Featured

Jane’s pictures

The Vicar from A Sexagenarian from Smithy Fen drawn by Jane Pobgee

Whittlesey Wordsmiths are having a very productive year, two individual members, Tessa Thomson and Valerie Fish have published their own books. Tessa’s book is of poetry and Valerie’s a collection of limericks. Stephen Oliver has had a number of his short stories accepted for publication, nine at the last count. The Wordsmiths are in the process of completing their two Christmas collections carefully gathered together by Cathy Cade. Cathy is not only an ace editor and proof reader but also a prolific writer too, having published three of her own books. She has had great competition success with her short stories and poetry.Whittlesey Wordsmiths have also benefitted from the artistic talent of Jane Pobgee, not only for illustrations in our upcoming collection of children’s Christmas stories but also in Valerie’s and Tessa’s books.

Finding my Voice by Tessa Thomson
A Sexagenarian from Smithy Fen

These are a few of Jane’s drawings.

Santa’s House from Tessa’s book
Rough Sleeper from Tessa’s Book
Naughty vicar from Valeries book
Incy Wincy from Val’s book.

Jane’s drawings have a beautiful simplicity and capture the essence of the poem, limerick or story they accompany perfectly.

Here is just one, from the upcoming children’s Christmas stories.

This is the Naughty Fairy, from Jan Cunningham’s story by the same name
Featured

Ghosts of the Railway

A war time Farewell statue at St Pancras Station

This is chapter five, the concluding chapter in the second outstanding Round Robin story from Whittlesey Wordsmiths. Its authors are Gwen Bunting, Val Chapman, Wendy Fletcher and Jane Pobgee. Enjoy.

Chapter 5

As much as she longed to show the letter to Stan’s Ma, she resisted. It would complicate matters. Who was she going to speak to regarding this accusation?

Life continued at the office. No one suspected anything different in the relationship between Ada and Mr. Giles. It was natural to keep it quiet until they had got to know each other better.

During the second week after Ada was given Stan’s letter she received a letter from the Ministry of Defence. Could this be confirmation that Stan had really died? She opened it cautiously, not wanting to learn that Stan’s body had been identified. It read:

‘Dear Mrs. Coleman,

‘I understand that you have recently acquired a letter from your husband, Lance/cpl 2500673 Stanley Coleman. We would like to interview you and ascertain that this letter is genuine.

‘Come to the Dry Cleaners on Drake Street, bringing with you a coat you would like dry cleaned, and ask to see the manager.

‘It is vital you come to the shop on Saturday 18th at twelve-thirty. Please keep this information to yourself.

‘Yours sincerely,

‘Col. A. G. Marshland.’

Ada sat down suddenly, shocked by what she was reading. She made herself tea and re-read the Ministry letter. She must go for the appointment, but why a Dry Cleaners shop?

She felt very weary and went to bed early, which did not bring sleep. She kept going over in her mind all the intrigue from the Colonel’s letter.

Finally rising from her bed after such a fractious night, Ada once again read both letters. It was hard to believe that after two years she would have what should have been Stan’s last letter. She was sure it was from Stan, as he made a remark in his letter that only Ada would understand. It was a little secret code they had derived. She readied herself for work and left the precious letters safely at home.

She arrived quite early. Not many of the typing pool staff were there; only Phyllis.

‘My word, Ada, you look rough. Bad night?’

“Ye…yes.” She stuttered. “I think I have a cold coming.”

“Here, gal, have a Beechams. That will make you feel better.” She handed Phyllis a packet of powder.

“Thanks, Phyll; kind of you. Will take it into the canteen for a glass of water,” replied Ada, discreetly dropping the powder in her handbag.

Back at her seat in the typing pool she started to look into her folder that contained her day’s work. Suddenly Mr. Giles called her into his office. Picking up her shorthand book and pencil she headed to his office.

‘Ada, how are you getting on since you received the letter from Stan? You seem very quiet.’

‘I am fine, Mr. Giles, thank you. Just a cold starting, I fear. Have taken something for it. Will try not to pass the germs on,’ she ended.

She was not going to enlighten anyone about her forthcoming meeting.

‘Well, if you are sure you are all right… I feel guilty for giving you the letter but felt now I had found you it was most important that the letter reached you,’ Arthur concluded.

“Is that all you require at the moment Mr. Giles?” Ada enquired.

“Yes, thank you Mrs. Coleman.” With that he turned to answer the ringing telephone.

Ada left the office a little uncertain as to whether Arthur Giles had read Stan’s letter before he had found Ada. After all, to have something in your possession for two years might make you wonder what was in it, considering his involvement with the other side.

Saturday came, and Ada found an appropriate coat for dry cleaning. It was a luxury she rarely afforded herself, but that was her instruction. Walking into the shop, the bell over the door clanged to announce a customer. A lady appeared from the back room.

‘Good afternoon, may I help you?’

‘I have an appointment with your manager. I am Mrs. Coleman.’

‘Is that coat for dry cleaning?’ enquired the lady.

‘Oh, yes. Yes, it is.”

‘I will take it. Would you like to walk through and I will show you the manager’s office,’ the woman lifted the counter flap.

Ada followed as instructed. It all seemed so natural: the woman leading the way and knocking on a door. A deep voice called, ‘Come in.’

Ada proceeded to enter to be confronted by a tall gentleman, older than she had expected.

‘Good afternoon Mrs. Coleman. I am Colonel Marshland. I wrote to you.’

‘Ye-yes.’ Ada’s nervousness took over again.

‘Please sit down, Mrs. Coleman and I will explain why I wanted to see you.’

The Colonel explained further.

Yes, Stan was alive but at present Ada would not be allowed to see him. Stan’s work had just one more phase to go through then his duty to King and Country would be done for good.

Ada was overwhelmed by the knowledge that her Stan was alive and one day very soon they would meet up.  She really must concentrate on what the Colonel was asking her to do. A knock on the door heralded the lady with a tray of tea and biscuits. The interlude was welcome as Ada’s head was whirling.

Again, she was told not to repeat this conversation to anyone. Stan’s life depended on his ‘missing in action’ cover.

She tried to explain to the Colonel about Stan’s mother. He was sympathetic but insisted that she told no one. He would be in touch with her by letter when it was safe.

Ada thanked him and promised she would keep everything to herself. It would be hard for her, though, not telling Stan’s ma the good news.

Ada made a point of visiting Stan’s ma at the weekends; these were lonely times for widows. Leaving the Dry Cleaners shop with a receipt for her coat, she made her way to see her, but there was a crowd of neighbours outside the terraced house.

‘What’s happened, is Ma alright?’ Ada asked. A neighbour Ada recognised appeared from inside the house, beckoning her in. There on the floor lay dear Ma Coleman clutching Stan’s photograph. The glass had been broken as Ma fell, suffering a heart attack and dying instantly.

Ada was heartbroken; Ma had been a mother figure to her since her own parents died in a direct hit on her home while Ada was in an Air Raid Shelter. The air raid had begun as she came home from work. Now she did not have to worry about not sharing her news. Ma was dead.

The funeral went ahead, and Ada once again had the job of house clearing. At least this time it was not bomb damaged like her own parents’ home. Ada kept a few little items that she knew Stan may want to keep. The rest was left for the new tenants. Many people had lost everything in the raids.

Four weeks later, Ada was typing with the rest of the girls, when several policemen burst into the office asking where they could find Mr. Giles. Shocked and alarmed, they pointed to the office where Mr. Giles had jumped up in surprise. The moment had come; he had been found.

‘Are you Arthur Giles of Bonifield Road?’ asked the senior officer. ‘We are arresting you in accordance with the official Secrets Act.’

Arthur started to protest, but the officers handcuffed him and he was bundled out of the office. He cast a pleading glance to Ada for help. She ignored it and turned away.

Some weeks later Ada and Stan were reunited in a quiet Yorkshire hotel. This was to be the beginning of a new life for them both, getting to know each other again. Seven years had elapsed since they were married. It would be difficult at times, but they hoped they would succeed. They did not return to their little home but were rehoused in another district where they were unknown.

In view of the work Stan had undertaken, it was suggested that they may wish to resettle far away in New Zealand with new identities so that their previous lives were untraceable. They both agreed it would be a great start for their forthcoming family.

Featured

Ghosts of the Railway

A war time Farewell statue at St Pancras Station

This is chapter four in the second outstanding Round Robin story from Whittlesey Wordsmiths. Its authors are Gwen Bunting, Val Chapman, Wendy Fletcher and Jane Pobgee. Enjoy.

Part 4

The pub was not far from the office. As they walked, the conversation became easier. Arthur asked how long Ada had worked for Ledbetters and she told him she had worked in munitions during the war but went back to the print trade afterwards.

They were shown to a quiet table, and he asked her to call him Arthur outside office hours. She agreed, as long as he would call her Ada. Arthur told her how much Stan spoke of his wife Ada, and he felt he knew her already.

He convinced Ada to have an aperitif. She, being unused to drinking, was feeling rather sophisticated though a little out of her depth as the two friends, for they were comfortable enough with each other to consider themselves friends as well as colleagues, waited for their drinks to arrive.

After toasting lost friends and Stan, they took their time looking at the limited menu, neither one knowing how to proceed. Arthur chose a steak and kidney pudding, while Ada decided on a slice of corned beef and potato pie. The next few minutes were spent talking about their respective families, and how they coped, or not, after the war.

Eventually, and perhaps because of the sherry, Ada decided to take the bull by the horns.

“Mr Giles, Arthur. Why did you ask me here tonight? You did say it had something to do with my Stan?”

Arthur Giles loosened the top button of his shirt and coughed. He didn’t know why he felt so awkward about this. It should be a simple matter to tell a man’s widow that he knew how much she had meant to him and that her husband had left her a letter saying just that. He hoped she would gain comfort from his words and subsequently the letter he was about to hand to her. He also hoped that in some way she may find some comfort with him, in due course.

He drew a deep breath and looked at Ada, quickly glancing away again, as though embarrassed. She had beautiful green eyes and he didn’t want to get distracted from the matter in hand. Taking the unopened letter from his jacket pocket he placed it on the table in front of Ada and explained as best as he could how it had been in his possession.

Ada was so shaken by Arthur’s news that he had to take her home and forgo the trifle he had eyed up for dessert. Still, he would have it next time. He was sure there would be a next time.

Arthur had brought her home and made her a cup of hot sweet tea. He had left now and Ada sat alone at the table with the letter still in her hand. She let her tea go cold, she hadn’t wanted it anyway.

She read, and reread Stan’s letter, poring over each word.

It was clear that Stan had loved her with all his heart, as much as she had, still did, love him.

There was however something else Stan had written, which Ada found most upsetting. She could hardly believe it, but her Stan would never lie to her so it must be true.

Stan had asked Ada not to reveal any of the information in the letter to anyone. Something Ada knew she would struggle with, as her first instinct was to run to Stan’s ma’s house to share the letter. For the umpteenth time, she read her darling Stan’s letter.

In it, Stan told her that the man who had given her the letter, Arthur Giles was a spy. According to the letter, Stan was stationed with Arthur to get close to him and discover how and what he was telling the enemy. Stan in turn was to relay this information to his commanding officer. It became clear that Arthur Giles was becoming suspicious and so Stan and the officer in charge came up with a plan. They were to fake Stan’s death, and Stan would continue to work behind the scenes to stop Arthur.

In his letter, Stan explained to Ada that the Ministry’s plan was for him to go ‘undercover’ to trap Arthur, who they suspected was a ‘sleeper spy’, someone who blended into society until they were called into action, perhaps many years later. He would find a way to get back to Ada, but he hoped that she would understand, know that he loved her and that of course ‘missing in action’ meant that his body hadn’t been found.

How could it, when he was still alive?

Trying to understand, Ada began to wonder, if Arthur had anything to do with the death of the officer in charge all those years ago? Did he get suspicious?

Her mind in turmoil, Ada went to bed, but rest would not come.

There was so much to think about.

Featured

Ghosts of the Railway

A war time Farewell statue at St Pancras Station

This is chapter three in the second outstanding Round Robin story from Whittlesey Wordsmiths. Its authors are, Gwen Bunting, Val Chapman, Wendy Fletcher and Jane Pobgee. Enjoy.

Chapter 3

‘Sit down Mrs. Coleman; I have a question to ask? Would you kindly come out to dinner with me one evening after work, I have something serious to discuss with you about your late husband Stan.’

Arthur managed to get the sentence out in one breath. Ada went all hot and she felt her cheeks burning.

‘Why on earth would you want to see me out of work, Mr. Giles?’

‘Because, Mrs. Coleman I knew your husband, Stan. We were in the same unit; I have a letter for you.’

Shock struck Ada; tears started flowing and she searched for her handkerchief. Pushing the chair back as she desperately tried to make her escape to the ladies toilet, caused a screeching sound from her chair. The girls in the typing pool turned and stared through the glass partition as they watched Ada come dashing through the door.

Mr. Giles followed to the door and asked Miss Blanchard to go and see that Mrs. Coleman was all right.

Mr. Giles returned to his office to calm himself down. A knock on the door announced Marion Morgan with another cup of tea for him, awaiting his response before she enter entered.

She asked if there was anything else he required?

‘No. No, thank you, Miss Morgan; the tea will do fine.”

Breathing deeply he decided a trip to the Gents would be the place to calm himself. Eyes stared from above the typewriters as the girls in the office continued their assignments.

It had never occurred to Arthur Giles that this lady, Ada Coleman could be the wife of his friend Stan Coleman. They had served together in Bomb Disposal during the war and had been lucky to escape with only a scratch, until that day when the bomb they were attempting to defuse exploded. The blast knocked Arthur Giles yards away and he was told Stan had been killed.

They had exchanged letters to send to their next of kin if they were killed,. Usually the Officer in-charge would accept them, but he had been killed in action. There was no one else to take on the responsibility of collecting such letters. Arthur Giles had tried in vain to find the address of Stan’s next of kin, but with no luck. He had kept the letter safely for two years and hoped that one day he may be able to forward it to her.

After demobilisation, he had moved to Bolton, finding work at Ledbetters Printers. He had been a proof-reader before he was called up for the War Service.

After his trip to the Gents he continued to work until six o’clock. The typing pool finished at five-thirty so he had the office to himself for half an hour. Hearing a tap on the door, he looked up to find Ada Coleman staring at him through the glass. He beckoned her to enter; she seemed flustered and anxious, but that was to be expected after the way he had, less than tactfully, invited her out for a meal.

Arthur stood as she entered. ‘Mrs. Coleman, I am so pleased to see you. I am sorry I was so tactless in my announcement of my association with your late husband. Please forgive me. The cleaners will soon be in the offices and I would like to take this opportunity to finish what I messed up before. Please would you join me for dinner at a venue of your choice where you will be comfortable?’

‘Yes, I would like that Mr. Giles. I’m sorry I was so silly, but it was such a shock. We have not had any information about Stan’s death from the War Ministry, just, “missing in action”. They did not even give us a country or area. Your news was music to my ears: someone knowing my Stan.’

‘Where would you like to eat Mrs. Coleman?’ Arthur asked.

‘How about the Black Bear on Middleton Street?’ Ada suggested. ‘They have a varied menu even in rationing’.

They left the office together, getting stares from the cleaners coming into work.

Featured

Ghosts of the Railway

A wartime farewell. The statue at St Pancras Station

This is the second chapter of the writing group’s excellent Round Robin Story, Ghosts of the Railway written by Gwen Bunting, Val Chapman, Wendy Fletcher and Jane Pobgee. We hope you continue to enjoy it.

Chapter 2

Ma had been sobbing quietly but now she let out such a wail of despair, her only child gone. Ada and Ma fell into each other’s arms and cried and cried.

Later when they had managed to quieten their sobs, Ada put the kettle on and began to tell Ma how she thought she had seen Stan at the station. It was so real to her, she couldn’t quite believe the news the telegram had brought. She was clinging to the hope that it was a mistake, she knew that could happen. After all Jenny Masterton had a telegram but later it was found to be a mistake. Her husband came home, injured but alive. It must be a mistake. Ada couldn’t bear it to be true.

As the days passed Ada went on with her life, going to work and coming home like an automaton. Time passed without her realising; she was just going through the motions of life. Living but not living, struggling every day with her loss. Stan’s Ma was struggling too. Ada tried to help her, but it was just too hard. Seeing her sorrow made everything real, and Ada wasn’t ready to accept that.

What made it even harder was seeing so many men come home to their wives. She was glad for them of course, but seeing their happiness made her pain so much worse. That is how it should have been for them; it wasn’t fair. They were just starting out on their lives together. She would regularly phone the number she was given at the war office to check if they had heard anything more. She needed details before she would believe Stan was gone.

Her sister May had come to stay with her for a while but, if anything, it annoyed Ada to have her there. She was sympathetic but impatient for Ada to accept what had happened. It was no good, and eventually she asked May to go back home. She tried to be tactful but May was obviously put out. She flounced out of the house without a backward glance. Although she was sorry to hurt May’s feelings, Ada didn’t have the energy to deal with it right now. It took all her energy just getting through the day.

As the days, weeks and months passed, Ada began to accept that Stan would not be coming home. She had no choice but to accept it. Slowly she began to rebuild her life. She still went around to Stan’s Ma’s house on a Thursday night to make sure she was okay. They would chat about when Stan had been a boy; Ma loved to tell her stories and she loved to hear them. For a short while they could both forget that the future was empty and enjoy the past, talking of the boy and man they both had loved.

She would occasionally go to the cinema with her sister, but most evenings she stayed home. Her only outings were to work or queueing at the shops to get her rations. The girls at work in the typing pool were kind and always asked her to join them on their girls’ nights out. After a while they stopped asking as she always said no. Her boss Mr Butterworth had said she could have time off, but she felt worse just sitting alone at home. At least when she was working her mind was busy and she didn’t have time to brood.

Almost two years had passed when Mr Butterworth retired and the company brought in a man from one of their other offices to run things: a Mr. Giles. The girls who were still single were ‘all of a flutter’. Mr. Giles was tall, dark and handsome; Lesley, the office gossip, had already found out that he was single. He was very polite and neat and tidy in appearance. Quite a change from old Mr. Butterworth who always looked a little dishevelled and had something spilled on his tie.

Mr. Giles was quietly spoken and had a slightly sad faraway look about him. The girls decided he must be a bit of a dreamer as he would often be seen in his office staring into space during the lunch hour. He soon had an impact on the office. Changes were made; most were useful and helpful to the staff. That didn’t stop some of the girls complaining though, with comments that Mr. Butterworth didn’t do that, or wouldn’t like that. Mr. Giles didn’t seem to notice and just got on with the job at hand.

Ada began to take on more responsibility in the typing pool. Mr. Giles would often ask her to hand out the day’s assignments to the other girls. Ada thought it was because he felt safer with her, she didn’t flutter her eyelashes at him and was not as made up as the younger girls were. The girls didn’t seem to mind, which quite surprised her, but then they didn’t want the extra responsibility of chasing up work which hadn’t been finished. When push came to shove, she was always willing to help if one of them needed to finish early – to collect a child or some other emergency. She never needed to rush home for family or to prepare for a date. She was grateful for the extra money; it was not a lot but it helped enormously.

Ada still took her turn on the tea-making rota for the afternoon break. She also shopped for the tea, milk, sugar and biscuits. She had just taken Mr. Giles his tea with two biscuits when he asked her to sit down a moment. Intrigued, she did so. He closed the office door and returned to his desk. He seemed very distracted and not his usual calm self.

‘Is everything alright Mr. Giles?’ she asked.

He took a deep breath and said, ‘No Mrs. Coleman, it is not.

Featured

Ghosts of the Railway

A war time Farewell

This is the second of the writing group’s excellent Round Robin Stories, this one has been written by Gwen Bunting, Val Chapman, Wendy Fletcher and Jane Pobgee. Enjoy.

Chapter 1

Ada made her way quickly along the platform. The late afternoon sky had turned dark as she travelled here on the bus, fine drizzle had made her hair wet on the short walk from the bus stop to the station.

That wouldn’t have been a problem, she thought to herself, if it wasn’t for its propensity to become a mass of frizz when even slightly damp. Why today? She asked herself in frustration. Today of all days.

She had taken hours to get ready for her journey this afternoon: carefully pulling on the fine nylons so as not to ladder them as she straightened the seams, then choosing a skirt that revealed a flash of knee when she sat down. She had added a sheer blouse that offered a hint of a tantalising outline of the uplifting bra underneath. The top button was left undone, almost revealing some cleavage.

Her shoes were sturdy and she had sighed as she pulled them on in her bedroom. They were not fashionable and definitely not sexy. Coupons were still limited. How can a girl look alluring in these?

