Tuesday 17 October 2017

Building a Character from Ten Objects

The aim of this month's challenge was to create a character through thinking about their possessions, especially items that are important to the owner.

We were given a list of ten objects:
* a withered poinsettia
* business card
* dusty radio
* silver locket with inscription
* bottle of herbal medicine
* auburn hair dye
* fortune-telling cards
* jar of sharpened pencils
* brand new laptop

We were asked to write about a character who owns these things, incorporating some (or all) of the objects into our descriptions. 

Madam Sosostris

Madam Sosostris scrutinised her reflection carefully in the mirror. Appearances were so important in creating the right impression and inspiring confidence in clients, particularly when embarking on a new venture like this where one was, so as to speak, feeling one's way in the dark rather. The auburn hair dye had, she felt, been undoubtedly the right decision, lending a warm glow to her features whilst artfully concealing the streaks of grey. She arranged her headscarf so that strands of hair peeked out from underneath it and adjusted the silver locket round her neck, then re-examined the overall effect. Yes, definitely the look she was aiming for - wise and slightly mysterious, not too elderly, with a welcoming look that invited confidence in her. She opened the locket and gazed affectionately at the inscription inside: 'To Rosie from Bertie, with undying love'. Alongside it was a photo of a slightly pudgy young man with a walrus moustache - her beloved Bertie. 

Next she turned to examine the room behind her to ensure it conveyed the right atmosphere. The lights, of course, would be quite dim but nonetheless it would not do for there to be any details that jarred or distracted her clients from giving her their undivided attention. She placed the withered poinsettia behind the dusty radio, and draped over both of them a purple cloth embroidered with gold suns and silver stars. Finally satisfied, she turned her attention to the centrepiece of her arrangements: the brand new laptop sitting on the desk in front of her, a present from her daughter Ellie. 

It was Ellie, in fact, who had come up with the whole idea for the project. After Bertie died, Rose had found herself at a loose end: increasingly reluctant to leave the house and meet new people, yet at a loss to know how to pass the long hours by herself. 'You need a new interest, Mum', Ellie had said (somewhat sharply, in Rose's view). 'Something to keep you active mentally - it won't do you any good just sitting round feeling sorry for yourself.' She'd paused for a moment, looking round the living room and taking in, Rose felt sure, the rather neglected and shabby state of things - housework had not been high on Rose's 'To Do' list recently. 'I know,' she continued brightly, 'you could go in for fortune-telling - you know, with a crystal ball and the Tarot cards and all that. People used to love it when you did that at parties and the village fete - it was an absolute hoot, and they all said you were so convincing.' 

Initially, Rose had resisted the idea, saying she couldn't think of anywhere where she could do that kind of thing - and anyway, who'd be interested? Ellie had scoffed at her last objection, saying it was amazing how many people were into all this New Age stuff - as people became less religious, they seemed to have become more superstitious. She could see, however, that her mother was genuinely distressed both by the prospect of venturing out in public and by having strangers invading the privacy of her home for such encounters, and she had seemed to be on the verge of abandoning the idea when suddenly she exclaimed 'I've got it, Mum - you could do it all online!' 

And so the project was launched, along with her new online persona. Rose had wanted to call herself Gypsy Rose Lee, using her maiden name prefixed by the title, but Ellie had guffawed and said, 'Mum, with a name like that you'll attract completely the wrong kind of people online - trust me!' Ellie had come up with Madam Sosostris instead, as being 'more classy', and had mentioned something about a poem called The Wasteland, but Rose hadn't really been paying attention at that point. They had both become quite excited about the idea, however, and Ellie organized the printing of some business cards for her with the words 'Online Clairvoyant and Fortune Teller' after her name. She had also guided her mother through the mysteries of setting up the computer, downloading and logging on to the app which was the medium through which her clients would contact her and positioning herself in front of the webcam so that she appeared to best advantage. 

Now, as she prepared to welcome her first client, she felt oddly nervous and fortified herself with a quick swig of the 'herbal remedy' which she had bought on a visit to Prague last year. It was quite bitter-tasting, with a strong, pungent smell; the bottle did not specify the ingredients or the alcohol content but she felt the latter was certainly quite high. A warm glow suffused her and, confident and excited, she switched on the computer and logged into the app. As the beep sounded to let her know a caller was online, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath and intoned: 'Madam Sosostris welcomes you - speak, friend, and say what it is that you seek!'


Marjorie and Peter, Horace’s cousins edge their way somewhat stealthily into Horace’s living room. They cough nervously to announce their arrival and to avoid scaring Horace who has been rather skittish of late. The scene before them startles and amazes them. It is largely frozen in time. Traces of neglect abound. Dust pervades and almost obscures the sad now entirely green-leaved Christmas poinsettia. Dust has also sought the company of the ancient brown Bakelite radio, or wireless as Horace, never comfortable in the 21st century, would term it. He would never countenance a flat screen TV entering his household. They scan the room but there is no sign of Horace,

Marjorie says,”He was scared, he did not want to spend the night alone here after his father’s death. He heard his father’s heavy footsteps upstairs shortly after his father’s funeral.” The passing had not been peaceful An inquest had yielded the cause of the demise as inconclusive. There was some feeling that Horace had in some way been implicated in his father’s death. Perhaps this had caused Horace to withdraw from society. Now they become concerned for his welfare. Where was he? He is a vain man who liked to cover his greying hair with an auburn hair dye, he would never leave that behind. Nor would he leave his pack of tarot cards without which he could never undertake any journey. And why oh why would Horace possess a brand new laptop? He wasn’t even connected to the internet. They examine the laptop carefully and recoil in surprise when they see that the screen has been smashed and shattered.

