Monday, 21 January 2019

THE CREATIONARIUM by Virginia Hainsworth. A piece for children.

Welcome to the Creationarium.  It is a laboratory.  Of sorts.  If you look around, you will see many interesting things.
Along one wall, there is a long table upon which sit a large number of test tubes.  Some are still, some are quietly fizzing, a few are popping.  Some are colourful, others less so.  These test tubes contain the many memories, accumulated over your life so far.  Some are spilling over into the neighbouring test tube, causing a little fogginess. Some are almost igniting as they mingle with others.  Some retain their original detail.  Others have become a little less clear over time. Yes, these are the memories.
Then, on a shelf high above, there are the bottles of good intentions.  There are a great deal of these.  Some will be uncorked and used almost immediately.  Others will never see the light of day.
In the corner, you can see a stove.  On it, there is a pot full of bubbling liquid, churning and spilling over.  These are the giggling memories and they erupt every so often.  Take care of them.  They are special.  And they are very infectious, but in a good way.
If you venture into the back of the Creationarium, you will see a dark, unwelcoming area.  There are many small drawers in here, in which are hidden a myriad of mean thoughts.  There may even be some long standing resentments locked away in there.  If you leave them, they will multiply, so it’s best to pour soothing calmness and forgiveness over them so that they dissipate.  In this area, there is also a large cupboard.  There may be a skeleton or two in there.  What else would you expect?
Let’s leave this area quickly and enter an area which gleams and shines, as if newly painted.  You may need your sunglasses here.  This is where the bright ideas are.  Encourage and nourish them.  They will serve you well.  Exercise them.  Share them with others, for many of them will develop better if shared with another person’s Creationarium. 
On a table in the middle of the room, you will see roll after roll of beautiful fabrics.  Rich in colour, diaphanous and flowing.  These are the dreams and the hopes. Make sure that you place these next to the planning table, where they can take shape, have foundations placed under them and be turned into reality.
All around the Creationarium are what look like specks of dust in the atmosphere.  These are the anxieties, sadnesses and regrets.  They can be few in number or they can be everywhere.  Try to keep them contained and in perspective.  Try to outnumber them with the butterflies.  The butterflies are loving kindnesses, which should flood your Creationarium and flow out into Creationariums of other people.
There are also many bluebirds.  Let them fly freely for they are happy thoughts.  Allow them to spill over everywhere, unrestrained.  Listen to their song.
There is magic to be crafted here.  Look after your Creationarium and it will take care of you.  Your Creationarium is constantly changing and evolving.  What you create in it is important.  To yourself and to others.  
The door to your Creationarium is always open but what emerges from it and is released into the world is entirely up to you.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Clocked Out by Clair Wright

Matilda had never wanted the clock. 

She looked up at the elaborate brass dial, and the dark oak case, gleaming with polish.

“We’ve always said it would come to you, Tilly,” said her father.

Matilda couldn’t remember this ever being said to her. Perhaps she would have said, politely, that she didn’t really want it. Or perhaps not.

The clock stood in the hall of her childhood home like a sentry,  sternly guarding the spindly Queen Anne side tables, the porcelain figurines, and the unread, leather-bound books.

She tried to imagine how it would look in the 1970s semi she shared with James. She pictured the clock, squeezed between the Ikea bookcase and the coat rack.  She shuddered.

James nodded appreciatively as her father pointed out the clock’s carved columns, it’s intricate finials, and fine hands.

“It’s eighteenth century,” said her father.

“We won’t have space in the new place,” said her mother, tears brimming in her eyes.

“Tilly will look after it, dear, - won’t you Tilly?” said her father, patting her mother’s arm. 

“Yes, Daddy,” Matilda replied.

Matilda’s father arranged with James for the clock to be delivered. “The chap who owns the removals firm is a member of the golf club,” he said.  James smiled a knowing smile, as if he too had useful golf club connections.

“I didn’t think you liked antiques,” she said that evening as she chopped the onions. “You always said they were elitist.”

“This is different,” replied James. “It’s not like we’re buying it. This is a family thing.” He disappeared into the hall with his tape measure.

She watched from the bedroom window as the long wooden case was manoeuvred through the garden gate and up the path.  She listened to the thuds and mutterings as it was carried into the house. She watched the van drive away.

When she couldn’t put it off any longer, Matilda went downstairs. James stood in the cramped hall, gazing up at the clock. His mobile phone was in his hand.

“I’ve googled it,” he said, without looking at her. “Eighteenth century, made in London. It’s a good one – worth a couple of thousand.” He licked his lips.