She had considered asking her elder sister, May, if she could borrow her smart black pair but decided against it. She could just imagine May’s voice.

‘Ma, our Ada wants to get dolled up to go to the station.’

And her mother’s response.

‘Hey, our Ada, don’t you go up there looking like some old tart. That young man of yours will be pleased to see you just as you are.’

So there was not a chance of borrowing lip gloss or even a bit of blusher but, almost in defiance, she drowned herself in scent from the bottle on her dressing table as she did a final twirl and assessed her appearance; back, front, sides in the three bevelled mirrors.

Deep in her heart, she knew they were right. Her Stan would just be pleased to see her waiting with all the other women. They had waited so long for this day.

The neighbours had crowded into their little parlour, listening for the announcement on the wireless. Finally came the words they had all waited to hear. The war was over. The men were coming home.

Then there was the bustle of preparation. The women donned pinafores and rolled up their cardigan sleeves. Spiders who had hidden in corners didn’t stand a chance as every cobweb fell before the feather duster. Whitewash and brushes were pulled out. Till late in the evenings, the sounds of carpet beaters could be heard across the yards.

The whole street seemed to come alive again, as if everybody had been holding their breath and now blew fresh air over the terraces. Front doorsteps took on a new sheen of cardinal red. Grates were declared blacker than Newgate’s knocker. Even the drooping plants seemed to revive. All the talk over the low garden walls was of reunions and parties. Cakes were baked and the children played out late, taking advantage of the good humour that enveloped their mothers.

Ada had watched with a wistful smile. When the war had started, she and Stan had only been married for two months. In fact, they had brought the wedding forward so they could have a honeymoon – that wonderful weekend at Bognor – and move into the little house that had just become vacant in the street where they had grown up and both their families still lived.

As she listened to the children squealing below her window, she folded her arms over her flat belly. When Stan had first been called up she had thought she might be in the family way but six weeks after he left she suffered terrible cramps and then the heavy bleeding of a late period.

She still clung to the thought of a late period, not able to face the possibility that perhaps there was a baby but she had somehow not looked after it properly so it had slipped away. Now the sadness was tinged with hope. Stan was coming home and maybe there would be a baby. She hugged the thought to herself as she got ready to go to the station.

With a quick ‘yoo-hoo, I’m off now’, at Ma’s back door, careful not to let the scent waft into the scullery, she had left the street along with the gaggle of women all heading the same direction. Now they jostled for a first glimpse as the train pulled into the station in a burst of hissing steam.

‘Bill, Jack, Ralph,’ she heard the shrill calls of the women close to her as they spotted their husbands, brothers, sons, and surged forward. Then she saw him and joined the rush, mouthing, ‘Stan, oh Stan, over here.’

There was just a moment when she thought he wouldn’t see her in the crowd but then his eyes met hers. He was tall and could see over the crowd although she was still tiny even in those sturdy shoes. Her heart expanded with love as she took in his handsome face, neatly cut hair and straight back, despite the heavy kit bag that all the men carried, slung over one shoulder.

Now she was pushing forward and he was almost within reach.

Then two taller women stepped in front of her and just for a moment she lost sight of him. Weaving around them she stretched to her full five feet, craning her neck to catch sight of him. Men were still pouring from the train. Women still thronged around the open carriage doors. Couples were hugging all the way to the escalator.

‘Oh, Stan,’ she tutted. ‘Couldn’t you have just walked in a straight line?’ but she knew it was difficult with the crowd jostling from all sides. Nothing to do but wait until he came into view again.

The porters were sweeping the platform before she admitted to herself that Stan wasn’t going to reappear from the WC or behind the paper stall. He had obviously not looked properly for her, typical man, scanning the platform and deciding that she must have given up hopes of reaching him in the crowd and gone home again.

Now she felt lonely as she caught the bus back. Gone were the women from the street, gone were the clamouring children, gone were the men with their heavy kit bags. She knew Stan wouldn’t be at their house. Who went to war with the back door key in their pocket?

So she headed straight to Stan’s ma’s house and burst in the door without even waiting for her tap to be heard, unable to contain her excitement a single moment longer.

Stan’s ma sat hunched over the kitchen table and the crumpled telegram lay on the chenille cloth right next to the fruit bowl.

Ada stopped dead in her stride, she couldn’t breathe. She finally stepped forward and picked up the telegram. Everything around her seemed to stop, slowly the words began to make sense as they swam before her sight. Stan was dead.  She sank into the chair next to Stan’s Ma.

Featured

Time Chapter 5

Photo by Nikola Nemeu0161 on Pexels.com

The concluding part of the Wordsmiths Round Robin story written collaboratively by Jane Pobgee, Val Chapman, Val Fish and Wendy Fletcher. This chapter was written by Val Fish.

Time

Chapter 5

I wake early, my stomach churning even more than usual. I wish he’d just hurry up…

I hear the key in the lock. I take a deep breath and get into position, my right fist wrapped tightly round the nail. He sees me with my hands clutched to my stomach, the chains are back on my wrists and I’m praying he can’t see they are loose and untied. I groan loudly.

He puts the tray down and stares at me. ‘Is this some sort of trick? You really don’t think I’m that stupid, do you?’

Those are the first words he’s said to me in all this time. I make my next move; I collapse to the floor.

‘Help me, please!

As he kneels, I release the chains, reach out and swiftly dig the rusty nail into his right eye. He loses his balance and falls. For good measure I follow it by throwing a cup of hot tea in his face.

As he screams in agony, I bolt for the door.

I can’t believe I’m outside! The daylight blinds me for a moment. I realise he won’t be far behind me. I run, not knowing where I am or where I’m going, just knowing I’m running for my life. The good news is I’m just a few feet from a road, though right now it’s deserted. ‘Please God, please let a car come by…’

My prayers are answered, I shall be forever grateful to the lovely lady that stops for me and drives me to the police station. Mind you, she doesn’t have a lot of choice other than to run me over, as I stand in the middle of the road frantically waving my arms, screaming ‘Stop, stop!’

At the police station it is hard to get the words out. I think I am in shock. Somehow I manage to convey what has happened to me.

I tell the police about the other girl. They have no cases that tie up with my situation – no one, that is. The little information I can give at least means they can investigate, check the missing persons register for any possible link.

It is hard to think she may no longer be alive; it seems I am the lucky one…

Apparently, I’d been taken quite a distance from home, so it is a while before my parents arrive for an extremely emotional reunion.

I am taken to hospital to be checked out. Apart from having lost a lot of weight and being dehydrated, I am deemed okay and allowed to go home.

Home, to my own bed.

There were times I thought it would never happen.

Featured

Time Chapter 4

Photo by Nikola Nemeu0161 on Pexels.com

Continuing the Wordsmiths Round Robin story written collaboratively by Jane Pobgee, Val Chapman, Val Fish and Wendy Fletcher. This chapter was written by Wendy Fletcher.

Time

Chapter 4

Every day the leather cuffs seem to get a little looser. Of course, it is suddenly clear – even to my fuddled brain. Another day or two of the meagre rations and I will be able to slip free. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to the man that this is a possibility. Maybe if I eat even less, I could hurry the process. After all, they do say you could live without food for a few days as long as you have fluid.

As darkness falls outside, I start to implement my plan. He brings more sandwiches – cheese again – and puts them close to me. I almost weaken when I smelled pickle: my favourite. But now is no time for indulging my whims. Plenty of time for that once I am out of this place. I manage to push the sandwiches off the plate and nearer to the corner where shadows hide them from his view when he returns. Just to be sure, I lay out flat on the hard floor and scoop a heap of the dust over the top of them. The soil is gritty, reminding me of sand. I wonder if I might be somewhere on the coast.

Next day I manage to ignore the griping pains in my stomach and stretch across to hide the sandwiches in the corner.

Although I am feeling weaker by the hour, my mind is somehow clearing. Of course, the food has been drugged. Now it is getting out of my system. If I don’t eat, I can work out what to do – if I don’t starve first.

I reach for the spot where the girl had been and stretch my tied hands out to touch the wall. What is it made of?

The surface is cold and very rough.

I move my hands up and there is a crack running across; down, and there is another crack. I edge my way along, almost sure now what I will find. Similar cracks going upwards at regular intervals tell me it is built of blocks.

I push myself into the corner and know I am right. It isn’t a right-angled corner; walls are offset at an angle that means the structure is the shape of a fifty pence piece.

I don’t know where I am, but I know what the building is.

As a child I had played in these war-time pillboxes. They were strategically placed all over East Anglia to defend us from attack. So, whoever my assailant is, he has local knowledge as they are abandoned now and mostly overgrown.

I know there is no chance of slipping out of a window. They were shaped to deflect attack and the inner edges are little more than slits. No chance of breaking down a wall; these monuments are solid concrete. My only hope is the door – perhaps when another tray of food is brought to me.     

After a lot of struggling I am finally able to free myself from the chains. I have an idea how I can use the nail; my biggest problem will be how to keep my hands out of his sight until I make my move. It could all go horribly wrong, and then what? But I have to try. I could be free tomorrow!

It is such a relief to have the chains off, but still I have a restless night – so many thoughts going around in my head.

Featured

Time Chapter 3

Photo by Nikola Nemeu0161 on Pexels.com

Continuing the Wordsmiths Round Robin story written collaboratively by Jane Pobgee, Val Chapman, Val Fish and Wendy Fletcher. This chapter was written by Jane Pobgee.

Time

Chapter 3

I shuffle once again over to where the girl had been. In the half-light I was sure I had seen something. I was right, low down against the wall I can just see a small nail. It has been banged into the brickwork, barely visible. I’m not sure how this could be useful, but it is something.

Crouching low I manage to get my fingers to the nail; it feels tight in its hole. I knew I wouldn’t have the strength in my fingers alone to pull it out; I need something to help prise it out. I hear the man returning with the bucket so scurry over to my ‘place’ again.

Once he has left I go back to the nail. It is dark now; I have to feel for it.

I try putting a link of my chain over it, tugging at it; it immediately slips off. I triy again, this time keeping my finger over the nail to stop the link coming off. I don’t know how long I crouch here, pulling and tugging this way and that for what seems like hours until, eventually, the nail loosens.

I shuffle back, sit, and hid the nail in my bra. I try to get some sleep. It doesn’t come easy; I am too buzzed to settle. This could be my chance, a way out of this prison.

Eventually my eyelids drooped and I slept. Again I don’t know what time it is when I awake, the man comes, bringing another tray of food, not the usual slop. This time it is a sandwich: a cheese sandwich. I know I need to eat more even if it is drugged as I am too weak to think clearly. I eat every crumb, and it tastes so good. He replaces my water bottle, allows me to use the bucket and leaves.

I drink most of the water straight away; I figured that would help clear my head. Thankfully, it tastes clean and cold. I don’t think it is drugged but then what would drugged water taste like? I have no idea.

For a long time I sit, not doing or even thinking anything. Later the man comes back with another tray containing another cheese sandwich, slightly stale, and some more water. Again, I eat every crumb. Not quite as appetising as the first but still better than the slop they have been giving me.

Once he leaves, I know I have to have a plan. I need to think how to get out of here. He isn’t going to return for a while; I dig out the nail. It isn’t very long, but I wonder if I could somehow use it to free myself of the chains. I spend a long time looking at the leather cuffs that tie my hands, inspecting every bit of them, seeing how they connect to the chains.

An idea begins to form.

Featured

Time Chapter 2

Photo by Nikola Nemeu0161 on Pexels.com

Time

By Val Fish, Val Chapman, Jane Pobgee, and Wendy Fletcher

Here is Chapter 2 in the writing group’s excellent Round Robin story, Time. This Chapter was written by Val Chapman.

Chapter 2    –    Val Chapman

There used to be two of us here.

I can remember a girl. She was here before me and through my drug fuelled haze, I tried to talk to her, find out who she was, who had imprisoned us here, and why?

I had so many unanswered questions.

I never had a reply, she had just sat on the floor, knees pulled up to her chin and when she did lift her head I could see her tear stained face. Dirty, and with a look that once I imagine was defiance, but now was just defeat.

I could almost smell it on her.

Of course I had no idea how long she had been here, wherever ‘here’ was.

Jesus Christ, I had no idea how long I had been here, but I would make damned sure it won’t be for much longer.

I had discovered something about myself being here. 

Fear makes me bloody determined and angry.

I woke up one morning? afternoon? and I was on my own.

The girl had gone.

I had heard nothing and had no idea when, how, or why she had been taken away.

More fear gripped me and I shivered, not just with the cold, as my stomach twisted and churned.  

I would be next.

I forced the fog in my head to clear. My life depended on it.

Moving as far as my chains would allow me, I shuffled across towards the spot where the girl had been.

Maybe, hope upon hope, she had left a clue or something which could help me to get out of here.

His footsteps sound on the stone floor on the other side of the door and I quickly scuttle back to ‘my’ place.

The bastard unlocks the door and comes in with another tray. The last thing I want to do is eat it, but I have to keep my strength up if I’m going to get out of here.

And I will. 

I try to smile at him.

Maybe I can fool him into letting his guard down if he thinks I am friendly.

I say “try”, but my mouth is so dry my lip sticks to my teeth.

Still, he seems to accept it, and slides the tray in my direction. 

He stands, arms folded, and looks at me.

He says nothing, just watches me for an uncomfortable few minutes, then picks up the disgusting bucket and leaves.

Who is he?

I try not to think about what he wants with me. If it is just for a ransom then I hope it gets paid soon. 

There is still a small amount of watery light coming through the window and I take my chance to look around for something, anything I could use to get the hell out.

I had almost given up when I spotted something.

Featured

RAILWAY CHILDREN OF THE HOLOCAUST

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Tessa has written this moving poem, we are posting it to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day – January 27th 2021

The train no longer had those restful seats of velvet cushions

No proper seats at all in fact, just wood and iron partitions.

No windows with exotic views of lands we might discover,

Boarded up with painted planks. He cried “I want my mama.”

The train embarked upon its course; it left goodwill behind.

We struggled, standing packed in tight, each child in fearful mind.

Where was the loving parent now to hold the children close?

The rocking and the dark, spoke of the end we feared the most.

He held so tightly to my hands, the feeling was all gone.

His tears had wetted all my clothes; his eyes no longer shone.

Now disappeared was that sweet child: gone was that young boy.

Would we ever be the same, and where would we find joy?

The journey took its toll on all, us children of the night.

No warm and cuddly bed for us, no sleeping sound till light.

No room to lie on this hard floor, no space to rest at all

So close was each to everyone, no chance for us to fall.

Our legs were tired, our mouths were dry, but still we travelled on

Till light streaked through the boarded planks; the stars and moon were gone.

Daylight passed to night again and still we travelled forth.

Then suddenly we staggered as the engine changed its course.

The screech of brakes, the hiss of steam, the crash of iron rails,

We stopped at last. Our journeys end.  Each child a breath exhaled.

Was this the place where all our fears would end with tears of joy?

Through open doors the stench of death pushed dread into this boy.

The isolated vista, the smoke from chimneys tall,

Gathered in the morning light as fog about us all.

Hundreds of us stood in lines, fearful and afraid,

Clutching our belongings like soldiers on parade.

We walked to buildings long and black, deep in winters snow.

Leaving cases by the door we entered bowing low,

The tiny door gave no insight to what lay far beyond.

But all we craved was bed and rest and all our fears be gone.

Tessa Thomson

Featured

Time

Photo by Nikola Nemeu0161 on Pexels.com

Our writing group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths has been working collaboratively, in teams during the lock down, to produce Round Robin stories. These pieces are group efforts with each team member writing an individual chapter. This is the first chapter of Time, we will post the other chapters during the next few days and weeks. Enjoy!

Time

By Val Fish, Val Chapman, Jane Pobgee, and Wendy Fletcher

Chapter 1 Val F

Time means nothing to me, not the hours, the days, the weeks; I cannot tell you how long I have been here, I cannot tell you where I am, except in hell…

I only know that I wake up every morning, sometimes I wish that I would just go to sleep and never wake again, to free myself from this nightmare.

I have no wall to scratch out the days, and even if I did my hands are tied.

I could not even tell you the time of year, I’m guessing late spring, as, from the little light I do get from the tiny window  (it’s too high for me to see out) it does seem to stay light longer each day.  Nevertheless, it’s pretty cold down here; I only get a smidgeon of sun each day. I suppose I could work out which direction I’m facing if I thought about it, but what good would that do me? 

I try to remember how I got here, in this dungeon; I guess I was drugged. I think he’s possibly putting something in my food, I am constantly feeling dozy and lightheaded, although that could just be the lack of food, or drink.  He leaves me water, but I sip as little as possible, for fear of needing the toilet.

He comes in three times a day with my food, unappetising muck; my stomach is crying out for food, but still I can usually only manage a few mouthfuls before I start to feel nauseous.

At least my hands are free for a while.  Then the ultimate humiliation, he allows me to relieve myself in a bucket in the corner. 

When he’s gone, and the door bangs shut, and I hear a key turning in the lock, back in my chains, only then will I  cry.

The world out there must be looking for me, I must have hope.

Will I ever get out of here, or am I destined to die in this shithole? 

Featured

Lockdown

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

We have a longer piece to start the new year, Happy New Year everyone. This piece written by Jane Pobgee a member of our U3A writing group is inspired by our current situation, we hope you enjoy it.

Lockdown

Mary sat down quietly on the sofa, her eyes were drawn to the corner of the room that seemed to be filled with the inert body of her husband Graham.  She slowly controlled her breathing until her heart beat slowed to its usual rate. She glanced around noticing the dust on the sideboard, on the floor was the heavy brass menorah that she had hit Graham with. She picked it up and automatically began to rub it with the hem of her pinny. She had always loved this menorah, it had been a present to herself on her fiftieth birthday. He had said it was stupid, they weren’t even Jewish, but that didn’t matter to her. She loved that it had holders for seven candles and each holder was shaped and styled with ivy leaves winding around them.

She checked it over carefully and was grateful to see it had not sustained any damage. She realised that this was a bit of luck as she would have hated to part with it. It hadn’t even split his skin, so there was no blood or gore around. She could almost imagine he was just asleep, but of course he wasn’t. She had managed to catch him on the temple, it was a huge blow with all her pent up frustration and anger behind it. She was certain it had fractured his skull as she seemed to remember hearing a loud crack as menorah met head. She got off the sofa and crossed over to Graham, she tentatively put out her hand and with two fingers felt for his pulse again. There was no pulse. So it was true she had killed him.

She went into the kitchen and put the kettle on, nothing was ever so bad that it couldn’t be made better with a cup of tea. She laid out her china cup and saucer on the little blue tray and decided to open the chocolate biscuits she had been saving. She put three on a small plate next to the teacup and when the kettle boiled poured some hot water into the pot to warm it then poured the rest over the loose tea leaves she had spooned into the pot. Carrying the tray through to the lounge she set it down on the coffee table and placing the tea strainer on her cup she slowly poured herself a cup of tea.  She sat back in her armchair slowly sipping her tea and eating the biscuits, as she did so she realised she was now calm and collected and ready to think things through on how she would go on from here.

Graham had not been seen by anyone since lockdown began nine weeks ago, he was too worried about catching the virus to go out. She was the one who was at risk, fetching the shopping not forgetting his beer. No one really bothered asking about him either. When she saw neighbours they asked after her health but never his. She knew they did not like Graham, he had always been so rude and overbearing to everyone that they avoided him. She also knew that they felt sorry for her.  The thing was, she couldn’t leave him where he was. If anyone looked through the window they would be able to see him, besides he would eventually begin to smell.

With these thoughts running through her mind she went to the window and closed the blinds. She often closed them in the afternoon as the sun would shine on the television and she could not see her programmes. So no one would think that odd.  The next problem is what to do with his body. The first thing was to put something underneath him to make sure he didn’t stain the carpet. Although there was no blood she didn’t know how long it took for a body to start leaking fluids and breaking down. She went straight out to the shed and brought in the tarpaulin they used to collect the hedge trimmings in.  It took a great deal of huffing and puffing but eventually she managed to roll Graham on to the tarpaulin. Thank goodness he wasn’t a large man. Once that was done she could take her time thinking about how to dispose of his body.

The rest of the evening passed quietly, she watched a little television, did a little knitting and decided to have an early night. She tidied the lounge turned off the lights and without thinking said goodnight to Graham as she went up to bed. She hoped she would fall asleep quickly and she did.

