Monday, 22 October 2018

Spring Rain by Clair Wright

In the night, grief falls like rain.
It is the gentle patter of tears,
Or the cold drizzle of sadness
Or a sudden, heavy downpour
That drenches completely. 

It seeps through the cracks of a parched heart, 
Swells the seed of memory, and stirs
A reluctant, fragile unfurling, 
That, tender, turns towards the light
To blossom and bleed afresh.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Heaven Sent by Dave Rigby

The quayside at Vlissingen was slick with fish waste, the stench almost unbearable. Away from the shelter of the warehouses, the cobbles were ice-covered. The two of them threaded a way through huddles of fishermen. Even the swirling tobacco smoke from their pipes failed to mask the smell of fish remains.
Ork’s mission to rescue his friend Gilou from the blood-soaked streets of Paris, avoid the revolutionary guards and make the long journey to the relative safety of the Low Countries had been successful.
A sea crossing lay ahead of them.
As soon as they boarded the boat, the skipper demanded payment. Arrangements for their voyage across the North Sea had been negotiated in a dark corner of Het Waterhuis the previous evening. They’d paid the agent his commission and now it was time to hand over a much bigger sum to the long-haired, bearded fisherman. Ork tried not to think about the tales he’d heard of desperate folk who’d fled France and handed over hard-earned cash, only to be left abandoned on the quayside.
But they departed the harbour without mishap.
The crew of the twenty-metre herring buss were used to fishing the Dogger Bank. But occasionally the skipper would sail further, either to raid English fishing grounds or to drop off lucrative undocumented passengers wherever they could make landfall. The speed and manoeuvrability of the boat was such that escape from any English craft in pursuit was almost a certainty.  
The swell increased as they left the Dutch coast and the buss pitched and tossed as it headed north west under a grey sky. Later the crew slept whilst the skipper and a changing watch kept the vessel on course.
While his friend rested, Ork, wrapped in two blankets, stayed wide-awake, unused to the motions of the sea, but also keen to guard their remaining valuables. He smoked and wondered about the further dangers they might face once they reached England, chief amongst these the risk of being caught by local militia on the lookout for Jacobin spies. Trying to prove Gilou was not a foreign agent, might prove extremely difficult.
+ + +
They finally reached the English coast at Filey, in the gloom of early morning. A small craft was lowered from the buss and the travellers were rowed, oars muffled, to the Coble. They watched from the landing for a moment as the tiny boat pulled away, turned to run along the beach towards the Brig, then cut off up the steep, narrow path to the clifftop.
Skirting the town, they set off along back lanes in the direction of Ork’s contact in the village of Rudston.
Once their stomachs had settled from the sea voyage, hunger hit them suddenly. Reaching into their packs, they tore chunks of bread from stale loaves, cut slices of Dutch cheese and walked as they ate, keen to put a good distance between themselves and their arrival point on the coast.
After a few miles they struck out across open country, avoiding hamlets and isolated farms. Their circuitous route meant that progress towards Rudston was slower than they’d hoped. By two in the afternoon, having just skirted the village of Wold Newton, they found themselves exhausted from the combined effects of sleeplessness and the many miles of rough ground they’d trudged. Despite the cold they decided to rest for a short while in the shelter of a small wood.  
+ + +
Ork came to with a start. There were voices close by. He moved silently to the edge of the wood and looked out across the field. A small band of militia was close by. He caught snatches of their conversation…two men…avoiding settlements…reports of a landing at Filey…can’t be far away.
He woke his companion. The land to the south, towards their destination, was open country which afforded no cover. They could hide in the wood perhaps and hope the militia moved on. But as they heard the order given to fan out and search, they realised the soldiers had other ideas.
Ork heard the men approaching, tramping across the ploughed field in heavy boots.
He had no doubt that they’d be found and captured.
An explosion! More like thunder than gunfire. Ork had never heard anything quite like it. 
Through the trees, he saw a dark shape fall through the air and hit the ground.
Another almighty sound, smoke billowing, sudden heat.
The men in uniforms didn’t wait for an order. They fled screaming across the field and were gone.
Ork and Gilou dashed out of the wood. What seemed like a huge stone lay, still smoking, in a crater. Ork had read about the outlandish theory that such rocks were from space. To him it seemed perfectly believable.
    “Heaven sent” he said to Gilou as they set off at pace across open land towards safety.

