Monday, 19 April 2021

Getting Older by Susie Field


 

It’s not much fun getting older.

I’m sure you must agree.

Each task seems so much harder.

It would help if I could see.

 

I really need new glasses,

something funky and up to date.

But it’s time now for my exercise,

don’t want to leave it too late.

 

Aching legs and stiff knee joints,

I’d love to walk much faster.

I try my best to gather speed,

don’t want to end up in plaster.

 

The ground today is slippery,

following so much rain.

It’s hard work keeping going,

but they say no pain, no gain.

 

I think there’s a storm coming over,

I can hear a distant rumble.

I suddenly try and increase my speed,

and that’s when I take a tumble.

 

With a mighty crash down I go,

head long into thick black mud.

I’m flat on my back, legs in the air,

I’d get up if only I could.

 

It seems like forever before I can move,

and the rain’s coming down quite fast.

A few hours later I’m stuck in my chair,

my left ankle encased in a cast.

 

I’m still in shock and quite annoyed ‘cos

I wish I’d stayed at home.

I wasn’t as prepared as I should have

been, thank goodness I had my phone.

 

I stare at the crutches I keep close by,

I’ll get used to them in time.

I know what I need to cheer myself up,

a very large cool glass of wine.

Monday, 12 April 2021

April Sunday, Nearing Normal by Anna Kingston

Sunday.

6 am.

Sunny, freezing cold, too tired, why am I awake?!


Tabby cat prowls the landscape of my bed, daintily stepping over me then head butts me into stroking her, purrs at ridiculous decibel levels for this quiet time of day.


Yawning.

Jaw-splitting.

Unfolding unnatural bends in joints, popping and crackling like human cereal.


Teenage son awake at the same unseemly hour, keen as mustard, willing to get out of his cosy nest, eagerness only for the prospect of the rare treat of an online tournament for his current game.


Coffee.

Lots…

Rinse and repeat…


Daughter, yawning and cold, demanding food, snuggling into blankets on sofa, still half asleep but won’t go back to bed.


Ping.

Football WhatsApp.

Snow-covered pitches, back to bed…?! (*praying…)


Unanswered prayers (a la Garth Brooks), freezing football pitch, sun/hail/wind/snow, 16 weeks without football, 22 stiff, clumsy, gangly teenagers, chocolate biccies at half time, travel-cup coffee cold too soon.


Goals…

Plural…

Even a penalty against can’t dent boys’ newly-regained enthusiasm.


Warm drive home, scolding from cat left out in the snow, finally thawed out, showered and squeaky-clean children, food (cat and children), finishing homework, lazy afternoon with films.


Sunday…

Done.

Until next time…


Anna M. Kingston

11 April 2021

Monday, 5 April 2021

Cherry Picking in the Okanagan – Author Q&A by Andrew Shephard

Sorry if this appears rude, but why would I want to read about picking cherries?

Fair question. Well, the book is not a guide to picking cherries, but there is a lot of fruit in it. And water. It’s a novel set in a camp for migrant fruit pickers beside Lake Okanagan in Canada. The workers are a mixed bunch of French Canadians, US draft dodgers, First Nation people, and Indians from India. A couple of English students, Lionel and Walker, get work there in the summer of 1976. They take a fancy to three young French Canadian women, two of whom are sisters. Four decades later, Lionel has become a senior politician and Claudette, the younger of the sisters, accuses Lionel of rape.

Why did you choose the Okanagan Valley for the setting?

Travelling through Canada in the 1970s I camped for the night in small place called Oyama. The next morning, there were two people already hitching at the highway junction so I went into a cafĂ© for breakfast. I asked if anyone knew where I could get work. A guy with a pick-up full of hay bales offered to drive me to an orchard where he knew the foreman. The foreman first offered me a beer and then a job. We talked and drank beer all morning and then I helped pick-up man with his second load of hay. The landscape, the community of pickers, the hard grind of labour, and the fascination of a lake with unplumbed depths have stayed with me. Writing the novel enabled me to go back there and re-inhabit a time and a place in my mind. Looking at Google Earth now, the setting has gone – the lake is lined with fancy villas and the road is tarmac.