She woke early the next morning with a germ of an idea at the corner of her mind. She lay quietly allowing the idea to develop. Graham’s pension was paid into their joint account every month. Nobody saw him collecting it so no one would know that he wasn’t spending it. She knew his passwords to all his accounts on the computer as he wrote them all down in his blue book, the one he locked in his desk drawer. He didn’t know that she knew where the key was kept and would often open it just because she could when he was out in the garden or upstairs in the bath. It was her little acts of defiance that had kept her sane.

She got up and prepared to go shopping as usual, she made out her list and added beer to it. She didn’t drink herself, but everything had to look normal. She had to make sure that no one would guess that Graham was no more.  She dressed carefully putting on her gloves and home-made mask just to be on the safe side and walked to the shops. She waved to Gloria next door who was cleaning her windows and asked if she wanted anything from the shops as she was going anyway. Gloria said no her children were fetching her shopping later that day. Gloria always mentioned her children, Mary felt it made Gloria feel superior to her as Mary had never had children. There had been a pregnancy but it had ended too soon and had never happened again. Another of the disappointments that Graham would remind her of constantly.

At the check out she had a short conversation with Joan the lady on the checkout. She usually went to her till as she didn’t rush your purchases through and gave you time to pack things in the bags for life. As she was placing the beer in the bag she commented that it wouldn’t do to forget that or she would be in the doghouse. They laughed together, she paid by contactless card something new she had learnt to do since the lockdown, and then she was on her way home. She was happy with the way that went, everything as normal. As she arrived home and opened her door she called out “Graham I’m home” for the benefit of anyone who might see or hear her. Closing the door she felt quite proud that she had carried out her first mission in convincing the world that nothing had changed.

After putting the shopping away and remembering to pour the beer down the sink, she sat at the kitchen table with her shopping list notepad. She wrote down things to do at the top of the paper.

Bury Graham – Where? How? When?

Trim the vine on the back wall.

Re-pot the azaelia

Cut the grass

sew the button back on her blue blouse.

Reading back her list, she began to seriously think about how and where to bury Graham.  After a while she began to think she could bury him down in the back part of their cellar.  The very back part just had a compacted dirt floor, it was cool there too. She used it to store her apples and potatoes that she grew, along with a variety of vegetables she pickled.

Of course she had to think how to keep the smell of his decomposing body  away from the rest of the house. Cement seemed like the answer. She knew you could buy bags of cement, all you had to do was add water and mix it. If she also built a cement flower bed in the garden, that would explain why she needed cement. She would have to get it delivered as she could never carry that home. Once she felt she had a plan, she went straight to the phone and ordered a load of cement from the garden centre, she also ordered twelve stepping stones they had advertised in the local magazine. They would make a nice little path between the flower beds and again help explain the need for a lot of cement.  They were due to be delivered in three days. Perfect.

Knowing she would need things sorted ready for the cement delivery she began to haul the tarpaulin with Graham on it towards the cellar door. She was careful to move as many things out of the way as possible so nothing would get knocked over. It took her a long time just to reach the cellar steps. She decided to leave him there for a while and have a rest. 

After a lovely reviving cup of tea and a few biscuits, she had to think how to get him down the steps. She hoped that if she tied him into the tarpaulin she could slide it slowly downwards. That way she hoped not to damage his body any more and most importantly not leave any sign of what she had done behind.

She tied him in with garden twine, using the lovely little cast iron twine holder and the scissors that went with it. Another thing he thought was a waste of money, she hoped he knew just how useful it had become. Sliding him down was harder than she thought as he was now a dead weight, she laughed a little to herself at this thought. She hung on for dear life and eventually she  managed to get him down the stairs and dragged him to the back of the apple store.  She decided that that was enough for one day and went back upstairs and opened the living room blinds. She saw Gloria’s son Christopher going in Gloria’s gateway, loaded with shopping bags. She waved to him and he nodded his head unable to wave back as he had his hands full.

She was feeling quite hungry by now and decided to treat herself to a pizza, she fetched it from the freezer and put it in the oven. Graham didn’t like pizza, he was a meat and two veg man. He had to have a cooked lunch every day or there was trouble. Mary almost felt as if she was cocking a snoot at him by having pizza.  She felt deliciously free and a little naughty but enjoyed every mouthful of her lunch.  After lunch she went out in the garden, sun hat on and secateurs in hand.  Much later she came back into the kitchen and crossed off most of the items on her to do list. She spent the rest of the day eating and quietly watching television and had an early night.

The next day she had so much to do. She needed to get digging in the apple store, then she needed to plan how to make her cement flower bed, but the digging came first. Straight after breakfast she made her way down to the cellar and with shovel in hand went straight back to the apple store.    She had to move a lot of boxes and bits and pieces that were stored down there, but finally she was ready to start digging. She knew it would be difficult, but she was a very determined person and would keep at it until she succeeded in her task. At first she hardly made a dent, but persevering she eventually dug a decent sized and shaped hole.   Not deep enough yet, but it would be. She went upstairs and collected the three step stool from the shed and took it down to the cellar. She wasn’t very tall and as the hole got deeper she would need that to get out of it.

The next day, the hole was deep and wide enough to put a body in. However she needed to line it with cement first.  She had been watching You Tube videos on how to mix cement and make planters. It would take time but was not overly difficult. The hard part would be waiting for the cement to dry out and moving the set pieces where she needed them. The videos showed her how to use earth or sand to shape the pieces she needed and how later to join them together with more cement until she had the box shape she required. Having done all she could until the cement arrived she went upstairs and out into the garden to do the same thing there for a new cement flower bed. This one would be a little more ornamental as she wanted it to look attractive. She loved her garden and wouldn’t want anything ugly in it.

Later, thinking over her plan she realised that she didn’t need to do a cement box for Graham. She could just partially fill the hole with cement and let it dry then place Graham still in the tarpaulin on top of the cement and pour more cement over him until he was totally covered. That would certainly make things easier for her and she could wait until everything was dry before she replaced as much of the dirt as possible and tamped it down as hard as she could. Then she could drag back all the boxes and bits and pieces she had moved so the floor was covered at the back and no one would ever know there was a grave there. This seemed a much more sensible idea. She would still do a cement box for the garden and any left over soil from the cellar could go in the new planter. So everything was beginning to take shape, now all she had to do was wait for the delivery tomorrow.

The next day the delivery van arrived just after ten as they had said they would. Mary was very careful to social distance and the nice young driver brought the cement bags and slabs round to the back of the house for her. After the driver had left Mary realised that she would have trouble lifting even one bag as they were larger than she had thought. Still she thought she might be able to cut a bag in half with her spade and load half a bag into the wheelbarrow.  However, this proved almost impossible. So Mary sat in the garden and thought how she could get round this situation. The answer came to her, her old shopping trolley. Graham had bought her a new one just last Christmas but she had never thrown out her old one. It was in the shed and it would be perfect.

She dug her old trolley out of the shed and set to work. She decided to mix the cement downstairs in the cellar. The trolley easily held half a bag of cement, it could have held more but Mary knew it would be too heavy if she put too much in it at once.  The trolley was easy to manoeuvrer down the cellar steps. Much easier than getting the wheelbarrow down there even when it was empty. She read the instructions and added the exact amount of water to the cement and mixed it really well. That done she wheeled the barrow to the hole and tipped the cement in. 

She did this over and over until she had a good foot and a half cement layer in the bottom of the hole.  She knew when buildings were being constructed out of cement, iron posts or wires were used to help it all hold together. So with that in mind she fetched some old wire coat hangers and placed them around the edges of the cement so half of the coat hanger was in the cement and half sticking out in the air. Once that was done she decided that that was more than enough for one day and she would leave it to dry out for a couple of days.

Over the next few days she kept herself busy by making up parts of her

cement planter for the garden. It took time but she had plenty of that now she wasn’t at Graham’s beck and call. She had wondered if she would miss him, but was pleased and relieved to find she didn’t.  While she was busy on the planter the cement in the cellar dried out and soon she was ready to place Graham in his last resting place.  She managed to manoeuvre him into the hole on top of the all ready set cement and then set about making up a lot more to cover over him and fill the hole to quite a high level.

It took almost the rest of the cement to cover him well and still have a decent depth over him. By the time she was finished she was exhausted and decided to have something to eat and then an early night.

The next morning she checked to see how things were setting. The cement had seemed to have formed a rigid surface but she knew it would be many days before it would have hardened enough to start putting the earth back over it. She returned to the garden and finished her planter. She decided to place it sticking out from the large border across the grass. She thought it would break up the large grassy area that Graham insisted was cut just so in stripes. Something that Mary hated. She preferred smaller more natural areas surrounded by flowers and shrubs. She decided that when it was planted up it would make a nice wind break too, so she placed one of her low wooden garden chairs just in front of it. It would be a very pleasant place to sit and have her morning cuppa.

Over time the cement hardened and Mary filled in the hole with the soil she had removed to bury Graham. She tamped it down as hard as she could and even left it a little higher than the surrounding floor as she knew over time it would sink a little more as the soil compacted properly. She had seen this often when she was planting in the garden so knew what to expect. She took the rest of the soil in the shopping trolley up stairs and out to the garden to help fill the planter.

That evening she pored over her gardening books trying to decide what to plant in it. She wanted something that would grow to a reasonable height and flowers that she could plant in front that would hang down over the side of the planter. She spent many happy hours sketching how she thought it would look and deciding what to plant and where.  In no time at all it was her shopping day again. So she wrote out her list carefully adding the beer Graham would have insisted on and headed off to the shops again. 

She was amazed at how easy it was to live a lie, but then, hadn’t she been doing that all her married life. To the outside world she was a happily married woman, so when anyone spoke to her that was the lie she continued to tell them in word and deed.

Gloria called to her when she was heading back up the path to her house asking if Graham was alright as she hadn’t heard him recently. Mary said he was fine but had been laid up with an upset stomach. That conversation made Mary think about the future. While the lockdown carried on it was easy but what about after. How was she going to convince people that everything was normal if he didn’t go down the pub or visit his sister on her birthday. Something he always did before.

In the quiet of the evenings Mary hatched a plan. As soon as they announced that lockdown was eased or over she would put it into action. She would say that Graham was going to visit an old school friend in the next town but one. He was planning to stay over night and then drive on to his sister’s the next day. She would pack him an overnight bag with a couple of changes of clothes in case he wanted to stay a few days at his sister’s. She could arrange a hotel room for the first night by emailing and booking a room when needed. No one would know it wasn’t Graham emailing.

She decided that she would have to drive his car there and park it in the car park of the hotel. Obviously she would have to dress up like Graham and try to look as much like him as possible even down to the slight limp he had from a touch of polio as a child.  She knew they were almost the same height and their hair colour was the same grey. It would just be a matter of wearing his clothes with some padding, limping and hope that no one who knew him would be looking closely at ‘him’.

The more she thought about it, the more it became a possibility. She would have to think of a way of getting back without attracting attention. She decided that she would wear some clothes of hers that she didn’t want any more under his clothes but wear her own shoes. When the time came, she would drive to the hotel. Leave the car and overnight bag in the boot in the car park. She would then walk as Graham into the hotel straight into their disabled toilet.  Take off Graham’s clothes and place them in a foldable tote bag she would have with her. Disguise herself as best she could with a bobble hat, glasses, corona virus mask and walk out and into the town and get a taxi to the next town. Once there, she would go to the toilet in any shop that was open and change her clothes again and her hat. Then she would get another taxi to take her to her home town. From there she could walk back home.

If all went well, she could cut up the clothes she wore and burn them in the garden incinerator. She knew that most large towns had CCTV but local market towns didn’t, and the smaller taxi firms didn’t have camera’s in their taxi’s like the one’s in London did. The more she thought about it the more she thought she could pull it off. If she got that far, it would then be easy to phone up his sister after a few days and ask to speak to him. She obviously would say he wasn’t there and then Mary could be shocked and surprised. Do what a normal wife would do, phone up the hotel to see if he had left and find he hadn’t taken up his booking.  Shock, surprise, worry. Call the police and ask them what she should do? Yes this was a good plan. Now all she had to do was wait for the lockdown to be over.

The weeks passed in a blur of gardening, shopping and cooking all the meals that she enjoyed but that Graham didn’t. She would have to watch that she didn’t put too much weight on, but it was so lovely to have the freedom of choice. Every now and then she tried speaking loudly in a low voice so that her neighbour Gloria would think she was hearing Graham. Now and then she shouted calling herself names just as he used to. She wasn’t sure if it would work but it was worth a try.

Eventually the Government announced an easing of the restrictions and that lockdown was sort of over. Now was the time she had been waiting for.  She immediately emailed the travel lodge two towns over and arranged a single room for Graham. She packed his overnight bag with some clothes and his wash bag and shaving kit. She made sure his pyjamas were in there too. She placed his bag in the boot of the car, just as Gloria was going to her dustbin. “Going somewhere nice?” she asked, Mary gave a small laugh, “No, Graham is popping over to see an old friend and then up to his sister’s to check on her, she has been all alone since the lockdown began” Gloria commented that that was thoughtful of Graham. Mary nodded and headed back indoors.

Now it was time to make sure she had everything she needed. She dressed in her old clothes and jeans, then put on Graham’s brown corduroy trousers over them. She put on his big blue sweater and then his light weight tan mac and cloth cap. Luckily she had had her haircut just before lockdown so it was just about the same length as Graham’s and with his cap pulled down over her eyes and with his coronavirus mask on (which he had never used because he hadn’t gone out), it was difficult to tell who it was. She placed her tote bag with a couple of hats in it under the mac to help bulk it out. Once she was satisfied, she made sure she had plenty of money in her pockets and headed out to the car. She made sure she limped to the drivers door, climbed in and set off waving to Gloria who was in her window as she did so.

The drive was uneventful and she soon arrived at her destination, she parked up and carefully removed all the keys off Graham’s key ring. She planned to get rid of them one by one on the way home. She made sure there was no one around when she got out of the car. Still remembering to limp she headed for the reception area. Seeing the disabled toilets she headed straight there. Once inside she quickly stripped off Graham’s clothes and placed them neatly inside the tote. She took the plain black bobble hat and pulling her hair up inside it put it on. She had on a t shirt and a blouson jacket and of course her jeans. With a different colour mask she was totally different from the ‘man’ who had entered a short while ago.

She made her way quickly out of the door and out of the hotel. No one saw her go. She walked quickly along heading for town dropping off the odd key in a bin here and there as she went.  Once in town she went straight to the nearest taxi rank and got a ride to the next town. She was dropped off on the outskirts where she changed her hat and mask and then made her way closer into town before getting another taxi to her home town.

She decided to do a little shopping in town before heading home and bought some fruit and a couple of cream cakes. She was feeling incredible. She had done it. Hopefully everything else would go just as well over the next few days.

The next day she cut up into tiny pieces Graham’s corduroy trousers, his blue jumper and his tan mac. It took some time to cut up his cloth cap as it was sturdily made. She then cut up her old t shirt and blouson jacket and the black hat and the more colourful one too. Once they all were in tiny pieces she lit the incinerator into which she had put some hedge trimmings and then put in the clothes. She also burnt his leather key fob and his wallet. She had removed the cards before and cut them up into small pieces and put them in various bins around the town. Once everything had burnt away and the ashes had cooled down she sieved them to make sure there was nothing recognisable in them. Some of the plastic buttons had melted so she buried them deep in the garden. The rest of the ashes she put on the compost heap at the bottom of the garden behind the shed.

On the following Monday evening she phoned his sister Jean and after some general pleasantries asked to speak to Graham. As expected Jean said “what do you mean? Graham isn’t here”  With that Mary launched into her story of him leaving on Thursday last week to go and visit a schoolfriend and planning to visit Jean the day after. She said he had said he would return on the Sunday night. When he didn’t arrive she thought he had planned to stay another night and would be home during the day on Monday. When that didn’t happen she thought she would ring and find out what the delay was.

Jean quickly explained that Graham had definitely not turned up on the Friday and she hadn’t heard from him in ages. Mary reacted as she knew Jean would expect and said she would phone the hotel and try to find out what was going on. She promised to phone Jean as soon as she knew something. True to her word, Mary phoned the travel lodge, she confirmed that he had a booking for a single room on the Thursday night but when the receptionist checked she said he had not arrived. Again, Mary was suitably distressed and upset and the receptionist was very caring and suggested she call the police.  Mary phone Jean back and told her what she had found out and that she was going to ring the police.

Next Mary made herself a cup of tea and rehearsed what she would say to the police. She phoned the local station as she told them she wasn’t sure it was an emergency. She explained the situation to the very nice Officer Bream who took her call. She again had a slight tremor of worry to her voice, as she retold her story. Officer Bream said he would pass the information on and it would be looked into. He asked if she would be in tomorrow if they needed to speak with her and of course she said yes.

The next day a police car pulled up outside her house, as she opened the door two very young officers introduced themselves. She asked them in and once more went over her story.  They explained that they had been to the hotel and Graham had definitely not booked in. However, they told her that his car was in the carpark. Mary was pleased that she hadn’t moved the seat forward as she would do normally when she drove the car and that she had worn gloves too. As although they would expect her fingerprints to be in the car they shouldn’t be the last fingerprints on the steering wheel. The police explained that his car had been there since last Thursday and no one had seen Graham. They also asked if she had a spare key to the car. She said there was one in the top drawer of the sideboard and collected it and gave it to them.

They stayed quite awhile going over everything two or three times, asking about the old schoolfriend. Mary explained that she didn’t know who it was and that Graham didn’t always tell her everything. She knew they would be speaking to neighbours soon and that they would tell them things about Graham and her. That he was obnoxious and bullying and Mary was a quiet wouldn’t say boo to a goose sort of person. She knew that she didn’t have to say much for them to realise just what a bully Graham had been.

Over the next few months the investigation didn’t seem to get anywhere. They kept Mary informed, checked Graham’s computer and spoke with his sister, all the neighbours and his old drinking buddies down at the pub. Of course no one had seen him since the start of lockdown. Gloria told them how she had seen him drive off on that Thursday and that he had waved to her. Yes she was certain that was him, he had lived next door for years so she knew it was him. Besides she recognised his limp.

Various people popped round to see her to make sure she was alright, but really to see if there was any news or gossip that they hadn’t heard. Graham’s sister Jean even came down and stayed two days. She was just as bullying as her brother and Mary was delighted when she had to go back home because of her cat.

Time passed the case became a ‘cold case’, no one knew where Graham was. As the years passed Mary became more relaxed, joined a few clubs and generally began to enjoy her life. Eventually after seven years Mary had Graham declared dead. Yes it meant his pension was halved but it was still more than enough for Mary to live comfortably especially as she now had her own pension.

While for many the lockdown was a time of fear and hardship for Mary it was a time of liberation and freedom. She realised she could cope with anything life threw at her. She would rise to any challenge. Every time she polished her menorah she would give a little smile and be quietly happy and contented with her life. All the more so because she knew Graham would have hated that she was enjoying herself so much.

Jane Pobgee.

Featured

All I Want For Christmas

“Father Christmas” by HerryLawford is licensed with CC BY 2.0

A short piece from Val Fish, very poignant.

George was feeling extremely grumpy, he’d been sweltering in his grotto all day, giving out presents to some rather naughty children.

He had thought about hanging up his Santa Suit for good, but he needed to supplement his income somehow to tide him over the winter.

George was surprised to see his last visitor crying.

 ‘Oh poppet, what’s the matter?’

‘I want my daddy, sobbed the little girl. Mummy says he’s up in heaven, but I told her you can do magic things and bring him back. I don’t want a present, just my daddy.’

And Grumpy George’s heart melted.

Val Fish

Featured

UP, UP AND AWAY

 

This piece has been written by Val Chapman and gives a slightly different perspective. The story has a local connection, who knew?

I had been standing in the field for ages. It was always the same at this time of year. I had been told to “hurry up, it’s nearly time to go”.

So I had left the warmth of the inside with the cosy blankets and smell of pine trees and ginger cookies and went in search of Comet and Prancer.

We were the oldest of this particular group of reindeers and as such we felt deserving of a little bit of respect and consideration, not being pushed around and hurried. I found them both finishing off lunch and we headed across to the big barn which housed the sleigh. It had been built years ago but still looked as new and fresh as ever, nestling between the workshop and Santa’s house.

We could see the elves going to and fro, filling the sleigh and the excitement was building. 

“Ah Cupid, there you all are. I thought we would give you a bit of time to pull yourselves together ready for the off”.

Vixen really fancied herself as something special, and she and I had crossed antlers on a number of occasions. Honestly, just because Santa had given her the left-over carrot back in ’97 Vixen thought she was the ‘chosen one’ and could do no wrong.

I mean, it was not as though she was ‘lead reindeer’. Everyone knew that Rudolph had that particular role. 