“We can’t sell it,” said Matilda. “We have to keep it. Daddy said I have to look after it.”

“Oh, I know, of course,” said James, frowning as if offended by the suggestion. “But it’s nice to know...for insurance.”

Matilda nodded.  She filled the kettle, and watched from the kitchen door as James unlocked the case and peered at the pendulums on their long chains. 

On the first night Matilda woke every hour as the chime of the clock rang through the house.

“Didn’t you hear it?” she asked James as she poured herself another cup of coffee.

“I don’t mind it,” said James. “I would have thought you would have been used to the chime - you grew up with it!”

Perhaps that was the problem, thought Matilda.  

On the second day her mother phoned. “How is the clock, Tilly dear?” she asked. “Does it look wonderful?”

The clock cast a shadow over the hall carpet and into the living room, almost reaching the sofa where she sat.  

“It looks big,” said Matilda.

“It’s a very fine piece,” said her mother. “It’s imposing. It’s eighteenth century.”

“Yes, I know, Mummy,” said Matilda.  

On the third morning Matilda woke late with a headache. In the hall the clock glowered down at her, disapproving of her dishevelled hair and her shabby dressing gown.

“Maybe we could stop the chimes at night,” she said, searching in the cupboard for the paracetamol.

“No, we can’t do that,” said James. “Your father told me, it’s bad for the mechanism.” He turned back to his golf magazine.

On the fourth day the ticking of the clock began to follow her from room to room.  Sometimes she thought it sounded like “Tilly Tilly,”… but she told herself she was imagining it. She was very tired.

“I don’t want the clock,” she told James. “I never wanted it. I hate it.”

“You’re being silly,” he replied.  “It’s very valuable, Tilly. It’s eighteenth century.”

“I know!” said Matilda. She pushed passed the clock and out of the front door. She walked around the park, for hours, till it got dark.  The ticking in her head stopped.
“I’d better go back,” she thought.

She opened the front door. James and her father stood in front of the clock.
The clock and her father wore the same expression, its engraved flourishes meeting in a frown of disapproval.

“There you are, Tilly,” he said. “I came to visit the clock in its new home.”

“We are very happy with it, aren’t we Tilly?” said James.

Matilda didn’t reply. She squeezed past her father, and James, and the clock, and went upstairs.  She reached for her mobile phone.

She had never wanted the clock. She would have told them, if they had asked her.

The man from the charity could hardly believe it.  “It’s eighteenth century, it’s quite valuable,” Matilda said.  He came in a van, while James was at the golf club with her father. 

Matilda watched as the clock was carried down the path. She danced a little dance, in the space between the bookcase and the coatrack, enjoying the silence.

(image: Thomas Quine on Flickr)

Monday, 7 January 2019

Loss first observed by Andrew Shephard

Not quite three, too young to know why
father conducts the Third Programme
in a ground-floor cul-de-sac maisonette
while mother washes dishes, cries.

Father conducts the Third Programme -
violin concerto, slow movement,
waiting for a breakfast egg to boil.

In a ground-floor cul-de-sac maisonette
between railway lines and by-pass
the cat has not slunk home.

While mother washes dishes, cries,
boy clings to apron strings, mystified,
too young to be told Bimbo has died.

Monday, 31 December 2018

New Year Eve by Dave Rigby

dead as a doornail

bonnet up poke around inside but what for I know nothing about car engines kick the tyres in mock frustration close the bonnet lock up and start walking

snow is thickening but I’m dressed for it boots a parka with a decent hood just the problem of trying to keep the snow out of my eyes when the wind gusts full in the face

whisky bottle party-entry fee safe in an inside pocket

what a year company folded redundancy payout don’t make me laugh only enough to keep me in booze and cigs for a month and Liz left soon afterwards not that I can blame her wasn’t in a good place

dip your bloody lights why do they always ignore pedestrians probably because we’re pedestrian no need to bother about you mate back into sudden blackness there’s something nice about the walk now warming up crunch crunch underfoot, snowballs nicely rounded between leather gloves dispatched into darkness

