|Our Stories & Poems|
The tragedy of war ©
Dusk was beginning to descend on the wasteland.
Sasha shouted across to his pal, ‘Gotta go, Mama will be expecting me. Meet you for school in the morning.’
He scooped up the football and waved as he ran towards the flats. Taking the stairs two at a time, round and round the floors until he burst through the front door. He was assailed by the aroma from four steaming bowls of stew set out on the table and one empty place. Gathered around the table was Babouska, his Dad’s mother who had shared their home forever, Mama and his little baby sister Anna, banging her spoon on the high chair tray. After washing his hands as quickly as most eight year old boys do, he sidled onto a cushioned seat. Sasha waited hungrily for the statutory short thanks of prayer before raising his spoon.
His mouth opened to accept the food his nostrils had prepared him for when a tremendous explosion stopped him followed by the air raid sirens.
‘Quick, under the table!’
Anna was whisked from her baby seat, Babouska encouraged to move.
The time under the table felt interminable for Sasha, the noise horrendous. When eventually the outside elements went silent, Mama said they could emerge and get ready.
‘Get ready for bed Mama?’ enquired Sasha.
‘No son, we are leaving.’
‘But...’ tears began to appear, ‘what about Papa; where are we going?’
‘Ssh child, too many questions. Go and fill your school back pack.’
Sasha didn’t want to go anywhere. He liked school and his friends. This flat was the only home he’d ever known and what about his dad? Dad tried to stay in contact by mobile phone but transmission was very erratic. They’d not seen nor shared a meal with him for a long time. Ever since he’d packed his bag and gone away ‘to defend his country.’
It was difficult for Sasha to choose what to put in such a small bag, would he look silly with a teddy? Where were they going? Babouska had said a word like sanctuary – he had no idea what that meant. Mama turned the key in the lock. Would this small family ever see the familiar walls of home or could it be blown up and crumble?
They had no vehicle and only the possessions they could carry and load around Anna’s push chair. Mama said they were going to walk. It grew colder. Anna wanted to suck her thumb but her mittened hands made her grumpy. By moonlight Sasha dribbled his beloved football. The street lights were not functioning. Moving out of his home city a line of like-minded people appeared to be ahead of them. Slowly the outer streets became edged with snow.
Four days later, they arrived at the border to be welcomed by the sight of rows of coaches being loaded with families like themselves.
Uncle Ben ©
He never spoke about the war
Sometimes he’d rub his leg
Wasted muscle ripped by shrapnel
He often paused in conversation
To shake uncontrollably
As pink tongue lolled from his mouth
Not through stroke, or illness
But post-traumatic stress
Shell-shock it was called
At night his tin arm with its evil hook
Hung over the bedside chair
When the terrors in his dreams woke him
He was drenched in sweat and smelled of fear
He asked God what the purpose was
Surviving when his mates fell
Hollow victory so many gone
Why did he live through that hell?
For Ben Bates
Serial or Cereal ©
Warm and soft. Much like the scent of the old rose which was weaving across the bedroom window. Also much like Mrs Popover next door. Craig smirked. Privately he thought of her as Mrs Pushover. Still she served his needs nicely.
Now his sights were trained on young Julie in the typing pool. In his role as HR manager Craig often wandered into the gloomy basement which housed the young typists. His boss, old Mr Manners, thought he was keeping a fatherly eye on the young fledglings as he liked to think of them. Craig though had less than fatherly leanings.
Craig’s wife, Sandra, had a busy social life so they were seldom in the house together. As Mr Manner’s PA her job was quite stressful, so in the evenings she liked to let her hair down with her girlfriends.
As a serial cheater, Craig had few qualms when selecting his next conquest. He reasoned that it was genetic as his father had left behind a string of broken hearts and not a few bastards too. That Craig lacked his father’s charm didn’t hold him back.
Little did Craig realise that, behind his back, the typists referred to him as Craig the Creep and were under no illusion as to his motives. The others cautioned Julie to be ultra careful.
The Christmas bash was looming but Craig’s antics would hopefully be curtailed as Sandra would be with her husband. Should he prove unavoidable though, the typists had devised a cunning plan involving the stationery cupboard.
The boss’ generosity proved unstinting in providing a tasty buffet and unlimited alcohol. Although slightly tipsy the typists had stuck together. Safety in numbers they reasoned. Across the room Craig was swaying and red-faced, Sandra looking thunderous.
Julie mumbled to the others that she was going to the ladies. ‘Will you be ok on your own?’ she was asked. ‘Oh fine,’ she answered.
Despite his obvious intoxicated state, Craig wove across the room and stood outside the ladies’ toilet. Poised to enter, Craig was surrounded by the typists who en masse manoeuvred him further down the corridor and bundled him into the stationery cupboard.
Despite the noises emanating from the cupboard which included falling objects and much swearing Craig wasn’t missed for over two hours. Sandra, in the meantime, was doing her thing on the dance floor enjoying the attention from half the sales force.
Mistaking it for the gents, old Mr Manners opened the door to the stationery cupboard. He was astonished, though greatly amused, when Craig fell out covered in bits of cereal and caked in flour.
Craig never lived it down and was divorced by Sandra who had been looking for a reason for years.
Hole In The Ground ©
The rain it fell so soft and gentle
The birds they gathered their feathers to clean
To this rippling puddle in the hole in the ground
From the rain that had filled the hole in the ground
The birds they flew over no drink for them there
Finding the right level ©
The director was getting worried
Who am I? ©
From my earliest memories I was always intrigued by the insides of squished animals. The colour of newly spilt blood tantalised my taste buds and the way it soon formed a skin intrigued me. When I looked a little closer, to my amazement there were perfectly formed objects contained within the damaged shells and split skins. I loved the fragility and frailty of flesh but was often pulled away from my discoveries hearing the adult mutterings of ‘Disgusting, revolting, so smelly, very distasteful.’ At the tender age of five, I wondered how they knew what it tasted like, longing to try tasting it for myself!
My hunger for the insides of dead creatures continued into my teens. The library had always been a place the family visited on a Saturday morning. Here I was allowed to choose three books for the coming week. As my reading skills became more accomplished, I developed a voracious appetite for both science fiction, crimes and mystery stories. My favourite subjects during secondary school were the biological sciences and I would spend all my free time in the science labs, examining the insides of earthworms, snails and frogs. Then came the dog fish and rabbits. The workings of all the major organs and systems within the animal body intrigued my curiosity. I was just sorry that we were never provided with a human body to dissect! Only a skeleton was found in the laboratory. With some careers’ advice it became obvious that I was destined for a career in the sciences. So I worked hard to gain good A level results and trotted off to University in the1950’s.
Here I spent much of my time investigating and examining a wide range of species. It was fascinating to concoct and mix substances to stain and produce slides to view under the microscope. Comparing the cellular structure of different organisms increased my knowledge and developed my appetite for all living things. University also introduced me to a lively social life with like minded students and I developed many lasting friendships that had begun in the laboratory.
After graduation I continued my studies, gaining my PhD which led to an invitation to take part in a research project abroad. I am forever grateful for the friendships and interests I gained that have flourished along with a life-time career working in many different ways with the wide-ranging and fascinating life that exists on earth. I am also proud to think I have introduced so many others to see life in the wild through the wonders of filming and technology.
I’m amused to think now that my commitment to life first started when I saw death. My early obsessions with dead things led me to discover the importance of life…
… and my dearest wish is that it can continue in all its variety and splendour for many, many generations to come.
The Queen's Green Canopy ©
Pauline Parnell Hopkinson
My roots are probing the deep dark earth and I drink the water to sustain my growth. I am the tree that Her Majesty planted to begin her celebration of seventy years on the throne.
I am a noble Verdun Oak, named for the battle of the First World War. Acorns were brought back from that dreadful field of conflict and grown in memory. I stand in the park at Windsor and I shall be here for many centuries. I wonder how many more kings and queens I will see?
I am told by my brother and sister trees through our network of root communication that our Queen has planted over fifteen hundred trees during her reign. She must be an expert by now.