It wasn’t always like that of course.

We never used to have a ‘lead’ as such. The eight of us managed very well thank you and even when the last Dasher and Dancer retired, the new pair fitted in very well with the rest of us.

It was only when Rudolph grew up and became this freak of nature with that weird glowing nose that she got to head out at the front of the sleigh.

It took a bit of getting used to I will admit, but the elves had done a fantastic job in adapting the sleigh for the nine of us.

Santa had to have a few practice runs of course to get used to the difference. Well, he’s not as young as he once was, and needs a bit of help on occasions. I have to say though, it did work well and we have been together as a group ever since. 

We did worry at first that we would get more attention if people could see this red glow in the night, but apart from one or two close calls in the early days it had been pretty much plain sailing.

Still, no time to think about that now. We had work to do.

I finished off the bit of lichen I had been munching on, and along with Comet, Prancer and Dancer headed over to the sleigh shed and the magic dust booth where the elves were waiting.

Vixen was already there of course, ushering all of us along like a group of schoolchildren.

Rudolph, Blitzen and Dasher followed the four of us jostling to get to the front of the queue.

“Oh come on you two, let’s get a move on”. Vixen chastised us, while Donner behind them sheepishly shrugged.

I quite liked Donner. She was a pretty little thing, kind and helpful, very much like her mother.

After the magic dust had been applied to all of us, Bernard, Santa’s chief elf, walked with us to the sleigh.

We all took our places and Bernard and his crew had just finished fastening us in, when Santa arrived.

“Great timing as always boys”, the boss smiled.

Typical of Santa, he took time to talk to everyone and to make sure that all was well.

This seemed to take longer and longer each year and one or two of us were getting a little impatient.

Finally, the sleigh was given the all clear and with a final “hurrah” we headed off towards the stars.

The first stop as usual was the hotter countries. Even at night the temperature was warm and it was better for us to get those out of the way while we were still relatively fresh and raring to go.

To be honest it really was a relief to finish where it was colder, the heat does not suit reindeers especially when they are tired and a little grumpy.

Everything went as smoothly as usual although the sniping from Vixen was annoying.

“Come on girls, pull your weight, you can’t let us do all the work”.

“Oh for goodness sake, watch where you are going, we nearly missed Fiji.”

“Stop dragging your hooves, we’ll never get finished at this rate.”

What a nerve.

I had been doing this for longer than she had. Cheeky cow!

I glanced down.

Oh, lovely, we were almost at one of my favourite places.

It was always a pleasure to stop off at Whittlesey.

Sometimes we called a halt at Lattersey Nature reserve for a ‘comfort break’ but nevertheless, these days we would always pause for a while at The Manor field.

Santa was more than a little fond of this little Fenland town, and we always took a little break here to meet Diana.

He had been meeting Diana here for years.

She was just a little girl when he first met her.

One of those annoying children who pretended to be asleep just so they could meet Santa.

Only it turned out that Diana wasn’t annoying at all.

She had done her research, which meant that she was one of those rare people who left out moss and lichen for us reindeers instead of the usual carrots or apples. 

We’re really not fans of carrots, but they keep us going if there is nothing else. To be honest I quite like those mince pies people leave out for Santa. 

He can’t possibly eat them all of course, though in the early days he did try! So we take them back for the elves and they have the hot chocolate ready when we get back.

Sometimes we get thrown the crumbs and that’s how I found out how tasty they are.

Diana had soon sussed out Santa too. He looked forward to her cheese and onion pies, still warm from the oven. She had helped her mother to make them at first, but when she grew up she made them herself and waited for Santa so that they could share it.

Now though, she crept out of the house to meet us by the leisure centre, with bags full of pies to take on our journey.

Santa was a big fan of Diana’s meat pies too, maybe too big a fan, but had been warned not to eat them while in costume as the elves had had a terrible job trying to get the gravy stains out of his coat last year.

We had already delivered in Eastrea and Coates and looking across the rooftops, we could see the clock tower of St Mary’s close by, glistening in the early frost. 

It looked as though they had done a good job with the Christmas lights and the tree standing by the Buttercross looked very nice this year. A pretty Christmas card scene some people may say.

Seemingly some towns had decided to switch off their Christmas lights during the night. Something to do with saving energy, and money apparently. 

It was a shame, they don’t seem to realise how much it helps up along our way. Especially those of us who had tired eyes.

The moon was quite bright tonight though, and it lit up the water in the Bower. 

We started to take the sleigh down, and startled a fox as we often did..

Sure enough, Diana was waiting and with a beaming smile Santa stepped down from the sleigh and walked towards her.

Vixen looked across at me,

“No doubt you are glad of the rest, aren’t you Cupid?”

“It’s another long night tonight thanks to the storms over Thailand and China, and with all these new houses it takes a little longer every year Still, never mind, you’ll be able to put your hooves up when we get back. I heard that the new, young Cupid has been doing very well in training. You might find yourself cast aside sooner than you thought.

Although I don’t suppose you will mind. Your heart hasn’t been in it lately, has it?”

To imply that I had not been giving everything for Santa was the last straw. This is what I and the other reindeers had been born to do. It was an unimaginable honour to serve Santa in this way and I was cut to the quick to think that anyone, even Vixen could think that I was in any way disheartened, and not doing my very best.

Of course I realised that my turn at the sleigh was coming to a close, and as Vixen ‘kindly’ pointed out, the next Cupid was already waiting in the wings. A life of retirement was waiting for me and I wasn’t sure I was quite ready for that.

It seemed to me as though retirement was when the real work started. No longer part of the sleigh group, older reindeers weren’t valued much. They had to do a lot of the heavy hauling jobs, dragging wood to and from the workshops,  looking after the calves, making sure food was available for all. Let me tell you, life as a retired reindeer wasn’t much fun.

So while Santa was saying his goodbyes to Diana, I managed to free myself from the harness.

I was desperately sorry to leave Santa in the lurch like this, but I could not face being with Vixen any longer and wanted my own adventure.

I cast a glance at my friends and headed off.

They couldn’t follow me of course as they were still tethered, and I could fly much faster on my own.

I watched from a distance to make sure all was well with the others, well most of them, and Santa of course. Satisfied that with Diana’s help everything was under control, I continued on my little journey.

I had always enjoyed visiting Lattersey, and now suddenly I had decided that this was to be my future home. 

So far I had been able to keep well out of sight and only a few people were aware of my presence.

Diana came to visit and brought her children with her, which was lovely, but for the most part, I keep myself to myself. I have made friends with a lot of the Muntjac deer around here, and have learnt to keep away from the dogs and badgers.

I can’t fly anymore of course as the magic dust had worn off a long time ago, so if I wanted to go somewhere else it would mean a long walk, but I do visit King’s Dyke Nature Reserve and I may settle there for a while.

If I do I’ll make sure Diana knows so she doesn’t worry about me. 

Although for now I am happy enough at Lattersey, who knows where I might end up?

Val Chapman

Featured

Santa’s Little Secret

 

This slightly unusual Christmas story was penned by Stephen Oliver, we hope you enjoy it

Santa’s Little Secret

Santa Claus sat in his office and stared out of the window overlooking his new workshop, musing about recent changes in his circumstances.

Fli’i, his head foreman, broke in on his thoughts by knocking politely on the doorjamb in lieu of the door.

There wasn’t one. Santa had implemented his new ‘open door’ policy by removing the door completely. It had seemed the easiest way to do it at the time.

“Good news, Boss,” Fli’i cried. “Production is up by over 300%!”

“That’s good to hear, Fli’i. What with the world market expanding at the rate that it is, increasing production was the only choice we could make.”

“Right, Boss. You want me to see if I can get any more out of them?”

“Why not? You’re doing such a great job. See how much farther you can push them.”

“Okay, Boss. Will do.”

Fli’i wandered out of the office.

I should have done this years ago, Santa thought to himself. It would have saved me so much trouble. This city is much better than the North Pole ever was.

He lost himself in reverie.

The trouble had started when a union organiser on an Arctic safari had strayed from the rest of his companions during a blizzard. He had nearly died before he stumbled into the village during the slack season, just after Christmas, when the elves were relaxing after the seasonal rush.

Since the little ones had nothing much to do, they gathered around him to help during his recovery. Unfortunately, that meant that they heard all of his ravings, as well. Worse, they actually believed the crap he was spewing.

The next thing Santa knew, they had unionised themselves and were making demands. Among other things, they wanted increased pay and reduced hours.

The reduced hours he could understand. Things usually started out slowly enough, but by Easter, they had to begin picking up the pace. The second half of the year got so bad that they were working 24/7. He was lucky that the perpetual sunshine made it harder for them to track time. He wished he didn’t have to work them so hard, but demand had been growing for years.

More pay was an even bigger joke, because he didn’t pay them a penny.

The elves had wandered into this dimension after losing a war in their own. They were such a sorry bunch that he took pity on them. Males and females alike were malnourished and weak. It had taken him months to build their strength up again. In gratitude, they accepted his offer of work and long-term protection.

He had exotic foods imported, at great expense, just to keep them happy and productive. Each of them could eat as much as they liked whenever they wanted to.

They all got to keep some of the toys they made, too, although they never seemed to get the hang of smartphones and games consoles. They could make them, of course, but didn’t know what to do with them afterwards.

They didn’t need money at all.

Santa had always thought of them as a bunch of lovable but simple children. It was because of this trait that the organiser had been able to corrupt them.

He still remembered the first (and only) meeting he had had with the union organiser and his ‘shop stewards.’

When he read the list of ‘demands,’ the first thing that struck him was that the writer had no idea of the real needs of the elves. It was evident from the outset that the union man had been behind the list. For one thing, elves couldn’t even spell such complicated words as ‘intransigency’ or ‘compartmentalisation,’ let alone understand what they meant.

Instead of listening to the man’s rants, he tried to remember why his face looked so familiar. He recognised the heavy jowls, the florid cheeks, the overbearing sneer on the lips. He knew he had seen it before, but he couldn’t recall where it had been.

He was still racking his brains when the man stood up, leant threateningly on the table, and began screaming at him.

A name floated up from the past.

Frederik Augustus Tyranus Silenus Osternic.

As a chubby young boy, he had been mercilessly teased because of his initials: FATSO. He had retaliated by becoming the biggest bully, in turn, at the school, his workplace and, finally, the union he joined when he started his first job.

Santa had to smile when he remembered just how many sacksful of coal he had delivered to the Osternic household over the years.

Osternic took the smile the wrong way, thinking that Santa was being condescending to him. He recalled all the disappointing Christmases when his parents used his ‘presents’ to heat the house. This was his chance to get his revenge on Santa, and he was going to enjoy every moment!

Santa was quiet and logical, tearing each of Osternic’s ridiculous demands apart and showing their inherent idiocy. By the end of the meeting, the man’s arguments had been reduced to shreds, and he slunk out of the meeting with his metaphorical tail between his legs.

The revolution began the next day.

At first, it had been little more than a small strike. Some of the elves laid down their tools and refused to work. A few hours later, entire workshops stood idle, raw materials piled up on all sides. Elves hung around, looking bored, wondering what on earth they were supposed to be doing with themselves.

The initial act of sabotage may have been spontaneous, but Santa was pretty sure that Osternic was behind it, somehow. Others followed soon after, then open warfare broke out between different factions.

The gravity of the situation only became apparent when Santa realised that it wasn’t a fight between elves loyal to him and those against him. They were fighting about who was going to be in charge after they had strung him up from the North Pole itself, which stood just in front of his house.

At this point, flight was the only option.

He almost lost his life when they found him fastening the magic reindeer to the sleigh. Fortunately, he was able to jump in with his wife and children, who grabbed as many of the loyal elves as they could. Fli’i, Floo’hoo, Markio and Wialid, his four foremen, plus their spouses, accompanied the family into exile.

By the time they finally landed in the city, the revolution was over.

The last that Santa had heard from the area was that they were trying to set up a workers’ cooperative under the rule of President for Life Osternic. The aim of the new government was to take over his function as Father Christmas.

He wished them well, but somehow doubted they would succeed. With no production facilities, due to the destruction of all the workshops, and no imports or exports, since the only flying reindeer had left with Santa, their future was going to be very bleak.

His own future hadn’t looked much brighter at the moment. He was still trying to persuade his suppliers to let him have the raw materials they could no longer deliver to the North Pole, when Floo’hoo came into his office, full of excitement.

He had been on a purchasing trip with his mate, standing on her shoulders under a long coat. They had stopped off in the Far East and had accidentally wandered into a sweatshop. Seeing how the people there were working twelve hours or more a day for little pay, they realised that this method could help keep the production costs down.

“We can’t do that,” Santa protested. “It’s unethical and unfair.”

“Boss, we worked for nothing,” protested Roo’har, Floo’hoo’s mate.

“Yes, you did,” Santa replied. “Except that you loved your work, you were well fed, and you got all the toys you wanted. Unlike these people, you don’t need sleep, either. Plus, I have been protecting you from the Xarilii, who were trying to wipe out your species. They still are, as far as I know.”

“He’s right, my sweet,” Floo’hoo added, reluctantly. “He’s never made any profit out of this. Instead, he’s always looked after us out of his own pocket. These people are being exploited because they have no other choice. We had a good thing going with our bargain. Oh woe, that we ever listened to that madman.”

“It was such a lovely idea, too,” Roo’har lamented. “Isn’t there some way we can implement it anyway?”

“I don’t know how,” Santa replied sadly.

He did finally get his personnel problem sorted out, with a little outside help.

His memories were interrupted by Fli’i’s knock on the doorjamb.

“I’m sorry to interrupt your planning, Boss,” he apologised, “but I’ve got someone here who insists on seeing you at once.”

“Who is it, Fli’i?”

The elf’s expression was embarrassed and somewhat worried.

“I’m afraid it’s… your brother.”

Oh dear, Santa thought to himself, he’s come to see how I’m getting on, now that I’ve had to go to him for help. No doubt he wants to gloat, as well.

His brother brushed Fli’i lightly aside as he walked in. His red suit was trimmed with sable instead of ermine, and his beard was as black as Santa’s was white. Otherwise, it was plain to see that they were twins.

His brother sat down uninvited and gave a pointed glance out of the window into the workshop.

“How are they doing?” he asked abruptly. “Are they all that I promised?”

“They are. I’m not going to ask you where you got them from because I already know that. What I want to know is, what inducements are you using to get them to work 24/7 without pay?”

“Oh, that’s an easy one,” his brother smiled. “I’ve promised them that, if they continue to work like this, I won’t send them back again.”

“That would work, I suppose,” Santa acknowledged, albeit reluctantly. “Is there any particular reason you’re helping me? Some nefarious plan you’re cooking up behind my back?”

“Can’t I just be helping you out of the goodness of my heart?”

Santa’s expression was as sardonic as his brother’s.

“Anyone else, maybe. You, no. You don’t have any goodness.”

“Ah well, maybe I deserve your mistrust, given our history together. Let’s just say that I don’t want to see your little enterprise fall flat on its face after all these years, and leave it at that, shall we?”

He stood up and walked over to the window. Standing and looking out over the hive of activity in the workshop, he went on.

“Actually, I have been having some space problems recently, especially the numbers of inferior people I’ve been getting. Your need for workers is helping me get rid of some the losers I’ve acquired over the years. It’s a win-win situation for both of us.”

He turned back and looked at Santa.

“Admit it, I’ve been a real help to you, haven’t I?”

“Yes, brother, you have. I’ll eat crow and say: ‘Thank you very much.’ Satisfied?”

“Eminently. Ah, I see your wife is bringing us tea and some of her excellent cake.”

His brother turned back to watch the workers below while Mrs Claus busied herself with the contents of her tray.

Isn’t it ironic how unimaginative our father-mother Antas was? Santa thought to himself. He-she couldn’t even think of two names that weren’t anagrams of his-her own.

In the meantime, His Infernal Majesty Satan, Monarch of All the Hells, turned away from his contemplation of the damned toiling in his brother’s workshop to accept a cup of tea and a slice of Victoria Sponge.

Stephen Oliver

Featured

Resting Written by Tessa Thomson

Santa’s House Drawn by Jane Pobgee

This post features a Christmas poem by Tessa Thomson and a drawing by Jane Pobgee. Both are extremely talented young ladies.

Resting

The door was locked, the latch held fast

The windows blocked with boards.

Cobwebs hung around the glass

Ivy spread in hordes.

The garden kitted out with nettles

Stinging stockinged legs.

Hands held high to keep from catching

Brambles, briers and thistle heads.

Nestled in the tiny wood

Nearly out of sight.

Waiting as if stuck in sleep

The cottage painted winter white.

Silence covering all around,

No noise from distant roads.

But then a tiny muted sound

Of music soft and low.

Through a little glimpse of clean

In a window pane,

A smallish man sat in a chair

And smiled and smiled again.

He had a very long white beard

And wore a suit of red.

A fire brightly lit the room

As the old man bowed his head.

I thought he might drop off to sleep

So heavy seemed his eyes.

But then he turned to look at me.

The look was clear surprise.

Then I stood rooted to the spot

Afraid to run away.

The door was opened just enough.

The old man said, “do stay”.

“I’ve had a  busy time,” he said

As I stepped through the door.

“I think I may have seen you once.

Are you at 34”?

He seemed to fit the tiny house.

All measurements seemed exact

For someone of a rotund build

With features fit to match.

He sat me down with cake and tea

Served from a tiny pot

And started to let rip his tales

Of work, as was his lot.

And so the tales went on and on

About his working life.

And how this was his holiday home

Away from toil and strife.

He told of how he saw the world,

It’s good points and its bad,

It’s times of inhumanity,

And how it made him sad.

But his job’s not to dwell

On things he couldn’t change.

But rather to give joy all round

With gifts exotic and strange.

We chatted on with this and that

And laughed at things quite weird.

Occasionally deep in thought

He tugged his long white beard.

A man of gentle fun and mirth

Of kindness and of care.

Who saw the world for what it was:

Cruel, unjust, but sometimes fair.

He saw the harshness others shared,

He saw the bitter wars.

He watched the children growing up,

The scars, the pain, the sores.

He felt it deeply, as we talked

I felt his pain inside.

I left that night with greater hope

For earth from ills worldwide.

Tessa Thomson

Featured

THE NAUGHTY FAIRY

                     

The Naughty Fairy?

This Christmas short story is Written by Jan a lovely little piece.

“I hate Christmas!” said the Head Fairy.

    “Yes, I know you do.” muttered gnome sighing, putting on his leather apron on over his red top and green trousers, ready to start work.”You tell me every year.”

    “Well, it’s such a lot of work and for what? Nobody cares any more. All too busy with them silly phone things and  games, to pay much attention to the Christmas tree.” She flounced about getting ready for her next round.

      “ “In My day –  yada yada yada…….” “quoted gnome, raising his twinkly  blue eyes to the ceiling.”Just get on with it. The sooner you go the sooner  you’ll be back for a nice cup of tea and biscuit. Go on. Off with you. ” 

     She made a rude face behind his back, then with wings fluttering irritably, flew out the door of the workshop into the cold frosty night.

      “It’s alright for him” she fumed to herself. “ He sits in the warm all day making toys, drinking coffee, eating biscuits any time he likes, no wonder he’s so fat”.

      She flew round her patch, peeping through windows, checking that the fairies on the top of Christmas trees were properly dressed, skirts all fluffed out, wand at the ready and, most of all, smiling. The majority were well trained and complied but there’s always one and that one was Matilda. Many a night Head Fairy

 had found her dancing on the floor, singing, swaying and waving her wand to the beat of  music. She had told her and told her but she took no notice.

      “Oh! Matilda” she groaned. “ you know the rules. You can have a break, fly down, stretch your wings when the family are safely in bed, not a minute before, why do you persistently disobey. Why?”

      “’Cos I’m so bored sitting up here”  moaned Matilda. “And anyway they all out at a carol concert.Won’t be back for hours.”

       “And what about the dog? He’s gone too has he? He nearly caught you the other night remember?”

        “Well he didn’t did he?” Matilda answered rudely.

        “No, not that time. You fairies don’t appreciate how cushy your job is, just sitting up there for a couple of weeks then it’s back to the attic where you can play with the other toys to your heart’s content. Whilst I am out in all weathers, rain, snow, frost and fog trying to do my job.”

        “Oh stop going on, Head Fairy. You love it really and you have all summer in the workshop, getting the new fairies ready.”

        Snow was now falling fast.  Head Fairy shook the flakes off her wings and returned miserably home, only to find   Gnome with his feet on a stool drinking tea and munching biscuits, she let rip.