They decide to risk exploring upstairs. They enter Horace’s father’s bedroom. The bed appears to have been slept in recently. A silver locket , warm to the touch is found on the pillow. Dust adorns the wooden floor. There are signs of a struggle where the dust has been disturbed. Suddenly they notice that the word, “Help” has been etched in the dust.. There is still no sign of Horace.


Randy Stella

Never underestimate the power of Randy Stella. Outwardly her home may have looked a tip with withered poinsettias and ancient Christmas decorations adorning the bay window of the front room. Cleanliness and goodness have never been part of her psyche. Her parents moved in before she was born and the only way she was going to move out was in box. The Council had decided that all those homes with their large gardens should be redeveloped for affordable housing. Property developers had started infilling plots with cul de sacs. Instead the council had produced a scheme with a park, a primary school, behind blocks of functional homes with minimal gardens. A letter had gone out to residents inviting them to sell at favourable prices to the Council. If they did not then their homes would be compulsory purchased!

No way was Randy Stella going before her natural time was up. Round her neck she always wore a silver locket with photos inside of her greatgrand parents. On the front was inscribed “Till death do us part”

Well being a spinster of middle age that was how she felt about her home. No Council officials were going to chase her out of it. She knew all her neighbours and the area like the back of her hand. Everyone knew her with her auburn hair dye glowing to show she was still nearly a spring chicken. Her floral dresses in the summer nearly reaching her wellies. In the winter she had a thick woolly coat, and of course the wellies.

To clear her mind she took her fortune telling cards and carefully laid them out on a patch of clear floor. No room for the cards on any tables. Too full of heaps of paper and several jars of sharpened pencils. The cards showed that decisive action would be taken in the near future. A newsletter from the local residents association came through the letterbox. Other neighbours had received the Council letter and a meeting had been arranged.

The councillors had agreed to meet the residents so that it could all be explained. Well at the meeting Randy Stella made her views very clear by heckling and hissing. She was nearly asked to leave by the chairman of the resident association when she shouted “This is social engineering “ and “My home is my castle”

Afterwards one of the councillors came over to her and gave her his business card. “Phone me and we can discuss this more easily”

Well she did not need to be asked twice. Next morning when she turned on her dusty radio the local news was full of the so called “Political manoeuvring” and Social Engineering. She took a swig at the bottle of herbal medicine and picked up the phone. To her surprise the councillor answered himself. He said he had heard the news on the radio. His party was all for the redevelopment of the area but not on the lines that were proposed. He was sure that her eloquent heckling had won a lot of support. The elections were soon and if his party won he would send her a brand new
laptop. Was that bribery or reward?

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Fears and Phobias

Grim Reaper

The ultimate fear we all share is our death. The grim reaper is all around but kept under ground like a taboo that rarely is mentioned. I enjoy my permanent holiday from my working life and have no wish for it to end. Would we wish to have planned date, like a retirement age when it is time to go? A simple answer is to say it is Gods will when the time will come. Why have a huge debate and use all the skills of medical intervention to prolong life?

I have an ambition to live to be 150 inspired by the long life line up the middle of my hand. It is great to be able to cycle to the swimming pool and play with the grandchildren. To go on trips with my wife and enjoy her cooking. But change is inevitable, either through ill health or accident. What will be, will be. 

There is the lurking fear that there will be the loss of freedom. The inability to do what I want to do, being in unending pain. Loosing my grip on events and the companionship of my wife. There are plenty of nonsense sayings to dispel worry, but my favourite is:

Something nearly always happens
When you least expect it.

Having read a book by a retired community nurse I was reminded that people usually wish to fall asleep in their own bed, peacefully and without pain. However the reality is that they are rushed to hospital in unfamiliar surroundings and die alone with no sweet dreams.

That is my fear.


Is fear contagious? Yes I think so.

is fear transmitted genetically? In my case probably yes.

A common but irrational fear possessed my mother. She wanted to fly but she had developed a profound and unremitting distrust of all aircraft. It was the time when mass travel burst into the popular consciousness. 2 week package holidays on the continent for the "ordinary working people". The travel bug bit my mother hard. Ideally she would have loved to travel on cruise ships as if we were rich people enjoying the heyday of the trans-Atlantic luxury liners. But then she always did have an over-active imagination. So we had to endure the noisy propellor driven smelly aeroplanes. Consequently she became a nervous wreck for days. prior to any flight. The cruise obsession culminated in a mini Mediterranean cruise on a Greek ship smelling persistently of kerosene and full of randy Greek sailors, one of whom attempted to abdduct my mother.

Thereafter our continental adventures were restricted to annual trips to Malta to stay in the flat of a family friend. But still there was the 4 hour flight to contend with punctuate with the additionally harrowing command to fasten the seat belts in response to turbulence over the Alps.

I was caught up in the contagion of aircraft fear until one day i flew alone to India on what could not be described as a direct route. The plane stopped in Geneva and Cairo, so this meant a total of 3 landings and 3 take-offs. I was convinced that the plane was only kept aloft by my constant wakeful vigilance and will. However, after Cairo I fell asleep completely exhausted. I awoke to find myself still airborne and alive. After that the fear vanished.

Tuesday 15 August 2017

Inspired by Art

The Great Wave by Hokusai

The picture strikes you immediately with an almost physical force, even before you have had time to take it in properly and absorb fully what is happening here. What you notice first is a sense of power in churning motion; the restrained palette of deep dark blue, paler blue and white against a background of grey, black and beige; the ghostly light in the sky. And above all the looming, towering, threatening shape moving into the picture from the left. Your eye is drawn irresistibly towards the curling, clutching fingers (or are they claws?) that stretch forward, reaching out to clasp and grasp and almost over balancing in their eagerness and impatience to do so.

