The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet is about a writer who has written the titular tale. The story that we read however, is about the author’s descent into madness, as told through the eyes of a magazine editor.
This novella is told campfire-style, a formula I am noticing that King employs a lot. It doesn’t always work, as it gives you a (potentially) unreliable narrator, and means you are once-removed from the action, but I have no complaints about it here. Besides, it’s an approach that has served him well.
If we take The Mist out of the equation (because that’s really a short novel in its own right), The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet is the longest piece in Skeleton Crew, but for all its length it’s also one of the most straightforward and engaging. It is slightly let down by the final few pages, but otherwise, it is a very enjoyable read.
I’m on the first day of a two-day training course, which makes this my first day of actual work in very nearly six months. I had to get up at 7am for an 8.30am start, but that still feels like mid-morning when I used to be halfway through my shift by then.
Of course, there are teething problems with the training, and the class has now been pushed by an hour or so, so I’m taking the opportunity to post this. It would seem that while a lot of things have changed recently, some things – like delays and red tape – have not.
So, this is the beginning of a new chapter. If I’m honest, I don’t want this one to last very long – I want something different; something better – but in this Covid world, beggars and choosers and all that.
Oddly, I always did more writing when I was working full-time as well, so that’s a bonus I can look forward to. I have a few new ideas that I’ve been mulling over for a while now, so I’ll probably be able to get them fleshed out a little over the weekend.
Kelsey Grammer starred in two of the most successful sitcoms of all time, in Cheers and then its spin-off Frasier. He played the same character on TV for over two decades, and that is how the vast majority of us know the actor.
But this autobiography – which is fairly short and for context, was published not long after Frasier began – focuses mostly on his work prior to becoming the household name that he is today, and the relationships that he had along the way.
He details many of the hardships that he had to endure during the early part of his life, before anyone really knew who he was. When Kelsey was twelve years old his estranged father was murdered during a home invasion. When he was twenty, his younger sister (whom he was extremely close to) was abducted, raped, and murdered after being stabbed forty-two times. Five years after that, his two half-brothers died in a scuba-diving accident.
A lot of this is heartbreaking stuff, and it is no wonder that he suffered from substance abuse problems later in his life. But to his credit Kelsey makes no excuses for his much-publicised drug and alcohol addictions. Instead, he has used all of these touchpoints and tragedies in his life to become a better person.
If you pick this up hoping for some insight into the character of Dr. Frasier Crane, you may come away a little disappointed. There is some of that, with some backstage anecdotes, but that isn’t what this is about. Like Crane, Kelsey comes across as an intelligent, eloquent man, and this is an interesting read you can quickly tick off your list.
Gramma is about a young boy called George who finds himself looking after his elderly and infirm grandmother on his own, only to find that he is constantly spooked by her presence.
Halfway through the story it becomes clear that the old woman has died and George spends some time trying to figure out how he is going to explain this to his mother. Spooky goings-on ensue.
Ultimately, Gramma is too long and too little happens for me to care all that much about it. This is certainly all about the atmosphere, and King takes his time building that – so maybe the problem here is mine – but I can’t get behind a horror story isn’t scary, and where nothing happens.
When I was on my own I was a far more frequent visitor of B&B’s, because my narrow-minded belief is that they are tailored more to the lone soul than the couple looking for a quiet and romantic escape.
Ardtorna, a luxurious B&B just a whistle north of Oban on the west coast of Scotland, has shown me that not only is that opinion wrong, but that maybe I have missed a lot of fantastic overnight opportunities over the years.
I have never stayed in such a well-presented and beautifully decorated establishment. Everything is crisp and clean and intended to make your stay the best it can be, and it’s clear that owner Karen takes immense pride in providing that service for all her guests.
Running a bed and breakfast is difficult, and owners of these places don’t get enough credit for the love they put in to their work every single day. Karen does this all with a smile and some friendly conversation. You may think that’s easy, but I promise you, most of us wouldn’t last a week in such a cutthroat environment.
Of course, Ardtorna is not for everyone. Everything here is immaculate. If you’re the kind of person who treats a hotel room as your personal rubbish bin, and doesn’t think twice about spilling wine or breaking a glass, you should find somewhere else to stay – this place is not for you.
Well I didn’t take a thing from Ardtorna, not even any of the Celebrations that were in the mini fridge… and they were factored into the cost! Why? This care and attention to the comfort of the people she has welcomed into her home deserves to be respected, and I don’t want to take advantage of such dedication and hard work. I can see that she has gone above and beyond, and she will wake up tomorrow and do it all over again.
I didn’t start this post as a love letter to Ardtorna, but now that it’s done it feels like that is just what I’ve written. So thank you Karen, for a wonderful bookend to our extended weekend away from home. I’m sure we will be back.