Eve might be there it’s possible maybe not likely but possible I keep thinking about the first time we met at the quick checkout waiting for those slidey doors to reveal the packs of tens and twenties same brand immediate bond no I’m joking or am I that’s a coincidence isn’t it immediately regretting my opening speech but she’s OK with it not the only thing we’ve got in common she responds class parka I’d not even noticed a few more bits of banter and she’s gone

but she’s on the bus a week later my car in dock as usual a friend in common it turns out a friend who’s holding a party so she might be there you never know she might be

a cat dashes across the road playing chicken with a passing car snow chains rattling along who on earth uses chains these days cliched solitary owl hoot adds some nocturnal flavour as I pass the beech copse and take the long track to the left trudging uphill

maybe I can leave my bad year behind start again glass half full that interview went OK didn’t it they told me I’d know within forty eight hours so twelve to go

up ahead farmhouse windows glowing bass thudding in greeting shadows shifting rhythmically a lion’s face on the door two knocks Hannah party-thrower kisses my left cheek followed by right whisky bottle handed over warmth deafening music people everywhere drunken Christmas tree tables of food suddenly ravenous dangerously overloaded paper plate and a short to warm the insides

no sign of her heigh-ho there was just a chance another whisky

a hand on my shoulder somehow she looks different even better different

she takes my glass and drains it

Monday, 24 December 2018

The Christmas Jumper by Owen Townend

It wasn't so late but it was late for Christmas Eve.
            He had to go. There were festive chores to finalise, a car to de-ice before trundling home.
            He rose from the sofa. She did too.
            "It was lovely seeing you," he said.
            Her green eyes gleamed in the twinkly Christmas tree lights. "You too."
            "Thanks again. For the jumper."
            A simple design: red with holly decoration at the collar, cuffs and hem and two large bells on the chest.
            He raised his hands trying not to draw attention to the length of the sleeves. She insisted that she had worked on the jumper with only three balls of wool: one red, one green and one gold. In that case they each must have been the size of her head.
            She tilted it now, struggling to keep her small, straight smile from breaking.
            "Okay," he said and moved for the door.
            As he left the living room, he felt a tugging at his sleeve. He glanced back. It wasn't her. A loose strand had caught on the door handle.
            Nevertheless she followed him all the way through the hallway.
            "Thank you," she said perhaps a little too loudly, "For the, um, the ginger candle."
            She had lit it in front of him: made a big show of it. The first two matches were duds but the last managed to ignite.
            "I hope you enjoy it," he said, turning back.
            He didn't recall the staircase behind him, it's pointed newel until he tried to get away again. It snagged his collar.
            "Oh no!" she said, stepping forward to fix it. Her fingers brushed the back of his neck.
            "It's fine!" he said, "I'm sure it'll stitch back up. I'm quite handy with a needle too, you know."
            A more natural and rather sly grin came over her face. "Oh. Yes. Mr Pin Cushion."
            His jolly expression dropped. He checked that his sleeves and collar were safe from any further snaring before hurrying to the entrance.
            "Sorry," she said.
            "That's okay." He didn't glance back.
            "I'm no good with jokes."
            "Don't worry about it." He reached for the front door latch.
            His finger and thumb dithered.
            He felt ridiculous. He didn't know why he was doing any of this, precisely what was compelling him to run away. She was there, stood right behind him. He could feel her breath catching, could almost see her wide wet eyes reflected in the fanlight above.
            At last he span around. Still he didn't quite manage it: a loop of green and red wool had wrapped itself around the latch. He took a moment to unhook it.
            She waited for him, hands clasped around the candle. He hadn't noticed it there between them.
            "That's a fire hazard," he said.
            They laughed. She laid the candle down and he slowly opened his arms.
            The jumper covered both of them.

Monday, 17 December 2018

For the Love of Dogs

This was first written in 2014 whilst working out in Yangon, Myanmar. I had never shared a house with a stranger before nor a dog.  John was originally from Hertfordshire but had been working for the British Council in Myanmar for 10 years. His dog Li slept with him and was a fine example of man’s best friend.

So here I was house sharing with a dog lover. The property had a huge gate and wire fencing all around. We had been relocated here due to a flood in the previous accommodation. 
I am standing behind as we look at the muddy water

Li and I are heading downstairs
I had noticed that Li was well fed by the domestic help and was not taken for walks. John left early for work and returned in the evening. 

At this new house the big gate had a gap and the dog had tried repeatedly to squeeze himself under it. One Saturday I observed him really excited as he communicated through the bars, with a dog who was on the other side of the gate, Li tried to wriggle himself out. 

I said to John, ‘Oh, seems Li has found a friend?’. John lamented that Li needed walks and to learn about the new neighbourhood, so that he could ‘play out’. I said ‘yeah, I suppose it’s like having a toddler isn’t it? You turn your back for a second and off they go’. 

We are upstairs where it is dry
Li was always howling. He used to bark at me and snarl until we got used to each other.  Here we are as friends, he is posing for me.

One morning I’m in my bed communicating via WhatsApp with those far away in different time zones, and my phone rings and John sounds frantic.