At around 3:00pm on the 13th December 1795, a meteorite landed in a field close to the Yorkshire village of Wold Newton. A plaque on the commemorative monument reads as follows:
Here on this Spot, Decr. 13th, 1795 Fell from the Atmosphere an EXTRAORDINARY STONE In Breadth 28 inches In Length 36 inches and Whole Weight was 56 pounds.

Monday, 8 October 2018

What Windrush Means To Me by Yvonne Witter

I was asked recently by Kirklees College students doing a film project “What Windrush means to  you?”.  I had not thought much about the question before I started speaking, and found myself surprised that my memories were all infused with family gatherings of relatives and family friends who we called aunty and uncle out of respect. A time when Jamaicans identified strongly as part of the British Empire and the Queen held as much significance in Jamaica as she did here. A time when as children born in the UK, we were encouraged to inculcate and practice British values, speaking any Jamaican dialect was frowned upon and we were encouraged to read. Back in Jamaica during the same period, children sat British exams and studied for Cambridge GCEs. I observed my cousins in their teens and they dressed modestly as our parents would chastise us otherwise, and found the mini-skirts of the time quite revealing. Any interest in boys had to be declared and approved by the family. As small children we would peep and listen behind doors as potential suitors were introduced and questioned regarding their intentions. 

Our homes in Balham and Tooting in South West London were large Victorian Houses and had many tenants for a while. There was no great hierarchy about tenants as it was a necessary stepping stone to progression. Tenants moved on to buy their own houses when they had saved up enough or accumulated enough money through the informal money saving scheme called a ‘Pardner’. Each week the savers would deposit a fixed sum of money called a ‘hand’ with a ‘banker’ and people would collect a lump sum when it was their turn to ‘draw’ or ‘drawn down’ what had been collected. Men or women could be ‘bankers’ and people would arrive on a Friday or Saturday to leave their deposit [hand] and stay for a wee chat and a cup of tea.  Some people would ‘throw’ more than one ‘hand’ thus increasing the money they would draw when their turn came. The ‘pardner’ would run for many months and start again at the end of each cycle. On Friday evenings, the man who sold The Football Pools knocked as did the prudential insurance man, I often got an opportunity to mark The Pools for my dad.  I just did a google search and it still exists 89 years OMG!! I remember these friendly white men who were regular visitors to our home. My dad had friends home from work too.  

Extended families would gather on Sundays or Saturdays and eat Caribbean food such as brown stewed chicken and rice and peas and cooked vegetables and a green salad, and drink rum punch, Guinness and some homemade non-alcoholic drinks such as carrot juice and fruit punch. We would have tinned fruit cocktail for dessert with ice cream or jello and ice cream. Vinyl records 33” and 45” would be playing blue beat and ska, and I would do the dances and earn tuppence for dancing. My Dad worked in the pressing plant at Decca Records so we had a steady supply of records of all types. I have an eclectic taste in music as a result. I liked to dance as a little child and the family would applaud and I would feel accomplished if a little shy.  I have since discovered that I am in introverted extrovert, so I can perform if I need to.

Children were not allowed to sit in the room while adults were speaking. So all the children went out in the garden, or up to my bedroom, over to Tooting Bec Common to play if the weather was good. We would sometimes hop on and off the route master buses. Run in and out of sweet shops and generally have a giggle.

My lasting memory is of a time of dark grey clothes, grey skies, heavy fog which made visibility difficult, cold rooms and beds. Heating was supplied by paraffin heaters, that smell is unforgettable. Hot water bottles were essential, I still use one now during cold winter nights. The Black and White television sat in the corner of the Front Room. Or maybe in the back room where people could freely congregate, as the Front Room was for the most part, out of bounds, and a show room for visitors.  Anyone that has seen the exhibition the West Indian Front Room will understand the significance of this monument. Each house I visited would have the same cherished items as though the adults were all trying to outdo each other, but it was symbolic of their hard work and achievement in Britain. 

As children we were seen and not heard, so we sat and observed and answered politely if spoken to. We called no adult by their christian names and people we did not know were addressed as Mr or Mrs. We spoke when spoken to and did not interrupt adult conversations. We knew our place, we were well fed and looked after, encouraged to focus on our education as our parents saw everything in the motherland as wholesome, good and beneficial to our success in this country. We were encouraged to seek good jobs in secure employment.

