The most recent competition invited you to incorporate the following seven words (real geological terms) into a piece of plausible and entertaining prose so that they acquire a new meaning in the context of your narrative: corallian, permian, lias, kimmeridge, oolite, cornbrash, ampthill.
The inspiration for this challenge came from a bit in Robert Macfarlane’s wonderful The Old Ways where he muses on the names of the surface rock formations in the British Isles: ‘It’s tempting to lend them hypothetical definitions. Great Oolite (the honorific of the panjandrum of a non-existent kingdom). Cornbrash (a Midwest American home-baked foodstuff)….’
There was a great deal of wit and ingenuity on show this week and competition was hot. Like Macfarlane a lot of you saw cornbrash as some sort of foodstuff; permian was a often a synonym for permanent; and corallian a colour. I especially liked John O’Byrne’s ‘corallian music …light metal (harpsichords and flutes) with background chanting by Irish monks’, and Charles Curran, Virginia Price Evans and Peter Meldrum were also on top form.
Adrian Fry wins the extra fiver. The rest take £25.
Four days into our torrentially rainy cottage holiday in Devon and we’re still indoors playing Kimmeridge. It’s a tiresome game of Nigel’s devising, thus incomprehensibly complex. On day one, the wretched man appointed himself Permian — a role somewhere between pettifogging bureaucrat and capricious God — and hasn’t stopped explaining, elaborating and enforcing arcane rules since. We’re all supposed to be competing for the oolite, a tiny plastic ovoid no one could conceivably want. Kate walked out on day two, unable to play ‘Danny Boy’ on a three-stringed cornbrash as the rules — punctiliously extemporised by Nigel — supposedly demanded. For three days, Geoff relished the game, amassing points — Lias, Nigel calls them, pronouncing the italics — before being disqualified for not knowing that an ampthill was a 14th-century alchemical flask. Now, Sally and I face the Final — the Corallian, Nigel calls it — an Esperanto riddle. Why go on? It beats watching television.
From Permian, Inc.’s Savannah offices the trail took me beyond Kimmeridge, where the diner still serves cornbrash Georgia-style, to an Oolite community in the foothills. They don’t wear clothes and they won’t let visitors, which makes it hard for a private eye — and you can read that any way you choose.
The greeter was Eve before the fall but carrying an Ampthill over-and-under, five thousand dollars a barrel of anyone’s money. As old Doc Corallian once said, a perfect shotgun can make a man feel small.
She beckoned and I took up the rear. The witness I was chasing down was on the parterre.
‘Sure, that’s me. Alias.’
He thought that was as funny as Prohibition. The buttery grin said he was slaying a thousand whooping, drunken tourists in Las Vegas.
‘Enough with the Chandleresque tropes,’ he commented. ‘You don’t have the genius.’
In the clapboard town, where dust was thick, and they drank the saloon dry of oolite every night, there was a cornbrash kid without a single lick of sense. It was a sure thing he’d wind up in the ampthill, no nickel in his pocket, in a coffin made of cheap kimmeridge.
The deputy sheriff, an old rustler with stubble beyond the reach of a razor, watched the kid from the sidewalk. He watched how he whistled. He watched how he peered in at the windows of the stores, with a sly lias on his lips.
But then that was what happened to kids out there, most of them were as cornbrash as this simple 17-year-old, few with wits sufficiently permian to even spell their names. The sheriff went across to his pal, the corallian, who was holding the horses in check.
‘That’s what it says on the sign.’
Jeremiah Jones spat, took another sip of neat cornbrash and squeezed off a shot at the can of O-O-Lite that he had confiscated from his son. Dang it, he had tried: he’d learned the boy ridin’, ropin’, tyin’, brandin’ and all the corallian arts. Yet he’d turned out as soft as a bowl of warm kimmeridge. Now he wanted to go to college, to study English, like he didn’t talk it already, not for just one semester, but as a Permian. The screen door banged and his wife Loretta appeared, her hair tied back with a blue lias that flapped in the evening breeze. ‘What you makin’ such an ampthill outta nuttin’ for, Jem?’ she asked. He told her. ‘Don’t you worry none about that boy, Jem. He ain’t no son o’ yours.’
Kimmeridge felt like an enormous sponge oozing sweat. Being the British Resident for the entire Corallian Peninsula was no fun. Of course it wasn’t meant to be, you were doing your duty by King and Empire, but still …who could adjudicate the tortuous, age-old feud between the Oolites and the Lias? Or assess the dowry value of a herd of dwarf goats? Such testing matters, plus jungle noises and voracious mosquitoes, robbed him of sleep, appetite and confidence.
He thought almost tearfully of Mater, Nanny, the handsome grange a few miles from Ampthill, the scent of hayfields, the honest, cornbrash ways of the estate hands. As he recalled Hector Permian’s comment in his 1906 guidebook — ‘Corallia is not England, Home and Beauty’ — Kimmeridge found himself envying the cynical, bolshie outlook of the mad Old Etonian he’d met in Rangoon. What was the fellow’s name? Blair, Eric Blair.
Phil Neville has been given a mauling on Twitter on account of his less than scintillating commentary on the World Cup. Your next challenge is to recruit a well-known author of your choice (living or dead but please specify) to show him how it should be done (prose only and 150 words max.). Please email entries to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 9 July.
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