The Thing That Changes Folks

eyes

One summer an old man came to live near us. He had rented the little French house which sat on the lip of a small hill.

Being young and selfish, I was disappointed that the house was no longer empty, for I had found a way to enter the place by climbing under the wooden floor and coming up in the kitchen.

I told no one of the fact that I spent most free time in there, reading, writing and playing games. It was my secret, my little piece of heaven. At home I had to share a room with two other brothers and there seemed to be no part of that bedroom which was ‘me’.

I hadn’t realised that the old man was due to take the place, or I would have attempted to tidy away the stuff I had left; there were books open, toys, and papers spread all over the floor. I liked my freedom up there. I liked my little French house.

One Saturday afternoon when my brothers had gone to watch the local football game, I walked up to the French house to see if I could spy on the man who had stolen my sanctuary.

I waited an hour before he came out to collect some water from the well. He looked as if he was over a hundred years old, but thinking back on it from where I am today, I guess he was in his late forties.

He was turning to pick up his pail of water and head back to the house, when he must have spotted me and called me over.

“Hello there, you, young boy, come here,” he shouted.

I stupidly looked around to see if he was talking to me, but of course he was, who else would trudge all the way up here? For it certainly was a climb, as it would take me almost the best part of an hour to the reach the French house.

The man was called ‘Bertie’ and he invited me in for a cold drink. I was curious to find out what kind of person he was and why he had taken my other home.

He had been a spaceman, he said, and spoke with an American accent. I asked had he been to the moon, and he said that he had. I wanted to know what had caused the scar on the right side of his face, and he had said that a moon monster had chased him. I found out years later that he had been in a war acting as a hero and that the scar was the price he had paid.

He asked me if anyone had been into the house as it lay empty, and I dropped my head and said I didn’t know. He said that it was fine, but that the person who had been in had been reading the best books that were available and that they must be very intelligent.

I drank the cold cola, greedily, and it was just what I needed after the hot, long, climb up to the house.

I have to say that me and Bertie became the best of friends, and each weekend I would take off early and head for the French house. We would read books, discuss the universe and laugh at all the old jokes we knew. I told no one of the house or the spaceman.

Bertie told stories of his trip to the moon and all the training he had gone through.  I would sit there in awe of my friend and wondering at all the things those eyes had seen.

That was the one thing that troubled me about him – his eyes. They looked sad, very sad, and probably the reason I thought he was a hundred years old.

“What are you looking at?” He asked me, one day. ”Tell me you don’t still get rattled by that scar of mine?” He asked. I said that I wasn’t but that I thought that his eyes were strange. Kind of sad-looking, kind of old.

He told me to sit and said that he would make us both a cup of hot chocolate. He handed me the chocolate and said he was going to tell me a story.

“Now listen son, there are only really two types of people in this world, those who haven’t seen the thing that changes them and those who have. You have those wide, happy eyes that are still untainted by the world. Now I ain’t meaning to bring you down or anything, I’m just telling you like it is. One day you will see the thing and your eyes will dull a little and your heart will harden a little, and folks will look at you and know that you’ve seen the thing that changes you.”

I asked him what it was, this thing that changes people and he said that it was different for everyone, and when I saw it, I’d know it, and that was as much as he could tell me.

“As for my own eyes,” he continued, “well there is one other type. They are called ‘gallows’ eyes’ and there are only a few folks in the world that wear those ones. My eyes, my sad eyes, are that type. When you’ve looked death in the face, it burns a picture on your retina that you can never hide and your eyes show the way your soul has changed for the rest of your life”.

He told me to finish my chocolate as it was getting late, and that I should be heading home.

As I left, he said that he hoped I didn’t see the thing that changes a person for a very long time, a very long time indeed. Then he ruffled my hair and said he’d see me next week.

It was several years before I saw the thing that changes folks, and the old man was right, it dulled my eyes just like he said.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Once Upon, A Long Ago

Once upon, a long ago,

I saw a life of hope

And so,

I dreamed myself with smile

And mirth,

A charming life to death, from birth

But living twisted all I did

The rules were changed,

My fortunes hid,

I wish my days had run just so,

Like once upon,

A long ago.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

I Will Remember You

love

I will remember you when the best of you has gone
I will remember you when the song you loved is sung
I will remember you when I stand on hills where we once walked
I will remember you and your laughter as we talked
I will remember you and all the kindness that was shown
I will remember you when your tired soul has flown
I will remember you when each new day has a dawn
I will remember you when the last of you has gone

bobby stevenson 2017

 

 

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Waiting

house

There’s a little house,

Not too far out of town,

Where I’ll go when I leave this place,

You’ll always find a log fire burning there,

And a light in the window to find your way,

When you eventually stumble over the top of the ridge.

You can sit among friends,

By then you’ll be deserving of a seat in the warmth,

You’ll have done your bit,

Struggled bravely along the path,

You’ll have cried your tears,

And fought your battles,

So come rest a while,

We’ll be waiting.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Races

The sweat stung his eyes as he cycled up and out of Glen Croe. The sun hadn’t hit the bottom of the valley, which was why he usually picked this time of day to train.

By the time he reached the top of the Rest-&-Be-Thankful, he was ready for the bread and cheese his mother had packed for him that morning.

From up here, in the sunshine, he felt alive and ready to take on the whole world. This was a new era for folks, it was 1913 and Stan felt that it was going to be the best of times. There was talk of war but then Stan had never known a year when there wasn’t, and why would the Germans want to attack Great Britain when they were getting ready for the Olympic Games in Berlin?

Those Olympics were going to be Stanley’s victory in cycling. He could feel it in his bones.

———

Lars watched as the 10,000 pigeons took to the air. What a country his homeland was, especially on this hot, humid, June afternoon. He had cycled over 300 kilometres to be here, to see the glorious Deutsches Stadion being dedicated – the glory of Germany was here today and it was where Lars would claim the ultimate prize in cycling when he stood on the winner’s podium at the summer Olympics in 1916.

There was no one to rival him, well no one close except a Britisher by the name of Stanley Hooper. He had heard many stories about Hooper but the boy had one flaw, he wasn’t German, he wasn’t from the Fatherland, and for Lars that meant everything.

Still Lars had to be sure. He’d read of the London Echo Great Britain Cycle Challenge. This was going to be a straight race between John O’Groats (what a stupid Englander name, thought Lars) and Land’s End. The winner would take home a prize of 500 guineas. Lars knew it would help him to train without a steady job – all the way to the Games.

———

By the time that Stanley got back home, the letter had already arrived: Stanley Edward Hooper was accepted as an entrant in the Cycle Challenge. He’d had to work double the hours just to earn the entrance fee of two guineas and now he had to wonder how he could train and work until the start of the race in August. Stanley’s family was poor, and he and his three brothers had made sure that the money kept coming into the house after his father had died in an accident. His eldest brother, Ian had joined up with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the other two boys worked as ship riveters.

Stanley made his money running errands on his bicycle for local trades, but it involved long, long hours, after which the training had to be fitted in. On a typical day he would start work at 6am and wouldn’t get to his bed until well after midnight. Some nights he was so blooming tired he would just fall sleep in the garage beside ‘Lucy’ (his bicycle).

His town had never really had a famous anyone. Well, apart from Edward McLeish who’d won a medal fighting the Boers in Africa.

There was talk of erecting a statue to Edward but it annoyed Stanley a little, because he wanted to be the first with a statue raised to him. Still if he didn’t train – and hard – there would be no Olympics, statues or even races won. He fell asleep that night cuddling his Lucy and dreaming of gold medals.

Lars and his team arrived at John O’Groats a day early. They had caught a train to Hamburg and then travelled on to the northern tip of mainland Scotland aboard a ship that had been laid on by the Chancellor himself. Germany saw this race as a chance to show some superiority to the little Englanders, – and as Lars was frequently being told – there was a war coming and England (and its despicable Empire) would be made to come under the control of the Fatherland. This race would be the start of great things which would end with only Germans standing on the podium at Berlin for all things gold.

Stanley’s dad was his entire support team unlike Lars’ huge machine. The Germans had brought someone to look after Lars’ food, two men to look after his bicycles, an acrobat from the Berlin Circus to keep him fit and to massage his aches and pains; plus several other followers.

Stanley’s father had brought cheese and bread that his wife had packed, although to be honest, Stanley and his dad had eaten most of it on the way north.

The race was to start at sunrise of the following morning – although this far north, and at this time of year it never really got dark.

There was 32 entrants in all. The organisers felt that this was the most manageable figure that could be dealt with, given the state of the roads in many parts of the race. There were 16 spaces allocated to the British and Irish, 2 to each of the French, German, Italian, Dutch, Belgian and Swiss. The balance was made up of Americans and a Canadian.

The pack had been pretty close in finishing within ten minutes of each other on the torturous route to Lochinver. A couple had dropped out due to mishaps, but Stanley and his dad were making great time and had finished in second place at the end of each stage.

Stage four was from Loch Ness to Fort William (stopping an hour for lunch) and then on to Inveraray for the night. For all the efficiency of Lars and his team, they somehow took a wrong turning a few miles from Rannoch and had headed towards Tyndrum as they exited Rannoch Moor – this led to them being placed at the back of the group as they finished that evening.

The town of Inveraray is a small, beautiful place on the shores of Loch Fyne and it’s hard to avoid anyone, should you wish to. Stanley and his father, instead of going straight to bed, were sitting by the edge of the water.

Stanley’s father’s pipe was keeping the midges at bay, which could only be a good thing in this part of the world. Midges were small insects that had one good bite in them, but all together they could prove a misery for the unwary.

“You’ll never win if you smoke, Hooper,” came a voice from behind.

It was Lars.

“I recognize you from the magazine,” said Lars who was standing to attention for no other reason than to impress Stan.

“Look dad, it’s that German bloke you’ve been telling me about.”

Stan’s dad didn’t even bother turning his head.

“Oh aye. He’s the one who got lost coming out of Glen Coe,” said his dad with a smile.

Lars looked at both of them, clicked his heels and left.

The race was a close run thing. When they got to the Lake District, Lars was several minutes ahead, but that changed as the race headed down towards the West Country. They alternated with the lead, sometimes it was Stan (with his dad, supporting) in the lead, sometimes Lars and the whole German army behind him.

Just as they approached the final hill going into Land’s End a strange thing happened, Lars was in the lead and as he looked around he saw Stan a few metres behind him. Lars slowed, or at least, he seemed to struggle, and as Lars crossed the Finish line, so did Stan. It was a dead heat.

The War came as it was intended. The Olympics were cancelled and other thoughts filled the head of Stan in the year of 1916.

Instead of getting ready to cycle in the Berlin Games, Stan was preparing to go over the top on the first day of The Battle of The Somme.

There had been a team of them who had all come to France together – The Cycling Buddies they were called, now only two of them were left alive. Stan didn’t know where David was: David was the captain of the team and the bravest of them all. Stan had heard a rumour that David had been killed over a month ago.

Stan had kept his training up, even when he was sure that the Olympics weren’t going ahead, he still needed to get out there and train.

As the trench Captains blew their whistles, Stan found himself up and over the ladder within minutes. He saw some of those who had been earlier standing shivering beside him, taking their last falls.

Stan heard a bullet wiz past his ear, forcing him to hit the mud.

The plan for the Somme had been a good one, undermine the German trenches and blow them up.

That is what had happened – it was just that the Germans had gone deeper than any of the old fools back at headquarters could have imagined. When the British troops went over the top, they were gunned down in their thousands. The plan had been to march all the way to Berlin and Stan had liked the irony of that idea.

Stan crawled under some barbed wire which was supporting two dead bodies and then slid into one of the craters created by the British explosions. He was alone thank God but he had no idea what to do next. All this hadn’t been in the plans.

Stan must have closed his eyes for a time because the next thing he knew there was a German pistol pointing right between his eyes.

And yes, you’re right, it was Lars – otherwise what is the point of this story? Stranger things do happen.

“Stan, you old Englander, it is so good to see you.”

“Lars? Is that you?”

Lars and Stan hugged in what was the strangest of circumstances.

“Well it’s not the podium but it is very good to see you,” said Stan.

“I save you once again, Englander,” smiled Lars as he slid down into the mud. For a while the two of them lay there with the bullets and smoke passing overhead.

“What do we do now, Stan?” Asked Lars. Just then a stray shell exploded on the rim of crater. Stan used his body to shield Lars.

The part of the shell that penetrated Stan’s back wasn’t obvious at first. At least not until Stan started coughing blood.

“I’ve been hit old friend,” said Stan not quite believing it.

As Lars held Stan, he smiled at his pal;

“I think we are even, Englander.”

When Stan closed his eyes for the last time, Lars took a gold coin he had been carrying and placed it on Stan’s chest.

“You win, Stanley Hooper.”

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Every Breath You Take

His name was Charlie and he was a kid. Charlie was lucky enough to be living through his best years. His mother, father, brother and sisters were all well, all happy, and all in that little perfect bubble that happens from time to time in life.

When Charlie was eight, he had his first birthday party which involved all his friends coming to his house. This was Charlie’s first proper party.

Charlie’s parents were like ducks on water, everything seemed calm on top, but both of them had to paddle extremely hard to keep themselves and the family from sinking. Not that Charlie knew any of this, or of the double shifts that his father had worked that previous week to afford Charlie’s first grown-up party.

Charlie, his brother and his dad all blew up the balloons. Charlie inflated the red ones, his brother the green balloons and his dad the yellow ones. Both Charlie and his brother used little air pumps to inflate them all, but Charlie’s dad just blew them up with his own breath. This was his youngest son’s first real party and he wanted to give it everything he had.

That night, after the party, Charlie’s dad felt a pain in his left arm, then his chest, and with only time to quietly say ‘goodbye’ he closed his eyes for good.

The next morning, Charlie’s grandfather took down all the decorations – anything that reminded the family of happier times – and burst all the balloons. Or so he thought.

Charlie sat in his bedroom, scared to cry for his dad, since he felt that if he started again, he would never stop. That was when he noticed the yellow balloon in the corner of the room, with a little note attached ‘Happy Birthday, my boy, I am so proud of you, love dad’.

Suddenly it struck Charlie that there was still a part of his dad alive. In the balloon was his dad’s breath – a little piece of him – something that he had made while he was happy.

So Charlie, very, very carefully drew a little face on the yellow balloon and talked to it, as if it was his dad. In the corner of his room was a little bit of his father and he was still with him. When Charlie woke in the morning the balloon was still watching over him.

The next night he could hear his mother crying in her room, and so Charlie took the balloon into her room and told her the story. That night the two of them slept in her bed watched over by the balloon filled with his dad’s breath.

Charlie tried everything he could to stop the balloon getting smaller and smaller – his dad was disappearing and leaving Charlie for good. Charlie’s grandfather heard his grandson crying and came into to the room to help. Charlie told his grandfather about the balloon and how it was losing his dad’s air.

His grandfather held Charlie and told him that it was only his dad returning home. His grandfather, and Charlie, and Charlie’s dad didn’t come from here, they came from out there – far away in space. He told him that Charlie’s dad would need his breath out in the stars and that it had to return to him. Charlie’s grandfather said that Charlie could keep the balloon with him to remember his dad, but in the end it was what a person left in your heart that counted – nothing else.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

A Child of a Lesser God

thing

The full moon had formed over Thing’s cave 12 times when he decided that enough was enough.

He now realised that his mother and father were not coming back home.
Where ever they were, he hoped with all his heart that they were happy. That night, Thing sat at the mouth of his cave and thought about all the stuff that concerned him.

He needed to get a job since the money and tokens his parents had left in the cave were just about to run out. Thing had done okay at school, especially with counting and numbers. Perhaps he could get a job in the town’s bank. When Thing awoke the next morning he found himself still sitting at the mouth of the cave. He got washed and made his way down the mountainside, crossing the main street and into town.
Thing was used to people staring just because he was different. People didn’t like difference, it frightened them, and frightened people didn’t always behave rationally.

He loved life, and he loved the town where he had gone to school and where he had found (and sometimes lost) friends.

He went to the employment agency to see what job were available. Thing didn’t notice as he entered the office, that everyone stopped and stared. Thing wasn’t the first of his kind who have lived in the town. There had been Thing’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and of course, his parents.

All of his family had gone to the northlands where many of the Things had formed a colony. His own parents would have gone there too, was it not for the fact that his mother had taken ill and gone to hospital. The last words his father had said to him was that he was just popping out to see his mother. Neither of them returned, although Thing had spent many sleepless nights waiting and wondering.
He had many good friends in school and some enemies but that wasn’t any different from anyone else. Children learn either love or hate very early in life and rarely do they forget.

The one brave soul in the employment agency asked Thing how he was doing.
“Fine,” said Thing. “Very fine, indeed.”
Thing told the person that he was good at numbers and counting. The agency manager went through many cards, saying ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘no’ to most of them. Then he pulled out a card and exclaimed ‘a-ha’.

The job was at a café near Thing’s old school. He’d remembered the owner being a kind elderly gentleman. As was requested on the card, Thing popped along to the café for an interview.
The old man remembered when Thing’s parents had held a birthday party for him in the café. The old man was happy to give Thing a job and he was able to start immediately.

The following morning Thing almost skipped all the way to work, given that it was such a nice morning and that he enjoyed being at the café. He had company there and people to talk to.

In the middle of the morning, a middle-aged man came in and when he saw Thing, the man said he didn’t want no dirty animal serving him and he expected a human to give him a cup of coffee.
When the old man told the customer that Thing was his new server and that was that, the man said he would be taking his business elsewhere.

The old man thought that would be the end of it but it wasn’t. By the time he was ready to shut the café, the middle-aged man was standing outside with several others of his kind and all of them had flaming torches.

“If you don’t put a human behind the counter then we are going to burn the place down.”
Thing told the old man that he was sorry, it was all his fault, and that he wouldn’t return to the café the following day – but the old man just shook his head and said ‘nonsense’.
Then the old man went outside and faced the gang of men intent on burning down his café.

“You men, think that because Thing looks different that he deserves to be treated differently. In fact to be treated as a lesser being that you. Is he a child of a lesser god? I don’t think so. How many of you created yourselves? How many of you brought yourselves to Earth? None of you? I didn’t think so. We are all in this living together and all we can do is live together. It is you with your black hearts and thoughts who are different from the rest of us. The problem is you hide your evil thoughts in a body and brain that looks like everyone else. But you are not like everyone else. You are evil and most of all, stupid. So burn my café down if you want. We will only set up in another place, and yes, Thing will be there too. You people are what is wrong with the world, not Thing, not me.”

And with that the men, one by one, threw down their torches and wandered off. The middle-aged man came forward and spat at Thing. The old man wiped the spit from Thing and apologised to him.
“I cannot make an excuse for such a person. They are what they are, and we must exist beside them. Now you go home, have a rest and I will see you tomorrow. We have living to do.”

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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A Story From A Room

room

Once upon a long ago, a man walked into a room. There wasn’t anything particularly special about the place – it was just a room. Simple as that.

The first time the man walked into the room, he had spent too long listening to those who talk about darkness. Those are the souls who live, work, breathe, and create darkness. Their glass is always half-empty and it is always someone else who drank from it. They would rather you didn’t smile, after all what have you got to smile about?

Having let all this bleed into his mind, the man walked into the room. In the corner was an old lady with a cat. It looked as if the cat was the old lady’s only friend, she was willing it not to die. If the cat went, so the old lady would probably follow. Across, in another corner was a boy looking out of the window. The boy looked lost, as if he was searching for something that lay beyond the horizon. Perhaps he was getting ready to jump, thought the man. Lying on the floor in the centre of the room was an old man staring at the ceiling. The man wondered if the older gentleman was looking at something in particular – but the man looked up and could find nothing of interest. Perhaps the older gentleman was depressed and could not find the energy to move? The man, sad and down, left the room and closed the door behind him.

Another man walked into the room. He had basked in the warm sunshine and had breathed the air full of the scent of flowers before entering. In the corner of the room he saw an old woman who was finding comfort and love in a beautiful cat. The animal was just as happy to be stroked and petted. At the window was a young boy who looked happy and excited to watch the sea and the sun create diamonds of colour. On the floor lay the boy’s father who was watching the rainbows on the ceiling created by the sun hitting a little crystal vase. The man smiled at the beauty in the room and left.

In this particular room moments before either of the men had entered, the boy’s father had tripped over his child’s cat and was lying injured on the floor. His son had called an ambulance and was watching out of the window to see when it arrived. The grandmother was trying to calm down the cat who was understandably upset after being tripped over.

And so to the point: there is no right, nor wrong in any place. There is only the truth as you see it.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

Touching Gravity

mount

(I believe this is a true story)

Where I am today, I can trace all the way back to that time on the mountain.

I suppose there are many people with similar stories but this one had so much impact on the rest of my life that I still think about it every day.

Prior to the mountain, I was just a guy who rarely thought of anything other than work and holidays. On one of those weeks every year, I would walk the West Highland Way with friends. It runs 95 miles from Glasgow to Fort William in the west highlands of Scotland. It can be a rough walk and usually is.

The first couple of times I went with my pal Freddie and his son. They were both very fit and enjoyed the experience a lot more than I did. We all suffered from blisters on our feet but my blisters seemed to have their own blisters.

I killed the pain by taking aspirin every morning – not a healthy way to walk. So I decided for the following year  that I would get super fit and start to enjoy the walk.

And get fit I did. So much so, that we started not just to walk the 95 miles but to climb up every mountain over 3,000 feet along the way. In Scotland hills over that height are known as Munros after the man, Sir Hugh Munro, who recorded them.

Just before the walk reaches Glencoe, there is an estate known as the Black Mount which belongs to the Fleming family (as in Ian Fleming of James Bond fame). There is a path which winds through their estate and which follows the old military road built around 1750. About a mile or so into the estate there is a crossing called Ba’ Bridge. Freddie decided since it was such a warm, sunny, June day that we should climb over into Glencoe over the nearest Munro.

We were in shorts and t-shirts as we ascended up the grassy slope. This took us on to a horse-shoe shaped area, and apart from the path we came up it was 2,000 feet down all around. The hills were sloped to the east and it was difficult to see to the west coast and appreciate what type of weather was coming.

We reached the top of the horse-shoe with little struggle. Then it suddenly got very cold, followed by a severe wind and then snow, lots of it – and all this in June. It came down so hard that it was impossible to see anything, a real whiteout. We were freezing and it was dangerous to walk any distance.

A few feet in front of us we saw a small wall of stones that had been built at the summit as a protection from the wind.And there we stayed as the weather closed in. It only got worse.

We sat looking at each other and freezing and I felt as if I was watching a film. How could this happen? It wasn’t meant to be like this, not here and now. Funnily enough the same feeling occurred a few years later when we were landing in Helsinki airport and the landing gear wouldn’t come down.

Freddie and I covered ourselves and hoped it would pass and this was all before mobile phones. We hadn’t told anyone where we were going and we didn’t know ourselves until we were actually climbing the mountain.

I felt that if I was going to die of hypothermia then I may as well go for a walk and take my chances. In staying put there was a certainty of dying. Freddie decided to walk too.

What happened next you can interpret it as you feel fit. There was only one other way off the horse-shoe without falling 2,000 feet, a very narrow path (maybe two feet across) that provided a way across to the top of Glencoe.

Suddenly the sun came out – not across the sky but just one sharp sliver which had pushed through the clouds and lit up the narrow path; nothing else surrounding it, just the path. Although the snow was still falling, it was possible to see that the path led to a safe ledge and so we took it.

This is the part that made me change my idea of everything: when we got to the other side and safety, the sky clouded over and the sun disappeared. Not after a while, but right there and then.

We were able to walk down through the Glencoe ski area and reach the climbers’ bar at the Kingshouse.

We didn’t really talk that night – we both knew what had happened. We drank whisky and thought about things in front of a roaring fire.

When I got back home, I decided that if something wanted me to keep going then it might have an idea where I should go. Within a year I resigned my job and moved out into the world, a changed man.

Today, I write a little, act a little and sing a little all because of that day on the mountain. Hey, I’m poor in money but rich in everything else.

I know what happened that day and so does Freddie. I’m glad he was there or I might have doubted it.

 

 

photo and more beautiful ones at http://colinprior.co.uk/portfolio_page/highlands/

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My Pal, Thing

Long after Thing had departed the valley, and long, long after those who were his kin had disappeared; a woman came calling on me, one oppressive day in May. Her name was Esther Williams, and she apologized for the way the sweat stains on her clothes had made her appearance look disheveled.

“It was a long train ride from the District,” she said, and by the ‘District’, I knew she meant Washington, D.C.

She was a pleasant woman, of about forty, red hair, a lip-sticked face and she seemed to always have a notebook in her hand, or at least nearby. Miss Williams, as she asked me to call her, was a features editor and reporter on The Washington Post, and she was researching an article on Thing and his ilk.

“Where they came from, where they went to, and why they disappeared,” was her remit, she told me.

I told her that I hadn’t realized they had all gone.

“Oh sure, there ain’t been one seen, since…,” she looked at her notes, “since 1953.”

So I guess she was right, Thing and his crew had gone off somewhere better, maybe they were hiding out in the woods, waiting on us to become kinder folks – heck, I don’t know.

“You were close to one,” she stated – or maybe she was just askin’ – I ain’t too sure what she was getting at, to be honest.

I simply nodded.

“So?” She said.

“What do ya want to know?” I asked.

“Everything,” she said. “Everything.”

I told her how I was a grand pappy now, and how I wish my kids and their kids had gotten to know someone like Thing.

“He was the best,” I told her. “The kindest, most caring, individual I ever did know.”

“I met him one day, when he was sitting by the road, on the way back up to his cave. He was in my class at school, but I guess I hadn’t got around to talkin’ to him. Some of the older kids had been throwin’ rocks at him and one had hit him on the head.”

She asked what had caused the kids to throw stones at Thing, and I told her, most probably their parents.

“Kids ain’t born with hate in their heart. No, that kind of thing is taught at home and it goes deep, real deep. Anyway, I cleaned up his wound and he thanked me and he walked off towards his home. You know the funny thing is, I went to one of those school reunions a while back and all those stone-throwers were sitting at the one table. All of them proud – a table of bullies – and by the looks of them, they hadn’t learned a thing. I guess hate knows its own,” I told her.

Then the reporter asked me, if anything had changed in the general attitude to Thing. Had he changed? Had we changed? I told her that I didn’t think it was Thing’s place to change.

“He was just who he was. The way he was made.”

We did get a young teacher once, came to the school. She didn’t last long, on account that her, and some of the staff didn’t get on. She taught us all about tolerance, or at least she tried. Some didn’t want to hear what she was saying – I guess being deaf to certain words is another skill that some folks are taught at home. The teacher’s name was Miss Walker, I think I might have been in love with her. I think most of the class were. I could never work out if she was for religion or against, but she used to quote the Bible some. One day when Thing came to school after gettin’ a beatin’ by a few of the older boys, Miss Walker slammed a book so hard on her table that Jessica Smith fell off her seat (I think she may have been nappin’). She said that pickin’ on folks was wrong and especially when they looked different from what you saw in a mirror. She told us that some of the greatest devils had the sweetest of faces. Then she read from the Bible, especially the bit about the sixth day – the day when God had created all the land based creatures and when man was formed. That was when she wrote on the board:

We are all children of The Sixth Day.

She said, that whether we believed in the word of God or not, there was a lesson to be learned there. We were all created equal. Tommy Rogers said that his daddy said that kind of talk was for Commies and he walked out of the class.

But I noticed a change after that day. Some folks took some time from their lessons to talk to Thing and I saw him smiling for the first time in all his days at school. Sure there were still the stone-throwers, but they found other targets for a time – although they mostly picked on anything their folks had told them was different. Maybe they were just behavin’ the way they were made, and they had no choice either. Yet I still think – you can see badness for what it is.

So this reporter, Esther Williams, thanked me for my time and for the delicious iced-tea I had served her and said she’d let me know when the article was being published in the Post.

They never did find any more of Thing’s kind of people. I hope they didn’t get wiped out by our hate, and that maybe, just maybe, they are hiding out in the woods waiting for us to become better humans.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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To Fill A Human Heart

To fill a human soul,
Takes strength and smiles,
To fill a human head,
Takes wisdom and time,
To fill a human life,
Takes courage and hope,
But to fill a human heart,
Takes love,
Takes love.

To fill a lifetime lived,
Takes all that we have,
To fill a child with hope,
Take kindness and patience,
To fill a lover’s dreams,
Take selfless devotion,
But to fill a human heart,
Takes everything.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

bobby2 wee bobby

 

 

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The Shoreham Stories – 1

THE SHOREHAM WILD ONES

I suppose it all started on that wet Wednesday, at the cinema on St John’s Hill. Mavis had been walking up towards town when it had started to rain and had nothing to keep her head dry.

Mavis had never been into one of those racy films before, certainly not one with an X certificate but she liked the look of the star on the poster. He seemed strong and mean in his leather jacket: the film was called The Wild One and the star was someone called, Marlon Brando.

So Mavis gave up her money and sat with three other soaked people in the cinema hall. If Mavis was being honest, she would have to say that she was rather excited. Firstly, she’d never been to the cinema on her own, Bert always took her (God rest his soul), and he would certainly never have approved of a film called ‘The Wild One’. Still, what no one knew about her wouldn’t hurt them. Just to make sure, Mavis looked around certain that there were no friends up to the same shenanigans.

By the time the film had finished she felt all strange and put it down to the chocolate ice cream she had eaten. What she couldn’t get out of her mind was thought of her in a leather jacket on a motorcycle. These thoughts persisted all the way home on the bus.

When she got into her house, she drew the curtains – just in case anyone passing by could guess what she’d been up to. She turned Bert’s photo towards the wall as a precaution.

Mavis decided that night that she wasn’t going to her grave until she had ridden on a motorcycle, while wearing a leather jacket. The really tricky thing was to find out who had a bike. She knew there was one in the village but who?

Her next action came at the weekend. She had often seen bikers sitting drinking outside the George pub and so Mavis decided to sit with her orange drink and wait for one of them to stop by. Like all best laid plans, a biker and his girlfriend had just stopped at the pub when Mrs Lightfoot came over to ask Mavis if she would help her arrange the flowers in the church. Of course Mavis couldn’t refuse and say she’d rather not as she was waiting on a biker.

Plan B was to knit herself a jumper with the slogan ‘Hell’s Angels’ on the front. It took her several days and when she’d finished she felt quite giggly and had a small sherry to settle herself down.

Mavis found her grandfather’s old pushbike which had lain in the garden shed as long as she could remember. She went to the library and took out a book called ‘Bicycle Maintenance for Beginners’. It was ever so helpful and within a couple of days she had the old bicycle back on its feet again.

On her first excursion, she waited until it was dark then pulling on her jumper, she pushed he bike to the top of Church Street and proceeded to freewheel all the way down. All she was missing was Marlon Brando and she’d be good to go.

There was talk in the village shop of strange sounds in the night: ‘it sounded like a banshee,’ said one. Another was sure that there was a crazy biker riding through the village at night to scare the good folks. Mavis overheard one of these conversations and was about to tell all, when she thought of a better idea.

The following week it was her turn to hold the Village Knitting and Sewing Night at her home. It was also her turn to provide a pattern that the good folks of the knitting Bee could follow.

On that night – after she had plied them with more than the usual amount of sherry – she went into her bedroom and returned wearing her ‘Hell’s Angels’ jumper.

Mrs McLarttey nearly fell off her seat, but the rest of them seemed to like what she was wearing. Perhaps they would feel different in the morning when the sherry wasn’t controlling their thoughts as much. Yet, one by one, she talked them all around to knitting themselves the same jumper.

During the weeks that it took to complete the work, Mavis still freewheeled her bike down Station road, around into Church Street and over the bridge, all the time shouting ‘whee’ as she went. She couldn’t recall Marlon Brando shouting ‘whee’ but she was sure he would have been doing what Mavis was doing.

Each week she would tell a little more of her story about the Wild One and about her fixing up her Grandfather’s bike.

By the time the jumpers were ready, so were the ladies (and Mr Jasper). One quiet dark night they all pushed their bicycles up to the top of Station road, whipped on their ‘Hell’s Angels’ tops and ‘whee’d’ their way all down the road into the street and over the bridge.

Some of the biker ladies were present at the Parish Council Meeting when Mr Hotten brought up the complaint about the gangs that had recently started invading ‘our little quiet village’. He banged his fist on the table and said something must be done and quickly. Mr Hotten felt that a spell in the army might do the offenders the world of good.

Some of the gang shook their heads and then winked to each other.

They knew the truth and they weren’t going to tell.

COMING HOME

When he stepped from the train, there was still a heat in the air. He could smell the fields, and the soil and as he looked across the platform he was sure he could see his father walking up to the station to meet him. But like everything else in his life, they were all gone, a long time ago.

He’d been back for his father’s death, of course, and he had thought about all the things they would say to each other in the final hours – but his father had slipped away with only a smile and quiet squeeze of his son’s hand.

He lifted his rucksack over his shoulder and headed down the stairs to Station Road. Things were still very much the same. The road was a little newer, and the hedges looked a little different from what he remembered, but it was still home. In the field he could imagine his mother waving back from all those years ago. Smiling, and alive, not touched by the bad ending.

He could see a light in the window of the Rectory. There would be a new vicar living there now – one he didn’t know. He had lived through three vicars, and all of them had helped him at difficult times in his life. Whatever was said, the village needed a church and a vicar. It was somewhere to be thought of as special.

As he turned the corner, he held his breath. There was the Old George – with maybe a little more painted makeup, a little more front but still the same old place. He and his pals had drunk there, perhaps a little earlier than the law would have allowed but that was life in a small village. There had been a family who had owned it for as long as he could remember. It was easy to forget, as a child running in and out of the place, that it was someone’s home as well as a bar.

As he passed by, there was a couple of walkers sitting enjoying an ale, and so he stopped and watched. The Old George had been inviting folks to sit and rest for a long, long time now; the farmers, the bikers, the musicians, the Morris dancers, all had sat and supped; all had talked about their lives and loves, all had discussed their troubles – all were now gone.

The church gate was still as he had remembered that day when it had been decked with flowers for his sister’s wedding. Her body lay in the church yard now – it had done for some seventeen years.

He turned past Church Cottages and into Church Street – he was sure he remembered a shop in that street, but his memory came and went these days. It was hard to be sure of what had been, and what was the tainted memories of an old man.

As he walked down the street, he could see the dying sun reflecting on the river, and it made him feel the way it always had. It made him feel warm inside, just like a good whisky.  He had sat by the river, man and boy, and it had been the one constant in his life.

There were two children trying to catch fish from the bridge, just like he had done back then, and like him, the kids were pulling up empty hooks. But it was the comradeship, the feeling of safety, the feeling of a village watching over you while you fished that had kept him happy as a child. Nowhere else in the world had he ever felt as safe and happy as he had on those days as a boy sitting on the bridge – fishing.

The sun had seemed warmer and brighter back then. Probably another trick of his old mind. He turned to look back at where the Rising Sun pub had been. Some nights he would sit by the river waiting on his father to come out of the ‘Sun and bring him a lemonade.

“Cheers, dad,” he’d say and his dad would ruffle his hair. Just to do that once again, he thought – just once.

There were folks eating outside the King’s Arms – a new generation of people from London and all the areas in between, having a day in the country. That was the village’s life blood – visitors, it kept the pubs and the world turning.

The school – ah, the school. That was where his happy, happy, childhood had been formed – where his friendships had been forged. It had been the best of days and nothing in his later life was ever as brilliant.

He turned the corner into the High Street – the Royal Oak pub, where his grandparents had met their friends on a Friday night, was a beautiful private house now. He supposed that people didn’t meet in pubs anymore, the way they once did, there were other ways to socialise now. The Oak had been the first pub he had been taken to, and it had been by his granddad who had bought him his first beer. Boy, it had tasted good, and he licked his lips like he had done all those years ago.

Up ahead, he could see the Two Brewers. It had changed, it was a sophisticated bar/restaurant now, back then it was where all the bad boys and girls had hung out. They weren’t really bad, just young people trying to get a handle on life and enjoying themselves in the process.

As he continued along, he noticed some new houses and some revived old ones nudging the High Street. The Co-operative shop had gone – that was where his mother had worked, and his grandmother. It had been an exciting place to hang about, especially at Christmas. He could still remember the smells of that place. The wonderful, beautiful smells.