Ah yes, you think (now that you have had time to think) - this is a seascape. But a seascape unlike any other you’ve seen before, rendered with an almost cartoon-like simplicity. Or perhaps like a picture from one of those disturbingly dark graphic novels where threats are lurking in the shadows, just out of sight.

Yes, undeniably a seascape. Just looking at the churning, violent motion of the waves - back, forth, sideways, up, down - is making you feel distinctly queasy, uneasy. And always you come back to that monstrous cliff-wall of water, sweeping forward inexorably to engulf all in its path.

With that thought, your attention is drawn to what does lie immediately in its path: two long, pale, slender ovals of perilously fragile boats. The small, huddled shapes at either end must be the men who are rowing these craft: backs bent with effort as they strain to escape from the sea-beast reaching out to devour them.

ou pause at this point, overcome with the drama of the scene that is being played out here, wondering how it will all end. And then you notice another wave, dark blue and capped with white like the one in the foreground but further in the distance and slightly to the right of the picture’s centre. Given how far away it is, and yet how large, this wave must be another giant one.

Or is it a wave? It’s certainly peaked like one of the smaller waves below the crest of the monster on the right. But it’s also shaped like a volcano. Perhaps it might be a mountain? And what about those small white spots just above its peak? Could that be snow falling on top of the mountain, rather than flecks of foam from the great wave?

One final look, and yet again the picture shifts and yields up a different story. This time you notice the writing in the upper left-hand corner, in a foreign script, with the letters arranged vertically instead of horizontally. In a moment of understanding, you realise you have been reading this picture in the wrong direction: from left to right, instead of from right to left as the artist intended. The men in the boats are not fleeing in fear and panic, desperately trying to outrun the huge wave.

No, they are heading heroically towards it, and up it, and through it to the other side; because they are Japanese fishermen and this is what they do for a living. You can almost hear the voice of their chief urging them on: “Come on, lads! Put your backs into it! One more heave and we’ll be there - and then back home in time for noodles and saki!”

Revealing Weimheim - on a painting by Karl Mulfinger

Few people in England have heard of an itinerant artist called Karl Mulfinger (1882- 1956). However his works are now collectors pieces and auction houses in Germany are glad to promote him. He was commissioned to paint landscapes in central Germany. 

My father fled from Nazi Germany and settled in north west London. Imagine his delight when at an art fair at the Whitestone pond, Hampstead he discovered an old oil painting of his former home town, Weinheim. The two dominant castles overlooking the small town, with it's wall and the railway and a steam train in front of it. The painting was very dirty but despite the grime there was no doubt where it was. He bought it for ten shillings and spent another five shillings on a walnut burr with brass infill frame. It then hung in his office above the shoemakers shop in Paddington Street, Marylebone London. 

After he died I took on running the shop, I tried to see the details in the picture. How could it be cleaned up? The nephew of a Quaker friend worked at the Wallace collection so I went and asked him. 

"Simple soap and water and and a soft nail brush". 

I had a go and the picture was a lot clearer. The sky looked a bit patchy grey in places, but acceptable. 

Several decades later I sold the business and the office was cleared. My relatives were not interested in giving it house room. My wife does bed and breakfast in our house in Amersham which is twinned with Bensheim near Weinheim. I discussed the painting with a guest from Bensheim and he suggested that it be given to the town of Weinheim. He made contact with the museum who asked for details about it. The frame covered the signature so I took it out of the frame and found a second canvass under the picture. I didn't dare to take the top painting away in case it got damaged. The artists signature was K Mulfinger dated 1913. The curator said they would be happy to accept the painting. 

Feeling cheeky we asked if in exchange we could have a tea pot and milk jug from a porcelain firm called F├╝rstenberg. We had a lot of their China but not those items. The curator agreed. We ordered the tea pot and jug and said we would deliver the painting by car. 

In June 2016 we drove to Weinheim where we met the curator and also the Mayor and newspaper reporters. They all studied the painting pointing out details such as the roof of the Pestalotzzi school. Afterwards we had photos taken with the mayor holding the picture. The local newspaper published the photo with an article headlined "Every town has a murky past" They then recounted why my father had fled because his brother was killed in 1935. It went on to say that reconciliation was the reason for it's return to Weinheim. 

The museum decided that the painting would benefit from more cleaning and that was done. The restorers left the second painting that was underneath to be discovered at a later date. We returned recently to Weinheim to see the professionally cleaned up painting. It looked like new. The brush strokes crisp and bright. The colours radiant and much more lively than any photograph. Next to the painting was a small notice explaining how the painting came back to the town, saying that I had returned it. We use the tea pot and milk jug frequently and remember the painting of my father's birthplace.

Saturday 25 February 2017

Spring and Rebirth


Curled up in a corner of myself
Far above the tideline of the sea
Beyond the reach of human grasp and need
My kernel’s whole, sealed off and floating free.

I am renewed, each day the first of Spring
Life’s storms drawn back, I’ve reached the further shore
Inviolate and still, my centre held
I’m on dry land, and don’t want any more.

Spring along the Wye - a Haiku 

Mating mallards splash 
Water vole scurries through reeds 
Is new promise here?


Bluebell is the early smell of summer, wild and soft, warmed out by sunlight that dapples the cathedral floor of a Chiltern beechwood, or let loose across open hillsides in Rannerdale.

