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

Waving At Trains

train2

Before we drifted into the dark times, long before then; when the sun still shone on human faces and made them smile – those years were the greatest days of our lives.

In later times we feasted on those cherished memories, hungering for stories and thoughts of back when life was a joy, an ecstasy even. Visitors would come and go from our little huts but not before they told a tale or two of the way life had been. We fed them, they told us stories.

Perhaps many of them lied, perhaps in the re-telling of the stories, they lost their core and became other things, richer things, things to hold and play with – stories that had lost their truths along the way but had started out as well-meaning.
We would sit around the fires and tell of the long gone times – and when one person mentioned the old days, like some chant or prayer, folks would repeat it – ”the old days,” they would say – like saying it often enough might bring those times back.

But they never would.

We never tired of hearing the same stories, and each time a little twist or change to the end would bring an appreciation around the group in the form of a murmur or a little laugh.

“Tell us the story of your railway family,” they would ask me.
And so, for the umpteenth time that month I would sit and tell them the story.

“My family lived by a railway track in an old house that had once belonged to a signalman. In the days before the darkness my father would sit out on the old wooden seat and wave as the trains passed. Before long my parents had children – me and my brother and three sisters, and each of us would join our father waving at the trains as they travelled by our house. He called us the ‘railway children’, just like the old book that had once stood on his shelf beside his bed.

“When the darkness came and the trains no longer travelled along the tracks, my father would still get us to sit as a family and wave at non-existent trains. He would describe them in the greatest of details. ‘Look,’ he would say. ‘There are people waving back, the lady with the green hat, see how she waves at us? Look at the little boy laughing as he plays with his toys.’ And I could see them in my head, all the people he talked about who rode upon the imaginary trains that passed us by.

“When my father took his last train journey, we still kept up the joy of sitting on the wooden bench and waving at the trains. Each of us would take it in turn to describe some passenger who was waving from the window. You might think my father was a little mad in what he had us do, but I tell you this, it kept us together and it kept us sane, and it made us think of the old days.

“The old days,” repeated the others who hung on my every word.

“Those times were like having water. You always assume that it will be there until it dies off or runs out. Then you can never quench your thirst.”

And I guess there must be many folks around the lands who carry out these little games just like the ones we play.

Games to remind them of long ago, games to remind them of their humanity, and games to remind us all what we have lost and how easily we let it slip through our fingers.

The old days.

 

bobby stevenson 2015

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THING and the BIG BLUE SEA

thing

It was inevitable that it would happen. Thing had started to grow up.

Sure he still sat at the cave mouth every night on the chance that would be the very moment his mother and father returned. Yet something deep down told him that they weren’t coming back, and that he was on his own, and he’d better do something about it.

He knew that life would have to change, that his dreams would also have to do the same. There had been that one perfect moment, probably one day when he packed his school books and got ready to walk down the hill, when his mother had kissed him goodbye and his father had patted him on the head and said ‘make me proud’. The sorrowful thing was, that there wasn’t a fanfare or a bell that tolled as you passed that perfect moment in your life.

Maybe there would be another perfect moment, perhaps if he met someone – but he wasn’t holding his breath. He knew that he had been born looking like his family but not like anyone else in the valley or at school. And he had suffered because of this, he had been called names, beaten on a couple of occasions, and most hurtful of all, was being left out of parties and celebrations. It wasn’t the kids that didn’t want Thing there, it was their parents.

Thing had been taught in school that we were on a rock which traveled around the sun every year. If this had been a ship we would have helped each other, we would have cared and nurtured each other. But this was a ship without a sea, and so folks and Things didn’t appreciate how fragile it all was. Perhaps if folks looked at the sky and treated the big blue yonder as a sort of sea, then maybe they would be kinder to one and other.

When Thing was small he had first seen his reflection in a mirror in school and it had shocked him. He knew he looked like his parents but he didn’t realize how different he looked from the other children. That night he had wondered if this distance between him and the others would last all his life.

He had made friends at school and those friends had not seen any difference but he had noticed, as he got older, that the children had started to carry prejudices and words built-to-hurt to school. They weren’t taught those words in school, so there must have been another type of schooling done at home, the school of hate.

He never really felt sorry for himself, but he did wonder what kind of God would have made him so different. Then as the years passed in school, he saw that others had their problems too; even if they all looked alike. Little Johnny had lost his brother in a war, Elsa had been made an orphan after a car crash and little Craig had gotten a disease called cancer and had never returned to school.

Everyone was tested Thing realized. Everyone. So he decided that if he had learned anything, it was to be strong when folks bullied and attacked. That everything passes, and that there is more good in the world than bad and that some kids’ parents cripple their off-spring with lies and hate and that, thought Thing, was the worst kind of injury.

So that night, as the sun was setting, Thing looked at the sky and saw it for the first time as a sea, and he saw the clouds as the waves breaking. That was when he really appreciated that we were all on a big ship going around the sun and we couldn’t afford to let anyone or anything get lost along the way.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Goodlands

town

Everyone knows where Goodlands is.

It’s not too far from where you’ve been and not too close to where you’re going. It’s the kinda place where you find what you’re looking for, one way or another.

And so it was on that Saturday, “Jalopy Saturday” as the Sheriff called it. “Always frightening those damned horses, what with all their tooting, and smoking and noise of those infernal combustible engines.”

Saturday was one of those days when The Big Man upstairs had painted the sky an azure blue from one horizon to the other.
“Hey, it feels good to be alive,” said folks to each other. Well not in so many words but in their looks and smiles, each knew what the other meant.

As you perambulated up the boardwalk, waving to friends and neighbors, you could smell the cooking and baking coming from Mrs Lent’s open window. It sure did make the nose feel that it had a reason for living on those kind of days. That was followed by the sweet sound of musical tunes which lifted the spirit, coming from the old Bakelite radio that sat in Mrs Well’s front room. I tell you that radio always smelled as if it was just about to burst into flames. It never did, because things like that just didn’t happen in Goodlands.
Saturday was the day that the pastor made his weekly trip to the bakery on the corner of Cherry Street and Chew Avenue. I’m thinking that calling Chew an avenue, was a name too far for the founding fathers, ‘cause it barely stretched from here to there.

For some peculiar reason of which I have no understanding, everyone in Goodlands would go to their front door on a fine Saturday morning and wish the pastor all the best on his trip to Sankie’s Bakery. Then, when he’d filled his arms with enough bread to feed a biblical crowd, he’d turn around and walk back up to the church with all the folks still standing at their front doors wishing the pastor well with his meal.

If you didn’t know Goodlands, you’d probably think they’d all gone Johnny Sidebar (he was the man who really discovered electricity but fried his brains before he had a chance to tell the world and ran out of Goodlands and into the Birkmire Desert. He was never, ever seen again). Although some folks tell of lonely howling that can be heard on Moonboys road on a quiet night.
Like they good folks say, you don’t have to be crazy to live here, but it really does help.

Old Sheriff James was out on his porch, rocking and rolling on his chair, shaking his head at the way the jalopies were careering around town.
“Never had such stupidity in my day,” he’d sigh. “A man knew where he was with a horse.”

Now don’t get me wrong with the picture I’m painting here. The sheriff was a good man, sure enough. He was just coming to the end of his time on this earth and new-fangled stuff always looks out of focus to each of us who have lived high on the hog in earlier times. We all have our season, and the sheriff’s was nudging up against winter. His leaves were falling from his tree and he knew there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Sure it was sad in its way, but everyone had to make way for what was to come, and life made sure that happened by making folks uncomfortable in the newness of things.

The ‘old days’ wasn’t really a place, it was a way of thinking, of doing, a place where everyone thought that manners and morals had been better. Things weren’t really getting worse in Goodlands, just different.
No one, and I mean no one, came to this town and wished they hadn’t. It had a sap in its veins and it was a sap that oozed happiness and sunshine.

You see there are some folks who think that such places don’t really exist, but they do I tell you. Everything you see in a town has been a dream once in a head, and if you can dream nicely, then Goodlands is what occurs.
Now I don’t want you to say to me that I’ve been sitting too long out in the sun, ‘cause I ain’t. I think that if you’re passing one day, you need to come to Goodlands and have a look at the pastor or the sheriff and you’ll say, hey, kid you were right. This is the happiest town this side of the mirror.

I said that everyone gets what they need in Goodlands, but that don’t mean, it’s what they want. You can come to Goodlands and get advice that you weren’t keen on hearing. No sir, but it will be a truth that you needed to hear. Something that puts you on a straight path for the rest of your journey.
That was the funny thing about Goodlands, no one remembered just why they came to the town in the first place but they were all pleased that they had.

Now I ain’t saying the place was magical or anything, far be it from me to be the crazy one but there were little miracles that popped up here and there, enough to make you go – ‘well, I’ll be………’.

‘Cause that was the thing, no one came to a bad end in Goodlands. There was no hospital and the doctor used to spend most of his days playing cards with the sheriff. People only left Goodlands in two ways; either they had decided that they were in the right mind to move on to somewhere else, or they just got plum tired and decided it was time to close their eyes.

Seriously. Old Man Peters, last June watched the pastor and his bread for one last time, then just said, “I’m ready” and closed his eyes. The doctor, who was holding a straight flush, came over said, “yep, he’s gone,” and then went back to his cards. Now, he wasn’t being mean or anything, he just knew that Old Man Peters had chosen that time as his end time and that he was ready to leave.

Sometimes your eyes just get tired of seeing everything and everyone and when you’re tired of Goodlands, (as a wise man once said), you’re tired of living.
The big miracle on that Jalopy Saturday was when little Susie Cartwwright wandered away from her mother and walked on to Main Street. Desmond, the painter, couldn’t see her and would have probably knocked little Susie into a million pieces with his bright red jalopy – but like I say, no one dies in Goodlands, not unless they want to.

It was like this, as the pastor was wandering back up the street with his arms full of the warmest, freshest bread, he saw the danger that little Susie was in and threw a stick of that French type bread. It hit Desmond right between the eyes and stopped him in his tracks. Little Susie’s mother, grabbed that little girl by the hand and pulled her back on to the boardwalk.
Susie’s mother thanked the pastor but as he says, “It’s all part of the plan, Mam, all part of the plan.”

And you know what, he just might be right.
On those warm, endless summer evenings, just as the sun is turning blood orange and the insects are starting to sing, you can stand in the middle of the street and look up at all the open windows. Friends shouting to friends in apartments across from each other.

“How’s life Mabel?”

“Why, just deevine, thanks for asking, Melanie.”
Music and smells, and arguments, and love, all flowing out of the windows into the street and making you feel warm, somehow. But why take my word for it, why don’t you come down some night and listen?

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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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

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

Shoreham, Christmas, 1944

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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.

bobby stevenson 2017

photo: http://www.artistsoncards.com/Complete-Card-Range/Landscapes-By-Country/UK/Shoreham-Valley-Kent.Html

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The Night Café

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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 had become 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. Her’s 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 – ones 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.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Ballad of Square Peg

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Peg was the happiest of happy little girls
She beamed and smiled all day long and
Everything was good in Peg’s life except
That she was Square Peg and she lived
In the town of Round Holes

Now the town was a beautiful little place
At the foot of a mountain and anyone would be
Lucky to live there, except Peg found that
Being square didn’t fit well in Round Holes

Everything was built and ordered for the round ones and
Peg couldn’t fit in anywhere
She cut corners to try to fit in
But it hurt her more than she cared to let on

So she found that keeping to herself
And avoiding most things that were round, was the way forward

One day she walked out-of-town just to be herself again
And there she met Square Andy and Square Jane having a
Square dance and she joined in and for the first time
In her life she felt truly at peace

Peg ran all the way back to town and decided that she would
Dig a square hole in the middle of town and invite everyone
To come and see

Some thought it was the end of the world, others thought it
Wrong and blamed all the troubles that befell the place on
The fact that there was a square in the middle of the town

But Square Peg realised that a town was only really happy when
Everyone had a place to feel at home and that the people
Of Round Holes only thought they were happy because they were
Going around in circles

And even although it wasn’t easy, Peg stayed where she was
And soon the place eventually became known as the Town of
Round Holes with the Square in the middle of it all.

bobby stevenson 2017

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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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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

 

The Empire Cafe, Soho

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As a haven for the unloved, the eccentric and the lost,  the Empire Cafe was perfectly situated in a little corner of Soho. It also prided itself as a home for those on their way up and a passing place for those on the way down.