The allotments were still on the right, still bursting with colours, and plants and love. As he got to the top of Crown Road, it all came rushing back; his pals, the games, the running up and down the road – they were the best, the very best, of times.

The Crown pub hadn’t changed, either. This was where he had met the girls and his buddies in his older days. It was a beautiful pub inside and out, and as he thought back, and although his face was sporting a smile, there was still a warm tear on his cheek.

Perhaps the saddest thing is going back, going home and finding that it has changed all too much – but not this place, coming home to this place was a pleasure. It was a village that had changed little, sure the people were different, and some of the buildings were painted brighter or had been pulled down – but the village was still the village.

He thought he might head over to the school field and look at place where he had scored that goal – the one which folks had talked about for months. He remembered how everyone in the Royal Oak had bought him a beer because of it. He had played for the village football team but had dreamed of playing, one day, for a big London club. It wasn’t to be.

There is a saying that if you want to give God a laugh, tell him what your plans are. Nothing had worked out the way he’d hoped, but he had been luckier than most folks – he had known a place of love, life and safety. He had the happiest days of his existence in this village and perhaps the saddest days too – but folks had rallied around – everyone had helped, and in the end he had moved on and moved away.

As he walked towards the school field he sat awhile on a bench at the village hall for a rest. There were worse places to have lived, he thought. He looked over at the little village he had called home, and then he wept. Wept buckets.

For everything and everyone.

CYCLING TO SHOREHAM

Whenever Tommy was excited or stressed, which to be honest was most days, he’d put the word ‘chuffing’ in front of everything. For instance, today was going to be a blooming chuffing day with loads of chuffing hills to cycle up and when we got to the ballyhoo top well we’d chuffing have a pick nick.

You see what I mean?

Tommy was a good egg, a decent sort who would lift a finger to help anyone, a talented tennis player, cyclist and a very good footballer. On the other side, he was a frightful drunk, which thank goodness had only been that once, he was extremely competitive – he would bet you a farthing on who would blink first and he was useless with money. Apart from that he was the kind of gent you would be proud to call a friend.

So come Saturday morning, Tommy and I would be on our chuffing bicycles, out of the chuffing city and heading for the chuffing countryside (I promise to limit the use of chuffing in future) and this Saturday was no exception.

Tommy knocked at my door at 5.30 (in the morning may I say – I didn’t even know there was a 5.30 in the morning, if truth be told) “Get up, you chuffing wastrel” was the morning cry of the Tommesara Smitheratist bird and it tended to waken everyone else up as well.

“Will you please tell that very stupid friend of yours that it is far too early in the morning for his buffoonery” said my rather grumpy father without opening his eyes (apparently it helped him get back to sleep quicker). Like Tommy, my father tended to hook in a word and then beat it to death with its overuse. ‘Buffoon’ and ‘buffoonery’ were both in the process of getting six shades of purple knocked out of them. Luckily he hadn’t heard Tommy’s current obsession or that would have resulted in me having to leave home and declaring myself an orphan.

“Apologies Holmes but we have the whole of the south-east to explore and time is chuffing moving on.”

Every since he’d read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I had received that name. It was better just to smile and accept my fate because he might come up with something far, far worse. On our cycling trips Tommy wanted to be known as Moriarty because he said the name felt good on his tongue. I know what you’re thinking, Tommy wasn’t the most intelligent of my friends.

By six o’clock in the morning we were happily cycling over the Thames and heading down the Old Kent road where the world was waiting to entertain Holmes and Moriarty.

“First stop, chuffing breakers” said my pal.

For those that don’t speak Tommyese, that meant breakfast must be had with all haste.

Toast, crumpets and coffee were the order of the day at Mrs O’Reilly’s tea room in Lewisham, a bargain at one shilling. Mrs O’Reilly had long since departed this life and gone to the big tea room in the sky. The place was actually run by a man with the name of Derek.

“’Mrs O’Reilly’s’ sounds that bit more romantic” said a very tattooed Derek. “People knows what to expect, with that name, but Derek’s Cafe, well it just don’t sound right, do it?”

Both I and Tommy left the premises agreeing that Derek was correct in what he had said but that we should avoid the place in future as Derek seemed to be two seagulls short of an aviary.

Although it had been five months, Tommy still insisted that he wear a black band on his right arm as a mark of respect for the old Queen. I told him that this was a new and exciting time, that this was a new century , this was 1901, after all, and goodness knows what the next hundred years would bring.

Tommy felt that the new century could chuffing well wait until his mourning was chuffing done. I know I promised to keep the use of ‘chuffing’ to a minimum but it seems impossible when in the company of Tommy Smithers, I will try harder – I promise.

Just as we left Bromley, Tommy declared that the countryside had properly started and although I tried very hard to see it, I was at a loss to notice the difference. Still Tommy knows what he’s talking about or so he tells me.

After a mile or so I hinted that perhaps an ale might be the order of the day. Tommy stopped so fast that I almost ran into the back of him.

“I have a plan” he said (actually he said ‘a chuffing plan’ but I thought I would spare you that nonsense).

“And your plan is what, Tommy?” that was my contribution to the discussion.

“I know of a little village in the Darenth Valley where the ale is like nectar.” Tommy was tasting the ale in his mind’s eye.

“Why haven’t you told me of this place before?” I ask.

“Because my dear friend, it is not a place for the unwary.”

“Why is that Tommy?” I ask.

“Because my fine fellow, it is a hot bed of liberalism and creativity. People have really let things slide in this village. There are some women who are so close to looking like men, that one might wish them ‘a good morning sir’ without realising.”

“Well I never.” I declared.

“Worse still..” Tommy looks around before whispering “..there are men in this village who do not like the company of women. There I’ve said the chuffing thing. It’s too late but it’s out in the big world for all to know.”

“Don’t like the company of women?” I think I may have look perplexed.

“Really, you know what I mean, stop being a chuffing idiot. They don’t like women.”

So I had to have my say and I mentioned “I don’t know any men who don’t like women apart from Father who hasn’t spoken to Mother since she tried to fry the porridge. That must be eleven years ago, now.”

“Your mother tried to fry porridge?” says Tommy.

“She did, and Father said that any woman who was stupid enough to try to fry porridge shouldn’t expect any conversation to be thrown her way in future and that was that. He never said a bally word to her again. He said she was an imbecile, a harsh word I grant you, but I think that was his word of the week at that particular time.”

I expected Tommy to be impressed with this story but instead he said that I should stop talking chuffing rot and stop acting like an imbecile.

That is why, by the time we got to the little village, Tommy had dropped the word ‘chuffing’ in favour of the word ‘imbecile’. Why hadn’t I said that my father had called my mother ‘lovable’ or had given her money to shut her up? Maybe then Tommy would have done the same.

“Hey, ho, oft we go” shouted Tommy, adding “you imbecile.”

I do rather make things difficult for myself when I don’t bally mean to.

The village clock was striking one o’clock as we freewheeled our way down the hill into the centre of this dastardly liberal little village. I had to be honest with Tommy and tell him that I thought the people looked jolly normal.

“Nonsense, you imbecile” was his reply.

We parked up outside a delightful little public house called The Crown. The door was at an angle to the building and led into a small bar for gentlemen.

“Just in case this pub is over run by liberals let me do the talking” said reliable Tommy, “just to be on the safe side.”

Now to me, the person serving behind the bar was clearly a man but Tommy insisted on calling him ‘Mam’ then winking to me in a very obvious manner followed by him touching the side of his nose with his finger.

“I didn’t want to drink in the place anyway” said a rather surprised Tommy, “the establishment looked totally unsavoury. We are well shot of it.”At least the barman only asked me to leave whereas he caught Tommy by the collar and threw him out of the door.

Tommy said that he was right about the place all along, it was a den of liberal-minded imbeciles and he would be writing to his Member of Parliament just as soon as he returned from the country.

We tried to gain access at the next pub, the Two Brewers but apparently Tommy had been there before and was no longer welcome. I didn’t realise that you could use so many cursing words in one sentence but the manager of The Two Brewers must have broken a record.

“Another den of imbeciles?” I asked.

“Just so.”

That is why we came to be sitting outside the Kings Arms drinking two of the most wonderful glasses of ale. Apparently this was not a den of imbeciles and the prices were exceedingly fair.

Having slaked our thirst we mounted our trusted bicycles and headed towards the large town which sat at the top of the hill, above the village.

About one-third of the way up the hill, Tommy suggested that we dismount and push our bicycles up the rest of the way. Apparently it didn’t do the bicycles much good to be treated to a hill in the manner we were riding them. To be honest I thought maybe Tommy found the hill a little too steep but in fear of being called an imbecile, I refrained.

The climb was worth the effort and the view over the North Downs was spell binding.

Why people steal bicycles is beyond me, and two of them at the same time. You have to ask yourself – was the thief a member of some circus troupe? However the dastardly deed was done and it meant that cycling back to London was now out of the question. A train was called for and a train it would be.

Tommy suggested that we travel back by First Class and that I should foot the bill seeing as I was the last one to see the bally bicycles. I actually think the last time I saw them, I said “Tommy, do you think the bicycles are safe by that public house? ” Whereupon Tommy called me an imbecile and told me in no uncertain terms that if I was worried about people stealing our property, well that sort of thing just didn’t happen in the countryside. Then he said “Grow up man.” The next time I looked the bicycles were gone.

In the railway carriage, on the way back to the city, a rather plump man and his rather plump wife were playing cards. The husband seemed to have won a round as he let out the most frightening cry of ‘Ballyhoo’.

I could see the glimmer in Tommy’s eyes as he tried the word ‘Ballyhoo’ out on his tongue.

The word was not found wanting.

Unfortunately.

SHOREHAM, CHRISTMAS, 1944

There is a village, Shoreham, in the south-east of England which stands alone in many ways. None more so than during the years of World War 2 when every building sustained some bomb damage. In this little hamlet, the folks were, and are, made of stouter stuff and for every injury inflicted on the village, the hearts and minds of the villagers came back twice as strong.

I have to say that the place which I write of, is nestled in hills below the metropolis that is London, and like a little brother standing under the protection of an older one, sometimes the punches thrown at the city also landed on the village.

The village had waved farewell to many souls over the war years, and some of those had not returned, some would never return, and some saw the village through sadder hearts and eyes. Some would never speak of what they had seen, except to nod to a fellow soldier on the way to church on a Sunday morning, and in that nod they knew what each was thinking. In their minds there was no point in fighting a war for freedom then burdening loved ones with stories of hate and guilt.

In the month of December 1944, the inmates of this little village were beginning to tire of the constant war and had decided to hold a Christmas party in the village hall. Food was rationed, but the fields and gardens of the hamlet had been used to grow some treats for such a party. Each of the villagers sacrificed a little food here and there and a local farmer donated two chickens to the affair.

There was talk and hope in everyone’s hearts that this would be the final Christmas they spent at war. The enemy was beginning to withdraw from all areas of Europe and there was a feeling that the end would be coming soon.

The men of the village were few and far between, and so one of the older residents Old Harry, who had been to two wars in his day, was chosen to be Father Christmas.

Residents had made gifts from all sorts of scraps of material, wood, dried flowers, and even old presents no longer needed. It was the children who were important and it was for the children for which the toys and gifts were made.

That afternoon, the afternoon of the party in the village hall, a little flurry of snow started to fall. The Cross on the hill, which had been covered over for the period of the war, could be seen in outline as the snow rested on it.

The children were given one sweet each and as they excitedly sucked on them, they sat in a well-behaved line waiting on Santa. Old Harry was meant to arrive at 2pm but by 2.15 there was still no sign of him. Gladys, who had taken it upon herself to organise the party (it kept her mind off her son who had been taken prisoner in the Far East) decided to send Edith to fetch Old Harry as she didn’t want the children to be disappointed.

The snow was beginning to fall heavily and the village sky grew darker. Soon the warden would be doing his rounds and expecting the village black-out curtains to be pulled tight shut.

At 2.30pm there was still no sign of Santa, and Gladys wondered if perhaps she could get away with dressing up as Santa, herself.

Just then Santa arrived in the village hall, covered in snow and with a bag full of colourful presents. One by one the children sat on Santa’s knee and told him what they wanted for Christmas. Nearly all of them said the same thing: they wanted their daddy, or brother, or mother to return home for Christmas day.

Each child took a toy, and each child seemed to enjoy what they had been given.

At 3.10pm, Santa said goodbye and told the children that he’d parked his sleigh up by the Cross and that his reindeer would be missing him. Gladys made a little speech and the children were all made to say ‘thank you, Santa’ – even although they were more interested in their gifts.

At 4pm, Gladys had just finished tidying up the hall, when Edith came running in. She said she was sorry about what had happened, that she had got no answer from Old Harry’s house and she had asked the local constable to break in.

It seems that Harry had died in his sleep and was stone cold by the time they found him. Edith asked if the children were disappointed, and Gladys said that Harry had shown up and given out the gifts.

“You mean these one?” Asked Edith.

Sure enough, the presents they had made for the children were still lying in the baskets at the back of the hall.

SHOREHAM UNITED

In their heyday, they could have taken on anyone. The team had been playing on and off for over a hundred years (obviously not the same people). Every Saturday when the football team played at home, a good throng of 10 to 12 people would show up to cheer them on.

The pitch they played on (and by pitch, I mean it was permanently at 30 degrees) was situated behind the pretty little village school. The slope ran down from west to east, and was so steep that kids used to tell stories of how Edmund Hillary had used it to train on it before he took on Everest.

This kind of play had gone on from Victorian times; fathers played for the team, then sons, then grandsons and so on. Nothing untoward ever happened – that was until Shoreham were drawn against a team of ruffians. Rascals to a man from a town near the river Thames (and that’s as much as needs to be said on that topic). This team caused ructions everywhere they went. It was said that at least two of them were in jail at any one time, several were on probation and the rest hadn’t been caught yet.

This team (who shall not be named, just like you know who in the Harry Potter books) progressed through the Kent cup with an unholy ease due to their opponents either not turning up or, if they did, they tended not to put up much of a resistance.

Yes, they were bullies and it served them well.

When the news broke that Shoreham United were playing against THAT TEAM , the village decided to have a meeting that very evening in the school. It was more a way of devising a war strategy than anything else more constructive.

The football management at the time consisted of two of Shoreham’s best – there was ‘The Singer’ and ‘The Plumber’.

The Singer (who was the older of the two) opened the meeting by asking that time-old question:

“What the hell are we going to do?”

“Well boss,” said one of the strikers, “aren’t you better asking, who wants to play?”.

“Okay, who wants to play?” Asked The Singer while humming the tune to Wonderwall.

Not one person put their hands up.

“No one?”

Everyone dropped their heads. Most of them had been told by their girlfriends/wives/mothers that if they played and then came back battered, there would be trouble.

“So who are you more scared of?” Asked The Plumber. “Your wives or this team?”

Everyone had to be honest and state that it was a difficult question – either way they were on to a loser.

“Better not to play, boss than the alternative.”

Everyone nodded their heads.

This annoyed The Singer who then broke into a song (in an attempt to inspire the troops). He had chosen the song wisely, one of the latest chart topping songs (well, a hit twenty years ago), and he sang it at the top of his voice.

The Plumber started banging on the water pipes with his wrench telling the team that this was their D-Day. If they let the team, (who shall not be named), tread on them, then these bums would go on to lift the trophy. It couldn’t be allowed to happen.

“We shall fight them on the beaches,” cried The Plumber and the team all stood and clapped, just like they did on Strictly (not the team, they had never been on Strictly).

It wasn’t long before the great day was upon them. The team from near the Thames brought a great support of people whose facial parts weren’t necessarily in the same place they had been, when they were born. Shoreham had whipped up a great support of twenty-three souls – the largest crowd ever seen at the home ground.

As you can imagine, no one wanted to be the referee. Who would? In days leading up to the game The Plumber had held a raffle and sold it to the village that it was a privilege to be selected. The winner would be the Ref. Luckily it went to someone who only knew a little bit about football (he was a West Ham supporter) – and he was also the man with his finger on the Till of a local hostelry.

The referee only agreed to do the job on two conditions. One – that The Singer was not allowed sing anywhere near him, and two, he could be allowed to sit in his car.

And that is what happened. The referee sat in his car at the side of the pitch. Flashing his headlights meant he had blown his whistle, and indicating left or right meant which team had been involved in whatever it was.

When the referee called the first foul it was against that un-named team – one of their players had gone off the pitch picked up a piece of wood and hit the Shoreham player.

It was just then that the referee realized he hadn’t locked his car doors, and that is what he did immediately when he saw the whole of the away team coming for him.

They rocked his car and asked him nicely to change his mind because it wasn’t a foul. The referee thought he might have got some support from the home team but through the gaps of the ‘folks who were rocking his car’ he could see Shoreham United all having a smoke of their cigarettes. The Singer was singing something at the top of his voice, and The Plumber was attempting to forge his pipes into weapons.

Some of the Shoreham supporters came over and pulled that team away from the referee’s car. Once they had done that, they managed to get the ref’s car the right way up again.

Then it happened. That team who shall not be named gave away a penalty. It WAS a penalty. Their goal-keeper had punched the Shoreham striker as he approached the goal-mouth.

Everyone stopped and looked at the referee. The West Ham supporter and referee was sure he was having a heart-attack – his heart was pumping so hard through his pink Angora sweater.

Some might call it justice, others might call it having a break-down but the referee started up his engine and drove his car at the team that should not be named. He chased them all around the mountain-side (or home pitch, as it is called) and out into the car park.

That team jumped into their cars and drove off.

Everyone involved with Shoreham United cheered, and quickly retired to the new changing hut for lashings of ginger-beer.

A great night was had by all, as by default Shoreham United were through to the next round of the cup.

That evening, everyone left the changing hut happy and in high spirits. Only The Singer (who had been tied to a pipe and his mouth taped over) was still there at the end of the evening.

A PLACE CALLED HOPE

‘What makes anyone do anything?’

That was what she thought as she stepped off the bus. She hadn’t meant to get off at that particular stop, but the large woman by the window seat had asked to be let out.

The funny thing is that the large woman looked out the window, tutted, and sat down at another seat. Karen was already standing and so decided that the next stop was as good as any a place to leave the bus.

It stopped at the foot of the road leading to the railway station.

At least she could get a train into London, if things didn’t go well. Whatever those things were that she was planning to do. Goodness knows, she didn’t know. Kate hadn’t really had time to think. She had got out of the taxi and was ready to enter the church, she knew Derek, good old dependable Derek, would be standing at the altar waiting on her. The thing is, she wasn’t prepared to marry a dependable soul. She had kissed her father on the cheek and then jumped on the first bus that passed.

As she walked down Station Road, she knew one thing – she needed a drink. Good old Derek never drank. He felt that it stopped his dependability.

The first pub she came to was one called the Old George Inn. There were bikers outside, laughing and joking as if the world was a place to exist without problems. Oh to be one of those people, she thought. Oh to be among them.

At the next corner was a little pub by the name of the Rising Sun. This was her spot, she decided, where she would have a drink.

Inside was a middle-aged woman with a pleasant smile who seemed to be washing her daughter’s face . The mother was spitting on her apron, then using that corner to wipe the child’s face, much to the annoyance of her daughter.

Karen walked to the bar while the woman looked behind to see if there was anyone coming in with her.

“Just you, then?” Asked the bar woman.

“Is that okay?”

“Sure, hun, sure, we get all sorts in this neck of the woods. Now what can I get you dearie?”

Karen asked for a half pint of ale, and sat in the corner by the window. From here, she could see the bridge and the little river.

It was truly amazing; the village was surprising, like an iceberg. From the road it looked a little cold and distance, but once in the centre of the place – it was full to the brim with life.

“Waiting for someone, are you?” Asked the landlady.

“I don’t really know what I’m doing,” said Karen, as a few tears fell from her face.

“Don’t you be crying now dearie,” said the landlady, and she sent her daughter off to find some handkerchiefs.

For the next hour and with no customers, Karen and the landlady, chatted about this and that, until the woman asked what had happened earlier that day, and that was when the floodgates opened.

The landlady poured herself a half of beer and a brandy for Karen.

“You get that down you, then we can see what is what. You can stay here tonight, if needs be. Sarah, my daughter can bunk in with me and you can take her bed.”

And that was how it all started for Karen. She stayed at the Rising Sun, working there at nights and in the afternoons she waitresses at a tea-room along the High Street.

One day, when she was least expecting it, a farmer came in for a drink and fell in love with Karen in a heartbeat.

I hear tell that he is nothing like Derek and that they have five children and three grand-children.

Sometimes, you get off at the stop that was meant.

Okay, I’m going to change the tempo a little, and if I remember correctly, there was a really hot summer back in 1976. It was during those sweltering months that Jake had three passions in his life – football, bikes and beer. He lived in Dartford but liked nothing better than getting on his motorcycle and heading out into the roads of Kent.

He would meet up with a bunch of other motorcycle enthusiasts at the Two Brewers pub in a little village in the valley. Those years, and that summer especially, were the golden years for Jake. The Brewers was the pub where it all happened. Sometimes it might get out of hand, when the bikers and the locals (the ones who mainly cut down trees) would get a bit rowdy and a punch-up might occur. All of it was in good fun.

It was one night, as Jake was heading back to Dartford, that a lorry coming down Shacklands, ran into him and knocked Jake into the side of a tree.

At first the doctors thought he wouldn’t walk again, but they didn’t bank on his determination – and on his grandfather.

Jake’s granddad would drive him down to the village he loved so much and let him sit by the river. Jake pretended to fish, but mostly he just sat in peace and quiet and watched the world go by.

One sunny June day, an old friend from the Brewers happened to be passing on his bike, and stopped to say hello. It was then that Jake’s life started to take a turn for the better. His mate, Sam, asked if Jake could make it on to the back of his motorbike.

“Try and stop me,” shouted Jake.

His granddad wasn’t so sure, but hey, life was too short not to give it a try.

Sam drove the bike, with he and Jake on it, past the Brewers and gave a huge thump on his horn as he did. Some of the locals came out to see Jake back where he belonged; on the back of a motorcycle.

Sam didn’t stop there. He drove the bike along the High Street, and then up the path which gave him access to the Cross.

“Should you be doing this?” Shouted Jake.

“Nope, but it feels good. Don’t it?”

And Jake had to admit it did.

Robert was always a kid who smiled. That’s what his parents said. That’s what his teachers said. It was what his friends said.

So when Robert’s dad went to work in New York City in the summer of 2001 and never came home again, Robert’s smile was taken out the back of his house and buried in the same spot that Cuddles his goldfish had been placed.

No one noticed, at least not at first. People were trying to understand what had happened that day in September, and didn’t really see that Robert’s smile train had left the station.

Robert and his dad had been the best of pals. They went everywhere together, and especially to the football. ‘Who would take him now?’ Robert thought a little selfishly.

Sometimes he would go into his father’s wardrobe and take down a shirt and smell it. It reminded him of his dad. His mother had neither been strong or brave enough to clear out his things, and like she had said:

“They haven’t found him yet, so he might still come home.”

He might. Robert said to his mother. He might. Robert told his teacher and his friends.

Then one day, for no apparent reason, Robert ran from his house and headed to the Cross up by the hill. He liked being up there, for that was where he and his dad used to sit and talk and talk.

From there you could see France, his father had told him. Okay, he’d exaggerated, but hey – you nearly could.

That was the day that Robert met Annie. She was 83 years of age and still walked up to the Cross every day.

“And I shall continue to, as long as the Lord spares me.”

Annie noticed Robert’s missing smile right away.

“Something you need to tell me, young man?”

Robert shook his head.

“Then why are you looking so glum on a day like this?” She asked.

So Robert told her about how his dad would bring him up by the Cross and how they talked and talked.

“Maybe we could talk,” said Annie.

“About what?” Asked Robert.

“About everything.”

Annie began by telling Robert about the Cross and how, when they first dug it out, it looked all right up close but from the railway station it looked all wrong. So they had to change it a little, so that the eye would be fooled into thinking the Cross was the correct shape.

“And another thing,” she continued.” Did you know that during World War Two, they had to cover the Cross up, on account of the bombers from across the seas using it as a direction pointer straight into London?”

Robert said that he hadn’t ever heard any of those things and that he would tell his dad about them when he came home.

And that was the day, that Annie, an 83-year-old woman, decided that until Robert’s dad came home, she would take care of the boy and that they would both sit up by the Cross and talk and talk.

THE GREAT FILM FIASCO

Now I know you’re going to say to me that you’ve heard this story before – okay I might have talked about it as having taken place in another village and in another time, but I was only trying to keep the guilty from being named – honest.

It all happened that one summer, the one in 1940, when the world was turned on its head and the good folks of Kent were waiting on the enemy to turn up at its door.

Let me say from the start that his story isn’t to do with the war, well not directly – I will leave those tales to folks who are worthy of telling them – no, this story is to do with Shoreham Village and about certain individuals who were about to try to cheer the village up.

Above the heads of those Shoreham folks that summer, the Battle of Britain was being fought out; friends and neighbours were sent off to war, and so it fell to one Ichabod Swithin to shoulder the burden of keeping the morale high within the parish.

Ichabod had tossed and turned several nights trying to think of some darned good idea that would be worthy of Shoreham and its inhabitants. He had once been a pianist and tune-smith for some of the well-known stage stars in the early 1900s and thought that perhaps a revival might be on the cards. However, when Ichabod went looking for his old chums he found that they were either dead or too old to tread the boards.

Ichabod almost gave up in his quest to lift the spirits of his Shoreham family – when one warm Saturday his grandson, Samuel came calling. The two of them were best of pals and enjoyed a pint of ale in the Crown, followed by a walk along the river – and it was here that Samuel let it be known to his grandfather that what he was doing was all ‘hush-hush’ and that he was enjoying it immensely.

Samuel asked his granddad why the old rascal he was looking so glum and Ichabod told him all about the problem he had with trying to cheer the village up.

“What if I could get you a film to show,” said Samuel.

“Like what?” Asked his grandfather.

Ichabod was thinking that perhaps they could show a few Charlie Chaplin reels and a cup of tea to follow. Surely that would do the trick? But Samuel had grander ideas.

“It would mean us getting our hands on a large projector and perhaps you could hang a large sheet from the stage,” said his grandson.

And that dear folks is how it happened. The following Friday evening was the allocated date and the film was to be shown to the good folks of Shoreham for a penny each.

Like all things in life, the best laid plans (and all that) went slightly off course.

Samuel had done Ichabod proud and had got his hands on a very famous film to show (it helped that Samuel worked in the propaganda department of the war effort – where they made movies to bolster the good people of Britain). The film was Gone With The Wind and it had only been released in Britain several weeks earlier.

The problem – and it was a problem – was that the film was four hours long and no one had that amount of time to spend – not with farming, feeding families and a war going on above their heads.

So it was decided by the council that they would show it in two parts; two hours on the Friday and two hours on the Saturday. That seemed like a practical solution and so everyone was happy.

That is, until the word got out, up and down the valley, that a grand film like Gone With The Wind was showing for a penny in Shoreham.

The queue reached all the way from the village hall to the railway station (which, to those who don’t know the place is about half a mile). There were a lot of disgruntled people that night – and what hurt Ichabod was that many who had gained entry to the film-showing weren’t from Shoreham.

Samuel came up with a plan to show the film in two parts the following Friday and Saturday as well. Ichabod was happy, as were the rest of the council.

Here is where it gets tricky – there was a big queue, if not a bigger one, on the Saturday night and some who got in, hadn’t seen the first part – and some had seen both parts. You’d think that would keep some of the people happy – you’d think – but no, folks started using the fact that they’d seen the Saturday night half to their advantage.

The first incident was when Old George Smith (who had been to the film on Friday) punched his best pal (who had been to the Friday and Saturday showing) in the face when he threatened to tell him the ending of the film.

The next big upset was when Egbert Cuthbert stood up in church the following day and told the congregation that if they didn’t give him the contents of the collection plates, he’d tell them all how the film finished. Big Sam, the farmer, manged to grab Egbert and throw him out the building before he got around to telling the good people anything important.

One masked man (everyone guessed it was Egbert again) was found to stand in the High Street and ask for money or else he’d tell them the whole of the story. Mrs Lupin battered the robber over the head with the Margaret Mitchell novel and said she’d already read Gone With The Wind, thank you very much, and she hurriedly moved on.

Some of the Friday/Saturday night people were seen to huddle in little groups in the village shops and butchers – and they would look over at those who hadn’t seen the whole film with a look of pity.

If ever there was a way to divide a village, this was it and it wasn’t what Ichabod had wanted.

Things only got worse the following weekend, when they showed part one again – but there was an air raid on the Saturday and the whole thing was cancelled.

And that is why some folks are still not talking to each other in Shoreham – and why Ichabod ended up with a ninety-five year old tap dancer and Ichabod on the piano in the village hall.

It might not be Hollywood but frankly who’s giving a damn.

THE NIGHT CAFE

It wasn’t planned, nor had it been meant. It had just happened, much like the start of the Universe at the Big Bang.

Treacle (actually she was Christened, Ann but no one had ever really called her that) still had one of the keys to the village hall door. She was eighty-two years of age, and still sprightly, as some folks were want to say. She had cleaned the hall, girl and woman, for the last sixty-seven years, and still she found herself nipping in from time to time to check if the place was its usual pristine self.

If it wasn’t, she would straighten a curtain here, or wipe a smudge there, but usually she found that she had taught the younger folks well, and that they had all done a good job.

When Treacle lost her Harold, after he had a long battle with Alzheimer’s, she found her life as empty as the biggest hole in the world. For the last eight years, she had watched the love of her life take a long and slow walk into oblivion. She couldn’t actually say when the man she loved had properly left her, as the shell he become, had hung on for a while longer. It was the longest good-bye in her life.

She neither cried, nor complained. What was the point? Everyone was walking around with some burden on their shoulders. Hers was a burden of love.

One Tuesday morning, she awoke as she always did around 3.24am. It was always there or thereabouts – Treacle couldn’t help wonder if there was some significance to that time on the clock.

It was a warm Spring morning and the Sun would be rising sooner rather than later. So Treacle got dressed and wandered down to the village hall. She knew there would be something there to keep her occupied – let her stop thinking about Harold.

When she stepped inside there were a few bits and pieces left scattered from the Kid’s Club, and she soon had those tidied away.

“I’ll make a cup of tea,” she said out loud to Harold, hoping he was listening.

She had found an old digestive biscuit in one of the shelves and was about to sit down to enjoy her drink, when there was a tap at the door. She looked at the clock, it said 4.17am. Maybe it was the police.

Treacle, always being one to avoid problems, went along a few windows to see if she could see who was at the door. She recognised the silhouette, it was old Tommy from across the High Street.

Tommy had been a widower for many a year, and had accepted it all – like he did life – with a stiff upper lip.

“Hello Tommy, what brings you here at this time?”

And Tommy explained that he’d seen the light on in the hall and wondered what was up. It was Tommy who had said about the village, that if you put on your bathroom light twice in one night, some neighbour would call an ambulance for you.

Treacle made Tommy a cup of tea and they shared a digestive biscuit. They didn’t talk about anything in particular, and most of the time they didn’t talk at all. It was just nice to have another human being to sit with in the wee small hours of the morning.

The following night, Treacle woke around the same time and once again she was down the village hall and once again, Tommy knocked on the door. This time Tommy brought his dog with him.

“Seems a shame to leave him in on his own.”

Treacle had bought newer biscuits – one’s with chocolate on top – and both she, Tommy, and Elvis the dog shared them.

The following night, Tommy was disappointed to see that the hall was in darkness and later found out in the village shop, that Treacle had gone to visit her daughter.

By the time that Treacle got to the hall again, Tommy had been talking about their night-time meetings, and when Treacle sat in the hall at 3.30am – there was a knock on the door and Tommy, his dog, and seven other people joined them.

It seemed that there were many people in the village who found it difficult to sleep. A couple of them played cards, one or two just sat and talked about this and that. One lady, whose husband was fighting overseas, sat and knitted her Christmas presents.

At the end of the month, Treacle was opening the hall three nights a week, and there were about a dozen people coming in at any one time: people who found the dark of night the loneliest time in their lives.

The blackness always made demons and problems seem ten times their size, and leave the soul empty and dark. No one could fight their night problems – folks would have to wait for the return of the sun to be able to just stand again.

But the club, The Lonely Soul Night Café (as Tommy called it) started to attract young and old. Edward, who had lost his dad a few years earlier, still had night sweats and found that talking to other hearts sometimes took the pain away a little.

Bernadette, who had always liked a little sherry to help her sleep, found that there was more warmth and kindness in the night café, than at the bottom of a glass.

They even started to put on little plays, or folks would write a poem, or a song, or perhaps they would just stand and say how they were feeling that particular week. Maybe they were missing their love-heart, or their children, or regretting chances they had missed in life. Whatever it was, it was spoken and dealt with at the café.

Some folks started to find that they made it through to the morning without wakening. For some they felt sad they had missed another night at the hall.

But for most, it meant that their healing was starting and they were ready to face the world again.

And that was everything.

THE GREAT CHAOS

That summer, that glorious glorious summer, sat on the shoulder hills of the little village and warmed the hearts of its inhabitants.

The heat had slowed everything and everyone down to a more comfortable life, more in tune with that of the eighteenth century than today’s horrors. This suited perfectly Miss Sligerhorn, the village spinster – a role, by the way, that she had been born to play. No harsh word would leave her mouth regarding the heat wave, not for her the fast and furious lifestyles of some of her more racy neighbours; no, Miss Sligerhorn was definitely in her comfort zone.

Each morning at precisely 5.52am the Colonel, a strange fruit indeed, would cross Miss Sligerhorn’s path and they would greet each other in a polite and courteous manner. Yet an outsider would probably sense an underlying hostility to the proceedings. There had been talk, and I emphasise that it was only talk, that Miss Sligerhorn had been left at the altar by the Colonel; a most distressing state of affairs.

Every day, pleasantries met, exchanged and forgotten, Miss Sligerhorn would continue on her way to the cake shop which she had inherited from her mother. A mother who deserves a story unto herself but we will put that excitement aside for another time when the days are shorter and we can rest by a large fire.

Miss Sligerhorn was the gentlest of all creatures and considered most men to be brutes. The Colonel, on the other hand, was a brute and considered most women to be useless.

They lived in the little village of Shoreham which had one pub, where the men would congregate and quaff ales, and Miss Sligerhorn’s cake shop, where the women would meet to discuss in great detail the men that they had unfortunately married. All of them had entered matrimony with careless haste and all of them were now regretting their actions at leisure. This had been the way of things since the dawn of time but things, as we shall see, were about to change.

In London Town life was increasingly fraught and was made all the worse by the heightened temperatures. It would be a truth to say that living and working in the city was far from a pleasant experience.
Especially for the great and good who ran the country.
For several years now there had been an increasing criticism of the politicians who controlled the purse strings, who made the laws and fiddled the expenses. Greed was the order of the day and such were the financial cutbacks that if one were to be a politician nowadays it would have to be for the love of the job rather than the benefits.

In the current dog days love was a very rare thing, a very rare thing indeed. So one bright Friday afternoon the Prime Minster and the rest of the blameless walked out of Parliament and closed the store, as they say. They shut up shop and refused to return until the people of the land came to their senses and saw what a spectacular job they all had been doing – which was never going to happen, if we’re being honest.

So there we have the situation, a Mexican standoff where neither party is going to back down causing the world around them to begin sinking into the mire.
Some of the local authorities attempted to collect rubbish, clean the streets and keep the services rattling on even as the money ran out.

“Look chaps, we’re looking for volunteers this weekend to clean the sewerage system. So if you could raise your hands to show interest that would be truly marvellous; what, no one, no one at all?”
So not only did the heat wave cause the country to revert to eighteenth century travel, the simmering politics caused the villages and towns to close in on themselves and each little hamlet became judge, jury and council for all of its inhabitants.

Shoreham was no exception but I guess you knew that. If it had been possible to build a castle keep around this village then they would have done so, but time and money constraints put paid to that idea.

The good folks of Shoreham  didn’t want the scoundrels from Otford, the neighbouring village, to come looking for those things that were in short supply in Otford. This was a time for fortitude, for kindness, for mercy, for every village looking after itself and to hang with the rest.