         “I’ve had enough” she said. “I’m worn out. And that Matilda will be the death of me. I’m sure my wings are getting thinner. I wish they could be fur lined.”

     “ You’d never get off the ground gel” said Gnome grinning.

      “Oh shut up, you know what I mean.”

     “Well ask for some help then.”

       “I can’t ‘cos They would retire me if They thought I couldn’t cope”

      “Well you’ll just have to carry on being a martyr then. Won’t you?” chuckled Gnome as he waddled off to the kitchen to make another cup of tea.

       Head Fairy went and stood by the fire to try to dry her wings before she went on her last round. She did three rounds a night. One early evening, one about nine and then the last one after midnight to make sure all the houses were in darkness so that the  fairies could safely take their break. Conscientiousness was her middle name. Other Head Fairies only did two.

        “Right. I’m off to do my last round” she informed Gnome

      The night was bitter cold. She shivered as she flew over the snow covered rooftops. To take her mind off winter she turned her thoughts to summer at the workshop. How beautiful it was, with doors open,  perfume  drifting in from the flowers in the garden, trees rustling their  leaves,  birdsong and the buzzing of the busy bees gathering pollen. Gnome hammering out  new toys and her  busy getting the  fairies ready. They’d take their tea and  sit outside at a table, drinking in the warmth of the sunshine. Oh how she wished she was there now instead of out in the freezing cold.

     Arriving at Matilda’s house she could not believe her eyes. Matilda was nowhere to be seen.

      “Oh, for heavens sake what’s she up to now?” She muttered angrily..

     She, Matilda, was having a great time. Her household had gone away to take presents to relatives, staying overnight, taking the dog with them.  They had accidentally left the drawing room door open, Matilda could not resist.  She hopped down, flew  through the door to the rest of the house. Being inquisitive by nature she thought it was a hoot, nosing around. In one small room where  there was a peculiar sort of seat thing, she noticed that the window  was ajar, and without a second thought she flew out into the inky night.

        “Brrrrr, it is cold out here.  Head Fairy was right. But it is so beautiful. I’ve never seen a night sky before. Are those twinkly, shiny things, fragments of jewels I wonder? “She perched on a tree branch for a rest, looking over the snow dusted rooftops, seeing coloured lights flickering both inside houses and outside ,and strung around a very large Christmas tree sitting in the market place. Matilda flew and perched on the tip of the star which adorned the top.

      “Wow!” she said.”Will you just look at that. Those trees look as if icing sugar has been dusted over their branches. And the

moonlight coming and going between clouds seems as though someone is turning the lights  on and off.”

         Matilda was mesmerised by the scene. An owl hooted, a dog barked , snowed slithered off a roof and landed softly on the street below. Suddenly the church clock  chimed out the half hour, the noise startled Matilda so much she fell off the star and tumbled

down the tree, ripping her dress, dropping her wand and the pine needles scratching her  as she somersaulted, landing  on the  wet snow.

       “Ouch!”said Matilda. “that hurt.”   She looked at herself, what a mess, dress all mucky and torn, wand broken, as she had landed on it and wings soaking wet.

       “I think it’s time to go home, don’t you Matilda? Yes I do.” she answered herself. “Oh heavens, I can’t remember how I got here.”

       She flew round and round looking for her house. Up and down streets, peering in windows hoping to see a tree with no fairy but she couldn’t.  Then, panic set in.

        Meanwhile, Head Fairy had gone through the glass into the house . She flew around  calling Matilda . Then  she noticed the open window.

        “Oh No! Matilda. You haven’t, have you? Course you have”  she said with angry resignation. “I suppose I’d better come and find you.”And out the window she went.”

        She flew round and round her patch, hoping to find Matilda but not a sign of her. Her head began aching, she was shivering and her wings felt heavy.

        “ Where the devil are you, Matilda. I can’t look much longer, I feel rotten.” And with that she crumpled and fell to the ground.

           Matilda started crying. “I’m so silly. Head Fairy was right I shouldn’t be naughty.  Look where it’s got me. Please , I just want to go home.”

         Through her tears Matilda noticed something on the ground. She flew to take a look. “Oh! It’s Head Fairy.” she cried “ Oh dear,  she must be very ill. What can I do?”

        Head Fairy opened her eyes and mumbled “Get me back to the workshop”.

     “But I don’t know the way” she wailed.

“I’ll guide you” muttered the semi-conscious Fairy.

     Matilda struggled to carry Head Fairy as her wings were soaked and heavy but somehow with instructions they made it to the workshop. Matilda put Head Fairy down gently in the comfy armchair by the fireside and folded her wings in.

       “Who’re you ?” growled Gnome, “And what’s happened to Head Fairy? Is she alive?”

        “Just” she croaked..

       “I’m so sorry Mr Gnome” stuttered Matilda “It’s all my fault that Head Fairy is so ill. I disobeyed her and she had to come looking for me. Will she be alright?”

       “She’ll be fine. She’s as tough as old boots. She’s got a fever and a bad cough. Nothing that a few days rest and some of my special cough medicine won’t cure” answered Gnome.

 “I told you to get help, didn’t I?”  said Gnome shaking  his head as he looked directly at  Head Fairy” But No you wouldn’t listen.  Now you’ll have to do as your told for a week or so, what d’you say to that? Your daft eejit!”

        “I have to get back” said Matilda.”If you could just tell me the way I’ll be off. I must be back for when the family return”

         “You’re not going anywhere young fairy” Gnome said ominously. “I need you here to look after her and take over her duties till she’s well.”

     “ I can’t, I have to get back. If my family come home and notice I’m not there, what then?” pleaded Matilda.

            “ Well,” said Gnome thoughtfully.”We’ll have to think our way round the problem, won’t we.  ‘Cos you look a mess right now. I know, you could take a new fairy and put her on your Christmas tree then return”.

       “A brand new fairy on their Christmas tree would stand out  like a sore thumb” interrupted Matilda.

       “OK. Take one of those reconditioned ones from the pile by the door.” said Gnome irritably. “They won’t notice the difference. Then by the time you get back I’ll have had a word with Them and have sorted something out. I’ve drawn you a map so you can find your way home. Off you go and don’t be long.”

      On her return, Gnome informed Matilda that They had changed her format so she could now pass through glass in order to carry out the duties of the Head Fairy whilst she was ill.

Matilda bowed her head  but underneath she was half ashamed of herself but also half excited at being able to do something useful  instead of just sitting on a tree.

      “Thank you Mr Gnome” said Matilda  respectfully. “I won’t let you down.”

        “Well” said Gnome in a serious voice. “I should hope not.

        Then he started laughing. A big grin spread over his red face, tears began coursing down his cheeks and he held the sides of his wobbling belly.

        “You two  are a right pair aren’t you” said Gnome between guffaws.”  the naughty one and the proud one BOTH getting their  just deserts  AND on the same night. Who would’ve thought that I wonder.? I hope you have both learnt a valuable lesson tonight. Have you Matilda? And you Head Fairy?”

       “Yes Mr Gnome I have. That being naughty has consequences, not just for yourself. but other people too. I will try harder not to be naughty.” answered Matilda with humility.

       “Good. And you Head Fairy, what have you learnt?”

       “To not be too proud and stubborn to ask for help” she said begrudgingly.

        “Right, now that’s all sorted   I’ll make us all a nice cup of tea” said Gnome with a smile.  He turned to see two repentant faces, looking hopefully up at him.

      “If you both promise to do better” the recalcitrants nodded their heads furiously.  “I’ll see if I can find a few biscuits to go with the tea” And with that he turned, still laughing to himself. and disappeared into the kitchen.

Jan Cunningham

    

Featured

Success for our Whittlesey Wordsmiths and seasonal stories for your enjoyment.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

Despite the turmoil of the last year our members have had some remarkable successes and there are more projects in the pipeline.

The Covid restrictions robbed Wendy of the book launch activities lined up to promote her excellent autobiography The Railway Carriage Child.

Tessa has had poetry published in The Poet magazine as has Cathy. Val Fish has had an article published in the Daily Mail also some of her  limericks for which she has an outstanding talent often appear on Esther Chilton’s Blog and in the Daily Mail.

Stephen’s work is now receiving the recognition it deserves, some of his short stories are now appearing in collections both on line and in print. These are Of Silver Bells and Chilling Tales and What Lies Beyond.

Cathy is publishing two more of her books Pond People and The Godmother, they will be available early in December. These join Witch Way and The Year Before Christmas

Phil has published his first novel Killing Time in Cambridge, fresh deliveries will be available early in December.

Also available are the Wordsmiths first two excellent collections; Where the Wild Winds Blow and A Following Wind.

Books published by the Whittlesey Wordsmiths are available locally for collection or delivery at prices  often cheaper than Amazon.

Click here for local deliveries

As it is that time of year again we will be adding a seasonal story or poem each week until Christmas.

Here is one from Cathy, first published in Witch Way and other ambiguous stories with the title Christmas Spirit click on the link to read the story.

Featured

LEST WE FORGET – NOVEMBER 11TH

https://thewriteway709.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/eefd6-flanders252812529.png
Flanders Field

With the annual remembrance commemorations drawing near, Tessa has marked this time of reflection with a poem expressing not only her thoughts but those of most of us.

LEST WE FORGET – NOVEMBER 11TH

We travel in our hordes to see that place

Wherein our loved ones fell without a trace.

Marked and blanketed by stones in white

Covering that great plain, that great site.

Farm hand boys and factory workers

Friends from villages, schools or clubs.

Joined together, left their homeland

To lie in fields, decayed amongst the scrub.

Their voices call out still across that plain

Feet are still heard thundering, inches gained.

Hearts were in their mouths, panting fast

As struggling, reached their enemies at last.

The bodies lay before them in the mud

Mingled with the dirt, the crimson blood.

No time to mourn a brother or a friend

Just pass them by, praying for the end.

Guns that deafened now are stilled

Armies of boys and men were killed.

Some now just memories to their kin

Some carried pain through life like sin

They gave us freedom, free to speak

They made us strong not kept us weak

We live in peace and fear no man

They gave their lives so we just can

Tessa Thomson

https://thewriteway709.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/4bde5-flanders_fields_2.jpg
In the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them
(For the fallen, Laurence Binyon)
Featured

A place in France

This post is by Sandy Snitch one of our members. A story of a special place, lasting memories and a lost love.

Our Place in France

A short piece, which I thought I’d lost about a holiday home in France.
A llname
The cottage held my heart from the moment I stood on the steps, the cold air almost took my breath away———I. knew this was where I wanted to be, to make it home for  holidays for friends and family. I turned to look at my husband smiling, smiling with his eyes (a thing little seen of late).I knew he  loved it too. We wanted it! Far more than we wanted to pay but with some negotiation, it was ours.
Strange as it may seem, we first encountered the owners at a street cafe , situated in front of an estate agents,who, of  course were at lunch from tweive until two!
I ordered our moules frites in french, we then started speaking in English about the properties we were hoping to view.
The man on the next table spoke, “Ere, a you  English? Red you talking about cottages, were got one to sell. Give you the address, come when you want, we’re aving a bbq , tomorrow,  Come over then, if ya want!”

The following day it was sweltering hot, no air. The car had an efficient cooling system  we followed directions to the area of Southern Brittany, which was really picturesque , with small towns and scattered hamlets, and popping out  from the greenery was the , name we were looking for!
We were too late for the bbq, but that was not  a problem, it was too hot to eat!

It was love at fist sight. Over the years almost every half term, and holiday we were at the cottage. We cleaned, scraped, polished andpainted, everyday there was another job which was tackled with gusto. We pruned trees, built fences, set gardens, made rockeries, and best of all we made some wonderful friends, of various nationalities, who were as willing to help us, as we were to help them.
The climate was great, a micro climate on the top of a hill! An orchard with peaches, pears, plums, apples, chestnuts and hazelnuts, deer in the woodland at the top of our land.

Our Back Garden

We had a vegetable plot, surrounded by roses and soft fruit, and also a very old  well, which anyone could use in drought, and if they were the owners of a sixty foot rope!
We didn’t even think  of other places for the holidays, this was our paradise  I painted almost anything that didn’t move: pictures, windows, white goods. I made quilts, embroidered, all by dim lights and warm wood burners, Terry never stopped using his considerable building skills, renovating old buildings, but best of all I believe he enjoyed building  bonfires!
The wood for the three wood burners was coppiced from our own trees. We used hours cutting, splitting and stacking, ready for the cooler days two years hence!
We enjoyed our thirteen years of ownership, but were sane enough to know that the work never stopped, and as we slowed down, the  four hundred metres of hedge still grew, and the four acres of land still needed cutting,
It was time to  leave
The bustle and work emptying the cottage left little time for regrets,and knowing that the lovely young couple who bought it, walked up the steps and together said,
“This is it, we want it!”
We go back to the area, we go back  to the friends, we pass by the end of the road. But after all these years we have never driven by “our” cottage!

But I still miss it like hell!
We go back to France,   we go back to see the friends we made, we go back to the village, and pass by the end of the road, but we have never  yet gone past the cottage!It still hurts like hell.

Featured

Covid 19

We are fortunate to have within our writing group some extremely talented writers and poets, one of our most talented poets is Tessa Thomson.

This is her poem about Covid 19, something that has touched all our lives in some way.

A new dawn

COVID – HOW OUR LIVES CHANGED

Suddenly I’m free to start something new to do.

Suddenly there’s time enough just for me and you.

Suddenly the streets are bare, the thoroughfare is clear

Suddenly we feel the fear and hold our dearest near.

It crawls amongst us night and day forming like a cloud.

Covering great swathes of land, continents in shrouds.

Shifting like the desert sands engulfing all in sight.

Quietly taking young and old fearless in its might.

Lives are lost, hearts are broke, tears seem endless too.

Cloudless days are not enough to see this drama through.

Gathered round our sets at night we see the totals grow.

Watching tales of gallant folk whose lives have been laid low.

Masked and gloved our heros work to stem the tide of loss.

People dying all too soon as if a coin were tossed.

In our sadness, in our grief we care for those at hand.

Helping neighbors, giving now support throughout the land.

Time will come when all will be not normal as before.

For we are changed forever now. For now we know the score.

But in our hearts and with each one together we will know,

That desperate times will see us all put on the greatest show.

Tessa Thomson

Featured

There was a young man from…

 

This post is from the very talented Valerie Fish. Not only is Val a terrific storyteller but she is an absolute star in the world of limericks.

writer working on typewriter in office
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

 

We are fortunate to have in our writing group, the extremely talented, Tessa Thomson, who writes the most beautiful poetry which often induces teary eyes round the table when recited at our monthly meetings…

Then at the other end of the scale, there’s me and my bawdy limericks! Well to be fair, they’re not all like that, although members of the clergy do have a tendency to misbehave….  And there’s a difference between being risqué and downright rude, I would hate to offend anybody.

I have been composing limericks for years, I have hundreds of them, enough for a book, which may be one day I’ll give a try.

What is it about a limerick that I find so attractive?  I love that sing-along A A B B A rhyme meter (an anapaestic trimester, I’ve just learnt);  I love the challenge of composing something that hopefully will make people smile, and I like to inject something different into my limericks, get that final twist. Sometimes it will take ages to find the right word, not the poshest or the longest, but the right word; it can make all the difference.

Where do my ideas come from? Sometimes I will have a prompt; in my early days, my local radio station ran a weekly limerick competition, incorporating a place in Cambridgeshire.

This was my winning gem:

This is from a while back, when Eastender’s viewing figures were a lot higher than they are nowadays…

At a fancy dress do down in Bury

Maid Marian had a drop too much sherry

It wasn’t young Robin

Who had her heart throbbin

‘Twas Little John who made Marian merry!

 

I am a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, where it pays (actually it doesn’t!) to be topical.

 

After Phil’s Christmas cracker with Mel

She decided to kiss and tell

To her best mate Lisa

Who gunned down the geezer

In a classic crime passionelle

 

 

And a couple more with a soupcon of Francais.

 

Late for school, couldn’t get out of bed

I’ve been summoned to see the head

In a fait accompli

No detention for me

Sir’s been given the sack instead

 

The wife got wind of our affair

When she came across a blonde hair

In the marital bed

(She’s a flaming redhead)

It’s au revoir to the au pair

 

My poor hubby doesn’t always fare well, I hope he realises it’s ‘what I call’ poetic licence…

 

It was all planned, a cruise round the Med

Now thanks to Covid 19, instead

I’m stuck home on my tod

Whist hubby, the daft sod

Is self-isolating in the shed

 

Last night I dreamt of the Azores
Palm trees, clear blue seas, sun-kissed shores
Sadly paradise
Was lost in a trice

Woken by hubby’s thundering snores

Here are those naughty men of the cloth….

 

With his sermon about to begin

The priest had to suppress a huge grin

Cos just minutes ago

Out the back with a pro

He’d committed a cardinal sin

 

Tired of living a life of vice

She went to her priest for advice

‘You must renounce your sin’

He said with a grin

‘But one last performance would be nice’.

 

Forgive me, father, I concede

I have sinned in word thought and deed

With Sister Theresa,

She begged me to please her

The poor girl was in desperate need

 

Followed by a few random risques…

 

The best man was proposing a toast

But he just couldn’t help but boast

‘Today’s stunning bride’

He drunkenly cried

‘Was yesterday’s notch on my bedpost!’

 

I just couldn’t believe my eyes

I have never seen such a size

There was no topping

Her melons, so whopping,

She waltzed off with ‘Best In Class’ prize

 

Under the boardwalk of Brighton pier

A drunken encounter cost me dear

I gave him my all

Up against the wall

The little’ n’s due early next year

 

Said the dentist, clutching his drill,

‘Now just open wide and sit still,

First a tiny prick,

That should do the trick,

You won’t feel a thing – but I will!’

 

 

I’ll finish with a nice clean one for all you animal lovers out there, I know we’ve got at least two here in Whittlesey Wordsmiths.

 

Lay quivering in his bed

Blankets pulled over his head

‘Whizz bang and pop,

Please make them stop

I’m waiting for walkies’ he said

 

I hope you have enjoyed this small selection of my work, and in these troubled times have put a smile on your face.

A link to Tessa’s blog:

https://tessathomsonpoetry.wordpress.com/page/1/?wref=bif

 

Valerie Fish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured

POETRY PLEASE

This post is another about favourite poems, Jan Cunningham shares some of her favourites and a fond memory.

Pam Ayres
Pam Ayres website Pam Ayres (picture credit Pam Ayres Website)

 

My go to Poet (ess? who knows these days) is Pam Ayres.

When the black dog visits, when I wished I’d never got up that day, when everything goes wrong, when I keep dropping things to the point I’m screaming —-sitting down and reading a few of her poems soon has me  smiling, then giggling, often  laughing out loud and I’m cured—- for now.

Her poems are down to earth, about the every day, the small things in life, she is observant, witty and poignant. I cannot choose just a single poem, so I’ve picked two which I think demonstrates her range:

 

CASHED AT THE CASH POINT

 

My Grannie was coshed at the cash point

She had only just entered her pin

When out came the dosh

And down came the cosh!

But Gran, not a gal to give in …

 

Turned round and kneed her attacker,

Saying,” Buster, you’re  making me nervous!”

The machine on the wall,

Having witnessed it all,

Said: “Thank you for using our service”.

 

7Am Procession

Poor  old babies, row on row,

In the day care joint they go,

Strangers tend them, fill their tummies,

Tuck them in instead of mummies.

 

There is one particular poem, whilst not being a favourite, haunted  me for years because of the childhood memory it evoked and because I could only remember the first four lines. This poem my Dad would recite to me when he was shaving. I would curl up in his big armchair with wooden arms and he would have his shaving mug on the mantle piece above the black lead stove and looking in the half moon mirror would lather his face and begin reciting:

 

The Sands of Dee

By Charles Kingsley

O Mary, go and call the cattle home,

And call the cattle home

and call the cattle home

Across the sands of Dee

The western wind was wild and dark with foam,

And all alone went she.

 

The western tide crept up along the sand,

And o’er and o’er the sand

And round and round the sand,

As far as eye could see,

The rolling mist came down and hid the land:

And never home came she.

 

‘O is it weed, or fish, or floating hair –

A tress of golden hair

A drowned maiden’s hair

Above the nets at sea?

Was never salmon yet that shone so fair

Among the stakes of  Dee.

 

They row’d her in across the rolling foam,

The cruel crawling foam,

The cruel hungry foam,

To her grave beside the sea,

But still the boatmen hear her call the cattle home,

Across the sands of Dee,

 

I sat mesmerised.