It had been known over the years by several different names, some of which you most definitely would have read about, but its charm was in the fact that it had served coffee, and later tea, from the same premises for over three hundred years. There is a signature carved into the wood that suggests Benjamin Franklin had happily visited the place and it is known that Samuel Pepys mentioned the Cafe in his diaries.

If you’ve ever been to London and drifted around that part of town then I know you must have passed it. Perhaps you drank in it and were unaware of where you were. Perhaps you hadn’t seen the Cafe because you were looking up at some other building or maybe you had just been checking your appearance in the reflection of the Cafe’s window; but the place is there, I promise you.

One sunny afternoon, just after I returned home from a bad war in North Africa, I walked through its doors and never really left. I sometimes feel the place had been waiting on me.

It was run by Mister Chestnut and he was never referred to as Andrew Chestnut, or even Andy. He was just Mister Chestnut, plain and simple, and when he and his Father both ran the place, then he was simply known as Junior.

In the mid 1700s, it was rumoured that the Hellfire Club met in secret at the coffee shop and that one night it was lost on the turn of a card. One of Mister Chestnut’s ancestors was asked to hold on to the property until the rightful owner came to claim it. He never did, and there was talk that the owner had been killed in a duel. So through this one act of God, the Chestnuts became part of the Soho establishment.

I was taken on in 1946 as chief dishwasher and toilet cleaner and I loved it, every grimy second of it. Those who used the place were a who’s who of all the movers and shakers of their day. In the late evening, when we closed up shop and over a hot cup of Java, my employer would tell me stories of the past, those he had witnessed and those he had been told about by his Father and his Grandfather; all the wonderfulness that had been passed down through the family.

Regardless of claims by other establishments and by other people, Grandfather Chestnut swore that he had watched Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels spend most of their days in the corner table furthest from the door, writing the Communist Manifesto.

“Always with the one coffee between them” his Grandfather had told him, “one coffee for the whole day”, he added, then he would let out an eruption of a laugh.

Mister Chestnut told me of  the “saddest man who ever walked through those doors”.

“Must have been February, yes it was, it was February..”

“What year?” I asked him.

“Let me think. 1895, as sure as eggs is eggs, ‘cause it was just after my fourteenth birthday. In he came, all broken. He sat down over there and I asked him if he wanted something to drink. ’Hemlock, dear boy, hemlock’ . I asked my Father for hemlock and he clipped me around the ear. ’Don’t be so bleeding stupid’ said my Father, ‘You must have misheard him.’ So I walked back towards the table when I spotted that he was sitting with a young man, older than me but younger than him and get this, they were holding hands. The young man read from a card that the older man has passed to him ’For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite – Good God Oscar, my father can’t even spell. The ignorant beast.’

“I only saw the older man once again when he came in a few weeks later. He had aged so much in that short time, and as he sat down all the rest of the people in the cafe got up and left. Apparently he went to prison  not long afterwards.”

“But there was a more curious one than that” said Mister Chestnut, “just let me put on another pot of coffee as I think you may need it.”

When the coffee had been brewed and we were both sitting comfortably once more, the storyteller continued.

“He was a little man, spoke with a German accent. Now I know what you are thinking young man, you are saying to yourself that the description would fit many people. And you would be correct to make that assumption, except I remember him for something he said. He shouted at me that I was to bring him a coffee and that is what I did. As I approached the table I could hear him laughing, so I smiled back at him. A happy customer is a returning customer and I was just about to tell him to recommend us to all his friends when I saw what he was so happy about, on a newspaper sitting on his table were the headlines ‘Over fifteen hundred sank to death with giant White Star steamer Titanic’. “Bloody rich Jews” he said, “best place for them”

“To say I was shocked, disgusted even, that a man like this could say such evil things about other human beings. I was about to ask him to leave when a second man came in, his brother Alois, I had seen him in the cafe before. If I remember correctly, he and his brother Adolf had lived in Liverpool for a while to avoid conscription to the Austrian Army.”

“Not Adolf Hitler?”I asked.

“The very same.” Came his reply.

Mister Chestnut kept me on for most of ’46 and ’47 washing and cleaning until one day he took me into his office. I had been there for two years and this was my first visit to the inner sanctum. It smelt of liquorice and tobacco and looked as if it was decorated for a fortune-teller rather than a cafe manager.

“I want to promote you, my boy. Enrique is old and leaving at the end of the month and I will need a waiter. Of course it will mean more money for you and also the Olympics will be here soon. I will need a much younger man to deal with all our visitors and friends.”

So that was that, I had a few more shillings in my pockets and no more cleaning of the toilets. I handed over my brushes to the new boy, donned my waiter’s apron and started whistling.

He was correct, was Mister Chestnut, the year of the Olympics was the busiest I could remember.We worked every day from sunrise to almost sunrise the following day. Naps had to be taken, when and where we could find the time. There was a little store-room out the back where I managed to take forty winks now and again.

I remember one night I had just splashed water on my face to waken me up when this very distinguished gentleman entered with a young blond girl in tow. The two of them asked for the quietest table, which was always the one at the back next to the toilets. Now I tell you this dear friends, I will go to my grave believing that it was the Queen’s husband whom I served that night and the blond woman was not his wife. This is not the place to tell such a story since he is not able to defend himself but I promise you – if it was not Philip Mountbatten, the Duke of Edinburgh then I will eat my hat. I looked over at Mister Chestnut and I know he recognised the man because he put his finger to his lips to warn me to say nothing.

On Christmas Eve 1950 I asked Maria, the most beautiful girl who worked in the restaurant next door, to marry me. She accepted and we got married in the New Year holding the reception at the Empire Cafe. We invited all the regulars. It was a night I shall never forget.

One day in 1951, Mister Chestnut took me into his office for only the second time and told me that it was all mine. “The time has come – you have a family to consider” he said “I will be seventy this year and enough is enough.” There was no son to pass his business on to, “God’s will”, he would say. So he considered me the nearest thing he had to a son and the Cafe was to be my inheritance. He slapped the keys in the palm of my hand, put on his big overcoat and never crossed the threshold again.

My neighbours were actors, jazz musicians and more recently Chinese. After Limehouse had been bombed in the war, the Chinese had begun to move into Gerard Street and the areas surrounding it. This brought with them, the Chinese gangsters – as if there weren’t enough British ones in Soho.

Talking of gangsters, the first time I saw one of the Kray brothers he was sitting having a coffee, minding his own business when the coppers  rushed in and dragged him out of my cafe. He had apparently deserted from national service in the army for the fourth time.

What I also remember about the Fifties was the music. Now there are some who will tell you that the birth of British Rock and Roll started in the 2I’s coffee bar in Old Compton Street, but I say it was at the Empire Cafe. On Saturday nights we would have Tommy Steele, Wee Willie Harris, Cliff Richard and Hank Marvin. The Cafe was always crowded at weekends, so much so that some of those that couldn’t get in, moved to the 2I’s, which was a bigger venue. Perhaps that is why they claim to be the birthplace but I know the truth, we were first.

As for the gangs, the Krays had always stayed up east and the Richardsons to the south of the river. One night the Kray twins came in and took a table from a couple who were already sitting at it. The boyfriend got up to challenge them and Reggie Kray slapped the boy and threw him and his girlfriend through the door. I was about to say something  when Ronnie Kray told me that if I knew what was good for me, I would get them coffees and leave them alone.

I learned that night, if you wanted to stay in business in Soho then you had to see nothing and say even less.

Luckily my wife, Maria, didn’t see any of this as she was now at home looking after our two sons, James and Robert. I have a photo on the Cafe wall of  James with Bobby Moore when he and his wife came to the Cafe just before he flew to Mexico for the World Cup.

As the Sixties turned into the Seventies, Robert began to take on more of the responsibility for running the cafe. James had decided to work in computers and had joined an IT company over in Putney. He and his wife moved into a flat in Chelsea and very rarely ventured into the West End.

In 1976 I became a grandfather for the very first time and Maria suggested that I took more of a back seat in the business. We stayed in Dulwich for a while but I still insisted on visiting the Cafe three or four times a week.

In 1980 we moved to Deal by the sea; it was  Maria’s idea and was probably helped by Robert who may have felt that I was interfering too much in his business.

There are so many stories about the Empire Cafe that I want to tell you. Ones concerning prime ministers and princesses, rich men and poor women,  writers and painters, musicians and kings. All of them true and all of them from the Empire Cafe.

I will, one day, I promise.

I am well into my eighties now and the Cafe is run by Robert’s own daughters and sons. It’s been years since I last laid eyes on the place, but if you happen to be passing then why don’t you pop in for a coffee and ask them for a story?

Tell them I sent you.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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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 Last Cowboy (the start)

cowboy1

His spring and summer were now only dust on the bonfires of life, and as he looked out at the horizon, he knew more and more that it would no longer stretch on forever.

He had been young and vital once, and his dreams would have powered a city, but the lamps had dulled, and the curtains were drawn and it was going to be time up, one way or another.

Age had brought with it forgetfulness, and pains, and failing sight but he still felt each morning that he had to get up and show the universe that it should continue to invest in him – at least for one more day.

His daughter, his one and only little girl and her crummy husband, had found him, Jake, standing in the car park looking for his automobile. The truth was Jake had walked there, the car was still safely lying in his garage.

It was his daughter who had made him go for the appointment to the clinic. She was a lovely woman – the doctor- and perhaps in other circumstances, they could have become friends. But it had been down to the woman to tell Jake (and his daughter and her crummy husband) that he had Alzheimer’s. And that was the goddamn beginning and end to it.

For the first few days it felt like he’d been hit by one of those Ford trucks, he’d always wanted to drive. Nothing seemed to fit into his world anymore and everything seemed to hurt.

Then one night in the second week he was watching some TV show where they were talking about dreams and how to live them. A middle-aged woman from a square state in the mid-west said her plan had been to write down all the childhood wishes that she had hoped for and maybe try to find them. The doctors had told her that she had cancer with an outlook of six months.

Was that more comforting than Jake’s diagnoses of ‘maybe years, maybe not’?

So that night when there was too much going on in Jake’s head, he got up and sat looking at the dawn and wrote what he had really wanted to do with his life.

Being a coal-miner had never been a plan of his – it had been force-fed to him by a family that worried about most things and had wanted to see their family settle.

Jake had settled with a wife and two kids. His son was in the army and had returned home less and less until all Jake got was a phone call at Christmas. His daughter stayed close but he wasn’t ready for a home just yet, or for losing his independence.

His wife, Betty, God rest her soul, had taken a long time to fight the cancer and, in the end, had lost. But what a trooper – she had given that cancer a run for its money and no mistake. He missed her every second, of every minute, of every day. But at least he had gotten to know her and he took that blessing to bed with him every night.

So as Jake was sitting watching the orange sun start to invade his little porch, he wrote down the dreams he had as a kid and all of them, and I mean all of them, were all related to one thing – him, Jake Sheeny being a cowboy.

And right there and then Jake made his Goddamn mind up that he was going to sell his house (or maybe rent it out, he wasn’t too sure), sell his car, which he seemed to forget all the time, and buy a big damn horse and ride the highways as a cowboy.

Leastways until the darkness eventually overcame him – but until that day, which as the doctor said could be years, he was going go on the ride of his life.

And over the next few stories, I’m going to tell you about Jake, and how he joins a circus, and how he finds laughter, and perhaps the best friends a man can ever find – and most of all he finds love again.

The Last Cowboy will be here waiting when you’re ready.

 

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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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.

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

Cycling To Shoreham 1901

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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.

 

bobby stevenson 1901 and 2016

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Three Stories

 

bird

1. You’re probably asking how I first met her, and I would have to say that it was around sometime in the late 1940s; down in the boon docks.

She’d been born in Mainz, Germany on January 1st, 1900 and had seen more than her fair share of everything in this life.

She was a Jew, and a proud one and, as you can probably guess, watched most of her family disappear into concentration camps.She was feeding the birds by the docks that day. I remember it was a warm sultry afternoon in New York.

I asked if I could help and she said sure, I could. I had some coffee and we sat and shared it, sitting on an old crate. She had an almost permanent smile on her face, as if to say, I’m happy world, just get used to it.Boy did we talk. I told her about my family who lived upstate and how my great-uncle helped invent the automobile.

“You must be very proud,” she said in a thick German accent. Sure I was, I told her, sure I was. And her grin became a huge smile. I asked her about her own family, and she said that there weren’t no one left.

