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.

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 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

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.

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? 

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.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.