So why don’t you ‘plant a tree for the Jubilee?’
The Church v The Circus ©
Two characters have arrived in Goldacre Square, a busy area on the outskirts of a large city. They are both trying to persuade the individuals passing through to part with some cash. One is a clergyman, dressed in black plus a dog collar. The other is a clown wearing a vibrant outfit with a painted face and an orange wig. They begin to shout their message as people stop and look at their placards.
Clown: Tickets for sale! Your chance to see the greatest circus show in the country. Acrobats, clowns and daring acts to amaze and impress. Tickets today at reduced prices. Ringside seats only eight pounds.
Clergyman: Listen everyone! The churches in this area are helping needy people, the homeless, anyone less fortunate than ourselves. Please give us whatever you can, however small, so that we can help them.
Several people stop and buy tickets or donate money to help the poor. During a quiet period the clown moves across to speak to the minister. She swaggers around haughtily and instigates a conversation.
Clown: Where’s your church then?
Clergyman: Oh, um, I belong to a group of churches in the city. Where’s your circus sited?
Clown: We’re not in the area yet. I’m selling tickets in advance. We set up the big top in a month’s time.
Clergyman: The tickets seem expensive. What about the families who can’t afford to go?
Clown: Come on vicar, we always get a full house. Bet you can’t fill your churches. Where’s the fun in prayers and long faces? Lots of laughter in the circus, it’s good fun for everyone.
She starts to inflate animal shaped balloons and soon attracts another customer.
Clergyman: We do have fun, there’s something called messy church for the kids. Our message is love – not only towards your friends but also your enemies and God loves everyone.
Clown: Just like us then. The clowns play nasty tricks and whack the hell out of each other but then they make it up.
Clergyman: You don’t do anything for others, you just fleece your own pockets.
Clown: We have a charity box at the exit to the big top and we visit the kids in hospital.
Clergyman: Time to go. I’m getting cold. The people round here have been very generous, they always feel sorry when the kids are having a rough time. I might come to one of your shows and have some fun.
Clown: I can let you have a half-price ticket.
Clergyman: No thanks, I’ll wait ‘til I see the posters. Bye.
He hurries out of the square whistling while she counts her money and smiles. There are toilets just around the corner where the clown’s outfit and wig are quickly removed. The face paint is a bit more stubborn but soon the girl is heading towards the shops to spend her earnings. Meanwhile the ‘man of the cloth’ is sitting in his car having detached his dog collar and put on a hoodie. It’s time to meet his mates at the pub.
The Ticking of the Clock ©
Katherine paced the narrow room. Dawn was just breaking and the light from the window cast shadows onto the stone floor. Six o’clock struck from the tall tower and she shivered with presentiment. Surely she would receive a reprieve? Henry loved her, of that she was sure. Then her mind wandered again and for a full hour she thought of her lover, Percy, remembering the touch of his hands and the delicious feeling in her body which stayed with her long after he had left.
Seven o’clock struck and the heavy door opened. A platter of food was passed into her before the door shut again with a bang. She glanced at the simple fare she had been given, bread and cheese with a flagon of wine. She had no appetite for the food but quickly quaffed the drink, wiping her mouth with her sleeve as the wine hit the mark. She allowed herself a little smile as she daydreamed about her lost lover, losing track of time.
Eight o’clock struck and the sounds of the tower came to life. Eddies of laughter floated up as she heard the banging of nails and the raucous shouts of workmen. She lay her head down briefly onto the trestle bed, seeking sleep which would not come.
Nine o’clock and she could hear the shrill shouts of women and the deeper tones of men who had come to watch the spectacle. She shivered again from cold and fear. She heard the key turn in the lock and a brief conversation between male voices. Surely it was Henry, her saviour!
A priest entered, his black garbed figure looking sternly at her as her heart beat faster. He silently admonished her to kneel at the prie dieu before solemnly asking, ‘Do you confess your sins, my child?’
She shook her head, wishing her heart would still its beating. ‘I have nothing to confess, Father. I am innocent.’ He glanced at her telltale hands which shook as she touched the proffered Bible.
He spoke a prayer in Latin, making the sign of the cross above her and then left the room with a silent shake of his head. She heard his footsteps and the swish of his robes, followed by the clang as the door shut.
Ten o’clock came and went. Her whole body shook with fear. Surely he would come for her? Surely he loved her? Surely he would change his mind and save her?
Eleven o’clock. The ravens were cawing outside and the crowd of people outside must have grown, their noise unabating. A chill wind came through the slits and the air was full of a damp mist which permeated her gown.
Twelve o’clock struck. It was time. Katherine heard the sound of the key again and shivered. Two black garbed figures entered the room and took her by either arm. She walked, trembling, down the narrow steps, through the corridors and outside onto the grass. She saw the scaffold and the tumultuous crowd waiting. A few yards away she saw a head impaled on a stake and recognised the grisly apparition as her lover. She knew there was no hope for her, Katherine Howard, as she knelt, awaiting the axe to fall.
The Foundling ©
The sedan chair was hot and stuffy causing Sir Thomas to mop his brow with his handkerchief. He was glad that it was merely 4 miles to London from his mansion In Mayflower Road, Rotherhithe and did not necessitate using his coach and horses along this overcrowded road; the sedan was faster with the carriers weaving in and out of the traffic. Today Thomas was raising more funds for his project amongst the ladies of consequence including the Duchess of Sussex. If he could persuade these ladies that this was a good cause, the next step would be to approach the king.
He looked out of the window when the chair stopped momentarily. A wagon had spilled its load of barrels, probably full of wine newly arrived from the docks and bound for the cellars of the wealthy merchants. Thomas mused it was probably destined for Berry Brothers and Rudd in St James’s, a merchant whom he had dealt with many times. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted a bundle of rags in the arms of a child. This was his reason for raising money. These children needed proper homes, proper care. In his eyes it was disgraceful that children be left to die in the street, unwanted like kittens and left to fend for themselves. The older child clutching the bundle was obviously a sibling. Thomas beckoned the child to his window and asked the whereabouts of their mother. The boy, aged about five, told a sad tale of how his mother was sick and the father had disappeared but to Thomas this was a familiar story. From his pocket he withdrew his silk purse and gave the boy a shilling making him swear not to give it to his mother for gin but to feed himself and get a nurse to feed the infant. The boy was overwhelmed and cried.
By this time the wagon had been reloaded with its wares and the sedan progressed to London. Sir Thomas reflected that he had seen many sights as a sea captain but that the sight of children trying to live in such dire circumstances tore at the fabric of his being.
The day was fulfilling for Thomas. He raised the awareness of many of the titled ladies whom he addressed and within months he had sufficient funds to build his Foundling Hospital in Bloomsbury. There was sufficient land in the surrounding fields but he had to present the proposal to the king to receive the charter for the hospital. The king agreed for, as Thomas pointed out, these children would become useful citizens if looked after properly. Thomas had achieved his vision for a better future for these poor wretches and the hospital was built.
The Superior Project ©
The teenage boy, Abdul Ahad, stared across the sparsely furnished living room at the swollen belly of his pregnant mother. How had Papa been allowed to do that disgusting act again to his Mustana? Papa, with his leg missing below the knee after a round of shelling six months back, struggled to put food on the table for the existing mouths. There was barely enough of anything for the family.
Abdul had unfurled his prayer mat and faced Mecca. The mullah’s reasoning had made complete sense to Abdul as he knelt amongst the men at prayers the previous month. His name meant servant of the only one, so what better way to serve. The offer was a good one – cash and land for his family.
‘Praise be to Allah.’
Finishing a hurried breakfast of rice, Abdul Ahad ran out of his home dust flying with each step he took in his donated Western shoes. He darted past the recently collapsed bridge and piles of rubble from buildings once fine and monumental towards the mosque. A bundle of clothes rolled up under his arm.