You seem to have a large cast, but who is the main character?

The story is told by Walker. For him, it is a rite of passage story, and he returns to university a changed man. But with the allegations against his former friend Lionel, his personal story becomes a wider one. He thought of Lionel as an attractive, irritating rogue, but in recalling his experiences to a journalist he begins to question his own interpretation. Was there always an elephant on the table, or in this case, a monster in the lake?

How are you promoting the book in this time of restrictions? Have you done a virtual book launch?

My previous novel, Nellie and Tabs, was published as a paperback. But that was when everything was not considered potentially contagious and I could talk, wave my book at people and ask them to post a review. Cherry Picking is available as a totally safe ebook, free if you already have Kindle Unlimited, and a modest £2.99 if not. I am better at writing a book than promoting a book. As a child, I was cautioned against blowing my own trumpet. I hoped that, by some miracle, unknown kind individuals would do that for me. But of course everyone is busy with their own life and work. 

What are you working on now? Have you found lockdowns conducive to writing?

I have written little down, just pre-publication editing. There is a time for writing and a time for experience. I have been living in days. I don’t know what will come next except tomorrow. If you don’t do ebooks and want something to read and touch, I wholeheartedly suggest From a Mountain in Tibet by Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche (Penguin). It may touch you too.

Thank you and au revoir. Soon.

Click here to see the ebook.  

Monday, 29 March 2021

The Murder of Valerie Johnson (Part Two) by Chris Lloyd

He lay on the bed in his custody cell wondering what possible, provable defence he would need. He had never met Valerie therefore his fingerprints could not have been anywhere on her. He certainly did not know what she looked like and he had never been in the bathroom, where it was alleged she had died. The house though was his as part of a new development site. He wondered how the police arrived and also how they knew where to go. He could not imagine it was coincidental. He ran through everything over and over again, then a wry smile crossed his face – Mitchell, of course. It had to be. He wanted the Heathrow site. The events of the last few days prior to his arrest clearly pointed him to the Housing Minister. He realised that Mitchell would be clean but that he was the murderer in absentia. His outlook was bleak.

He, Robert Henry Bond, property developer of some repute, received a call from Edward Mitchell, Member of Parliament Surrey East. Mitchell knew Robert had sites all over the South East in the process of being renovated, being built upon or demolished for future development.

Mitchell and Robert went back a long way, being both Graduates of Exeter College, Oxford. Robert thought of himself as hardworking from a middle-class family of builders. Mitchell however thought of himself as upper class wondering what to do with his life. They cut a strange relationship and after graduating went their separate ways. Mitchell eventually became an MP after a short career as a financier and Robert took on the family property development business when his father retired.

They met again, by chance, on a proposed housing development site in Godalming. Robert had been given the green light to commence building. Mitchell was then the Housing Minister and had shown a keen interest in the site, as he lived nearby. He was responsible for several changes and delays of the start of construction which had disrupted Robert’s plans and raised costs. Mitchell, as the sitting MP was chosen to turn the first sod. They exchanged handshakes for the benefit of the attendant Press then had lunch together at the Kings Arms. During lunch Mitchell continually quizzed Robert about his property portfolio and Robert, who knew Mitchell had fingers in many pies, was glad when it was over. 

They didn’t shake hands on that occasion nor did they keep in touch afterwards until December 17th 1965 when Mitchell telephoned Robert demanding a meeting regarding a new site. 

The meeting took place in Mayfair at Mitchell’s Club on a very cold December 19th. Robert was late; Mitchell was very intoxicated by the time he arrived. Robert knew there were going to be no niceties as soon as Mitchell started speaking but caught most of the “speech” about unwanted new building developments and “cowboy” builders. 

The meeting was all about a site Robert had acquired by a tender and design competition but which had been promised by Mitchell to a different developer. He demanded that Robert sell it to that developer. Robert refused and left the meeting within minutes of it starting, hearing Mitchell issue a tirade of abuse as he left.