Shoreham had two streets: Church Street and High Street. They were laid out in a letter ‘T’, meaning there were three entrances to and from the little haven that had to be manned and guarded. The fact that anyone could freely drive through the lanes that crisscrossed the fields did not appear to come into the equation. Defence was more a matter of visibility than practicality, it was a Maginot line populated by Miss Marples and Colonel Blimps.

The kids of the village ignored the gates as if they didn’t exist and when the ‘Gate Controller’ (the Colonel’s idea) asked ‘Who goes there?’ – the kids would just stare at the questioner, utter ‘like, whatever’ and walk on.

This whole indiscipline issue was beginning to annoy the Colonel, so much so, that he’d teamed up with Roger Hartness – agreed by all, to be the angriest man in the village. Roger was known to shout at cats that’d peed anywhere other than their own gardens. He had photographs in his study of which animals belonged to which property. Roger was married which came as a shock to most people when they first found out. His wife, Tina, was the gentlest soul in the universe, perhaps she had to be – two angry people in the one house would have been difficult to maintain.

“Curfew!” that was Roger’s summation of the problem. “The oldies are always in bed relatively early, so the only folks to be upset with the curfew would be the youngsters. I propose a village wide curfew of say, 9pm.”

To enforce the curfew Roger and ‘friends’ would patrol the streets after that time and ‘encourage’ the stragglers to get home as quickly as possible. Naturally there would be shift workers, but as long as they registered with Ground Control (Roger’s idea that one) things would go smoothly or ‘tickety boo’ as Roger liked to say.

Now this is where things get a little sticky – the Colonel, Roger and ‘friends’ controlled the south gate, at the bottom of Church Street. Miss Sligerhorn and her posse controlled the High Street and the two exits involved with that road. Since the Colonel suggested a curfew and patrol then you can bet your sweet bippies that Miss Sligerhorn went out of her way to avoid such an action.

There was a de-militarized zone at the junction of the High Street and Church Street which had to be crossed frequently by the drinkers of the former due to the fact that the Pub was in Church Street and therefore under the jurisdiction of the Colonel.The cake shop and tea rooms, on the other hand, sat on the High Street and were under the patronage of Team Sligerhorn.

A meeting had to be set up between the parties and the Village Hall was proposed. However it was found to be situated too deep into the Sligerhorn camp to be considered a neutral venue.
Outside the village, and on the main city road, stood a burger van which sold coffee, burgers and onions with fries at very reasonable prices (their slogan). So this was to be the setting for the summit.

Miss Sligerhorn and her followers turned up first and were heard to say ‘typical’ quite a few times under their breaths, even although they had just passed through the Colonel’s territory and saw that his team were still in the stages of getting ready. Thirty minutes later and all in red berets, the Colonel’s Church Street gang arrived.

Miss Sligerhorn had done much ‘tutting’ over the last half hour not just because of the lateness of the other lot but also because of the prices the burger van man was charging.
“We’re in the middle of the Great Chaos or hadn’t you heard Miss Prim and Proper” said the burger van owner with a hint of disgust.
“And that means you can charge what you like, does it?” asked an angry Miss Sligerhorn, who turned away from the van without waiting for an answer.

It didn’t stop the burger van man shouting after her “I’ve got overheads to consider. I’ve got to go and collect the burgers me self, thanks for asking” but she wasn’t asking, she was already drinking tea from a flask she had brought herself. She then turned to Irene, her Lieutenant, and issued a statement “Irene, fifteen pence on all our buns. Make a note of it, if you please.” Irene scribbled the message with a large butcher’s pencil and her tongue hanging out.

“Fifteen pence on buns” said a self-satisfied Irene as she hit the note-book with the lead end of her big pencil.

“And twenty pence on fondant fancies” shouted Miss Sligerhorn causing Irene to bring out her large butcher’s pencil and tongue once again.

When the meeting began Miss Sligerhorn was the first to speak “We are not at war, Colonel” she said, suddenly realising there was a double meaning to her statement.
“Agreed”
“So why the need for a curfew?” asked the lady who he may have jilted at the marriage altar (or not).

“Because we are in the midst of the Great Chaos” shouted the burger van owner who had obviously heard that phrase from one of the more down market newspapers.
The Colonel stood up to show off his very impressive 6 foot 4 inches of height and demanded a hush from the throng.

“Dear, dear lady I am not the power-hungry mad man that your people are putting about the cake shop, I am just a concerned citizen that worries about the youth of this nation, the youth of this country – after all these people are our future, our investment, as it were” and the Colonel started to hit his palm with his fist as if this was the culmination of a lifetime of struggle, until someone shouted “Sit down you old fart, you’re ruining my business” and as you may have guessed, it was the burger van man.

A vote was eventually taken and the Colonel’s people voted, not surprisingly, for a curfew and all the Sligerhorn gang voted against a curfew. Someone mentioned that the Sligerhorn part of the village was in the more posh area and that votes should count double over there but that lady was told to take a walk, by someone from the Colonel’s team who also said they would punch her on the nose if she didn’t shut up this minute.

So nothing was decided that day and the village grew, sadly, a little further apart as a result.
On the Church Street side were the village tennis courts, available for hire at subsidised rates. They were now no longer in use, that is, until the Colonel came up with an idea.

The courts had a wire mesh surrounding them up to a good height of 12 feet, this allowed the balls to avoid hitting the nice people of Shoreham. The fence would be hard to scale and that is why the by the following morning most of the curfew breakers who attempted to enter the village by the Church Street entrance were now being held prisoner in the tennis courts.

“We’ll hold them until they’ve learned their lesson” decreed the Colonel. Standing at each corner on step ladders were men holding buckets full of tennis balls. If any of the curfew breakers had dared to move, one of the men would throw a tennis ball to deter them. However being British and in charge of a tennis ball meant that not one curfew breaker ever got hit; a very sad but true fact.

The Colonel had attempted to curtail visiting times to deprive the youngsters of family support but it had a limited effect as the families just sat on the hill above the courts throwing chocolate bars and packets of crisps in to the ‘prison’.

By Saturday the whole of the youth of the village, including those that lived in High Street had been imprisoned. If we are really being honest most of the parents were enjoying the break. They knew where their kids were, that they were being looked after and couldn’t get into trouble.

“Let the Colonel sort them out. See how he likes it” was the common response and to be honest the Colonel was at his wit’s end.

He had attempted to keep the kids entertained by playing something called a ‘record player’ and music by people called ‘The Beatles’ – but none of the kids seemed that interested until he threatened to take away their phones and music players if they didn’t listen.

A child without a phone is a child ready to start a revolution.

The Colonel sent in his men with berets to take away the kid’s phones and pods. Apparently asking them to hand them over hadn’t been a huge success, so forced removal seemed the only option. The team was to be led by Angry Roger, who as it happens had found himself not to be as angry as the Colonel and was more of a slightly miffed Roger.

As soon as the team entered the compound (the Colonel’s description) they were surrounded, stripped naked and tied to the fences. Within fifteen minutes the kids had walked out of the tennis courts free as the day they were born and still in possession of their phones.

But they didn’t stop there, the Colonel was dragged outside his home and a rope tied around his ankles, then hung upside down from a lamppost. Even though he kept shouting that the blood was running to his head, no one paid the slightest bit of attention to him. In fact later in the day, the kids started to play a game where they used the upside down Colonel to play a kind of skittles. Large plastic bottles were stood on end and the Colonel was swung around to see how many he could knock down. Miss Sligerhorn and her team took on the village teenagers and did themselves proud by winning after a tie break.

The following Monday the ‘Great Chaos’ was over as the politicians had enough of sitting at home; the Government returned to making laws and fiddling expenses, Miss Sligerhorn had a re-launch of her cake shop but, like the burger van man, refused to reduce her prices to pre-Chaos levels, especially on those fondant fancies.

Without much ado, the world returned to where it had been before, that is in a much bigger mess but with people talking to each other.

By Tuesday of the following week Miss Sligerhorn and the Colonel were wishing each other a ‘good morning’ with the usual unspoken reservations at 5.52am.

All was right with the world.

THE GREAT SQUALIDNESS

To be honest I’d never actually heard of Gertrude Swansway. She was one of those ‘larger-than-life’ characters and to the locals in Shoreham at the end of the 19th century, she was simply known as ‘Aunt Gertie’.

When ever you needed anything organised, arranged or distributed, Aunt Gertie was your lady. The reason that so much is remembered about her life is the fact that she left so many diaries.

However there had always been one journal missing, that of the year 1901. This question was answered when the diary turned up several weeks ago under the floorboards of one of the large houses down by the river, currently being renovated. In Gertrude’s journal of 1901 was recorded the funeral of Queen Victoria and the opening of the new Co-operative shop on Shoreham High Street. So why did she hide the journal?

Contained within the pages were scribblings to suggest that Aunt Gertie had been a paramour of the new King of England.

We’ll leave those stories for another time and get to the part that is pertinent to this evening. The year 2024 will be the 100th anniversary of the Shoreham Village Players, although this wasn’t the first drama society formed in the village – in her journal, Aunt Gertie discussed how she, along with Minty Minton and Sasha Dogoody in July 1901 formed the Shoreham Strolling Troubadours.

Minty had mentioned at their inaugural meeting that  “Something should be done to cheer the ballyhoo village up” “Weren’t we now in the modern age, the Edwardian age” at which point Aunt Gertie blushed. “I suggest we put on a ballyhoo show” said Minty. Sasha Dogoody said “As long it does not involve that dwedfull Oscar Wilde”. Minty felt that was rather a shame but Aunt Gertie insisted we should not mention that horrible man’s name again. Then Minty came up with a corker – “why don’t we put on Three Men In A Boat?” Shasha Dogoody said “You mean dat rawwer spiffing little story by Jerome K Jerome?” “Exactimondo”, said Minty and “I know the very ballyhoo place to stage it”.

And that, dear friends, is why the first ever recorded drama production in Shoreham was actually held on the river.

Minty had taken charge from the word go. “I see myself as J, said Minty, “you Gertie can be George and Sasha shall be Harris. Mrs Trafalgar’s pooch can play Montmorency. So it’s all settled”….and apparently it was.

“I see the whole thing taking place upon a little boat in the middle of the Darent river” said Minty getting ever so excited. ”We shall tie the boat to the bridge and the audience will bring hampers and sit by the river”. Gertie was to write the ballyhoo play and Sasha could stitch together some marvellous costumes.

The rehearsals went ever so well, although Minty suggested holding them after dark “to maintain secrecy”. Therefore there was many an inhabitant of the village that made their way home from the nearby hostelry believing that they could hear supernatural voices. One such man, Ebaneezer Twislewaite was so frightened by the experience that he took an oath never to drink again – at least until the day he got hit by a runaway horse and sadly expired.

As far as the three of them could judge – in the dark, that is – the rehearsals had gone exceedingly well.

Then came the big day, ”the grande journee” said Minty in his rather over excited manner. Many of the great and good were sitting in anticipation on either banks of the river. Hampers were opened and oodles of food consumed.

However dear friends, I have to mention at this juncture – that the evening prior, when the three were having their dress rehearsal in the dark – it had rained very heavy, very heavy indeed.

To say that the river was torrential on the day of the performance was to rather underestimate it.

It was just as Aunt Gertie was shouting (very deep voice) “Montmorency, Montmorency where are you?” that the tiny boat began to slip it’s mooring – that is to say, from being tied to the bridge. No one noticed at first and as the boat edged down the river a little, the picnickers just moved their derrières a few inches further along the bank.

However when the boat finally did break loose , it was actually very noticeable since Sasha Dogoody somehow managed to remain tied to the bridge and went flying off the back of the boat – just as Aunt Gertie and Minty started on a rather fateful voyage down stream.

The last they heard of Sasha was as she shouted “be bwave fellow thespians, be bwave”.

Minty shouted to Gertie “.. I do believe that you should also play the part of Harris, Gertie”

(Deep voice) “Why should I?” “Because I don’t know the ballyhoo part, that’s why” screamed a panicky Minty.

It was also obvious to those ashore that the audience had now broken into a trot, and then a run, attempting to follow the boat down stream.

“Gertrude, please speak up and please try to make the voices of George sound different from that of Harris”

Aunt Gertie got ever so cross and warned Minty (deep voice) “I may be a lady but one more derogatory word about my acting and by God I’ll give you a sound thrashing within an inch of your life”.

Monty had never heard Auntie Gertie talk like that and to say Monty was stunned was an understatement – that is, until he was actually stunned when the boat hit the second bridge. Unfortunately Monty was standing and took the full force, ending up face down in the river. Aunt Gertie had fallen backwards on to the deck and so avoided hitting any large objects.

Nothing could cool Gertie’s temper however, and when Police Constable Wikenshaw of Otford constabulary tried to help her to her feet – his face appeared to stop Aunt Gertie’s fist.

That evening Minty was taken to a hospital in Bromley, Aunt Gertie cooled her heels in Sevenoaks’ jail and everyone forgot about Sasha Dogoody who literally hung about the bridge for several hours afterwards.

The following week, the Shoreham Strolling Troubadours was officially closed down by a vote of 3 votes to nil.

Minty suggested they never speak of it again.

And that dear friends is the real beginning to the Shoreham Village Players.

Let no one tell you otherwise.

SHOREHAM, CHRISTMAS, 1958

They had called her, Elizabeth, after the Queen, since she had unexpectedly turned up on the day of the Coronation.

Now Elizabeth considered herself grown-up, having turned six years of age a few months earlier. She was packed to the brim with the life-force itself, God couldn’t have pushed any more into this particular package. She was a tornado.

If tall monsters existed back then, then they were well hidden. Children had the run of the village, in those days, from sun-up to sun-down. They were fed in the morning, then they disappeared until their names were called as the sun started to sink behind the Cross.

That was life back then, sunshine and playtime, endless days and changing friendships.

Elizabeth was a curious child, which was just a polite way of saying that she was a nosey kid. She would sometimes sit across from the church, or village hall, or even one of the public houses and watch and listen. She never told anyone about anything she found out, just that she kept it all to herself knowing that one day she was going to write a book about it all (and probably spend a lot of time in court).

Elizabeth lived in one of those bijou cottages, which nestled comfortably across from the Old George Inn; a pub – like all of the six pubs in the village – which had its time in the sun, followed by months or years of quiet reflection, but the good times always came back to each of them. New lives, new worlds, regenerations.

Young Elizabeth lived with her two maiden great-aunts, Jenny and Nancy, on account of her parents going down to a tube station during a gas-leak and both never seeing daylight again.

For the most part she was a happy little child, one who found so much love in the world that she had a lot to give to others.

One night, in the winter of 1958, Elizabeth was playing out in the little courtyard at the rear of Church Cottages., and from the window above, she could hear her Aunt Nancy crying.

“There, there, don’t weep so,” said Aunt Jenny.

“My heart is broken, Jenny. Split into two sorrowful parts,” said Aunt Nancy, who had probably read too many Bronte novels.

Elizabeth had heard all this crying and seen all these tears before. Her Aunt Nancy’s fiancé had gone off to war and never returned. The story was not that he had met some glorious death on the battlefield, but that he had taken up with a barmaid who worked in a small hotel just outside of Paris. Apparently, they had three very healthy children and a wonderful life; Nancy refused to believe it.

“She kidnapped him, I know it,” she cried. “I will die of a broken heart, mark my words, Jenny. You see if I don’t.” Sometimes during these sorrows, Aunt Nancy would take an attack of the vapours.

Elizabeth had not known what to make of it all when she was four years old, or at five, but now that she was six, and a woman, it was time she did something about it.

Elizabeth decided to walk up to the village shop on Church Street, and in there she asked if they sold anything for a broken heart.

“Oh bless, Elizabeth, you are too young for a broken heart,” said the little posh lady who served her; the one who smelled of moth-balls.

“It’s not for me, it’s for my Aunt Nancy, silly.”

The woman in the shop nudged the other woman and both knew exactly what the other meant – Nancy was in one of her Miss Havisham periods. She normally had a ‘jilted-bride’ season every year (especially if the weather was less than kind).

The shop-woman jokingly offered Elizabeth a needle and thread, and looked at the little girl with a ‘that’s the best I can do’ expression. Elizabeth said ‘no thank you’ and moved up to the High Street.

It suddenly hit her that the butchers at the corner of Crown Road might be a place to try; after all they had hearts going spare.

“How can I help you?” Asked the butcher.

Elizabeth told him about the fact that her Aunt needed something to fix a broken heart and that maybe he would have one he didn’t want.

The butcher smiled and explained that even if he did have a spare heart, it probably wouldn’t do her Aunt any good.

“Everyone knows that your Aunt Nancy has the biggest heart in the village. Nothing I have could give you could replace the beautiful heart that she has.”

Disappointed, Elizabeth decided to head back to Church Street. It was as she was approaching the Village Hall that she met her friend, Rose and her mother. They were heading to see Santa who had left his sleigh at the rear of the Hall (everyone knew that in Shoreham). Elizabeth had forgotten that Santa was coming to the village, usually her Aunts would take her to see him, but what with all the crying and such, they all had forgotten.

“Why don’t you come with us?” Said Rose’s mother.

And that is what she did. Of course, you can guess what she asked Santa to bring her at Christmas: a new heart for her Aunt.

Santa laughed and chuckled and then smiled at the little girl.

“That is a kind thing to ask for,” said Santa. “It would mean you wouldn’t have anything for yourself.”

Elizabeth said that she would rather her Aunt was happy, than she had a present from Santa.

“You are kindness, itself,” said Santa. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I will bring you a present of your choosing on Christmas Eve and I will give you a letter to take to your Aunt.”

“Will it mend her broken heart?” Asked Elizabeth.

“I can’t see it doing any harm,” said Santa.

Elizabeth and Santa shook on it and then she told Santa what she would like for Christmas, and Santa said it would be in her stocking on Christmas Day when she awoke.

Santa left for a few minutes and came back with a letter addressed to ‘The Wonderful Aunt Nancy’.

On Christmas morning, Nancy took herself off to the bedroom and decided to open the letter which Santa had given her.

“Dear Nancy,

Your little niece has told me, with the utmost concern, that you might die of a broken heart one day soon. I realise that you are too old to sit on Santa’s knee but if you could, this is what I would tell you. Live your life, Nancy. Live it with so much optimism and enthusiasm that you will almost burst at the seams. Nothing can break happiness. Life will be good for you again, believe me. I am Santa, I know what I am talking about. Smile even although the light at the end of the tunnel may be a train coming the other way. If you were a Christian in the Coliseum, I would have told you to do the same. With the Lions staring at you – you smile. Life in the end will defeat us, even Santa, but if you have so much love and life in your heart, then you can go out on your own terms. You will love again, Nancy. Believe me. Beat life at its own game. Be happy.

Merry Christmas, Santa Claus.”

Elizabeth’s Aunt Nancy came back down stairs, smiling so wide that it looked as if her head might fall off.

“I think I’ll have that sherry now,” she said, and then she winked at her much-loved niece, who was having the best Christmas, ever.

 

ON SHOREHAM HILLS

On Shoreham Hills,

I sat a thousand years,

And watched the seasons change

Like fields, from green, to brown, to white.

And on those hills,

I saw the Norse arrive and change the way of things,

Our lives belonged to others now.

On Shoreham Hills,

I watched as paths were walked a

Hundred million times, which turned to

Roads, and streets and lanes,

The poor, the plagued were taken in

And healed and fed, and given up

To God’s own grace.

On Shoreham Hills,

I saw the wooden structures changed to stone

And homes were built to hold those hearts

That felt this secret valley

Theirs to keep.

I sat beside, as William Blake did spy Jerusalem

Among the waters of the Darent streams,

Forever caught by Samuel Palmer’s paints.

Then one fine day, the smoke appeared of rail and train

And in our hearts, we knew those hills were not for only us.

I lifted eyes to watch the Zeppelin raids on London Town,

Replaced by Messerschmitt and Spitfire trails.

The buildings rose, as did the streets

Our village grew to meet the age.

I sat on Shoreham Hills, a thousand years

To watch it comfort and console,

And as I watched the sun arise,

I hoped to sit a thousand more.

SHOREHAM ROSE (story and song)

Perhaps I should start way back at the beginning.

The first time I laid eyes on Sally – Ludlow as she was called then – she had a permanent band-aid on a pair of National Health spectacles. She was nothing special, at least not to me, she was just one of those children who run through the streets of Shoreham on any given sunny evening. Kent, back then, was a different place than it is today. It was a gentler, kinder time and in the years after the war, there was still rationing but with that came a feeling that we had to look after one and other.

Sally and her family lived on the High Street and we lived on a small farm on the back road. On those summer evenings the kids used to meet up by the Cross on the hill. The Cross had been cut out of the chalk hills in the years after the Great War to remember those who had given their lives and by a strange irony it had to be covered up during World War 2 as the enemy bombers used it as a landmark.

That night, the night it happened – we both must have been about fifteen back then – I was sitting on the hill overlooking the village and I knew that when the lantern came on outside the Rising Sun pub, it was time for me to head over the hill and back to the farm.

I loved this view and even on a warm evening there would still be smoke rising from the chimneys and leaving a ghostly drift across the valley.The smell of the grass and the fields and the fires was like nowhere else on earth.
“Is it okay, if I sit?”
And there she was, Sally standing over me as she pushed those spectacles back up her nose, they always seemed to be trying to escape her face.
“Well?”
“Sure” I said to the funny little girl wearing the funny little glasses.
“I always see you sitting up here from my bedroom window.”
“It’s the best place in the world to sit”, I said.
“My father doesn’t like me watching you.”
“Why?” I knew I was going to regret asking this.
“He says you’re a weird one, always on your own.”
“And you, what do you think?” I asked.
“Oh I don’t think you’re weird, I love you.”

And that was that. That was the night, the first time ever, a person, other than my grandmother, told me that they loved me.

The rest of the summer we were inseparable and even her father got to like me. When I wasn’t working on our farm, I was over at Sally’s and some days she would come and help at our place.
The night before we were due to go back to school, she made a small ring from the grass on the hill and asked me to propose to her.
“Sally Ludlow will you marry me?”
She said ‘yes’.
“And you can’t ever get out of it, James. Till death us do part.”

So at fifteen years of age Sally and me were engaged to be married. Sally said we should start saving right away so that way we could have a big wedding and invite all the family. She reckoned we’d be really old by the time we could afford it.
“Maybe nineteen or twenty.” That seemed such a long way away.

Every penny I earned went into our secret wedding box and it lay side by side with Sally’s contributions. Of course we were going to get married in St. Peter and St.Paul’s, the local church.

Then Sally moved to High Wycombe, it seemed her grandmother was poorly and her family wanted to live with her.
“It’ll only be a few weeks”, she said.
But it wasn’t, it was almost a year. I met Sally in London on two occasions but as we were saving our money, we decided to write to each other instead.

To start with we wrote every day but eventually it was one small note, once a week. I almost gave up and thought she was never coming back.

Then I got called up for National Service and I was shipped out to Aden. Before I left, I heard that Sally’s father was coming back to Shoreham to work in the butcher shop at the corner of Crown Road and that Sally and her mother would follow on.

Her father rented a room above the butcher’s while he waited on his family but since his mother-in-law was in a state of decline, his wife and daughter stayed on in High Wycombe.

I came back home twice but there wasn’t any time to travel to see Sally as I was needed on the farm.

By the time that Sally and me were in Shoreham she turned up accompanied by her boyfriend, Andrew. Apparently he was studying to be a doctor and his family were something in High Wycombe, least ways that’s what her mother told me. I don’t think she meant anything by it.

Sally and her parents moved temporarily into the Station Master’s house at Shoreham as the wife of the house and Sally’s mother were the best of friends.Every time I called at the station I was told that Sally was out but I’m sure I saw the curtains twitch in a room upstairs. I wrote to her a couple of times but never got any reply.

That year my family decided to send me off to Agricultural college in deepest Sussex and this allowed me to return from time to time to work on the farm. I had a few girlfriends while I was studying but none of them was ever Sally, she was always on my thoughts one way or another. Then one day I ran into Sally’s mother who told me that her daughter had married and moved to High Wycombe.

That’s one of those moments in your life when you feel as if everything inside you has been ripped out and yet you still manage to function – I continued to speak to her mother without missing a beat.

I threw myself into working on the farm and from time to time I got involved in the Village Players: a drama group which helped me take my mind off of Sally.

Once a week I would meet up with pals in The Royal Oak, the best of all pubs in Shoreham and really that was my life for the next ten years.

It was at a wedding in the new golf club that our paths crossed again. Sally hadn’t aged in all those years, she was still as beautiful as ever but there was a sadness on her face.
“Hi” was all she said and how long had I waited on that?
She had nursed her husband for the last three years and he’d died just before Christmas. This was a grown up Sally I was talking to. She was only back for a weekend to remind herself how beautiful Shoreham was as a village. She had begun to think she’d only dreamt the place up.

I told her that the next time she was in the village she could stay on our farm. She said thanks, and told me she’d think about it but she had to get back to her family. She had an eight year old daughter and a five-year old son and she had to work out what her future was going to hold.

Then the following summer she came for a weekend with the kids to stay on the farm and that was the happiest I had been in years. She too, looked less sad.

What can I tell you?

We married the following the year and we set up house in one of the farm cottages.
We had one further child between us, Simon and the five of us had the best of times. Sure we struggled but I was with Sally and my family and anything was possible.

The older boy, James and the girl, Sue moved into London and both had families of their own. Simon settled down and took over the farm, letting me and Sally travel for the first time. We even drove across the States.
Sally left me in her 65th year – she had been ill for several months and her leaving took my heart. Sure the kids and the grandchildren visited the farm but once again I spent my days missing Sally.

When I felt strong enough to clear out her clothes, I found a small box in the back of the wardrobe and in it was the small ring made from grass. She’d kept it all those years.

When the time comes I’m going to be buried in the church next to Sally.

It’ll just be me and her again.

Press for Video of Shoreham Rose (song)

Bobby Stevenson 2017 x

The Secret of Life

boy

He wondered if maybe everyone else in the world knew the answer to it the question, and that perhaps he had been in the restroom when they were all being told.

He couldn’t see why everyone else was able to smile, walk and talk at the same time and he found it impossible.

Life was stupid, and sad, and basically it got him down. He saw the kids in school who all seemed to be able to cope with things. Now and again, he imagined he saw a look in another person’s eyes that said – I don’t understand this either – but if he looked again, it normally had gone away and he thought that perhaps he had only imagined it.

So one Friday morning, he decided that he wasn’t going to bed that night until he found out the secret of life. Was there a book they had all read, and he hadn’t seen? Were there classes he could go to that would tell him everything he needed to know?

The first person he met in the hall was his Grandfather.

“Granddad, what is the secret of life?”

And his grandfather thought carefully, scratched his beard, and then smiled.

“The secret, my little special boy, is to tell everyone what they want to hear. I tell your Grandma she looks lovely everyday of her life. I tell you you’re good at football.”

“But I ain’t good at football, Granddad.”

“Who says? Not me.”

And his grandfather walked away whistling to himself.

The boy went down to the kitchen where his mother was making breakfast for him.

“Sit down, little one,” she says to her son.

“Ma?”

“Yup?”

“What is the secret of life?”

She thought for a while and then looked up at the ceiling. The boy looked at the ceiling too, to see if there was something his mother was reading – but there wasn’t anything. Just a big stain from where his grandfather had let the bath overfill, last Christmas.

She ruffled her son’s hair.

“What’s got you in this mood?”

“Just wondering, I guess.”

“Well let me see. The secret of life is to get up every morning even when you don’t want to. When you know there are folks depending on you, that’s what makes you jump right out of bed.”

“And that’s it?”

“That’s it.”

His dad walked with the boy down to the school bus.

“Dad, what is the secret of life?”

“Is this a school project you were supposed to do?” Asked his father.

“Nope, just wondering.”

“Well ain’t my boy growing up.” So his dad thought for a while and looked up at the sky. The boy looked up too, to see if there was writing in the clouds, but there wasn’t.

“Well son, the secret of life is to do what your Mom says.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

Later in the morning, his teacher, Miss Sycamore was teaching about the Arctic Circle. She asked the class if there were any questions.

The boy put his hand in the air, and when Miss Sycamore, pointed to him, he asked:

“Miss Sycamore, what is the secret of life?”

All the kids looked at the boy, who had gone a little red in the face.

“That’s a strange question for a lesson about the frozen north. Let me see.”

And like all the adults, she looked at the roof too, as if she was getting some sort of inspiration.

“The secret of life is to do your homework, wash every day and pray every night. Yep, that’s it for sure.”

The boy thought that maybe this was more to do with Miss Sycamore, than the secret of life.

That night as he lay in bed, he realized that everyone had a different secret for the way they dealt with life.

Just like Miss Sycamore, the secret seemed to be to do with what made you happy. But what, thought the boy, if what made you happy, didn’t make other people happy?

So he got down by the side of his bed and started praying.

His older brother, who he shared a room, started whispering real loud.

“What you doing?”

“Praying.”

“At this time of night?”

“Is there a good time?”

“Yep, never. What’s got your goat?”

“I want to know the secret of life.”

“The secret, little brother, is to keep your mouth shut so you won’t get beaten up.”

And with that his brother rolled over and went back to dreaming of being a big baseball star.

The boy clasped his hands again and started praying.

“Dear God, if you could tell me the secret of life, that would be really good. Amen.”

With that the boy jumped back into bed and fell asleep.

It was in the morning, at breakfast, as he looked around the kitchen. There was his Mom cooking, as she always did, and like she always did, she looked over and blew him a kiss. There was his grandfather and brother arguing about some sport thing or other, and both of them tussled the boy’s hair as they passed.

Then it struck him; wasn’t the secret of life just to appreciate what you had? There was always something good in a life, and sure there were lots of bad things.

But one good thing, sunk a thousand bad ones, and the boy smiled all the way to the bus stop.

All the way.

bobby stevenson 2017

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STONES IN A SNOWBALL

Thing was trying to remember when it all changed between the Creek boys at the bottom of the hill and himself. It was probably something to do with that snowball.

In the hot sultry days of summer, Thing and his gang of kids played at the Creek almost every day. In the winter they slid down the mountain snow in races of two or three. Old boxes were used for sitting in and Thing remembers it was the fastest he ever went in his life.

Then around about the time that Jimmy Jones got a new dad the situation began to change. Thing remembered Jimmy calling him ‘a freak’ under his breath. He was never really sure at first but Thing later heard Jimmy telling the other guys the same word and all of them stopped talking when Thing got up beside them.

Then there was a snowball fight and he was sure it wasn’t Jimmy Jones, or Robert, or Pete who threw it but whoever threw it, it hurt really bad. Thing felt a thud on the side of his head, then he saw stars and when he looked down there was red blood dripping on the snow. One of his friends had put a rock inside the snowball and it had walloped him.

Thing was wondering why someone would do that as he sadly walked back up home. Jimmy shouted to the rest of the gang that who ever did that should own up, but no one ever did.

Thing’s mother asked him what had happened and it was then he did a stupid thing. He lied. He told her that he’d slipped during one of the races and she told him he had to be more careful in future. But that lie was a biggie, because it was the first time he had ever done it to his family and he’d done it to hide the shame of what had happened – not that he fully understood it, himself.

Then life got cold between them. Not between members of the gang, you understand; just between the boys and Thing. They had spent their early years in and out of each others’ houses, having sleepovers, laughing and crying and hollering at life then all this happened.

Thing was sitting by the Creek one Saturday morning when the guys passed on the other side. Thing stood and shouted but they didn’t seem to hear him. Then he noticed that they were all off on a fishing trip with Jimmy Jones’ new dad. Jimmy saw Thing was about to wave when Jimmy’s new dad got them all in a circle and whispered something and they all laughed. Jimmy walked on without looking back at Thing.

Thing’s Grandma had told him that it was true what they said about sticks and stones breaking bones but words can never hurt. She said that when she was bullied in school she used to take the names they called her and she would turn them into something beautiful. So the next time that Thing was called a Freak – he took each letter and made it into something good: Fantastic Rock ‘n’ Roll   Exciting And Knowledgeable. Okay Thing admitted he wasn’t Shakespeare and it didn’t kill the pain but it helped a little.

He still couldn’t tell his mother about the name-calling as he knew it would hurt her. He thought about telling the teacher but she always looked so busy, so every time a note landed on his desk with the word ‘Freak’ written on it he would smile, think about what FREAK meant and feel at peace.

Sometime in the autumn the police took Jimmy Jones’ new dad away for beating up the Chinese man next door. Jimmy never mentioned him again and things kind of went back to normal. The boys started playing with Thing again and there were more races down the mountainside but something deep inside Thing had changed. He saw that it didn’t take people much to turn on one another and that stopped him smiling sometimes.

No one ever put a stone in a snowball again but somehow it was always there.

bobby stevenson 2017

A Place Called Hope

‘What makes anyone do anything?’

That was what she thought as she stepped off the bus. She hadn’t meant to get off at that particular stop, but the large woman by the window seat had asked to be let out.

The funny thing is that the large woman looked out the window, tutted, and sat down at another seat. Karen was already standing and so decided that the next stop was as good as any a place to leave the bus.

It stopped at the foot of the road leading to the railway station.
At least she could get a train into London, if things didn’t go well. Whatever those things were that she was planning to do. Goodness knows, she didn’t know. Kate hadn’t really had time to think. She had got out of the taxi and was ready to enter the church, she knew Derek, good old dependable Derek, would be standing at the altar waiting on her. The thing is, she wasn’t prepared to marry a dependable soul. She had kissed her father on the cheek and then jumped on the first bus that passed.

As she walked down Station Road, she knew one thing – she needed a drink. Good old Derek never drank. He felt that it stopped his dependability.

The first pub she came to was one called the Old George Inn. There were bikers outside, laughing and joking as if the world was a place to exist without problems. Oh to be one of those people, she thought. Oh to be among them.
At the next corner was a little pub by the name of the Rising Sun. This was her spot, she decided, where she would have a drink.

Inside was a middle-aged woman with a pleasant smile who seemed to be washing her daughter’s face . The mother was spitting on her apron, then using that corner to wipe the child’s face, much to the annoyance of her daughter.
Karen walked to the bar while the woman looked behind to see if there was anyone coming in with her.
“Just you, then?” Asked the bar woman.
“Is that okay?”
“Sure, hun, sure, we get all sorts in this neck of the woods. Now what can I get you dearie?”

Karen asked for a half pint of ale, and sat in the corner by the window. From here, she could see the bridge and the little river.

It was truly amazing; the village was surprising, like an iceberg. From the road it looked a little cold and distance, but once in the centre of the place – it was full to the brim with life.
“Waiting for someone, are you?” Asked the landlady.
“I don’t really know what I’m doing,” said Karen, as a few tears fell from her face.
“Don’t you be crying now dearie,” said the landlady, and she sent her daughter off to find some handkerchiefs.

For the next hour and with no customers, Karen and the landlady, chatted about this and that, until the woman asked what had happened earlier that day, and that was when the floodgates opened.

The landlady poured herself a half of beer and a brandy for Karen.
“You get that down you, then we can see what is what. You can stay here tonight, if needs be. Sarah, my daughter can bunk in with me and you can take her bed.”

And that was how it all started for Karen. She stayed at the Rising Sun, working there at nights and in the afternoons she waitresses at a tea-room along the High Street.

One day, when she was least expecting it, a farmer came in for a drink and fell in love with Karen in a heartbeat.

I hear tell that he is nothing like Derek and that they have five children and three grand-children.
Sometimes, you get off at the stop that was meant.

Okay, I’m going to change the tempo a little, and if I remember correctly, there was a really hot summer back in 1976. It was during those sweltering months that Jake had three passions in his life – football, bikes and beer. He lived in Dartford but liked nothing better than getting on his motorcycle and heading out into the roads of Kent.

He would meet up with a bunch of other motorcycle enthusiasts at the Two Brewers pub in a little village in the valley. Those years, and that summer especially, were the golden years for Jake. The Brewers was the pub where it all happened. Sometimes it might get out of hand, when the bikers and the locals (the ones who mainly cut down trees) would get a bit rowdy and a punch-up might occur. All of it was in good fun.

It was one night, as Jake was heading back to Dartford, that a lorry coming down Shacklands, ran into him and knocked Jake into the side of a tree. At first the doctors thought he wouldn’t walk again, but they didn’t bank on his determination – and on his grandfather.