“All gone,” and then she nodded her head as if to say into the showers of those camps.
“All of them?” I asked.
“Yah,” and then she took another sip of her very cold coffee.
“Where were you?” I asked.

And she told me she had been there too, along with her three brothers, three sisters and her mother and father.

“At the end, there was only me,” she said sadly.

So I asked her, how or why she survived.
“Only the good Lord knows that one,” she said.

Then she told me how she got through those days of death and hatred. She said that she would close her eyes for one minute every day. One minute when things were getting really bad and she would remember who she was. It was as simple as that.

“Just close your eyes and recite your name and then remember who and what you are. Some things or someone in the universe went to a lot of trouble to get you here. Just think of that.”

It was just as the sun was on its last legs that she said she must get back home, and that it had been very nice talking to me.

Here’s the funny bit – every day after that I did the very same thing. One minute with my eyes closed just to remember who I was.

I have to tell you, it’s got me through a lot of life’s stuff.

2. The clanking of the train as it went over the gaps in the rail made him think of home. If he closed his eyes, he could still hear the horse and carts passing outside the family home in the west of town.Oh, those days of endless sunshine and hope. Everyone was friendly.

Everyone shared. Everyone was in and out of each other’s homes. My son did this, my daughter has achieved that – my, hasn’t your youngest grown. They were the best of days.

He would come home from school and there was his mother sitting at the table, smiling, as only she could. No matter how bad the day had been, that smile would melt away any pain and discomfort. Those were the best of times. No doubt about it.

His father had taught him to help those who needed it, without complaint.

“And I want you, my boy, to do a good deed each and every day without telling anyone about it. Promise?”

And he crossed his heart and hoped to die that he would do it – and he had, as best he could. There was no point in thinking of them all over again – for that would be praising himself for his good deeds.

So why was what he was about to do the most selfish thing he had ever done in his life? How had he got to this point?

Perhaps in every good deed is the seed of its own destruction.

He had seen the boy from across the street many times. Now and again he had nodded or even, on occasion, said good morning. The boy and his family had intrigued him greatly. Although they seemed to be very well off for this part of town, they never ever smiled. It had taken him a while to work out what it was that had bothered him about the boy and his people. They didn’t laugh. How strange, he thought. Perhaps, money doesn’t make you happy after all.

Then one night as he as staring through the window, he saw that the boy was being whipped by his father. It was severe, but as far as he could see, the boy did not appear to show any pain on his face. He just held the side of the kitchen table tightly and gritted his teeth.

He saw the boy the next evening, standing alone watching the carriages pass by and for the first time he spoke properly to him.

“Would you care for a chocolate?”

The boy looked at him suspiciously, then smiled and said thank you. And as quick as the smile came, it went in again and the boy’s face grew dark. It wasn’t until a week later that he saw the boy standing on the corner of the street and he was sobbing. He said good afternoon to him but the boy turned his face away. He asked the boy how he was doing and the boy grunted that he was okay but could he go away and leave him alone. However this was his good deed for the day and he wanted to help the boy. He gave him his handkerchief that his mother ironed for him every day. The boy eventually took it and wiped the blood from the mark on his face. The boy said thank you then wandered off home.

The next day the boy’s father, the one who liked to hit his son, came to his door to return the handkerchief. The man looked at the signs on the wall and said:

“You are…..?” Then the father spat on the ground and ripped the handkerchief up.

In the middle of the night they came for his mother, his father and himself. As they led them away, he could see the boy’s father looking from the window and smiling.

They had been on the train about two days when the wooden slat had opened up at the side. It was only big enough for him to get through, no matter how hard he wished it, his mother and father could never squeeze through that hole.

They told him he had to go and that he had to go as soon as the train slowed. His father pushed his son through the hole.

And that is why he jumped from the train – leaving everyone he loved aboard and on their way to Auschwitz.

3. Everyone called him Papa – that was how he was known in our part of the square. ‘Papa, the storyteller’, to give him his full, well-deserved title.

Whether the stories were as old as the hills, or maybe Papa himself, or even little ditties he made up on the spot; they were always the same thing, they were wonderful and they took us away from our own lives.

“Gather around children, gather around, push-up close to one another, I don’t want to have to shout,” he would say with the biggest grin I had ever seen.

We would all push in to the front, and in doing so, keep each other warm and for a few minutes we would forget where we were and get wrapped up in the warmth and colours of Papa’s stories.

They were as rich as cream, and as light as feathers. They made us laugh, always they made us laugh – that was the one and only rule of Papa: “these stories, my little blessed ones are to make you all happy in there,” and that is when he would point to his heart.

There are times in your life when something so terrible happens that you push it to the back of your mind. Then in the morning, when you awake, you are happy for the merest of seconds before you remember whatever it is you have experienced.

And so it was with Papa’s stories, when they were done, and only when they were done, I would suddenly remember where I was and immediately feel sad again.

It was the same for us all.
I remember Papa’s last story as if it were yesterday.

“Come close my little kinder. Closer still, we don’t want those others to hear our precious little stories,” and then we would all sit as close as our little frail bodies would allow.

“Can you all hear me?” and he’d put a hand to his ear.
“Yes!” we would all whisper.
“Then I shall begin. Once upon a long ago, there was a little child, a little strong boy by the name of Joseph.”
“That is my name,” said Joseph, who sat next to me, proudly.

“So it is, and much like you he was full of life itself. And this little strong boy decided to help the oldest woman who lived in their village. For they all lived in the highest of highest mountains and each of them had to help the other. The town was two days ride away and so everyone needed everyone else. The little boy knocked on the old lady’s door. He was nervous – for it was told that she was a witch. At first she shouted ‘go away’ because through the years, she had been tormented by some. But the little boy persisted and knocked the door again. This time the old lady, who some say was as old as the moon itself – opened the door. ‘What do you want?’ she asked and the little boy explained that he wanted to help. At first she was unsure but as she asked the boy to do more and more tasks, he seemed to enjoy all of it. ‘Why are you helping me?’ she asked. And the little boy explained that he had been taught that helping others was the only way to live. And so the boy came and helped the old lady, day after day, week after week. Then one day, the old lady said she would reward the little boy, who said it didn’t really matter as helping the lady was all that counted. But she insisted and she told him to close his eyes and in doing so, he could go anywhere he wanted. And sure enough, he closed his eyes and the next thing he knew, he was standing on top of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Now children I want you to do the same,” Papa said to us all.

And sure enough we all kept her eyes tight closed and imagined the greatest of all places to be; and while we were doing this, the guards were waiting on Papa outside the hut and then they marched him to the showers.
We only found this out a little later.

Like the rest who took that walk, Papa never returned, but like the little boy, I still close my eyes and wish of somewhere else.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Future Legend

stock-footage-flowing-red-clothA few weeks earlier, he had been up on Hurley Ridge and had tasted the cold snap on his tongue. This was his first sign that the time of travel was upon him again – and if he was being honest, the only time that he lived for, and the only time in which he felt completely alive.

The dark days had come and gone, yet it had taken most of his life for them to disappear. It wasn’t only him, it was the same for everyone. All of us who had lived through the Life Drop and come out the other end, had wondered if we were the lucky ones or just the remnants of a once great existence.

The origin of Life Drop had started long before Cran had been born, long before his grandparents even. It had probably started in those winters when the snow first failed to appear. People talked of the missing snow in nostalgic stories of childhood but the snows never came again. There were themed parks set up to show the younger generations what the old days had been like; but it wasn’t the same.

The seas grew saltier, the rains came less and in the end it wasn’t disease or war which brought things to a stand-still but the Earth itself. The Life Drop started one spring and lasted almost a generation; the crops failed, the wells ran dry and the world wept.

Yet now there were still surprises to be found, like the berries which grew on the highest of mountains. It was up here that Cran would forage and harvest, and it was up here that Cran would like to think of the old stories that had been passed on to him by his parents.

The one that really stuck in his mind was the story of the old man. A man who had worn red and once a year would visit all the children of the world bringing gifts and, most of all, happiness. Now there was a word that was ever-changing: ‘happiness’ – ever year it was devalued by a few smiles or a joke, until happiness only really meant getting through a day.

Cran had dyed an old piece of cloth with some of the high-ground berries until it looked like what he considered red. He made it into a cape since he wasn’t quite sure what the original old man would have worn.

He remembered his mother telling him that the man had a name – ‘Santy’ – he was sure that was what she had called him. So Santy it was. He had dressed as Santy for a few years now – always when the cold winds blew from the north. He’d spend any free time he had over the previous seasons making gifts from twigs, trees, old bottles – anything he found on his travels and the children always appreciated them.

Santy and his red cape would travel the old path (apparently this path had once carried motorised chariots but now it was just a broken up landscape – one that Cran used as a source of stone). In each settlement he would present the leader with a few gifts for the children and in each settlement the people would thank him and give him shelter for the night.

He would hear stories which he would tell the other settlements and they would always look forward to his coming.

And now that the cold winds had started to blow again, it meant that Cran was ready to go and be Santy once more.

As he set off carrying his gifts, he sang a tune his mother had taught him and this kept him company all the way into the hills.

bobby stevenson 2016

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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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One Day When You Least Expect It

lonely-friends_2741574

The stand-up and be glorious thing about it is:

You’ll never know when or how it happens,

Never know what effect you’ve had,

Or who you’ve saved.

It might be the smile to a passing stranger,

Who was on their way to shout at someone –

A someone who would have driven home in an anger,

And didn’t see the person they knocked over.

Or a face on a train,

The one who was going to get off at the next lonely station

And jump.

But you helped them with their coat, or hat, or bag,

And they saw a warmth in life again.

Perhaps you held the door open for a soul who then

Held the door open for a stranger, who changed their mind,

About pulling the trigger.

One day, when you least expect it,

You will change the world,

And you will probably never, even know.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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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.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Man From Biloxi

trumpet2

The first time I seen him was on 8th Avenue, that must have been around early ’51. I mean he was a street man and all, so he played his music a little, he begged for a few cents, and above all, he survived.

I remember the first time I spoke to him, I bought him a steaming cup of java coffee, and he just smiled, licked his lips and played a tune to thank me. ‘Man that felt good’, he said to me – I was thinking just the same thing about his playing.

He had journeyed up from Biloxi at the end of the war and had wanted to join a jazz band up in Harlem – but when he got there, the streets were full of sharp suits and trumpets, seems everyone wanted a piece of the action. So he did what he always did, he took his chances elsewhere – and this time he put down in mid-town Manhattan.

The trumpet he carried was real old and had a huge dent on one side. He told me that he’d taken it with him when he went to fight old Hitler and a bullet had hit his trumpet (instead of him) and that was why he was standing in front of me today playing one of his beautiful tunes.

I just believed him – I mean what was the point of saying it wasn’t so?

I never knew where he lived or laid his head, seems that I never got around to asking. Sometimes he’d be playing and sometimes he’d be flapping his gums about some point or another with the folks who took time to talk to him.

Some days, he’d be sitting in that old coffee bar – the one that used to stand on the edge of Hell’s Kitchen. I’d nod and he’d call me over and introduce me to his latest friend. Sometimes, it was a writer called Jack Kerouac, or a strange little man out of Wyoming, name of Jackson Pollock.

One night, my friend, the man who played the trumpet on 8th Avenue, took me to a night club just north of Central Park. I can’t recall who was playing but as we sat down at a table, my bud introduced me to Miles Davis. Man I had always wanted to meet this cat, but the soul who sat in front of me was drained of life, he was solid gone. This genius was as low as anyone could be. He kept trying to find anyone in the club who could provide him with a little something to get him back on his feet. It was only later I realised that he meant drugs.

The Christmas of 1951 was a real freezer as I recall. The snow just lay on the streets and folks dealt with it best they could. My youngest, Albert, slid while trying to cross a street and a bus ran over his leg. I had only turned my back to see where my daughter was, when the accident happened.

My boy had struck his head on the way down, and things didn’t look good. Not good at all. The doctor said that we should prepare for the worst. How your life can change in an instant – I mean, you got to hold on to everything and enjoy it.

At the hospital I walked to the window to get some air, and as I opened it I could hear the sweet sound of a trumpet’s notes floating in the night. Sure enough, across the street, was my pal playing for my son and my family. His way of saying ‘I’m here for you, buddy’.

Jeez, I ain’t one for letting the tears run down my face but between the trouble with my boy and the kindness of my friend, I felt real churned up inside – all sad like.