The two acre site in question was very valuable given its proximity to London Airport, shortly to be renamed as Heathrow. Robert had submitted his bid with that in mind. As it stood, it consisted of a number of light industrial workshops which had closed down and three domestic dwellings, all now unoccupied. It was in one of the dwellings that Valerie Johnson was found. 

Robert was advised to have security on the site but decided to perform that job himself by driving to the site each morning and evening. On the day in question, he had left the third house lights on by mistake when making his morning visit. He noticed some fresh tyre marks on the grass verge under the security light at the entrance to the site, as he walked back to his van.

Valerie Johnson was a minor celebrity and “woman about town”, mixing with the great and good of London. She was also a singer in three of the many music venues in the West End and Soho including Ronnie Scott’s. Over time she became well-liked and had gained a reputation as an accomplished singer and as helpful to other singers. 

She was extremely attractive in a Sophia Loren way, therefore she was never short of a man on her arm, but in truth Valerie was not much inclined towards relationships – they took too much time. That was until she caught sight of a tall, handsome man with a confident stride heading directly towards her.

“You are quite the most beautiful woman in London,” was his greeting, “quite the most beautiful.”

No-one had ever said anything like that to Valerie, especially at first sight. She stammered her thanks and accepted his invitation to have a drink. The man introduced himself as Lawrence Foster from Winchester. He said that he was new in town, staying the week at Claridge’s.

“I have some business to attend to and would like to know London much better than I currently do. What do you say to being my guide?”

“Well, I am not sure that would be possible, Mr Foster, I have commitments I want to keep. I could suggest someone else if you wish. Besides you do not know my name or anything about me.”  

“Oh, but I do. You are beautiful, your dress sense is impeccable, your smile infectious, your karma shines from you. I do not need to know anything else. I shall call you Suzanna.”

Valerie laughed. 

“Mr Foster, you are a charmer for sure. They are usually dangerous, like drugs. I do not use drugs and my name is Valerie.” 

They spent some time drinking and talking then Valerie told him that she was about to sing. She waked to the dimly lit stage to huge applause from the now crowded club. 

Lawrence Foster watched with interest as she sung her way through Ella Fitzgerald, Susan Maughan, Sara Vaughan et al. This was turning into a marvellous evening in his eyes and as she finished her set, he stood and applauded enthusiastically. She made her way back through the cheering throng and saw that he was on his feet. She turned and waved to her audience as she sat down. He was obviously impressed.

“What a surprise. You were wonderful, Suzanna!”

They both laughed as if they had known each other for years.

“I love to sing, it is my job five nights a week. I have another slot later this evening, a little different to that one so I am always in bed until after midday. Not much time for being a guide I’m afraid.”

“Yes, I see that now, but might we meet for lunch tomorrow? I have some papers to prepare tonight so I must take my leave of you for now.”

“Lunch would be a treat, Mr Foster.” He gave her his room telephone number, kissed her hand and left. She was slightly surprised at the quickness of his departure as he walked out of the club without a backward glance. 


To be continued (Sorry!)

Monday, 22 March 2021

Dear Imaginary Friend by Juliet Thomas



Dear imaginary friend,

I say imaginary but of course you are, in fact, real. You even have a name, Ronald (D), but I have no idea what you look like, how old you are, or whether you have family who call by. I hope so.

All I know at this point is that you live on your own in the community, have a love of poetry and all things arty. I think we will get along just fine, Ronald, because I love these things too.

However, this will be the briefest of relationships, but please know that there are lots of us who care out there, beyond your four walls and I hope that my letter is the first of many you will receive in the future.

I know I will ponder about your expression upon receiving it, a nervous yet excited smile, or maybe even a whoop as you tear open the envelope? Will you read it straight away or settle down with a pot of warm, milky tea and a ginger biscuit to take your time? I wonder what you will think as you pour over the content, whether it was enough to warm your lonely heart?