Jake’s granddad would drive him down to the village he loved so much and let him sit by the river. Jake pretended to fish, but mostly he just sat in peace and quiet and watched the world go by.

One sunny June day, an old friend from the Brewers happened to be passing on his bike, and stopped to say hello. It was then that Jake’s life started to take a turn for the better. His mate, Sam, asked if Jake could make it on to the back of his motorbike.

“Try and stop me,” shouted Jake.

His granddad wasn’t so sure, but hey, life was too short not to give it a try.
Sam drove the bike, with he and Jake on it, past the Brewers and gave a huge thump on his horn as he did. Some of the locals came out to see Jake back where he belonged; on the back of a motorcycle.

Sam didn’t stop there. He drove the bike along the High Street, and then up the path which gave him access to the Cross.
“Should you be doing this?” Shouted Jake.
“Nope, but it feels good. Don’t it?”
And Jake had to admit it did.

Robert was always a kid who smiled. That’s what his parents said. That’s what his teachers said. It was what his friends said.

So when Robert’s dad went to work in New York City in the summer of 2001 and never came home again, Robert’s smile was taken out the back of his house and buried in the same spot that Cuddles his goldfish had been placed.

No one noticed, at least not at first. People were trying to understand what had happened that day in September, and didn’t really see that Robert’s smile train had left the station.

Robert and his dad had been the best of pals. They went everywhere together, and especially to the football. ‘Who would take him now?’ Robert thought a little selfishly.

Sometimes he would go into his father’s wardrobe and take down a shirt and smell it. It reminded him of his dad. His mother had neither been strong or brave enough to clear out his things, and like she had said:
“They haven’t found him yet, so he might still come home.”
He might. Robert said to his mother. He might. Robert told his teacher and his friends.

Then one day, for no apparent reason, Robert ran from his house and headed to the Cross up by the hill. He liked being up there, for that was where he and his dad used to sit and talk and talk.

From there you could see France, his father had told him. Okay, he’d exaggerated, but hey – you nearly could. That was the day that Robert met Annie. She was 83 years of age and still walked up to the Cross every day.
“And I shall continue to, as long as the Lord spares me.”

Annie noticed Robert’s missing smile right away.
“Something you need to tell me, young man?”
Robert shook his head.
“Then why are you looking so glum on a day like this?” She asked.
So Robert told her about how his dad would bring him up by the Cross and how they talked and talked.
“Maybe we could talk,” said Annie.
“About what?” Asked Robert.
“About everything.”

Annie began by telling Robert about the Cross and how, when they first dug it out, it looked all right up close but from the railway station it looked all wrong. So they had to change it a little, so that the eye would be fooled into thinking the Cross was the correct shape.
“And another thing,” she continued.” Did you know that during World War Two, they had to cover the Cross up, on account of the bombers from across the seas using it as a direction pointer straight into London?”

Robert said that he hadn’t ever heard any of those things and that he would tell his dad about them when he came home.

And that was the day, that Annie, an 83-year-old woman, decided that until Robert’s dad came home, she would take care of the boy and that they would both sit up by the Cross and talk and talk.

bobby stevenson 2017

The Fireman

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In the early days of the next war, a story arose, an urban legend, about a person they called the Fireman. He had been given that name because of the stories of him putting out fires which had spontaneously erupted in the Mohawk Valley; that was the night that the mushroom cloud had first appeared over Stone City, a place about fifty miles away. Lit the whole goddamn sky.
Having never really believed that all of this would happen, folks hadn’t paid much attention to warnings about radiation – what was lethal and what to watch out for. So most people stayed indoors – not realizing that it was already too late for most of them.
The Fireman rode from cellar to cave to a hole in the ground, bringing medicines, and water, and news to anyone who needed him. Folks talked about him in hushed tones, except on the days when they hoped he would visit. On those days, their little living area was swept clean and the best of what few things they had would be offered to the great man. Folks couldn’t sit still on those days, from what I’ve been told.
The Fireman would sit and talk and feel good in himself, what with shaking another human’s hand. It was the one thing that the Fireman missed more than anything – human contact.
As more of the souls succumbed to the radiation sickness, there was less news to pass around. So the Fireman started to invent stories, not out of badness but to keep the folks he visited in a positive frame of mind. If the country was to rebuild itself, then straight, good, honest thinking would be what would get them on their feet.
Folks loved to hear all his stories.
“So they’re rebuilding Stone City?” They would say.
“Jeez, hear that Ma? We might be vacationing in the city next year.”
But the Ma he was talking to, was lying in a dark room being sick for one final time in her life.
Now here’s the bit where I’m going to stretch your belief systems. From what I was told, the Fireman did keep people holding on to their dreams – because in the end that was the only the thing they had worth keeping.
And some folks did survive – and a few of those probably thanks to the Fireman.
Some dark hearts say, he never really existed, that he was a figment and all.
I tell you – that ain’t true and I’m going to go looking for him. I’m gonna find out where he came from, where he went to, and when I get the truth, I’m going to let you know just the minute I hear it.
God Bless the Fireman, that’s what I say, God Bless him.
bobby stevenson 2017

 

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Waiting For The Winds To Blow

I’m waiting for the winds to blow,

And someday soon, or later,

They’ll take me on a voyage,

To a land of somewhere greater.

 

And if we do not get the chance

To wish you ourselves goodbye,

I’ll look for you in kinder places,

As I go sailing by.

 

I’m waiting for the winds to blow,

To take my heart away,

And ‘though, we drift apart awhile,

We’ll kiss again, someday.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Our Home by the Railroad

If I’m being real honest, the house wasn’t as grand as you see it now. Back then it was built with love, sweat and tears and over the longest of times; if I’m guessing, I’d probably say nearer seven years than six. Christopher Lawson made his money from a store in town – one that he and his wife lived above – and one, that he had promised her, that they would escape from one day when they would move out into the countryside.

She had grand ideas about her home, and Christopher spent every spare hour in helping to build her dream. When he wasn’t at the house, he was at the store and this all eventually took its toll. At the age of thirty-seven, Mr Lawson raised a hammer for the very last time – just before his heart gave in. His wife (after a decent amount of time) moved back out East and married, a Philadelphian, by the name of Jeremiah Cruvitz.

That was when the house fell into the possession of my great, great-grandfather and I have to tell you, it has stayed in the family ever since. The house wasn’t built beside the railroad, rather the other way around. By the time the trains came our way, my grandfather had made the building fancier, with more bedrooms to accommodate his growing family. My great, great grandparents had visited New Orleans one hot summer and decided they wanted their house to reflect the same ‘tasteful elegance’.

The first big train that passed our house, and I’m reading my great, great grandfather’s diary here, was one bringing the soldiers from the war down south back to their homes in the north. Man, these guys were hollering and singing and hanging from the train. It had been a long few years and now they were all going back to their kin folks. President Lincoln had defeated the succession and slavery was gone. The sad thing is, that only a few weeks later, my family were standing by the railroad as the body of our greatest president went rolling by.

There were happy times, too. One summer, in 1893, there was a knock at the door real early in the morning. Heck, from what I hear the sun even didn’t even have time to get its pyjamas off – it was that early. One of my family answered the door,for a man with the longest and curliest moustache in the world, to say: “Could ya spare some water for my elephant?”.

Seems the train taking the animals to the Chicago World’s Fair had broken down about a quarter-mile from our house, and the animals were all getting thirsty. What a day that was for my folks. In the end, they held their own private circus in our garden, then the show folks slept in the barn and some on the kitchen floor. In the morning, their train was good to go and they were off on their way to Chicago.

Two more World Wars came and went, and guns and soldiers were shipped to the east coast (or the west, as happened in the second war).

For a long-time afterwards trains kinda fell out of fashion, although you’d still get the two-mile-long cargo caravans. It stayed very much that way until the late 1960s, when we all went down to the tracks, dipped our heads and watched as the train carrying Robert Kennedy passed by the house on the way to Washington DC.

Passenger trains came back into service again, and folks started to pass our house. Some would take the time to wave, while others were busy on their computers and all.

Late in 2018, trains started heading towards New York and Philadelphia with armaments of all shapes and sizes; tanks, rockets, landing crafts, you name it, the trains carried it.

It was only a few months after those trains passed that we saw the flash in the sky – long way off my daddy said – but we could still feel the wind all the same.

Ain’t no trains been passed the house in a mighty long time, no trains at all – speaking of which, we ain’t seen another human in all that time, either.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

shoreham rose

 

Sara: The Woman Who Told Stories

sara

She felt that she had never set the world on fire; unlike the politicians who had managed just that. No, what she had achieved, what Sara had achieved, was to light little fires in the eyes and souls of the people she would meet.

The world had gone from blues and greens and whites and yellows, to the darkest black. Darker than the hearts of those men (and they were men) who had started the conflicts. Over what?  Over what men had been fighting about for several thousand centuries; ‘what I have is greater and bigger than yours’.

After the dark, which had lasted a very long time, a sort of dawn had emerged, a beginning to the healing. One in which the world and nature were starting to soothe the planet and make it inhabitable again.

Water began to run in the streams, and rain, a blackish, sooty rain had found itself falling on long forgotten fields.

Those who had been born in the dark times had lost the art of building so most took to shelters where they were found. There were fights and wars over the possession of such treasures. Many had taken to using old railway tunnels or under bridges. Defenses would be set at either end of the tunnels and families, perhaps several hundred, would live within that camp. In some sad ways, the Iron Age had returned.

Sara had never known her parents, she had been found crying beside an old dried up river bed which had once been known, before the dark times, as the Thames.

The man who picked her from the ground that day had a family of his own; his folks were the new troubadours – once known as circus people, they now traveled from one settlement to another, performing for food and water and anything else they could get.

Sara grew up in this environment, a gypsy life that suited her well. No one knew of the type of people she had come from, and after a while, she found it didn’t really matter to her.

She was happy – whatever happiness was in those days of rebuilding. I suppose if we were being honest, happiness is relative to what you are experiencing. Perhaps the happiest man in the world in those days, would have been called a sad man a thousand years before. But for the times she lived in, Sara was happy enough.

She never found a partner on account of the fact that she moved around the country so much. She never had children – but this was a choice – she didn’t want to bring new life into these difficult times.

So one day – and for whatever reason only known to her – when her family were sleeping, she awoke early and left the tunnel they were living, and entertaining, in – and without looking back, she walked away.

She never saw any of them again – despite all the traveling she did. She didn’t go looking for them, but she thought it might be nice to see an old face, once in a while.

Sara found she had a gift for stories and storytelling. Although each settlement tended to have one or two of their own, the chances were that they told the same story again and again. Sara’s gift was that she could write whatever the universe threw at her.

Some stories she had in her head were standard, and she would change the names in the tales to several people’s names who lived in the tunnels which she was visiting. Yet most of her stories were made up on the spot and although many were lost in time, some were remembered by a tribe’s member and re-told long after Sara had left the area. They changed in the re-telling but basically they were Sara’s stories.

The folks in the railway tunnels had started to farm in its most basic sense – in the dirt on each side of their settlements, areas that had once supported the railway lines. After a few difficult months of growing and harvesting, people like Sara were a warm, welcome sight to those who lived in the tunnels.

Nothing had survived from the old days, those wondrous lost days of everlasting summers: no Shakespeare, no Einstein, no Van Gogh, no Turner, no Twain, and no Dickens. Nothing. Whatever Sara was creating in her head was based on what she had seen and heard in her short life – and whatever the universe was whispering in her ear.

But there was no one who could compete or create as much as she did. In between Sara’s visits people would be entertained by clowns, or magicians, or souls who had started to make tunes using wood and stone.

Nothing or no one ever came close to Sara – she was the Hollywood of those new days. Her stories traveled far and wide – it is said that some of her stories traveled around the world several times, changing only in details and language.

There is a statue to Sara which stands in the central square of New London – its inscription is simple:

‘The Woman Who Told Stories’.

She is still missed.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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A Street in Rye

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In the years between the Wars, those golden years, each August my family would visit my grandmother in Rye; a little town on the south coast of England.

Both her and my grandfather had always lived by the sea. My grandfather, Good Old Charlie (as he was known) had spent his life working at Rye railway station.

Together they had brought up five children. One, my uncle Bertie, never returned from the Somme. There were many families like that in Rye, and in a thousand other places, I’m sure.

My grandmother always smelt of roses, and every time I passed a garden and closed my eyes, I found myself back there, sitting on her knee, feeling safer than I had ever done, or ever would.

That was the perfect time in my life.

On the Sunday morning, we would walk to church, which was up a steep path, and on our return my grandmother would bring out a cake stand, and sitting on top would be the most delicious cake anyone had ever tasted.

On the Sunday afternoon me and my grandmother would walk up Mermaid Street and gaze at all the houses. To me it was the most beautiful street in the world – probably still is.

My grandmother would take my hand and I would ask her all sorts of questions.

“Do you think Heaven will look like Mermaid Street, Grandma?” I asked.

She squeezed my hand tighter and said that Heaven was more beautiful than that, but that Mermaid Street probably looked like the path up to the gates.

When we got to the top of Mermaid Street, I always looked for the gates, but could never find them.

After the second World War, I met my husband and we got married. Every weekend, when we could, we would take a trip to Rye and we would both walk up Mermaid Street. I told my husband about my grandmother and her story about Heaven. My grandmother had left us a few years back, and had walked up Mermaid Street one final time.

One day in June, in 1953, a few months before my daughter was born, my husband took me to Rye and we wandered up the street that leads to Heaven. When we got near the top, he presented me with a set of keys. It was to be ours, a house for the family. A house at the top of Mermaid Street.

One near my grandmother, and one near the gates.

bobby stevenson 2017

Krystal and The Astral Vikings

The Start

When she was a child, she ran with the wind and loved the Sun on her face. Back then, the world was an exotic mixture of colours, smells and wonderment and she took every opportunity to drink them all in – every single one of them. Life was electricity when you were starting out; love, hope, fear, and happiness were all painted in huge, large letters and it was all there for the owning, but once you started to take them all for granted, these pulses of life began to erode and would eventually disappear.

So, it was for Krystal, for she was still young enough to taste a little of the electricity in her mouth, but old enough to know that it was leaving her (like it did for all of us). Yet there was still a life of adventure out there to be lived – regardless of the dying of the light, and she wanted it.

There are stories and myths that come from all parts of this glorious world, some of them are downright lies but some of them are true.  To be honest, most of them come from the fevered minds of those who should know better – but in among them all was one story that her grandfather had told her, and her mother, and her brother. It was about the Sky pirates – and how they would take to the air in their big wooden ship, and land in little towns and hamlets and rob the good folks who lived there. Their real name was the Astral Vikings, at least that’s what they called themselves – but Krystal knew them as the Sky pirates and that was how they’d stay (at least in her mind).

Even though the story had been told again and again, it had faded some in her mind and so she travelled to see her brother to ask him about who and what they were.

“They ain’t for the likes of you, Sis,” said her brother.

“That ain’t your call, now is it?” She told him. “All I want to know is when they come and how I can meet them.”

Her brother blew up his cheeks to show that she was asking a whole lot in that one question.

“They might kill ya,” he said.

“I’ll take my chances,” she responded. “So where can I meet them?”

And her brother told her about a hill that was about two clicks from the town and which would probably take about a day to climb.

“When do they get there?” She asked him.

“On the 32nd of every February,” he told her.

“There ain’t no such date,” she scolded.

“Oh, but there is. You just gotta look”.

She tried to weigh up what she was leaving behind, and in the end it didn’t seem that much. Most of her family had gone, and her brother lived some ways away. So, what did she have to lose? Pretty much nothing.

There was still a bit of waiting to be done. There were twenty-nine days in February that year, so Krystal packed her bag and on the morning of the 30th of February, she started out for the hill. There was really no one to say goodbye to, except maybe the stray cat who had befriended her.

“I would take you with me, but I ain’t sure that pirates don’t eat cats,” and without looking back she put one foot in front of the other and left her home for good.

By the 31st of that month, Krystal had reached the base of the hill. Now all she had to do was climb it. It was tougher and higher than she had dreamed but just before it grew dark on the 32nd of February, she stood at the top, smiled to herself and waited. She wasn’t sure for what but she waited all the same. She wasn’t alone, no sir – not by a long way. There was a queue of folks from little creatures to real hairy things. Each of them just as enthusiastic to be a Sky pirate.

She heard it before she could see it – the ‘putt,putt,putt’ of the great engines that kept the ship in the air, then through the clouds it came. Huge and magnificent. Someone shouted to her from the sky-ship, asking if she was looking to come aboard.

“You mean all of us?” She shouted back.

“Who else is with you” And sure enough, all the others had got scared and were running as fast as they could back down the hill.

Without a second’s delay, Krystal said that she was as ready as she’d ever be and so the great ship manoeuvred close to where she was standing. A man – one of the Astral Vikings – jumped on to the nearest ledge and ran a rope gangway over to where Krystal was standing.

He quickly jogged back to the vessel and left Krystal standing at the bottom of the gangway and at the start of a new life.

Should she? Would she? Was she brave enough?

And just like leaving home she put one foot in front of the other and walked towards the sky ship.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

shoreham rose

Weird London – Three Stories

The Private War of Bobby Falkirk

Which war he went to (and came back from), isn’t important here, it’s just important to know that Bobby came back in one piece – well almost. His head was intact, as was his body – but it was a plain and simple fact that his brain and heart didn’t really communicate that well with each other. Whose does?

Ever since he was old enough to climb trees, Bobby had always wanted to be a soldier. In Bobby’s world branches became rifles, and clumps of grass tied to his head made him invisible to the enemy. He used to invade Mister Elder’s garden on a weekly basis. Mister Elder threatened to go to the police, but nothing ever came of it and Bobby kept on invading and taking Mister Elder’s flower beds prisoner.

Every morning Bobby would ask his mother if he was old enough to join the army, and every morning she would say the same things – ‘not long now’ or ‘when you’re a little taller’. Bobby even hung upside down from trees, for hours, just to make himself that little bit taller.

As he grew up and older, Bobby could see his mother looking sadder – she knew the time was fast approaching when he son would be off to wars overseas.

Bobby had waited, as he had promised, until he was 18 years of age before he attempted to join the army. At that age he was over six-foot tall and built like a champion fighter. Bobby didn’t care if the world was ready for him, Bobby was most definitely ready to take on the world.

In all, Bobby spent ten years in the army and in that time, he saw many places, many cultures, and just as many ways to kill a man. His eyes grew tired and weary of the stench of death, and his heart grew cold and hard. By the time Bobby returned to his home, he felt like a man who belonged to no particular place. Something of himself had been destroyed and buried in those far-off lands and it made him confused, as a result.

In the ten years spent in the army his parents had died, leaving Bobby to feel that he was an orphan. He had a family while he was in the army – he had never been closer or felt more of sense of belonging than those army years, but friends had died in battle or had left.

For the first time in his life, Bobby felt totally alone. In his younger years, Bobby would sometimes travel with his uncle (really a kindly neighbour) up to St Pancras station and hotel on Euston Road. It had been falling apart for many years, but while his uncle worked on the railways, Bobby would explore the old buildings and the old hotel.

In the highest tower (and for reasons you will understand later, I am saying no more than that) Bobby found an empty room, full of cobwebs and rats. At each visit, Bobby would smuggle in little objects, pieces of wood (from which he built a seat), and some things to eat and drink. Over the next few years, it became Bobby’s home away from home. One weekend, when his uncle was taken unwell, Bobby sneaked up to the railway station and managed to get up to his den in the highest tower, unseen. He had always remembered this.

On his return from his war, Bobby had found himself with nowhere to call home, or even rest his head. It was then that he thought of his little room and wondered if it had been discovered during his absence, or if it indeed remained intact.

The station and the hotel had been transformed since last he had seen the place, and the chances didn’t look good for his den’s survival. Even the back stairs had been repainted and lit in electric light, but as he got to where the door was to his room, he found a brick wall. The entrance had been blocked.

The window to the left of the door was still in place and Bobby found he could still open it. The ledge was there and Bobby clung on to the guttering as he walked, carefully up the roof. The window to his den was still there and he managed to prise it open.

Would you believe it? Bobby’s den was still there, untouched, if a little unloved. The builders must have blocked the door and ignored the highest room in the tower. All his survival/army gear was there – even his little notebooks where he recorded all his height changes as he grew.

That night Bobby slept well, just like did when he was a kid. Tomorrow could look after itself.

It took him a minute or two to realise where he was when he awoke, as the sun shone through the window of his little room. When Bobby was ready, he went on a little walk of discovery and found that there was three other rooms next to his which had also been bricked off from the rest of the building. That was when the thought hit him – it would be possible to live up here, as long as he could come and go unseen.

He only had a little money, enough to keep him going for two or three weeks at most, and if he left the building in the dark then he should be able to survive for a while.

That first day, he ate what was left of the sandwich he had stuffed in his pocket. From up there, the highest room on Euston Road, he could see the world go by and the office workers impatiently watching the clocks on their walls. Bobby’s medication wouldn’t last more than a month or two. The army had handed him some tablets to keep his confusion under control, but in the end the self-control was down to him.

Bobby waited until past midnight before he made the walk down the ledge. He could hear the city screaming and shouting from the streets below; people with families and lives. People without the confusion that had swamped his thoughts. Would he love to be down there and normal? The thought didn’t last long as a breeze blew up and nearly knocked him from the roof. He managed to catch on to the guttering at the last moment. In that split second, he had imagined the newspaper report – ‘soldier returns from war and jumps from roof’. Bobby didn’t want that.

Bobby made it down to Euston Road and started towards Kings Cross. He went into the station and bought some chocolate to keep him going. Bobby was walking to nowhere in particular when, from the corner of his eye and across the street, he noticed a young woman being pushed about by three men. She looked to be in trouble. Bobby sped across the road.

Bobby shouted at the men. “Leave the girl alone.”
“Says who?” Asked one of the men. The one with a scar across his nose.
“Says me,” Bobby shouted back.
“Get him lads,” shouted the fat one.

At that point the three of the men threw the girl aside, making her bump her head against the wall.
It was easy for Bobby, he was fit and ready for them. He knocked two of their heads, literally together. One sparked out and one ran away. The one with the scar stood his ground and grabbed the girl by the neck.

“One move and she gets it,” he said with the girl blocking him from Bobby’s fists. Bobby rolled into a ball then quickly knocked away the man’s legs, Bobby managing to catch the girl as she was released.

Bobby stood and dragged the man by the ankles into a small lane. Bobby picked the man up and chucked him in a dump. Then Bobby returned to make sure the girl was okay.

She seemed to be okay and he found out her name was Elizabeth. She had no money, so Bobby went back and emptied the man in the dump’s wallet. He handed the money to the girl, taking her to a place where she could catch a cab. She asked his name, he told her it wasn’t important and then put her in a taxi.

Bobby could hear the station clock strike two in the morning, as he edged his way back to his den in the sky.

As he lay trying to sleep that night, Bobby wondered if everything happened for a reason. Maybe being a soldier and fighting the bad on the streets of London was why he had been put on this Earth.

Bobby, the hero? There was still a grin on his face as he fell asleep.

 

CHOODLA

The Start

What can I say about Choodla, that hasn’t already been said over and over again by the newspapers, the television, the judges, the police, the weird man who lives on everyone’s street, my family, my pet dog? Nothing – that’s what, nothing except I’m Choodla and no one except me can say that.

I’ve watched those stupid movies about superheroes (okay they aren’t that stupid) and then I’ve watched those stupid movies about vigilantes (okay, those aren’t that stupid either) and that is when I decided to……no, I think I’m jumping ahead here. Let’s go back to the start. Kind of.

Once upon a time, a pre-Choodla time, I was just your usual kid with dreams and stuff. Well except I was too lazy for the dreams and didn’t have enough cash for the stuff – so basically I was just a kid.  The trouble was that all those little traits followed me into adulthood. I mean I did my best to grow up – ended up over six feet tall – but those pesky little things like laziness kind of came with me. Boy that really pee’d me off but what’s a guy to do?

I had a job, or at least I had people who came and gave me money to sit in an office and work with dumb folks and dream of being somewhere else. Except you get to like the money and tell yourself you’re only staying until the storm passes over and then you’ll move on. Except you don’t – or at least it looked as if I was welded to that desk in my office – until the day they said they were rationalizing the structure of the office, and that meant I was on the street.

So now I don’t have a job but at least I don’t have to listen to dumb folks anymore and that to me was a big tick. Except I don’t have any stupid people to hand me money, so I have to do what I have always done and that is to play my guitar in the street and hope folks throw coins at me. I should have said ‘to me’ but it was more often than not ‘at me’. Hey, you get to find out that everyone’s a judge these days.

So I was playing ‘American Pie’ on my guitar for the good folks of this big city for the twentieth time that day and I still only had a few coins in the hat (ones I put there myself). When a little old man came crawling out of a side door – called himself McCafferty and said he was having a party and would I like to come. Okay, you’re thinking what I’m thinking that this man is a serial killer and probably got a bed, some tape, rope and a collection of knives to torture me slowly but I thought, being the victim of serial killing has got to be preferable to playing ‘American Pie’ one more time. You think I’m joking, you try it.

Anyway I collected my coins and hat and followed him down through a door which seemed to go down to an old unused Underground Station. Down in the old platform, of the old station (it was old) was a collection of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells that you would ever wish (or not) to meet.  McCafferty introduced me as ‘that geezer who won’t stop playing that song’ and everyone knew who he meant.

The leader wasn’t McCafferty but a big bloke called Andrew who shook my hand and asked if I thought that they we were just a bunch of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells. I said that nothing could be further from the truth, and that indeed they looked like an upstanding bunch of gentlemen …”and ladies” shouted a collection of overcoats in the corner.
Once you got over the smell, they did indeed seem interesting. One gentleman had been a professor of economics in a prestigious university but had fallen on hard times when they’d found the bank accounts.

“A mere oversight,” he said, and he hoped to re-join the world above any day soon.

Another had been something in Westminster until they caught him and he too was only waiting down here for things to get better.
The one they called ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ and who was married to whatever existed under the collection of coats had once been a star of stage and screen until he too was found to be wanting in some area or another.
They asked me what my story was and I had to be honest and say that I had just been fired from my job. As such I had probably some way to go to be as esteemed as the collection in front of me.

“Tish and tosh,” said Jumping Jack, “You look like you have a few secrets to tell.”
Apart from stealing a coin from my Grandmother’s purse I had been pretty quiet on the dishonesty side.

“We shall prise it out of you, young musician person, prise it we shall.”
I must say he looked as if he meant it, every word and that perhaps ‘prising’ meant using some instrument or other.
An extremely smelly old man said that there was one rule down here and that was ‘share and share alike’ and suddenly a giant of a man grabbed me by the ankles and held me upside down while the little coins that I had, fell out of my pocket. All of those miscreants were on those coins like rats.

When they had taken everything and anything, they said the time had arrived for me to be named. I told them quite rightly that I had a name but they said that was a name for use above, I needed one for down here in the Underground. A few of them huddled in a corner and every so often they would stop talking, look at me in a very weird way then shake their heads and go back to talking.

After what seemed a blooming eternity (enough time to sing American Pie fifty times) they came over to me and told me to kneel.
I did so hoping that whatever happened would be quick –

“Old Creature here has come up with a name and you are to be called ‘Choodla’ from now on.”

I asked why Choodla as it sounded kind of weird.
The one they called Creature said, “It is the greatest name that anyone down here can be called. It is after the Underground station we stand in.”
I said I didn’t know any stations new or old called Choodla.

“No dear boy, it is Aldwych – that is the station in which we reside. One that was closed years and years ago. And if you spell it backwards – Chywdla (well nearly backwards) you get Choodla. That sir is your name from now on.”

So here I am stuck in an Underground station in London with a bunch of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells and you’re asking how do I become a superhero?  Well you’ll just have to wait and see.

 

Cheedle Craze

If you’ve ever journeyed upon a train through the centre of London town, you’ll have perhaps looked up, and seen, a vacant office with dirty windows; one that is unloved and unlived in. Well that dirty little place, dear friends and readers, is the current whereabouts of one, Cheedel Craze. You will certainly not know his name up until now, but you may have met him in one form or another.

If Cheedel was like us mortals, his career would be noted as space cop, but believe me, he is much more than that, vastly more than that. Cheedel is the soul who keeps our universe in order – who cleans up any spillage and who attempts to put things right, the best that he can.

Each universe, (of which there are many) has guardians, and Cheedel is one of ours. He bases himself in London, since – when he started his tour of duty, this city was at the centre of a great empire and an easy place to get to anywhere else. As for choosing Earth, well this little outpost sitting on the edge of the Milky Way, was the ideal place for Cheedel to get some time to himself.

Now I’m going to try to explain multiverses (lots and lots of universes) the patronising way that Cheedel explains it to me. So nothing personal then.

Imagine that you have a car, sitting outside your house at 7am on a Monday – and for whatever reason you try to cram as many people as possible into said car. Say, the total you could fit in at any one time without killing people is, eight. The next morning (Tuesday) you do the same again – another eight souls into an empty car. Each of them occupying the same physical space on a different day – but now imagine that someone from the Monday car left a paper behind, and the Tuesday crowd found it – then it would be Cheedel’s job to clean up that tracer (as he calls it) so that the Tuesday crowd know nothing of the Monday crowd. Okay, I hear you, you’re none the wiser. Anyway that is Cheedel’s job and he loves it.

On this particular morning, ironically a Monday, he hears tell of a ghostly apparition that has been causing consternation at a public house (a bar) on Fleet Street. The bar owner loved the attention at first, but now the figure of a woman is attacking his precious clients by throwing things around. This would have been called a poltergeist in the old superstitious days but Cheedel knows this not to be the case.

Sometimes universes rub up against each other and cause little ripples, or ulcers if you like, that allows energy to slip from one to the other. It’s as if someone in the Tuesday car happen to see an image of someone sitting in the car on the Monday. Once these were called ghosts – but now you know better.

By the time Cheedel arrives at the bar, there has been much destruction and not a soul left drinking in the place. Cheedel finds the owner hiding behind the bar trying to avoid plates that are being thrown at the bottles behind him. Even if he misses the plate, the bottles smash and scatter glass everywhere.

Cheedel had found out about this particular problem while sitting in the British Library – he sometimes fondly calls that building the ‘Geek Palace’ on account of the folks who sit in there and have discussions that would probably get them beaten up just a few yards outside the building.

One couple who frequented the Geek Palace, quite regularly, were talking about existentialism and ghosts. As I say, had they been having that conversation on a bus, the driver would have probably thrown them off. Anyway the taller of the two mentioned about the haunting at the bar on Fleet Street and about the ghost of Anne Boleyn, the Queen, who apparently stalked the corridors.

Cheedel chuckled to himself, because he knew that even if she was an Anne Boleyn, she would have definitely not been the Queen of England. No two people did the same thing in two universes. So even if it was her, she was probably appearing as a contestant on X-Factor in that universe (although Cheedel realised that he was being a bit facetious).

The owner asked if Cheedel was a ghost hunter or if he was just in for a pint of beer to be drunk under trying circumstances. Cheedel decided to call himself a ghost hunter as it always seemed to work with Londoners.

Cheedel strode up the bar corridor and was met with a toilet pan flying across his path. He entered the room that the toilet had come from, to find a grainy image of an old (annoyed) woman. You see, this woman would have slipped through from her universe unintentionally and was probably being treated for mental illness over at her side. What with all her talking about bars and people in funny clothes – when she might be just sitting in a room and no one else knowing what she was going on about.

The secret to a successful clean-up was for Cheedel to fix the rupture in the universe wall without leaving any of the leakage on this side. Otherwise the angry woman might be throwing furniture about for eternity.

He tried to distract the apparition by singing a Monty Python song. Cheedel had no idea why this worked but it seemed to. She stopped throwing things about long enough for Cheedel to locate the rip in the space-time continuum (it was a lot of nonsense, of course, but he loved to impress the geeks with that type of talk).

The woman slipped happily back through the hole and Cheedel manage to make a nice repair in the wall. Cheedel knew that the woman (who ever she was) would be starting to recover on her side and would no longer see strange things – she might even go on to win X-Factor in that universe. Cheedel chuckled at this and considered it another victory for the space police.

And on the way home, he thought he might just drop into the Geek Palace to see what folks were talking about at this time of day.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

shoreham rose

Can’t Stop This Gun From Crying

bridge

It had been welcomed by the scientific community as a life saver, as the next step in metal technology and a new generation of those shining babies was about to be unleashed on the world.

The team that had developed the idea at Los Alma had received the Nobel Prize that year and were ready to be courted by every large manufacturing company.

They had no need to worry where their next research dollar was coming from, indeed none of the team had any need to work for the rest of their lives. The principal was simple although the actual practical solution had taken decades of research: A material that repaired itself. You see it wasn’t so terrible when you put it down on a piece of paper like that. It seemed so innocent, beneficial almost.

The plan was that one day, aircraft while in flight could self-medicate, a nut or a bolt here would be re-grown and replaced. However that was still some way off and the actual exposure of the general public to SeRep (Self Repair), as it was christened, was minimal.

It was planned that cars too would have the ability to repair themselves – although there had been several showdowns at government level between the makers of the materials and the car manufacturers. The way things were looking, it meant that after you purchased a new car, and with a good headwind, it could last you a lifetime (and the rest).

As you can imagine, the automobile industry was readying for a fight – big time. The first public structure to be made of SeRep was a bridge in Illinois, chosen by some wise guy at Los Alma who had stuck a pin in a map of the Ohio river.

A Bridge had been selected as a structure that could suffer wear and tear, be exposed to public use and certainly be enhanced safety-wise by the use of the new material.The Tamaroa bridge was the one chosen and it crossed the Ohio at the southernmost tip of Illinois.

As with all great ideas there were teething problems. The material, for instance, had to be guarded because of theft. The ‘bridgits’ as they became known would hack off a piece of SeRep meaning the bridge would have to repair and replace and then they’d sell it (or at least try to) on the ‘Net.

Sometimes the material that had been stolen was so large that the bridge displayed a permanent scar. Just like human skin.

At night when there was less traffic going over the bridge (that’s not to say it was totally quiet as people came from all over to see the wonder – day and night), but at night when the bridge was repairing itself it sounded like a muffled cry and this caused the bridge to be nicknamed the Bridge of Sighs. It almost sounded like a child in pain.

There had been the odd accident, the biggest of which was the General Custer, a tourist boat hired by some big corporation, packed with sweaty, drunk sales persons on a free trip to see the Bridge.

At the inquiry it had been shown that the Captain had been more than a little drunk and had almost destroyed the bridge supports on the Illinois bank. The damage was so severe that the SeRep guys decided to give the bridge a helping hand and assisted in the repairs.

Yet anytime the bridge was left alone it would still continue to do the work it had been created for and it could always be heard to sigh.

Janus Jones was a mid western boy straight out of college and about to set off for the Florida panhandle in a car his Pappy had bought him. The present was not for finishing school but for staying out of jail unlike Kevin, his older brother. Janus could have flown pretty cheaply but he wanted to follow the Mississippi all the way south and then cut across to Tallahassee.

So it was a surprise when he found Kevin loading a bag into his new car on the morning of his trip.

“Coming with you Bro’. No arguments, I got nothing from Paw but aggravation and you get this brand spanking new car – so the least you can do is take me as far a New Orleans.”

Then Kevin jumped in the car. And so the two Jones brothers (you’d have sworn they’d had different fathers) set off on a trip that would shake their worlds forever. At the trial Kevin, although missing most of his left arm, was still able to act as a credible witness. The way he told things it was as if the brothers had been the innocent victims. That wasn’t totally true.

Just before the incident Kevin had driven for several hours south which had let Janus sleep, although with Kevin at the wheel Janus tended not to sleep too soundly. They’d stopped at the very last bar in Illinois going south to allow Kevin a few beers, Janus drank cola and several of the witnesses had told the court that Kevin had forced Janus to stay, and that Kevin had drank too many beers. That was just Kevin.

As they left the car lot, instead of Janus driving, Kevin jumped into the driver’s seat and was beginning to move off. Janus had no choice but to jump in over the rear of the car. Chances are Kevin would have left him for cold, just standing there and let him make his own way home – Kevin had done it before.

