pee, including Josie Royston).
I remember the final beginning with Steve Jones getting disqualified for pressing Dave Spencer’s stomach, and Dave retiring to find a dry pair of shorts, leaving Terry Williams and me to face the wall. The waiting was agony. With a nifty look around to make sure that we had no unwanted attention from adults, a quick fumble in our shorts and the event of the year had began.
Terry’s performance was awesome. I can still recall that liquid arc yellowing against the sky. Brick by brick, the stream of urine creeping higher and higher, a faint whisper of steam outlining his progress.
I’d stood facing the wall with what I hoped was victory in my grasp. The audience had waited. I’d waited...nothing. Even now, if I close my eyes I can recall how my life had flashed before me, how that moment would affect the rest of my life, always being reminded that I could have done better, would fail to perform under pressure, never realising my true potential.
I’d screwed my eyes shut, hoping that the audience would think I was concentrating; I didn’t want to waste any liquid by crying. Why had I entered the competition? Was it to impress Sandra Fletcher? Could it have been popularity? Notoriety? Prestige? I wasn’t sure, even now. I didn’t know what such big words meant at that time, so it must have been to impress Sandra, who’d been standing watching impassively.
I recollect my lethargic appendage, limp in my hand, a hairless sloth basking in the daylight. If I’d known it at the time, I would have recognised that as being the defining moment when the sloth would cause me years of acute embarrassment, its unpredictability a dread, its rebellious nature often evident in relation to the number of potential observers
But still, at that time such thoughts were yet to form. Already, several pairs of feet had begun to fidget. Terry Williams sniggered and turned to face the assembled crowd with his moist champion still unwrapped for all to see. He waved his arms in the air and conducted a chorus of countdown chants, his relaxing penis nodding in rhythm to the raised voices. Ten, nine, eight, seven chimed the crowd. Every muscle in my body had been rigid with expectation as panic ploughed a furrow across my forehead. Six, five, four echoed the playground. Waterfalls, flushing toilets and thunderstorms appeared in full cerebral Technicolor while reality shone in stark black and white.
Terry had already wiped the last drops from his obliging pipeworks, while I’d struggled to release an ocean. Three, two pummelled my eardrums. My thoughts turned to what might happen if the cacophony of ridicule disturbed the Head dragon. Suddenly, fear gripped my whole excretory system. The floodgates burst open with awesome force. Relief smiled as I started humming the Dam Busters theme tune, the yellow fountain creeping slowly towards the point where Terry’s peak had been marked with chalk. The crowd cheered and roared me on, louder, higher, louder and higher. A squadron of infant Lancaster bombers flew by as their arms dipped from side-to-side in anticipation of an imminent victory. The noise of their engines joined the cheers reverberating around the playground.
The joyous noise permeated the sacred walls of Academia, causing the dragon to stir in her lair. Alerted to the fact that something was going on in the playground that shouldn’t have been, she stuck her head out of the study window and surveyed the scene. With a bellow that would have frozen the blood in the veins of Saint George, she addressed the crowd.
‘Get to your classrooms at once and Harry Cousins, put that away!’
The Bomber squadron ceased to drone as what might have been my winning squirt managed a feeble arc that fell with a desultory ‘plip, plop’ onto my brown leather sandals. Josie Royston shrugged her shoulders and grinned at me with a ‘hard luck’ twitch of her eyebrows.
A brief interview with the Headmistress had confirmed my worst fears. I’d to take a letter home to my parents explaining my behaviour, and I wasn’t to be allowed out at playtime for a whole week. It would have been worth it if I’d won, but my punishment was all for nothing (except that someone else would have to play King Harold).
After school, I’d raced home clutching a letter to my parents with one hand, while the other was trying desperately to disguise a slowly emerging damp patch at the front of my shorts. The front door surrendered to my exertions and, flushed with embarrassment, wet feet and a very noticeable damp patch, I entered the kitchen with a trembling lip. Mum had been standing at the sink, her elbows deep in soapsuds. She had a wistful smile on her face as she hummed along to Herman’s Hermits: ‘Don’t go out in the rain’, which was playing on the radio. Gasping for breath I handed my mother the letter. Wiping her hands on her apron and flicking at an errant strand of hair, she took one look at the letter, glanced at me and threw the dishcloth at the cat. With a trembling voice she warned me that when my father heard about my playground antics he’d go through the roof. With my jaw sagging, in awe of my father's potential performance, I was about to explain that my ambition was a little lower than that but thought better of it. Even at that tender age I could sense the warning in a female gaze. I never did get to know if my father could actually pee through the roof because he never came home. For the second time that day I’d screwed my eyes shut with a flood imminent, while Herman and his Hermits made a final plea to avoid going out in the rain.