He washed his body, dressed in the clean trousers and jalabiyyah, and covered his dark hair. He allowed the straps of the suicide vest to be tightened securely around his young slender body and added the pristine shirt. He did not question his assistant on what was in the packages.
The time clock began to tick.
He stepped outside and walked the short distance towards the target. As agreed, the university. He mumbled to himself on the journey.
‘I believe that with my death I shall do all that it is my duty to do.’
Every ticking step gave Abdul the confidence he was doing the right thing. There had been many martyrs before him and his family would gain from this act.
The ticks appeared to get louder. Sweat began to form on his brow beneath the midday sun. Abdul was tempted to peep at the timer, but precision timing had been calculated into the walk.
His final thought was blown up into the wind.
A Village Christmas ©
A gingerbread cottage all covered with snow
A Mirror Image ©
Seated in front of her computer Alex gave the command ‘Open Erised’. The computer intoned: ‘Password please Alex.’ Alex tutted impatiently, even though she had coded the random password request herself. ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?’ she responded with more than a trace of sarcasm. The program opened to reveal a mirror. She sat back looking pensive. ‘What shall we try today?’ she wondered.
From early adolescence Alex had demonstrated a prodigious flair for coding. She had never been interested in gaming tending to favour programs of ultimate benefit to society as a whole. Erised however was a personal project.
Now a respected computer scientist, despite only being in her early 20s, Alex had developed Erised at home as it wasn’t a program she was willing to share - at least not just yet.
The mirror was reflecting a not unattractive face - green eyes with sandy lashes, a snub nose with a smattering of freckles and a mop of auburn curls. ‘Erised, age me by 50 years,’ she commanded. The mirror revealed a deeply lined forehead, crinkled eyes and grooves either side of her mouth. Thank God I can have injections later, Alex thought, I look just like my mother!
‘Erised, make me a man!’ She blinked rapidly trying to clear the vision before her. The image was rather shocking. He was undoubtedly in his early 20s with cropped hair and a slightly flattened nose but there was a scar running from the outer edge of his right eye in a puckered curve to his mouth. The overall effect was a twisted one. Alex shuddered involuntarily. ‘Close Erised,’ she ordered.
In a bid to clear her head, Alex rang her best friend Chloe. ‘Do you fancy going out tonight?’ she asked.
‘Are you ok? You sound rather stressed,’ Chloe responded.
‘Just work stuff,’ Alex replied, adding ‘Let’s go somewhere new!’ They arranged to meet at 8.30.
Chloe did a double take when she saw Alex. ‘What have you had done to your hair? Not that it doesn’t suit you!’ she added hastily.
Alex put her hand to her head, somewhat shocked to realise that it felt really short. What on earth is going on? she thought. ‘Oh, I just fancied a change that’s all,’ Alex recovered quickly, adding ‘I did it myself actually.’
Chloe bumped her friend on the shoulder. ‘Well it makes you look rather androgynous. Very cool.’
The new club was heaving and the two friends quickly lost each other as the dancing became more and more frenzied. Neither was concerned, reasoning that they would catch up sooner or later.
Just after midnight, and after failing to find Chloe, Alex decided to walk home. She was aware of footsteps behind her. She looked in the shop window to see if someone was following her but she couldn’t be sure.
Entering a side street plunged her into darkness and she felt a hand on her shoulder. ‘Give me your bag,’ hissed a voice. Alex was having none of it and clutched her slim bag still tighter. She gasped in shock as she felt a blade touch her face.
The Dilemma ©
A lot of the time he had to look after his sister, and it was a terrible chore for a boy of ten years old. All he wanted to do during the summer holidays was play footy, cricket or go swimming, but always he had to look after his younger sister.
His mother said, ‘ You can go out to play if you take your sister.’ He never really wanted to, although sometimes she could be useful. She could stand behind the goal when playing footy and collect and return the ball, sometimes she was used as a goal post but she didn't like this very much. On other occasions she sat on the boundary and made daisy chains. He took her everywhere, to the shop, the school, everywhere.
The dilemma happened one Sunday morning when he and his sister were walking to church. A local lout from the school ran alongside them and began teasing his sister, running around pestering her and mocking her shouting, ‘all dressed up in your Sunday best are you?’ His sister’s face told him she was not keen on the intrusion and he quietly told her to ignore him, in the hope he would go away.
Unfortunately the lout persisted and began pulling his sister’s long blond hair, which had been carefully tied with a colourful red ribbon. As they walked further along the road, the lout must have thought he wasn’t chastising the sister enough for he began attacking the ribbon. Eventually he managed to remove it and in doing so made his sister cry.
Now, at this stage, he h a dilemma. Should he allow this lout to go on making his sister cry, or should he do something about it? This was a very difficult situation for him because he was not a violent boy but on the other hand he knew he could stand his corner.
In the end the lout became too demonstrative, and he stepped alongside him and grasped hold of the ribbon now gripped firmly in the lout's hand. He tussled with him for a while but the lout wouldn't let go. He then thought his only hope was to bash him, so he did this and made his nose bleed. Immediately, the lout let go of the ribbon, and after a few yelps, ran off holding his nose. His sister stopped crying, replaced the ribbon, and they went on their way.
The ten-year-old boy thought he might get into trouble but he didn't. Often he wondered if there had been an alternative to bashing him.
Fred and Lilly ©
Cleaning help required
in a family house.
Will suit mature person.
Contact Mrs Matthews,
91, Newmarket Road.
“Ooh Fred, sounds just right,” murmured Lilly as she sat down in the arm chair opposite him.
“Well you said you need a little job and there it is. Probably just a morning a week or something. You can do it, Ducks. Look, it’s nice and local.” he said pointing to the address.
Next morning Fred winked at Lilly, when she handed him his flask and sandwich tin as he left for work. Patting her on the bottom he said “See you at tea time, Ducks” and wheeled his bike through the gate into the alley at the back of the row of terraced houses.Lilly, wearing her favourite apron, picked up the dirty dishes and as she washed and dried them she tried to think of what she could say to the lady of the house. I’ve had no experience, she thought. As she made the bed and dusted the dressing table she looked in the mirror and said to herself you’ve only worked in a factory Lilly. As she scrubbed extra hard round the basin and toilet she thought I’ve not worked since the girls were born. As she started to remember Mandy and Maureen, she reminded herself she needed something to fill the empty hours she spent in the house. Taking a deep breath she took her coat from the cupboard and as she pinned her hat on her head she said to herself, Come on ducks, you can do it” just as Fred always said to her.
As Lilly rang the doorbell, she hoped the lady of the house would be as friendly as the house looked. She didn’t have to wait long find out.
Mrs Matthews wearing an apron over her day dress opened the door and smiled.
“How can I help?” she enquired
“Oh g - good morning. I’ve .. I’ve come about the job?” Lilly spluttered.
“Oh Goodness - I didn’t think it would be answered that quickly. Er … Do come in but you’ll have to excuse the mess. You’ll soon see why I’m advertising for help.” and Mrs M showed Lilly into the kitchen, where the table was littered with half-eaten bowls of porridge, sticky marmalade jars, half drawn pictures, wax crayons and a small cloth book. A baby girl sat in a blue buffer chair while another little girl sat cross-legged on the floor in front of her reading a story.
Offering Lilly a cup of tea Mrs Matthews explained they had just moved to the area and it was taking a while to get sorted. After discussing the work, the hours and the pay, Lilly immediately felt confident about how she could help and knew she would be only too glad to be hindered by the two delightful little girls.
Fastest bin man in the East ©
“This bloody mower” cursed Jim out aloud as it came to a halt once more. “The motor starts on the first pull but the cutting blades are always crunching up. I’ll just have to get rid of it and dispose of it somehow. They collect all sorts of waste around here – household rubbish, all the recyclable stuff and virtually all the green material like these grass cuttings that I need to clear from the garden but heavy old bits of metal have to be taken to the council site miles away.”
“So what’s upsetting you now?” came a voice from over the fence. “You don’t seem to be in the best of moods.” It was Eric, his friendly next door neighbour, who must have heard the cursing coming from the neighbouring garden. “Why not pop around now and we’ll share a beer or two and sort out this big problem of yours.”