“Where you at?”

Kevin ignored Janus and continued down the narrow road.

“This ain’t the way.”

“Tis, if you’re going to the Tamaroa. I wanna see the magic bridge.”

The traffic started slowing about a mile from the bridge as there was a queue of cars taking their time crossing. At one point, due to the weight of cars on the bridge and regardless of its properties, the cops had stopped the cars coming north, to allow the south bound queue to clear.

As Kevin approached the bridge he swerved over to the left hand lane and drove down the wrong side. Some of the cops started giving chase on foot but Kevin put his foot on the accelerator and then started hollering and whooping.

“Yee-haa, little bro’, yee-haa. Let’s just see how good this thing is at rebuilding.”

Kevin drove the car so close to the edge that sparks flew from the girders. Janus’ new car was badly damaged down that side. Not satisfied with this, Kevin started to run the car into the supports causing them to buckle and bend.

It was just as Kevin was ready to inflict a fatal blow on the bridge that the road beneath them opened up and Janus, Kevin and the car plummeted to the river below.

The cars behind, seeing what had just happened, had managed to swerve around the hole. Kevin swam to shore leaving Janus to sink with his new car. The older boy was way too drunk to try any heroics and was probably lucky just to save himself.

Janus’ father grieved for his good son and wasn’t going to let something like the Bridge of Sighs or its owners or the Los Alma scientists get away with their responsibilities and so he took them all to court.

I guess it would be more accurate to say he put the bridge on trial. Janus’ father claimed that the bridge had opened up the road to dump the car in the river in order to protect itself.

The newspapers had a field day – ‘The Bridge that kills’ .

What the father attempted to prove in court was that the bridge, or at least the material, was self-aware and that it had made a positive decision to break a hole in the road in order to rid itself of an irritant.

Of course the court over-ruled the claim and declared the accident as death by misadventure. Whatever was fully known was never put in the public domain, the bridge manufacturers were ordered to dismantle the structure and the material SeRep was banned from use in any public construction.

It wasn’t the end of SeRep however, the armies of NATO built tanks and weapons from the material. They’re using them at this very moment in the wars out east.

I hear tell that the soldiers talk of the weapons that cry in the night.

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Legend of Little River

road

It was always the strangest of little towns, neither being a 100 miles from somewhere or a 100 from anywhere else. Folks mostly found it by accident is what I’m saying, no one ever really went looking for it. It was like a large hole in a road on a dark night – you just kind of just fell into it.

That’s not to say that once you got there you were disappointed or anything – it was just that Little River was the last town you visited before falling off the end of the world.

The war of the north against the south had taken place a little ways down the road – neither the soldiers nor the shelling had ever really troubled the little town. In case you folks ain’t too sure where that little town resides – well it’s in South Carolina – just over the border from its northerly sister. Folks would pass it on the way to Charleston or up to Raleigh and never know, nor care, that the place existed.

It would have probably stayed that way had it not been for a family from New York state traveling back home in their huge automobile. They had been vacationing (as they say nowadays) in that great state of Georgia and had decided to take their time traveling north.

Some ways outside of Myrtle Beach, the old car started to jump and shudder like it was trying to do a dance of something. It finally gave up just outside of Little River – God bless its well-polished over-worked engine.

The father of the family, a mister Logan Berry (yep, he’d heard them all) had walked a short distance to a store to use the telephone and call for help.

“They are saying they will be here when they arrive,” said Mister Berry on his return.

“Whatever does that mean?” Asked his wife and, as usual, Logan just shrugged his shoulders, because he’d found that shrugging your shoulder never got a man misunderstood. Folks just interpreted it to mean whatever they wanted.

“Well if that’s their answer, then that’s their answer,” said his wife as if they all understood what was happening. Although to be fair to everyone concerned, Misses Berry wasn’t the happiest woman in the world. She had a frown on her that could melt cheese.

Mister Berry sat on the edge of his automobile entertaining his family with a harmonica which, I should say, he always carried with him. His darling wife thought it a common thing to play and had dearly wished that he had learned to play the violin or something that was in keeping with their station as a family of some wealth and distinction in Albany.

The family had a little girl called Amy and a boy, a year or so older, called Eugene. Now ‘Gene and Amy loved nothing better than to dance to their daddy’s music – and here they were skipping, and hollering, and jumping like the poor Albany kids would do. Misses Berry just tutted and shook her head.

The family had a little dog called Hoover (just like the dam) who also liked the sound of the harmonica as it meant he was let loose to jump and bark with the rest of his kin.  It was in the middle of a toe-tapping tune that a large truck heading north, tooted as it passed, causing little Hoover to shoot off into the woods next to the road. This pleased Misses Berry as it meant that they could call a halt to the family looking common and instead go searching for their little dog.

They all split up, even although the mother had insisted that Amy stay close to ‘Gene –  and that was why on that summer’s evening, Amy Berry found herself walking down the old dirt road to Little River.

She thought she heard a rustling from the undergrowth and shouted out ‘Hoover’ at quite a noise. “Hoover,” she shouted. “Hoover”.

It was just then that a soldier, or at least that’s what Amy thought he was, jumped out of the bushes and told her to keep quiet.

Amy asked why she should be quiet when she was looking for her little lost dog.

“’Cause they is all around, that’s ‘cause.”

“Who is all around?” Asked Amy.

“Why, the enemy,” said the soldier. “The enemy”.

And with that he ducked down and signaled to Amy to do the same.

“I will not,” said Amy. “My mom told me never to listen to boys ‘cause they is stupid”.

Amy had been on this Earth twelve summers and the soldier couldn’t have been much older than her. Except for maybe his eyes, they seemed as old as time and gave the impression they were looking out on a different world.

When the soldier was satisfied that the enemy weren’t nearby, he stood and introduced himself to the young girl.

“Ma name is Zachary James, and I bid you a hello.”

Amy gave him a strange look on account of his strange way of talking.

“How old are you?” Asked Amy.

“I ain’t too sure but I was born in Charleston on a Monday in 1848. Wettest day ever there was, my Ma said.”

“Why if you ain’t the most stupidest kid, I ever did meet. 1848? That would make you…”

And Amy started counting on her fingers but soon run out of them.

“Well I do believe the year is now 1863, at least it was the last time I was home. Ain’t nothin’ tellin’ me it’s anythin’ else,” he said, defiantly.

Amy thought he might be a bit crazy and decided not to upset him anymore. She felt she’d need to get on looking for her little ‘Hoover’ and to just ignore the stupid boy pretending to be a soldier.

“I’m just going to go on looking for my little dog, if you don’t mind,” said Amy.

“Is this him?” Asked Zach.

And sure enough when Amy looked over, there was Zach holding little Hoover.  Amy couldn’t thank Zach enough, except when it came to handing over the dog.

“I wants a kiss,” said Zach.

Amy shuddered at the thought, but decided it was a fair reward for getting the dog back.

When she’d kissed Zach, she wiped her lips with the back of her hands. Zach was grinning from ear to ear.

“Now let me grant you a wish,” he said, curiously.

Amy asked him what he meant and Zach told her that she could wish for anything in the world. She thought about this and that and then the idea sparked.

“I wish that my mother was the happiest person in the world.”

“Sure?”

“Sure,” said Amy.

“Then it’s done.”

Amy turned to shield her eyes from the sun and when she looked again, Zach had gone.

Amy held tightly onto little Hoover as she made her way back to the road. It was what she saw when she got there that she gave her the biggest of surprises. Her father was kissing a younger woman, who was most definitely not her mother.

Her father looked up and smiled at Amy.

“Hey, great you got the dog.”

Amy looked around. “Where Mom?”

Her father and the younger woman looked at each other and laughed.

“Stop with the joking.”

“I ain’t joking,” said Amy.

“You know your mother and I split up years ago and she went to live with that rich guy in New York.

From what I hear she’s mighty happy.”

I guess you got to be real careful what you wish for.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Distant Lights

lights2

Lights on the road had always meant different things to him. When he’d been bad, it was his father’s car coming up the drive and the punishment that followed. On his birthdays, it was the promise of what lay behind those car lights and what was hidden in the car.

That night, the night when he and his first love took the taxi to that hotel – oh, the butterflies in his stomach, those lights as the taxi arrived, that was living on the edge – just to feel like that again – for one fleeting moment – would be the nearest thing to heaven.

Car lights meant the potential for good, or perhaps the arrival of the bad.

As he lay in the dark, he thought about how he had got to where he was. Perhaps it was more accurate to cogitated on how the world had got to where it was.

He had been living on the farm for what had seemed a lifetime. There had been months of no food at the beginning, but he’d taught himself how to farm. How to trap rainwater. How to eat what insects were about.

He’d survived. He’d lived.

Those days had turned to months, then years and in all that time there had been no one. No radio, no phone, no sounds of another soul’s voice – but most of all no contact. No warmth from another body.

He could only guess what had happened. World War? Global environmental disaster? The End of the World perhaps? No plane had flown over the farm for years. There was no sound of distant sirens. Just – nothing.

Now this. He’d been watching the sun go down, when he’d caught sight of the lights. They could be seen as they came over the horizon. Who was driving? Why were they coming? Did they know he was there?

It was just like his dad’s car coming up the drive all those years before.

bobby stevenson 2017

My Pal

golf

This isn’t a story.

This is true and it isn’t meant to entertain anyone (perhaps none of them ever do), it’s only meant to put a few things straight in my head.

I had a pal once, a guy who would sometimes annoy and amuse in equal measure – I guess most people have friends like that. This pal had a harder start in life than some. When he was five years old his mother would appear at the school gates drunk and my mate would have to take her home.

All his life, he seemed to be running as fast as he could from that early situation in life. He worked twice as hard to be a better man and in some ways he was.

Him and his wife had a home that I would visit just to talk, or perhaps have a laugh, or maybe to sit and listen to music.

Music was a big thing in my pal’s life – although we didn’t always agree on what was good or bad. We all went to concerts together – some of those were the best ever.

My mate took me to golf days, like The Open, and although I didn’t play the sport, it was exciting to see all these talented folks up close. He did actually try to teach me golf once, but he could see I wasn’t going to be any good – mind you, that doesn’t stop people.

One night my bud was down this way in Kent – he was on a course in town, and we had a drink or two outside the George pub. One thing led to another and we argued – and when I got up in the morning to make him a coffee, he’d gone.

I went on my travels, mainly to the USA, and not only did months pass, but years got easily eaten up.

I never got in touch with him again.

From what I heard, my mate was always running from that start in life and had finally run into complicated places and complicated people.

A couple of years back, my pal walked into some woods near his home and didn’t walk back out.

I was watching The Open last week and I just wanted to say to my pal, wherever you are – I remember.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

The Thursday Angel

angel

She had been born on Christmas Day.

As the woman with the watery eye had mentioned to her mother, “She is your little Christmas gift, your little bundle of joy”.

And she was.

She had grown in a very happy home, and that joy had penetrated her very bones.

She had grown in body and soul and stood tall as one of life’s darlings.

She preferred to give happiness than to receive it.

There had been boyfriends but nothing that serious. Every time she felt she was falling in love, someone or something would cause a change in the way she lived.

She had met Patrick at a bus stop one yellowy autumn day and she told herself that this was the one. He proposed on New Year’s Eve and she had said yes.

“I was going to do it on December 25th but I didn’t want to overwhelm your birthday,” he had told her.

They were to be married on the following June, but that was a long time away. Life crossed her path, put its hand up and shouted ‘Stop’. Her father, worrying about his wife’s health, and on the way to the chemist, hadn’t noticed the bus.

Patrick called the wedding off, and she had made that condition permanent. Her mother was a widow now and needed all the support and help that came her way.

She told herself that it wouldn’t be forever, her mother would learn to live without her dad, and then she would set her life to rights; she’d finally settle down and find that one special person.

She remembered the day well, that day her mother dropped the groceries on the stairs. It was a small stroke they had told her. Things could go either way.

They went the dark way. Her mother saw things, and said things that were not her. The illness ate along her brain and chewed every last piece of her personality.

When her daughter held her mother’s hand, she couldn’t recognize her anymore.

Her mother tried to say something, so she put her ear to her mother’s mouth just as she had done when she was a child. She felt her mother’s hot breath caress her face.

“I love you,” said, her mother.

“And I will always watch over you, always look for the angel. I’ll be there.”

Her mother lived on for several more months, but it she never spoke of such things again. Love had been eaten by the disease, too.

They buried her mother on a Thursday.

On the way back from the cemetery she saw an angel of sorts. Just some random person riding a bicycle. She wondered if she had overtaken the bike that she would see her mum peddling away with a huge grin on her face.

Then she did a strange thing. She decided to follow the angel. She did so through the town square, and through the old streets of the western half, then the cyclist disappeared down through a wooden gate. She couldn’t follow anymore but next to the gate was a young man, attempting to get a cat down from the tree.

“I don’t suppose you could help me?” He asked.

And she did help him, as he helped her.

Now she was sitting at the Christmas Day fire thinking of the old days.

“Tell you grandchildren, honey, how we met, how you followed the angel.”

bobby stevenson 2017

Cracked Hearts & Walking Wounded

Eric-Staller-Walker-Street

Cracked Hearts

She washes her mother with water and with love. Gently caressing the body that looks like someone she once knew, but her mother’s mind has already gone ahead and waits for the soul to return. She cleans away the saliva from the mouth that once used to chastise and kiss and smile.

He dreads the sun coming up as it means another day and another night of little sleep. Somewhere between being ten years of age and this morning it all got complicated. The knots are too tightly tied to try to undo them anymore. He can hear the car next door starting up – the sign that he has to do it all….all over again.

If it wasn’t for the kids she would have left months ago, may be years. They were happy once. They were in love back then but all she did was turn her head away, take her eye off from where she was going and they slipped away from each other.

Okay, so he’s not a kid anymore but he tells himself that the injections he puts in his leg every morning are increasing his super powers. Yesterday he told himself he could see through peoples’ clothing. It made him smile and it greased another sticky day.

She’s 17 and gravity hasn’t hit her yet. She doesn’t know what waits around the corner but she is happy with her family and her dog called, Bertie. Oh, and her boyfriend.

The old lady lives two doors up from no one. She’s been there since the war and the neighbours have come and gone and although she used to know everyone, she locks her door against the night. When she goes, she’ll go like Eleanor Rigby. Then she hums what she thinks is the tune.

It’s the end of another day and as the heads lie on the pillow, or the sofa or the street, everyone should be standing up there on the podium, arms aloft for a job well done.

To get through a day, any day, deserves a medal. 

The Walking Wounded

Sally Anne leaves the house at number 17 with her heart almost bursting through her chest.

She’s pregnant, ‘with child’ as she read somewhere – just like the girl who was on the cover of  that magazine – Sally’s really really happy, she’s already deciding how her new home will look. She only found out while her Mum was making the toast and tea and the little line turned blue.

At number 22, the curtains twitch as Sam Lot watches his little distraction, Sally, walking down the street – bless her. Tonight’s the night he’s going to have to tell her it’s over; his wife is beginning to suspect.

The Hammerston twins, Fred and Irene at number 31 leave together, saying ‘good morning’ together to everyone they meet. As they run up the street for the West Town bus, Irene wonders how she’s going to tell her brother about her job up north.

Next door in number 33, Geraldine paces the floor – ‘born worrying, die worrying’ her mother used to tell the neighbours. But the lump on her breast makes her pace faster.

‘Lucky’ Jim turns into the street after finishing another night shift at the old plastic Works. He knows it has its bonuses – Jim had no trouble finding stuff to wrap his wife up in. And every morning when he finishes work he buys a newspaper, ten menthol cigarettes from the corner shop and wonders if this will be the day they find her.

In the little shop on the corner, Andy, the milkman, delivers another crate of cream and then creeps out having failed to ask Matilda – who works there – if she’d like to go to the park on Sunday.

Matilda’s heart is almost bursting through her chest as she waits for Andy to ask.

And Hugh, big strong Hugh from number 36, can’t tell anyone (not even his best friend) that his black eyes – which he covers with his wife’s makeup – are not from playing sports. She’s warned him, if he acts like a child then he must be punished like one.

He’s hidden the packed bag in the shed for the day he leaves her.

At the white house on the corner, Alice takes in gentleman callers until her husband gets back from a far off land.

And in the bus shelter Eddie drinks a can, not to brighten the dull day but to tone down the colours.

And from every house on the street comes the screech of silent screaming.
Only the dogs can hear.

Edward Frostwaite: Rocket Man

Edward Frostwaite always wanted something different to happen to him. Not for him was the attraction of a job in a factory. Nor did he want to go into the army and fight wars – because Edward had always wanted to be an astronaut. He saw his life being outside of the Earth, maybe because he found his own life on the Earth not to his liking.

When he was five years of age, and using a bedsheet, he jumped from his grandmother’s roof and spent six months in hospital in traction. All he would say about the experiment was that he had nearly made it – ‘I was so close’.

When he was nine, he strapped a large paper kite to his back, and cycled towards the sea-cliffs. It took the rescue craft several hours to find him, and by then he was already a mile out to sea.

His response to all those who said he was crazy: ‘Well, I’ll know not to try that again’.

Some folks are born in the wrong family, or country, or even the wrong body but Edward knew he was born on the wrong planet. He had a theory that somewhere out there was his real home. He believed that Earth had been populated by travelers from another planet, and that every so often this alien DNA would surface in a person and make them feel homesick.

At sixteen years of age, he built a rocket and successfully sent a pizza – that his mother had made – into space. Well not space really, as he saw the pizza on the roof of the local hospital one day when he was passing by on a bus.

At seventeen, he sent his pet gerbil, Florence, up several hundred feet and she safely returned to the ground assisted by a small parachute. (My lawyer has asked that I remind you, that this should never be attempted with any living creature).

When he was only a few days old, Edward, or the baby as he was known, had been left on a doorstep. There was a note tied to his big toe which said, ‘please look after my child’. The woman who found him was too old to pass as his mother and therefore she called herself, Edward’s grandmother. When Edward was around three years of age, he convinced himself that he had been left on the door step by a passing flying saucer.

He never fitted in, not at school, or at college, or at work. Maybe it was more correct to say that none of those people fitted in with Edward. Because he knew he didn’t come from Earth, he felt that it was a waste of time to try to get on with anyone.

Anytime Edward got close to anyone – close enough to call them a partner – he would confess to them about his belief that he was from outer space, and that was usually enough to end the relationship.

He did meet one person who thought they were also from outer-space , but the person was later arrested for stealing toilet fittings from a local hardware store. Edward didn’t bother to enquire why.

Folks tended to cross the street when Edward passed by, and then giggle or talk about him when they were far enough away. This didn’t hurt Edward, because in his mind this is how humans behaved, and as he knew himself, he wasn’t human (at least not from Earth).

When he was twenty-six years of age, and after having nursed his grandmother through her cancer and her subsequent funeral, he decided enough was enough, and that week was the perfect time to return home.

He went through his grandmother’s fridge and threw out anything that was perishable, then he gave his pet cat, Mr Spock to the next-door neighbour.

On a dull Thursday in June, Edward went up onto the heath with his latest rocket and decided that all the stars were aligned and that a take-off was imminent.

He strapped the rocket to his back, pressed the button which lit it, counted to ten, shouted goodbye and then he was off.

What happened to Edward is still a mystery. Some say he did indeed reach another planet, some say he only managed the edge of the atmosphere and still flies around the Earth every few hours – it has been said that if you find the International Space station, then Edward is a few feet to the North of that.

Others, the unkind ones, say that Edward just exploded on the heath and that was him all over.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Zoot and Sandy and Life

elephant

As always, Sandy the elephant and Zoot the dog were the best of pals in the whole wide world and, as usual, they were sitting by the river – talking about this, and talking about that.

“What do you see?” Asked Sandy.

“You always ask me that,” said Zoot, his pal.

“So, what do you see?”

“What I always see…..the birds.”

“And?”

“The sea…”

“And?”

“I don’t know. The sky.”

“That’s all you can see?” Asked the elephant.

“What else is there?” Questioned Zoot, the dog.

And then the big elephant shook his head, which made his trunk swing too.

“What? What have I said? Am I wrong?” Asked Zoot.

Sandy the elephant, gave a very important cough to clear his throat because he felt that what he was going to say was very important.

“This universe is very large,”

“Even for an elephant?” Said Zoot.

“Even for an elephant. Some say it could be as much as a billion light years across. Now that’s big. There are even wise women and men who think that there may be more than one universe and that in another one, I could be President.”

“And I could be a rock star,” interrupted Zoot.

“Exactly. Now in all those billions of light years, for me to become an elephant, and you to become a dog – well the chances must be a zillion to one. And to survive and me to meet you and you to meet me, well that must be a trillion, zillion to one. “

“What are you saying?” Asked the little dog.

“That to exist is very special and should never be taken for granted.”

“Do I do that?”

“We all do that,” said Sandy.

“You see, you and I can see how special it is to exist but there are many folks out there who are blind,” said Sandy.

“They can’t see?”

“Not so much that, but they can’t see how special their existence is. How hard the universe must have worked to bring them here.”

“But it makes them feel good about themselves…..to be blind,” said Sandy thoughtfully.

“But they drag the rest of us down. They think that living in a house, and keeping your money in the bank, and working and then retiring and then dying is all there is in life. And those who don’t see it that way are wrong.”

“Do I do that?” Asked the dog.

“Look again, what do you see? This time really look,” said the elephant.

“The sky, the sea…”

“And what is between the sky and the sea?”

“The horizon?”

“Exactly my friend. The horizon. That is what the blind can’t see. As long as there is a horizon, there is always something over the horizon.”

“And what is that?” Asked Zoot.

“Why hope,” said Sandy. “Just plain and simple, hope.”

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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Noises In The Sky

lights

Separately they would have amounted to nothing more than a curiosity, but together, well, that was a different matter. Together they spelled the change of everything that was known.

For years there had been reports of humming noises from the skies, sometimes it sounded like distant thunder, other times it was more like a ‘heavenly organ’ – as one pastor from Minnesota had described the phenomenon to a local TV station.

Then there were the strange lights – at the start, they were never close enough together for anyone to find a pattern in them. But one woman eventually did – she was a professor of logic at a north-eastern university – she realised their increase and intensity was following a logical path and it might look as if there was an intelligence behind it.

They called her, The God Woman. Most western governments did their best to destroy her quietly and slowly and they nearly succeeded – except for one thing, the skies were growing noisier and brighter. The Americans and the British tried to blame it on extreme weather conditions, but gradually those who looked to the skies knew that something else was happening – a change was coming.

The higher mammals had sat on a little rock for millennia and had explained everything away in stories of darkness and light; Gods and monsters were all you needed to keep you stuck to a rock circling the Sun and not to question why.

The Sun would burn out in so many years, the universe would collapse in a certain time in the future, life would go on forever. That was what they told themselves – just like monkeys locked in a pitch-black cellar – guessing what was in the dark and feeling safer in the process.

But there was something else out there, something stronger than a god or science – the universe itself. It was this that had decided to bring things into being, and it was this that had decided to destroy and move on.

The noises in the skies was the universe singing to itself, getting ready to end what it had made, and no monkey (or human – it’s your call) could scream at the heavens with crosses and icons and try to make it understand.

It was the beginning of the end.

Video:

Noises in the sky  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCAgmtB4j7w)

 

bobby stevenson 2017
photo  http://home.bt.com/news/odd-news/mysterious-fiery-flash-illuminates-the-night-sky-11363944659350

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If All The World

If all the world went dark today,

And the yellow sun no longer shone,

And we felt our paths from place to place,

And loved by voice and words alone,

If we no longer saw our faces,

With all the tales that eyes can tell,

Would you and I remain as lovers,

Or would our hearts grow dark as well.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

Thank You for Today

walking young man over field and sunset

Thank you for today,

Not everything was good,

But then not everything was bad,

I woke up sad and somewhere in the sunshine

The day got a little better.

 

Thank you for today,

For letting me see that

Life is difficult for every heart

And some things, which I find easy, others don’t

And I know the opposite is true

 

Thank you for today,

And although I am not where I want to be

I realise that I might just get

To where I’m meant to be, one day.

 

Thank you for today,

For although I never felt like I was a winner

I managed to scrape my way through it all

And learned to hide the disappointments

Thank you for today

Seriously.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Man Who Knew Where Love Was Hidden

flatiron

There had always been wars. Even in the times of love and hope, there was always a reason to kill.

From the 17th century onwards, wars got more complex: families fought families, brother against brother, rich against poor.

If you were to ask when love started dying, it was probably at the dawn of the 20th century. For that was when Captain James Sandford, a man who had seen too many battles, began to notice the increasing coldness in hearts, and the dullness growing in people’s eyes.

It was only little things at first. Small, insignificant things. A gentleman giving a beggar a farthing instead of a penny. A landowner hitting a servant twice instead of the usual once. Even the poor were not exempt; folks stole more from other poor souls and yet they could still sleep at night.

So, it was, in the year of our Lord, 1903 that Captain Sandford decided to do something about it. From his travels in Afghanistan, he has spoken to medicine men, men who had talked with the Yeti (at least, that is what they claimed). In the years that James visited their homes high in the mountains, they taught him magic and sorcery (at least, that is what he claimed).

But the greatest of all tricks was the dilution of love into a potion. One so strong, that it could stop wars in an instant. The medicine men called it ‘God’s Tears’.

In the Spring and Summer of 1903, the Captain travelled the world, catching the tears of children for their mother, and the laughter of friendship, and the sweat of one lover for another. After diluting the liquid, he placed it in a large bottle, and placed this container in the highest building that he could find.

That was at the top of the Flat Iron Building in New York City.

As 1903, became 1904, and then 1905, the world grew darker and colder and soon the world was at war. All wars are bad, but this was an evil war which believed that humans were divisible into the great, the good and the dispensable.

There were more wars that century which became more about what the enemy were – about religion, about race, about the destruction of people.

And so, the world came to the 21st century and by then love was a scarce commodity. Soon love would be no more.

The problem was that our Captain James had fought one more war in France in 1916 and had fallen there, never to return.

And with him, he took the secret of God’s Tears to his grave. But somewhere out there, perhaps hidden on top of the Flat Iron building, there is a safe which contains a bottle where all the love in the world is stored – waiting to be uncorked.

It just needs to be found.

bobby stevenson 2017

 

Nelle and Tru (For Harper Lee)

kids

 

“I hate going outside, I absolutely hate it, hate it, hate it,” said Nelle to the sad-looking boy standing at the porch door.
“You’ve gotta come, ya just gotta,” said the boy.

“P…l….e…a….s…e!” He said in one of those elongated ways, that folks from town always used. This was Alabama and the way people talked could be used as a weapon, as well as a way into your heart.
“If the sun is too hot, I ain’t coming,” said Nelle.
“When is it never too hot?” Asked the boy.
“Oh you,” shouted Nelle and then stamped her feet. “If you weren’t my best friend, Tru, I would surely hit you in the face.”
“No ya wouldn’t,” said Tru, calmly.
“No I wouldn’t,” added Nelle sheepishly.
“So you coming?”
“Looks like I ain’t got no other choice.”

Tru and Nelle had been friends since they were embryos. The first one born probably waited on the other to arrive. They were close as any two souls could be. Nelle loved Tru’s bouncy hair and Tru loved the fact that Nelle didn’t realise she was a girl.

The place they were heading was over on the other side of town, a place her father, Amasa, had told her never to go near. Her mother, on the other hand didn’t care, she never cared about anything Nelle or Tru got up to. Or anything her father did, either.

“How did you know it was there?” Nelle asked her pal.
“I heard two boys talking about it as I passed the old café, said he’d been there for some days.”
“I guess he must be stinking by now,” said Nelle in a boyish way that Tru admired.

On the way there, Tru had stopped to get a big stick, not to protect himself with, but so he would be able to jab the body when they got there.
Before Tru had called on Nelle he’d already had a peek at the body. All he had seen were the feet but the smell told you that someone was lying dead.

“There he is,” said Tru, pointing at where he’d seen the feet but Tru was looking in another direction – just in case – although he wasn’t quite sure what it was he might see if he looked directly at the body.
“Well I’ll be,” shouted Nelle excitedly. “If it ain’t a dead man.”

And sure enough, that is exactly what it was. Nelle walked right over to the body just as a wave of decomposing flesh hit her nose. Undeterred, she covered her face with her bottom of her shirt and went in for a closer look.

“Can’t say if he’s a black man or whether the sun just roasted him,” she said.

Tru told her that he heard it was a black man who had been chased out of the next town over on account he’d been cheating. Nelle asked Tru what he’d been cheating at, was it playing cards or something? Tru hadn’t heard the rest of the conversation from the boys but he was sure that they had mentioned something about someone’s wife.

“He’d been cheating at cards with someone’s wife,” said Nelle, nodding her head as if she’d got to the core of the mystery. Not wanting to show any fear, Nelle crawled over and turned the body over. Half of the man’s face had been eaten or bashed in, neither of them were sure. What they were sure of was, that both were just as fascinated by the dead man as each other.

“You think it’s weird that I think dead people are worth looking at?” Asked Tru.
“Nope, ‘cause I was thinking just the same. Dead folks are worth looking at,” said Nelle.
“You kids should be at school,” said the man behind them blocking out the sun.
“It’s Saturday,” said Nelle and Tru together.
“Still, dead bodies ain’t no place for kids,” said the man who turned out to be a policeman.
“Where you from?” Asked the cop.

And Nelle and Tru told him they came from way over the other side of town.
“What’s your names, so I can inform your folks, and no lies mind, you’ll only make it worse if you do,” said the man.
“Mine’s, Nelle Harper Lee,” said the girl.
“And mine’s Truman Capote,” said the boy.
“Well skoot,” said the cop. “And don’t let me catch you round this way again, ya hear me?”

By then Nelle and Tru had wandered off looking for another adventure, but the picture in their heads of the dead black man stayed with them for a long time after.

bobby stevenson 2017

capoteharper

 

 

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Me and Buzz and Skinny Dippin’

towere

What can you say about your bestest pal in this whole wide world, when he gets arrested for being nake-it in the middle of town? ‘Not much’, is what the judge said.

“You were standing there, in front of the preacher and his good wife, nake-it as the day you were born. What have you got to say for yourself?”

Buzz was thinking that because of his natural good looks and the ‘great body he’d been given by God’, that the sight of his nake-it-ness probably overwhelmed the townsfolk.

“I guess I’m just too damn pretty to be walkin’ about with no britches on.”

Well that did it, the judge said that Buzz was to knock every door in town and apologize for standin’ in front of them like the day he was born.

One or two of them said they had missed the whole darn thing and could Buzz step inside to their homes and stand nake-it for them so that they could be just as upset as the rest of the townsfolk. The stupid thing is, I think Buzz did it.

You see, the summer that Buzz wanted to start Skinny-dippin’ just happened to be the summer when all the creeks dried up. Sometimes Buzz can be a truly crazy person and maybe, just maybe, he had chosen that summer so he could complain about the bone-dry creeks. It’s what he does.

Anyhoo, there weren’t no water in the creeks to go skinny dippin’, so that was when Buzz suggested that we might use the water tower which stood next to Mrs McGonigal’s Eatin’ Room and Entertainments. I asked the grown ups what kinda ‘entertainment’ that Mrs McGonigal laid on but they always changed the subject and one time, the preacher nearly choked on his biscuits and gravy. So I stopped askin’.

The water tower was higher than the church clock – so you can see it was pretty high and you had to climb up a real shaky ladder. Buzz suggested on the mornin’ of one extra hot day that we should get up real early and climb the tower, that way no one would see us and we could stay up there all day. The Sheriff had said it was agin’ the law to go swimmin’ in the tower on account that it was the water that folks used for drinkin’ and such and also because Cross-Eyed Larry had pee’d in it one time.

So we did what Buzz said and sneaked up the ladder real early. It was real hot, so that the water didn’t cool us down that much – but boy it was fun, especially being nake-it and all.

Inside the tower there was a small ledge and if you crawled up to it, you could jump and dive and do just about everything into the water. Back flips and front flips and such.

Of course we couldn’t come down until it got dark, so I guess me and Buzz did pee in the water, now and again’. I’m just sayin’, is all.

Late in the afternoon we could hear a band coming down the street, apparently the preacher’s wife had organized a parade for her son, ‘cause he’d memorized the whole of the Good Book or somethin’. I ain’t critizing but a whole parade. I mean.

Anyway, me and Buzz decided to jump from the ledge together and somehow we hit the bottom of the water tower real hard and kinda went through the tower. And where we’d made holes, well the water kinda started leaking through, and we could hear the screams from those getting wet below us.

Then I looked at Buzz and he looked at me and that was the last thing we did before we both fell through the tower and landed nake-it right in front of the townsfolk. Buzz managed to land on top of the preacher’s boy which had the preachers wife shoutin’ and hollerin’ about how these nake-it boys had killed her beautiful son.

You’re saying, I suppose, that I forgot to mention about me being nake-it and all – and what happened to me, exactly?

Well, I told the preacher that I had been trying to baptize Buzz on account of his bad ways an’ all, and that with the creeks being dry, the water tower was the only place to do it – don’t ask me where that all came from – I ain’t got a clue. Anyhoo, for some reason they let me go and decided that Buzz was the guilty one.

Go figure.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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Me and Buzz and Runnin’ For President

FRIENDS

I guess it all seems kinda obvious now knowin’ what Buzz was gonna become – but back then, we didn’t have no idea, I kid you not.

When Buzz told me that as a good lookin’ kid it was probably beholdin’ to him to run for office. I was thinkin’ that Buzz had surely gone a bit crazy like. But then I was always thinkin’ things like that about my best pal.

“I’m considerin’ runnin’ for Class President,” he said without any warnin’ and which accounted for the fact that I dropped my cola.

“And you is gonna be my manager,” he said slappin’ me on the back as it was an honor.

Now I ain’t sure what a ‘crazy-kid-runnin’-for-president’ manager did exactly but I knew I’d probably find out real quick and it would probably mean a lot of work.

On the way back home from school, Buzz started to kiss mothers and their babies. One or two of them were takin’ by surprise but most of them tried to chase him away. One hit him with her umbrella and said she was hollerin’ for Sheriff McDonald, oh thank you Jesus. Well that’s what she said.

By the time Buzz got home, his Mom had a line of people around to complain’ that her son was a baby-kissin’ idiot. I guess that being a manager might be harder than I thought.

When we got back to school the next mornin’, I thought I was talkin’ to Buzz but I found I was talkin’ to myself and that Buzz was standin’ on an old wooden crate and was tellin’ folks to gather round as he had somethin’ important to tell them. When the folks found out that it wasn’t a party most of them just skedaddled.

“My fellow Americans,” he shouted to the three kids who were left and then he went on about when he was class president he would make sure that everyone got free soda. When Amy, who was seven years of age, asked him how. He said he’d get back to her on that point and she seemed happy enough with that answer. Maybe getting Buzz elected wasn’t gonna be that difficult after all.

Just before the bell, Buzz disappeared from class. He just got up and walked out, sayin’ to Teach that he had important work to do. When the Principal dragged him back about ten minutes later by his ear, it was because he had gone around all the classes and shook peoples’ hands even although they were in the middle of lessons. Even as the teachers were throwin’ him outta class, he still tried to make a speech.

The popular front-runner of the campaign was Jason Heart, a tall, skinny kid who was tellin’ folks that he was committed to helpin’ everyone in school and that Buzz should just be plain committed. Well that kinda talk don’t help anyone, in my book and I told Jason as much.

It was at our darkest hour that Buzz’s Maw came up with a plan. Even though she was as broke as a broke thing, she could still bake and she made cup cakes for everyone in the school (even three for Big Peggy who liked her cup cakes). Well this blew Jason Commitment outta the ball park and Buzz was elected by a land slide.

As a celebration, Buzz suggested that me and him mosey down to the ice-cream parlour and that he’d get it for free on account of him being President and all. Mister McCluskey was servin’ that day and he said, that he wasn’t one of Buzz’s ‘Fellow Americans’ thank you very much, and that we was getting’ no free ice cream either – ‘cause he’d never heard that kinda crazy talk for many a year. So we just left

Buzz only lasted as President for the rest of the week as he sold his title to Jason for a box of candy and a copy of Huckleberry Finn.

Neither of them got us any free soda. You just can’t trust politicians.