‘Please can you help’ he says, ‘Lin is howling.’
‘ Yes, I can hear him.’ I replied
The dog howled and cried a lot whenever John departed for work.

‘Well he got himself under the gate this morning, so I have locked him in the house, so could you ensure that he does not go outside?’ 

‘Yes of course, don’t worry, you go off to work and I will see you later’.

He thanked me and hung up. So Li had finally mastered how to get his body under that gap in the gate and find his new friends.

I left my bed as it was now 07.30, and I freshened up and went downstairs to see Li indeed ‘locked in’. I felt sadness for his plight on this nice sunny day.  I checked on him intermittently until 11.30 when the ‘help’ arrived. I had explained the situation, using more pointing and facial expression than language. People in Yangon love dogs too, so another family would have cheerfully taken him in.  

But in between leaving my bed and the help arriving, I had been thinking about dog lovers yet again. This thought started when Byron Katie interviewed Oprah Winfrey about her love for her dogs and the many surgical operations one of them had to endure, in order to prolong his little life. Byron Katie asked the question for whose benefit was this dog’s life extended. For whose benefit did he need to endure so many painful surgeries? I have watched that recording more than once as I find it interesting regarding how we humans ‘love’.

It was only four weeks prior to moving into that new house that Li had disappeared late one night or early morning whilst a party was in full swing, and no-one had noticed until late the following day. John was distressed and the domestic staff were told to focus on the search over the next few days whilst John carried on with a planned trip to a beach holiday few hours’ drive away.

According to Chinese horoscope I was born in the year of the dog and I do have strong dog traits of loyalty and honesty. I have a great affinity with dogs and befriend and play with the neighbours’ dogs when I am in Jamaica, but they do not live inside houses. They may sometimes have a kennel. My neighbours dogs become mine when I visit often. A couple of them spend more time on our grounds with me, than with their owner when I am around. I love it that these dogs in Jamaica have the freedom to just roam freely and nearly every yard has a dog. Obviously those breeds of dogs that are dangerous and used by security firms are not allowed out, but roam within large perimeter fences. In 2019 I plan to get myself a dog, he will of course share my home and be my best friend too :-) . 

This is the house that got flooded from monsoon rains

Byron Katie

Monday, 10 December 2018

The Knife by Gemma Allen

There were noises  coming from the house. Loud, manic laughter and pulsing music. The sort that could get on your nerves if you weren’t in the right mood. And she wasn’t. She walked towards the building at a slow pace, each step dragging her in.

There were flashing lights. She hated flashing lights; they made her eyes go funny.

A car shot past, screeching to a halt. Two men got out but didn’t see her, standing in the dark as she was. They rang the doorbell and were greeted enthusiastically, Music spilled out, some sort of dance music, she supposed. Not her sort of thing at all. She was too old for that sort of nonsense. The door slammed shut and peace was relatively restored.

The level of irritation and annoyance swelled inside her, and she could no longer stay still. The house was calling to her and she quietly let herself in through the unlocked door. Everyone appeared to be in the room to the left, so she made her way over to the right. The kitchen was a place of solitude, a place she could take a breath for a moment.

The grating music and laughter continued to drift across from the other room. She began opening drawers, searching for one elusive item. Eventually she lay her hands on what she was looking for – a long, sharp, gleaming knife. She ran her finger along the edge to check the sharpness, and winced as a tiny droplet of blood ran down the surface. It hovered for a moment, elongating, and then dropped down onto the gleaming white tiled floor.

The tiny pool of blood bothered her, and she grabbed a piece of kitchen towel, deftly wiping it up. The she turned her attention back to the other room, knife in hand.

Another knock at the door and she froze. More people came in, were welcomed, and made their way to the centre of the action. More cheers and whoops. Everyone is so happy, she thought bitterly. It’s so nice for them all to have fun. She held the knife in front of her face, checking it was spotless enough to view her own reflection. The overhead lights glinted as she moved the knife around. A cheer focused her mind on the task she had ahead. Now. This was the time.

Swallowing hard, her earlier confidence gone, she pushed open the kitchen door and stood in the hall. The front door and the outside were calling to her, but she knew she had no choice anymore. She held the knife behind her, her hand becoming sweaty and her grip loosening.

Her fingers on the door handle, she went through the door and into the room. Everyone turned to look, and a man scurried over, beaming.

“Honey, finally you’re here! Happy birthday!”

He kissed her and then waved towards the cake, with the dreaded 40 emblazoned on the top in pink icing. So it was real, she thought.

Producing the knife from behind her back, she plunged it into the heart of the numbers, and repeated it until they were no longer clear.

There, that was better.