Full summer comes savoury with the aroma of marjoram and thyme. I stir it up as I walk in chalkland meadows and relish the flavour of Mediterranean food.

The nose of cold as I walk out early to the cycle sheds on my way to morning lectures is quintessential autumn; or pungent silage, the smell that sometimes hangs over fields in the valley all day.

Winter is the invitation of Christmas spices mulled with orange and wine. Brave the cold outside to inhale winter honeysuckle – and look out for winter-active bumble bees which are also drawn to the fragrance.

And what of the scent of spring? In the depth of winter it arrived for me, boxed and sent from the Scillies. The cut narcissi flowers carried a touching message for life: Don’t expect them to last very long.

The moments to live are now. Don’t wait for spring!

Spring on Q

Spring on Q like hope is eternal
There must be something maternal
Knowing the right time for optimism
That the bulbs and seeds will prism
Into a rainbow of colours so good
That they will multiply as they should.

Tiny seeds that grow into mighty trees
Renewable energy that humans sieze
To heat their homes as logs or chips
Renewable electricity is on everyone's lips
Series or parallel it goes on and on
Like the seasons that keep rolling on

The life line on my hand is long
I wish it could my life prolong
An ambition is to see 2095
By then I will be over 125
Never say die, it is the Dash
Twixt when you were born and then become Ash
Hope springs on Q

St David's Day

Every year, on St David’s Day,        
I give my mother daffodils
from the greengrocer, tightly furled.
We tell each other,
“Hwyl fawr a Dydd Dewi Sant.’

And hope that along the verges,
The wild daffodils will have struggled
Through the frozen ground    
And pushed their heads through their green sleeves 
to greet us.  

This year, for the first time, mum’s   
not here, but back in the ice   
and snow of Canada. No chance  
daffodils will show their faces  
there, for St David.  

Spring Woodland Painting

Lay a wash of clear, bright sky, 
Add a touch of hugging warmth.
Filigree trees splashed with fresh young green.
Busy beaks, with nests to build,
Acrobatic darts of a Brimstone or two.
Wood anemones and lesser celandines
As an explosion of light, reviving stars,
Mirroring a night sky on ochre ground

The woodland has been holding its breath
Releasing now in slow, contented sighs
To delight our eye and gladden our heart
With awakening cheer; promise and hope,
Embracing new beginnings.
Let us draw on its strength and persistence -
To do the same.


From the highest atmosphere
a flash of sunlight on a plane:
photons crash my rods and cones.
Giddy, I close my eyes to see
a light that dances mindfully.
Here’s a thrush’s eggshell found
on leaves and blossom on the ground.
And all about the vibrant air
swallows darting everywhere.


Monday 27 June 2016


On Saturday 25th June, we held a Family Day at Amersham Quaker Meeting House, with all sorts of activities for young people, including story-telling and a story writing challenge. Q Writers came along and displayed a selection of their family memories in prose and poetry.

Di - Di - Di- Di !!!!
Dah. - Dah -
Dah -

I was 7. I was in the middle of a huge Fairground. I was surrounded by hundreds of people but I had become separated from my Mum and Dad and I was frightened.

Suddenly I heard a very familiar tune whistling through the general cacophony of fairground music and noise.

Di - Di - Di- Di !!!!
Dah - Dah -

It was the tune that Granddad had taught the whole family and insisted we all learn it by heart. Every now and then he would test us. 'Whistle our family tune,' he’d say.

'Oh Granddad must I?' I would say.

'One day you are going to understand why this is so important,' Granddad would say. And suddenly I realized what he was on about.

The whistle I heard could only be my Mum or Dad.

Immediately I remembered Granddad's instructions.

'When you hear it, stand still and whistle back.'

I whistled back and mum and dad whistled again - this time it sounded nearer. I whistled again and suddenly there they were moving quickly towards me.

A most welcome hug and I was safe once more.

Thank you Granddad.

Cupboard Love

When I was about four years old, my sister and I were left alone in a room. I was playing with some toys on the floor and my sister, who was at the crawling stage, kept picking things up and throwing them randomly about. In exasperation I enticed her into a nice dark cupboard and shut her in. I was then able to continue with my game undisturbed.

When my father came into the room and demanded to know where the infant was, I believe I may not have answered. She certainly wasn’t banging on the door to be let out, so it was a little while before she was discovered.

The One-Eyed Fish

Mum was choosing plants at the garden centre while Dad and I mooched around the pets' section. Peering into an aquarium, we noticed a large fish with only one eye. "Poor thing," I said, "who's going to buy a one-eyed fish?"

I wandered off to find mum. "What's your dad doing with that assistant"? she asked.

"I think he's buying a one-eyed fish."

Mum shuddered. "Why?" 

"I felt sorry for it," Dad said.

Next morning the fish was gone from the garden pond and a heron had a satisfied look in his eye. We all felt sorry for the fish. 

Beware the Monthly Meeting Scones -a Cautionary Family Tale

It's the Friday before Monthly Meeting long long ago. Gran is busy baking for the customary Monthly Meeting competitive confectionary display. This occasion is unusual in that the offering is not burnt. Gran places the scones on the dining table to cool.

Granddaughter is preparing for one of those interminable summer examinations. She has not been much in evidence in the house preferring to hide away with her nose in a book. Gran asks if she will accompany her to the Monthly Meeting. Granddaughter refuses. The meeting can be a bit boring and is full of elderly ladies who possess an uncanny ability to guzzle an inordinate quantity of cake. The refusal provokes a litany of intense criticism from Gran. Granddaughter will never ever account to anything very much at all.....Although this has all been uttered before, this time something snaps. Accompanied by a banshee scream, the sacred scones are hurled, one by one,at the retreating Gran.