 

Jan Cunningham

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured

Observations of Life on Holiday by Gwen Bunting

Before we had the Corona Virus, before we were all locked down and isolating Gwen wrote this piece about a recent holiday. Holidays seem like distant memories now.

group of person sitting inside cafe le dome
A meeting of strangers Photo by Elina Sazonova on Pexels.com

 

On a recent journey I could not help but find people’s behaviour fascinating.  Some being friendly; others reserved; and others downright aggressive.  As the journey progressed observations became very much clearer.

The mum and daughter syndrome: the mother commenting to me, that now she was a widow she could enjoy all things SHE wanted to do,  as opposed to her late husband’s  dominance.  Little did she know she had spawned a duplicate of her husband; a daughter!  The daughter was an aggressive type, would barge her way to the front of any queue. Wow betides those poor souls in her way.

The quiet man who gave off the aura of ‘don’t speak to me’ was an interesting personality.  He had a partner, whom conversed with him, but his sole intention at the dining table was to eat as much as he could in the time allocated. His partner was quite different.  Nice friendly person.

The very tall man, his wife was bent over due to a back problem. Preventing her falling by constantly holding her hand.  How dedicated can one be:  Never had a chat with him, but on leaving the group he warmly shook your hand saying ‘it was a pleasure to have met you?’

The sad lady who had dementia and caused a lot of anxiety for her friend, who had not realised she was so confused.  Her wanderings around the various hotel lobbies very early in the morning asking when the coach was leaving and having her bags packed.  She realised on some occasions she was confused.  It made life difficult for her friend, most of the group supportive when needed.

The gentleman who requested they change his bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice as this one contained too many pips.  He got his way after many arguments.  His face was not dissimilar to a beautiful pencil drawing on display in one of the hotel lounges.  The said ‘orange juice man’ was extremely tall and as we were in Viking country I would have enjoyed researching his family history.

The various nations with whom we shared our hotels with were varied.  One nation in particular took it upon themselves to attempt to clear the buffet of all foods.  Hiding  loaves of bread, butter pats and boiled eggs into every orifice that was available to fill.  Life is very interesting when you are travelling and gives me lots of ideas to write stories about.

Featured

Favourite Poems

A month or so back members of the Wordsmiths shared their favourite poems with the group. As an occasional feature we will publish their individual pieces, this one is by Val Chapman.

Not so much a song but more a poem

There wasn’t one particular poem that I could claim to be a favourite, so I decided to do a bit of research and still couldn’t come up with one that I enjoyed above all others.

It was when I was singing along to myself, as I do, that it occurred to me that songs were, for the most part, poems, set to music.

As I am one of those boring people who like their poetry to rhyme, otherwise it’s prose, this naturally opened up a lot more availability, which I am not altogether sure was a good thing, as I am hopeless at making decisions.

 

However, these two struck a chord (if you pardon the pun) for different reasons.

 

“It would never have worked,” I like as it seems to be taking the reader down one path, then veering off down another unexpected one, and finally, down yet another.

 

“Love song,” I can barely get through without a lump in my throat. I am sure this resonates with so many of our, though perhaps more so, the previous generations when feelings were often hard to express.

— Just a quick note,   I don’t know whether it is just a northern expression, but the words “I was tight” indicates a somewhat over-enjoyment of an alcoholic nature! —–

This one in particular came as a bit of a surprise, as they were both written by the same very talented writer, known more for her humour, and this poem is an unexpected offering from her I think.

 

They were written in 1978 (love song)

1987 (It would never have worked)

By the wonderful Victoria Wood.

Victoria Wood.jpg

Victoria Wood (Photo Credit Wikipedia)

 

IT WOULD NEVER HAVE WORKED

 

It’s over,

We missed the bus,

Nice idea, but not for us,

We didn’t click, let’s make it quick and say goodbye,

Don’t hold my hand,

And don’t demand a reason why.

No loving looks, no fond regards,

Tonight was always on the cards.

 

I wanted champagne and roses,  ’cause that’s the way I am,

You gave me vimto,

Tinned carrots,

And spam.

 

I wanted love to come and knock our blocks off,

But even Venus takes her cards and clocks off.

Your idea of foreplay was to take your socks off.

Things would never have worked

 

Rapport is a thing you just can’t manufacture,

You had your pin up girl, I couldn’t match her,

I didn’t want to, it was Margaret Thatcher.

Things would never have worked.

 

I wanted moonlight, romance and all that silly tosh,

You wanted gerbils,

A whippet,

A wash.

 

I wanted love songs but you wouldn’t write them,

My earlobe nibbled, but you wouldn’t  bite them,

You’d only fart and then attempt to light them,

Things would never have worked.

 

We’re not compatible,  let’s not get blue here,

At least we see each other’s point of view dear,

I like big, hunky men and so do you dear,

Things would never have worked.

 

LOVE SONG

 

Made your breakfast this morning,

Like any old day,

Then I remembered and I threw it away

 

I found an old photo,

In a kitchen drawer.

You by the seaside,  during the war.

You were laughing at something,

With the wind in your hair,

You were ever so slim then, and your hair was still fair.

 

And I wanted to kiss you,

But you always laughed,

And I wanted to tell you,

But I felt daft.

 

Still, we got married,

I was tight,

We both got embarrassed, played rummy all night

 

I remember the baby, and it’s sticky out ears,

But I can’t single out things,

Over the years.

 

On Woman’s surgical, sat by your bed,

I knew that I loved you,

But I never said.

 

I brought you Black Magic,

And they said you’d died,

I had a cup of tea there,

Came home and cried.

 

Got to go back to the hospital to collect your things,

Your nightie, your glasses, your wedding ring

 

Made your breakfast this morning,

Like any old day,

Then I remembered  and I threw it away.

 

Thank you Val, I find that every time I read Love Song I get something in my eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured

The Virtual Meeting

a formal dressed man faces a video conference screen, but hidden under the desk he is wearing spotty boxer shorts and red clown shoes
 

    There is always one.                   (picture credit https://www.leading-edge.co.uk/loving-the-virtual-world/)

 

 

 

Thursday saw The Whittlesey Wordsmith’s first virtual meeting via Zoom. Stephen Oliver kindly hosted the meeting Cathy Cade did much of the organising thank you very much Cathy and Stephen.
Considering it was our writing group’s first attempt, as slightly older members of society, it went remarkably well. A few members were too unsure of their technical skills to try it. Gwen had problems seeing us and being seen, Sandra had synchronisation problems with her device or signal. Six of us started the meeting, five managed it right through.
The meeting followed its usual form in cyber space as it does in real life, plenty of wondering off topic and anecdotes but as usual an interesting conversation. Jane found it easier as she was able to see everyone’s faces and could lip read more easily.
It is was not as good as a real life meeting but it was nice to chat to friends and see their faces. Hopefully we can address the technical issues before next month, if we need to have another virtual meeting.

Featured

Reading whilst isolated

During this period of isolation and library closures it is worth knowing that not only are there books available to read for free online.

https://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/residents/libraries-leisure-culture/libraries/library-online/ebooks

https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/free-online

But if you enjoy a good read and would like to support your local U3A authors.

We have the following available on Kindle at modest prices, if you have Kindle Unlimited I think they are free.

Click on the link under the pictures to order

9781916481701
Order the kindle edition

A following Wind book cover front page white writing
Order Kindle version of A Following WInd

Witch Way
Order Kindle edition of Witch Way

 

Wendy’s fantastic autobiography is not available on Kindle but the payperback is available at Parkers, (they are open) or from Amazon with free delivery.

The Railway Carriage Child front cover2
Order the Paperback of The Railway Carriage Child

Featured

Favourite poems

hunts cyclists 1
Before it all started “Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.”

As an excercise our U3A writing  group members each wrote a short piece about their favourite poems and included the poem or poems in the piece. Over the following months we will be publishing the contributions on this blog.

The first piece in this series is by Val Fish, it seems a strange time of the year to use this example but we are approaching spring, a time of renewal, new growth and the hope for better things. We can only have spring after winter the sun can only rise after it has gone down.

For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon

Inspiration for ‘For The Fallen’

Laurence Binyon composed his best known poem while sitting on the cliff-top looking out to sea from the dramatic scenery of the north Cornish coastline. A plaque marks the location at Pentire Point, north of Polzeath. However, there is also a small plaque on the East Cliff north of Portreath, further south on the same north Cornwall coast, which also claims to be the place where the poem was written.

The poem was written in mid September 1914, a few weeks after the outbreak of the First World War. During these weeks the British Expeditionary Force had suffered casualties following its first encounter with the Imperial German Army at the Battle of Mons on 23 August, its rearguard action during the retreat from Mons in late August and the Battle of Le Cateau on 26 August, and its participation with the French Army in holding up the Imperial German Army at the First Battle of the Marne between 5 and 9 September 1914.

Laurence said in 1939 that the four lines of the fourth stanza came to him first. These words of the fourth stanza have become especially familiar and famous, having been adopted by the Royal British Legion as an Exhortation for ceremonies of Remembrance to commemorate fallen Servicemen and women.

Laurence Binyon was too old to enlist in the military forces, but he went to work for the Red Cross as a medical orderly in 1916. He lost several close friends and his brother-in-law in the war.

For The Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,

England mourns for her dead across the sea.

Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,

Fallen in the cause of the free.

 

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal

Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,

There is music in the midst of desolation

And a glory that shines upon our tears.

 

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,

Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.

They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;

They fell with their faces to the foe.

 

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

 

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;

They sit no more at familiar tables of home;

They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;

They sleep beyond England’s foam.

 

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,

Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,

To the innermost heart of their own land they are known

As the stars are known to the Night;

 

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,

Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;

As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,

To the end, to the end, they remain.

 

Laurence Binyon 1869 – 1943

For the Fallen
For the Fallen we will remember them.

Postscript

I was privileged to perform on the stage at The Broadway Peterborough in 2014, in the ‘Sing for Life’ ladies’ choir, to raise funds for a new wing at Sue Ryder’s Thorpe Hall Hospice.

On the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, we sang an adaptation of ‘For The Fallen’ by Rowland Lee.

In the final few bars, we were as stunned as the audience as poppies came falling from above onto the stage. It was a moment I’ll always treasure.

 

Valerie Fish

Featured

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER

Image result for The Royal Hotel, Mundesley       (Picture credit Tripadvisor)

This is a slightly less than enthusiastic review by Jan following a weekend away in Norfolk.

My husband Bill and I escaped to Norfolk for a short break  in autumn last year.  As the weather forecast  was good  we thought we’d take advantage of it.

On the Sunday evening we booked a table at the 16th century Royal Hotel Mundesly,  for a carvery. Yum Yum,   a favorite of mine. As we drew into the car park my mouth started watering.

We were greeted and taken to our table by a young lady dressed in the old style for waitresses: Black dress, white apron and a white coronet in her hair. The dining room was spacious and could easily have served a hundred covers. On the way to our table I noticed various other eating areas and a spacious comfortable looking lounge. It was a large Hotel.

When asked what we like to drink Bill enquired as to what draught beers they had.

“None Sir” replied the waitress.

“OK what other beers do you have?”

“None Sir”

“Are telling me that you have NO beer at  all?

“Yes Sir”

It was a classic Victor Meldrew moment. I wished I’d had my camera handy. The shock and outraged look on his face  would have won first place in any  photographic  competition.

 

“I quietly asked about white wine.

 

She listed three” We have Pinot Grigiot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.”

 

“Pinot Grigiot will do nicely, thank you.”

 

She went off to get it.  After a good while I watched her walk back empty handed.

 

“Sorry Sir, we have run out of the Pinot”

Bill just sat ,gave her a special look but never said a word.

“Chardonnay will be fine” I said.

Whilst waiting for our drinks Bill starting singing softly “There’s nothing so lonesome, so morbid or drear than to stand in the bar of a Pub with no beer”

I giggled.

Paying the bill at reception the young man asked if everything had been alright.

“No, it wasn’t” declared my husband.

“Oh, why Sir?”he asked.

“Because you haven’t any beer.”

“Oh. But we do Sir. We have I.P.A. and Pale Ale” he replied.

Bill is partial to a pint of I.P.A.

We will not be returning or reviewing this establishment. Bill’s remarks would be unprintable.

 

 

Jan Cunningham

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured

Christmas past

The Memory of Christmas past
Photo by Susanne Jutzeler on Pexels.com

This post is by Val Chapman a reminiscance of her childhood Christmas.

It was never going to be the same again. My father had died suddenly just 3 months ago and although the festive season was upon us, I was feeling somewhat less than cheery.

It made matters worse that it was his birthday on Christmas Eve, and so it seemed that I had been dealt a double blow. The shops seemed to be full of things that dad would have loved to have received. Usually it was a struggle to find suitable gifts for my dad, after all, what do you get the man who has everything?  Knowing my dad would appreciate the joke, one year I found the answer to that question and gave him a bottle of antibiotics!

Of course it wasn’t just me.

My mum was understandably devastated and although she put on a brave face, she had little to no interest in anything.

My children, her grandchildren, were a godsend to us both on those dark days, and made us both realise that life does indeed go on.

I am now at the same age my mother was when she was widowed, and I took some ‘me time’ for a little reminiscing.

“It’s ok, I’ve got my gloves. Let’s get going.”

I looked up at my dad and took his hand.

“See you later mam”

We both gave her a kiss and she shushed us out of the house before turning back to busy herself with the Christmas dinner preparation.

This was our usual routine on Christmas morning. My mum sending us off to my Nana’s house, while she peeled potatoes, chopped carrots, made Yorkshire puddings and did everything that made for a perfect Christmas dinner.

I found out years later that mum had always regretted that decision, declaring that “children should not be taken away from their toys at Christmas”. One reason why she never let me bring my children to visit at Christmas. Oh it would have been very different if we had lived close to one another, and could have just popped round for a couple of hours, but as it was it was a 6-7 hour round trip, it meant at least one night’s stay.

A trip we did every 2-3 months, except at Christmas. The very time when families are supposed to be together. So why didn’t they come to us?

Well, mum once again declared that ” you would all have a much better time without us getting in the way”.

I can’t deny it hurt a little at the time, but she was a bit of a ‘home-bird’ and hated travelling. Nor can I deny that actually, she did have a point!

So, there we were, dad and I walking the two miles or so to my grandparents house. Dad didn’t drive, probably couldn’t have afforded a car even if he did, and of course, there were no busses on Christmas day.

I never minded, it always seemed to be snowing, but that is probably just my wishful thinking, and I was spending time with my dad.

I was definitely a ‘daddy’s girl’, and he in turn adored me.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my mum too. She was amazing, wonderful and a credit to her firm but fair miners daughter upbringing.

We walked down the path which runs alongside the semi-detached houses, and borders the playing field. Looking across this field we could see the sea, grey and threatening as it usually was at this time of year..

Before long we were at the main road. There were a few people about, often children who had just had a new bike from Santa, determined to ride despite the snow.

We walked beside the road for about a mile until we reached the railway crossing.

It was a place my father knew well. For all of his working life he had been at the docks and spent part of that time riding on the wagons which transported coal from one of the local pits to the docks where it was loaded onto ships to end up who knew where.

Crossing over the line, it was a fairly easy walk to my Nana’s house, past the Londonderry Arms where they were probably getting ready for another busy Christmas, and then turning right, with our destination straight ahead, just before the local working men’s club. A place where later my grandad, at the age of 97, and the oldest member, would be the guest of honour at its re-opening.

There were already some cousins there and we children delighted each other with stories of what Santa had left for us, and handing out presents for my Nana and grandad.

We didn’t seem to have been there for very long before we had to leave for home, with a promise that I would be good for my mum. We always took home a box of liquorice all-sorts, a gift to my dad from his in-laws.

Dad was the only son-in-law who was handed a present at Christmas. It was given by way of a “thank you” for the little jobs he did for them, fixing the toaster, putting up shelves, plumbing in a washing machine when the old twin tub gave up the ghost, that sort of thing.

As the ‘favoured’ son-in-law, my dad was also given the job of ‘first foot’ on New year’s Eve, being ushered out of the house before midnight and with a lump of coal for luck in his hand ready to re-enter once the church bells had struck. So whilst the rest of us were laughing and celebrating in the warmth, poor dad was outside, freezing cold and on his own.

Dad checked that I had fastened my coat up properly and we said our goodbyes and set off for home.

The terraced houses lining our route, normally blackened thanks to the coal dust which settled on the walls, took on a beautiful festive look with glittery snow settling on the tops of garden gates and privet hedges.

Getting back to the warmth of home and the welcoming smell of Christmas, the celebrations could start properly for our little family. Playing, eating, watching television. More or less just as I do today.

I often wonder what my Nana would think if she could see the piles of presents my grandchildren woke up to on Christmas morning. Would she be proud that her family were doing so well that they could afford all of these gifts, or horrified at the expense and ‘show’? I have no way of knowing obviously, but I suspect it would be the latter.

 

So yes, in a way, Christmas isn’t the same. But in many ways, thanks to children and grandchildren, it hasn’t changed very much, and I still love it, almost as much

 

Val Chapman

Featured

A favourite Book

This piece is by Tessa Thomson and tells of her love for a favourite book.

Trilby gold
Trilby by George Du Maurier

After my mother died, when I was about 3 years old, I was discharged from the hospital where I had been since contracting septicemia at 9 months. I was taken to live with my grandparents. When I was about 8, I was introduced for the first time to my two half-sisters, Margaret and Anne, who were twins and had been living up to that time in a children’s home. They had reached 16 and their time at the home had come to an end, and they were now to fend for themselves. They stayed with my grandparents for a very short time but both were quite wild and wanted to be up and away to the bright lights of London. From photographs that I have found over the years, it seems that the twins did visit my grandparents during their time at the children’s home and the group photos show me to be about 4 or 5.

I had no more contact with my sisters until I was about 12 when Margaret came to see my grandparents. Margaret, by now 20 was living and working in London although I have no idea at what. But amazingly she bought me a book. It was called Trilby and was written by George Du Maurier. My grandparents home was devoid of books unless you count my grandfather’s Zane Gray western paperbacks.

It was a substantial book for a 12-year-old and it took some years before I appreciated its dark overtones. The cover of the book was a luscious green and the pages were edged in gold. It had a few illustrations. One I remember to this day was of Svengali, the one character in the book that stirred my young imagination the most.

Trilby was one of the most popular novels of its time. It was originally published serially in Harper’s Monthly from January to August 1894, then in book form from 1895. It sold 200,000 copies in the United States alone.

The book is set in the 1850s in an idyllic bohemian Paris. Though the book features the stories of two English artists and a Scottish artist, one of the most memorable characters is Svengali, a rogue, masterful musician and hypnotist.

Trilby O’Ferrall, the novel’s heroine, is a half-Irish girl working in Paris as an artists’ model and laundress; all the men in the novel are in love with her. The relationship between Trilby and Svengali forms only a small, though a crucial, portion of the novel.

Trilby Hat
The Trilby Hat

The novel has been adapted to the stage several times; one of these featured the lead actress wearing a distinctive short-brimmed hat with a sharp snap to the back of the brim. The hat became known as the trilby and went on to become a popular men’s clothing item in the United Kingdom throughout various parts of the 20th century.

Rebecca
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

The book became my constant companion. Every few months I would dip into its pages. When I was older Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier became another treasured book and my favourite film. Asked by my family what I wanted for my 70th birthday, I remembered seeing an advertisement for a watch called Rebecca made and styled by Ben Du Maurier, George’s great-grandson.

Rebecca Watch
The Rebecca Watch

 

Tessa Thomson

Featured

The Coronation

Elizabeth_II_&_Philip_after_Coronation
Elizabeth the second and Prince Philip Coronation portrait (Credit: Library and Archives Canada/K-0000047)

 

This piece is written by another of our Wordsmiths Sandra Hughes. I suppose the subtitle might be something like unintended consequences.

First public embarrassment (that I know of)

Or

Mum’s love of fancy dress

Or

THE CORONATION

The first humiliating fancy dress for me, was as a baby when my mother dressed me as

‘Baby Bunting’-

For those unfamiliar with the Nursery Rhyme-

‘Bye Baby Bunting

Daddy’s gone a-hunting

Gone to get a rabbit skin

To wrap the Baby Bunting in.’

Fortunately, it was not a rabbit skin I was dressed in. My mother, an intelligent, imaginative, resourceful woman, played with the word ‘Bunting.’ She made me a costume out of what looks like a flag (heaven help her if she mutilated a Union Jack) red, white and blue, which of course was decorating everywhere for the occasion. A hat, with ears, completed the ensemble.

We then joined with many other local children and mothers, celebrating the Coronation, of Queen Elizabeth 2nd, I hasten to add. This year, we found a photo taken at the event.