You may assume this is a special treat just for you, Ronald, but no, you would be wrong. There is a small army building across Huddersfield and beyond, finding immense pleasure in letter writing to many people who are on their own. Together, we are collating positive and interesting things to say, carefully crafting letters to brighten people’s days.

Without knowing, you are giving us purpose too, an opportunity to help others in what has been the most difficult and strangest of times. We too, are craving connection and are hoping our chosen words, plus the things we add in to make the letters extra special, will bring joy, hope and an understanding that you are not alone.

I wonder if the poem I plan to include will see you digging out ones you used to write, or read in poetry books, to enjoy again? Perhaps you’ll even find a notebook and pen and spend a whole afternoon scribing a new one?

That would be the best gift, I think, time spent feeling inspired, sparking a new burst of creative energy to fill the hours, whilst we wait for life to return to some kind of normal.

I hear you like all things arty and I wonder whether you dabbled yourself? Perhaps you were a painter, fingers moving freely with expression when your hands didn’t feel so stiff or cold? Or maybe a fine-pointed pencil was your tool of choice, drawing portraits of family, friends, or strangers, absorbing their characteristics and the many years etched on their skin? If this were true, what a thrill it would have been to see your work.

I will tell you stories of my own to enrich your day, connected to your interests of course. I’ll explain about the creative cabin in the garden that we built in lockdown, where I’m typing your letter from right now, whilst a candle flickers and I listen to nature’s own music as I write. My fingertips tap the keyboard to a backdrop of the wall clock ticking, wood pigeons cooing, higher-pitched urgent song and the low bellowing of the cows up the lane, it’s quite a symphony to hear!

Inside the cabin, I’ll show you that I’m surrounded by my own experimental art; ink sketches of flowers and grasses, needlefelt landscapes, amateur water colours and precisely patterned birds in cheery shades.

This is my sanctuary, despite being the smallest part of the house and I suspect that your home has been your safe place during this time too. I wonder if soon you’ll be able to get out into a garden as the warmer days slide in?

I hope so, fresh air, flowers, and sunshine can make such a difference and hopefully a chat with the neighbours if you have them where you live.

The hardest part, I imagine, will be signing off my letter, saying goodbye and not ever meeting you, wondering if you are ok. I have to just trust that you are, and if you’re not, that you are getting the help that you need. I’m not adept at letting go, but have to trust the project and the process, and the excellent feedback on the website of Give a Few Words.

And so, Ronald (D) I will send you my letter with love and hope for brighter, less lonely days and with great admiration for the wonderful woman who came up with this brilliant idea. Here’s to many colourful, fascinating letters coming your way, greeted, I hope, by a smile and a twinkle in your eye.

Your friend, Juliet x

 


Note: Give a Few Words is a social enterprise project that co-ordinates and inspires volunteer writers to deliver positive, uplifting, one-off letters to lonely members of the community or those who live in care-homes. Set up to address loneliness in the pandemic, the project is going from strength to strength, and they are always on the look out for volunteers. If you enjoy writing letters and feel you could help, please visit their website: https://thegive.co.uk/.

Monday, 15 March 2021

The Murder of Valerie Johnson (Part One) by Chris Lloyd


23rd December 1965

He knew something was amiss as he approached the front door; water was leaking out and trickling down the steps like a small stream over rocks.

He climbed them but, as he turned the key and opened the door, a deluge stormed out, caught him by surprise and took his legs from underneath him. He was momentarily dazed but recovered quickly enough to dodge a floating milk bottle coming straight at his head. He swore as he climbed back up the steps, but the deluge had abated so entrance to the house was easier. Once inside he stood and took in the scene before him.

“Chaos, bloody chaos,” he said aloud.

He’d left a light on when he went out that morning but assumed the water had put paid to the electricity supply. He made his way gingerly towards the kitchen to fetch the torch which he found in its usual drawer. Switching it on gave him the full picture of the damage.
“Bloody hell, what a mess,” he said to himself as he shone the light at the ceiling, at which point the bulging plaster gave way showering the kitchen with yet more water and debris. He heard it in time and jumped out of the way, just.