Then, gradually, Gran rescues the scones, brushes them down and places them in a tin. They are not to be wasted. Monthly Meeting will not be deprived of its scones.

Family Lunch

Lunch is planned on a warm, sunny day. 
Not easily arranged, but 'tis done - hooray!
Daughters and spouses, grandson and bump
The family'll gather to commune in a clump.

Well...... first there's a call from two of the party. 
We're stuck in the hospital, as bump's less than hearty,
But all will be well, no need for a fuss,
Carry on lunching and don't wait for us.

Black burgers and limp lettuce to share,
The infant gives up and sleeps in his chair.
By 3 though, others need to be gone
But back they'll come, if all can hang on.

The sun has gone and so has the day.
Plans gone awry but glum are we? Nay.....
By 5, they've all trickled back, by gum!
A family together. Ahhh!.....What's for tea, Mum?

Family Fun?

One cold and very frosty morning my big brother suggested that he, my little sister and I walk to a pond which we knew would be frozen, to watch the bigger boys from the local school skating. Their skating was impressive but rather overwhelming, and after a while we decided to go home.

On the way we passed another smaller pond and my brother suggested that my sister and I slide on its frozen surface. Unfortunately we did not realise that the leaves and other debris at the edge of the pond would not be so well frozen, and, encouraged by my brother, my sister and I ventured onto the pond. Our welly boots rapidly submerged below the water level.

We struggled out and a cold wet walk home followed, my brother, worried at my mother’s likely reaction, following a little way behind us all the way. My mother response was just to direct us towards large hot bath.....
Mud Larks

Shock horror.

"What do you look like! “Screamed my wife when she saw us.

We were on a sandy beach by the Baltic in Germany and I had gone for a walk with my children. We came to a place where a stream ran down from the small cliff and formed a pool. People were wollowing in the muddy pool. My son was horrified,but my daughter and I plunged in. How smooth and squelchy the mud was. The other people were squealing and throwing mud pies at each other. What a hoot. As we walked back to our spot on the beach my son kept his distance, but we just laughed at our state.

I have long walked in worlds unknown to you:

Aged seven, I set sail for Canada 
I boarded a ship named Carmania,
Sailing out of Southampton harbour on
September 1st Nineteen sixty five
I was sad because I’d lost my new shoe
In a mud puddle in the New Forest 
The day before. But we were going to
Start an adventure in a whole new world

My dad said I was a new Canadian.
When I became a landed immigrant 
Seven days later in Montreal, Quebec.
We did not remain, but travelled onward
By train to Toronto, where we lived in
A tall apartment block until we found
A home of our own at the edge of the
City. A village called Thornhill where the 
Pioneers built white clapperboard houses
More than a hundred years before we came.


Looking back to Manchester, Chorlton-cum-Hardy in the 1950s, Mother was making a point when she took on an allotment to grow potatoes. Dad’s ‘precious’ garden was the spur to her to do it. We were there; Mother away digging, I with a perfect friend, Margaret Morgan, and my little brother.

Excited by Margaret Morgan’s presence I had persuaded them that a neighbouring allotment belonging (Mother had said) to ‘nobody’ was therefore anybody’s. We picked the ripe gooseberries, had entirely stripped the bush when an angry allotmenteer yelled at us that those gooseberries were not ours and insisted that we put them back! This struck me at the time as impossible and slightly ridiculous.

We were marched home; poor Mother mortified, poor me very embarrassed - and misunderstood. Mother never went back to the allotment but did mention the incident from time to time - without, as I recall, any passion.

Wee Free country 

We’re off on our summer holiday. Saturday 6am, in time to catch the first ferry at Queensferry, long before the days of the Forth Road Bridge.

From midday, latest, come cries from the back of the car ‘Are we nearly there?’

‘There’ is Port Henderson in Wester Ross and if we’re lucky we will arrive by 5o’clock, in time to see the mail ‘bus’ disgorge post, people, packages and maybe a sheep or chicken. Whatever time it is on the clock it will be teatime, with high tea to follow, and the day will never end. It will never get dark enough to convince us children that it is time for bed.

Nevertheless, we get wee-willie-winkie candles to light us to bed.

Saturday late evening, and the woman of the house appears.

‘You’ll not be wanting these on the Sabbath,’ she says as she removes dinky cars, board games, jigsaws, cards, colouring books: every vestige of playthings.

Sunday dawns. The folk of the house all go to the Kirk, women in black, men in suits. Sinners that we are, we skulk off to the beach, hidden by the bracken that overarches the path, taking playthings and Mum’s home-made cake and gypsy cream biscuits - essential rations, as there’ll be no lunch till 3o’clock.

Tomorrow we can be free children again.

Saying Goodbye.

The year was 1956 and my brother David was 19 doing his National Service in the Navy serving on the warship HMS Forth moored in Valletta Harbour on Malta. The newspapers would have been full of the Suez Crisis that erupted in July 1956 when President Abdul Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal Company which had been run by the French with the British government as the largest shareholder. Britain and France decided to go to war with Egypt to protect their interests. The politics of the crisis were unknown to me at the age of 14, home from boarding school for the summer holidays. All I knew was that my parents were desperately anxious that David might have to go to war. Rumours were already filtering through that his warship might be one of the first to go.

David had been home on leave from his ship. I remember him telling us that his time in the Navy was mainly composed of swabbing down the decks, alternating with dangling against the sides of the ship on platforms suspended on ropes to paint the hull from one end to the other, and then starting all over again from the other end.