Last year, whilst helping my Mother sort through boxes, we unearthed said Baby Bunting costume.

For reasons known only to herself, my 24-year-old daughter decided she wanted to keep it. I just hope any future grandchild is not going to suffer the same ignominy as I did. You can work out how old the costume is.

I now confess, I followed in my Mother’s footsteps and often dressed my children in fancy dress on holidays and for school. These days, it is much easier with costumes in shops or online. However, my eldest daughter has continued the family tradition, but gone too far greater lengths than I ever did, kitting her children out in some amazing outfits she has made herself. (she is quite competitive!).

Looking at the group photo of the Coronation Party was quite emotional, contemplating how long our Queen has reigned and wondered what happened to all the people, seeing my grandmother and mother, no longer with us. A wonderful occasion, where everyone came together to celebrate.

Sandra

 

 

Featured

OH! BOY

Buddy_Holly_cropped
Buddy Holly in 1959 (picture from Wikipedia)

Jan’s piece is about a recent U3A trip to a Buddy Holly tribute concert. Many of us of a certain age remember Buddy Holly with a mixture of nostalgia, gratitude and sadness, gratitude for his music evoking for many of us a fondly remembered youth, a time of optimism. Sadness that such a talented young man along with J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson  and Ritchie Valens died so young, all three were in the same plane. A sadness echoed later by the death in similar circumstances of Otis Redding.

Oh! Boy

 Last Wednesday Bill and I went with a merry bunch of U3Aers on a charabanc to Northampton to see “The Buddy Holly Story”.

       Leaving Whittlesey at 10.30 am and arriving in Northants at 11.45am left us plenty of time to look around  the town and have lunch as the show didn’t start until 2.30pm.

On our walkabout, we noticed a small, old fashioned pub called the Wig and Pen. Ambling back, we wandered in looking for lunch. Inside was a long bar on one side and opposite were small wooden round tables with stools, in front of cushioned bench seats for people to sit and enjoy their pub grub. At the far end, up three steps was a smoking area with wooden tables and chairs in a modern style, (me, being me didn’t appreciate that fact even though there were ashtrays on the table, Bill pointed it out to me later). 

The Wig and Pen Northampton

     We sat down and were immediately attended to by a delightful young waitress who was pleasant and helpful. Suddenly we were startled by rain falling on a wide area of corrugated plastic roofing above us, making a deafening noise like rounds from a machine gun.  We remarked to the waitress that we hoped it would stop before we left as we hadn’t come prepared for rain.

She replied with a laugh that we needn’t worry about that as she would give us an umbrella from behind the bar. Apparently, they have quite a collection of forgotten brollies. Fortunately, the rain had stopped when we left.

The show was excellent. It told the story of Buddy Holly’s musical career, how he started and his rise to fame, eventually becoming a worldwide success but only for a short time as he died in a plane crash in February 1959 aged 22 years.

One time Buddy Holly was invited to perform in Harlem. In those days it was unheard of for a white man to play to a black audience. Two black ladies who were present at the time laughed rolled their eyes and told him “You’ll never get off that stage alive. They’ll eat you.” Buddy just shrugged “A gigs a gig” He performed. The audience was stunned when he first went on stage but by the time he finished they were completely won over. A small victory for racial integration.

The young man playing Buddy Holly was exceptional, as were his three “Crickets”. I was quietly singing along to the songs remembered from my youth as I think so were plenty of others. The whole cast danced and sang with energy and enjoyment.

At the moment in the story when Buddy Holly dies the curtains were closed and a lone guitar was spotlighted centre stage for a few moments.

Then the finale which was fast and furious, pounding out favourites hits and encouraging the audience to join in. Some members stood up, waving, clapping their hands and singing along. I’m sure a lot of us had our own memories of the fifties. I  was fourteen years old and had just discovered jiving. Oh Boy! did I enjoy dancing.

As we left the theatre happy and contented, I wondered if the lead singer, when he was playing his heart out in the finale, giving the music and dancing his all, whether in his mind’s eye he wasn’t seeing us but imagining the bright-eyed, young girls who would have been swaying, swooning, screaming, crying  at the front of the stage of his idol Buddy Holly.

 

Jan Cunningham

Featured

Book Launch Yesterday At U3A

A fantastic new post from Wendy Fletcher.

Wendy book signing.
Wendy signing copies of her autobiography The Railway Carriage Child at the launch in Whittlesey

At the U3A meeting in Whittlesey yesterday I did a book signing session for my first book, The Railway Carriage Child. Over 100 members attended and the afternoon was a great success. I hope that is encouraging to all would-be writers who may be having doubts about stepping onto the public platform with their own creations

 

Featured

The Railway Carriage Child now in print

Wendy's Book
Wendy Fletcher with her first print copy of The Railway Carriage Child

About two years ago I joined the local U3A Writing group as its third member. At my first meeting in Whittlesey’s Not Just Cafe, I was able to read a chapter from Wendy Fletcher’s autobiography. It was unfinished and hadn’t a title but it was for me a work of exceptional quality. Today the first-ever print copy was delivered to Wendy she brought it to the Writing Group (Whittlesey Wordsmiths) meeting opened the envelope and together with Wendy, we had the first sight of it.

This is the foreword

Against a backdrop of the Cambridgeshire fens, lies the

small market town of Whittlesey. Here are many features

of historical and architectural interest, including two

medieval churches, a 17th century Butter Cross and rare

examples of 18th century mud boundary walls.

Less well known, but still quite remarkable, are the pair of

Victorian railway carriages which stand just outside the

town.

Originally built for Great Eastern Railways in 1887,

they have been home to Wendy’s family since 1935.

Now, for the first time, Wendy shares the fascinating

story of her childhood, growing up as a Railway Carriage

Child in the mid to late 20th century.

With a wonderful memory for detail, she paints a

picture so vivid that we are there with her.

Through the eyes of an exuberant child, whose

imagination outpaced her years, we meet the characters

central to her life: an ancient Granny, still governed by the

old fen traditions of an earlier era, a domineering Mother,

a long-suffering Father, and Grandfather who died before

her birth but still inspires her dreams.

With the humour of hindsight, Wendy brings alive a

time when life moved at a gentler pace.

The final chapter follows Wendy as she returns to live

in the carriages as an adult, continuing the renovation and

preservation, to ensure that they survive for another

generation of her family.

Featured

Words Unspoken

This post is by Wendy Fletcher.

She shares her thoughts on people watching and how the way they interact with each other and their surroundings. These thoughts inspire her stories that form from the pictures in the mind’s eye. An interesting piece, an observation on observations.

Wendy’s new book, The Railway Carriage Child is launching soon for details follow this blog or follow the link to her site at the end of her post

 

man and woman sitting on bench
A young couple enjoying each other’s company Photo by Andre Furtado

 

I started watching people having conversations and wondered what they might be saying to each other.

Poetic licence allowed me to record these conversations without ever hearing a word.

Body language played a big part in this.

Were the couple on a bench leaning in close?

Were their knees touching?

Did they hold each other’s eyes as they talked?

man wearing suit jacket sitting on chair in front of woman wearing eyeglasses
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Another couple in a restaurant looked far more distracted. He pushed his vegetables around with his fork. She wiped her mouth nervously with her napkin.

person walking with puppy near trees
Photo by James Frid on Pexels.com

A man with a dog sat in the park. Every time he threw the stick, the dog bounded back, dropped it readily and waited for a fuss. The man leaned over and gave him a hug; not just a pat but a real hug.

Here were characters for a story.

Without eavesdropping, without intruding, I could incorporate their unspoken dialogue into an imaginary scene.

Maybe the young couple were being drawn closer together by some adverse reaction to their relationship. Did they face opposition from parents who perhaps thought them too young for a serious commitment?

Could the older couple in the restaurant be those parents, could they be disagreeing about handling the situation?

And the man in the park; probably Granddad, lonely after the death of his wife, relying on the closeness he feels with his dog, but about to realise how much his wise words are valued by his family as he steps into the role of mediator; to listen to the concerns of his daughter and son-in-law, to feel the pain of his grandson, torn between teenage love and parental concern.

Yes, the idea is growing. I can meld together this family of characters who have never met.

Now I just need to go and write their story.

Wendy Fletcher

Wendy has a blog feel free to visit it Wendy’s blog

 

Soon to be published.

The Railway Carriage Child
The Railway Carriage Child

Featured

How to deal with Writers Block

This post is from Stephen Oliver author of “Unleash Your Dreams: Going Beyond Goal Setting”. It gives inspiration and practical suggestions for those suffering from Writers Block. It is a long post but difficult to condense and yet retain his useful advice.

photography of brickwall
Photo by Fancycrave.com on Pexels.com

 

Dealing with Writers Block

A couple of years ago, I received an email in connection with a post I made on the TUT Writer’s Group on Facebook. The writer asked me about how to become a writer and how to deal with writer’s block. The following is based on my reply.

When it comes to writing, I would like to know where your writer’s block lies, so that I can give you more targeted advice. However, I can give you the following points, to begin with.

What sort of writing do you want to do?

Are you intending to write fiction or non-fiction? I do both, and each needs its own way of looking at things.

Fiction

If you want to write fiction, do you know what sort of story you want to write? Is it romance, general fiction, erotica, fantasy (science fiction, dark fantasy or horror, sword and sorcery, urban fantasy, to name but a few)? Is it a novel or a short story? Whatever type you want to write, you need to do some reading in that genre, just to get a feel for what is acceptable to the reading public. I, for instance, have read all of the above-mentioned fantasy types for years. You don’t want to copy them, of course, but you do need to know the kind of stories that are available.

Sometimes, a story you read will trigger an idea of your own. You might like the story and want to know what happened next. Why don’t you write about that? This is where a lot of fanfiction comes from.

If the story took place years ago, why not rewrite it into modern times? West Side Story is really Romeo and Juliet set in 20th century New York, for instance. The Lion King is a modern take on Hamlet. One of the short stories I’m about to publish is my take on Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. And so on.

At other times, you might think to yourself “I don’t like the way that story turned out.” So why not write your own version, giving it the ending you would have liked?

Or you read a story and imagine something completely different, that’s still somehow connected with the original, like my story about a modern Frankenstein.

Television and movies are other good sources of ideas. Just as I mentioned above, they can trigger thoughts and ideas that lead to a story.

I’ve also had ideas that have come from dreams and daydreams. You just have to be open to your thoughts. There are stories that I have started writing with nothing more than a single phrase or concept.

To throw a couple of ideas out to you:

  • What would it feel like to be immortal? You know that everyone you love will one day be gone, while you have to carry on without them forever more. How will you live? What will you do? Is there a problem with boredom, because you’ve done it all before? If they reincarnate, will you seek them out again?
  • How about someone whose job is to protect a city, like a superhero, except he can’t remember who he is until the city is about to be destroyed? How does he react until he realises that he’s the one to save the day? How do the inhabitants treat him because he’s always so late coming to the rescue?
  • Or how about a woman who can’t find her car keys, until she remembers that she never learned to drive? Why does she think that she has keys for a car she doesn’t own? Is she suffering from amnesia? Does she have a split personality? Is she channelling someone from a parallel world? Or is a ghost trying to contact her? The possibilities are endless.
  • What is the exact meaning of a company name, like Blue Dog? Does someone have an unusual name? Why do they have it?

These are a few ideas that just popped into my head while I was writing this. Be prepared to think strange things and follow them up.

If you still can’t think of anything, google “writing prompts” with the genre name. You will find thousands of entries to get you started. Amazon also has large numbers of prompt books, often for only £0.99, or a little more.

If you do decide to write, I suggest you keep some sort of notebook to write your ideas down. Personally, I use a program called Evernote (https://evernote.com), which you can get for free. It runs on the PC, Mac, iPhone and iPad, any Android device, etc. What you do is download it on any device you use and then set up an account with them or Dropbox or iCloud, or some other cloud service. Once all devices and their versions of Evernote are synchronised to the same account, if you write something down on one of them, it will be available on all of them within seconds. You need never lose an idea again. Except in the shower; I still have no idea how I can do it there.

If electronic devices are not your thing, and I know people who still prefer old-fashions methods, buy yourself a small reporter’s notebook with an attached pen or pencil. Keep it with you at all times and jot down any ideas you get. Every so often, say once a week, write them up in a bigger notebook or school book. Give it a title like “My Great Ideas Book.” Cherish the ideas as they come, accept them as the gifts from whomever or whatever you think of as a higher power, and they will keep coming. They will increase, and you will soon wonder why you never had any ideas.

Non-Fiction

Although all that I’ve written about above is as true for non-fiction as it is for fiction, non-fiction has a few extra points you need to keep in mind.

First of all, how much do you know about the subject? If it’s something you work with every day, and you know all about it, then you’re set. You just need to work out how to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

If you know a bit, or even nothing at all, then you are going to have to research. There are books available on just about every subject under the sun, many of them cheap or even free, if you know where to look. Try Amazon’s free books, for example, or check out Project Gutenberg for books that are out of copyright. Google the subject and follow any leads you find. Just be aware that there is a lot of useless or even false information out there. As Theodore Sturgeon, a science fiction writer, once said: “90% of everything is crud.”

As you’re doing your research, keep making notes of ideas and concepts that you want to include in your book. As I noted earlier, a notebook or some electronic aid such as Evernote, is an excellent way of keeping everything together. You can even cut and paste whole web pages into it. It doesn’t matter whether everything is neat and tidy, or just a bunch of scribbles and phrases, as long as they make sense to you when you come back to them later.

Once you start writing, you will have to find your personal style. When I’m working on a non-fiction book, I always write as if I’m actually talking to the person. If I’m teaching someone how to use a computer program (and I have written a user manual), it’s as if we’re sitting down together in front the machine and I’m telling them what to type and where to click. This is my style, and I know that there are people who prefer other styles, such as impersonal teacher dishing out commands.

My fiction style varies, depending on the needs of the story.

Whatever you found during your research, don’t write it exactly as you noted it down in the first place because you may find that you are plagiarising someone else’s words. Instead, write it down in your own words, as if you are trying to explain to someone else what it is that you’ve read. Don’t worry if you think you have nothing new to say, it may be that someone else needs to hear it put the way that you can uniquely do it. Say it your own way, and it will be new to someone.

Don’t talk yourself out of an idea just because it’s been done before. Put your own spin on it. Bring in your own personal experiences. You will have your own stories to tell, which will make it unique.

Dr Joe Vitale

Problems

Now, let’s look at one or two problems more carefully.

Ideas are blocked

If you think that your problem lies with writer’s block, try this little trick. If you prefer to work by hand, get a blank piece of paper and a pen or pencil, and write the subject you want to write about at the top of the page. Underline it or draw a box around it, whatever makes you feel that it’s important.

Now, let’s establish a couple of simple rules. First of all, when you start writing, don’t stop! Secondly, you are only allowed to write from left to right and top to bottom. You can’t go back and correct something at the moment; that comes later.

Now, just keep writing whatever goes through your head on the subject. If you find that nothing relevant to the subject comes out, just write whatever you are thinking about, even if it’s about the problem you’re having writing anything down. The idea is to disconnect your creative process from the critical process of editing, silencing your Inner Critic. Once you’ve been writing for five or ten minutes, or whatever feels comfortable, take a break or stop completely

Now is the time to go back and look at what you’ve written. Don’t change anything yet, just read it from beginning to end to see what exactly you have created. If you find something you would like to alter or even delete, make a mental note to come back to it later. If you prefer, mark where the change should be, but don’t actually make the correction yet.

Once you’ve reread it, you can go back and make the changes you thought about earlier. When you’ve finished, use that as a basis for your writing. You can repeat this as many times as you like, until you’re satisfied.

If you’re a computer user and can type fast enough, create a new blank document and start with that. I’ve even used dictation software to get ideas down as quickly as possible.

This is a combination of two different methods that I personally use. The first is Free Writing, where you just allow words to come out of you without censoring them in any way. The second method includes the first as its first stage. This method is called the Disney Strategy and is named after Walt Disney. It’s the way that he and his team of creators brainstormed new ideas for films and features.

If you want to find out more about this and other methods of achieving your goals, I suggest you look at my book “Unleash Your Dreams: Going Beyond Goal Setting”. You can find it on Amazon as both a Kindle eBook (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EX4FVUI) and paperback (https://www.amazon.com/dp/0992744113), or as an iBook.

Another suggestion I can make is to have multiple projects going on at the same time. For instance, right now I am doing the final clean-up on a collection of science fiction short stories, another one in multiple genres looking for a publisher, two more of the same that are awaiting editing, a fourth collection of stories being written on the same theme, and one other collection as a work in progress. I also have a fantasy novel I’m working on, and a follow-up book to the one that I just mentioned above. If I run out of ideas, or find myself blocked on one of these projects, I simply switch to another one and continue working there. I do this because I’ve come to realise that it’s not really a block, as such. It really means that what I’m working on at the moment isn’t quite ready to be written down yet.

No ideas at all

You said that you have no idea where to start? Is this because you have no ideas? Or is it because you have no idea what tools to use?

If the first one is your problem, please look earlier in this post, where I’ve given you a few pointers on how to start.

If the second one is where you’re stuck, any word processor, such as Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages, will do perfectly well. I wrote my first book using Word, and it did the job fairly well.

These days, I use a product called Scrivener, which is specially designed with the writer in mind, allowing you to structure your work any which way you like, moving stuff around if it makes more sense that way. You can download a free trial at http://www.literatureandlatte.com, which will run for 30 days of use; if you use it only once a week, it will work for months. If you decide you like it, it only costs about $45 to buy the full licence. There are versions for the PC, Mac, and iPhone and iPad. It even comes with video tutorials available straight from the programme.

Other problems

If your problems lie more in the realm of the actual publication of your writing, we can talk about this on another occasion.

I hope this helps you in your quest to become a writer.

I wish you lots of luck in the future and look forward to hearing from you soon and reading your writing

Warm Regards,

Stephen

Featured

Diana

Diana Flowers Maxwell Hamilton Creative Commons
The sea of flowers outside Buckingham Palace (Picture Credit Maxwell Hamilton Creative Commons)

 

This piece is Written by Val Fish another of our very talented prize-winning authors.

 

This was written for a challenge to imagine yourself at a famous event in history.

In my case, I didn’t need to imagine, I was there… 

Diana

I woke up around six am, after for the first time in my life sleeping on the pavement.

It was the 6th September 2007, the day etched in history when the whole world said a sad goodbye to Princess Diana.

A friend and I had come down the night before and as we walked down the Mall that evening I remember the sweet fragrance permeating from the thousands of flowers laid along the route.

We’d managed to nab a prime spot right in front of the railings. As the clock ticked on that morning, the mood amongst the crowd began to change, I think we were all still in disbelief as to what we were about to witness.

The realisation hit us when we heard the sound of approaching horses’ hooves, that’s when the wailing started.

The sight of that cortege will stay with me forever, the bouquet of lilies on the coffin, the boys with their heads bowed. I remember thinking ‘We shouldn’t be there, this should be private, that’s their mother.’

It was impossible not to cry…

diana_funeral_02 Dave Chancellor
The coffin carried in (Picture credit Dave Chancellor)

The service was relayed on a loud speaker; the crying now was more subdued, and as the choir began to sing ‘Libera Me’ from Verdi’s Requiem, I thought it was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.

And then it was over and once again the cortege passed us, this time the coffin in a car, and everybody was throwing flowers.

And then she was gone…

I felt almost honoured to have been there that day; I was one in a million.

I was part of history.

Diana memorial Christs Pieces Cambridge
Diana memorial Christs Pieces Cambridge

Featured

The Railway Carriage Child

Later this year Wendy will be sharing her long-awaited autobiography with the world. The publication is planned for September and work on the nuts and bolts of getting the book ready to face its readers, on time, is well underway.

The book is beautifully written, evocative of a time now past and Whittlesey a place much changed. Those of us who travelled along different paths but during the same time will recognise and remember the many experiences we all shared.

Unfortunately, her mentor and friend Edward Storey died as Wendy was finishing her book, he did, however, comment on it earlier, “we share Wendy’s journeys and experiences, her descriptions are so vivid we are there with her, sitting by her side.”

This is a first glimpse of the book’s cover, it may change a little before publication but this is it at the moment. There will be further posts once we have a price and firm publication date.

The Railway Carriage Child
The Railway Carriage Child

Featured

The Misspending of youth

Our dances weren’t quite this hectic

 

In this post, Val Chapman is sharing her thoughts on the changing world of school and aspects of life the young encounter now. Things that passed us by when we were of that age. A lovely thoughtful piece thank you, Val.