Several beers later and with lots of sheets of paper covered in rough sketches, everything was sorted. Eric knew lots about cars and could do a bit of welding while Jim was not bad at most do-it-yourself jobs. They were both inveterate collectors of ‘things that might come in useful one day’, in this case an old office chair, that pneumatic wheel from a large rusty wheelbarrow and their new acquisition of a small but powerful ex-lawnmower engine.
How they got hold of an old wheelie bin is still a mystery but work started on their project under the cover of Jim’s big shed. A few weekends later, after much drilling, banging and occasional swearing, everything was ready for the great reveal to the awaiting world.
There it stood in all its glory, the Mark 1 version of the WFMWB (World’s Fastest Motorised Wheelie Bin), resplendent with the gold ‘go-faster’ stripes down both sides. The motor was situated at the base of the bin with little doors to get to the pull starter and the fuel tank. The lid was fixed up vertically with a Perspex-covered hole cut in it to provide a windscreen and the office chair snugly fitted inside to provide seating for the driver. The wheelbarrow wheel was on a longish arm out the back and chain-driven. Some of the old lawnmower controls were installed in the ‘cab’ to control the engine speed but there was no braking system.
“OK then, let’s wheel her down to the lane for a trial run.” Eric was keen to get going, “You can be the test pilot Jim as you are only five foot nothing and there’s not much room inside. And don’t forget that cycle helmet, best take precautions.”
The motor started first time. Jim gently turned on the power and WFMBW slowly moved forward. Steering was rather primitive but Jim felt confident so he increased speed slightly. “Guinness Book of Records here we come” he shouted, “the fastest wheelie bin in the world!” “More revs” urged Eric as their machine sped down the track.
So they got their place in the record books, not for speed but as the first wheelie bin to do a wheelie as WFMBW reared up and gently deposited Jim in the muddy ditch beside the lane.
Toms's discovery ©
Pauline Parnell Hopkinson
Joyce left her bungalow, number twenty one, for her permitted ‘daily exercise’ walk to the post box. She knew it was only a few hundred yards but it gave her a bit of fresh air and that was what she desperately needed at present. This lockdown was beginning to get on everyone’s nerves. Living alone didn’t help. She only had the television and radio to talk to.
Tom, at almost the same time, left his semi, number
three with his dog Dexter for their daily walk. Dexter was eager to get to
the common where he would run free. It was not like when Tom took him to the
woods and he could sniff out rabbits or surprise a deer but it was better
than being cooped up in doors with those pesky children all day.Joyce leaned on her stick as she rounded the corner
into the wind. Why was it always so much windier as you turned to face up
the road? It must be the north/south direction she thought. After posting
her letter she was about to go straight home when she decided to go a little
further. By going back towards her road she would have the wind behind her.
Tom quickly reached the common and let Dexter off
his lead. The excited animal raced off crazily. He chased among the grass
and bounded off towards the bushes, his black and white form disappearing
from time to time in the brambles.
Joyce was quite enjoying her ‘off piste’ experience.
She hadn’t noticed that the early buds were beginning to show life along the
opposite hedgerow. She wondered if she might take a chance to cross the road
to the side without a pavement and break off a sprig or two to take home and
put in a vase. It would give such pleasure to watch them develop.
Tom called to Dexter, ‘Come here Dex, Dex, here
boy.’ No reply, the dog was busy with an interesting smell he’d found. Tom
tried again. This time Dexter realised his time was up. Not long enough in
his opinion. They walked towards the road, Dex panting heavily after his
That’s when Tom regretted not putting his dog back
on the lead sooner. Joyce was struggling to break off her chosen twigs which
disturbed a hidden blackbird. The bird took off in a squawk of alarm and
that in turn caught Dexter’s attention. He chased the bird, foolish dog.
Joyce, surprised, toppled unsteadily just as a car came round the bend. The
squeal of brakes and a cry of fear.
Mercifully Dexter, Joyce and Tom were unscathed,
just a moment from disaster. The car driver was shocked too and not a little
cross but in these hard times understanding and kindness go a long way.
Joyce happily took Tom’s arm to help her home, he’d never been to that end
of the street before, bungalow land!
A Different Kind of Court ©
“Will the court please stand.” The clerk’s voice never wavered. My heart was thumping inside my chest and I clutched the dock to avoid falling. The members of the jury averted their eyes, the silence was tangible whilst the atmosphere in the room was stifling. So different to the courts I was used to.
I had barely been able to hold a racket when I first patted a ball back and forth to my parents. They had been determined that I should share their love of tennis. The local club was in walking distance and I was soon enrolled into the junior section. The first years were about having fun but it soon became training to compete and win. I can’t complain that I was forced to play because, after I had learnt the fundamental skills, my own motivation was high. Bizarrely I had the killer instinct even then.
I remember clearly the first time I met Libby who joined the club when she was about ten. She strolled confidently through the door and introduced herself. Members often mixed us up with our long blond hair and quick reflexes. We were soon part of the elite squad and qualified for personalised training. I recognised a fellow player who was as resolute as I was and we became good friends. Our coach entered us into many competitions and, as the years progressed, we both won cups but we achieved our best results when we played in doubles matches. Libby could anticipate my moves and we developed a range of strategies. In our teens we found time for boyfriends, usually club members, and Libby was great at sharing intimate moments. Ian and Greg were brothers who were also doubles partners and we travelled to tournaments together. Ian spent time with me and Libby and Greg were a couple. Life was terrific.
We practised endlessly and were both ambitious but we still had a good time.
Libby was keen to become professional. We were both in our twenties and tennis controlled our lives. Fortunately we gained a sponsor and joined the privileged few. Travelling became important as did endless hours in the gym between games and practice. Relationships with members of the opposite sex had become a thing of the past as we were exhausted and never in one place for long. My ambition was to gain positive recognition and win a major tournament but Libby seemed to have lost her focus. She became introverted and seemed to grumble about everyone and everything.
Then Libby met Oliver. He was certainly appealing from his good looks and charm to his smart sports car and inheritance. He wandered onto the court in Paris while we were practising. “I didn’t expect to find such a couple of attractive and talented young ladies here today,” he simpered. Libby stopped suddenly and their eyes met. I knew the die was cast.
We began to lose matches as Libby and her lover spent every free moment together. I hadn’t achieved my dream to play in a doubles final at Wimbledon and I needed my partner. My plans were methodical. When Oliver was involved in a fatal accident I naively thought tennis would be our focus again, but a heart broken Libby abandoned the game and started an investigation into Oliver’s death.
The silence in court finally ceased and the foreman of the jury announced its verdict. There was a shrill cry from the public gallery!
A Nice Cup of Tea ©
“Nice cup of tea, Marjorie dear?” said Dottie, bustling into the drawing room. She was still in her apron but had cleared lunch away, done the washing up and made a start on her other chores. She rested her hand briefly on the arm of a chair; her arthritis had been playing up this morning and she was already fagged out. However, as ladies companion, she knew her place and her arthritis had little of importance in the life of her employer.
Marjorie peered at her over the crossword page of The Times and tut-tutted at being disturbed. She was on the point of asking Dottie if she knew the answer to a clue but refrained. Dottie was not blessed with much intellect, something which used to have Marjorie in despair. However, she was nevertheless a good house-keeper which was a sop to Marjorie. She pursed her lips disdainfully.
“Tea would be nice, Dottie,” she said, looking at the clock. It was 2 o clock and she turned on the television to watch the racing. “After that, would you go to William Hill and put ten pounds on ‘Philanthropy’, for me,” she said.
Dottie sighed inwardly, a headache beginning at her temples. Why did Marjorie need the sound on maximum, she always wondered? She made tea and delivered it to her boss, put on her coat and shoes and exited the house.
Marjorie waited until she heard the front door shut and foraged in the large compartment of her chair. This was one place she didn’t let Dottie dust. Hah, success, her bottle of gin was still there! She poured a generous double into her porcelain cup, settling down to watch the afternoon’s racing. She had studied the form and thought she was onto a winner.