Chapter 2.

My father's absence was, according to my mother, typical. For years after his departure, she could often be overheard mumbling something about her regret at having made the wrong connection. This cryptic utterance was fairly normal in our household. My mother came from an indiscriminate town in the North-East of England where she’d defied logic by marrying a bloke from an insignificant Midlands suburb and forming a dysfunctional couple whose relationship was constantly in danger of going off the rails.
My parents had met one cold, blustery day at Crewe railway station. She was sheltering in the waiting room, mentally reminiscing about her holiday on the beaches of Aberystwyth while awaiting the arrival of her connecting train home. Her future husband, although he didn’t know it yet, was taking a break from his prolonged train-spotting stint. He sat down, took a flask of hot tea from his rucksack, glanced at his watch, muttered something about the 14.35 running late and offered a warming brew to a girl who had no interest in train engines but recognised a potential coupling when she saw one. My father-to-be, having impressed her with his knowledge of timetables and predilection for orderliness, began to suggest a romantic liaison on the north-eastern line when the station tannoy suddenly squawked into life announcing the continued delay of the 14.35. My mother, unable to hear the precise words formed by my father's mouth due to the cacophony of railway apologetics, thought she had the gist of what he was saying and promptly replied that she'd just go and tidy her make-up and then she would be ready.
My mother's penchant for taking action based upon what she thought she heard, became the basis for a relationship that had more permutations and potential failed connections than a railway trip between Birmingham and Penzance. One such instance, something about redecorating the bedroom and father commenting about checking he’d got the right equipment, resulted in a permutation where they made a connection that produced a result neither of them expected.
Approximately nine months later, I arrived two hours and thirty-seven minutes late, according to my father, due to a signal mix-up. Apparently, my mother had informed him of the frequency of the contractions and he’d spent the next couple of hours boiling the kettle and making notes on contraction times. Awash with tea, mother finally managed to convince him, with a deft kick to his reproductive tackle, that a visit to the hospital would be an appropriate course of action. With a look of bewilderment on my father's face, he hobbled to the front door with a suitcase in one hand and the other hand nursing his testicles. On reaching the front door, he looked at my mother and indicated that as he had no hands free, would she open the door. Mother, as she later retold the story, waddled furiously down the hallway, pulled the front door virtually off of its hinges and stormed out of the house, leaving father quivering behind the aspidistra.
On the day of my urinal disgrace, my father had left on one of his infrequent trips to Crewe armed with a flask of hot tea, spam sandwiches and a dog-eared notebook. His uncharacteristic failure to purchase a return ticket tarnished his sense of orderliness and repeatedly caused my mother to mumble something about my father having an assignation in some Godforsaken sidings. Unfortunately, my mother's utterances were indecipherable to my primary vocabulary, and I was forever checking the times of the return trains from Crewe station. Her railway puns were intended to help me understand something of the disgraceful plight she found herself in. It didn’t help though, I just assumed she had a fixation with railways and I led a sort of confused childhood, thinking that a romantic interlude behind the bike-sheds was for emotionally immature individuals who’d yet to progress to the delights of railway sleepers and sidings.

Chapter 3.