 

I was looking at a photograph of my neighbours’ grandson dressed up ready to go to his ‘School Prom’.

When did this become a ‘thing’?

We were lucky to get the occasional disco. It was always in the school hall though, no fancy hotel or stately home for us. I dare say the idea was the same, dressing ‘up to the nines’, one or two of us having a sneaky drink or cigarette before the teachers found out. Not me obviously, I was a real goody goody. Well, mostly…….

It felt quite anarchic, dancing in the school hall without it being ‘The Gay Gordons’, or ‘Dashing White Sergeant’!

I was born in 1957, so by the time my school discos came along, platform shoes and miniskirts were the order of the day.

That suited me fine though, I was a size 10-12, about 5’8″, and most of my height was in my legs!

Oh, how the mighty have fallen……….., and no, I’m not just talking about boobs here, my bum is definitely nearer the ground than it used to be.

See, that’s the thing though, isn’t it? ‘You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone,’ to quote Joni Mitchel, a favourite from back in the day. I was a bit of a hippy, so she was right up my street.

Then again, my musical tastes varied hugely. I would happily dance around to Mott the Hoople, Cream, Bread, T. Rex, Free, Stevie Wonder. Diversity doesn’t come close. Maybe I was just trying to find “my” band, but the truth is I just enjoyed being with my friends and didn’t have any particular favourite.

Anyway, back to the Prom.

It seems to me, that this idea has spread here from ‘over the pond’. It appears that we do pick up on more than a few American ideas.

Take Halloween for example.

Have you seen the stuff in the shops for Halloween from about August?

It will be taking over from Christmas soon! And as for the ‘trick or treat’ idea.

To my mind, it’s just getting money, or sweets by extortion. ‘Give me the goodies, or else’. I may be a killjoy, but I don’t want my children or grandchildren thinking this is a respectable way to behave.

Oh dear, I’m sounding more and more like my parents.

If you need me I’ll be in the kitchen, doing ‘the funky chicken’ to something ridiculous.

 

Featured

Another way of seeing things

Writing
Dedicated writing

Wendy’s interesting perspective, it really is another way of seeing things.

Val’s piece about Plagiarism probably touched a nerve with most of us. We do not write in isolation, somehow screened from the real world and its influence.

When I first learned to write, aged about four, I traced the shape of letters that had been designed by someone else; A, B, C and D were not my invention.

Within a year or so, I was putting those shapes together to write my first words: C-A-T and D-O-G. Again, there was nothing original here.

It is just a myth that we writers produce anything original. We are not the proverbial chimps sitting at a keyboard and likely to produce a masterpiece if we are given enough time.

The secret of good writing and, perhaps more importantly, staying out of trouble, is to be inspired, influenced, led by others, but to build our own framework on which to hang these snippets.

An analogy might be that we see leaves blowing in the wind and scoop them up, then drape them on a branch where they form an interesting and unique pattern. We don’t uproot whole trees.

With this in mind, I would like to tell you about my latest collection of leaves.

I have been unable to drive for the last three months and have relied on public transport. The conversations that I have overheard have been an eye-opener of some magnitude. You wouldn’t believe what goes on in the Fens.

So, if you have been travelling in East Anglia, over the last few weeks, you might want to see if you can spot a few words from that lengthy discussion you were having on the bus.

“Well, it was only this morning I was saying to my ‘usband………’

Wendy Fletcher

 

Featured

The Mother I Never Knew

We are a diverse group of writers shaped by our experiences, this is another autobiographical piece from one of our U3A writing group members. Tessa writes about her mother, the mother she never had a chance to know.

Tessa's Mum
Tessa’s mother

My mother died at the age of 31. She had been a young bride, an abused wife, a mother of four, a WAAF, a lover of some, a prisoner, and at the end, a consumptive. I never knew my mother; I was three and a half when she died but her life had an enormous impact on her four surviving children. The consequences for us all were huge. The expression most used about my mother when I was growing up was “spirited”.

 

My mother was born on October 6th 1917 in Limerick, southern Ireland. She was christened Teresa although when it suited her she could and did, change her name. She was the eldest child of six children. A seventh child died in infancy. My grandfather was with the Royal Engineers based in Ireland at the time of my mother’s birth. My grandmother helped her mother at a guest house near the camp. My grandparents had a long and happy marriage mainly because my grandfather agreed on everything with my grandmother. There was one exception to this however, my mother. Despite her many failings, and indiscretions, my mother was without doubt my grandfather’s favourite child, something that would be tested many times.

 

My mother enjoyed the freedom of the large encampment and in particular the dances. She loved the dances. Actually my grandfather forbade her to go to them and her younger sister was supposed to ensure she was at home on the dance nights. But my mother always managed to sneak out and stand by the door of the dance hall. She was rarely caught and frequently managed a dance.

 

My mother and the family moved to England and to Welwyn Garden City sometime around 1932. She would have been about 15. In 1938 aged just twenty, and three months pregnant she married. She gave birth that year to twin girls. I cannot say if this was an unhappy marriage from the start. I do know from things I have learned as an adult that her husband was a violent man whose drinking would frequently result in abuse, both verbal and physical towards my mother. In 1940 she gave birth to a boy. With her husband away in the army I think my mother; young as she was must have found life very tough and lonely. She must have yearned for the freedom her sisters enjoyed, as they were yet to marry.

 

That freedom came with the soldiers on leave, looking for relief from the fighting. In Welwyn Garden City at that time was a large pub with an even larger ballroom. Dances were held several times a week. My mother would frequently leave the children in their cots, with glass bottle feeders and a roaring fire in the grate, and go dancing. It was reckless but it’s hard for me to condemn her. I have some sympathy for a young woman in uncertain times wanting to have some fun. It was usually left to my grandmother to respond when the neighbours heard the children crying in the house.

 

Sometime in 1942 my mother left her three children in the care of her husband’s sister and joined the WAAF band as a girl drummer based in Chivenham in Devon.  How she was able to do this, with a family left at home I don’t know but I imagine during war time anything is possible. My mother’s life must have changed dramatically. She was in uniform; she had many friends, though most seemed to be men. She came home on leave with stories of the great time she was having. My grandmother kept in touch with the children but at some point, and I am unclear as to when, my mother’s husband placed the twins in to an orphanage, and the boy he gave to friends who later adopted him. During this time my mother changed her forename and linked it with her married surname, gave her status as single and dropped her age by five years. She had a number of affairs judging by the number of young Americans in particular, who came to my grandmother’s house asking for her.

 

In July 1944 at The Parish church of Emmanuel, Compton Gifford near Plymouth she married a 22 year old Leading Airman in the RAF.  He was one of triplets, and was known to my family. Of course my mother was still married. On the front page of the Western Evening Herald dated Monday July 24th is a picture of the happy couple with a guard of honour of airmen and women. Had my mother lost her mind? The wedding certificate states that she was a spinster, aged 22 and single. She had to alter her father’s name to bring it in line with her own and gave his employment as a Company Sergeant Major in the Royal Corps of Signals. I’m sure my grandfather would have been tickled pink by that.

 

Whatever happiness she may have felt at this time, was soon dispelled. Her real husband was told of the marriage and informed the police. On leave, and visiting home she realised the game was up and went on the run. She appears to have been AWOL for at least 8 or 9 months during which time she must have had a relationship with someone as I was born in December 1945.  Whether my mother gave herself up or was caught I don’t know. Where she was during that time is also unknown. But at sometime during the summer of 1945 she faced trial for bigamy at the Old Bailey. My grandparents both attended the trial which, with the journey alone must have been quite a trial for them as well. She was sentenced to nine months imprisonment deferred until after I was born. By the beginning of January 1946 my mother’s sentence began at Holloway Prison. My mother never saw me again.

 

She left prison sometime in late 1946. I’m not sure exactly when or whether she had time off for good behaviour. But whilst in prison she contracted tuberculosis. Meanwhile I was in hospital suffering from septicaemia. Because of my mother’s illness I had an extended stay in hospital and didn’t leave until she died in May 1949.

 

The twins stayed in an orphanage until they were 16. Their lives were severely blighted by that experience and neither of them lived happily. The boy was adopted by people who were unkind and at times cruel. I met him for the first time a few years ago and we keep in touch. As for me, well my life has had many tragic moments and times I would rather forget. Most of my childhood is blocked from my memory, and that which I can remember I would rather not. As to my father, who knows? My mother did of course and asked my grandmother if she wanted to know. But she said no.

Tessa Thomson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured

Meeting Penfriends

Gwen Bunting is a recent recruit to the Wordsmiths. This is her fascinating account of her sixty odd year friendship with a friend in Holland.

Gwen and Lilian
Gwen seated Lilian on the sun lounger

I have been writing to Lilian Boogaard in Holland since we were thirteen-year-old schoolgirls it wasn’t until we were both aged twenty that we first met, this was in 1963.

 

I flew from Heathrow whilst waiting to board a KLM flight to Schipol Amsterdam thinking back to when I was younger. Standing then in the Queens Building as a young child with my mother, watching the aircraft land and take off. I made up my mind whilst watching the planes that one day I would fly from Heathrow myself.

 

It took me all year to save up for the trip. The flight was about £16 but hard to come by when you only earned a third of that amount weekly and had to pay your board at home.

 

The day duly arrived and my dear brothers drove me to Heathrow overnight. Having my passport and Guilders for my big adventure. They left me at the departure gate and I was on my own. A big step for me, but I moved on to the correct area and boarded the flight which lasted about an hour.

 

Landing in Schipol I followed the signs making my way through passport control answering their questions. We were not in the common market then. I was duly stamped and moved through, collecting my case from the carousel.  Walking through into the open area looking for Lilian. No one was there. I cannot remember how long I sat waiting. She had been given all the flight details but she was nowhere to be seen.  Eventually, they arrived and we drove off to Loenen a small village about 30min drive from Amsterdam. Their English was stilted and my knowledge of Dutch much the same.

 

We went into Lilian’s mother’s house a tobacconists shop with the most wonderful smell of cigars, the Dutch are big cigar smokers. When we sat down to have a cup of tea they were surprised when I put milk into mine. This is called baby-tea they drink theirs weak and black. The other comment was that I did not speak like the Queen, I said very few of us do.

 

I stayed a week with my friend we lived with her brother and sister in law, who was pregnant. The things I remember and hold dear are my first taste of plain yoghurt which I still do not like; the delicious cakes I bought at the baker’s next door and visiting a windmill in the village.

Gwen and Marijke
Marijke seated and Gwen

 

I was able to help make a dress for Marijke my friends sister-in-law. Her baby was to be named Michael and they wanted the English spelling.

Michael
Michael Lilian’s nephew

 

Other reminisces are eating chips with mayonnaise instead of vinegar.  My friend’s father was in the Dutch Resistance, but he never spoke about the war. The family stuffed four gold Dutch gilders inside a toy dog belonging to my friend’s brother. He was told never to let anyone have his toy. The dog was to go everywhere with him. These gilders were later retrieved and made into pendants. I was so envious of these necklaces, knowing the history attached to them.

Lilian’s father worked on farms inseminating cows, this was hard to explain in English. We accompanied him on several visits, him donning long plastic gloves. He jokingly asked me if I would like to shake hands.  This was my first chance to wear clogs, they used them on the farm. Happy memories.

I visited again the following year and taught Michael to walk I am told.

Henk and Lilian
Henk, Lilian and chips with mayonaise

Sadly my friend suffers from severe arthritis, causing her to retire from work early. She had been a physiotherapist with the largest clinic in Amsterdam. Lilian lives with Henk who is a doctor. They have no children, but I am pleased that after all these years we are still in touch.

Lilian and Gwen
Lilian with Gwen more recently

 

In the last two years, I have visited again, being taken out on the boat along with the family and Michael who was there to steer the boat. more than fifty years later, happy memories.

Michael and Marijke
Michael and Marijke

 

Gwen Bunting

Featured

All my own work.

Plaigarism

Val Chapman tackles the issue of plagiarism in this post, raising issues and giving us her thoughts

……They accused me of plagiarism. Their words, not mine……..

 

I do sometimes wonder if I should include certain quotes in my stories. Obviously, I do not want anyone to think I have knowingly ‘stolen’ someone else’s work, passing it off as my own.

I have a little book where I write snippets of conversation I overhear, perhaps an interesting sentence or story I may read in a magazine. I look through this from time to time, looking for inspiration.

Sometimes it helps, mostly it does not.

But because these little prompts are ‘second hand’, should I use them at all?

I do wonder at times what constitutes plagiarism?

I think ‘knowingly’ is the keyword.

Surely we have all, at some point, used words from another body of work we have remembered and used in our own efforts, either consciously or unconsciously?

I assume that to be classed as ‘plagiarism’, it refers to a whole piece of work and not a few words or sentences here and there. Let’s face it, if it referred to ANYTHING then we wouldn’t be able to write at all!

So I’ll just continue along, in blissful ignorance and hope I don’t incur the wrath of someone with far more talent than me.

 

Val Chapman

Featured

I Love Writing Because…

Writing 2This piece is by Val Fish one of our talented Wordsmiths.

I’ve had a love of words and stories since my school days; my primary school report said ‘Valerie has a good imagination’, and a fantastic English teacher at grammar school was a great inspiration to me. English Language was one of only two subjects I was any good at (the other being French).

I was a big Blue Peter fan in my youth, every year I would get the annual as a Christmas present and was lucky enough to win two Blue Peter badges in their competitions.

As I grew older, I entered the world of consumer competitions, having to complete slogans that usually started something like ‘I shop at XYZ because’, in 12 words or less.

I won hundreds of prizes over the years, little and large, among them a few holidays; my biggest successes were the much sought after prize car; a Mini Metro, and a conservatory worth a massive ten thousand pounds.   One of my prizes of least value, but providing much amusement, was a frozen chicken, worth a measly £1.50 at the time. The winners had to go to the store to collect their prize, and we were photographed all holding our chickens aloft.  I did feel rather silly and particularly self-conscious as I was eight months pregnant at the time.

I could go on and on about the wondrous things that I won, but that’s another story to be told.

Although of course, the prizes were great, for me it was more the composing of the slogans that brought me pleasure. Trying to be witty in so few words and to stand out from the hundreds of others was a challenge I’d always relish. Maybe that’s why these days my forte is flash fiction.

As this type of competition began to die out, it seemed a natural progression to turn to creative writing.

So these days my words are somewhat longer, no big prizes to be won; in most cases, it’s simply seeing my efforts posted online, which gives me just as much pleasure

 

I couldn’t imagine not writing; it’s good therapy for me, all my cares and woes are temporarily forgotten. And an added bonus, it keeps those grey cells ticking over, much needed at my age. I like to think I’ll l be writing as long as I’ve still got my faculties, however long that may be.

 

Featured

Inspiration

Sunrise 25 11 15
Sunrise

This piece is by Tessa Thomson, a member of our group who’s poetry is truly outstanding.

 

Inspiration  (noun; the act of inspiring; stimulation by a divinity; a genius, idea or a passion).

A writer finds inspiration everywhere. Putting it down on paper is the difficulty. Sometimes I hear a phrase, maybe a couple of people chatting will say something I can use, or just being out in the garden can give inspiration for a piece of work.

Usually, inspiration comes during waking hours at night. That’s when I remember that I forgot to put the notebook and pen back beside the bed. But then a friend recently said she was frightened of being sent by the well-meaning family into a nursing home. Inspiration!

I’m frightened did I hear you say, of being all alone

Of being sent so far away to someone else’s home

To some grand house to sit around with others of your age

Like gilded birds of paradise inside a gilded cage

 

Recently I was watching my husband working in the garden, getting it ready for winter. Inspiration!

 

I’ve cleared all the leaves from the garden,

I’ve planted some bulbs in the beds.

I’ve rescued the tenderest flowers,

And cut off the dead flowering heads.

 

Our own memories probably provide the best inspiration but can sometimes provide the saddest.

My own poems can be very dark, but they are my stories. In the end, whether it’s a story or a poem, how it’s told and how it touches the individual is what makes good writing. Inspiration is the starting point; it’s what happens next that takes the reader beyond the imagination.

Recently someone wrote in a thank you note to me “our shared love of your daughter will ensure we meet again very soon”. Whilst I found the sentiment unsettling it did provide inspiration.

 

You say you seek a shared love with someone I hold dear

But how can that be possible; the obstacles are clear

The love I have is borne of pain; of risk and much besides

Of waking nights; of memories; of tears, I always hide.

 

My love is tough and gentle too but never harsh to bear

It’s that which gives such grace and joy and content to my heir

By this great love, her life is traced from childhood up to now

But you would seek to feel that love; to harness it somehow.

 

As Samuel Johnson remarked in 1799

 

What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure

 

Tessa Thomson

Featured

Writing

writing
Putting pen to paper

 

This post is from one of our writing group members. We have all been asked to give our thoughts on writing. We all approach writing in different ways and we are publishing these pieces ad hoc over time.

These are Teresa’s thoughts on the subject.

Writing has never come easily to me. However, possessing a vivid imagination and a peculiar sense of humour ensures a diverse source of subject material is readily available.

Being given a topic to write about focuses my mind and channels my enthusiasm. The Whittlesey Wordsmiths have encouraged and  supported my return to writing.

They could do the same for you.

Teresa Gilbertson

 

 

Whittlesey Wordsmiths will be at the EnGage in the Morning February meeting at the library Monday February 18th at 10.30am free tickets available at the desk

Featured

SPELING

teacher
Read carefully and take note

Does anyone else get as irritated by bad spelling as I do?

Don’t get me wrong here, I freely admit to having to use help to check my spelling frequently.

The thing that bugs me though is, if I can do it, why don’t lots of other people?

I know I’m not the only one who sometimes needs help, and indeed there is plenty of help out there (thank you Alexa)

I have been looking at a lot of adverts online recently, where people try to sell things they no longer have a need for, or have made and want to sell on, and have been so frustrated, disappointed, and frankly quite angry about basic, relatively easy words which have been spelt incorrectly.

If people are unsure about how to spell something, why don’t they find out? Especially if you are putting it in the public domain. I’m not talking about a shopping list here.

It just strikes me as being lazy, and to be perfectly honest, If you can’t be bothered, I really don’t want to buy whatever it is you are selling, thank you very much!

I have been known to walk past a greengrocer’s shop to go to the nearest supermarket because the sign in the grocer’s window read ‘Collies 80p’.

And no, they weren’t selling dogs.

Talking of dogs, it was a website selling dogs that I was most recently annoyed by. The number of people who can’t spell ‘miniature’, ‘puppies’ or even the name of the breed they are selling was, in my opinion, shocking.

Someone was selling their shih-tzu, and yes, they did spell it the way they obviously say it, sh## zhu.

Anyway, rant over. I try to be forgiving, but sometimes, just sometimes, I despair of people’s lazy attitude towards English. Well, the spelling of it anyway. Apostrophes and grammar can wait for another day.

And don’t get me started on some cafe menus……………

 

 

Val Chapman

Featured

Please give me a Prompt!

Statue at St Pancras Station
Statue at St Pancras Station What is their story?

 

My biggest problem is what to write in the first place. Given a free rein, told to ‘Write what I like’ and I’m lost, the page as blank as my mind.

I have tried the notebook / people watching/ eavesdropping ideas with varying results.

I travel fairly regularly by train and two incidents spring to mind.

My first encounter was, sitting across the aisle from me, a girl with long flaming red hair, she was so striking, I enjoyed conjuring up a character profile for her, and this developed into ‘The Girl Across the Aisle’

I once had the pleasure or misfortune; I’m not quite sure which, to be sitting opposite another girl on a train, on her mobile phone discussing who was going to donate their kidney to her, which she was in desperate need of. Believe me, I got every gory detail. She was either oblivious to me sitting there, or more than likely just didn’t care ( It seems to be the norm nowadays that people are happy to have what I would call private conversations in public, for all and sundry to hear).  My story; ‘The Girl with the Kidney’ is still waiting to be written.

Fortunately in my local U3A Creative Writing group, at the end of each meeting we are given that month’s homework. Even with that much needed prompt; I struggle for ages before coming up with something half worth developing. While my fellow wordsmiths are posting their valiant efforts, the deadline getting nearer and nearer, still nothing.

And then finally ‘Eureka’; more often than not, at three in the morning when my brain has been unable to switch off.

The funny thing is once I’ve started, that’s it, I simply can’t stop, frantically scribbling, editing, re-editing, never quite one hundred per cent satisfied which what I’ve done.

But in the end I have to let it go. My finger hovers over the ‘Send’ key before making that final decision to let it go.

And then spend the next few hours worrying about what everybody’s going to think of it!

 

Valerie Fish