Half an hour later, Dottie returned, betting slip in hand. Marjorie was ready for more tea and she served her, noting that her employer was flushed and a little vague. Probably the racing, Dottie thought to herself, hoping Marjorie wasn’t going gaga. If her relatives put her into a home, Dottie would be out of a job!
Marjorie poured another generous tot of gin into her tea, after swivelling her neck around to check Dottie had left the room. She felt pleasantly euphoric and turned the television up to maximum, cheering on Philanthropy when he won.
The afternoon was when Dottie managed to get a little rest from the demands of Marjorie. She sat in the kitchen, feasting on a piece of fruit cake, unlaced her shoes and listened. No. All was quiet. Marjorie was probably asleep in her chair.
Dottie reached up into the highest cupboard and carefully pulled out a bottle of gin. It was still half full and she poured a generous tot into her tea. ‘A nice cup of tea, indeed!’
Changing Times ©
Childhood, at home in Norwich, was a fleeting memory for Patricia because the day she was taken to live with Gran and Grandad was the day when the six-year-old was expected to act like a grown up.
It was 1942. Patricia’s father had joined the army and her mother was working full time at Boulton and Paul who were producing a variety of war equipment on Riverside in Norwich. Her mother had explained to Patricia that staying at Gran’s would be safer but she would still come to see her whenever she could. Patricia had cried the day her mother left her in Caston but Gran told her to wipe away her tears as she was a ‘big girl’ now. Patricia felt nothing like a big girl and later that night cried herself to sleep under the covers of the truckle bed.
It was spring and on Grandad’s small holding, chickens were laying profusely. He had given Patricia the job of feeding them, usually mashed potato and greens, and collecting the eggs with the dire warning of trouble if an egg was broken. This was apart from a multitude of other chores like raking the soil in preparation for planting vegetables. Grandad, a taciturn man, did not speak to the lonely child as she worked along side of him. In the house Gran had her cleaning the brass, sweeping the floors, polishing, plus any amount of fetching and carrying. Sundays were a day of ritual. Dressed in their best clothes they all went to church. The vicar would pat Patricia’s head and tell her how lucky she was to have kind grandparents looking after her. Mr Wise, the school teacher, always smiled saying “Hope to see you in school next week Patricia,” but she knew Grandad would never agree to that no matter how much she wanted to go.
Six or seven weeks later Patricia’s mother visited. Patricia was excited and hugged her mother tightly when she arrived.
“Oh my, you do feel like a skinny girl” her mother said. “Here, I’ve bought you a book I expect you are doing reading at school so I hope you enjoy reading this story,” she said.
“I haven’t been to school” Patricia replied.
Her mother exploded. “Mum, Dad, why hasn’t she been to school?” Instantly she was reminded of the reason she had left home all those years ago to live with her boyfriend who eventually became her husband.
Her mother coughed a little. “The teacher’s been ill.”
Grandad, who had been pretending to snooze in the chair, opened his eyes.
“Girls don’t need reading and educating, they need learning how to keep house and cook and how to keep a man happy” he growled.
Pat’s mum felt her anger rise up. “I’m working making parts for aircraft so that we can win a war. I’m doing a man’s job.”
The old man shrugged his shoulders.
“That’s it Trish, home we go. No more of being a skivvy. You can learn to read and write. Get your things.”
Patricia was delighted. She hadn’t enjoyed living with the old folk but she did give Gran a hug and said politely, “Thank you for having me Gran,” as she skipped along the garden path.
Lying face down on moist sand, I lifted my wet head, prised my eyes open and looked to left and right – where was I? It was eerily silent but for the lapping of seawater over my feet. Rolling over into a sitting position, I could see no people or buildings, sun beds, parasols. I stared beyond my bare ruby-painted toes to a horizon with a tiny speck of land.
What could I remember?
Zak and I had ventured out on a day fishing trip from the hotel; that’s right, but where was he and the boat? My mouth was parched, lips cracked, arms sore and heavy from swimming. I tentatively felt my body for blood and stretched out to check broken bones - matted hair with pieces of slime trailed through my fingers. I stood, legs shaking, feet bare. Had we capsized? I certainly had no possessions and only a bikini under shorts and t-shirt. My phone that could have been a lifeline was not in either pocket. I felt so alone and scared. Possibly I was on the uninhabited island we had seen and enquired about from our hotel.
It must be about midday as the heat from the sun was directly over my head and beating down causing it to thump with pain. I scanned the sea for any signs of Zak or the vessel.
My fascination for survival programmes on television and my old scouting skills made me aware that I needed to find some fresh water. I looked towards the greenery of the island which suggested there may well be a water course. The sand on this beach was soft underfoot, but I didn’t know what it would be like inland without footwear. I walked a short distance along the coastline and picked up a stranded empty plastic bottle, waded out to knee depth and rinsed it. I continued along the beach for a few more yards and found a thin trickle of water had channelled a course through the sand from inland.
But, if I left the shoreline, anyone out looking for me would glide past; however, I would just have to cut my losses and presume I hadn’t been missed yet and a search party not on its way.
I traced the water course back into the vegetation. Whereas the beach had been quiet, under this canopy was a cacophony of noise. Not manmade but natural, and I couldn’t not notice the vibrant colours despite my heart pounding with fear. It’s one thing listening to Radio Four’s Desert Island discs from the comfort of your home on sleepless nights and imagining what you would take but sleep always overcame me after the first two or three. When and if I felt more cheerful I could hum for music, but I wouldn’t be reading any favourite book today! My feet felt cool and clean walking upstream and fortunately it wasn’t long before I could hear a small and gentle waterfall. I managed to safely balance and fill the bottle. I returned to the beach to attend to the next stage of my survival.
Would I be able to light a fire of driftwood or gather stones to write Help to passing aeroplanes?
Her room was a mess. Discarded clothes, discarded mugs and discarded towels covered every surface. Her mum had given up. She was, after all, 23 now and not some teenager she could attempt to threaten. Chelsea couldn’t see the point. It wasn’t as if her boyfriend was going to see her room. Her dad had made that perfectly clear. But Chelsea had a plan and it was Friday night.
Her phone rang. ‘Hi, Chels, are we going out tonight?’ It was Tiff, her best friend. The pair had palled up at primary school and had been inseparable since.
‘Yea, I figured we could try that new bar. Remember it was buzzing last week when we went past?’
‘OK, I’ll pick you up at 9. Make sure you eat something first though. We don’t want a repeat performance of last week!’ Tiff reminded Chelsea.
Chelsea had rather hoped to forget last week when she’d blacked out as a result of too many shots on an empty stomach. The rest of that night was still hazy.
‘Have you seen Callum this week?’ Tiff asked, somewhat tentatively.
‘Actually no I haven’t,’ Chelsea admitted. ‘Expect he’s been really busy at work,’ she added.
‘Yes, probably,’ Tiff responded sounding unconvinced. ‘Anyway, catch up later,’ she said as she rang off.
Chelsea had been seeing Callum for six months now and she had great hopes that it wouldn’t be long until he’d ask her to move in. He had a good job in IT and Chelsea knew his flatmate was moving out soon. It’d be great to have the place to themselves instead of tip-toeing around nerdy Nigel.
She flicked through her messages but realised with a start that she hadn’t heard from Callum since last week. She scanned through her messages to him. With mounting horror she read the increasingly desperate and frankly smutty texts she had sent him last Friday. She had no recollection of sending them. What to do? Text or ring? If only she’d looked earlier she could have asked Tiff who always was the more sensible of the pair.
Swallowing nervously, she jabbed at his number on her phone. It rang a few times, then stopped. ‘He’s probably still at work,’ she reasoned. She texted ‘Hi, busy week? Sorry about all the texts, was a bit wasted! Wanna do something tomorrow? Can’t wait to see you.’