The last time I saw my pal was in the summer of 1952. Albert had made a full recovery and we’d gone for a walk in Central Park. I remember that day so well as it was over a 100 degrees and folks were falling down all over the place.

Me and Albert had been sitting up on one of the rocks when I could just make out a tune that my bud was known to play on the avenue. I knew it had to be him and I wanted to find my friend and show him how well Albert had done in recovering.

“Albert, this is my pal who played the night you had your accident.”

The two of them shook hands, and Albert said a funny thing. He said that he had remembered the tune and that he could hear it even although he was in a coma.

“I kept reaching for the tune, guess that’s what brought me around,” and with that Albert smiled.

My pal told me he was leaving New York and was glad we had met that day. He was going back down to the City of Biloxi and see what life had to offer down there.

I hugged my pal and promised I’d look him up whenever I was down that way.

We never did meet again, but one day in the post  a package turned up addressed to Albert. It was a trumpet, left to my son in a will, from a man in Biloxi.

bobby stevenson 2017

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Once in a Blue Moon

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Strange things happen to nice people.

There I’ve said it, but it don’t make it any less true, friends. I ain’t gonna argue here and now about how you measure niceness and all, you’re just gonna have to take my hand-on-my-heart word on that point. You see, me and my pals, sure are the nicest people to walk this part of Bucks County – maybe even further, but heck, if it just don’t stop things happening.

I guess the first kookiest thing to happen was when my grandmother lost that precious ring, the one that my grand pappy had given to her on the day she said yes to marrying him. Charlie (that’s my best friend) just turned to her and said, you’ll find it under that old leather chair your cat uses as a bed. And you know what? That was where it was. Well I’ll be, I kept saying to myself that day, well if that ain’t the darndest thing.

My first thought was that Charlie had put it there himself, on account he was always up to something or other. But then, as Charlie said himself, he’d never been up to that part of my grandmother’s house that held the cat’s chair. I don’t think he was lying, friends, I surely don’t. I guess Charlie had always been the weird one – well, weirder than the rest of us – which is a long way away from what folks call normal in these parts.

Charlie used to go by the name of Kenzo, The Magician when he was knee-high to a real magician. Used to put on shows for us kids, even convinced us that he could make birds appear out of the air. Then one day, Danny, Charlie’s young cousin from his pop’s family, bust a finger when a brick fell on it. That finger couldn’t make up its mind which way it was pointing. Then Charlie took his cousin’s hand and placed it between his own hands. Danny said he felt real warm and when Charlie took his hands away, the finger was pointing the way it was meant to. I kid you not, friends. It was pointing as straight as the day is long.

Somewhere, at the back of my mind, I’m thinking the two of them had conjured this up between them (‘scuse my words) but that night, Charlie swore on my life that he didn’t do nothing sneaky. The look in my pal’s eyes made me know he wasn’t lying.

One day, not long after my birthday, I was playing in the yard with the hamster that my folks had given me. I can’t really remember what happened, but my mom called me for something and I turned to ask her what she wanted when Geronimo (the hamster) kinda made an escape right into the middle of the street. It was just as Mister Feeling’s horseless carriage was put-put-putting along (with Mister Feeling singing a really loud song from Don Giovanni) that he ran over my hamster.

I think it was my screaming that brought Charlie running – I must have been loud to hear it over Mister Feeling.

“What’s happened little brother,” that’s what Charlie always called me, on account that I was shorter than him.
“He’s killed Geronimo,’ I screamed.

Charlie went over to the flattened hamster and picked him up.
“No he ain’t, lookie here little brother.”

Sure enough, Geronimo was running up and down Charlie’s arm and nibbling his ear like he was at the peak of his life.
“I musta been mistaken,” I said to my pal.
“No you weren’t,” said Charlie, and he wandered off whistling to himself.

These strange things kept happening – but far enough apart that no one ever really joined the dots. I guess when folks would talk about Charlie behind his back, I would get real annoyed and punch anyone who said my bestest pal was weird. He ain’t weird I told them. My mom told me that folks like Charlie only come along once in a blue moon.

When we’d finished schooling for ever, I went off to learn how to be an artist and Charlie joined the army as a doctor or something. Apart from a postcard here and there, we kinda lost touch.

Then one day, not long after my dad started talking strange like, talking about things and people who weren’t there, Charlie turned up at the door.

“I’ve come to fix things,” he said and walked straight in the house without a hello or anything.
“Where’s Henry?” That was my dad’s name.
“He’s sick,” I said.
“I know he’s sick, I’ve come to help him.”

I told Charlie that my dad was in the back bedroom and that Charlie wasn’t to be alarmed. You see, my dad kinda liked to be by himself and be with the folks he said were in the room. I couldn’t ever see any of them.

“Just ‘cause he sees them, don’t mean they’re there. And just ‘cause you can’t, don’t mean they aren’t,” then Charlie started his whistling again, as if he knew something I didn’t. That wouldn’t have been difficult.

“We are such things as memories, that is all we are,” exclaimed Charlie. I asked him if it was Shakespeare who had said that, and he said it was him then continued whistling.

I remember my grand pappy had said that Charlie was an ‘enigma’, which I thought was a monster like a vampire or something. But when I looked it up in the book of words, it said that Charlie was the kinda friend that no one could work out. Those were the kinda friends that I liked.

When Charlie came back down from my dad’s room, he just said that everything was fixed, that he’d meet me tomorrow on Main Street at three.
“Don’t be late.”

As Charlie closed the front door behind him, my father was standing
at the kitchen door, scratching himself.

“I could eat a horse,” that was what he said and he whistled the same tune that Charlie whistled, then my dad went in and cooked the biggest steak in the world. My dad never talked of people I couldn’t see, again.

Charlie never got real famous for anything, but folks eventually talked about him in friendly terms. Whenever someone had an illness or a doctor gave them little time to live, people would call on Charlie and sometimes things would get better and sometimes they wouldn’t.

“I guess the universe ain’t taking ‘no’ for an answer this time,” he’d say.

On the day that Charlie died, the whole town showed up. I was picked to say a few things about my pal, the enigma, but first I got the whole congregation to whistle Charlie’s tune (he would have liked that), even the reverend had to smile. On his gravestone I had them carve the words:
‘CHARLIE TURNER – ONCE, IN A BLUE MOON’.

I reckon he would have liked that, too.

 

 

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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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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Who’s To Say?

Who’s to say it isn’t today

That you’ll meet the one you’re going to love?

Who’s to say it isn’t today

That you’ll find you’re promoted from above?

Who’s to say it isn’t today

That your problems will vanish without a fuss?

Who’s to say it isn’t today

As you answer that call, you’ll get hit by a bus?

…..Just saying….

 

bobby stevenson 2017

How Could You Be Anything Other Than Beautiful?

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So you’re not as thin, nor as fat as you wanted to be,
Or as tall, or as short, or with a little more hair,
You’re not as clever or wise as they said that you were,
Or have looks that have people chasing you there.

And you’re not that great person with so many friends,
Or as famous or rich as you dreamed life would bring,
But the dust of the stars was moulded and shaped
Into the soul that is you,
By someone
Or something.

You’re not as graceful or talented as you hoped you would be,
Or have a family and home that was always packed full,
But you’re loved and unique, and somebody cares,

How could you be anything other than beautiful?

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Four Shots of Wry

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Breathless

….if she had looked up at that moment, his nurse would have seen his toes moving in waltz time to a tune that only he could hear. Through the willow window he could see the stars and the Moon and he remembered how, as a child, he would lie on his back and be overwhelmed by the wonder at it all. But now he was old and almost finished and yet he still could conjure a picture in his head of him at seventeen dancing to the Blue Danube. And that was his final thought before life finally took him back. If there was a God, and he felt sure that there was, then the music was some part of God – a sliver that rippled across the universe, an echo of God’s love, and to the man this was greater than all the wonders of the world. But if there was no god, then the waltz was written by an ape that had only recently walked upright and had created these notes while it cried to the stars: and that, to him, was just as breath-taking…..

The Dying Days of Savannah Highs

It was just as the sun was cooling, that through the slatted Louvre doors Analise had her legs spread from China to Timbuktoo. She didn’t care, least ways not when Reverend Blue was watching, just like he always did. She hit a mosquito on her right side but the effort was way too much for this time of day and so she flopped back against the caring softness of the pillow. The rush of air threw up a whiff of stale body odor but why should she care when she was young and she was beautiful and that was all it took. Least ways that was all it took this side of the river. She rubbed her top lip, the one that was prone to too much hair but she knew she was Greta Garbo, so she didn’t care. The little kid from down Sycamore Street stood in front of her and at first stared, then without asking he did his Charlie Chaplin impersonation. She raised a smile to let him carry on with his dreams but both of them knew he had failed. In the end she stood up and walked across the lawn as it spat out a vapor. It was August, it was Georgia and these were the dying days of the Savannah Highs.

Sundown On Main Street

The warm air blows off the panhandle for the second time that week, as the old wooden chair on grandfather’s porch creaks its way to salvation. And Brittle Andrew howls his madness and  frustrations into the wind.

But there ain’t no one listening, not even God.He’s left these parts a while back. Somewhere out there in the Mississippi, an alligator, with wasted stealth, sits waiting on its prey to pass its mouth but it never will, least not this particular night.

And hanging from a swamp dogwood tree is the crumpled body of Leroy Shants who broke the code of entering the ice cream parlor while those troublesome white kids were taking a lifetime to leave.

The Pastor sits looking at his wife wondering how he’d got to be where he’s at, as Betty Sue spends the final hour of the day putting on some makeup she knows is all wrong and does what she always does and cries herself to sleep. Undertaker Boy swigs another sweet bourbon knowing that he’s jealous of the dead,and as my eyes welled shut, the rain falls on Mitchell County and washes away the blood.

Main Street has made it through another day.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised……..

…all the junkies and the rat-runners broke curfew that night and some even tried to jump the wall. There were three noises that broke the quiet sky; the first was a ‘thuck’ as the dum-dum bullets entered the bodies and then blew them apart before they had time to scream. The second was the cries of ‘hallelujah’ as the lucky souls escaped over the bricks, some ankle crashing to the ground on the other side. The third was the sad noise of those who thought they had made it, just a little call of ‘halle….’ moments before the sniper shot them through the head. It had become known as the Hallelujah Night and it lived long in the memories of those who were there.

What had caused it? Well the rat-runners and junkies had nothing left to lose – they had nowhere else they could go, except the other side of the wall.

Once upon a time there had been the working classes, who, for generations, had suffered at the hands of the elite and little by little they had bettered themselves. They pulled themselves up the ladders and made sure that their children were better off than they had ever been. And as they were concentrating on their lives, the politicians grew grey and similar until there was nothing left to separate them. And while the peoples’ backs were turned, the criminals came in from the east and ran in the vacuums created by the lack of government.

The middle classes grew fat and insipid and blamed everything on those on the outside. Then one day, a man came and told them that all their problems would be over if they ‘cleansed’ those on the outside. And when those troubles were gone, they started on the middle-classes themselves, picking off those with illnesses and those with weaknesses – and yet the people at the center were sure they would be untouched. But there would always be new rules created for a new elite, and in the end most lived on the outside. The junkies and rat-runners called it the Guillotine Factor – as the man who created that particular way to die, ended up (because of the constant rule changes) being guillotined himself.

So that evening, that glorious evening, when the revolution came and the souls of the crushed said ‘no-more’, they regrouped on the other side of the wall and knew that this was only just the beginning…..

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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A House of Many Windows

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“The body is a house of many windows: there we all sit, showing ourselves and crying on the passers-by to come and love us.” Robert Louis Stevenson

In his diaries the Reverend Aston was a meticulous recorder of Coldharbour’s weather and in the winter of 1869 he made a note in a margin intimating that it had been the very worst of conditions within living memory. 

‘It had started thus with a snow blizzard that lasted for more than seven days, followed on its heels by several more inches of the miserable stuff. At times like these one has to question why we live in this particular place, which at its most raw feels like the very edge of the world.’

Now the Reverend could never be described as a despondent soul, on the contrary it always seemed as if the Holy Spirit was forever bouncing around inside the man. So when the cold weather started to penetrate the religious shores of our good Reverend, one could only guess as to the impact of the weather on the other less sturdy residents of the town.

