In The Beginning
‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’
Gabriel stopped writing and looked up at God. ‘That’s a bit brief, isn’t it? Aren’t you going to go into any detail?’
‘Of course I’m going to go into detail. That’s just the opening line. It sets the scene for the rest of the chapter.’
‘Oh, OK. I’ll shut up and write.’
‘If you would. You’re interrupting my flow. Right, have you got that down?’
‘Yep, got that.’
‘And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.’
‘Sorry, was that a new sentence, or a continuation?’
‘A new sentence.’
‘You’re starting a sentence with “and”?’
‘Yes. Is that wrong?’
‘I think so, yes. But you’re God, so knock yourself out. I don’t suppose anyone will notice.’
‘Good. Because I’ve got a few sentences that start with ‘and’. I like the way it sounds. It gives it a certain tone that I’m looking for.’
‘Right. Fire away. I won’t interrupt again.’
‘That would be appreciated.’
God continued with his explanation of how he ‘created’ the Earth and Heaven. Gabriel just took the dictation without comment, until he got to Chapter Two.
‘Just a minute. You’ve already made Man and Woman on the previous page. Now you’re making Man again, and then taking a rib to make Woman? Why can’t you make her from dust as well?’
‘It makes it sound better. Like Woman is part of Man. It kind of justifies why men rule the world, and women do the washing up. This book is all about giving some order and purpose to humans. They’re getting a bit out of order, and I feel I should be whipping them into shape a little. Once I’ve got this down on paper, I can then start talking with a few of them, and giving them some rules to live by.’
‘And what about the repeating yourself bit? You’ve made Man twice.’
‘True. We’ll go back and edit that later. Or maybe we’ll leave it in. It’ll give the scholars something to fret about in years to come.’
‘Ooh, I like the sound of that. OK. We’ll leave it as it is.’
God paced up and down, while Gabriel studiously took the dictation, biting his lip at the unlikely events that were being described for as long as he could. It didn’t last long.
‘Hold on a minute. Are you seriously expecting people to believe that Adam lived for nine hundred years? What’s all that about?’
‘Why, does that sound a bit too long?’
‘Just a bit, yes. Anything over a hundred is stretching it rather. I just don’t see what you’re trying to achieve here. I get all the Creation stuff, and the serpent and all that. Although, to be honest, I don’t know why you don’t just tell it like it really happened. But why would you want to tell people that years ago they could live for nearly a thousand years, when now they are lucky to see out their fiftieth birthday?’
‘Look. You know what happened. I know what happened. I want humans to respect and worship me. They’re hardly going to do that if all I say is that I made an amoeba, and then spent the next two billion years playing lightening games with Thor while life just evolved. I need to give it some gravitas. So I’ve embellished it just a little.’
‘This is your idea of just a little, is it? OK. You’re the boss. What’s next?’
‘I don’t know. What do you think about a massive flood?’
Gabriel rolled his eyes, picked up his pen, and said ‘Whatever. I’m just not sure how we’re going to get this published, let alone get anyone to read it.’
Another 100 word story.
Ross was holding the tube of cement, ready for when Dad needed it. The model kit had been waiting since Christmas Day, and every day he had asked Dad if they could do it now. Until now Dad had just said “OK, let’s do it after my nap.” He knew Dad would do most of it. That didn’t matter – they were doing something together.
Ross loved it when they did stuff together, and Dad had always loved doing model aeroplanes. This was the first one since his 90th birthday, six months ago. Ross wanted to hang on to every moment.
The king stood on the hill, and took in what he could see.
‘OK. So, it’s finished, is it?’
‘Yes, your majesty. All finished. I hope you are going to like it. It’s taken many many summers to complete.’
‘Yes, it has taken rather a long time, hasn’t it? And now, after all this time, can you please tell me what it is? Because from where I’m standing, it looks like a ring of stones around another ring of stones.’
‘That’s it exactly, your Majesty. We’ve dragged these stones from a place far away, and brought them here for your pleasure.’
‘Sorry, your Majesty?’
‘It’s a simple enough question. Why have you dragged these stones all the way from who knows where, stood them on their ends and placed some more on top? What possible benefit can there be to me or any of my people?’
‘It’s a holy place, your Majesty. It is somewhere to go to worship the Sun, and maybe offer up a sacrifice. It should please him immensely.’
‘And you know this for certain, do you? That this huge ring of stones will please the Sun so much that he won’t burn us to death?’
‘Well, obviously, I can’t say for certain, but I’ve got a pretty good idea about what makes him tick, your Majesty. Most of the time after a sacrifice we get a nice, sunny day. It must work.’
‘Most of the time. But not always. I have to feel sorry for the families of those virgins we’ve sacrificed, in the hope of a bit of sunshine, and all we’ve had is more rain. It must be very upsetting for them.’
‘Which is why this should make things better. We have built a temple, where we can pay homage to the mighty Sun.’
‘Well, I hope you’re right. It will all seem like a massive waste of time if it doesn’t work.’
‘Yes, but that’s not all, your Majesty. The stones are set up so that on the day the Sun is in the sky for the longest time, it will line up with two of the standing stones. That way, we will know when it is the middle of the year.’
‘OK. Let me get this straight. You have spent a huge amount of time, and used countless men to assist in bringing these stones here, just so that once a year you know what day it is. And on other days, we can use it to sacrifice virgins, or maybe the odd sheep, in the hope that we might get a little sunshine the next day.’
‘That’s about it, your Majesty, yes. What do you think?’