Ten minutes later and there was no response from Callum. She checked out his Facebook page. Callum’s profile had changed. Ominously it had changed from ‘in a relationship’ to ‘single’. Heart in her mouth she clicked on his photos. Every one of them as a couple had vanished.
She ran downstairs and burst into the sitting room where her mum was watching TV. Sobbing, Chelsea threw herself onto the sofa next to her mum. ‘Oh mum,’ she wailed, ‘Callum’s ghosted me!’ Her mum pulled her close. ‘I’ve no idea what you mean, darling, but whatever he’s done I’m sure you two can sort it out.’
We are not allowed to sing, it is a shame.
We are not allowed to sing, who is to blame?
We are not allowed to sing, even in the home.
We are not allowed to sing, ‘You’ll never walk alone.’
We are not allowed to meet, and gently shake the hand.
We are not allowed to meet, and listen to the band.
We are not allowed to meet, and graciously hug and kiss.
We are not allowed to meet, is not the only thing I miss.
We would like to have our freedom, and open up the door.
We would like to have our freedom, will we possibly value it more?
We would like to have our freedom, and say hello to all around.
We would like to have our freedom, and hear the human sound.
A Future Full of Bling ©
After a summer of collaboration, fading leaves, once vibrant green,
No longer rustle, party and sing.
And branches reluctantly release their coats of many colours,
To rain and blustering winds.
Fast falling foliage, the trees clutch weather-worn cloaks,
While fleshy fruits and hardened cases, shiver motionless,
Beneath beleaguered boughs, ready to be transferred
To a shallow grave.
Red hips, crabby apples, and aardvark-armoured nuts
Bide their time guarding the next generation,
While dormant stands the tree in silent contemplation,
Believing in restoration.
The season’s work complete, content but not complacent,
Trees dream of life anew, a future full of bling,
Awaiting ice-spiked nights and howling gales
Until the following Spring.
Just Floating Around ©
It was a comfortable life in the very posh hotel. We were an exclusive group and we kept ourselves to ourselves. Everyone knew that our lives were probably going to be rather short but we never knew where we might end up. We could be very close to very important people or we could just be ignored, ending up on the scrapheap.
We had been carefully packaged by the best people in the advertising and public relations industries. Designed to give a very high class image without costing a fortune, we were considered valuable items by those who took advantage of us each morning and evening.
It was a big up-market hotel in a popular seaside location. Each morning the maids collected up their quota before starting on their rounds. They took equal numbers of bath lotion, shampoo and some fancy smelling soap which they would then display appropriately in the rooms that they would be servicing. They were always amazed when most of these items needed replacing each time they went round even though there were hardly any of the wrappings in the waste bins. Did people take them away as reminders of a lovely holiday or were they just so hard up that it saved them a few pennies on their weekly shop?
I was one shampoo that actually got used. My discarded plastic capsule had been dropped in the room’s waste bin. The busy cleaners had then emptied out the bin’s contents into their big waste bags ready to be put with all the rest of the hotel’s rubbish. The hotel management didn’t bother to sort out what might be able to be recycled so we were all off to landfill or, even worse, incineration. When the council’s refuse vehicle arrived we would all be flung in the back of it and driven off to our fate. This time it turned out to be the landfill site that was way out of town near the river estuary.
As soon as we were all dumped on the big heap, the resident gulls were screeching overhead and trying to find something of interest that perhaps they could eat. At the same time a big vehicle was driving back and forth over us to compact us down as much as possible. Suddenly I was picked up along with a piece of ham sandwich and was being flown out over the river estuary. Equally suddenly the gull found that I was uneatable and so I was dropped from a considerable height into the water below. So here I float, along with all the other plastic detritus that may eventually be dumped on a nearby beach or discovered by some sea creature that may also try to eat me.
Jack's Mountain ©
Pauline Parnell Hopkinson
‘Will it be tomorrow Dad?’ Matt was putting the boys to bed after a fun packed day on Anglesey. ‘Well, I’ve looked at my weather App and it might be, if you get a good night’s sleep.’ He turned out the light and went downstairs to the living room of the cottage where Hannah sat with her Mum and Dad. They had hired the holiday home with the idea of climbing Snowdon.
‘Are you up for it tomorrow Mum?’ Matt asked his mother-in-law. ‘Jack and Henry are so keen, I think it has to be now or never as the forecast is not so good later in the week.’ Margaret and John looked at each other. ‘It won’t be easy but we’ll give it our best for the boys.’
The cottage was set in a pretty little garden and far enough away from the road to be safe for two energetic boys to explore without danger. Henry, at nine, felt very superior to his seven year old brother. They both went to after school clubs for gym and football so Matt was not concerned about their fitness.
Matt was a keen walker and had done all the research but he had never climbed as high as the famous 3,560 ft mountain. He tried to weigh up which would be the easiest route to take. Llanberis Path was said to be the favourite but it was longer in miles than the Miner’s Track. He put it to his father-in-law that they should go for the Miner’s Track as it zig zagged around lakes and didn’t get steep till nearer the top. The views would be better too. John agreed.
Carrying knapsacks in which were their lunch, bottles of water and chocolate and biscuits for energy boosters they all left the Pen-y-Pass car park early the next morning. Hannah had explained to the boys that there would be no café at the top due to the Corona virus and the toilets were closed too. If they saw a group of people they would step aside to let them pass at a safe distance. ‘We must all follow the rules.’ she said.
Henry and Jack set off at a fast pace but soon slowed down to stay close to Gran and Grandpa, remembering that they were ‘old people.’ The surrounding scenery was stunning and the bridleway was quite easy to walk on. When they stopped for a snack Matt reminded the boys that Sir Edmund Hillary had trained for his ascent to Everest on this very mountain that they were climbing. Henry had learned about it at school, so was very impressed.
They continued upwards, the clear blue sky and warm sunshine making the lakes below them glisten and shimmer. The footpath became a harder challenge with loose scree making their feet slither and slide on the unstable rocks. Margaret said to her daughter that she wouldn’t like to live here in winter when the weather would be harsh. ‘Imagine the cloud lowering around the mountain tops, you may not see the sun for days. Snow can be picture postcard pretty but not if you have to go out in it.’
After a stop for lunch they eventually reached the final ridge. There was only a few hundred feet to go. Jack was exultant, he’d nearly made it to the top of his dream mountain. He ran across the narrow path, the steep drop either side not bothering him at all. Henry and Matt followed, then Margaret said to Hannah, ‘I’m sorry, I just can’t cross that gap. My stomach is churning and the drop either side is terrifying me.’ John looked at her, he knew she had done well to get this far and with the prospect of the descent still to be made he said gently, ’That’s okay Margaret, we’ll wait for them here on this big rock. You have a rest and a drink of water, they won’t be long.’
Two very excited boys slept well that night and Gran, although disappointed not to have made the final few feet, was nevertheless quite pleased to have made it nearly to the top of Snowdon.
How the other half live! ©
Frankie knew the branch would hold his weight. He was skinny and undernourished but very agile. His dirty, ragged clothing was at odds with the neighbourhood, although this wasn’t a problem as he was well hidden. He’d shinned up this particular tree many times before. Escaping from Ma and the dreaded matchbox making, even for a short time, was bliss.
Watching the nobs fascinated Frankie. One day he would wear a smart suit like the boy who lived at number 12. Frankie had watched the young lad climb out of the hansom cab with a tall man who patted him affectionately on the head and said, “Home at last Percy.” Frankie’s dad often cuffed his ears, particularly when he was drunk, and muttered, “Get out of my way, bloody kids!” Sometimes Percy was with a little girl. She had a mass of blonde curls and pink cheeks. Frankie felt a bit sad when he heard her giggling. His little sister Martha was just a baby when Ma woke up one morning and found her dead. She had been jammed between her parents in their small bed. Bet the kids of the toffs never suffocated he thought. They didn’t have to live in one room. Percy didn’t have to share a bed with three brothers.
