This month’s topic…

It was a year ago, but I still chuckle, and I still get reminded about it by my friends in the writing group. We meet on Monday mornings in a friendly café in town, which reserves a big table in an alcove at the back. There’s a bay window looking out into the garden; sometimes after reading our stories, if it’s sunny we go out there with another coffee or maybe a cake and we sit and gossip about writing and us, and our lives. Last year, considering it was April, it was warm enough to go out and we sat there and I have to say they were mostly laughing at me, and I was laughing at myself.

It was the 22nd of April; I’d been so pleased with myself – not only had I remembered the date we were to meet but I’d also remembered the topic we were to write about. I hadn’t had to message anyone, or put a plea on our Facebook page, I remembered it by myself! Before I started writing, gathering ideas, I did some research and although it seemed easy with lots of thoughts buzzing, in a way that made it more difficult. How to be original, how to be different – because it was the sort of topic which I could imagine we might each have similar ideas and write similar pieces.

After much thought, some random scribbling, plenty of jottings put aside for later, I decided what I was going to write. For some reason, even though we were meeting in a café which has lovely cakes, I thought I would make one; I’d bring plenty of the small cardboard food boxes I’d ordered by mistake when I’d bought environmentally friendly paper bags to take shopping instead of using the supermarket plastic ones. Then we could cut the cake, and everyone could take a piece home. It was partly thinking about a cake and its decoration which made me decide on puffins. I was going to put a big icing puffin in the middle, but then it seemed cruel to carve it up so I decided instead to make a dozen small ones from fondant icing, and put them round the edge so each slice had its own puffin.

I had a plan, but of course it was a cake plan, and we’re a writing group, not a cake group! I pondered; a short story? A non-fiction piece? A poem even? A poem would be perfect but there are other poets, really good poets in the group and I’d be somewhat daunted to share my efforts with them.

(clears throat… erp-herm…)

Puffins, who doesn’t love them with their sable tailcoats and white underpants, their orange stockinged legs and black flat caps. They are the clowns of the sea. Their make-up perfect, from their crimson eye shadow and mascara, and those dolorous pale cheeks, to their perfect and bright-coloured bills.

I’ve never seen an actual live puffin.  I’ve been to the Farne Islands and to Iceland, both places where you might expect them, but I’d been unlucky, I guess. They’re endangered here in the UK, but in Iceland they eat them – they were on the menu in a couple of restaurants we visited, but much as I like trying weird food, I didn’t order one. How could I weave that into what I was writing, and what more could I write without it seeming like an entry into a simpleton’s guide to birds? I guess I could make a social comment on the fact that puffins were eaten in places where were times were hard and little else available, such as the Blasket Islands off the coast of Kerry, In the end the Blaskets were abandoned because life was just too hard, and even eating puffins couldn’t sustain the diminishing population.

This wasn’t helping me write my piece for the group; my friends are all such excellent writers I have to really work hard to present something original, so I sorted through the facts, bearing in mind the actual topic we were writing to. Puffins are actually auks and there are three varieties, tufted and horned from the North Pacific Ocean, and the Atlantic puffin, which unsurprisingly lives on and by the Atlantic Ocean. I didn’t spend too long on the background; most people know roughly what puffins look like etc. I had to get to the nub; the nub was they are endangered – not critically yet but British puffin numbers are in decline. They only lay one egg and have one puffling a year many of which die from starvation, and like many animals suffer from the extreme weather events we’re now experiencing…. etc. etc.

I finished my piece, checked and double checked it, read it out loud, printed it off and together with my puffin cake and small cardboard boxes went to meet my writing friends.

They were all very excited at the prospect of the cake, and Lulu in particular kept telling me how kind I was to make it; well, I was just pleased they were pleased, and they asked me to read my bit first. As usual everyone was very nice, and a couple of people made helpful comments, and I jotted down a few notes. The next person began their story, and it was very clever and amusing, but to be honest, I didn’t really see how it connected with the topic. I know what it’s like to have an empty head when you have to write something so I didn’t mention it, and nor did anyone else.

I hadn’t thought the topic was that tricky, but everyone seemed to struggle. There were some great and original pieces, and we all laughed at some, shivered at others, nodded in appreciation, but to be honest, I did feel rather smug that I seemed to be the only one who’d really connected with the actual topic. There was only Lulu to read out her piece now.

“Before I start I’d just like to say again, thank you very much Livia for the lovely birthday cake! Puffins are my absolute favourite bird, they are so comical, and I loved what you wrote about them!” and Lulu beamed at me.

“It’s your birthday? Well what a happy coincidence! Best wishes for a lovely day!” I exclaimed, doubly pleased with myself for the coincidental birthday cake.

“Yes, that’s why we chose the topic,” said Lulu.

“Earth Day?” I was perplexed.

“No, birthday – the topic’s ‘birthday’ because today it’s mine – my birthday… what did you think it was, Livia?”

Well what a chump! How ridiculous!!! I thought it was Earth Day, because yes, in fact the day was Earth Day! How we laughed! I won’t ever forget Lulu’s birthday now, and she won’t ever forget Earth Day!! Puffins, LOL…

Thanks to Paul Edney for the puffin pic!

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