‘Honestly? I’m wondering why I didn’t question the whole operation summer’s ago. What a complete and utter waste of time. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember you telling me that you’re a virgin. Only I could do with some sunshine tomorrow. I’m sure the Sun won’t mind that you’re not female.’
At my last job, when the days got dull and the boss was out, I would ask one of the others to give me three words which I then had to include in a 100 word story.
The three words for this one were egg timer, miscellaneous, and perpendicular.
Tom sat on the kitchen stool, watching his mum. He could barely contain his excitement. ‘What happens now, Mum?’
‘Well, I’ve carved the boat. Now I need to ice it, and put the sail, rudder and other miscellaneous bits on. Then it should look like a proper sailing dingy.’
Tom played with an egg timer while she placed a wooden dowel perpendicular to the ‘deck’ of the cake. Other boys had football cakes. He wanted to be different. His dad had loved sailing. Now the cake would bring back his memory at least. He missed his dad so very much.
I started a new job in January, and now, instead of a half-hour drive I have over an hour’s train journey. In total I am out of the house for thirteen hours a day. By the time I’ve had dinner I get around an hour and a half relaxation time before my eyelids finally win the battle, and I crawl off to bed, ready for the 5.15 alarm.
Why am I telling you this? Not so you’ll feel sorry for me, or to make you think I have some important, high-powered job. It’s just to explain why I haven’t done anything on this blog for around six months. I haven’t done any writing either. The only time I have to write is at the weekends, but that pre-supposes that I won’t have other things to do.
Maybe as the summer comes I’ll feel a little more inclined to do some writing in the evenings. I hope so. But in the meantime, I’m going to post an occasional short story, including a few 100 word stories that I wrote a few years ago. They’re not very good, but they are a useful exercise for any writer.
In the meantime, Have a Nice Weekend
I was watching BBC Breakfast this morning, and they had an article on about ‘unusual’ cuts of beef, namely marrowbone, shin and skirt. Maybe it’s my age, but shin and skirt didn’t seem unusual to me, but I understand there may be a lot of people younger than me who have only ever shopped in Tesco’s and buy their meat wrapped in film and neatly trimmed.
But that was OK, because we had a chef on to tell us more about the cuts and what to do with them. All good so far.
For those of you who are not familiar with skirt or shin, they are cuts that are full of flavour, but need to be slow cooked, otherwise they’ll be too tough to eat. I have to confess I do not know too much about marrowbone, as to me it’s something you give to the dog. Not that I wouldn’t be willing to try it, it’s just that I never have.
Anyway, the point was made that people are reluctant to cook these cuts because they don’t know what to do with them. Not that we all lead busy lives these days (a comment that would have sent me into full-on rant mode), or we may not have heard of them. No. It’s because we don’t know what to do with them.
Now one thing that the vast majority of people do know how to do these days is look something up on the internet. I have just typed ‘beef skirt’ into Google, and the predictions that have appeared in the drop-down box are as follows:
Beef skirt recipes, beef skirt steak recipes, beef skirt stew, beef skirt slow cooker, beef skirt curry.
Typing in ‘beef shin’ came up with even more interesting predictions, like ragu, chilli and macaroni.
Not knowing what to do with something is no longer an excuse. Aversion, apathy, fear and lack of time are possible reasons to avoid these particular pieces of meat, but lack of knowledge just doesn’t wash.
So, for anyone who is interested, a simple recipe for slow-cooked beef shin is as follows:
3 or 4 rashers of bacon, cut into small pieces
2 medium onions
2 medium carrots
1 stick of celery
1kg of beef shin (or skirt)
500g of beef stock (one stock cube in hot water will do)
A few cloves of garlic, if you want.
1 bay leaf (if you have any)
1T tomato purée
salt and pepper
Slow cooker or oven-proof casserole dish
Heat a little oil in the frying pan, and cook the bacon for a few minutes until it starts to brown.
Whilst this is cooking, peel and slice the onions, carrots and celery.
Remove the bacon from the pan and put it in your cooking pot, but leave as much of the oil behind as you can.
Then cook the onions, carrots, garlic and celery in the frying pan for a few minutes until the onions have started to soften. Transfer them all to the pot.
Now get a bowl and put a couple of tablespoons of plain flour in it, and season it with some salt and pepper. You now need to dredge the meat, which should have been cut into pieces roughly an inch square, in the flour, a few pieces at a time, and those few pieces should be put in the hot frying pan and browned. Add some oil if you need to.
Tip: don’t put too much in the pan at once, as this will steam the meat rather than brown it.
Once you have browned all the meat and put in in the pot, add the beef stock, bay leaf and tomato puree, and put the lid on.
If you have a slow cooker, the best time to do all this is in the morning, and then set it on Low for eight hours. If you are using the oven, then 150 degrees or Mark 2 will be fine, for at least four hours. So for you, this would be something to cook at the weekend, but it can easily keep in the fridge and be reheated the next day.
It’s ready when the meat can be broken with a spoon or fork without any effort.
If you want, and have some available, you can also add half a bottle of red wine at the start. Also, if the gravy is a little thin, then add a tablespoon of cornflour mixed in a little cold water and put back in the oven for a few minutes.
Serve it with mashed potatoes, or some crusty white bread. You’ll probably need some of that to mop up your plate at the end, anyway.
It’s that simple, and nothing to be afraid of. And there are hundreds of more recipes out there, so not knowing what to do with it really isn’t an excuse.