It should be remembered dear reader that these were the days before the rail passed within a few miles of the town. Oban, for instance, would be a good day’s ride by cart and would not be attempted lightly. Many folks found work in Fort William, Tyndrum and Inveraray and to lessen the cost would stay in those locations for most of the week. It didn’t take much to consider making the move permanent and so month by month the once healthy population of Coldharbour began to drift and diminish.

The loss was nothing new, the valleys and slopes of the West Highlands were awash with ghost towns. A few caused by the Clearances but many more were for more basic economic reasons – the young could not find employment and the severe weather only made matters worse.

Every night the Reverend Aston prayed for an answer to his problem. With his flock evaporating there would soon be no need for his services and although his faith was never in doubt, he did write a letter to his brother in Glasgow to inquire after churches that were on the lookout for a minister. Perhaps God wanted him to be of service in another way.

All mortal souls cower in the blackness of night and imagine the darkest of thoughts and, if lucky, the lightest of dreams – ideas that are washed and bleached by the morning light and very rarely crossed again until the next sleepless night. But sometimes in those sad and wistful thoughts solutions are forged. It is as if the universe has been listening and delivers hope in a routine that was not envisaged. One of those answers came in the shape of two men who arrived by coach on a summer’s evening.

They took rooms at the Covenanters Inn, an old coaching house on the Glasgow to Oban route. It was probably kindness itself to say that this establishment had seen better days. As the town’s population fell so young Stuart McAndrew, the Inn’s owner, was already making plans to move to North Carolina to join his elder brother Alex who had made a tidy sum growing tobacco.

Of the two men who stepped from the coach that evening, the younger was a gangly youth of perhaps eighteen years of age. He answered to the name of Robert and the elder gentleman was his father Thomas.

Thomas Stevenson was one of the Lighthouse Stevensons, his own father having successfully built several lauded examples around the country. Thomas was carrying on the tradition which he hoped to pass on to his own son.

Robert was in the middle of studying engineering at Edinburgh University and in the summer months would accompany his father on his tours where they would inspect possible sites for more lighthouses. Their halt at Coldharbour had been unavoidable as the road to the open sea was blocked by a large rock fall – a common occurrence in these parts. They planned to continue by ferry on to the Isle of Mull when the opportunity dictated.

Word had got back to the Reverend Aston about the latest arrivals and he, being a man who believed that God moved in mysterious ways, sent a note to invite them to dinner the following evening.

Thomas, the father, did most of the talking that evening but the Reverend Aston’s eye was always drawn to the boy who appeared to be noting many points of their conversations.

“Are you committing my utterances to paper young man?“
There was no reaction to this question from the scribbler.

“Robert, the Reverend has asked you a question, please be so good as to offer a reply. Goodness knows there are times when you try even my patience.”
“It is of no consequence” said the kindly Reverend “it is merely a light-hearted exchange.”

“My son is studying to be an engineer but he is forever writing stories of one nature or another. You have no need to be alarmed, the words are not accountable to you.I can assure you.”
In some ways the Reverend looked disappointed not to be considered worthy enough to be noted in the book. After a fine meal and several whiskies the discussion got around to the business of Thomas and Robert.

“Lighthouses, you say. So you are the famous Thomas Stevenson.”
Thomas was genuinely pleased at this description, after all what they were involved in was dangerous work, yet it saved so many lives and he thanked the Almighty that he was able to serve in such a manner.

When the evening was complete, the Stevensons trudged their way back to The Covenanters and as they did so, the spark of an idea flickered just behind the eyes of  Reverend Aston, one that was to gestate and present itself in all its glory the next day.

“Eureka!” was exclaimed in a full rounded Glasgow accent and woke the startled Mistress Aston the following morning.

“Have you lost your senses husband?”
“On the contrary, I may have just found them.”

And so the Reverend Aston explained to his ever patient wife about the need for a lighthouse at Old Man’s Corner. Apparently there had been several ships which had headed for Davy Jones’ locker off that particularly dangerous headland.

“And to what ends? There have been ships sinking all over the West dear husband which have never had you this excited” stated his wife with even more patience than normal.

“Why woman, to bring people back to Coldharbour, labourers will be needed, as will bricklayers and cooks and carpenters and…well you can see my point.”
And she could.

She could see it very well and for the first time, in a long time, she looked at her husband with new eyes and liked what she saw.

So with all haste the Reverend rushed around to The Covenanters Inn and placed his proposal in front of the gentleman and his boy.Money for the build would have to be begged, borrowed and raised but when they sat around the table and the finances were considered, it seemed that it was indeed possible. Plans would be drawn up over the winter and if all was well, building could start in late May when the tides would be beneficial and the weather would be more kindly.

Fund raising began almost straight away with dances being held in the village hall and in one of the larger rooms of The Covenanters. This brought in folks from surrounding farms and villages and caused Stuart  McAndrew to delay his departure for New World.

It was agreed the following spring that Robert and his uncle David would oversee the build as Thomas was already committed to the building of a new lighthouse in the far reaches of the Orkney Isles. Robert agreed to this without hesitation, his uncle was the more lenient of the brothers and this would allow time for Robert to write the stories which had begun to occupy more of his time.

By the May of the following year everything was underway. Money had been raised and although the final payment from Edinburgh was still outstanding, the Reverend saw no need to panic. He had prayed long and hard about the problem and felt assured that his prayers would not be ignored by the Almighty.

The Covenanters Inn was so full that three or more men were sharing each of the fourteen rooms. The only exception was Robert and his uncle who were given a room to themselves. However they decided to sleep in one room and use the second bedroom as offices.

Within three weeks the foundation of the lighthouse had been laid and the weather had indeed been kind. On the nights that Robert walked by himself back from the headland he would always see a forlorn face staring from the upper windows of The Covenanters which he assumed was Stuart. This type of behaviour intrigued Robert and each night it would be written into some story or another.

The Reverend’s dream of a re-populated  Coldharbour was beginning to take form. The workers at the hotel were missing their families that they had left in the outlying areas and so small shacks were built to accommodate the wives and children. This meant more money being spent in the village shop and more pews filled in the local churches.

During the long daylight hours that were available in such northern latitudes, the men would work the sixteen hours from sun up to sun set. Every second evening, and although working hard himself, Robert would set up a room in the village hall for the children and read them one of his latest stories. One such popular story was The Mutiny of The Hispaniola. For much of his childhood Robert had been confined to his bed with sicknesses and illnesses which were far from the norm. This led to a lonely existence whereupon he wrote little stories to entertain himself while the children of Edinburgh were running and screaming in the streets below. He was still unhappy with the title of the story but he knew that there should be the word Treasure in it.

His uncle David, although a kindly and considerate man, was forever chastising his nephew over the time that was wasted on such trivial nonsense – this did not stop Robert however, indeed he felt compelled in not only continuing but increasing his activities in the business of story writing and telling.

Needless to say reports were getting back to his father that Robert was a less than enthusiastic engineer and this would have prompted a visit from Thomas at some point in the summer had circumstances not dictated otherwise.

On the morning of the 7th of June a body was found half concealed on the far side of Old Man’s Corner. It was the corpse of a twenty-four year old labourer from Dublin by the name of Patrick – no one used a surname in these parts as they were very rarely given with any honesty. Those who toiled in such environments were more than likely to be on the run from one authority or another.

Reverend Aston had sent a messenger to the nearest garrison at Fort William describing the death of the young man. He did so with some reluctance as this type of news would discourage the movement of families to the area.A note was sent back to Coldharbour that due to the imminent visit of  Queen Victoria most of the military were engaged elsewhere but that a most competent fellow would be sent when available.

In the absence of any authority Robert took it upon himself to investigate the death with a mind to passing on the findings to whoever was assigned to the case at a later date.

Patrick had shared a room with three other Irishmen who all professed innocence of knowing anything about anything and Robert felt that the situation was not likely to improve any time soon.The local doctor reported back that the man’s head wound was probably caused by a blunt instrument, although a fall on the rocks could have had the same effect. The suspicious element was the way the body was found, as if someone or something had attempted to hide their handy work.

Robert had to agree with the doctor, that even if he had slipped it was very unlikely that with such a grave injury to the head that the man would have crawled into the grass. It was suggested that he may he been trying to keep warm but the doctor felt that the body had been carried to that spot. So it was murder and Robert felt the hairs stand on the back of his neck. Half of him was shocked at the violence and the other half  hoping that he could find a good story in it all.

Patrick, if that was his name, seemed to have been a well liked fellow with no obvious enemies. After sending the majority of his earnings home to his family, he was known to share what little he had left  with his room mates.

Robert was ashamed of his poor detective skills which were under ever-increasing pressure from David who wanted him to get his mind back on more practical matters – like building a lighthouse.

There had to be something he was missing, or rather someone, surely the culprit would have gone on the run after attempting to hide the body. If it was one of the labourers who were so used to covering their tracks, then the game was up. Robert Louis decided he would talk to the one man who knew what went on in The Covenanters Inn.

Stuart was nowhere to be seen. Apparently he had gone to Inverness to attend some business meeting or other and was unsure when he would return. A thought went through Robert’s head that he dared not speak.

So either Robert could  wait for Stuart’s return or make a trip himself to Inverness – assuming that was where Stuart was, and for a second he wanted to say, hiding.

Robert rode to Fort William by horse and on to Inverness by the midday coach. By dusk he had arrived in the town just as the centre market was packing up for the night. On the off-chance Robert asked the coachman if he had transported or had known of anyone fitting Stuart’s description and by luck he had.

“Strange fellows”
“Fellows?”
“Aye, there were two of them and one kept his face covered.”
“Do you know where they were headed?”
“I heard one of them say they would try the hotel on Castle Street.”

So Robert set off with all haste for the hotel.

The receptionist had no one of the name of Stuart McAndrew. The only fellows that she had roomed in the past five days were a young doctor and his patient.For whatever reason Robert asked for their room number and the receptionist, for whatever reason, gave it to him.

Robert knocked the door of room 12. Inside he could hear people moving around very quickly and a door being slammed. He knocked again. The door opened an inch and an eye looked out.

“Yes?” It was Stuart.
“It’s me, Robert Stevenson I’ve come to talk to you. There has been a dreadful occurrence at the Inn.”
“Please go away. Please for your own sake.”

Suddenly a door inside the room was kicked open by a person who moved in the shadows.
“Looked what you’ve done, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Robert rushed in and helped Stuart wrestle the man to the ground, a man who had the strength of four men.

“Don’t hurt him, he’s my brother.”

And sure enough when they had finally got the frightened creature under control, Robert could see just that – the man was Stuart’s identical twin.

“He’s ill you see, my brother Ian. Always has been. He killed the young Irishman for no other reason than he could. All I ask you is that you give us some time to leave and we will never be in your lives again. There is a ship leaving Greenock for New York two days from now and we intend to be on it. Alex our elder brother will take care of us in the Carolinas.”

As Robert descended the stairs he felt troubled, the poor Irishman had not deserved his fate and who was to say that Ian would not do the same in the New World.

He asked the receptionist for a pen and paper and decided to write a note to the local magistrate explaining Ian and Stuart’s circumstances and that they intended to leave via Greenock. It would be up to the authorities to deal with the consequences.

As he folded the paper he caught sight of the false names that the twins had used; Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. Robert made a note of them in his book.

bobby stevenson 2017

animated gif:  Lighthouse Bright Beams by Christi Dove  christi-dove.deviantart.com

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The Vagabond Saints

stones

Where the sky welcomed the road at the far edge of town stood large monoliths of rock pointing straight at the stars; perhaps in an earlier time they had names of gods or demons but these days they were simply known at the Vagabond Saints.

My Grandfather had told me a story that they were the remnants of men who had idled too long at that point and who had been turned to stone by the forces who got annoyed by such things.

There was something peculiar about them – there always had been. They marked the boundary of the electric road, for it was known that if you switched off your car engine as you passed the Vagabond Saints the car would just keep on going.

Some said it was just a trick of the eye, that the land was actually going downhill at that point but the line of the horizon made a mind think otherwise. Other folks said it was where the underworld met the living and as such should be treated with reverence, and then there were those who laughed at such stories but who would run past at dark time when they were coming home from the bar and the beer was wearing off, taking away their protection.

I knew what they were, they were magic and that’s all I needed to know. One day when I was fishing at Gracey Hollow, I was in the process of pulling a trout out but if that fish didn’t want to fight to the very last. As I was easing the hook from its mouth, it gave one last fight and managed to drop back in the pool. The little creature ripped my finger open with the hook and the red of my blood was colouring the water.

