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.

Time Chapter 5

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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.

Time Chapter 4

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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.

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.

Time Chapter 2

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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.

Time

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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? 

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.

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

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

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