I was called racial names by adults on my way to and from primary school on a few occasions, and it did make me scared.  We were also warned by our parents about the ‘sweetie man’, a van to which we could be lured with the offer of sweets. So I was very careful not to speak to strangers and wary of parked vans as I walked home from school. However, I was too young to understand the struggles of my family in coming and settling here in the UK. 

My uncle, Mr Walker had this Green Zephyr and my other uncle, Mr Restal [both married to my mum's sisters] had a Hillman Hunter, and going for rides in either of those cars was really exciting. I just noticed too that I addressed both these men as 'Mr' we all did. I have absolutely no idea why my brain retains this kind of information from the late 60s when most days now, I can’t even find my purse. I guess I was really interested in cars back then and for some time after. As I grew older I learnt of the struggles of my parents and relatives in society, employment and housing during the Windrush era. The current Windrush Scandal in 2018 saddens me a lot, because our history is a shared history. Many of my own relatives have now passed on, having sold up and returned to Jamaica in the 70s to retire in the sunshine.

The West Indian Front Room from the Exhibition Geffrye Museum London 
October 2005 to February 2006

The drinks cabinet was an absolute must

The Zephyr

Monday, 1 October 2018

Red by Jo Cameron-Symes

    Tomorrow, I shall paint my room red. At the moment, my bedroom is a drab beige colour. It wasn’t my original choice, it was my husband’s. He always preferred colours to be discrete and bland. I always preferred a sense of the dramatic in my decor. But now, he wasn’t here, he had left me all alone, so I could make these decisions for myself. The prospect excited me, I finally felt free.
    I walked around the DIY store this afternoon unsure of what I was looking for. I found a paint chart and decided on the most vivid shade of crimson red with a hint of burgundy.
    “Wow, that colour is quite something!” the shop assistant said. “Are you painting a chimney breast or something? It seems a bit strong for a feature wall!”
    “I’m painting my bedroom in it,” I replied, sniffily.
    “Wow! Ok, you must really like strong colours then! My husband would throw a fit if I decorated a room in that colour!”
    “Poor you,” I replied. “I’m lucky enough now that I can decorate my house exactly the way I want to, without anyone moaning at me!”
    “Divorced are you?” she asked me.
    “Separated,” I replied, then took my paint and walked out of the store. I turned back to see if she was looking at me but she was busy talking to the next customer. I was all forgotten now. Good, I thought.
    I sighed as I looked at our wedding photo on the mantelpiece. When did I last look that happy, was it really on my wedding day sixteen years ago? We had married young, in our early twenties. We were the first in our group of friends to get married, the others following a decade or so later. People said we were mad to get married at twenty two but we loved each other and Will’s parents were quite religious, so it made sense to us at the time. We managed through the scrape of our teeth to buy our first flat together - which we sold six years later to buy this house. Our ‘forever home,’ we called it.
    The house was quiet now. So much quieter than it had been when Will was here. He couldn’t help but make a lot of noise. He was always whistling, clanging around in the kitchen or the garage. He was a big man, who used his physical bulk to get from place to place, taking anything in his way with him. He wasn’t violent though by any means. He’d been called a gentle giant more than once by his mother, though that wasn’t exactly true as she’d never seen him in a kitchen!
My best friend Michelle said that Will was far from a gentle giant! I’d confided in her recently that things were not going well between Will and I.
    “That’s awful!” she said. “But you always look so happy together!”
    “In public,” I replied. “Things just aren’t the same anymore.”
    “Isn’t that normal, though? Long term relationships always have fallow times, don’t they?” she said sympathetically.
    “I guess, but it seems more than that, it feels stale somehow and I don’t know what I can do to revive it,” I said, and wiped a tear that fell down my face.
    “Oh, don’t cry, Rachel. It’ll all be alright, don’t worry,” she said, as she hugged me.
    I decided to walk up to the bedroom. I had a flashback to yesterday, when I stood at the bedroom door and saw Will and Michelle in bed together. They were naked and asleep, entwined within one another. It was obvious what had happened. What had been happening, for God knows how long. I turned away, then walked calmly downstairs.
    I went into the garage and found what I needed. A monkey wrench, I think it was called -  something that Will regularly clanged around. I was icily calm and silently approached the sleeping pair. I decided to take Will down first, he was the strongest. It only took two blows to silence him, but that woke Michelle who started to scream hysterically so I acted fast then brought her down too, with several fast strikes to her skull.
    There was an awful mess. Dark streaks of red covered the whole bedroom. I wrapped the bodies in bed sheets then waited till darkness and put them in the boot of my car. This was the hardest part especially with Will, as he was so heavy. I tied bricks with rope around the bodies and then drove out to the reservoir and dumped them there.
    The clean up took forever. I would have to get a new bed and carpet. I would need to dump the stained furniture and carpet in the countryside somewhere, I couldn’t risk being caught on the cameras at the local tip.
    I had already begun the social media sympathy drive on Facebook, saying Will and Michelle had run off together and I was now all alone. Hundreds of messages poured in expressing their sympathies.
    There were odd streaks and splashes of blood on the wall too. I’d tried removing them with bleach but thought that I may as well cover them up completely with a new coat of red paint. I used a screwdriver to prise open the lid. It revealed a small lake of dark, deep, crimson red, like the colour of the blood that had pooled on the mattress. 