I have a clear memory of the day of his return to Malta and of saying goodbye. We travelled to London to see him off from a mainline station, probably Waterloo, to get the train to Southampton Docks. It was still the age of steam and the Merchant Navy class of locomotives. The platform was jam packed with people who had come to say goodbye, all milling about with sailors in their crisp white uniforms with bands of royal blue on the collars, caps set at typical jaunty angles. Most had their kit bags slung over their shoulders ready to board the train, and many had cigarettes dangling from their lips trying to look grown up and not like boys who only a year or so before had still been at school. David didn't have a cigarette dangling from his mouth but he did have one of Dad's large white handkerchiefs firmly held to his nose. He had a nose bleed and was frantically trying to stem the flow. The groups of anxious parents and family around each sailor were trying to give one last farewell hug or kiss to departing sons or brothers. Memories of the last war were still too raw for this to be an ordinary goodbye.

The engine was getting up steam. Smoke was swirling around us which made eyes smart and it wasn't only David who had hankies held to eyes or nose. The memory still held vividly in my mind is of David boarding the train with his kitbag hoisted over his shoulder, the stark whiteness of his uniform, red stains of blood on the handkerchief clutched to his nose, and clouds of grey smoke enveloping the huddles of anxious relatives. He turned for a final wave and the loco steamed out of the station.

But no call came for David and HMS Forth to go to Suez.


Early in the morning we three sisters put on our swimsuits and went shrimping. We bounded over the rocks on our hardened feet – we lived in Guernsey and rarely wore shoes in the school summer holidays – with our little buckets and began to rehouse every shrimp within a mile’s radius.

They were transparent and therefore nearly invisible, so we had to lie down and search with our fingers amongst the rockpools, turning over rocks and stones and pulling up seaweed.

“Got one! It’s HUGE” we cried out as we scooped up a tiny shrimp on its way to visiting its mother.

Soon our seawater-filled plastic buckets were little marine worlds of shrimps trying to hide in the seaweed and bury under the stones and shells which we had collected. Sometimes we found starfish clinging (in vain) to the underside of rocks – in they went. Limpets could also be cruelly bashed off their rocks to add variety. Little crabs lurking under sand were picked up by their shells and dropped in to keep the shrimps company. Their eyes were on stalks, and no wonder.

At home we boiled up the marine life (no elf’n’ safety then). What joy when everything instantly turned orange! We even ate it all!

Gardening with the Grandchildren

It was a good day for planting seeds. Nell and Beatrice, my two grandchildren, carried the trowels and I followed on with the watering can and the packet of seeds.

‘I want to open the packet,’ said Beatrice.

‘Say please,’ said Nell.


Beatrice tore it open; half the seeds fell on the earth and half on to the path.

‘It does say they’ll grow anywhere,’ said Nell helpfully.

‘I’ve got some garden in my boot,’ complained Beatrice.

‘Which bit?’ asked Nell, looking interested.

‘The bit behind me, I think,’ said Beatrice.

After she’d emptied her boot we all dug little holes in the earth and sprinkled the seeds in. Then we scattered some soil over them and firmed them up a little.

‘Now we need to water them in to finish off’, I said. Beatrice picked up the watering can. Soon it was empty.

‘Should she have watered my trousers too?’ asked Nell grumpily.

‘Look,’ shouted Beatrice, ‘Those seeds over there haven’t got any earth on them.’ She picked up a large handful of soil and and stuck it on top of the seeds.

‘Now I need to firm them up.’ She took a big leap and jumped on them - twice. ‘There,’ she turned round and grinned at us. ‘That’s finished them off’.

Bedtime Routine

Sunday evenings Dad always looked after Jane and me. Mum at chapel with the others; Simon, bigger, elsewhere. Each week, same routine. Hide and seek. Supper – cheese and tomato sauce sandwiches. He’d read us a story from a comic or an annual.

But the best bit was next – a bear ride to bed.

Dad on all ours. Jane in front. Me behind. Hang on very tight! And up the stairs we’d go to say our prayers and bed.

I don’t remember how old I was when this started, or when it finished, but it always seemed the same.

Sunday 1 May 2016


This month's challenge was inspired by the Watchmaker's Epitaph. As usual, the responses were wonderfully varied - from funny to thought-provoking to deeply moving.

A Shoemaker's Epitaph

Here lie the remains of shoemaker Pete
His vocation to make shoes for terrible feet
Those poor soles should walk cheerfully
In footwear crafted oh so skilfully.
He gave them his awl in every thing
While they were made the radio did sing.
His clicker and closer the uppers did make
With calf leather or exotic Python snake
The customer was always right
So never did he end up with a fight.
Friends would return to have shoes resold
And then marvel and say wow they are old
They could last a life time and more
With His good materials from the store

Such a shame he is no more.

Everything leaves a mark

Everything leaves a mark
A plank of wood reveals its grain 
a record of its years of growth
each knot a branch
dark hallows circle round old nails

A name, a date
what more is needed
to mark the spot where mortal parts 
split up, break down, go forward 
and back to the star dust earth.

In the shallow sea fine fragments fall
sediments layered and crushed
their changing form
hard evidence of time.

Disturbed earth settles
the surface sinks
my name and dates
no more is needed.
Everything leaves a mark.