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2wee bobby

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The Haunted Woman

boogeyman2
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that everyone is a bit crazy – especially when they only have themselves for company. Okay, when the family was out, she liked to take the clean dishes out of the dishwasher and wash them again – by hand. I mean, she wasn’t hurting anyone, now was she? It was an exercise that kept her mind calm and unworried.

What was there to worry about? After all, she had a beautiful happy family and that was as good as it gets. So why did she feel uncomfortable? As if………no, it sounded too stupid to even think about. But still the thought had come to rest in her head and wouldn’t leave, no matter how many dishes she cleaned, or how many clothes she washed: she was being watched. But by what or whom, she wasn’t clear.

As she stood looking out the kitchen window, she was sure it was standing right behind her. She could almost feel its breath on the back of her neck. It caused a shiver to run down her spine, and she felt as if it might end up inside her. She wasn’t sure what IT was, but she was sure it was in the room with her.

She ran upstairs to take a shower and yet, no matter how much she washed her body, she felt unclean and she felt, stared at.

She took a couple of pain killers and lay down on the bed. From the edge of her eye she thought that she could see it standing in the corner of the room. As if it was pleased with itself, and was just waiting for the right time. The right time for what?

She fell asleep but woke with a startle when she felt something touch her ankle. She screamed but then noticed the time. It was only 30 minutes before the boys would be back from school. This thought always made her feel more secure and in a strange way, more loved.

The days that she would spend alone in the house, always felt dark and depressing and she wondered if maybe she was starting to go back down that road – the one that the family had pulled her out of all those months ago. It wasn’t a breakdown, no matter what the doctor said or even what her husband thought. She knew she wasn’t crazy – wasn’t it just the result of watching her mother die of cancer?

The boys came running into the room which made her jump. After she had given them milk and cake, they went upstairs to play their computer games – she could hear them running on the floor above.

“Alice”.

She thought it was David, but he hadn’t called her that name since he’d asked her to marry him. He preferred ‘Al’ or ‘Darling’ but never Alice. And now that she thought about it, she wasn’t sure if it was a man or woman’s voice or if it was a voice at all; now that did sound ridiculous.

“Alice”.

She felt sick. The voice seemed to be calling her from in the room but from no particular location. Perhaps everyone was right, perhaps she had finally cracked down the middle.

If she told her husband any of this, he would just say what he always said: ‘grow up, Al’. That would be his total input. Grow up. She could hear his car in the drive and so she started to pour his evening drink. It was a little ritual which they both enjoyed.

By 9pm the kids were asleep, and her husband was working in the study on a presentation for the next day.

As she sat on the edge of the bed, the hand grabbed her ankle and then tightened around her leg. She was so shocked she couldn’t even scream. She tried to call on her husband in the other room, but she was struck dumb. The fingers (if that is what they were) felt cold. It tugged on her leg as if it was trying to check her out for size and weight, as if it was about to drag her away from her family. A sheer drop of loneliness inhabited her whole body. The last time she had felt this much despair was when her mother had held her hand for the last time. She had wanted to follow her mother to where she was going.

Just then her husband came in for some notes he had left by the bedside, he smiled at her, then left. When the door was closed, the fingers tightened around her ankle again.

The doors to the wardrobe started to bang a little. Not enough to attract attention from the rest of the house, but they were moving – almost vibrating. Another hand grabbed the other ankle and she felt as if she was at the end of something – a finality. She couldn’t explain it, but she had never felt more alive or more dead than now.

When it tugged both her legs at the same time, her head whipped back hard on to the bed. She noticed a spider walking across the ceiling and wished for a split second, that she was that insect.

Another tug and she banged off the bed and on to the floor. The wardrobe doors flew open – and for a second she had a stupid thought – maybe she was going to Narnia. She smiled inside, but as she looked up at what was waiting on her in there, she knew she wasn’t coming back – ever- and it wasn’t Narnia.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

bobby2 wee bobby

 

 

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Mister Brilliant (for Lily on her birthday)

judyardeviantart

His real name was Cuthbert Dogoody but to everyone else he was simply known as Mister Brilliant.

He’d never had the easiest of lives, had Cuthbert. When he was five years of age his father ran away to sea – at least that’s what his mother had told him – the truth of the matter was that his father moved in with a young blonde lady three streets over, and the man who Cuthbert knew as the postman was actually his dad.

Cuthbert’s grandmother, Ethel (the ever ready) was a money-lender who ended up being sent to prison for her particularly difficult ways with her customers. Cuthbert’s mother told her son, that his grandmother was spending a few years trying to find the source of the River Nile. It always amazed Cuthbert, later in life, that he had believed the story and had told all the kids in his class at school about Grandma Ethel – the explorer.

His uncle, Stan the Man, who was a part-time magician and someone who Cuthbert had always looked up to (literally, he was six feet seven) died while attempting to hold his breath in a fish tank. The tank was actually in a Chinese restaurant, and Stan had attempted it as part of a bet with Shanghai Lil the owner of the establishment.

Sadie, uncle Stan’s widow, had attempted to fill Stan’s rather big shoes (he had also been a part-time clown) by looking after Cuthbert and to helping him with his life. This mostly involved Cuthbert going along on dates with Sadie and several gentlemen from the Royal Navy. Stan would sit in the corner of a bar with a cola and a packet of chips, while Sadie sat kissing some man or other.

His best friend in the whole world was Teddy who was in his class in school. Teddy was without doubt the most popular kid in the place. There wasn’t anything Teddy couldn’t do, or anyone that Teddy couldn’t charm and the one thing that Teddy always did was look after his best pal, Cuthbert. No one bullied Cuthbert, not while Teddy was about.

Teddy knew that his best bud’s father was actually the postman but it would never have crossed Teddy’s mind to ever say anything that would hurt his pal.

One afternoon on the way home from school, Teddy asked Cuthbert to be his ‘blood brother’. They cut their thumbs then mixed their blood together and that was them set for life. At least that’s what Cuthbert thought. The truth was that Teddy was taking the long way around to tell his pal, that his mother had met a man who was big in ladies’ underwear and that they were moving to somewhere called, Liverpool.

The following Monday, Teddy was gone. When Cuthbert went into school, all the folks who had been charmed by Teddy were ready to bully Cuthbert. It wasn’t pleasant, to say the least, but with a little bit of running and keeping one’s head down, Cuthbert made it to the end of his school career, relatively intact.

Cuthbert got his first job as a tea-boy in an office of an insurance firm. Cuthbert’s duties involved making the tea, coffee (for those of that persuasion), lemonade and a little whisky for Mister McCallister who was partial to that sort of thing.

Everything was going well until Seamus Hooster (of the Hooster Brothers Insurance Agency) got trampled on by a runaway giraffe one wet Tuesday in the High Street. This caused the firm to close and the folks, including Cuthbert, were all made redundant.

That was the very same day that Cuthbert came home to find that his mother had moved without leaving a forwarding address. It seemed to Cuthbert that this was the way life worked, for when a soul was down the rest of the world just jumped on top of them and kicked their heads.

Now you might think that all of these shenanigans would have meant the end of Cuthbert Dogoody – but you’d be wrong.

Cuthbert was either not like lesser men, or perhaps he was too naive to see the predicament he was in – but one day, one very early day when Cuthbert had sat up all night thinking about what to do next – he let out an exclamation of ‘A-ha!’. That was all he said: ‘A-ha’.

But it was enough, as far as Cuthbert was concerned, as it spoke a million words. At least to him.

For you see, at a very early age, Cuthbert decided that life was difficult for everyone and people didn’t need to be reminded of that. What people did need reminding of was their the possibilities. In everyone’s life (and Cuthbert was sure he meant everyone) there were bad times, good times and blooming brilliant times. At some point in the future a brilliant time would come popping up without warning.

So Cuthbert made it his life’s work to remind everyone and anyone that brilliant times were just around the corner.

If he ever met anyone down or tired he’d just talk to them about how, someday soon, brilliant times were just up ahead.

“Not long now,” he’d shout to people and they’d always call back:

“Till when, Mister Brilliant?”

“Till good things come around the corner.”

From that day onwards he was known as Mister Brilliant – because (and he was right) good times were just up the road a little, and everyone got their shot at it.

I think Mister Brilliant can see yours just coming into view, Lily.

Enjoy!

 

 

bobby stevenson 2016

photo: judyar.deviantart.com

Be Who You Are

Be who you are,
Be magnificent,
Be strong,
And except to those who cared too much,
The one who never quite belonged.
Be who you are,
Stand tall, unique
Be grand
The one who smiled at little jokes,
That no one else could understand.
Be who you are,
Let laughter roll the same as tears
Take pleasure in the here and now,
Not in the days or months or years.
Be who you are,
Be loved
And loving everything,
Don’t back away from chance nor dare,
You too will have your song to sing.
Be who you are,
Let happiness and joy
Break through,
The universe was wise enough
To only make the one of you.
bobby stevenson 2017

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Lassoing the Moon

moon2

(for Jim – the King of the Kings Arms)

The two of them sat at the shaky table in the Bright Water Café. They always chose this table as it gave Jake and his grandfather a chance to come up with ways to stop its unruly behaviour. Usually they would stick some folded paper under the short leg, but if they didn’t bother with that technique, then they would see how much of their breakfast they could eat before they spilt something.

It wasn’t a grown-up thing to do, but when Jake and his granddad met up, adult stuff went out of the window. Today they were being spies and Jake’s grandfather was teaching him the tricks of being James Bond.

“If you want to know if someone is watching you, maybe even following you – the trick is to yawn.”

“Yawn, Granddad? That’s it?”

“That’s it. Without looking around, Jake my boy, stretch out your arms, and then yawn.”

Jake did exactly as he was told.

“Now look around and see who yawns – that is the person who is watching you. Because yawning is contagious – if you’re watching someone yawn, then you’ll want to yawn too.

Jake looked carefully around but there was no one yawning, well no one except the man who fried the eggs, he was always yawning.

“So that means that you’re not being followed. Now that’s a good thing, right?”

And Jake had to admit that it was. Many things scared Jake, and being followed was one of them. Noises also bothered him. And busy places. It was all much as the doctors had told his mother and father – ‘your son is Autistic’.

No one knew what that meant at the time, but they did now. It was as his grandfather had said, just another colour in the human experience. Jake was sure that was a good thing.

His grandfather would try to introduce Jake to as many different and interesting things as he could. Sometimes those things worked – sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes the strangest thing entertained Jake. He loved animals, especially birds. Jake would sit and stare at their behaviour for hours. Other times he would grow bored very quickly and his grandfather had to think of something else.

Jake’s granddad did try to keep it to the same times each week, so that Jake could be ready and looking forward to whatever they decided to do; and if they stayed away from noisy, busy places things usually turned out okay.

When Jake’s grandfather started to grow older and found it more difficult to get around, he sat Jake down and told him a story.

“When I was a kid,” he said. “I had no brothers or sisters to play with, and most times, if my pals weren’t there, I got ever so lonely. So what I used to do was a little trick my grandmother had taught me. She’d say, close your eyes, and then shake your body a little to get relaxed, and I would do that. Then she’d say imagine you have the biggest rope in the world, and I would do that too. Then she’d tell me to lasso the moon. That’s it, she’d say, go on, throw that rope, and I would do as she said and I’d lasso the moon. Then when I was sure that the rope was tight enough, she’d tell me to concentrate real hard and walk towards the moon. That way, my little grandson, she’d say, you can be as free as the wind, and that Jake, is what I want you to do when I’m not with you some days. Close your eyes, lasso the moon and then walk to a quiet spot on the moon. Up there you can sit and watch all us silly people down here moving about.”

And do you know what? That is what Jake did whenever he was tired, or afraid, or scared of the noise. He’d close his eyes, lasso the moon and walk to a quiet spot.

bobby stevenson 2017

The Ballad Of The Quiet Man

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He said nothing, not a word ever passed his lips,
He just sat in the peace and quiet with a Mona Lisa smile,
One cold day the Angry People passed his way
All shouting about this and that and the other
They stopped and asked the quiet man if he was angry too
He said not a word and the Angry People liked that
“This man is so angry about this and that and the other, he is seething with rage”.
They shook his hand and on they went.

Then one summer’s evening the sad folks were passing by
They looked at the quiet man and then sat beside him
“This man is mourning, this man says nothing but the sadness shows upon his face”.
They wept beside the quiet man then walked on down the road

On an afternoon like any other, a stupid man was walking through as he was lost. He asked the quiet man the way to town and when he didn’t reply
The stupid man smiled and said, “I see you are as stupid as I am. ‘Tis better to say nothing and not look the fool.”
The stupid man wished his stupid brother well and continued to be lost.

Just before the start of autumn, some happy people were running and jumping and came to rest next to the quiet man
“Look here,” one shouted .”This man is so happy that he smiles in his contentment.”
And the people all cheered and carried him shoulder-high down the lane towards the town.
This happened to the quiet man more than he would have liked and once again he had to walk all the way back home.



bobby stevenson 2017

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Painted Love

love

When the flowers had all but disappeared from Clare’s garden, she had replaced them by painting roses and daffodils on a brick wall at the rear of her flower bed. There would be no beautiful smells welcoming a visitor as they walked up her path, but then there hadn’t been any visitors in such a long time – at least not since that peculiar day.

Last Spring when her car had finally given up the ghost, she had painted a newer, flashier model on the door of the garage. She stood back and smiled at what looked like the best car she had ever owned.

Sometime in November, Clare painted the downstairs’ room all in white and then, one by one, she painted each of her family members on the walls around the room. When it was finished, and she had pushed the table against the back of the room, it looked as if her family would be there for her at Christmas; all sitting at the one big table. She smiled because nothing like that had ever really happened in those days long ago. She had even painted in her grandparents and those long-remembered pals who had left this life too soon.

Clare placed plates in front of each of the painted figures, and somewhere in the attic she had found an old wind-up gramophone. There was one record – a big heavy shellac disc with a song titled ‘I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire’ and given the circumstances she had to laugh at the irony. It was meant to be played at 78 RPM but the way Clare sometimes over-wound it, it sometimes played too fast and then too slow. It made Clare smile and she sang along with it, again and again, regardless of the speed.

She painted turkey and peas and potatoes on the plates, and for her Aunty Sue (who was a vegetarian) she had painted a selection of vegetables.

Clare had conversations with all of them at the meal – not that things like that had really happened in life. At her old Christmas’ meals, everyone spoke at the same time. But hey, that was what living was about and that was what people were about. She missed them all.

Before Clare knew it, she was throwing a New Year’s Party. She asked each of her painted family to make a resolution, then she made one herself; hers was simple – it was to find a partner and settle down. Clare was sure she heard all her friends and family applaud.

‘At last’, she could hear them saying. ‘About time,’ was another.

She painted out a few ideas of partners but most of them were based on old boyfriends, and all of them completely wrong for her. Then one cold night, she found a bottle of brandy in the cellar – it must have been there years. She’d promised herself that she would only have one sip every birthday but in the end greed and loneliness got the better of her, and she drank most of the bottle.

When she awoke the next afternoon, she found that she had painted a partner on the canvas – one that she would have never gone out with in the old times. He was more exciting somehow. He was new and more than that, an undiscovered land.

She wasn’t sure if it was the hangover but she could have sworn on a Bible that he had winked at her. Later when she was having her usual daily cry at the window, she heard someone calling her name – of course she knew that was impossible, for as far she was concerned there wasn’t anyone left. She was the last woman, and probably the last human on the planet.

“Clare,” there it was again.

She turned to see her partner, her boyfriend, her lover lift himself from the painting and beckon her to come to him.

Clare stopped and a cold chill filled her blood. She realised that she had probably finally gone insane. All those years, all that time being alone – all that poor mental health.

Then she lifted-up her spirits, and she smiled to herself, realising that it didn’t really matter that much – not now – and gave her lover a kiss.

What a way to go, she thought, what a bloody brilliant way to go.

bobby stevenson 2017

The Time of Storms

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I was trying to think back to what year all of this took place, and I guess I would be right in saying that Hank Williams was still alive and so it must have been sometime in the winter of ’49.

I remember that year ‘cause my daddy was always singing Mister Williams’ song, ‘My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It’ and then he’d wink at me, jump on Blue (his horse) and so go out riding to check on the stallions.

It had been an unseasonable few months, what with snow one day, then humid heat the next. Pastor Rick had suggested that perhaps his boss had gone off on vacation and had forgotten to set the thermostat: it brought a few laughs in church that Sunday.

Sometimes my daddy didn’t come home for a few sunsets, but it never worried anyone, ‘cause we always knew he’d have pitched up in some canyon or other and made himself a bed for the night.

But when it became a week, then we knew there must have been trouble, and my mom told me and my brothers to saddle up and go out looking for my daddy.

He’d been overdue before – once he was out for four days but he’d been caught in an unexpected snow storm, which had laid him up in the Last Hole cave – the one that lay at the end of Crimson Valley.

When he returned from that trip he had looked real fine – said he lived off of snow water and anything that was stupid enough to crawl across him in the cave. So by telling you this, I wanted to say that we weren’t too concerned about my father, we knew he could take care of himself.

Half way up Crimson Valley, me and my brothers split up and I went to the west, while Jake and Tom went north and east. I had only been riding an hour or so when I saw a horse just standing still and looking towards me. My first thought was that it was one of the stallions which had got lost from his kin, but as I got closer I could see it was Blue.

Blue, my daddy’s pride and joy, was wandering the valley and I started to think that maybe something wasn’t right. I tried to follow Blue’s tracks back a-ways but they led to a dead-end where the sand had got whipped up by some storm or other and had covered his trail. So you know what I did? I tried to comfort myself by singing my daddy’s favorite song. I could see Blue’s ears prick up as he knew what I was getting at, I guess he was missing him too.

Probably about five miles to north of where I was, I could see the sky darkening and decided to head for Aloopa’s cave just to lie there until it blew over. We made it by only a few minutes and as the snow storm whipped up real strong, my horse and Blue started to spook some. I took them to the back of the cave where I lit a fire and managed to brew a strong, thick black cup of coffee.

I must have been real tired ‘cause the next thing I know the Sheriff is kicking at my heels and telling me to wake. Can I say right here and now that I wished he had left me sleeping, ‘cause what he told me brought the cave crashing down on my head. They had found my daddy on the old Wisco Trail – no idea what he was doing up there but he had been shot straight through the head.

The Sheriff had found my brothers and told them the story and suggested they head back home and give my mom the news, he told them that he would go looking for me. The Sheriff guessed it was some stranger or another who had seen a man on his own with some money and had taken his chance.

I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t taken Blue, as a horse like that was worth something in these parts. The Sheriff just shrugged his shoulders and said ‘who knows?’.

There were more storms that winter and it was up to me and my brothers to keep our homestead going. We always knew we’d have to take care of the place sooner or later – it was just that none of us had hit the age of twenty by then, although I gotta say we worked hard and we got through the bad stuff. My mom was never the same after my daddy’s death, she used to sit and stare out of the window like she was just waiting for him to ride up to the door. It was only a couple of years later that she went to join my daddy – ‘a broken heart’ was what Pastor Rick called it and I guess he was right.

My brothers married local girls and moved away, ‘cause the farm and horses couldn’t really support the three of us. They decided that I should take the homestead being the youngest and still unmarried. If I was being truthful, I would say that they were just sorry at the sight of the lands where my daddy died.

The year that Kennedy got shot, I got to marrying a local girl. She was the daughter of the Sheriff who had found me that day in the cave. Although he wasn’t the easiest of men (at least in my company) his beautiful daughter made me feel like I was ten feet tall and the happiest man in the world.

The Sheriff died a few years later and left his home to his daughter and me (and our two kids). It lay on a beautiful little spot by the River Jordan that joined up with the Missouri a further ways down the stream.

I remember I was looking through her daddy’s papers when I came across a letter with my name on the envelope. Seemed a strange thing to do, but I opened it and read it. 

‘My Dear Son-in-law I have to say I am as happy as a grasshopper that you married my daughter and gave me such fine grandchildren. I hope you all have many years of love and hope in this home. Since you’re reading this, then I must have gone to meet my maker and I know he’ll have a few things to say to me when I get there. You see I did a terrible thing and I ain’t asking for forgiveness, I’m just telling it, how it is. It was me, I shot your father. I had been making some money by running some goods into the Apache settlement up the Waco Trail. Your daddy found me one day and we got into an argument. I didn’t mean to kill him, you must believe me. My first thought was to hide the body, but I thought of you, your brothers and your ma being tormented ‘cause they didn’t know. So I went looking for you boys and told you the news. I took from you the most precious thing in your life and so I gave to you the most precious thing in mine. Don’t let the sins of the father fall on the daughter – your wife. She knew nothing of anything. I can only say again how truly sorry I am, and I probably won’t see you in the afterlife, as I guess I’ll be dancing to Old Nick’s tune. All the best and with much regret.’
bobby stevenson 2017

photo:  http://www.99volo.com 

 

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The Doll

woman

I can’t honestly remember who first called her, ‘The Doll’. If memory serves me well (and it usually doesn’t) I think it was her Aunt May

“You, young‘un, are the sweetest, kindest little doll, I ever did see,” she’d say, then kiss her on the lips.

So the name stuck, and although she had two more sisters (just as sweet), she was the one always called The Doll.

When she was a kid, she’d watch ‘I Dream of Jeanie’ on the television which stood in the corner of the lounge, and was never really looked at by anyone else in the family. This is probably where she got the taste for the thing that would drive her on in later years – fame.

It was all she could think of, to be as famous as Marilyn, or to be as well-dressed as Jackie. But her family weren’t the wealthiest in town, so she had to think of a way to get up there, to get her to the top.

In High School, she started ‘putting-out’ for the quarter-backs, who would take her to a party and have their way with her. The only time she would be mentioned again, was in the locker room, when they were having a show of hands on who had been there.

Somewhere along the way, she started dating the geeks, usually the ones who lived up in Lovell Drive (where the mansions were) and whose daddies ran the local industries. Their families were normally pleased to see that their sons could get a girl like her. But soon some of the parents realised that she was just working her way along the drive, and the invitations stopped.

She got what she was wishing for – kind of – when she was pointed at in school, but not in a good way. At home, she’d walk in the front door, smile and laugh through gritted teeth. If she made it to the end of a family meal, she’d then go upstairs and cry her heart away into the middle of the night.

She couldn’t understand where she was going wrong. All she wanted to happen was for folks to notice her.

In college, she started to grow into a real beauty and some of the best of the men would ask her out on a date. But they didn’t make her happy, because they couldn’t make her famous.

She started going to parties where she knew the better looking kids hung out. Many times she’d just sneak in and given how good she looked – she’d find that she’d quickly fit in. But she’d always leave her personality behind at home, and so she didn’t make the impression she felt she was due.

She thought she might be an actress and got herself an agent (not the best of men) who got her parts in stage plays, and ‘walk-ons’ in b-movies. Still, it got her a write-up in the local paper and that made her feel good about herself.

She dated a couple of older actors whom she’d met on set, and who were on the slide – acting wise. One treated her well, but wasn’t into a physical relationship, the other had a lot of money and took upon himself to beat her badly on several occasions.

It was the same week that she was released from hospital with another broken bone that she decided to head for Hollywood and the big time. She met him the first day she arrived.

She’d bumped into him as he was carrying a cup of steaming hot coffee. It burned and hurt, but she didn’t complain because she recognized him as a runner who had just won several gold medals in the Olympics. He looked good too, and she liked what she saw. They looked great together.

Within a month, she had moved in with him up in the Hills and she began to get photographed; some of them even made it into the magazines.

She could deal with his anger rages, as long as she kept getting her face seen about town. Sometimes she cried in the bath, sometimes she didn’t. She was where she was, because she wanted to be.

He told the police that the gun had gone off accidentally. It had been the one he had used in the movie, ‘The Silent Soldier’. He had been showing some close friends the gun at his mansion, and when they’d left he’d only pointed at her as a joke. He didn’t know (swear to God) it was loaded.

So in the end she got to be famous – especially at his court case when her face was splashed around the world. As the judge said in the summing up: “sometimes you got to be careful what you wish for”.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Magic

woman

“I’ve never met a person who hasn’t done some magic in their life, not one”, said my Aunt Grace, then she would give a chuckle that could light the stairs and the stars. She was the best, I mean, she was the very best.

I did not know that we came from a family of magicians. I think everyone does – you just may not know that you do. Some folks are big and flashy with their magic, and others just do the odd trick here and there and never wait for a thank you.

One morning I asked my Aunt if she’d ever seen me doing magic and she just grinned.

“Listen my little sweet pea, your first trick was being born. Simple as that. The trouble folks went to get you into this world, well, it was a ton of trouble, I’ll tell you”.

To be real honest here, that don’t sound too magical to me but I took her word on it.

“Then one day, your mother was real down, after you being born and all, and you picked that very moment to smile – well, if she didn’t do a little jig around the room. Now you ain’t gonna tell me that ain’t magic?”

Still it didn’t sound as good as pulling a rabbit out of a hat, I can tell you.

Then my Aunt continued, “there was a day when your little friend….what she called?”

“Amy,” I said.

“That’s it, Amy. She had been told her daddy wasn’t coming home and I remember you gave her the biggest hug in the world, and then you offered her all your money in your little bank, so that her father could get home.”

“I did?”

“You sure did. And sometimes you may find that you’re magic just by walking into a room. Maybe someone’s life ain’t working too well, and all it takes is you to enter a room. You might not know it, you might not see it, but you, just being you and being there might be all the magic that someone needs.”

I thought about that and I had to tell my Aunt I hadn’t noticed any of that.

She said that wasn’t the point. My Aunt said that the point was, that the when I forgot about my magic, she would be there to remind me about it. ‘Cause, you see, we all forget about our own magic. So maybe it would be a good thing for me to remind other folks when they forget.

I said that I would, even although I wasn’t too sure what magic was.

My Aunt said I was to give it time and one day I’d notice other people’s magic. She was sure of that point. She really was.

 

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Bird

His family loved him, of that you can be sure. He was, after all, from them and like them. Sometimes when his mother walked with her child along a street, he would look up at her and see the pride in her eyes. And sometimes when she was tired of dealing with the unkindness of others, and the way they stared at her little son, he could see tears in her face. She would secretly dry her eyes with her coat sleeve, smile the biggest of smiles, and encourage her boy to hurry along.

In his early years, no one told him that he was different in any way. It was only when he went out into the world – a world of half-formed people, with half-formed hearts and half-formed love, that he found the winds were just that little bit colder, and the shadows somewhat darker.

When his mother caught him staring into a mirror with his usual look of bewilderment – she would shout, ‘now ain’t you just the most beautiful creation ever’. And to her and her family he was the most beautiful of children.

She did her best to warn him of the apes who lived outside the walls of their home. Those apes all looked alike, and that made them feel that they were a tribe, that they all belonged together – but they also carried hate in their hearts – perhaps they were born with it, or it was legacy passed down from parent to child – but it was the hate which drove the tribe, and the hate which caused them to despise others who were not like them.

She told him that he should walk with the stars which filled the night sky and not be scared of them. That the universe was magnificent and vast, and that those who chose to look only at creatures near them and judge them, were only cave dwellers, who were blind in eye and heart.

In his first day at school, a little girl had read a story called the ‘Ugly Duckling’, and his new class mates had all looked at him. But he knew from his family that he had special gifts, and they weren’t going to go away or transform him into a beauty that the rest of the word could deal with.

He was beautiful, it was as simple as that. He had wings which none of his family had, and he could fly at any time. Something that any of his classmates would have wished that they could do.

He knew he was different, and he knew he was beautiful, and he knew he could soar above the clouds. He had no need to show others to be accepted. He might have to live a life with the half-formed hearts trying to break him or even, make him disappear. He would be called ugly, he would be spat upon, he would be beaten by stones, but in the end, he would always remember what his mother had whispered in his ear one birthday: ‘chase happiness’.

So, that is what he did. He decided that in order to be happy, he had to help happiness in others. That meant being a new super hero. Maybe not the first, but definitely a very different one. By day he was a mild-mannered kid, who did what he was told, and smiled at everyone. After school, it was a very different story, his hat and coat were thrown aside (he couldn’t change in a phone box) and he’d spread his wings and swoop down on anyone in need of help.

It probably all started with that kid who lived in the next street. He was a child with an imagination and therefore didn’t need much else in his life. He could build fantastic new worlds out of twigs, empty jars, and old boxes. What his world lacked in colour and structure was painted by the thoughts in his head. Now I’m not saying any of that is wrong, but sometimes this kind of behaviour scares folks who can’t keep a single thought between their ears.

It was the fattest kid in the area, and the tallest kid, who hung together and caused maximum mayhem where ever they went. Perhaps these were just two outsiders who thrust themselves into the centre of things by hurting others. If they were hurting folks, then those people couldn’t harm them.

The kid in the next street had built a castle made from glass jars, it looked clever and displayed a degree of talent, which was the kind of thing that really bothered bullies. So, one morning the fat boy and the tall boy looked over the hedge of a garden and saw the kid from the next street and his castle, and decided to kick it over, throwing the jars into the road. They would cheer every time one smashed and needless to say the kid from the next street started to cry.

It was this sad sound which first attracted our half-bird-half-boy (who at the time was feeling happy about his new hat, and kept tipping it to the side to see which angle looked better).

Our hero, threw off his human clothing and headed to the source of the crying where he saw immediately what had occurred. He started pecking at the fat boy and then the tall boy – and although they tried to swat him away, it didn’t work. The fat boy was sure that the bird would peck out his eyes, and so ran away leaving his friend to take the punishment. Once the tall boy had enough of the bird, he, too, ran off.

This was the way his life continued for a while. The boy-bird would swoop down on those being victimized and would then use his beak to put right the wrongs of this world. Sometimes he was hurt himself, when they fought back, and on other times he wasn’t.

Then one Saturday morning, he found himself sitting on the highest branch of the tallest tree in a local park. He tended to hide this way when he was outside and naked – meaning that he was without his human clothes. It did feel good but he also felt that as a bird-boy he had a responsibility not to run around without any clothes on, leastways, not when humans were watching.

As he was watching the park, he spied some children playing a game of football. He’d always wanted to play football but most birds weren’t that excited about the prospect, and he found it difficult to get a game. On the other hand, most humans weren’t too keen on birds playing football either. So as far as he was concerned it was basically a stand-off.

The kids were enjoying themselves until a taller and older looking child, tackled one of the smallest. The little boy let out a scream and seeing he was upset, the injured boy’s friends started to pick on the larger kid. It looked as if all-out war would ensue, until our little bird flew above the melee and started to shout and whistle:

“That’s enough,” he shouted in a high squeaky bird voice. He called out again but still there was no reaction. So, our little bird friend landed on the head of the tallest kid and started to peck at his head.

“Ow!” Yelled the boy.

“Behave yourself,” said the bird.

“Says who?”

“Says me,” said the high-pitched bird (although in bird circles he was known to have quite a butch voice).

“Want to be our ref?” Asked one of the younger kids.

“Sure,” said the bird.

And that was where it all started. That day in the park, our bird started on a journey that took him from fan, to referee and then to running the team.As he was the only bird in that job, he became famous, always in the newspapers and forever on television.

And now our little friend manages an English Premier League team – of course you don’t need me to tell you which one.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

photo: Alexei Petrenkov

 

Strange Freedoms

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bowie

TOMMY

Tommy lived in a town where you had to be one thing or another. That was the way it was, that was the way it had probably always been. There was no room for neutrals, no room at all.

The folks who lived on the north side of the street gave their allegiances to the blue team and those on the south gave theirs to the green.

It was no use saying that you liked them both, or worse still, that you didn’t care about either – both of these cases got you beaten up. That was all that ever happened to Tommy, he was beaten up.

In this part of the world, for reasons that are better known to themselves, the greens went to one school and the blues went to another. Now Tommy wasn’t sure what the merits were in either system, just that he would have liked to have been friends with both, but as he already knew, that was impossible.

Both sides thought they were in the right, which meant that both sides thought that the others were wrong, and that included the folks who thought nothing about either; those folks were probably the worst according to both.

Tommy’s ma had passed away when he was barely out of nappies, and soon his father had met another woman who had caused him to move down south. Tommy stayed on in the town with his gran and granddad both of whom were neither green nor blue but just beige (if a person could be beige).

He had a lonely wee life, had Tommy, since he was a neutral and therefore was the lowest form of life, but there was one thing that made him happy and that was rock music. More importantly, David Bowie’s music.

You see, this was the year of 1973 and this was also the year of Glam Rock. Folks who weren’t trying to thump each other, were dressing up in glitter and sequins, and basically dodging folks beating them up.

When Tommy’s grandparents went to their beds, which was usually around 6pm, Tommy would put on the record, Ziggy Stardust and dress up as his hero. His hair would be red and his face was painted with his gran’s makeup – and he was the happiest boy alive.

One Saturday when the blues were marching for something and the greens were marching for something else, Tommy was left in the house because his grandparents felt that it was too dangerous for a boy to be out on the streets.

Right out in front of Tommy’s house, the blues came marching, shouting and singing from one direction, and the greens were singing, shouting and marching from the other.

Tommy hid behind the curtain to see what would occur, and that was when Tommy decided that he was fed up hiding and that he would go outside.

The blues and the greens were at what you would call, a stand-off’ snarling, and shouting abuse at each other – when suddenly they all stopped, and everything went quiet.

Tommy, all dressed up as Ziggy Stardust walked down between the two groups and started singing a song from his favourite album. In the silence some started sniggering, then there was laughter, then both sides shouted, then both applauded the wee rock star.

And for a few minutes both sides sang along with wee Tommy and forgot that they were either blue or green.  And Tommy felt it was probably the best day of his life – so far.

sisters

KATIE

Katie and her sister came as a pair. They were born almost a year apart. They ended up in the same class in school when Irene (the elder of the two) was kept back and made to repeat a year.

They left school and worked in the same shop together and both went out with boys from the same street.

But for whatever reasons, they never got married – and became ‘old maids’ as some folks would say unkindly.

It was in Katie’s 70th year, and Irene’s 71st, when the younger girl noticed the changes in her sister. Irene began to forget things, (as did Katie) but it sometimes meant Irene leaving a stove or a kettle burning away. Then Irene started to imagine things and people (and they were things that Katie wasn’t able to see and share). Then Irene started to walk about at night and sometimes leave the house which meant that Katie had to go out into the dark and follow her, finally bringing her sister home.

The doctor grew concerned about Irene and told Katie that she must be prepared for Irene to go into hospital. So one night, on Irene’s final night in the house. Katie dressed up as one of Irene’s imaginary friends and she laid a pot of tea out on the table and Irene served sandwiches to everyone. Then in the dark they went for a walk, with Irene and all her friends. Irene and Katie sat at the edge of the forest watching the sun come up and Katie watched Irene have her final sleep on the outside.

space

MARCUS

Five…four…three…two…one…

Then the school bell would ring for freedom that would last the entire summer. Marcus loved all those days that lay ahead – sunshine and heat in the hills of his childhood, and on the very hot days, the trips to the seaside – ice creams and fish and chips.
He used to lie next to the little beached fishing boats on the front at Hasting and stare at the blueness of the sky and wonder what it looked like from the other side.

And now he knew.

His life had been all rocket science, finishing up with him becoming an astro-engineer; a man who would spend too long away from his family, but he had to admit he loved it up here. Out in space – on the European station – several hundred kilometres above his home.

The Project Manager had asked him and the Bulgarian – Androv to check the pipe flow – it had a habit of closing down when the pipes went into the side away from the sun. But Androv had been in sick bay and Marcus had decided to check the pipes himself.

The fail-safe attachment had severed. He had no idea why. As soon as they noticed he was gone they would sound the ‘man-overboard’ alarm.

But it would probably be too late by then, and as he drifted further into deep space, he felt a peace and freedom that he hadn’t tasted since the days of the school bell.

window

SADIE
Her friends were always there waiting on her. Sadie would stand on her bed and lean out the window, and below her window were her three best pals in the whole wide world.

Annie was the beauty – she would probably be a matinée idol and then there was Celia, who would definitely win a Gold medal at the Olympics. Sasha was the brainy one, the one who said that one day she would be a great doctor.

Sasha could whistle the loudest, so she always stuck two fingers in her mouth and alerted Sadie that the gang were ready to enjoy another day together.