Monday, 24 September 2018

Black Death by Ian F White

A man labours upon the gentle slope of a blustery hillside. He digs a grave; a large grave. He grips the rough-hewn haft of the crude spade with blistered hands. Senses deadened, feeling no pain beyond that in his shattered soul.

A plague sweeps Europe; the Black Death they call it. They say it has claimed the lives of one in every three.

At the foot of the heather-strewn hill lies a small collection of ramshackle wooden buildings. Smoke rises from a number of roofs to be swept away in long, grey, wispy trails by the unforgiving wind.

Two weeks ago, the Black Death reached our village. It took away the two people most dear to me.

The man on the hill pauses in his task to stretch and rub his lower back. He removes his dirty off-white shirt, folds it neatly and places it beside the cross and two blanket rolls—one large and one small. He gazes at them and then towards the village.

They were even denied their last ritesthere hasn’t been a priest anywhere near our village for months.

A small group of villagers assemble below to watch the lone figure on the hill. They stand a while, then a few drift away, to finish piling sacks and crates onto rickety carts.

Everyone is leaving, except me. They can all go to hell.

The man lifts each wrapped body and lowers it gently into the grave. He arranges them together in the cold damp earth, and begins to throw the loose soil back into the hole.

Is there a hell? I hope so, because then there will surely be a heaven.

His grim work finished, the man grabs his shirt and spade and walks back down the hill toward the village. He approaches the group of villagers. They part and he passes through them without a word or gesture. They watch him head for the wooden building beside the blacksmith’s forge. He opens the door and enters the cottage.

My life, my world,  is over. I might as well be dead too.

He closes the door behind him.
The howling wind tugs uncaringly at the new wooden cross which marks the fresh grave among so many others.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Skype-Time by Sara Burgess

   This ole wooden building is dang fine and dandy. He don’t see why no one would change it, no sir, but if the little lady’s wanting him to build another un, then that’s alright with him as well. At this time o’ life, you gotta take your pleasure where God pleases himself to put it for you. And God sure has put it square and fine in the palm of his hand this time, sending through the movin’ pictures of that there dem fine lady on the sparky ole box of tricks Saint Clare set up for him on the table inside the porch.
  Clement takes a look real close in the mirror at his pale skin, tiny black points coming pricking through on his chin again. Dang that razor, and that there interfering besom, his mater, thinking she can still tell him how to wash his smalls. After all this time, him being married three times and all, he sho’ knows how to look after his own clarts without no dame telling him what’s what. But he sho’ wants to look his best when she appears on that thar box. He has just enough of time to scrape them ole tacks off his throat afore their reg’lar chinwaggin session.