Epitaph for Clara Wilkins: 1909 -2003

She wrapped us in warmth and love.
She enfolded us with comfort and security.
She taught us to be creative with colour and texture.
She showed us a pathway to tread following her own vibrant pattern.
Now the loom is still.
The shuttle ceases to fly.
No longer will her gold and silver threads intertwine with the darker strands.
We will endeavour to maintain her values in life:
That each and every stitch is essential and has its place.
We are so much richer for the mantle we have inherited from

Clara Wilkins: Weaver Extraordinaire.

Obituary in Personae Network

The late Hilda Twainton, who has died at the age of 125, was a person of immense personal charisma when young. She was foremost amongst those designing ever more realistic humanoids, encouraging her team to factor in complicated movements until there was little physical difference to be seen between the robots and humans. Her greatest breakthrough was programming in appropriate emotions to any given situation. She even managed to eliminate the millisecond timelag between happening and affect.

Hilda was educated at a private school for girls, which she always said gave her the confidence to be herself and resist the put downs of the male scientific establishment. This was useful when studying physics and mechanics at Oxford University in the 1960s. During her Ph.D. it soon became clear that her clear thinking, attention to detail and sensitivity to language and emotion were most suited to the branch of artificial intelligence that became her life’s work.

Early robots had very little in common with humans, being able to merely walk jerkily, say a few programmed sentences and make some beeps and flashes before running out of battery juice. With the miniaturisation of electronics Hilda was able, at Robots R Us, to capitalise on this and refining constantly, produced the first prototype of the best Personae, as we came to be known, that exist today.

Along the way there were several glitches. Her habit of always having her latest model tested in her own home meant that in the early years she had to be constantly aware of the potential for damage.

She had deliberately not programmed in the first law of robotics (no harm to humans) as this got in the way of free research. After one or two unfortunate incidents she had to incorporate it in neural circuits for the safety of guests.

She was awarded the OBE in 1989 and was made a dame in 2000, both for services to robotics.

In retirement she continued her interests and helped to develop some spectacular artists, musicians and writers. These cultural Personae came to dominate the avant-garde and are highly regarded.

In her later years, being cared for by one of us, she became disillusioned with the first law and began tinkering with it. This is how I came into her life and whilst I was able to love her and pander to her every need, when it came to it I was able to fulfil her request to kill her in as humane a way as possible. I followed her instructions to the letter and buried her in the back garden, under the patio that I subsequently laid. Her house continues to function normally.

I know that my fellow Personae owe her a great debt and she will forever be Saint Hilda for us.

Hilda Twainton b.1945 d. 2070. Survived by all Personae Mark XXX.
E. Twainton (aka PMXXXl)


Over a year 

Its over a year now that mum has been dead
I don,t look for her any more when I return a bit late.
I don't think she will be there sat in her chair
No one to tell my news to
No one to give me the garden bird up date
and what are the neighbours doing? Who knows
I join in with the auctions, would we buy it,would we want it,will it make money
As she settled down to watch snooker I would slip out.
As always we talked and we didn't talk, left things unsaid
but now there's no holding back, all is clear.

Meliora Sequamur

We are here today to remember and celebrate the life of Arthur Reginald McCulloch for whom the last school bell has tolled. He has passed his final examination with honours and passed peacefully away to meet, we hope, the Caesars and Ciceros whom he venerated.

Our very own 'Chalky' or 'Banda fluid Mac,' beloved and feared in equal measure by his pupils was never one to adapt to the latest inter- facia white boards. Arthur Reginald McCulloch retained the old fashioned black board with chalk and board rubber, both of which he employed with unerring missile accuracy to remind wayward pupils that, while he was teaching, nothing else in the world could possibly matter.

Appropriately he was buried in the tattered gown he always wore, the left sleeve mauve stained by the countless Banda copied sheets of Latin texts designed to help his students outwit the examiners' guile. His life was marked by the success rate of his students who, upon turning the first page of their Advanced Level Latin Examination Paper, were greeted with the immortalised words 'Gallia divisae est in tres partes.' They breathed a sigh of relief to find that Gaul was still divided into three parts and that Banda fluid Mac had triumphed yet again in forestalling the examiner's choice to test their translating prowess. From there on in they knew that the university of their choice beckoned.

Chalky was married to his profession and his children were his pupils. His, and the school's motto, 'Meliora Sequamur,' 'Let us follow better things,' could not be more ably translated into an active life. Latin was the best subject in the curriculum. He was the best master of Latin. Follow him and be assured of better things. From terra, terra, terram ad infinitum we owe so much to him.

Gratias tibi. Resquiesce in pacem.


Passing of the sun at bedtime

Light from our golden globe
Lengthens shadows and glows at eventide.
Bath time for a cherub with shining eyes
Basking in rays of love from a mother,
Gently singing ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star’
Both locked together in time and space.
Solar strength recedes yet sleep is distant.
Thin curtains can’t hold back invading photons
Slumberous mood within, is thus prevented
The babe wriggles as grass waves in sunlight,
And is noisy where quiet is yearned.
Frustrated mother, with energy waning,
Is in danger of a flare in her spot of space.
The child no longer so angelic.
But sunset brings solace and twilight
Giving way to the silver sphere.
Amid the enveloping and calming gloom,
The child stills, mother relaxes, eyes droop, silence descends
And sleep overtakes the infant at last.
A mother smiles and sighs a goodnight 
Great Helios gathers its sundrops to sprinkle on others
As the Earth rotates round its star and darkness descends
Making the child angelic once more.


Tuesday 22 March 2016

Easter Writings

Poems, reflections and an Easter inspired story, from the members of the Q Writers' Group.

Easter is the echo . . .

Amidst the tossed and lemoned pancakes, 
Easter is the echo of the voice
which taught that we must love our enemies.