Those were the best days of her life. She was sure there had been other days just as enjoyable – days when she had been a mother or even a grandmother, but she couldn’t remember those days at all.

But for the time being, Sadie waved to her pals below and shouted that she would be down in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. She always said those words, and her pals always laughed.

Just then the nurse came into Sadie’s room.

“What are you doing standing on your bed, Mrs Jenkins. How many times have I told you not to lean out the window,” said the nurse.

“But my pals, are waiting,” said Sadie.

“Well they are just going to have to wait a bit longer”.

And the nurse gave Sadie her medication which sent her to sleep, and in her sleep Sadie would leave the old folks’ home and join Sasha, Celia and Annie below for a day of fun and freedom.

robber

HENRY
His auntie used to ruffle Henry’s hair when he was about five, then put her massive hand underneath his chin and force his cheeks together to make him smile.

“Aggie, your boy, your little Henry is a worrier. He was born worrying and he’ll probably die worrying,” said an auntie who meant well.

But she had been right, Henry had never known a day when he wasn’t worried about one thing or another. He was always sure the sky was going to fall on his head.

He worried at night that his house had been built on top of a coal mine and that one dark evening he would be swallowed up.

Worrying became his friend, and it was a friend that he would be lost without.
It was on the day of his 61st birthday that he entered the bank to withdraw money to buy himself a present. He never kept money in the house just in case it was stolen.

Henry didn’t see the bank robber at the other end of the building but he did feel the bullet as it entered his chest and exited his back.

As Henry fell to the ground, he could see the blood – and felt satisfied that all his worrying hadn’t been in vain. And as the darkness came over him, he could feel a kind of warmth and freedom in his dying. He had nothing left to worry about now and that was just dandy.

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Beautifully Broken

Photograph of children playing in the street taken through a window [1949-54] Nigel Henderson 1917-1985 The papers were acquired by the Tate Archive from Janet Henderson and the Henderson family in 1992. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/archive/TGA-9211-9-6-92-1

Sara stepped out the front door with an artificial spring in her step. Whatever happened in life, you had to turn up and shut up; her grandfather had taught her that. Her daughter, Willow, ran down the stairs and caught her mother’s hand as they stepped into the world. Sara didn’t know, as the two of them walked up the street, that her seven-year-old daughter had lain awake last night listening to her mother sobbing. Willow held her mother’s hand even more tightly than she did yesterday.

Across the road in number 17, Eric watched the lovely mother and daughter skip up the street: oh, to be that happy, he thought. Eric waved to his wife as she left to start the first of her four cleaning jobs that day. She had to work all the hours she could, now that his hip had grown more painful. He could still climb up to the attic when the house was empty and those steps were like a stairway to heaven. Up there he could try on the dresses and the high-heel shoes, and in the mirror, he didn’t see Eric but the beautiful Titania. What harm was he doing? He felt certain that God would understand.

Helen did what she always did at this time every morning: she would eat her breakfast and watch the world go by from her window. She had stopped putting milk in with the corn flakes, and had gone straight to drowning them in vodka. It gave her a warmth and glow that porridge had once done. She knew that by 10am the sun would be shining in her head no matter what the weather was outside. Passing folks would wave at Helen – the smiling happy lady who sat looking from her window at number five.

Kelly smiled at the mirror. She had to get the first smile right. It had to look natural, welcoming, and loving. She didn’t want her eyes to give the game away. She had to get it correct, for her sake and for his. He wouldn’t be coming home for another week but every spare minute she had, was spent practising that smile. It had been his third tour of duty in Afghanistan when it had happened. She told herself that she had married the man, a brave soul with a good heart and not the legs – the ones he had left in another country.

Sandy walked to the shop to get a newspaper, one that he knew he wouldn’t read. Newspapers only sold misery and lies anyway. What was really important was the fact, that if he made it there and back without stepping on a crack in the pavement – then he wasn’t a failure and his wife was wrong.

Katie watched Sandy through her dirty window. She wanted to tell him that he was married to the wrong woman, and that she could love him much better than that wife of his. Somehow Katie’s life had passed her by as she had nursed her long-gone mother. It was probably too late to say to Sandy, she thought. Then she heard the voice calling on her again and she wondered if she was going the same way as her mother and grandmother.

Another morning was almost over in the street of the beautifully broken, and up and down  the road the silence was almost deafening.

bobby stevenson 2017

Photograph of children playing in the street taken through a window [1949-54] Nigel Henderson 1917-1985 The papers were acquired by the Tate Archive from Janet Henderson and the Henderson family in 1992. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/archive/TGA-9211-9-6-92-1

Skiing In Central Park

guggen

I don’t think there was a precise time when you could say that they actually met; instead it would be more accurate to say that they rubbed against each other’s lives from the moment they were born.

Kitty and Jethro were born in the same week to families who lived next door to each other. They grew up together, sat in the same school rooms, and had the same good and bad teachers.

When one of them missed school due to ill-health, the other couldn’t rest until they were back together.

It was inevitable that one day they would start to see each other in a differing light. One evening Jethro looked at Kitty and saw, not a little friend who needed to be rescued, but a beautiful young girl who needed to be held. And one summer’s day, instead of a little boy who always needed his nose wiped or his tears dried, Kitty saw a strong upstanding boy who she could think of perhaps marrying, one day.

Jethro spent a long time away in the army when the government felt that he was needed, and in those times apart (it seems strange to anyone who has not experienced it) she fell more in love with him than she could put into words.

Their wedding was in the little chapel just north of the town’s river and everyone turned up – it was said that the sheriff allowed his prisoners to also attend and even ‘though the sheriff got real drunk that night, the prisoners locked themselves up, afterwards.

The two love birds settled down to a life in the little town that was by-passed by all the main roads, and there they got on with the business of living.

When no kids turned up, Kitty went to the doctor and found that she and Jethro just weren’t compatible – had it been with someone else both might have had children, but not in this combination. Kitty knew things could have been done to help them but they both decided that if that was the way things were, then they just get on with it.

Not having younger ones to worry about, meant they got to see a lot of the country. They drove north, south, east, and west and loved every single minute of every single day in each other’s company.

There was one crazy dream that they both shared (Kitty thinks she first read about it in a book) and it was their wish to go skiing in Central Park in New York City. Neither of them had ever been in another country but this seemed the perfect reason to go. They knew there were only the smallest of hills in the park but that didn’t put either of them off – not one bit.

Every winter they would talk about going to New York, and then before they knew it, another year had passed. They were in their sixties when Jethro started to get ill, and it meant that Kitty spent more and more time looking after him. It wasn’t a chore, she just worried about her little boy who had once lived next door to her.

One winter, just before the start of December, Jethro shut his eyes for the last time. When Kitty found herself brave enough, she started to sort out Jethro’s things. In an old jacket she found details about a savings account in the little bank at the top of street.

When she went into the bank, the young man behind the counter said:

“So you’re going skiing in New York, then?”

Kitty asked him what he meant and he told her that every week, Jethro had put a little money into the skiing account and that one day, he told him, Jethro and his wife were going to go skiing in Central Park.

Kitty counted the money and there was enough to get her to fly to New York and a little over to help a young family who lived next door.

When she got to New York it was September, in fact the hottest month since records began – so skiing was out the question. That night she sat in her hotel room and talked to Jethro as she always did, and after telling him she hoped he was well where ever he was, she mentioned the lack of snow. It was just then that a TV show came on about the Guggenheim Museum in New York and it gave her an idea.

The next day she took a cab to the museum where the security man at the door looked in her bag – she told him ‘they were for her grandkids’, so he wished her a nice visit and Kitty went on her way.

When she looked up it was just as she had hoped – the inside of the Guggenheim was a path which descended from the top of the building to the bottom, in circles.

She got on an elevator to the top floor, took out her new roller-skates and before anyone could stop her, she shot down the Guggenheim path at several miles per hour.

“Can you see me, Jethro?” Kitty shouted, “can you see what I’m doing?”

And then she laughed and giggled and screamed all the way to the bottom of the path.

 

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The Titanic In New York City – 3 stories

ship1  Wednesday April 17th, 1912 Pier 60. NY,NY.

After a successful maiden voyage across the North Atlantic, the Titanic berths in New York.

Annie’s Story

She was born with the name, Annie Constantine and from the age of nine, she had worked tirelessly as a kitchen maid in a large house on the south coast of England.

Annie could not settle for a life in service – she gracefully rose at 4am and fell into bed at midnight, but she told herself this was not going to be forever. She had bigger ideas, she knew was going to go to the new world one day and nothing was going to stop her.

By the time she was eighteen, she had two proposals of marriage (both rejected), and two lovers who came from the overlords who lived in the floors above.

Annie had a photo of New York City pinned to the wall of the little room she shared with two other girls.

She had heard Lord Carnforth, her employer, talk about a great ship that both he and his wife were sailing aboard to the United States: The Titanic. When that name tickled her ears she knew it was destiny, she had waited for this very moment. Annie had saved her meagre wages and at last she could afford a third class ticket – one way, of course. She got one of the footmen, whom she trusted, to purchase a ticket for her while he was on a visit to his family in Southampton.

Apart from the footman, no one else knew of her plan. So on the morning before the Titanic was due to depart for New York, she packed a small valise and headed down the back path, never to return.

For her, the voyage, although being celebrated around the world, was one of monotony; the truth was she couldn’t wait to get started in her new country, to begin her new life.

She had been in contact with an old friend, Sarah, who had met a ‘Yankee’ while she was appearing on the music hall in London’s Haymarket. Sarah had married her gentleman caller and they had both moved into a small apartment in Harlem.

Sarah was there to meet and greet her friend, and all the way on the trolley north, Sarah talked non-stop about her new life in a great city. Annie didn’t hear most of it, as she could not help herself but constantly look at the wondrous views from the window of the trolley; it was 1912 and Annie Constantine was at the centre of the new world.

The plan was for Annie to live with Sarah until she could stand on her own two feet. However this plan fell apart.  After three days Annie was working harder than ever, cooking for Sara and her ‘Yankee’. Cleaning, and fetching the groceries, she was more exhausted than she had been at the big house.

So once again, Annie got up early one morning, took several dollars from her Sarah’s saving’s box (Annie reckoned she had earned it, but swore to replace it one day) and took a train west.

Within in a month, she found herself at the end of the line, and decided that she would settle in California and see how things went. In the sun and far from the drudgery of a maid’s work, she blossomed into a beauty. This didn’t go unnoticed, especially with one, Max Sennett who had opened up the Keystone Movie Company.

Annie had to be honest, the first couple of one-reelers she made as the heroine were terrible, but Max had faith in her and it paid off. By the following year, Annie was the studio’s number one star and had started to work with a young English actor by the name of Charlie Chaplin.

Annie couldn’t see Charlie’s little tramp character having any sort of appeal and subsequently, Charlie was dismissed and returned to England to work in a factory – he never made another movie.

By 1920, Annie (now named Ann Silver) was the biggest light in the firmament and was commanding several thousand dollars a movie. She married for the fourth time in 1925, having given birth to two sons and two daughters by her previous three husbands.

In 1929, it was decided that Ann’s movie, ‘The Little Honey Girl’ would be the first talking picture – it had been a choice between her and Al Jolson’s ’The Jazz Singer’ but Ann’s looks and popularity won the day. Ann’s voice seduced the crowds once again, and in even more numbers.

When she married for a sixth time, she built a little house on the island of Catalina, a few miles off the California coast. It was while she was sailing there one afternoon, that her ship (which she had named The Titanic after the one which had brought her to a new life) sank with all hands. Her body was never recovered. 

Adel and Dirk’s Story

That Wednesday morning, the sun shone, and a gentle breeze blew in from the sea. As far as Adel was concerned, she had everything in life she wanted. She lived in Brighton Beach at the bottom end of Brooklyn, and she had a job painting decorations on the rides at Coney Island.

She had been in New York City for almost a year. A year of struggling and making a life for herself in a new country. It had been lonely at the start, but the work had allowed her to paint and express herself. She had two friends, but as she worked most of the time, it really was difficult to meet people.

On that sunny morning, her cousin Dirk was arriving from Europe on the biggest ship in the world; the Titanic. Both their families came from Stuttgart, and as a girl Adel had been close to her older cousin. Now that she felt herself more American, she was pleased that another of her tribe would experience the exciting land that was the United States.

Dirk had qualified as a doctor, and in appreciation of this achievement, his family had saved money to send him second class on the Titanic.

She knew that the ship was due within the hour and that she could watch it pass from her little apartment on the Avenue, but instead she took an elevated transit from Coney Island into Manhattan. She had heard that there was going to be a large crowd to welcome the greatest ship to the greatest city in the world.

She took a trolley across to the west side, to Pier 60 on the Hudson. There were many people trying to get to the pier, and the crowd stretched all the way to the Battery. Adel wanted to welcome her cousin personally when he stepped from the ship.

She bought a hotdog and a lemonade as she waited, listening to the bands, some of which had come up from Coney Island. She had been granted the holiday by her boss, as long as she worked the following Saturday.

After what seemed a lifetime, she saw the funnels, and then the grandeur of what was the largest ship she had ever seen. It was beautiful, so beautiful that it took her breath away. She wiped back the tears and waved with the rest of the New Yorkers to greet the Titanic.

It was several hours before she was able to walk up and hug her cousin. He had to be processed through Ellis Island, as she had been, before he was allowed to set foot on Manhattan.

She cried again, it was wonderful to see one of her family again and to be able to talk in her mother tongue. Dirk hadn’t brought much with him and so they decided to walk up Fifth Avenue and enjoy the sights of the city.

They got back to her apartment, in Brighton Beach in the early evening. The sun was already sinking on this happy April day and she had baked treats that she would have made back home. She wanted make Dirk feel really welcome.

He was excited by his new country and full of hope, he told Adel. Perhaps he could be a great doctor in America, or perhaps even the President himself. Adel told him that he would have to have been born in the United States but she loved his dreams.

Then he told stories of the crossing of the Atlantic on the Titanic, how they had been troubled by icebergs but the captain had slowed the ship a little and all was well.

Tomorrow she had to go back to work at Coney Island but she would introduce Dirk to her boss, who might be able to help in getting him work. Dirk thanked his cousin and took his little bag into the kitchen where she had made him up a bed. Adel wished him goodnight and hoped that God would be kind to him in the new land.

As Dirk settled down, he took out the code book which he had been supplied, and went over once again the instructions he had been given. Not if, but when, there was a war in Europe and the mighty armies of the Fatherland moved into France and Britain, the Kaiser wanted assurance that the US would be in no position to join the war.

Dirk had one activity and one activity only, and that was to assassinate the President of the United States when the signal came from the Fatherland.Dirk slept well that first night in his new country and dreamed of the bright new world that was to come.

Julia’s Story

Her name was simply, Julia Edinburgh – not doctor and not professor; she was a woman after all in 1912. She was probably the cleverest of all people working on the causes and treatment of cancers. Her husband was a doctor, but he had grown to admire and love his wife and her ability to see patterns and signs in medical information that most people overlooked.

She felt that after several years of investigation and begging money from family and friends, she was now able to say categorically what had been the initial cause of specific cancers. Even more exciting was the certainty she felt, that she had come up with a process to halt the cell division – in other words, a cure for some cancers.

What concerned her most was there was to be a symposium of cancer specialists in Washington DC, on Monday the 21st of April – all of them men. She also knew that the main speaker was going to present his theory of cancer as a germ that is spread throughout the body. There was a train of thought, at the time, that cancer was a small protozoa – a small creature which transported itself from cell to cell.

She knew this was so far from the truth and that it might put cancer research back many years. It was important that she got to this meeting and contradicted their thoughts by presenting what she considered a cure for the disease.

Her husband had always been a fan of ships since he was a little boy, and it was at his suggestion that Doctor Samuel Edinburgh and his wife, Julia should take a second class compartment aboard the Titanic on her maiden voyage, bound for New York City. The Edinburghs would then take the train south to Washington, in time for the meeting.

They boarded at Southampton and took pleasure in their small but comfortable cabin. Doctor Edinburgh found that his love of ships had him exploring all areas of the Titanic. This allowed his wife to spend her time writing and re-writing her presentation on the causes and cures for cancer.

It was on the evening of Sunday the 14th of April, that the doctor found himself taking a stroll on the top deck. He always found that such a walk and taking the airs helped him sleep better. It also allowed his darling wife a little extra time to consider her thoughts.

The doctor couldn’t believe it at first – but he ran towards the bow, it appeared that there was an iceberg off the starboard side of the great RMS Titanic. He ran and found a steward, whom he quickly impressed upon, that it was important that the captain should be informed immediately.

This is what actually occurred, the captain was able to make manoeuvres, which allowed the Titanic to swerve to the port side of the berg. The Captain felt that he had been lucky this time and slowed the ship’s speed for the final part of the voyage into New York.

By the time the doctor got back to his cabin, his wife was asleep. He failed to tell her in the morning of his escapade the previous evening.

Julia did, in fact, make the symposium on cancer in Washington D.C. and it was her brave work which brought about the start of cures being found for several types of cancer.

She died in 1967, in Long Island with her grandchildren by her side.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Broken

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Every morning Andy would count to ten before he got out of his warm forgiving bed and while he was waiting, he’d usually count his luck as well.

He’d always been the type of soul who walked the line on the lucky side but he had to accept that things happened to you when you were forty-seven years old. The way the radio sounded quieter in one ear than it did in the other, so he was going deaf as well as losing his ability to see words clearly.

The news station annoyed him to the same degree as it ever did. Why he listened to it was anyone’s guess. All they did was try their best to wipe the smile from his face: sick economy, rising unemployment, new terrorism – why did they never try looking at the positive for a change? Tell a good story about families who were working hard to save their kids. He knew why – because it didn’t make news.

He was becoming sick of it all, fighting every day for each and every step. Yet like millions of others across the land, he would get up and start his day with the best will in the world that he could muster. He’d grit his teeth like all the other dads and just get on with it.

Most of his life was a habit but it was a habit that he wrapped around himself like a warm blanket. God help him if it ever disappeared, his wife Sara and the kids were the only reason he’d got up.

He loved his wife the way that you do after twenty-five years of marriage, more than ever and less than before. She was his sun, his moon, his stars and his major pain in the butt from time to time. And the kids? Well the kids were part of him, sure they had their moments but jeez they had made this world bearable and they were his breath.

So he got out of bed on the count of ten like he did every day and he slid his feet across the floor like he did every day, and he shaved and showered like he did every day. He had a cup of coffee like he did every day – except for one thing, this wasn’t every day.

______

Sara very rarely stirred from her bed until he had got up. Every day it was the same, she could almost hear his brain counting to ten. But up he’d get without fail. He’d never had a day’s illness except maybe that time when they had just moved to this house, to this area and that must have been nearly twenty years or so.

He was a good man and she loved him, truly loved him – she’d never looked at another in all that time. She knew how he was feeling and what he was thinking even if he was clear over the other side of the county. It was that close, it was that much love.

He was a decent father to their kids, never a harsh word to say to any of them and yet they kept in check. They were good kids and they would make good parents themselves, everyone said so.

So why did she feel so lost? Like she was drowning, when all this was everything she dreamed of. It wasn’t the menopause, that had been and gone and she’d coped with it all. There was an empty ache at the core and it wouldn’t go away – no matter how hard she tried.

_______

What can you say about a child who’s been murdered? The year it happened was the year that Tommy joined the Police force, it would be more correct to say because it happened is why he joined. Twenty years later and no one had been caught not even a hint. Sure there had been talk and names mentioned, some having to leave to avoid the whispers, but there had never been good solid evidence to point the finger at anyone.

The police had interviewed almost every male in the town at the time but either the Police were incompetent or the killer was very clever.

Tommy had watched the victim’s family disintegrate, that was the only word to describe it: disintegration.

The girl’s mother and father no longer lived together and even the same town wasn’t big enough, perhaps seeing each other brought back the horror of that night.

The night she went missing, the night that the girl’s mother knew she was dead. Before the Police had informed the family, before the body was found, before even her husband had grown worried about Tracey being late. A mother knows and she felt her daughter saying goodbye inside. That was what she told the Police the next day. The mother had even been a suspect at one point but like all other leads she had been not considered a serious contender.

Back then Tommy was just a guy, plain and simple, and the night that Tracey went missing he helped along with all the others. He searched the undergrowth, the garages, down by the old canal and at the side of the once used rail track.

Poor Tracey’s little battered body had been found a couple of miles from where Tommy had been looking. He wasn’t sure if he’d wanted to be the one to find her or not.

______

We separated about two years after the death. For better or worse we’d promised each other at the Church but they hadn’t mentioned anything about your own beautiful little girl being taken. That was the worst of the worst no one could get you through that.

My darling daughter, my little one who I had read to, cried with, laughed with, run with, wiped her nose and her bum had gone.

I and her mother supported each other for as long as anyone humanly could – but the heart scars don’t show up, not at first anyway. They seep through the skin and poison everything around them, they seep into laughter and birthdays. They taint the very kindness of people. Until you grudge everyone their happiness. The fact that the world continues to turn makes your head literally spin.

I think the hatred started with the people on TV. They still made jokes, they still acted in plays, still read the news, still sung their songs. All I wanted was one of them to stop and speak through the screen:

“I am so sorry Mister and Mrs Andrews, on your loss”

But they didn’t they just kept on singing.

Then one night I looked over at my wife and thought – why didn’t they take you and leave her and I knew I was finished.

______

Tracey was my friend and now I don’t sleep so good. My mother says not to worry as it’s only bed sheets. You can always wash bed sheets she says, but I feel embarrassed.

Tracey was my pal and now I don’t go out. Not because I’m scared, just because I don’t want to.

Tracey was my best buddy and I cry most nights.

______

My name is Andy and every morning I count to ten before I get up and then I count my luck.

They haven’t caught me yet.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

photo: http://www.classic105.com

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The Titanic in New York City – Annie’s Story

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Wednesday April 17th, 1912 Pier 60. NY,NY.

She was born with the name, Annie Constantine and from the age of nine, she had worked tirelessly as a kitchen maid in a large house on the south coast of England.

Annie could not settle for a life in service – she gracefully rose at 4am and fell into bed at midnight, but she told herself this was not going to be forever. She had bigger ideas, she knew was going to go to the new world one day and nothing was going to stop her.

By the time she was eighteen, she had two proposals of marriage (both rejected), and two lovers who came from the overlords who lived in the floors above.

Annie had a photo of New York City pinned to the wall of the little room she shared with two other girls.

She had heard Lord Carnforth, her employer, talk about a great ship that both he and his wife were sailing aboard to the United States: The Titanic. When that name tickled her ears she knew it was destiny, she had waited for this very moment. Annie had saved her meagre wages and at last she could afford a third class ticket – one way, of course. She got one of the footmen, whom she trusted, to purchase a ticket for her while he was on a visit to his family in Southampton.

Apart from the footman, no one else knew of her plan. So on the morning before the Titanic was due to depart for New York, she packed a small valise and headed down the back path, never to return.

For her, the voyage, although being celebrated around the world, was one of monotony; the truth was she couldn’t wait to get started in her new country, to begin her new life.

She had been in contact with an old friend, Sarah, who had met a ‘Yankee’ while she was appearing on the music hall in London’s Haymarket. Sarah had married her gentleman caller and they had both moved into a small apartment in Harlem.

Sarah was there to meet and greet her friend, and all the way on the trolley north, Sarah talked non-stop about her new life in a great city. Annie didn’t hear most of it, as she could not help herself but constantly look at the wondrous views from the window of the trolley; it was 1912 and Annie Constantine was at the centre of the new world.

The plan was for Annie to live with Sarah until she could stand on her own two feet. However this plan fell apart.  After three days Annie was working harder than ever, cooking for Sara and her ‘Yankee’. Cleaning, and fetching the groceries, she was more exhausted than she had been at the big house.

So once again, Annie got up early one morning, took several dollars from her Sarah’s saving’s box (Annie reckoned she had earned it, but swore to replace it one day) and took a train west.

Within in a month, she found herself at the end of the line, and decided that she would settle in California and see how things went. In the sun and far from the drudgery of a maid’s work, she blossomed into a beauty. This didn’t go unnoticed, especially with one, Max Sennett who had opened up the Keystone Movie Company.

Annie had to be honest, the first couple of one-reelers she made as the heroine were terrible, but Max had faith in her and it paid off. By the following year, Annie was the studio’s number one star and had started to work with a young English actor by the name of Charlie Chaplin.

Annie couldn’t see Charlie’s little tramp character having any sort of appeal and subsequently, Charlie was dismissed and returned to England to work in a factory – he never made another movie.

By 1920, Annie (now named Ann Silver) was the biggest light in the firmament and was commanding several thousand dollars a movie. She married for the fourth time in 1925, having given birth to two sons and two daughters by her previous three husbands.

In 1929, it was decided that Ann’s movie, ‘The Little Honey Girl’ would be the first talking picture – it had been a choice between her and Al Jolson’s ’The Jazz Singer’ but Ann’s looks and popularity won the day. Ann’s voice seduced the crowds once again, and in even more numbers.

When she married for a sixth time, she built a little house on the island of Catalina, a few miles off the California coast. It was while she was sailing there one afternoon, that her ship (which she had named The Titanic after the one which had brought her to a new life) sank with all hands. Her body was never recovered. 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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Seventy Times Around The Sun

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“Nothing is stranger or more ticklish than a relationship between people who know each other only by sight, who meet and observe each other daily – no hourly – and are nevertheless compelled to keep up the pose of an indifferent stranger, neither greeting nor addressing each other, whether out of etiquette or their own whim.”
― Thomas Mann

He always left work at exactly 5pm – no earlier and no later. He had no ambition to be promoted and yet, he had no want to work for free either.
5pm, it was and not a second more.

Each evening he would wait at the corner for the bus, which would take him within walking distance of his home. He always had the correct money and didn’t expect a ‘thank you’ for his consideration.

As he left the office there was always a little man who would sit on the sidewalk, just watching the world go by. Sometimes people would give the man an odd penny for his troubles, but he was never really sure what troubles it was that the little man had to endure. The man refused to give away hard-earned cash to a little man on the sidewalk who only watched and did nothing more. Yet this never put the little man off from wishing everyone who left the office, ‘a good evening’.

The man always sat on the same seat each morning and evening as he rode on the bus. Always the same folks would get on at the same stops each morning and get off on their return. If one hadn’t made it that morning, he would wonder where they were, ill, at a wedding, on vacation but he would never, ever think to start up a conversation with any of them.

He lived alone and although he saw his neighbors to say ‘hello’ to – that was as much contact as he courted. He had no need for anything more. At weekends he would watch the neighbours walk their dogs, or children, or partners up and down the neighbourhood.

If life had meant him to have acquaintances, it would have surely made it obvious to him which people he should engage.  At the store, when he bought his groceries, he would only make eye contact with the staff when they had totalled his purchases and wished him a good day. He would smile, say ‘thank you’ and leave. And this was the man’s life. It was neither great, nor a disappointment. It just was.

Then one day as he was leaving the office, he tripped on a shoelace that had come undone in the elevator. As he lay on the sidewalk, no one stopped to help – after all, you didn’t talk to people who lay on sidewalks.

Yet the little man who watched – came over and asked him if he could be of help. The man said that wasn’t necessary as he had only tripped and could stand, but not one to be put off, the little man helped him stand and then asked if perhaps, he was hurt in any way. The man said he was fine, but the little man used some money that he had been given – but hadn’t asked for – to buy some water for the man to drink. The man said ‘thank you’ but it hadn’t been necessary. The little man said it was necessary – unless, that is the man belonged to some other place than Earth. As the little man said, we are all on this spaceship circling the sun, some get to ride 70 times around it, some more, some less but we are all astronauts.

And the man thought of that all the way to the bus stop. As he got on the bus, the driver whom he had never spoken to, asked if he was all right as their seemed to be blood coming from his forehead. The man touched his own head and saw that the driver was right. The man must have hit his head as he landed on the sidewalk. So the driver gave him his handkerchief to stop the flow, at least until he got home.

The man then thanked the driver and sat down. He was only five minutes from his dropping off point when he felt dizzy and seemed to black out. When the man came around, he found that he was lying on the bus floor, with his tie loosened and the folks (the ones he saw on the bus but never spoke to) were kneeling over him. One was cleaning his face, another had placed a jacket under his head, and one was holding his hand. When they got to his stop, he was able to stand but one of the passengers insisted on walking him to his house.

On the way there, two of his neighbours stopped to ask if he was all right. The one from the bus who was walking him home, told them the story and the neighbours said they could take it from there, and they would see he was all right.

The neighbours made him some soup and told him he should get a good night’s rest and he would be fine in the morning but if he wasn’t, he shouldn’t hesitate to call them.

And because of that shoelace untied, the man found that all those faces in the crowd that he had never spoken to, were only friends he had yet to discover.

bobby stevenson 2017
photo: http://www.scabbage.com

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The Inscription

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No one, and I mean no one, had ever seen the likes of the inscription before. It had lain undiscovered in a small cave on the north shore until Roman times.

There were those who thought that it was written by the ancients – whoever they were meant to be. The curious and the deluded, would beat paths to the cave to declare it a work of gods, or for some – that it was from Atlantis.

It was only in the early 21st century, that a programmer from Tennessee, created software intended to break the code. He ran the decipher for almost three years, until it had translated the first five of the six lines – it said:

“We were here, we stood here,
We lived here, and we grew here,
But we made a return to the stars,
From whence we came,
Yet we had to leave them behind…”

There were many attempts to suggest what, or who, had been left behind. Competitions were run, prizes offered. But still the cipher ran for another five years; long after the Tennessee man had gone to meet his maker.

Then one cold, grey Tuesday afternoon, as a young intern kept an eye on the software, the final line was revealed….

“..Our beloved pets: the humanoids”

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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The Boy Who Loved To Handstand

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Charlie lived in grey house which stood in a grey street which weaved its way through a grey town. He wasn’t an unhappy kid – on the contrary, Charlie saw the world both as beautiful and crazy all at the same time.

But where Charlie was alone was in the way he looked at the world. He knew that there was more to life than all this greyness, the question was where to find it.

His grey school room was taught over by a grey teacher who had once shown something other than grey from her eyes but as Charlie didn’t have a word for it, he decided he must have imagined it.
One day Charlie was busy drawing an elephant, (on a piece of paper, not actually drawing on an elephant as that would have been stupid) with his tongue hanging out of his mouth and as he scribbled hard, his pencil shot out of his hand and under his desk.

When Charlie leaned down to get his pencil, two strange things happened. One – all the blood rushed to his head and made him feel really dizzy. Two – the world seemed to take on something other than  grey, he still had no idea what it was but for the first time Charlie could see the world in colours.

He sat upright just a bit too quickly and nearly made himself sick – but there it was, the world was back to being grey.
Charlie decided to keep this secret to himself and run all the way home. When he got to his bedroom, he had one last look out in the hall, in case the family were nearby then he went into his room and did a handstand against the wall. Sure enough the world became colourful again, so much nicer than the grey one.

So every chance he could get, Charlie would stand on his hands and enjoy the way he looked at the world. Okay, so no one else looked at the world the way Charlie did, but he didn’t care, in fact he loved being the only one who knew the secret.

One day, when he felt like a walk, Charlie went down to the river and when no one was looking, he stood on his hands and the world seemed right again. That was until a large shadow was cast across his face – he hoped it wasn’t the kids from the other street, he knew they’d never understand but it wasn’t them. Instead, it was a young girl and what was more surprising was the fact that her face was the right way up.

Charlie was used to seeing a beautiful world but with people the wrong way round.

You see, the pretty young girl loved to see the world the same way as Charlie did, she loved to stand on her hands too and that made Charlie happy.

The two of them could share the beautiful world now. He wasn’t alone.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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THING and His Teacher

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Her name was Elizabeth Browning, yep, just like the poet lady and to everyone at Thing’s school, she had been known as Mrs Honey. Where that name came from no one was sure, but she did make everyone feel good and warm (just like honey). There is probably a teacher like that in most peoples’ lives; someone who comes along once in the whole schooling process and manages to get the best out of everyone.

Thing remembered his first day at school and how he’d seen Mrs Honey skim the room with those deep blue eyes which came to rest on Thing’s gaze.

“And who might you be, little one?” She asked.

“They call me Thing,” he’d answered.

“Who do?”

“Everyone,” he’d replied.

“Then if it’s good enough for everyone then it’s good enough for me.”

And with that Mrs Honey had started to get to know all the new kids. For she knew that a classroom is just a small slice of the world, and some folks were going to have to be helped to swim through it all and some others would only need the lightest of shoves.

The most important point that Mrs Honey had noticed about Thing was, that he might look different from some of the other folks in the class but, basically he was just a kid like everyone else. It was the ones who didn’t look different on the outside that some folks could overlook and not realise that they were drowning inside.

One warm, scarlet red, evening Thing was sitting at the mouth of his cave and wasn’t really thinking about much – maybe a bit of this or that sometimes, but nothing that could trouble a mind. It had been a while since Thing had left school for the final time and Mrs Honey had long since retired, so he was surprised, as probably you and I would be, to see her walking her way up to the cave.

“Well I do declare,” she shouted as she got nearer. “How’s my little precious Thing doing these days?”

So Mrs Honey sat because, as she said, she wasn’t as young as she once had been, and she and Thing talked over lots and lots of different stuff. He told her that he was waiting on his parents to come home someday and she told him about how much she missed teaching and all the children that had passed through her class.

Then she asked what Thing had been doing since he’d left school.

“Some of this and some of that,” he told her. “I went looking for the horizon but I never got to find it,” he said sadly.

And Mrs Honey told Thing that everyone was looking for some kind of horizon, because everyone thought that happiness probably lay just over the horizon.

“So how come the horizon is so hard to find?” Thing asked his old teacher.

“ ’Cause the horizon don’t really exist. It’s just somethin’ out there. Happiness is in here and here,” and with that she touched her heart and her head.

Then she asked Thing if he’d ever thought of teaching and he had to say that he hadn’t.

“Other folks wouldn’t let me teach. I mean, when I walk through the town people sometimes throw rocks at me,” he said sadly.

“And these are the folks that need the teachin’.”

“About what?”

“About what? About tolerance. About understanding. About how folks are all different in their own ways. About love.”

“I could teach all that?” Asked Thing.

“Hey child, you wrote the book on that stuff.”

And Thing said he didn’t remember writing any book and Mrs Honey said it was only a term of speech.

“You could be special in so many folks’ lives, if you’d only give it a try,” said Mrs Honey.

“Where would I start?” Asked an excited Thing.

“You come and see me tomorrow and I’ll give you pointers. Goodness, as if the world don’t need someone like you. You have a heart and a mind and you can’t let that go to waste. Believe me.”

And funnily enough he did believe her. And it felt warm, like honey.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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The Rain Country

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“You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilisation from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass” . The Power-House ,John Buchan , 1913

He dreamt of letting his hand dance under the cool water which flowed freely from a tap and then watch as the unwanted liquid disappeared into the hole.

He awoke with a start and yet there were not the usual battle noises that kept him awake at night. This was a darkness that brought with it nostalgia, an aching for the past that was guaranteed to suffocate any of his happiness that clung for survival.

He walked the top officers’ corridor, the one which was plastered with the war propaganda:“Remember our enemy – they squander

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This was supported by photos of water being abused at the hands of the barbarians to the north.

Placed at the far end of the corridor was the most famous poster of all:“Remember why we fight” the photo of a tap and a drip of water.

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Every home had one on the wall – put there by order.

He had been a night-walker ever since he was a child, long before the Drought, long before the War, long before the dreams of the past.

The drought and the war were things he could fight against but the nostalgia was the worst, it lured him into a warm land. In his dreams he was bathing in hot water while his family prepared the evening meal in the rooms below.

Those days had gone and most of his family were dead or taken as slaves and shipped to the north.

Once people crossed the rebuilt Hadrian’s Wall they were very rarely seen again. Satellite photos showed camps for re-education on the outskirts of Edinburgh and Aberdeen. For re-education read extermination camps.

Those unfortunate enough to be captured were usually worked to death building underground storage areas for the water or the new gold as it was better known.

