"Now we are ten!" our very own Rachel Kendall (or Tendall?) announced. Inspired, I began to run with the idea of writing a story in which every sentence has "ten" within it and having the word written as "TEN" each time. For example: I must write with some inTENsity. Sounded good to me and I could also include some puns - imagine the TENtation to do so. I would produce a TENgle of words. I could in facT ENsure my compliance with the theme (did you see what I did there?).
Would I be able to keep this up, I wondered, feeling somewhat on TENterhooks. If I stumbled in my TENs-spouting quest, maybe I could stretch the rules a little bit to include "teen" - as in the French "dix-sept" which is seventeen or TEN-seven in literal translation - or perhaps even "dec" prefixed words such as "decade" and "decimal" and even December - named as our TENth month but, because of those pesky Roman Emperors, actually our twelfth.
Ah, the Romans wrote "TEN" as "X" so I could cheat and have an OuLiPo style piece where each word / each senTENce has an X somewhere…
So I was on my way to play a game of TENnis but feeling a trifle bloated from having eaTEN an extra slice of BatTENberg cake that very morning when my eyes were caught by the display of new, jewelled watches in the window of TENko Temporal Stores. Yes, cake can be fatTENing but I would hopefully run it off. In the meantime, here were some handsome timepieces with the hands set in the open position showing TEN past TEN. In digital that would be 10:10.
I have noticed lately that I ofTEN become overly absorbed in present matters and this was the case outside the watchmaker's when staring inside at the conTENts of the cases within the watchmaker's. After a subjectively long spell, I realised that the timepieces were still saying 10:10, which meant that I was possibly late for my appointment even though no measurable moments had apparently passed. It's a tricky old subject this time business and one upon which I TENd to pontificate in many of my writings.
Here's a little haiku-type piece I wrote many years ago:
Future TENser still.
OK, it's not Keats or TENnyson but…
I made my way to the overgrown court where the lively TENdrils of animated weeds threaTENed one's ankles just beyond the baseline. My opponent Ben was there already with his plimsolls recently whiTENed and his skinny gluTEN-free diet torso encased in a "Ben TEN" T-shirt that would have been more appropriate on a younger person. Ben had once been a lieuTENant in the Militant TENdency so ought to have been comfortable raising his clenched fist high in the air. He'd once claimed that TENnis was the preserve of the bourgeoisie; a money-off deal at J. D. Sports had blown that opinion away if not completely then at least compeTENtly. He had a peculiar serving action, his arm flicking in the manner of a TENtacle. When his first half dozen serves all faulted I was given to ponder that "net" is "TEN" writTEN backwards, an observation that was up there with that old hippie standby of "dog" as a reversal of "god".
- Allen (or should that read AL TEN?)
Though he'd started the game with the fragility of a cenTENarian, he seemed to have warmed up now; or maybe it was a lack of atTENtion on my part that allowed him back into the contest, leaving us poised and trapped in a seemingly endless sequence of deuce and advantage. Quite dishearTENing all round. Finally, I showed greater TENsile strength by breaking his serve with an audacious lob TENderly curved in a parabola over his noggin. BeaTEN, he became a frighTENing creature, chasing me around the tramlines with an unscrewed TENnis racquet that contained that dubious medical instrument - a TENaculum. With great TENacity, I successfully fled what had become a TENse situation.
My appetite up, I thought that later I might TENderise some TENderloin, flatTENing the meat with blows like a Force TEN hurricane, before declaring the concoction unTENable within a vegetarian lifestyle and instead imbibing rather too much fizzy pop in order to brighTEN my outlook.
I needed to stop, look and lisTEN. Pay atTENtion. Had I really seen TENdrils? I smiled because it sounded like a nightmare visit to the dentist - TEN drills! Or a road-building scheme from the old days when all the work used to take place hidden within the carapace of a red and white TENt.
Letting the TENsion evaporate, I drifted into a reverie of TENnessee where I wore a TEN-gallon hat and spoke with a drawl that was TENtative at best.
I would soon be at TENfer Market but first I had to pass by a series of TENebrous TENements where the local rapscallions were likely to diss one's choice of footwear in voices closer to TENorino than strict TENor. Many of them kept un-muzzled pitbulls on gold chain leashes; the more developed denizens were conTENt to empty the local canal of its conTENts of carp and TENch whilst betting on the speed of competing TENrecs in an array of hamster wheels. TENrecs are insectivorous mammals from Madagascar; maybe one day they would achieve the popular TENable appeal of meerkats. I was a TENderfoot still in these parts even though my TENancy agreement with the local housing association had been signed half a score of months ago. The lettings agent had described the area as "vibrant, lively"; sometimes my TENancy felt like a life senTENce.
It was called TENfer Market because the stallholders sold most goods in batches of TEN. "Avocadoes now - TEN fer a pound." / "Aromatherapy oils - TEN fer a fiver. Ease the TENsion, girls!" / "Mop it up with TENa Lady, TEN boxes for a knicker."
I spied a good quality set of Ballantine paperbacks from the 1970s by William TENn - five short story collections and one novel. I enquired how much and was told, "Yours for a TENner."
I kept going with some TENacity. Was that TENacity or TEN a city? This sounded somewhat like the conTENtious beliefs of a mystical TENdency.
Believing had me thinking about The TEN Commandments. I TENtatively tried to recall their empirical order whilst a pair of geezers outside the TENpin bowling alley indulged in some friendly banter ending with the mild insult; "TEN bob your mob!" (Modern money translation for those who only know the post-Decimalisation financial TENets: "Fifty pee your posse!"). The signage of the building couldn't have been more than TEN watts - barely enough to see the tip of your finger by. This is my excuse for having erroneously purchased some fruit that I didn't realise was rotTEN until I had eaTEN it. I should have been forewarned as the barker looked too much like ex-Tory MP Chris PatTEN and, on closer inspection, was sporting a TotTENham polo shirt. My uncle had declared such trade as "VerboTEN!" If only I'd lisTENed.
As I recovered in my oxygen TENt, I promised to pay better atTENtion in future. The hospital radio was playing an old song by TENpole Tudor - an associate of Adam Ant from the eighties (or eight TENs, if you like). Maybe it was the drugs (sorry - medicine!) but I was briefly overcome by a feeling of TENdresse for all humankind. The radio was now playing Blur singing, "TENder is the night…" and I joined in mentally. Later, as is ofTEN the case, my mood darkened rather than lighTENed and I chastised myself for being unable to find room for or make use of words such as "TENcel", "TENure", "TENdinitis", and "concaTENation" (whatever that meant).
A light latTENing (made that one up) of arithmetic would cheer me up so I started a consideration of how in binary code if you write "TEN" it actually looks like a stutter - "1010" - with 1 in the 8s column, nothing in the 4s, 1 in the 2s and nothing in the units. We walk around with our TEN fingers and our natural reliance on base TEN but our even more mobile computers are doing their compuTEN in solidly binary fashion. TENds to make you wonder.
Thanks for your atTENdance and atTENtion