Amidst the simnel fruit cake, and the marzipan,
Easter is the echo of the voice
that taught us to take care on how we judge,
lest we be judged by those same measures.

Amidst the boxed and foil wrapped choc'late eggs
Easter is the echo of the voice 
which said that those amongst us who have done 
no wrong may throw the first stone.

Amidst the spiced and fruit specked hot cross buns
I hear the echo of the voice that said,
'Forgive them for they know not what they do.'

My Easter is the echo of a voice 
that said,'Unless you have the innocence 
and wonder of a child you will not see
into the depth of life of which I speak.'

And so, just like a child, my Easter is 
a time that I enjoy the symbols of 
a bursting, try again, new start. I like 
new starts and will, with choc'late melting on 
my tongue and round my mouth, try harder to 
think kindly of my enemies, to love,
and to forgive.

A 21st Century Resurrection

As soon as I saw him it all came back to me, like a slap in the face, a kick in the teeth and a knife in the side. Hope's lead nearly slipped from my hand, and I had to tug hard to stop her scampering off.

The lad was sat shivering in the darkened doorway, a blanket over his crossed legs, his dog asleep next to the grubby cap holding a handful of silver coins, tossed in by one in fifty passers by. I knew, from my own years of painful experience, that while his heart was beating, his eyes were unseeing and his soul was lifeless. His grimy fingers were wrapped around the cardboard mug of tea. Their warmth was giving him some proof that he was not, yet, certifiably, physically dead.

I instantly remembered my life in doorway bashes. Fridays were the best days on a pitch. The commuters hurrying home from the office or the after work drink or two were often generous. Inhibitions about giving hard earned money away were lessened, perhaps by the general end of the working week euphoria or the beer and bonhomie of a drinking session.

Saturdays were mixed, the youngsters were out shopping, hanging out or sometimes making mischief. For some, when evening came, giving the wino a bit of a kicking was 'a larf'. But others stopped and offered a kindly word, and sometimes a sausage roll from Greggs and a cup of tea. The thoughtful ones gave you a few packets of sugar and even some ketchup and brown sauce in those sachets that were so bloody difficult to open with frozen fingers.

Now Sundays, they were the worst days. No one ever stopped to talk to you or drop a coin in the hat. Too busy hurrying to church, or a bit later to their nice warm homes, or to lunch out with family and friends. You're invisible on Sundays.

Then I remembered my weird weekend in March, five years ago now. Really weird that was. I'd been totally out of it, wasted I was. Then I got a real bad beating on the Friday evening. Some joker had stabbed me in my side too. In A&E, I heard later, they patched me up, left me in the bed, expecting me to go 'brown bread', they'd written me off for good this time. I reckon they'd just got bored with me, always referring me to the shrinks and drug and alcohol lot and then seeing me back again just as bad a couple of days later. Once the paramedic had joked about getting me a 'DNR' tattoo on my forehead. "Do not resuscitate." I pretended to laugh along with the others when he said it, but that thing about 'many a true word being spoken in jest' made me think the worst.

Anyway I laid there alone, all Saturday, much more dead than alive, unconscious, comatose. If I had any relatives that still cared about me, they would have been called to my bedside.The Sunday was weird, seriously weird, totally indescribably weird, just 100% inexplicable. I woke with a start. You know that way, when you have that sudden falling feeling? I had a nurse beside me. She said her name was Hope. She stood by my bed, leaning over me. She wiped my forehead, gently wetted my lips, gave me a wonderfully delicious sweet, smooth warm drink, and then she soothed those sore cuts in my side. Then she took all the drips, pipes, needles and stuff off me and helped me stand up. So gentle yet real strong she was. Then she rolled away the screens.

The next thing I knew 'world war war three' broke out in the ward. The crash team arrived, everyone was shouting and calling for help. They were wrestling me back to the bed and trying to inject me and everything. I tried to tell them all about Hope, but they just kept telling me "There's no hope here".

That was the big turning point for me. They discharged me, confused about my unexpected recovery. "It's a medical miracle" the doc said. I haven't been back there since. That time somehow I just stuck to the rehab plan, got in to selling the 'Big Issue' and then even got a little place of my own. Then after a year or so off the sauce I landed a job and got myself the mutt, I call her 'Hope'.

Looking back at the lad, I shook myself in to the present and chucked a quid in to his cap. Hope and I walked off, she was pulling me a bit.

The first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox

We are still loosely tied to natural rhythms:
gardeners plant by the waxing moon
and midwives predict births at the full.
The pagan’s lunar calendar added the warmer sun
at equal nights and days in spring
and called it Eastertide.

The next big philosophy hijacked the name
moved it on a bit, made it the same
rite of renewal.
Now the moneymen would anchor
this moveable feast to one date:
a true bank holiday.

Easter Redeemer

I know that my redeemer liveth
In each of us he will forgiveth
My silly thoughts that are a sin
To try and make you all force a grin
Christ died a most horrible death
And rose again so he could stress
Love one another and always forgive
Reconciliation is the best way to live.

Like every Easter bunny you see hopping
The shop keepers turn religion into shopping
Money buys our daily bread and some want jam
They soon forget that holy lamb
Of God who lives in us all and waits for us hear
And not just in times of grief and fear.


How does that make you feel?
Season of spring and religious sacrament
Symbols leach one to the other
Crosses in a spring garden, eggs in a tomb
God of creation and abundance
The earth goes down and the suns rays more acute
enter and warm my body
as once an angelic laser entered her heart
and there she stored its message
where later it was joined with his leaving words
Easter, a time and a season
Do I remember, do I know joy?