I ripped a part of my shirt and wrapped it around the finger, praying that as long as God didn’t let my finger fall off , I would keep going to the church on a Sunday. As I got back to the border of town, I stopped to get some rocks out of my shoes. I rested my bleeding hand on the Vagabond Saints just to steady me like when all of a sudden a big beautiful warmth flooded through my body and the old bloody finger healed up. Like it was good as new.

I ripped the cloth off completely and sure enough there wasn’t a cut or a line or anything to say where the blood had come from. I got up and walked into town with a story in my head that I would be keeping to myself.

An autumn came and went, along with a winter and soon it was Spring again – the thing that happened at Vagabond Saints had been long forgotten. Until the day me and Jake who was my younger brother went into the Yellow Hills to try to see a wild cat. There wasn’t too much happening up in those hills so we called it a day a couple of hours before sundown.

As we descended Lawyer Pike, Jake slipped and I run to grab him but he fell a good 30 feet or more. My head flashed a million stories and none of them were good. I knew I was going to climb down there and find my only brother dead and gone. There were even crazy thoughts about how I was going to explain it to my parents. Like that mattered.

When I got there he was lying face down and moaning like he was somewhere else. I know that doesn’t make too much sense but that’s the way it felt that he wasn’t occupying his body at that time. I didn’t want to move him but it was going to get dark soon and the wild things would be sure to get him. So I flung him over my shoulder and I started to walk towards town hoping that I wasn’t causing too much damage even although he kept moaning.

At Vagabond Saints I sat for no more than a minute, as I lay Jake to rest a while. The funny thing was, he wasn’t moaning as much and that didn’t feel good to me. The next thing I must have fallen asleep and suddenly I was being slapped on the face and someone’s calling “Wake up”. It was Jake saying he was cold and that we’d better get a move on.

I told him I was sure he must be dying and he shouted “Not today, brother, not today”.

On the way back home we talked and talked and Jake felt that he’d just been winded, nothing more.

Life took me away from the town and from the Vagabond Saints, the way it does with everyone. I got a job at the other end of the country and I met someone, we settled down and raised a family.

Then one day the world opened up and swallowed my whole, my son, my love, the apple of my eye was sick. I would have laid my life down there and then if it would take away his pain but there seemed to be nothing that I or anyone could do. They were talking a few months at most, so you’re already ahead of me here, I guess. I took my boy to my home town. I pushed him in a wheel chair around the streets, showing him where I grew up and where I skinned my knees and then we finally stopped at the Vagabond Saints and I told him to touch the stones and he did and he smiled.

From that moment on, he just kept getting stronger and stronger. The doctors thought it was a miracle but I knew better, I knew he’d been cured by the Vagabond Stones. Then I began to wonder what do you do with something like that? Do I tell every sick kid in the area? Do I go to the press or the television people?

My boy and his girl came back to town a few years later to get married – he just loved the place although we never talked about the rocks. One balmy night, a few days after the wedding I went walking out to the stones, alone. There was a clear sky and a bright moon and I felt as if I could have walked forever.

I touched the stones just to say thanks and that was when the pain shot up my left arm, followed by a massive pressure in my chest, then my legs crumpled from under me as I got ready to say goodbye.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Me and Buzz and Flyin’

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The first time that me and Buzz attempted to fly, Buzz broke his arm in two places: in the yard and on the driveway. Yeh, Buzz didn’t think that joke was funny either. Now you’re going back to read it again in case you missed something ‘cause you didn’t think it was so funny.

The truth of the matter is that Buzz’s arm was good and busted all because he tried to fly from the roof of my house to the roof of Mister Huckerby’s.

Mister H was the man who ate children or so the story went. We’d tried to have a look in his windows but he always kept all his curtains closed except for the attic windows and they were too high to get at, unless you got on to his roof.

“I know what I’ll do, I’ll fly” was Buzz’s suggestion, with a real proud look on his face. He had thought of it all by himself.

“You’ll fly to the top of Mister H’s house?”

“Yep!”

“What you gonna use, a jet pack?”

“Nope, I’ve already thought of this. I’ll find a place that’s higher than the Child-eater’s and I glide over and land on his roof.”

If Buzz really thought about this all by himself then I’m sure the world is coming to an end or he ain’t tellin’ the whole truth. He’s probably seen the whole thing on Scooby Doo or something.

There never was any proof that Mister H was actually eating any kids on account that no one had disappeared or anything but that didn’t stop the stories. You know how it is? You get the rep for eating kids and it just doesn’t go away. I mean Buzz has got a rep for being really stupid but I have to tell you, he worked really hard at that rep and deserves it.

I’m making this all sound as if Buzz had come up with an idea that was as reliable as the day is long. To be honest he had several other really bad ideas. Last Easter, he tried to climb up the pipes to Mister H’s roof but there was a bird’s nest about three-quarter ways up and those little kiddy birds started peckin’ at Buzz’s face. You know Buzz hates anyone touchin’ his face so he tried to shoo them away and that’s when he let go. Luckily he fell into a bush and didn’t do any real damage although the pipe was hanging at a weird angle.

Around June time, Buzz tried to lasso a rope around one of Mister H’s chimneys. He got the rope on to one of the corner ones – the kind that crash to the ground real hard when you pull on them, especially with a boy and a rope hanging off them.

You could say Buzz escaped with his life, which is more than can be said for Mister Huckerby’s pride and joy, his car. It was all smashed up. I think he thinks that the street was hit with a tornado that day.

I guess I never really asked Buzz until just now what he was going to do when he landed on the roof. Was he gonna rescue the kids? Or what?

“I’m gonna look in that attic window.”

“Then what?”

“Not sure.”

Buzz strapped a kite to each arm and he reckoned this was gonna let him glide from our roof and across the street.

“Even if you do make his roof Buzz, how are you gonna get down?”

“Fly.”

Ain’t it just dandy how the world and even the laws of physics belong to the really stupid?

“Fine” I said, but by which I meant so many other things.

Buzz wanted me to stand at the front of my house when he did eventually jump. I’ve no idea what he expected me to do – catch him?

“You can help me…” he shouted.

“Navigate?” I shouted back.

“Give me directions” he shouted.

Then Buzz stood at the edge of the roof and started flappin’ his arms and I tell you, I nearly let some pee out, I laughed so hard. He just looked completely stupid. Like a bird that had its behind set alight.

He counted down and shouted that I should count with him.

“10,9,8….” He was still flappin’ and I was still keeping my legs crossed in case I pee’d again.

Then we got to zero and he jumped and what do ya know? He kinda glided, not as far as Mister H’s roof but to the tree in front of his house. That was where Buzz got stuck until we called the fire engine folks over at Toolaville. I think some of them tried to stop from laughing as well. I could see tears running down the Chief’s face.

It took us about 3 hours to free him and his wings and he was fine – surprisingly.

As for the broken arm, it was as he crossed the street and into my driveway that he stood on the skateboard and that’s when it happened. He broke his arm on the drive way, got up and then stood on the skateboard again and broke his arm again in my yard.

I swear to the almighty I had to run all the way to the toilet as I nearly pee’d myself again, what with all that laughin’.

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2 wee bobby

 

 

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The Stars Want Her Back

When I first got to know her,

She was fully formed.

A woman with life, and humour and

Dreams.

And in the gaps between the dark times,

She talks about her dreams,

And all the reasons they never happened.

But now we have a fight on our hands,

For she is slowly leaking back

Bit by bit, thought by thought,

To where she came from.

For the stars want her back,

And there is nothing we can do.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

The Old Storyteller

story

Everyone called him Papa – that was how he was known in our part of the square. ‘Papa, the storyteller’, to give him his full, well-deserved title.

Whether the stories were as old as the hills, or maybe Papa himself, or even little ditties he made up on the spot; they were always the same thing, they were wonderful and they took us away from our own lives.
“Gather around children, gather around, push-up close to one another, I don’t want to have to shout,” he would say with the biggest grin I had ever seen.

We would all push in to the front, and in doing so, keep each other warm and for a few minutes we would forget where we were and get wrapped up in the warmth and colours of Papa’s stories.

They were as rich as cream, and as light as feathers. They made us laugh, always they made us laugh – that was the one and only rule of Papa: “these stories, my little blessed ones are to make you all happy in there,” and that is when he would point to his heart.

There are times in your life when something so terrible happens that you push it to the back of your mind. Then in the morning, when you awake, you are happy for the merest of seconds before you remember whatever it is you have experienced.

And so it was with Papa’s stories, when they were done, and only when they were done, I would suddenly remember where I was and immediately feel sad again.

It was the same for us all.

I remember Papa’s last story as if it were yesterday.

“Come close my little kinder. Closer still, we don’t want those others to hear our precious little stories,” and then we would all sit as close as our little frail bodies would allow.
“Can you all hear me?” and he’d put a hand to his ear.

“Yes!” we would all whisper.

“Then I shall begin. Once upon a long ago, there was a little child, a little strong boy by the name of Joseph.”

“That is my name,” said Joseph, who sat next to me, proudly.

“So it is, and much like you he was full of life itself. And this little strong boy decided to help the oldest woman who lived in their village. For they all lived in the highest of highest mountains and each of them had to help the other. The town was two days ride away and so everyone needed everyone else. The little boy knocked on the old lady’s door. He was nervous – for it was told that she was a witch. At first she shouted ‘go away’ because through the years, she had been tormented by some. But the little boy persisted and knocked the door again. This time the old lady, who some say was as old as the moon itself – opened the door. ‘What do you want?’ she asked and the little boy explained that he wanted to help. At first she was unsure but as she asked the boy to do more and more tasks, he seemed to enjoy all of it. ‘Why are you helping me?’ she asked. And the little boy explained that he had been taught that helping others was the only way to live. And so the boy came and helped the old lady, day after day, week after week. Then one day, the old lady said she would reward the little boy, who said it didn’t really matter as helping the lady was all that counted. But she insisted and she told him to close his eyes and in doing so, he could go anywhere he wanted. And sure enough, he closed his eyes and the next thing he knew, he was standing on top of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Now children I want you to do the same,” Papa said to us all.

And sure enough we all kept her eyes tight closed and imagined the greatest of all places to be; and while we were doing this, the guards were waiting on Papa outside the hut and then they marched him to the showers.

We only found this out a little later.
Like the rest who took that walk, Papa never returned, but like the little boy, I still close my eyes and wish of somewhere else.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

photo http://www.joe.ie

Amazing Grace

old-woman

It’s funny how no one talks about Amazing Grace anymore. I guess she’s been gone a long time. I guess if you didn’t forget about people then we’d still be talking about folks who lived in caves. They say you die twice, once when your heart stops and the second time when the last person mentions your name.

That happens to everyone, I guess, even William Shakespeare will be forgotten one day.

But Amazing Grace, or just Grace as she was known back in the days when they were still dropping bombs on my Grandma’s house – she was the kindest lady I ever did meet. When things got you down or didn’t make much sense, Grace would just sit you down with a glass of lemonade and straighten out all those things that were knotted or wrinkled in your head and just as quick things would make sense again.

My Granddaddy passed away when I was ten years old and one night I was sitting on the back porch looking up at the sky to see if I could see as far as heaven. I was eating a carrot because my Ma said that they were good for your eyes and if you ate enough then I reckoned I could see as far as Heaven (although I’m not too sure how far it is away). My Granddaddy always said nothing was worth travelling for, if it was more than two days drive away. So I’m guessing Heaven is only two days by car (assuming you can drive a car in the sky, that is). Anyway, in between munching my carrot and staring at the sky, Amazing Grace came and sat beside me – she had a way of making you feel better by just by being there.

“What cha doing?” She asked.

“Just staring,” I said (as if it wasn’t obvious).

“At what?”

“At Heaven.”

“Can you see it?”

“Sure can,” I said not quite telling the truth.

“Are you trying to see someone in par-tic-cu-lar?”

“Yep, my granddaddy.”

Then Amazing Grace tells me that he was a good man. I told her that I knew that already but I was missing him.

I asked her why people died and she just looked at me in that Amazing Grace way that she had.

“You’re hurting – right?” Asked Grace.

I nodded ‘cause she was on the button with that.She told me life was just like a big bus where we all get on at different stops and off at different stops. And in between we talk and love and argue and smile and fight and talk some more.

“Now you’re sad ‘cause your Granddaddy got off at a different stop from you?”

Again I nodded my head.

“And it hurts?”

I nodded, once more.