Something caught his eye. It was a woman’s shoe. Bright red, high heels. He picked it up. Brand new, very expensive. What on earth was it doing in here? Then a pair of sodden panties caught on round a chair leg. For a split second he was quite seriously wondering if he was in the right house.

What he heard next were bells ringing and lights shining, madly illuminating the house, followed by the sounds of vehicles coming to a halt outside.

He heard his name being called and feet rushing through the now easily accessible door. He walked towards the sound and was confronted by four police officers, two of whom were armed, two of whom were carrying powerful flash lamps.

“Stay where you are, hands above your head. Do not move.” He did as he was told. 


On 28th December 1965 he was committed to stand trial for the murder of Valerie Johnson.

The trial took place at The Old Bailey, such was the seriousness of his alleged crime and such was the reputation of Miss Johnson. The Barrister for Miss Johnson started the prosecution’s case which was that he, we shall keep him anonymous for now, did willfully, knowingly and wickedly murder the deceased. The Barrister announced to the court that he would prove the case was clear cut.

The case for the defence was to simply deny all charges by proving he had been away.

After day one of the evidence presented by the prosecution, it looked as if the case was proven. It was clearly stacked against him and it seemed impossible to refute any of it. No witnesses had yet been called. Miss Johnson had died in agony, according to the Prosecution, at the hands of a sick, sadistic killer. “That man there!” he shouted pointing his bony index finger.

“Miss Johnson was found in a squalid, filthy bathroom lying in a galvanised bath tub with her black stockinged legs sticking over one side. One red shoe was dangling from her right foot. She was otherwise beneath water level with the cold water tap left on, water running into her mouth and eyes. We do not know if she was deceased prior to her being placed into the bath. We estimate her death to be mid-morning of December 23rd 1965.
“You, sir, committed this heinous crime and you, sir, will pay the price……”

The Defendant took all this in. He took it all in knowing that he did not commit this crime and that he also knew who did.

 

To be continued….

Monday, 8 March 2021

The Marble Arcade by Dave Rigby

Milk finished, I put the bottle in the empties crate, wipe a hand across my mouth and push open the door to the school playground.

It’s cold. I pull my socks up trying not to touch the grazes on my knees. I fell over kicking a tennis ball around the yard this morning, before school started. Scuffed my shoes as well. I’ll get a telling off for that.

All join on for cowboys, they shout out loudly, five boys in a line, arms around shoulders, wandering around the yard looking for more to join in.

But it’s not cowboys for me today.

To the side of the outdoor lavatories, there’s a game of chips going on. One lad stands with his back to the wall and facing him, six more are leaning over, hands on knees, one behind the other. I watch, mouth wide open, as a rough-looking boy, sleeves rolled up, runs full pelt towards the end of the line and leapfrogs as far as he can, landing heavily in the middle of the row of backs. The whole line collapses. Shrieks of laughter. They pick themselves up and the game restarts.

But it’s not chips for me today.

I’m after marbles.

On a flat bit of the yard, where the tarmac’s not bumpy, the boy who calls himself the marble king has set up his arcade. Just a bit of wood really with some supports to prop it up – about nine inches high with four little holes cut into it.

I check the bag in my pocket, pull out a swirly green marble and rub it on my jumper for good luck. Aim for the 1. The marble moves smoothly through the hole that has an inky 1 written above it. A good start. I get one marble back. Part of me wants to go straight for the 4. But that hole is very small and you’ve got to be really on form to get a marble through it. I try anyway. It hits the wood to one side of the tiny opening. The marble king pockets my marble. I try again and again, losing each time. He laughs. His friends laugh as well.

A final go, a swirly blue, a rub on the jumper and the magic word under my breath. The marble rolls over the tarmac. I can feel it’s a good aim. It’s going to be a winner. Then one of the king’s friends nudges the arcade just a little with his foot. My marble hits the wood. He’s a lot bigger than me. I can’t say anything.

After school the marble king comes up to me. I think he’s going to have another laugh, but he hands over four brand new marbles, not a single mark on any of them.

See you tomorrow, he says, walking off up the road.