The family at 12 Digby Avenue kept the boy from the slums captivated. Percy’s Mum wore beautiful frocks and was always smiling. After peeking at the comings and goings at the grand house Frankie would run quickly back home. He was soon at the sticky, slimy street where his family lived in a squalid tenement block. His Ma would be waiting for him. Her sunken, black rimmed eyes stood out from her pallid complexion and she was always tired. If they had made a few hundred match boxes in a day Ma relaxed a little and told stories. Frankie loved her tales about her time in service with an upper-class family. “Cor, you should see how the other half live.”
Life wasn’t all grim for Frankie. Sometimes Dad bought home a pie from the stall down the street and they sang the old music hall songs. Dad played his mouth organ and Ma danced, but usually fun days were few and far between.
One day Frankie was creeping down Digby Avenue trying not to be conspicuous when he saw, on the opposite side of the road at number 12, several people carrying furniture out of the house. Percy’s Mum, with a child on either side, was sobbing. Frankie stepped back between the trees and wondered what was happening. He turned quickly and walked back. On the corner of the avenue he met Charlie clutching a basket of kindling. The older boy was there selling his firewood most days. Today he was keen to broadcast the news.
“There’s been some right goings on at number 12! They came for that posh man and carted him off to the debtors’ prison first thing. Now they’re dragging out his furniture. People say he owed hundreds and hundreds of pounds!
Frankie had a great deal to ponder on his way home.
A Nice Cup of Tea ©
“Nice cup of tea, Marjorie dear?” said Dottie, bustling into the drawing room. She was still in her apron but had cleared away lunch, done the washing up and made a start on her other chores. She rested her hand briefly on the arm of a chair; her arthritis had been playing up this morning and she was already fagged out. However, as ladies companion, she knew her place and her arthritis had little of importance in the life of her employer.
Marjorie peered at her over the crossword page of The Times and tut tutted at being disturbed. She was on the point of asking Dottie if she knew the answer to a clue but refrained. Dottie was not blessed with much intellect, something which used to have Marjorie in despair. However, she was nevertheless a good house-keeper which was a sop to Marjorie. She pursed her lips disdainfully.
“Tea would be nice, Dottie,” she said, looking at the clock. It was 2 o’clock and she turned on the television to watch the racing. “After that, would you go to William Hill and put ten pounds on ‘Philanthropy’ for me,” she said.
Dottie sighed inwardly, a headache beginning at her temples. Why did Marjorie need the sound on maximum, she always wondered? She made tea and delivered it to her boss, put on her coat and shoes and exited the house.
Marjorie waited until she heard the front door shut and foraged in the large compartment of her chair. This was one place she didn’t let Dottie dust. Hah, success, her bottle of gin was still there. She poured a generous double into her porcelain cup, settling down to watch the afternoon’s racing. She had studied the form and thought she was onto a winner.
Half an hour later, Dottie returned, betting slip in hand. Marjorie was ready for more tea and she served her, noting that her employer was flushed and a little vague. Probably the racing, Dottie thought to herself, hoping Marjorie wasn’t going gaga. If her relatives put her into a home, Dottie would be out of a job.
After swivelling her neck around to check Dottie had left the room, Marjorie poured another generous tot of gin into her tea. She felt pleasantly euphoric and turned the television up to maximum, cheering on Philanthropy when he won.
The afternoon was when Dottie managed to get a little rest from the demands of Marjorie. She sat in the kitchen, feasting on a piece of fruit cake, unlaced her shoes and listened. No. All was quiet. Marjorie was probably asleep in her chair.
Dottie reached up into the highest cupboard and carefully pulled out a bottle of gin. It was still half full and she poured a generous tot into her tea. ‘A nice cup of tea, indeed!’
Last Train ©
Eleanor pushed the waiting room door a little and looked to see if anyone was in there. Satisfied she was the only person, she went in and sat nearest to the dying embers of the coal fire. The room was quite warm in comparison to the cold night air outside and had a lingering smell of tobacco or was it cigar smoke, she was not sure. She looked at her Timex, a gift from her grandmother the previous Christmas and realised she had twenty minutes to wait before the train to London was due. She had not meant to leave so late but Gran enjoyed her visits talking about the old days and time had passed without her realising.
The door suddenly opened, rousing Eleanor from her reminiscences. A youngish man, came in. He looked at Eleanor and nodded his head but did not say anything for which she was glad as she did not like talking to strangers. She huddled nearer to the fire. The man was smoking, the same smell that she had noticed before. Eleanor thought he must work on the railway as he wore a grubby white shirt with sleeves rolled up. He had a waistcoat with a watch and chain attached and wore dark baggy trousers all of which seemed incongruous on such a cold October night. In the distance she heard a bell ring. He coughed, “Next train soon” he stated.
“Yes, thank you.” Eleanor replied and continued looking at the fire.
The man left and she breathed a sigh of relief.
Seconds later the door opened once more. The station master came in, a portly gentleman with rosy cheeks.
“Two minutes, miss, and the last train will be here.”
“Yes, thank you, the other man just told me that.”
“What man?” he asked.
The man who seemed to have bad legs, he seemed to shuffle.
“Oh, you met our Thomas Port. He was a guard on this line several years ago but he fell off the train as it started to leave and was crushed. His legs were severed and he died later. He’s buried in Harrow churchyard.”
Eleanor shuddered. “You mean I’ve just seen a ghost?” she gasped.“Train is in miss, you had better hurry up.”
Not only was Matt missing his Friday quiz night, the beers, and his mates but since the lockdown he had been struggling twenty-four seven with his wife and the noise of her foot constantly on the sewing machine pedal. Sylvie was saddened to see her husband imprisoned and deprived of his television sport as she had found herself making scrubs for the NHS. Matt a carpet fitter and Sylvie a hairdresser had been furloughed and Matt was struggling to find purpose to his days in the small flat that they had hoped to move out of.
‘I’ve been thinking Matt, why don’t you set up a virtual quiz on Zoom or Google Hangouts or even House Party?’
Matt’s hand stopped halfway to his mouth, butter slipping from the toast onto his lap. He cocked his head to one side, brain cells whirring. Why hadn’t he thought of the idea? He jumped up, pecked Sylvie on the cheek and rinsed his hands before grabbing his i-phone. He could check if all the regular team and their opponents had broadband.
‘I’m doing a Pilates zoom tomorrow night Matt, I could ask B what to do.’
‘Don’t worry; I’ll Google it now you’ve given me the idea.’
Sylvie smiled to herself, a happy hubby made her life so much more pleasant. Yes, she adored him, but he was not very good at change. The news ten days ago of being shut up for ten weeks had not been accepted well by him.
Matt retreated into the bedroom; in between machining, Sylvie could hear his excited chatter and when she went to offer him a coffee, his grinning face showed all was going well. The following day he was up, shaved and showered standing beside the bed with a mug of steaming tea proffered in his left hand, the wedding ring on his finger still gleaming with newness.
‘I’ve got the team on board for Friday night love. They’re all up for it, missing it as much as I have been. I’m going to be the host and none of us has to bother with the drink driving rules.’ He chuckled, the first she’d heard in a while. ‘Would you mind if I set the laptop up in the lounge, as I need a plain wall behind with no light reflecting? I thought our bookcase wall would be too distracting,’ he winked. ‘I’ve started to prepare the questions on different slides, with a picture round, sport and music using Spotify. I need to prepare and email a numbered answer sheet.’ Oh, he was so animated his wife thought as she bit into a juicy pear.
‘Cheers,’ they all waved beer mugs ‘and welcome to our Zoom quiz night, the first of many if you all behave,’ the four teams bantered together and the quiz began.
Close to the allocated time ‘Now everyone, write your score on the answer sheet and hold it up to the camera. Don’t worry; it is backwards to you but not to us.’
It didn’t take Matt long to say:
‘And it’s a well done to The Three Must Get Beers, with Bad Boys just one point behind. See you all same time next week and we’ll see if they can hold the title. Bye.’ Many hands and beer mugs waved at the screen.