“And if you didn’t feel sad or even happy at some time in your life, then you’d never know how the other folks on the bus were feeling. We hurt so that we can help others – that way we know how they’re feeling and we also hurt because we have to say goodbye at times. It’s no one’s fault. It’s the rules of the bus and we have to live by them.”

She looked at me with those big Amazing Grace eyes.

“So you see, we hurt and cry and laugh and smile because it’s the only way we can know what’s going on in another’s heart. That’s what makes us all one. Some are happy on a par-tic-cu-lar day and some are sad on the same day and those who are happy have already been sad and know how it feels. So they help the sad ones to be happy again. If we didn’t feel things how could we understand anyone else?”

Then she stood.

“I’ll leave you with those thoughts, precious.”

And she gently moved on down the street.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

painting ‘Old Woman With Toad’ by Judy Somerville.

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Life

bird

Like every other day, Harry spent his mornings in the park in that little period between breakfast and lunch. He’d sit and watch the animals and the humans, and normally chuckle to himself. One sunny morning, Harry noticed a flash of light from under a bench a few feet away.

When he picked it up, he found it was a coin. Harry decided to buy some bird food to feed a little pigeon that was always out on its own and which looked as if it never got fed.

After the little pigeon overfed itself, it flew across the pond and over the road, where it deposited a little message on the windscreen of a car that was driving past.

Eddie liked everything just so in his life and the bird droppings on his shiny car windscreen were annoying him, so he stopped his car by a stream to get some water to clean the window. And that was where he found the ‘phone lying in the tall grass and so, after he had cleaned the car, he drove to the police and gave them the lost property.

The police contacted the owner, a Mrs Sweeney who was over-the-moon at finding her ‘phone as this was the one she used to call her son who was serving in Afghanistan. Her son, Sergeant Oliver Sweeney was lifted by the call from his mother and that morning after the call, he went out and saved the life of his best friend, Joshua.

Joshua wrote that evening to his wife to tell her how much he loved her and then reluctantly told her of how his best pal in all the world had saved his life.

Joshua’s wife, Amy, was so excited by the letter from her husband that when she went into school the next day, she gave every one of her young pupils a gold star on their exercises.

Olivia, whose teacher was Mrs Amy Sweeney and who had given Olivia a gold star, couldn’t wait to show her granddad, Harry what she had achieved, as soon as he returned from his morning walk in the park.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

bobby2 wee bobby

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This Year’s Love

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This year some people will leave your life
And new ones will enter
This year some dreams will vanish
And others, not thought of, will come out of the sun
This year you’ll make mistakes
And you’ll survive them all
This year you’ll win some things and you’ll lose some things
This year some friends will fail to understand
And some will grow to love you
This year you’ll learn a little more about yourself
Some of it you’ll like and some of it you won’t
This year perhaps you’ll cry alone
But you’ll also laugh at things you won’t explain to  others
This year some of your actions will be misunderstood
But you’ll discover that others understand in amazing ways
This year you’ll misjudge hearts and situations
And yet find more caring than you ever thought possible
This year you’ll learn to love yourself just that little bit better
And that will be all you’ll need.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Girl Who Stole A Piece Of The Sun

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I think I was eight or nine years of age when my Grandma went down the road. At least that’s what my Granddad called it.

“Your Grandma has gone down the road and I’m afraid she won’t be back,” he said with sad eyes.

“What never?”

“Listen sweet-pea, one day I’ll take that walk and later, so will you. We’ll all meet up at the little shack further 

down the road, just over the first hill. You remember that, I’ll see you there.”

My name is Sara, by the way, and I always remembered that story from my Granddad. On that day, the day that my Grandma took the walk, my Granddad took me into the city to show me how to be happy in times when the world goes a little dark.

“Anytime you want to talk to your Grandma, just say ‘hey Grandma’ and then tell her how you feel.”
“She’ll hear me?”
“Of course she will, saying ‘hey Grandma’ is like pushing buttons on your telephone,” said Granddad with a big huge grin.
“And I’ll show you another thing to show she’s listening.”

And my Granddad led me into a railway station, nearby.

“Whenever you feel lonely,” he said. “Or sad, just stand on this spot and say to your Grandma ‘please make people look at me, Grandma’”.

And do you know what? People were staring at us and I said ‘thank you, Grandma’ to myself.

It was only years later I realised we were standing in front of the railway departures board, but still it worked and I couldn’t help smiling.

Then my Granddad took me to the park, and to the little pond where they sailed model boats.

It was just then that the sun came out and from his little bag, my Granddad took out an old glass jar, one with a lid.

“Look sweet-pea,” and my Granddad pointed to the sun’s reflection in the water. “See the sun?”
“I do, Granddad, I do.”

And then he put the glass jar in the pond and filled it with water. And just then the sun disappeared and my Granddad told me he had caught a piece of the sun in a jar. Then he put the lid on it.

“I want you to put this jar under your bed, sweet-pea and when you feel dark, or you miss your Grandma, just open the jar and let some of the sun fill your room.”

My Granddad took his walk a few years ago, but you know what? I’ve still got that jar with me, the one where we captured a little piece of the sun. And on dark days, I still open the lid.

bobby stevenson 2015

photo from http://www.findmeagift.co.uk/sun-jar.html

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The Proof of God

formHe could do nothing but stare at the paper. Then he re-checked it and checked it again. He was trembling. I mean really shaking. The way you dreamed of something really good happening and then it does, and it never feels real.

He had woken with the numbers in his head – not that he remembered going to sleep with a problem that needed solving. They were just there in the morning like a mathematical hard-on.

He’d need to talk to one of the guys up at the library, they’d know if he had just dreamed up some nonsense or if these numbers – he wanted to call them the Greenock Sequence after the place he had been born – were the real thing.

Try as he might, he couldn’t find fault with any of it. But the most important thing was what the sequence meant, to him, to everyone, to the world.

He’d only been trying to solve one of the oldest mathematical quandaries when he’d tripped over this sequence. Perhaps it was meant, the next stage in evolution, the next stage in man’s development. Hey, he was getting a bit ahead of himself. Time to stop shaking, calm down and take stock of what he thought he had on this piece of paper.

If he was correct (and he was starting to think that he was), then the Greenock Sequence proved without a shadow of doubt that God had to exist to make the universe work. It explained much about dark energy and dark matter, it explained the whole show. It explained this thing called life and he’d accidentally found it while looking for something else.

What do you do with something as explosive as these numbers? God existed, there was no doubt about that, so what next?

Had he been chosen? What if he was wrong and he was so desperate to be known for something that he was getting it all wrong? He re-wrote the numbers and the sequence. There wasn’t a doubt, the sequence was correct – God Existed.

Perhaps it would stop wars, stop people doubting. He scored through the word ‘Greenock’ and put in the word ‘God’ – seemed fitting somehow. I mean it was his/her numbers after all. ‘The God Sequence’.

He decided to sleep on it one more night and then he’d take the numbers to someone. The funny thing was, he prayed that night. Since there wasn’t any doubt about the existence, why not have a chat with the deity? For the first time in years he got down on his knees.

“I just wanted to say thanks for this. I mean, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I just wanted to know what I should do next. Amen.”

He felt that had said it all and went to sleep with a lighter heart.

In the morning, which was a glorious one, he had breakfast, got dressed in his best suit and headed off to the local church. He smiled and thought, God knows how to put on a morning. He whistled all the way to the car.

He stopped the car outside the nearest church, got out and knocked the door. A foreign looking woman told him that the Holy Father was out back.The priest was out in his garden tending to his roses and as he stood there watching the man of God, he didn’t know whether to shout, hug the man or just cough to let the priest know he was there. He chose the latter.

“Oh there you are, would you like a cup of tea?” Said the elderly priest, who then handed some of his cuttings to him.

“Throw them on the fire, there’s a good man. Now is it a death or a birth? Lovely day for either,” laughed the old man.

He cleared his throat then said. “It’s about God. I can prove he exists.”

“Well would you credit that now,” said the priest, and he thought the priest was referring to his revelation, but the old man was looking at the roots of his roses and noticing he had a rot problem.

“Sorry what did you say?”

“I said, I can prove that God exists.”

“Of course He exists, so why would you want to prove something that’s staring you right in the face. Never heard such daft talk.”

“You don’t understand, I can actually prove with a sequence of numbers that God needs to exist to make the universe work.”

The priest was getting a little red in the face. “I don’t mean to be unkind, but aren’t you just stating the bleeding obvious?”

“No, I’m proving to you that God exists.”

“Why would I need proof?” Asked the old man. “After all, I talk to the Big Man, every day. Are you saying, I’m some sort of eejit?

Because if you are, you can leave my garden right this minute and good day to you young man.”

“What I’m saying is that I can help the non-believers, the atheists, the agnostics to see that there is a deity.”

The old man just smiled. “Don’t you see? If we could prove that God exists there would be no need for faith, and if there was no need for faith, there would be no need for the Church. And if there was no need for the Church, I would be out of a job. So be very careful with what you’ve got there. It could harm a lot of people.”

The old man looked at him and said: “Have you got the proof with you?”

He nodded and took the paper from his pocket.

“Am I the only one you’ve shown it to?”

Again, he nodded.

“Let me see it, this blasted thing.”

He handed the paper to the priest who tut-ted and said things like ‘would you look at that now’.

The old priest lifted his eyes, looked at him, and then the priest smiled, throwing the paper on to the garden fire.

“Trust me, you’d better off forgetting all about this nonsense. The world will be a better place with doubt as its driving force.”

He knew he could re-create the numbers again, that wasn’t a problem. He just hadn’t been ready for the way the priest had re-acted. Surely he wasn’t typical of the church?

He said a subdued goodbye and as he walked out of the garden, he decided he’d contact the national newspapers and see what they would do with the information. I mean, what trouble could it cause?

bobby stevenson 2017

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Never Ever Let Them Get You Down

girl

1.Just ‘Cause You’re Breathing

Just ‘cause you’re breathing,
Doesn’t mean you’re alive,
Just ‘cause you’re clever,
Doesn’t mean that you’re wise,
Just ‘cause you’ve faith,
Doesn’t mean that you’re kind,
Because you can see,
Doesn’t mean you’re not blind.
Just ‘cause you’re loving,
Doesn’t mean you know love,
And by sitting in church,
You don’t speak for Above,
Just ‘cause you’re hurting,
Doesn’t make you unique,
And because you feel down,
Doesn’t mean that you’re weak,
Just ‘cause you’re thinking,
Doesn’t mean you don’t strive,
Just ‘cause you’re breathing,
Doesn’t mean you’re alive.

 

2. Love and Hope

You asked me, my young one, as we sat by the sea

What life had brought to my heart.

“Was it joy, was it sadness,

Was it laughter and tears?

The kindness of lovers?

The friendship through years?

Or the dreams of a life

In a heaven above?”

 

“It was none of these things,

It was hope,

It was love.”

 

3.We Need Your Heart To Sing It’s Song

Don’t cry too long

My little one

The world is waiting on your smile

Don’t listen to the midnight whispers

It is their way

To make things dark

Don’t feel

That other hearts are hardened

Sometimes they need

To take a rest

Don’t wish that you were someone

Other

This life is only meant to test.

Don’t think

That you are somehow chosen

For all the trials in the world

Don’t cry too long

My little urchin

We need your heart to sing

Its song.

 

4. Today Is Going To Be A Great Day

“Today is going to be a great day,” said the little boy
Whose mother unexpectedly opened her eyes
Today is going to be a great day, smiled the old man
As the pain in his hands stopped for a time
Today is going to be a great day, laughed the young mum
As she picked up the money from the street
Today is going to be a great day, thought the doctor
As he put the diamond ring back in his pocket
Ready for the big question
Today is going to be a great day, chuckled the large man
At the bus-stop, with the sun on his face
Who was just happy to be alive,
Today is going to be a great day.

 

5.The Luckiest People Alive

When he stood on the hill-top and bathed in the sun’s rays, he wanted to celebrate his being alive. So he tapped his toe to the sound of the wind beating on the trees and he smiled.

Then a tune swept inside his head, one from before he could remember – one that his grandmother or great-aunt had sung to him as a baby and he tapped his foot.

But his other foot felt it wanted to join in too and so he hummed a tune out loud, one that had made him happy as a boy.

Now he was dancing a little jig at the top of that hill and laughing and laughing and laughing still.

Then he saw his friend, his pal, someone he had known from the start of his life, make his way to the top of the hill and his friend stood beside him and faced the sun.