His own parents had gone ‘over the wall’ ten years ago. They had moved for safety to the hills in the Lake District but had been captured on a raid by The Reivers. Those to the north had the water but not the manpower – so that need had brought them raiding as far south as Old Manchester.
If the war continued it would be thirty years old next February. The war was older than most of the people left in the United English States, he guessed that was why they had made him a General – he was forty-three years of age and one of the few people who was that old. One could still make out ‘General Robert Star: UES Army’ on his fading breast badge.
He had sent his wife and child to a holding camp near Liverpool as it still had some water and was considered safe, at least for now.

It was estimated that the population of the United English States was just under a million, many had perished in the first drought but disease had been the main cause for most.

The Barbarians on the dark side of the wall had an estimated 200,000 and probably another 100,000 made up of those captured or those who had defected.

The defectors were known as ‘Thirst Runners’ and if they were re-captured by their own people, they were normally flayed alive and laid out on the grass as a warning to others.
Robert, or Bobby as he liked to be called by his men, had been a soldier for most of his adult life. As the drought moved up what was once known as Britain, so Robert’s garrison followed. He had spent thirteen years in Old Manchester before moving to this new camp called New Manchester built on what had been once a town called Preston.

Preston had been razed to the ground at around the same time as his parents had disappeared.

He was issued with a small bottle of water each Sunday and this was to do him for the week. There was still some water reaching them from Wales but most of what was left of those supplies had been stolen, the pipes  having blown apart. Those who lived in the border areas of Wales were systematically erased, it was considered better to rid the area of Drinkers (that was how the UES referred to non-combatants) than wait for them to become potential terrorists. Except the extermination gave birth to more terrorism than if the place had been left alone.

The scorch and burn policy was now dropped in favour of bribery. Give the Drinkers water and they had no need to hit back at the troops.

Everyone knew on both sides of the wall what was coming next – it was inevitable. It had been discussed, planned and resourced from the Garrison in Old Manchester. In two days time the entire UES Army was going to attack the wall from both the Carlisle side and also using those battalions based at the River Tyne; there had been a proud city there once.

Robert always finished his nocturnal walk as the dawn was breaking through – this shortened the dream-time.

The next few days would change the war one way or another for everyone.

What they couldn’t do was stay where they were.

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bobby stevenson 2016

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If It Ever Gets Too Dark

If it ever gets too dark for you

I’ll light a match and let you see

Your first few steps, to get you on your way.

If it ever gets too dark for you

I’ll place a candle in the window

From which you can find your way back home.

If it ever gets too dark for you

I’ll be the Moon to show you that

It’s only shadows that you fear.

If it ever gets too dark for you

I’ll be the Sun to warm your eyes

And show you that there’s a path ahead

Which will take you where you need.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

The Best of All Summers

jottifry

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Some things remain with you forever.

When I was ten years old, my father took me on a trip in an old battered car and caravan, and although I didn’t know it at the time, my father was dying. He was only forty years of age and he was dying of a brain tumour.

What can I tell you about me back then? That I was the only son of parents who never got around to marrying? That I lived with my two sisters and a cat and that despite not having any money, we lived in a house packed to the roof with love.

Maybe that’s as good as it gets in anyone’s life.

My father was the gentlest of hearts and the kindest of men, and I’m not just saying that because he’s gone. I’m saying it because it was true. It was his strength and his weakness. My mother watched so many people taking advantage of his goodness, that in the end she put herself in the way of anyone trying to use him. This made her seem hard but she was willing to put up with that, because that was what our family was always about – love.

My parents had decided that when school was closed for the summer, Mum and the girls would go to London for a few days to see a show, while me and Dad would go north taking his old car hooked up to Granddad’s caravan. I knew Dad was probably hoping this would be a chance for us to talk, as he was always working and I was always in my bedroom being misunderstood. Even at ten years of age I had no real idea how to enjoy myself.

On that summer, that glorious summer, school finished and my life began. Dad drove Mum and the girls to the railway station and I sat on the front steps waiting, bag ready and caravan packed.

I’ll always remember the ‘toot-toot-toot’ of my Dad on the car horn as he returned from the station, letting everyone in the street know that the boys were off on holiday. All those unused days were spread before us, waiting.

If I’d thought that it was going to be a particularly difficult time sitting in the car with my Dad, I was wrong. I had imagined him and me struggling to talk to each other and stumbling over words. I guess I’ve always made assumptions about things. I’ve worried and assumed – I suppose that’s what should be written on my headstone. There I go again.

As we drove towards the coast, I felt ashamed of myself. Here was a man who knew all about my writings and about the books I’d read. He would steal himself into my room after he came home late from work, too late to wish me goodnight but long enough to kiss me on the forehead and absorb from the room who and what I was. There was I knowing very little about him, except he was my father and he was rarely home.

I don’t recall when he stopped the car but I do remember it getting dark. I had been telling him all about the characters in some Dickens novel when I must have fallen asleep in his arms. When I awoke, it was morning and the sun was fighting the condensation on the window. Dad had placed me in the back seat and covered me with his jacket.

The car was freezing and as I sat up, I shivered. I wiped away mist from the side window and saw, that despite the sun, the sky and the sea were a cold blue, broken up by the foamy edges of the waves.  We had parked at the edge of a cliff and Dad was sitting, staring – that was all he was doing – just staring. When I felt brave enough, I ventured outside to join him. I’ll always remember his face that day, the wind had slapped his cheeks into a Santa Claus red and his eyes were watering, stung by the sea. You could almost imagine that he had been crying, and I wonder now, from all those years away, if he had been.

He told me to sit next to him and he put his arm around me, “You, and me, son are going on an adventure”.

Now don’t get me wrong, I liked the sound of ‘adventure’ and I loved my father and felt safe with him but there was always a part of me that wanted to return to the protection of my bedroom, pull up my arms into my sleeves and wait on the next hurtful thing. Yeah, you’re right, I was one weird kid.

As we came over the hill I could see it: Blackpool Tower. I had never seen anything so tall in all my life and was so excited that I forgot about my misgivings. The place was alive with people who were swept up with enjoying life and buzzing with laughter. There were donkey rides by the sea, the odd uncle with a handkerchief on his head to keep the sun away and people breaking their teeth on sticks of rocks, slurping ice cream and getting pieces of candy floss stuck to their noses.

Dad and I went down on to the beach and ate our fish and chips from a newspaper. I think it was the best fish and chips I ever tasted.

“That’s better.” said Dad.

“What?”

“You’re smiling, you’ve got a nice smile, you know. You should use it more often.”

“Oh Dad.”

“I’m just saying.”

And do you know what? I felt that I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Just me and my Dad on the beach at Blackpool.

“It’s my fault.” he said, sadly.

“What is, Dad?”

“The fact that you never smile, me and your Mum left you sitting too long in that room of yours.”

“I like my room.”

“No one likes their room.”

Dad parked the caravan down some quiet side street and told me to get washed and ready as he took a walk into town. When he returned, his breath smelt of beer and his clothes of cigarettes.

“You’ll never guess what I’ve got in my pocket? Two tickets to see Arthur Askey at the Grand”

What a night that was, everyone laughing and singing along with The Bee Song. I looked over at my Dad and he was laughing so hard the tears were rolling down his face. God, I miss him.

We had ice cream topped with raspberry sauce on the way back and I never once thought about my misgivings, not once.

The next morning after a cup of tea and a bacon roll, we left Blackpool still singing the Bee Song, just me and my Dad.

I can’t remember who saw the old lady first. My Dad had stopped the car because I needed to pee again and I was hiding in the bushes. The woman was sitting on a bench and at first we thought she was just sleeping, but her head had rolled forwards and she was moaning. Dad put his ear close to listen to her breathing.

“This isn’t good. We’ll need to get her to hospital.”

I sat with her in the back seat of the car while she rested her head on my lap. She reminded me of my Gran, I almost said “We won’t be long now Gran” when she moaned really loudly. The nurse brought Dad and me drinks as we sat in the corridor waiting on news. It almost felt like it was my Gran.

“Are you family?”

Dad explained to the doctor that we had found her sitting by the side of the road.

“There was nothing we could do, I’m afraid. I’m sorry your trip was in vain. She passed away five minutes ago.”

Dad got a bit annoyed but he kept it to himself until we were outside the hospital. I thought maybe he was sad about the old lady dying, but really he was a bit angry.

“Don’t you ever believe that what we did was in vain, son. Never think that. That poor lady would have died alone on that bench if we hadn’t stopped. As it is, you kept her company and there were people with her when she went. So it wasn’t in vain. Nothing is in vain. Always, always remember that. Everything matters”

I guess that’s the kind of thing that happens to a person when they come out of their room.

As Dad drove south, I had the feeling that he just wanted to keep driving but as soon as it started to get dark, we stopped. Thinking back, I guess he couldn’t see too well in the dying light, something to do with his tumour.We set the caravan down in a field that overlooked Liverpool. What a city. Looking over the way the setting sun painted the building tops, a crimson yellow. We were going into town tomorrow and Dad said he had a surprise.

I don’t think I have ever been to a happier city than Liverpool that day. People were going to and fro but always laughing and joking. Some were singing, others whistling. I loved every minute of it; every blooming minute of it.

“I’ve got a pal and he owes me a favour”, said Dad. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t even known that my father had any friends or who they were.

“He works at a club down Matthew Street. He says if we arrive early enough, he’ll get us in and you can hide under my coat.”

I almost had misgivings again, almost wishing I was back in my safe, warm, bedroom – almost.

We did what Dad said and he put me under his coat and the doorman, his pal, waved us past all the people waiting to get in.

“We’ll need to keep you under cover young ‘un” said Bert, Dad’s pal, as he led me to a small room by the stairs where he gave me lemonade.

“We’ll come and get you when the band is ready” said my Dad. “I’m going to have a talk with Bert. You’ll be okay here?”

I would be.

I had just finished my drink when there was a knock at the door, followed by it opening.

“Hey Paul, look what I’ve found, the Cavern has little people living under the stairs. What are you doing here, son?”

I told him I was waiting on the band and that my Dad was coming to get me.

“And what band would that be son?”

I shrugged and the man seemed to find that funny. His pal, Paul came over to have a look at me.

“You’re right John, that is one of the little people. You’ve got to be lucky to see them” and then he rubbed my head.

John said it was his band that was playing and I said I was sorry. He said not as sorry as he was and asked did I want to come to their dressing room?  Although on second thoughts, John said, there was probably more room under the stairs.

So I went with John and Paul and met the other two, George and Pete. They were all fooling around and didn’t seem to be in any way nervous. John asked me what I wanted to do “That is, when you stop being one of the little people.”

I told him I wanted to be a writer and he said that was probably the best job in the world next to being in a band, especially his band, and he went into his jacket and gave me his pen.

“If anyone asks, tell them John Lennon gave it to you.”

That night I watched John, Paul, George and Pete play the most wonderful music I had ever heard or will ever hear. I didn’t know it then, but a few weeks later Ringo replaced Pete. I never got to meet him.

My Dad died, just after Christmas, that year.

He left me with the best present that I have ever received in my life. He took me out of my room and locked the door so I couldn’t go back in. So what if I got hurt? That was the price you paid for being out there, that was the price we all paid, and the other thing he gave me was the belief that nothing is ever in vain, nothing.

On the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon’s death, I flew to New York and walked through Central Park and climbed the hill to Strawberry Fields. There was a little boy about ten and his Dad listening to the music of Lennon and I took out the pen and I handed it to them:

“John Lennon gave me this.”

Everything matters.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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How I Was

It was only a few short summers between my mother asking,

‘how I was’ and her asking ‘who I was’.

It was only the briefest of moments between telling a friend,

‘See you soon’ and bowing my head in a farewell.

It seems only days between being a child and looking after one,

Between laughing and shouting, ‘I’m old’ and being old.

Surely the moon has only passed a few times since saying

‘tomorrow, I’m going to..’ and ‘yesterday, I meant to….’

It has only been a few short, warm  wind, summers  since my mother asked me

how I was.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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Coming Home

shoreham

When he stepped from the train, there was still a heat in the air. He could smell the fields, and the soil and as he looked across the platform he was sure he could see his father walking up to the station to meet him. But like everything else in his life, they were all gone, a long time ago.

He’d been back for his father’s death, of course, and he had thought about all the things they would say to each other in the final hours – but his father had slipped away with only a smile and quiet squeeze of his son’s hand.

He lifted his rucksack over his shoulder and headed down the stairs to Station Road. Things were still very much the same. The road was a little newer, and the hedges looked a little different from what he remembered, but it was still home. In the field he could imagine his mother waving back from all those years ago. Smiling, and alive, not touched by the bad ending.

He could see a light in the window of the Rectory. There would be a new vicar living there now – one he didn’t know. He had lived through three vicars, and all of them had helped him at difficult times in his life. Whatever was said, the village needed a church and a vicar. It was somewhere to be thought of as special.

As he turned the corner, he held his breath. There was the Old George – with maybe a little more painted makeup, a little more front but still the same old place. He and his pals had drunk there, perhaps a little earlier than the law would have allowed but that was life in a small village. There had been a family who had owned it for as long as he could remember. It was easy to forget, as a child running in and out of the place, that it was someone’s home as well as a bar.

As he passed by, there was a couple of walkers sitting enjoying an ale, and so he stopped and watched. The Old George had been inviting folks to sit and rest for a long, long time now; the farmers, the bikers, the musicians, the Morris dancers, all had sat and supped; all had talked about their lives and loves, all had discussed their troubles – all were gone now.

The church gate was still as he had remembered that day when it had been decked with flowers for his sister’s wedding. Her body lay in the church yard now – it had done for some seventeen years.

He turned past Church Cottages and into Church Street – he was sure he remembered a shop in that street, but his memory came and went these days. It was hard to be sure of what had been, and what was the tainted memories of an old man.

As he walked down the street, he could see the dying sun reflecting on the river, and it made him feel the way it always had. It made him feel warm inside, just like a good whisky.  He had sat by the river, man and boy, and it had been the one constant in his life.

There were two children trying to catch fish from the bridge, just like he had done back then, and like him, the kids were pulling up empty hooks. But it was the comradeship, the feeling of safety, the feeling of a village watching over you while you fished that had kept him happy as a child. Nowhere else in the world had he ever felt as safe and happy as he had on those days as a boy sitting on the bridge – fishing.

The sun had seemed warmer and brighter back then. Probably another trick of his old mind. He turned to look back at where the Rising Sun pub had been. Some nights he would sit by the river waiting on his father to come out of the ‘Sun and bring him a lemonade.

“Cheers, dad,” he’d say and his dad would ruffle his hair. Just to do that once again, he thought – just once.

There were folks eating outside the King’s Arms – a new generation of people from London and all the areas in between, having a day in the country. That was the village’s life blood – visitors, it kept the pubs and the world turning.

The school – ah, the school. That was where his happy, happy, childhood had been formed – where his friendships had been forged. It had been the best of days and nothing in his later life was ever as brilliant.

He turned the corner into the High Street – the Royal Oak pub, where his grandparents had met their friends on a Friday night, was a beautiful private house now. He supposed that people didn’t meet in pubs anymore, the way they once did, there were other ways to socialise now. The Oak had been the first pub he had been taken to, and it had been by his granddad who had bought him his first beer. Boy, it had tasted good, and he licked his lips like he had done all those years ago.

Up ahead, he could see the Two Brewers. It had changed, it was a sophisticated bar/restaurant now, back then it was where all the bad boys and girls had hung out. They weren’t really bad, just young people trying to get a handle on life and enjoying themselves in the process.

As he continued along, he noticed some new houses and some revived old ones nudging the High Street. The Co-operative shop had gone – that was where his mother had worked, and his grandmother. It had been an exciting place to hang about, especially at Christmas. He could still remember the smells of that place. The wonderful, beautiful smells.

The allotments were still on the right, still bursting with colours, and plants and love. As he got to the top of Crown Road, it all came rushing back; his pals, the games, the running up and down the road – they were the best, the very best, of times.

The Crown pub hadn’t changed, either. This was where he had met the girls and his buddies in his older days. It was a beautiful pub inside and out, and as he thought back, and although his face was sporting a smile, there was still a warm tear on his cheek.

Perhaps the saddest thing is going back, going home and finding that it has changed all too much – but not this place, coming home to this place was a pleasure. It was a village that had changed little, sure the people were different, and some of the buildings were painted brighter or had been pulled down – but the village was still the village.

He thought he might head over to the school field and look at place where he had scored that goal – the one which folks had talked about for months. He remembered how everyone in the Royal Oak had bought him a beer because of it. He had played for the village football team but had dreamed of playing, one day, for a big London club. It wasn’t to be.

There is a saying that if you want to give God a laugh, tell him what your plans are. Nothing had worked out the way he’d hoped, but he had been luckier than most folks – he had known a place of love, life and safety. He had the happiest days of his existence in this village and perhaps the saddest days too – but folks had rallied around – everyone had helped, and in the end he had moved on and moved away.

As he walked towards the school field, he stopped and sat awhile on a bench outside the village hall. There were worse places to have lived, he thought. He looked over at the little village he had called home, and then he wept. Wept buckets.

For everything and everyone.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

 

 

 

Remembering Disneyland

The window’s opened an inch just to let the room breathe a little as the rusting setting sun is just perching on the trees across the way and peeking into my window, hitting the oleander full on. The perfume hits my nose and pinches my sadness, ‘hey kid, this is why you walk and talk, get over yourself’. A seabird screeches for a partner somewhere in the outer banks, and just then I can smell the sea, a little sour as it worms its way by stealth into the room.

Upstairs, Mrs Hack plays her husband’s jazz records and for a few minutes she can forget that he went to ‘Nam in ’65 and never came home. Oh, the sweetness of the dulling of the senses.

Across the street, as the dusk drops down bringing with it all those things which it’s known for, some kids leave the ice cream parlor screaming and hollering and remembering their almost perfect day at Disneyland, ‘if only Josey hadn’t thrown up over me’ shouts the nervous one whose eyes gave up the ghost a while back.

And so I sit and pour a drink as the sun packs up and finally leaves the room and a steel chill hits my stomach and I wonder why in all those years, I never got to go to Disneyland.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

They Came Today, The Angels

They came today, the angels,

My turn, they said, my turn,

And me, a watcher of the clouds,

Had seen them fly for years, up, up, up,

Spied through the brown glass ceilings of this old house.

Out there, they’d scratch and scrape and hunt the heavens,

In wings of gabardine and gossamer,

To search for souls, like me.

They came today, the angels,

Out of a gunpowder sky,

To tell me that this path

Had gently ended

And a new one would begin.

They came today, the angels.

And even as I turned and sighed,

I somehow always knew they would.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Brighter Days

BRIGHTER-DAYS

The smell of the coffee lured her in and so she sat blowing on the steam from her cup. The war had only been over a handful of weeks but already she felt that things were better. Bravely, she took a sip and looked out over the Boardwalk knowing that what lay ahead were brighter days.

————

He was going to hitch all the way no matter what his mama said. This was the 1950s: things are a whole lot different mama, we ain’t like you. He packed a small bag, kissed her on both cheeks and headed out the door, by tomorrow he’d be in the same town as Elvis. One bus journey was all that stood between him and brighter days.

————

He hadn’t asked God for much out of life, well not since the cancer hit his younger brother – and God had been listening that day. He hadn’t really pushed God for anything in recent years, so that was why he was asking him to let England beat Germany and win the 1966 World Cup. He just knew that God had caught that one too; brighter days, indeed.

————–

She’d been walking her kids to school when the plane hit and as they crossed around into the avenue, they could see the flames shooting from the building. She was scared and she wasn’t sure what to do except hold their hands tighter. She tried to remain calm and think of brighter days, just then one of the kids asked why the bird coming from the building was on fire.

—————-

He lost everything when the bank went under, everything, the house, the car, his job and no matter how much pleading, his wife. He was working in a car wash now and the depression had disappeared down the drain with the soap suds and water. He had nothing left, let’s be honest, but he had his health and he knew that brighter days lay just up ahead.

It is all we ever need –  the smile of brighter days.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

brighter

 

bobby2 wee bobby

Words

words

Words can misfire, be misplaced or misused

Words can slice through a heart with love

Words can shrivel a hope,

Words can laugh, words can cry,

Words can dance, words can sing,

Words can destroy everything you are or ever will be

Words can fill an empty life with visions of another

Words can build walls or break them down

Words can pin your head to the pillow

Words can lift your eyes to the heavens

Words are beautiful and words are dangerous

Words are from you and words are from me.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Me and Buzz and The Beard

FRIENDS

I kinda wish someone had warned me about the day that Buzz decided to grow a beard. I met him on the way to school and he kept pointing to his face and sayin’ ‘huh’, ‘yeh’ and then nodding, real stupid like, then he would finish off with a ‘wow’ and click his fingers. He asked me what I thought and I just said, ‘yeh’ back to him but I had no idea what my pal was talkin’ about – not that there was anythin’ strange about that.

When we entered Titanic’s class, Buzz just winked at her, and pointed to his face (just in case you don’t know, we called her Titanic ‘cause we reckoned she was the iceberg that sunk that ship).

You should have seen the look on Titanic’s face, I mean you would have thought Buzz had just hit her. No one and I mean no one, winked at that teacher. Still, the newly bearded Buzz probably thought that he was a gift to the ladies.

I tried to get a real close look at Buzz’s face when we were supposed to be writing something about what we’d done at the weekend. But I couldn’t understand what particular growth he was talkin’ about.

“My beard,” said Buzz.

“Your what?”

“Looky here,” and Buzz pointed to a small hair under his nose (it may have even been growing out of his nose) and another single lonely hair under his lip. I have to tell you here and now (although I’d never tell Buzz) that my Grandma had more hair on her face than he did.

After school, we wandered down to the ice cream parlour and everyone we passed would get a ‘howdee’ from Buzz in a real low manly voice, and then he’d kinda point at his face. Most folks in town already thought Buzz was nuttier than a squirrel’s you know what.

At the parlour, Buzz pushed the door open the way his daddy would have done (that is if his daddy hadn’t disappeared all those years ago).

“Well, whatcha know? Buzz has got a beard.” I ain’t sure how Mister Trueman knew an’ all, but he seemed mighty impressed with Buzz’s facial stuff.

Buzz musta floated 10 feet up in the air when Mister Trueman said that and when he placed the ice cream in front of us, he said, “That’ll be three bits.”

“Ain’t it usually two bits,” I asked.

“Sure,” said Mister Trueman , “usually that’s the price – but now that Buzz is a man, that’s double for him.” Then he winked at me and I could see he thought the same about Buzz’s beard as I did. Buzz just said “Pay the man,” in a real deep voice like it was natural to be charged as an adult. I just gave Mister T, two bits like I usually did and he didn’t say nuthin’.

On the way home, Buzz stuck his chin in the Pastor’s face, and the Sherriff’s, and the Shelley Twins’ (who just ran off screamin’). Buzz looked at me as if to say, if you got it, you don’t ever lose it.

At school the next day, Titanic made announcement in class that none of her pupils were to go stickin’ their faces in any of the important folks’ faces around town. Everyone in the class looked at Buzz but he didn’t seem to know what the teacher meant.

After a weekend of Buzz lookin’ in every window in town and checkin’ himself out, Buzz turned up at school with a real dark growth under his nose. He looked like one of those bad guys in the movie who tie ladies to the rail tracks. When I got up close I could see he’d just painted it on his face and I had to laugh so hard, that I couldn’t stop. The tears were runnin’ down my face and as usual I thought I might wet my pants.

Buzz just winked at me, as ‘though nuthin’ was wrong. Titanic looked at Buzz and shook her head, I guess she had more important problems to deal with. I gotta say ‘though, it was a real hot that day and it weren’t long before Buzz beard started headin’ south. The next time I looked at him, I’m sure I did pee myself that time. His beard was kinda escapin’ from his face.

That night I took one of my paw’s old shavin’ razors and wrapped it up like it was new. The next day, I told Buzz that my paw had wanted him to have it, on account of him being a man and all.

So Buzz started shaving and we all got some peace.

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Last Song

They had known about it for the longest time. Years, even. The scientists had seen it a long way out and knew it would hit.

Because of the time available, they had shipped off many from the planet. Some to Mars but even that wasn’t safe.

Eddie and Sheena had been one of the few who had decided to stay. Not for them a place they hadn’t been born on. Where they couldn’t call home.

They had been childhood sweethearts, having first met at school, and they both knew instantly that this was each other’s soul mate.

So, when the news came that each of them would be thirty-one years old when it hit the Earth, they both knew – without talking about it – that they would never leave. They would face it together.

The part of it they hadn’t foreseen was what would be the last song on the car speakers as they drove off into the sun.

He wanted something by Springsteen and she wanted a song her mother had always sang to her. Something by Cat Stevens.

A minute or so before the end, she kissed him, smiled at him, then switched off the radio and instead used the final seconds to say:

‘See you on the other side’. She then grabbed his hand.

He turned to kiss her……

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Once Upon A Shoreham Village Fete

It happens, it happens to everyone, doesn’t it? You tell a little white lie and it blows out of all proportions, it runs away and starts a life of its own. It gains a wide circle of friends (more than you have yourself) and then the lie grows so gigantic that it sends you a postcard from somewhere. Think I’m exaggerating? Okay, maybe a little. See there I go again, lying. Perhaps in your favour you would have to say that it was done for the best of all reasons – trying to cheer people up.

If Alison hadn’t been ill that day, or at least if she hadn’t been recovering from a night out in the village, then Jane wouldn’t have had to take Alison’s place; so, if anyone was to blame it was Alison and her obvious drink problem. Okay, that’s another lie, Alison doesn’t have a drink problem. She had only been at the Mount to taste the wines, and had forgotten to stop. But the result was the same, Alison was lying in her bed promising the universe that she had drunk wine for the very, very last time in her life, and that not only was she going tee-total but she would attend church regularly and help the people of Africa – if the universe would only stop her blinking head from hurting as much as it did.

All that was beside the point, for it meant that Jane was now required to fill her best friend’s shoes. When she had agreed to help at the Fete meeting all those months ago, it hadn’t seemed like a possibility, and so Jane was happy to nod her head when they asked for a deputy for Alison. It made them sound like a couple of cowboys.

The Shoreham Village Fete was full of all the usual bits and pieces; music, vintage cars, a bar, a tea room (run by the children and their mums) and the always present ne’er-do-wells, who turned up once a year to promenade around the school ground.

To save money, in this time of austerity, the Fete committee had decided to find the big central acts for the day (those who inhabited the centre ground – literally) within the large and obvious talent of the village itself. How hard could it be to procure an act of such breath-taking ability that the village would be talking about it for weeks (or maybe just on the Monday morning)?

It was Elsa Fairweather who had opened the bid by telling the committee that she had once been a ballerina (the truth was that she’d spontaneously broken into dance during the Christmas play at school when she was acting as third shepherd – she had got fed up pointing at the Star and decided that shepherds might dance in times of boredom). She was now twenty-seven years of age and hadn’t done anything so physical for the last twenty years.

Elsa was one of those ladies who tended to get up everyone’s nose – it wasn’t what she did, or said, or in the way she acted – she just annoyed people. Every village has at least one Elsa – it is the rule. Elsa wasn’t a bad person, rather she was just someone who had got off the bus at the wrong stop.

Not to be outdone by her nemesis, Alison had said that she could tap-dance – when Elsa remarked that so could she – Alison had upped the stakes by adding that what she had meant to say, was that she could tap-dance while standing at the top of a ladder. Elsa took a little time to recoup and then opened with another bid, by saying that she could stand on her hands at the top of the ladder while singing the National Anthem.

Jane was sure she could hear Alison swearing under her breath – but there wasn’t enough time to ask her, for, by then, Jane had told the committee that she could sing all the songs from Oklahoma while tight-rope walking across the sport’s field.

Alison definitely heard Elsa say an extremely rude word out loud, and one or two of the Fete committee also heard her. Mr Grove’s face went a very tomato red as he fiddled with his cardigan buttons.

Elsa’s husband gave his wife one of those ‘here we go again’ looks and nodded to her to go to the back of the hall. Elsa and her long-suffering husband huddled together in the corner and it was difficult for Alison to hear what they were saying.

That was when Alison came up with a rather neat plan – every few seconds, she coughed, and when she did that, she used the noise to cover the rocking of her chair back a little. Although Alison thought she was being subtle, she had moved her chair back several feet (after a few coughs) and was heading towards Elsa – her less-than-subtle plan being obvious to most of those in the hall.

Never-the-less, the plan worked and Alison was sure she heard, Derek (Elsa’s husband) say ‘you cannot be serious, you know you can’t sky-dive’.

After a few minutes (which just gave Alison enough time to stand up and move her seat – less subtly – back to where it had originally been) Elsa reluctantly gave up and said that Alison should sing the songs from the musical while walking a tight-rope.  The head of the committee had asked if Alison had an understudy, and Alison had grabbed Jane’s arm and shoved it up in the air. Jane wondered what harm could it possibly do?

So, when Jane got the phone call on the Saturday morning of the Fete – it was Mrs Bacchus, the stern one who always smelled of mothballs – who had told Jane that Alison was incapacitated (some old illness she had caught on a gap-year in India, apparently) and that Jane (as her understudy) would have to take Alison’s place.

And that is why, on that sunny morning, Jane was dressed in her mother’s old tutu with a tartan umbrella for balance, and getting ready to walk a tight-rope (literally and metaphorically) at the Shoreham Village Fete.

Jane saw two things as she started the death-defying feat – when I say death-defying, Alison had originally said she would walk the rope at 20 feet above the ground (she had actually said five feet but after much tutting from Elsa, Alison had ended up agreeing to that neck breaking height). When Jane (in her tutu) started crying, the committee kept lowering the rope until it was just two feet high. Still high enough to twist an ankle, was how Jane had sold it to them.

So, with all the great and good, and ne’er-do-wells from Shoreham Village watching, Jane managed to move several feet along the rope while singing a Bay City Rollers’ song (she didn’t actually know too many proper songs – she had thought of singing ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ – until the nerves she was suffering from had actually given her that very problem).

The other thing she saw, whilst standing aloft, was Alison at the back of the crowd, (in her sunglasses) smiling. She even had the cheek to wave and stick her thumbs up. To add insult to injury, Alison mouthed the words ‘good luck’. Jane was just about to mouth a very rude word back to her when little Barry Smith twanged the rope she was standing on – causing her to suddenly fly across the bales of hay and straight into the bar, ending up with half a packet of Chorizo flavoured crisps up her nose.

There was spontaneous applause from the whole field.

The committee have asked Jane if she can repeat her act next year. Elsa is learning to sky-dive.

 

 

(The real Village Fete is on Sunday June 11th, 2017)

bobby stevenson 2017

The First Thing

Later in life, Thing would look back on those early years and wonder.

Wonder if the perfect moment of his life was back then, and if that was true – was the perfect moment the happiest?

That isn’t to say, there aren’t perfect times later in life and in some cases, it may be that a person is older when that perfect moment arises. But there are other pivotal points: your first real kiss, holding your child, going on honeymoon with your love, or being told that the x-ray was clear – but that isn’t the perfection I am referring to, I am talking about those few seconds, or minutes, or hours when all the stars are aligning at the same time and all of them are shinning directly at you.

To be honest, Thing’s perfect moment did happen back then. It came when he had circled the Sun six times, and with a few weeks left over. Thing’s mother and father had decided to take their son to see the school that Thing would be attending when the new semester began. He was the first of his kind at the school, and it was complicated by the fact that Thing hadn’t spent much time in human company. To say, as parents, that they were nervous about their child’s future was probably an understatement.

The plan was to introduce Thing to the Principal of the school and for that person, man or woman – but most definitely human – to show little Thing around the building. This exercise allowed the kids to be that little bit less stressed on their first day.

Normally several children were taken on the grand tour at a time, but because Thing was a Thing and not a person (their words, not mine) he was to be interviewed and given the tour on his own.

It turned out that the Principal was a woman, a rather large woman, by the name of Mrs Schwartz. She had a pleasant way about her, and a very deep and loud laugh. Any kind of laugh is a good noise, and so it was with the lady – she was the very essence of kindness itself.

She explained that Thing was to be their first Thing in the school, but that other schools in the county had their share of Things, and that the William Penn Elementary school was very excited at the prospect of their first Thing. Indeed, Thing was to be welcomed with open arms.

His teacher would be a young woman by the name of Edith Fallen and that she was the best of the best. Both Thing’s parents seemed to relax a little at this news.

Thing and his family were taken on a tour of the school, and at every turn there seemed to be a very great possibility of exciting work to do in the school. Thing’s cave was safe and warm but this building was full of every wonderful idea under the sun.

It was that day, that hour, that minute as Thing left to walk down the mountain-side to go to school for the very first time, that his life solidified.  Thing insisted on walking to school himself – although, his father walked a little way behind him to keep an eye on him.

Before that, however, his father and mother stood at the door of the cave and waved off their little treasure. As Thing looked back at the warmth and safety of those standing at the cave, and his own excitement at a new world just beginning – it was then, right at that split second, that Thing passed his life’s perfect moment. He wouldn’t know it at the time – but later, much later, he would come to realize that life would never ever be so perfect again.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

Adam and Eve’s Honeymoon

masks

Sometimes things just change. Not for any particular reason – at least, not one anyone can understand – but perhaps because the Universe has shifted, or a God has smiled, or someone has taken a road less travelled. But when it happens, and it will –  it makes a change, and  one that is always irreversible.

The folks we are concerned with in this story were ‘Lifers’, that is to say, they were two children who had been born, grown and lived all their lives in the chalk caves and tunnels beneath Kent. When the inevitable happened: when the enemy (and you know who, I mean) had finally lost patience with the West – they sent their less than perfect bombs over in our direction. Some fell short of their targets, some flew on into the Atlantic – but one or two of the more lethal kind, landed where they were needed.

And with that came the long-time of darkness.

Those who could do so, moved into the areas beneath their feet. They spread through the tunnels and rooms which had been used as forts to deal with the threat of Napoleon upon this little island. This subterranean land had now become the only home that anyone had ever known.

At first the elders had told stories of the lands above, at least the way it had once been. They had talked of cinemas, and churches, of burger joints and buses. They had told tales of a million and one things that the new generations, the Lifers, could only imagine – and probably not very accurately, but just enough to whet the appetites of the two of whom we speak.

Ironically these two were called Eve and Adam, perhaps that seems strange to the readers, but in those days, in those tunnels, the Bibles and God were sometimes all people had to hold on to in the dark, so children were named accordingly.

Adam and Eve wanted to marry, which, in itself, was not the strangest of requests – what was different about them, was that they wanted to spend their Honeymoon in the lands above. There were those (as inevitably there always are) who said that those lands did not exist and had never existed – that, what was in the tunnels were all that life had ever been and to say otherwise was blasphemy.

In some parts of the lands beneath, people were punished or put to death to suggest that a better life lay above.  Some folks were ever treated as insane. One man, who they called the new Marco Polo had written a book about his travels in the fantastical lands of the surface. The book changed hands secretly and for stupendously high prices -, and in most areas the book was either considered an illegal document or the crazy thoughts of a madman.

Adam and Eve had both read the book, and both had set their hearts on travelling through Polo’s journeys. There was talk of a great city above their heads, and according to the new Marco, it was known as The Angel Islington –  he wrote that had witnessed, with his own eyes, a sign which said as much.

And that is how they had found each other; through a secret group which met in long forgotten caves, and who studied the works of new Marco Polo.

To be caught attempting to move above from their sector, meant years of incarceration or being locked in the dark-room until the air ran out. Both Adam and Eve were willing to take that chance, and they felt that following the tunnels would eventually lead to an exit above.  There were also stories of folks who had tried and had spent years travelling the endless tunnels, until they died of madness or starvation. None of it was ever proved, but then stories were only used to keep folks in their place.

Eve and Adam planned to get married on the second week in the month of Abba (no one knew what the origins of the name were, but it was a favourite month to wed).  Our couple played along with the story, that for their Honeymoon they were going to travel on the rail to the large cave called Dover.

However, after the wedding and after bidding farewell to their families, they had made their way to the upper, forbidden chamber where they had stored their escape clothes. They kissed each other, held each other tight, then put on their masks.  They took one final photo – the one which they left behind for those who would come looking for them.

Nothing was ever heard from  Adam and Eve again but there are still stories about them, stories that are whispered around the tunnels, stories that bring hope and fire to cold hearts – and perhaps one day I will tell you.

 

bobby stevenson 2017