In Competition No. 3183 you were invited to submit a short story entitled ‘My Year of Living [insert adverb of your choice here]’. Highlights in a varied and engaging entry included John Priestland’s ‘Year of Living Paradoxically’, which combined elements of Hilbert’s Infinite Hotel Paradox with the Grandfather Paradox (think Back to the Future), and Janine Beacham’s teleportation of Henry David Thoreau to the 21st century for a ‘Year of Living Deliberately’.
The winners — led by Adrian Fry, whose nonsense-inspired story captures -especially well the discombobulation of living in a world where all bets are off — earn £25 each.
I started my year midway through Lecteveril, a month of my own devising falling between Gallimaufry and a clump of Concurrent Tuesdays. Quitting my job repurposing the between-movement silences in Beethoven symphonies as a solution for noise pollution in Chinese megacities, I reinvented myself as an author, penning a book of stamps critics found indistinguishable from Roald Dahl, if only from the distaff side. My publisher, impressed, demanded an autobiography; I mimed Soviet gerontocrat Konstantin Chernenko’s, alas without the junket recipes. Wanting to spend more time with my ankles, I went cloud shooting off the North Face of East Grinstead; bagged a cumulonimbus I now (don’t tell the ocelots!) keep in the fridge to prevent the milk turning lucid. Celebrated Christmas twice; I didn’t get the wassailing right first time, confusing it with deflowering the ombudsman. Earlier, as my year drew to its close, I unexpectedly woke up Walloon.
Adrian Fry/‘My Year of Living Nonsensically’
Lockdown has been such a blessing. Masks became acceptable in public; mine are full-faced. I can have everything delivered (not to my real address, of course) and spend many fascinating hours devising new passwords of devilish complexity via VPN and an anonymous proxy server. I have three decoy email accounts, as well as my real one, and my phone encrypts my position in a way that only I can decipher. I am an island. I leave not even an electronic trace. I have made myself intangible. Nobody knows, no one suspects, that I exist.
I avoid social media, you suppose? Not a bit of it! I have many e-identities, all false! Each pseudonym hides another, cipher within riddle, riddle within enigma! I am legion! Now, if only I can avoid anyone realising that I am the leader of the Liberal Democrats, I should be safe for ever.
Frank Upton/‘My Year of Living Secretively’
I put names and dates into search engines, over and over. Everywhere else is blank. Everywhere else is dead. What pandemic? These people on the screen burst with existence. Their baptisms reek. Their cemetery records are rich in my nostrils. They speak to me, through me. And what’s more — give or take a few crass mis-transcriptions — they all share my name.
My mother’s giving me a wide berth. Ah well. She doesn’t share my name really, she just acquired it by accident of marriage. No earthly reason why she should be interested. Besides, she’s a pensioner, on a permanent furlough, not a temporary holiday like mine. I dive into 1837’s poll records, come out soaking in surnames. I have 8,000 DNA matches.
She’s tiptoeing. What is it, Ma? Stop interrupting! She hands me a piece of folded paper. Basildon Bond. I read her message blithely. It says: You’re adopted.
Bill Greenwell/‘My Year of Living Obsessively’
For me there were no restrictions. I love my freedom too much. Yesterday in New York, today in Paris and tomorrow in London perhaps. I loathe isolation and need company. I am no Greta Garbo. I crave crowds. I’m a real socialite. Travel puts purpose into my life. I deeply resented measures to restrain me and I sometimes felt like an illegal immigrant when I arrived on the unwelcoming shores of some foreign country. Amazingly, I managed to visit nearly every corner of the globe, despite efforts to hold me in check. Call me irresponsible! Of course I often had to invent a new identity just to get what I wanted. Naturally, I was threatened because of my defiance but one year on I am still travelling. My name is Covid, Covid-19.
Max Ross/‘My Year of Living Internationally’
Although the year started with Sartre (Hell is other people) the experience of lockdown brought time for reconsideration. Socrates (Beware the barrenness of a busy life) gave a different perspective on the sadness of an empty diary while Hobbes (Leisure is the mother of philosophy) pointed to ways of filling time. As our political leaders were urged to follow the science, Russell offered food for thought (Science is what you know) although his continuation of that thread (Philosophy is what you don’t know) seems less appropriate. Too often Santayana’s words (Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it) summed up our plight as mistakes were re-enacted. Ultimately we are all huddled, as safely as possible, in Plato’s cave, trying to distinguish what is shadow and wondering if Descartes (I think therefore I am) applies to the government.
D.A. Prince/‘My Year of Living Philosophically’
In my enforced incarceration, with only my thoughts for company, I painted the world in interesting colours. My garden was my Eden, where I was safe from the ravages of the Black Death that had returned once more to bring us tragedy. On my rare visits to the shops to find food, I felt that I had to avoid lepers who carried no bells, their breath a threat to my existence. At home, sitting at my round table, eating alone, I was Bedivere, the last of all King Arthur’s knights, but I dared not venture among new faces, other minds, against whom even Excalibur would be useless. My solitude was my shield. I imagined that some Caligula now ruled the outside world, inviting mobs to storm the senate house. Then one day I read the news from America and fiction became fact.
Frank McDonald/‘My Year of Living Imaginatively’
No. 3186: mixed messages
You are invited to supply an acrostic poem praising or dispraising a public figure, in which the word/s spelt out by the first letter of each line directly contradicts what the poem is saying. Email entries of up to 16 lines to email@example.com by midday on 10 February.
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