We left the hotel in Invergarry after a couple of nights there, with the intention of taking a leisurely drive down towards the bed & breakfast I had booked for one night, before our trip back home. We had a lot of time to play with before check-in at 4pm.
But the weather had other ideas.
The rain has never been far away since we left home, which is a shame but this is Scotland. That would be like an Arab complaining he was getting too much sun.
But this was next level annoying. At 9am on a Sunday the road we were taking to drive south – the only possible road south – was blocked. Flooded. We waited for ninety minutes (the length of time it should have taken us to reach our destination) while we watched the police stand about and do very little, only for one of them to eventually come over to tell us we’d better turn around.
Sure. Except where we had to be was down there, not all the way back up that way. So we were forced into making a 130 mile diversion – extremely frustrating at the best of times, but when the sky is making the whole experience miserable… well, we almost decided to pack our bags and just head home a day early. Non-refundable room be damned.
But it was all worth it when we found our way to Ardtorna B&B, probably the most exquisite bed and breakfast I’ve ever stayed at. Granted, we have not yet slept or had breakfast, but if the views over Loch Creran from the floor to ceiling windows, and the sumptuous anti-pasti platter we were served are anything to go by, this will definitely be a stay to remember.
It was a terrible day. Well, at least, the weather was terrible. Most of the time. We did squeeze a few moments of sunshine from the sky, but really, we were mostly trying our best to avoid the rain.
Still, rain doesn’t ruin a holiday – attitudes do. We made the best of the inclement weather and visited Eilean Donan Castle in the morning, on our way to Skye. It’s a beautiful location and having been there now I can see why it is such a popular wedding venue… although I imagine it has an extremely long waiting list.
After that we crossed the bridge and went to see the Fairy Pools on the west of the Isle of Skye. It was a bit of a let down, but mostly because once you’ve parked the car you still have (literally) miles to walk to get the most out of the excursion. Because it had been raining, and the trek involved crossing a couple of rivers, we got as far as we dared, took a few pictures and turned back.
No biggie. We saw Krka last year in Croatia, so we’ve done the amazing waterfall thing.
We then looped over the top of Skye and back down the east coast, by which time the sun (what sun?) was going down and the rain was not letting up.
All things considered, it was a fun day. I’m glad I finally got to see Skye, as it’s a part of Scotland that has always escaped me. The scenery is postcard-worthy almost every step of the way, and even when it’s wet, those mountains are still mightily impressive.
We haven’t been away overnight since February, as I’m sure is the case for many people, and going around feels more than a little strange in this changed world. Now we are taking our masks everywhere we go, only entering small stores if there are no other customers, and using hand sanitiser when we do go inside.
We are in Invergarry, a small town to the south of Loch Ness. It was a three hour drive that we stretched out to seven. Well, the journey is part of the holiday, isn’t it? Besides, Scotland is filled with beautiful scenery, and a fair chunk of it is on the way to where we are now.
We are in an elegant country hotel – traditionally Scottish, except for the fact that the restaurant serves Indian food for dinner. Odd, but actually really good. So now we’re stuffed and sprawled out in the king-sized bed we have.
I mean, I know she’s here somewhere, but she’s so small, and this bed is so big…
I went over to visit my mum today, with the intention of telling her that I had been made redundant… only she already knew.
Turns out, she read it on my blog last week, which wouldn’t really be all that surprising, except she isn’t subscribed to my blog and only happened upon the site because she had Googled my name… and I thought I was the only person who did that.
She used to be on my mailing list, but then she changed her email and I never bothered to set the alerts back up for her. I didn’t see the point. A lot of the stuff I post wouldn’t interest her in the slightest, and some of the other stuff would just make her worry about me more than she already does – which was the entire reason I didn’t tell her about the redundancy in the first instance anyway.
So, now that I know I may be under surveillance, I will have to be a little more vigilant about the gratuitous sex, violence, and bad language that I post here.
Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game (Milkman #2), which is this story’s full title, follows on from the previous story in this collection, Morning Deliveries, but centres around a couple of laundry workers who go out in the middle of the night trying to find a place to inspect their vehicle and deem it roadworthy… all while they are both knocking back the beers.
As with Morning Deliveries, this story has been cobbled together from chapters of an abandoned novel that King was writing called The Milkman, but unlike that first story, Big Wheels meanders and ultimately doesn’t stand on its own. It also includes references which I am sure are intended to allude to other parts of the novel that he hasn’t included here.
So I will have to pass on this one. It may very well work as part of a larger narrative, but snipped out as a story in its own right, it falls a little flat.