My name is still Cousins, Harry Cousins. And although I not too keen on education, I still like watching James Bond films, farting in class (although the students complain) and the occasional gobstopper indulgence.
Lots of things have changes since Primary School. I have virtually the same physiological embellishments as the rest of the male population. I’m now divorced (a psychological embellishment shared with quite a large percentage of the population and, I firmly believe, a lack of education in the noble art of fondling behind the bike-sheds which led to my waiting, in a perpetual state of readiness for someone who would understand my signals). However, I seldom bother to check the arrivals from Crewe station any more.
As a result of the unpredictable behaviour of my erstwhile sloth, I’m also the father to three children who emerge zombie-like, from their sleep pits, shovel anything resembling food unto their mouths and then attempt to wrestle each other for possession of the TV remote control. They live with me because their mother decided that after having her body abused by three kids, it was now my turn to be abused. I don’t know why a smile played on her lips whenever she mentioned abuse. It was possibly something to do with her being a product of the bike-shed fraternity that coloured the way she thought, although I couldn’t say for sure.
Reading between the infrequent gaps in her tirade against my supposed domination of the communal bathroom, I got the impression that she somehow felt little more than an ornament, an accessory or even an afterthought at social functions. I'd often observed her bristle with indignation when, introduced to a works colleague at some forgettable event, they'd invariably reply 'Ah, Harry's wife, so pleased to meet you.' It was at this point that I'd desperately employ diversionary tactics, which usually entailed going into raptures about pickled onions or some such culinary delight. In an attempt to put off the inevitable verbal explosions on our return home, I'd consume more falling-over-juice than was necessary and end up in a state similar to the onions. Eventually, she decided that the career prospects for someone considered nothing more than a conjugal appendage were minimal and so, with a feigned look of martyrdom, she left marital bliss behind and emerged from her illusory basement into tertiary serfdom in the hotel trade.
My own career, in the loosest possible sense of the word, perambulates around our local Further Education College where I try to teach the finer points of business (which I have no business doing considering the state of my finances) to reluctant learners. I'd taken to learning quite late in life when I realised just how boring working for a living really was. The attractions of being a somnambulant student and indulging in questionable behaviour seemed attractive. These were traits, according to my then-wife, for which I had a natural flair.
The precise demise of my marriage is difficult to pinpoint. I certainly had an end date, but to say, with any degree of clarity, that on a particular day a certain event transpired to be the catalyst for separation was impossible. So, how or where did it all begin? That question is similar to the one inquiring how, or where, did the Blues start? Some will swear on their mother’s apron, that the Blues began the day that Robert Johnson shuffled into a dusty room, sat down with his guitar, and poured out his heritage onto vinyl. Others, and they have a point, will argue until they’re puce in the face, that the Blues grew alongside the American cotton, and that only through a lot of pain and angst can you play the Blues. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who’s formed any kind of relationship with the opposite sex, money and the complex procedure for stuffing a wriggling bundle into a baby gro, has suffered and, as such, have all the credentials for playing the Blues.
For my part, having survived acne, cultivated a healthy overdraft and successfully negotiated the intricacies of a button fly, I think that I have the appropriate background with which to play the Blues. But, there is a choice. Do I do the sensible thing, go back to the beginning and start the whole process over again, or do something stupid? I chose the latter!
Having made the choice, here’s where I end up, a wet drip standing timidly in front of a duck-brained psychiatrist.

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Comments by other Members

Lammi at 09:21 on 04 August 2006  Report this post
I've read the first chapter of this and enjoyed the sense of atmopshere you create, a kind of sepia-tinged world that we all recognise. Your humour reminded me slightly of Derric Longden - do you know his stuff? His Lost for Words was on tv a few years back. Anyway, you took me right into that playground, with all its strange laws and customs, fears and triumphs. The line about your dad at the end was well-placed as it lifted the narrative up a scale into something more serious.

Style-wise I think it's very slightly overdone. There are too many digressions - too many brackets, and I wasn't keen on the comment about the swimming pool/abbatoir which for me broke the flow just as the writing was getting into its stride. Consider breaking some of the longer sentences up, eg:

I don’t think they meant to, but sometimes they didn’t tell me what was going on. Then they wondered what a dead Harold was doing lying on the floor of their spaceship.


Still, what we did know was that if we got caught the consequences could be fairly serious. We went ahead anyway, though; it was a matter of prestige.

Look out, too, for repeated patterns, eg Gasping for breath...Wiping her hands... and With a trembling voice...With my jaw saggging...

You could also consider making some paragraphs shorter as a break on a page can emphasise a moment of humour nicely. You have some strong lines which could be highlighted in this way.

Tuppworth at 16:00 on 05 August 2006  Report this post
Thanks for that. The first few chapters were written ages ago and it possibly shows! I try to veer away from over descriptive pieces, finding them distractive and, quite often, disruptive to the flow of text. The initial chapters are written using the mental and range of vocabulary associated with a young boy, with just a few embellishments here and there;-)

Cheers for your comments and I look forward to reading some of your work.


Nell at 15:05 on 14 August 2006  Report this post
Hi Pete,

I found it amazing that you've managed to maintain the pace and wit pretty consistently throughout the whole three chapters, although I think that chapter one could be edited and slowed a little to allow breathing space. The ideas and imagery came slightly too thick and fast for me.

Chapters two and three are about right - some clever humorous touches - and I laughed aloud more than once. I think you need to read carefully for overlong and awkward sentences - I had to stop a few times and re-read to gain the sense of what you were saying as I got lost half way through.

A few typos - I didn't stop to note them but you have 'had began' (had begun) somewhere, and I found myself questioning the use of 'indiscriminate' in ...My mother came from an indiscriminate town... and 'sloth' somewhere else.

I enjoyed the sudden jump to the adult Harry, and I love the way you've ended chapter 3 - that really makes me want to read on.

Just read Lammi's comments - good advice there.

Good potential here - looking forward to finding out what happens next.


Tuppworth at 15:29 on 27 August 2006  Report this post
Thanks, Nell. I appreciate the comments and can only agree that, with a much needed edit, the first chapter could be better paced. The material was written over a lengthy period and it shows! However, I have now taken the plunge and begun the process of rewriting with a critical eye!

Thanks again.


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