   A similar ritual is occurring four and a half thousand miles away across the pond, and some. How tiny is small town earth in the twenty-first century, and a lady of a certain age, also twice married but now decidedly single, presses black honey almost by Clinique onto her ageing lips, and blushes her cheeks unnecessarily, but for it makes her feel young. For young she isn’t. In fact approaching sixty fast makes the earth tilt a little. And much as her house isn’t rambling (a neat and tidy new build semi-detached with pure white walls throughout, a loft conversion and a conservatory that she tried to fill with cats) it’s far too big for her now her only son has flown the nest.
   Ever since Jesus visited her in the guise of a floating baby in her early twenties after some extravagant adolescent wildness, she has been a vigorous evangelist, eschewing the evils of that past life to embrace the healing power of the Lord in a hired hall twice a month with Pastor Marigold. And since then, with much laying on of hands, the Lord has sorted out some worrying tax affairs, fixed her broken boiler, and now sent her a like-minded fiancĂ©, albeit hundreds of miles away. How wonderful!
   Since learning how to pick out a bargain in the thrift stores, she has a certain kind of glamour, but the sapphire silk knee length at the school reunion didn’t quite bring in the right type of suitor, nor did the holiday with two BFFs in the Hebrides, nor did the earnest conversation till three in the morning with the newly divorced and slimmer version of a friend of a friend of a friend at her former sixth form bezzie’s oddly cannabis laced party in a notable cathedral city in the north. But the Lord works in mysterious ways. And compelled to visit a Christian lonely hearts website, she found dear Clement.
 Now she is lipsticked, rouged and foundationed, she is ready to roll. She never bothers with a backdrop, just puts the laptop on her knee sitting on the sofa in the lounge and awaits the breathless moment when she can see Clement’s nervous smile at least seven seconds after it has moved on to his cheeks. She can see him peering into his screen wondering what he has done to deserve this veritable angel at his time of life. She hardly dares to move as she sees his image flicker and buffer, and he spends several minutes just staring at this vision of beauty.
   She has never been adored like this. She too peers at the screen and notices a window in the background. She has already spent two weeks in his cabin and knows that the rest of her life is in that screen, beyond that window.

   If y’all can be born agin once, y’all can be born agin twice. Doan you forgit it, li’l lady.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Slippered Wrath by Nick Stead

Late was the hour in which the beast came crawling out from its dark lair, unbeknownst to me. I was still hard at work at my desk, struggling to meet another deadline when one of the cats alerted me to its presence, her unblinking stare fixed on something on the floor, something which called to her predatory instincts and had her up and ready to pounce. And I could guess what that something was, dread filling me as I followed her gaze to discover the nature of the creature.

Anyone who claims spiders are harmless has never felt the sting of an arachnid’s fangs as they puncture skin, often leaving angry mounds of swollen flesh in their wake. They have never heard the horror stories of limbs having to be amputated and worse, never seen the terrifying images of the damage those fangs can do on Google. But sometimes the deadliest killers are among the smallest, not that anything about this beast was small.

There it sat on its eight sprawled legs, each limb roughly the same size as my long, skinny fingers. The blood of tarantulas must have flowed strong in its veins, for its body was about the same length and thickness of my thumbs, far bigger than a native spider had any right to be on our small, cold island. Surely such monsters belonged in warmer climates, and yet there it was, unmoving on the carpet. But not for long.

Keeping my own sights on the eight legged foe, I crept across the room to grab a slipper, heart pounding as I expected the thing to start scuttling away. With all the hiding places my bedroom had to offer, I knew I probably had but one chance to slay the beast, and slay it I must if I was to get any sleep that night. If I missed I knew I would never be able to relax, too fearful of where it might crawl under cover of darkness. My skin itched with the thought of those long legs crawling across my flesh, perhaps climbing onto a bare foot as I lay in bed or maybe it would inch across my pillow and onto my face, leaving me a screaming wreck as I batted it away. I could not risk that happening for real.

A smaller specimen I would have beaten with the sole of the nearest footwear until it crawled no more, but there was no way I was putting my hand within a hundred metres of the half tarantula so I put the slipper on and crept back over to the monster. I took great care to line my foot above the creepy crawlie, ready to bring down on my foe, and yet even my size 9s felt insufficient for such a beast as I raised it above that huge body. My heart pounded faster still as I willed myself to strike, stomping down with a battle cry which startled both the cats.

My foot missed, the spider shooting off just as I’d feared. It disappeared amongst the wires beneath my desk, but all was not lost. For Yoda was still fixating on her prey, and its movement had spurred her into action, leaping from the bed with that feline grace to chase it in that tight space I couldn’t reach. With one mighty swipe of her paws, she brought it scuttling back out into the open, and I was given a second chance.

The monster was running straight at me and so I raised my foot a second time. Once again it felt insufficient for the sheer size of my foe, but even one with the blood of tarantulas so strong in its veins could not survive the might of my luxury fur lined slippered wrath. This time my aim was true, my foot dragging across the carpet to be certain of the beast’s demise. And sure enough, as I lifted my foot to inspect my grisly handiwork, there lay its shrivelled corpse, missing two of its legs and considerably less impressive in death.

And that is the tale of how I killed the biggest house spider ever to creep into my domain. Its body was left to rot as a warning to its fellow eight legged demons, until finally Yoda decided she was hungry enough to devour what was left. But the warning was unsuccessful and so the fight continues. And I leave my computer to do battle once again.