Downstream from the big city
The Urban Immigrant ©
It was eerily quiet. The light levels low in that time between dusk and pitch black. The pale meniscus moon lending nothing. The riverbank was deserted, no moorhen picking desultorily at scant greenery. Even the water had a brackish air and probably not fit to drink. But needs must for he was parched. He hunched down and gulped, lapping like a dog and carelessly spraying droplets. Once sated his thoughts turned urgently to food. Even moorhen was off the menu and the river was long devoid of fish.
He set off to the nearest farm. Across the fields, skirting the barbed wire and the frozen cow pats. He conjured the taste of chicken although it was a distant memory. The farm though always had a large flock. He just had to avoid the aged collie who, with any luck, might be deaf by now.
His nose alerted him first. Then the buzzing swarm of flies. A barely discernible single chicken carcass was lying in the yard, largely picked clean. He checked the main barn but that proved empty too. Still there was plenty of straw to bed down in. Reminded that he was still hungry he peered into the farmhouse where a single light pooled on the kitchen table. That too was bare. The back door was ajar so he entered warily. No-one appeared to confront him and, joy of joys, the larder was open. Joy soon turned to dismay as yet another cloud of flies had beaten him to whatever had been edible.
Deciding to cut his losses he abandoned the farm and set off, again across the fields, to the next nearest house. In fact these were a small string of terraces, built for the farm workers but since sold off as the farm had diminished. Most recently these had been populated by city folk with large flashy cars that whipped down single track lanes with no thought for anybody. He despised everything they stood for but had to admit their wastefulness with food had worked to his advantage. Their bins were often overflowing with half-eaten takeaway containers and food past its use by date.
Finally his luck was in for the very last bin he checked had its lid closed so that the flies had not beaten him to it. He nudged the lid off very carefully, ever vigilant to eyes and ears. He was rewarded by a chicken carcass with plenty of meat on its bones and several containers with eye watering bits and pieces swimming around in a viscous red sauce. Food fit for a king.
With his tongue burning and his belly full he sloped off back to the riverbed where he often slept. A mossy hollow sheltered by ferns made for a comfortable pad for one urban fox who had been forced out of the big city.
Mr Lighthouse Man ©
The phone rang. ‘Hello?’ I said, there was no one there. I hung up. All the lights went out.
I must have dozed off.
I lay for a moment to collect myself, whilst doing so I heard the generator start and saw all the lights come on again.
A few thoughts struck me. One; that's only the second time in a hundred years the lighthouse light has failed and two; the emergency generator started automatically and temporarily restored the electricity. This enabled the lights to return which was a really good thing for a lighthouse.
I rose from my slumber, stumbled into the room where the electrical fuse box was situated and gently studied it.
Suddenly a little voice said: ‘It was Brian who fused all the lights. I think he’s had a terrible shock.’
I looked around but couldn’t see anything or anybody. Then the same voice spoke again. ‘I’m down here,’ it said.
I looked down and saw an elegant grey mouse raised up on hind legs, with an expression on his face indicating a tear was about to form in his eye. Again it spoke: ‘I think we’ve had an accident.’
‘Have we?’ I said in a surprisingly calm voice.
‘Yes, Brian the explorer has explored a bit too far and blown a fuse in more ways than one.’
‘Hang on a second,’ I said, ‘who are you?’
He regained his composure, stood to attention, folded his arms across his chest and lifted his head.
‘Ah yes, I’m George and I’m a lighthouse mouse, in fact, I am the head of all the lighthouse mice.’
‘Oh, are you? Well hello George, nice to meet you. Is Brian inside the electrical fuse box?’ I asked.
‘Yes I think so, can you get him out and we’ll give him a proper state burial?’
‘Oh, is he royalty then?’ I politely enquired.
‘No, after what’s happened I think he’s just in a bit of a state.’
I opened the fuse box and there was Brian, stuck behind two fuses, stiff as a board.
George gently asked, ‘Can you get him down? I’ll arrange for the lads and Marilyn to carry him outside.’
‘Yes, she’s the backbone of the team.’
I switched the fusebox off and removed Brian the explorer. ‘Here he is; I’ll take him outside for you if you want me to?’
‘No no, union rules, we’ll do the taking out thank you; err, no offence.’
‘No, no offence taken. By the way, why haven't I met you before?’
‘Ah, you weren't around the last time the big light went out. It was long ago, before your time.’
A little troop of mice came in, took hold of Brian and marched him out, as they went George shouted, ‘see you later.’
I stood slightly dazed and perplexed but outwardly managed a rather satisfying smile.
Slowly and thoughtfully I replaced the fuses, stopped the generator, turned the switch and the main light came on.
‘Jolly good,’ I whispered.
The Loom ©
Aunt Jane was my godmother. My mother and I visited the large, rather untidy house infrequently even though she and her husband Jack lived a mere two miles away. Jack on the other hand, had a splendid garden filled with flowers and immense hydrangeas which were his pride and joy. Jane was always pleased to see us but in her eccentric way would not offer a cup of tea until we were about to leave but that did not matter because I was intrigued with Aunt Jane’s latest project.
She invited me into her world where an eight-foot-tall loom filled the front room. She told me she was making cloth of many colours with patterns that she had devised and, flicking a switch, the contraption sprang into action. The constant clack, clack, clack as the shuttle sped backwards and forwards was loud. Dust motes filled the air as the cloth grew. Aunt Jane’s face grew redder in the heat. Finally, she stopped and asked if I would like to see other cloth she had made.
We climbed to the top of the house to a room which was filled with rolls of material, all carefully wound around cardboard cylinders. Every colour, every variety of cloth seemed to be stacked orderly in contrast to the rest of the house. I asked her what she did with these rolls of cloth and she told me they were sold to famous fashion houses ready be made into stunning clothes for the rich and famous. I was impressed.
A few years later, Jane died. After the funeral, Jack gave me a painting which was a self-portrait of Jane working on her loom; at the time she had progressed into her artistic phase. He told me she was thrilled I had taken an interest in her cloth making. I took the painting home but had reservations about hanging it in my minimalist loft apartment and relegated it to a cupboard in my spare room.
One chilly evening, a few weeks later, the wind was howling around my building blowing along the eaves, creaking the roof timbers. I had become indifferent to the noises this old former warehouse made but I noticed a new peculiar rattle that seemed to come from my spare room. I investigated but found nothing untoward until I opened the cupboard. I had forgotten Jane’s painting and took it out. It seemed different to the last time I saw it. Her face seemed to be looking at me and the cloth on the loom appeared to have grown. I pinched myself, shook my head and hastily put the painting back in the cupboard.
I thought no more about the incident until a few weeks later when we had a major storm. Again, the timbers groaned and I heard the clack, clack, clack of the loom. I took the painting out of the cupboard and studied it. I was sure the cloth on the loom had grown and Jane’s face was not only looking at me but seemed more intent than before. I noticed her brow was furrowed and her lips seemed more open as if she was talking to me. I shuddered but left Aunt Jane propped by a window instead of the dark cupboard.
It seemed the winter would never end. Rain and wind had become the norm with flooding all over the country. A calm evening a week or two later, the clack, clack started again. I looked at Aunt Jane. Her mouth was definitely open and seemed to be saying “Go”. I felt afraid, was Jane trying to tell me something? I could not sleep that night and prowled around the living room. The wind had increased and the street lights below began to flicker as rain started. I heard an ominous creek from the spare room then an almighty crash. Grabbing my coat, mobile and bag while jumping into boots I hurtled towards the lift door and pressed the red button. Slowly the rickety lift wound its way to the top of the building. I opened the gate, pressed ground and felt myself shaking as I descended into darkness.
In the eerie morning light, I could see that the roof had collapsed. “You were lucky to get out Miss, you could have been killed.” A young fireman put his arm round my shoulder. “Guess you had a guardian angel.” I nodded and noticed that in the rubble where some of my belongings lay, was the painting. I picked it up and rubbed the dirt away. Aunt Jane was smiling that little ‘pinched mouth’ smile that I remembered well.
This site was last updated 01/15/23