And his pal started humming a tune that he knew as a boy and they both danced a jig and both laughed and cried for all they had seen and all they had heard in their lives.

When the townsfolk heard the commotion from the hilltop, they ran to see what all the noise was about.

Then they too started to dance and laugh and celebrate all that was good about life.

All of the townsfolk and all of their friends sang the same glorious song to the sky.

And each of them realised that with their friends by their sides, singing and dancing, they were the luckiest people alive.

 flying_man500

6. One Day, My Friend, We’ll Soar

One day, my friend, we’ll soar,

Far, high above these streets of darkened hearts,

We’ll tilt our wings to freedom,

And scrape the highest of the skies.

One day, my friend, we’ll soar,

Up there, all wrapped in splendid sunlight,

Riding azure blue jet streams,

Breathless with that rush of life and air.

One day, my friend, we’ll soar,

So let me take your broken body upon my back,

And both of us shall climb in painless flight,

I’ll let you rest up there, but promise I’ll be back.

 

7. Dancing To The Music of Your Heart

I never picked a proper tune to dance to

And I never got in step with any soul

And in all those dancing years

I spent wishing I could hear

That melody which drove another’s goal

I guess it’s too late now to ever

Try to change things

As I’m nearing my own moment to depart

So I’ll quietly spend the time

That’s been allocated mine

Dancing to the music of my heart.

 

8. 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 2016

elephant

 

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The Vodka Drinker

vodka

“Nothing,” is what he told the Council, “will get me moving from my own house.”

And he never moved, even although the officials from the Council had pleaded and threatened the old man and his wife.

“We have an excellent apartment in a town three hours from here,” said one man in a uniform.

But the old man told him to get out of his house and never darken his door again.
There were letters – which were burnt – and court orders – which were nailed to a door in the old Council offices.

Some of the others had stayed, meaning he and his wife weren’t alone.

It was only a matter of days before the electricity was shut off, but he had already thought of that possibility and had rigged an old generator (something he had learned in his days of national service) to keep the lights on.

He found fuel for the generator in basements of the deserted blocks in the middle of town. Water was another matter. He first lived off the bottled water in the deserted store at the corner of the street. But soon that ran out, and so some days he would have to walk a good distance to get water; carried home in either in a bucket, or in old cans.

There were no muggers in the area, no one had bothered to hang around to steal from those who were left. Some hardy animals came sniffing about and sometimes they even chased the old man – but in general they both felt safe.

The summer of the following year, the windows on the blocks of houses across the way started to be smashed by the growing plants and trees. Nature was taking back its own and it meant the old man had an ever-present battle with the jungle that was forming at his front door.

He still managed to get some radio stations on his old Bakelite model but there was always the constant crackling – something he had grown used to.

When his wife took ill there was no one close to help her as the last doctor had moved on several months before. The old man realised that his wife was too sick to travel and so, he did the best he could. This was enough for a few weeks, and then one night she smiled at him and was gone forever.

He had to take her to an old burial area on the edge of town and, given that there were no undertakers, he buried her himself.

He could see the odd lights dotted here and there, meaning there were still people in the vicinity, but he never met anyone, anymore; the loneliness was his greatest enemy.

One morning, when he was rummaging in an old tower, which he’d plundered many years before, he found an old bottle of vodka.

That night he sat on the rooftop drinking his vodka, and with each glass he drank to absent friends, and each time he mentioned his wife; “to my greatest love,” he would say.

He watched the glorious summer sunset paint the buildings, and jungle, in several shades of red. In its own way it was beautiful, more beautiful than the city was in its younger days.

And he raised a glass to the strangeness of life and to the devil tower he could see on the horizon.

“To that evil animal which took everything from me, to Chernobyl.”

And he drank his vodka back quickly.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Me and Buzz and Grooviness

beret

When me and Buzz were about 15 years old, Buzz turned to me one day and told me, straight in the eye like, that he had ‘an itchen’ for a hitchen’.

“Let’s hitch right across the country to… well, the end,” said Buzz not sure where the end of the country was.

“Then what?” I asked just to see what he’d say. “Why then we’ll come back again, groovy boy.”

The problem was that Buzz had started reading books, comics mostly, but there was one book in particular that he’d taken to – a book about being out on the road and discovering the real old tracks of this great country and it kind-a hit a nerve with old Buzz.

He started wearing a beret and calling everything and everyone ‘groovy’, something Mrs Mitchell, our teacher, didn’t take too kindly.

“Shakespeare isn’t groovy, Buzz. Now sit down and take that stupid hat off.”

No one could tell Buzz that Shakespeare wasn’t one of the grooviest beat-nicks to come out of England.

Buzz reckoned if we got to hitchhike at least 20 miles a day, then by the end of the year we’d be…….well, pretty far away from town. He got that right.

Buzz started to grow his hair real long and Pastor Simmons used to mention in his Sunday sermon about boys who looked like girls ‘cause of their hair and everyone in the congregation turned and looked at Buzz, who was sleeping with his beret over his eyes.

One morning at Sunday school, the teacher asked what word could describe Jesus and Buzz stuck his hand up right away. I was wishing that he wouldn’t say what he was going to say but he did.

He had to stand in front of the whole congregation the following Sunday and apologise to God for calling his son, groovy.

By the time the summer came, Me and Buzz were ready for the hitchen. Buzz couldn’t make up his mind which direction we should start to hitch. So one Thursday, he said we could decide by following the way the wind blew; however that day would have meant us hitchen right through Tasker’s slaughterhouse, into the Hotel La Boomba and finishing up at the school hall before we even got outta town.

Each day would come and each day Buzz couldn’t or wouldn’t decide which was the best direction outta town. It got so bad that it made me say somethin’ I didn’t wanna, but it had to be said.

“Are you sure you wanna go hitchen, Buzz?” There I said it right in his face.

“Are you crazeee?” He hollered but I knew Buzz and he said ‘crazeee’ a little too crazy like – which made me think he was hiding something.

“I ain’t crazy, Buzz, I don’t think you want to go a-hitchen.”

Then he came out with the truth – right there and then – and said he’d read a book called War of The Worlds and that he was thinking that maybe we could go to Mars instead.

I slapped my old pal on the back and said that sounded like a real good plan and as I looked back at his house I saw his maw in the back yard wearing Buzz’s old beret.

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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The Boy Who Lost Himself

mirror

The boy looked younger than his age, but for all that he was still full of the life force.

The kid loved nothing better than running to the top of a hill and shouting out – ‘This Is Me!’.

On one very sad and bad occasion the world tried to smash his little heart into pieces, and although there would always be a scar – he healed enough to keep on running and shouting.

As a teenager, he screamed and laughed and ran with his heart on his sleeve. Then one day, through fear or ageing, no one was sure which, he started to quieten his heart and his little soul.

His friends told him that his hands were not the hands of a friend of theirs – so he pulled his hands up inside his sleeves. Then his friends told him that his shorts were too short and not the kind of trousers that they would expect a friend to wear: so he wore trousers that were more akin to someone who was their friend.

Then they told him that his smile was too wide and gave away too much of his heart, so the boy closed down his smiling and eventually his face.

By the time the boy was an older man and had reached the age of thirty – he had all the friends he needed in the world – but his heart and soul had completely disappeared and he could have been anyone and everyone.

When he looked in the mirror, the face was the face of everyman.

One night, on the way home, when he was perhaps a little drunker than he should have been, he looked across the street and from the corner of his eye, he saw a strange man wave and shout. He didn’t recognize him at first, until the man on the other side, shouted:

“It’s me, I’m the man you should have been. See, I’m smiling.”

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Can You Hear The Ticking Ma?

fire

Can you hear the ticking ma of the clock upon the wall?
The time is fast approaching when we won’t be here at all.

Can you hear the bombers ma as they fly above our heads? 
They’re only trying to end it ma, get ready to be dead.

Can you see the mushroom cloud?
Tell pa to come and look, It’s lighting up the kitchen, setting fire to a book.

Can you feel the wind ma as it blows us all away?  
Soon we’ll all be dust ma, only shadows left to play.

Can you hear the ticking ma of the clock upon the wall?
The time is fast approaching when we won’t be here at all.

 
bobby stevenson 2016

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Captain Oates’ Last Walk

polar

There wasn’t much he could see ahead of himself. It was cold and it was unclear and that was his future; he had never been more certain of anything in his life.

Before he’d set off, things had been good, probably better than good. They’d spent time, all of them, together on the west coast. A small Scottish town called Greenock, the birthplace of Birdie Bowers.

They’d got drunk, had punch ups with the locals, but most of all they had bonded. Perhaps that was why he was doing what he was doing, perhaps only God knew the answer to that question.

The beautiful River Clyde, had been spectacular on that last day. The sun had been setting behind Helensburgh and he could see the Arrochar Alps as the ship turned to head towards the Irish Sea.

What a life it had been; a life of laughter and a few tears but always full of adventure. Always on the edge, always completely alive. He felt the toes on his left leg grow cold.

It was hard to breathe but then nothing that was worthwhile was ever won easy. Life was hard but friends, companionship, and family took that particular sting away. That made it all worthwhile; love and adventure was everything.

I suppose, he thought, that he could have done things differently and not ended up here, not ended up in this predicament – but then, the ending should never over shadow the living of a life.

He’d never settled for what had been given to him. He could have lived comfortably and gone to his grave, relatively unmarked and unremarkable.

Yet, that was not what his heart was satisfied with. He’d had to climb the highest, run the fastest, jump the longest. That was the way he had been set to live in this universe and there had been no going back.

There was a price for everything – if his life had taught him anything, it had taught him that. He’d paid for his life of movement and achievement by never finding a place to belong. It did bother him, everyone should belong somewhere. He looked up at the little number of the stars he could see and wondered if one day a man would stand on the moon and look back at Earth and feel homesick. That was the best he could do – say that this planet was his home.

He was dying from the inside out and yet he felt more peaceful than he had ever done before. There would be something, he was sure of it, on the other side.

He started to smile, he had no idea why, but suddenly his life seemed simpler than it had ever been. What he was doing seemed natural, the right thing, perhaps it had all been leading up to this point.

He thought of the lies he had told all of them as he left. He hadn’t believed it and neither should they. But there were things that were better left unsaid, unspoken. Those things were shouting the loudest in the silence. He loved them all, that was the only reason he was walking in this direction.

He had written letters to those who mattered and one day they would find them. He wondered if he’d ever be found, ever be seen again, ever be held by a warm hand.

The coughing made him lose his breath and he bent down. Soon the pain would all go. Soon it would only be sleep. Soon it would all be over.

The wind was picking up and he pulled the woolen hat down over his ears. There was a whistling in the wind and he was sure he could hear choirs. Maybe there were angels after all, or maybe it was the cold and hunger.

Not long now, he could feel his time coming. He had to do this. There was no room in the tent for all of them to survive. So he’d crawled out, turned to the rest and said:

“I’m going outside and I may be some time.”

And this is where he was going to rest, and at least he’d got to stand on the South Pole.

He thought of his sister and he whispered, ‘goodbye’ and of his time in Putney.

He said ‘thank you’ on his frost-bitten lips and then his heart stopped.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

“Captain Lawrence Edward Grace “Titus” Oates was an English cavalry officer with the 6th Dragoons, and later an Antarctic explorer, who died during the Terra Nova Expedition/ Lieutenant Henry Robertson “Birdie” Bowers  was one of the polar party on the ill-fated expedition. Bowers was born 29 July, 1883 in Greenock, Scotland.”

“On 16 January 1912, as Scott’s party neared the Pole, it was Bowers who first spotted a black flag left at a camp made by Roald Amundsen‘s polar party over a month previously. They knew then that they had been beaten in the race to be first to the South Pole. On 18 January, they arrived at the South Pole to find a tent left behind by Amundsen’s party at their Polheim camp; inside, a dated note informed them that Amundsen had reached the Pole on 14 December 1911, beating Scott’s party by 35 days.”

 

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Two of the 100 word stories

amish

Americana – 1969 It was early evening in Strasburg and the July heat was still causing him suffocation. It took all of the energy he had just to lay still. He counted to ten and then he stood, somehow lifting the window that opened on to South Decatur Street. After hearing someone on the sidewalk shout that Neil Armstrong was just about to step on the Moon, he switched on the hotel TV. He noticed at the window was the face of a little Amish kid smiling in wonder at his television and at a world one-quarter of a million miles away.

tinker_street

Americana – 1966  Somewhere between Woodstock and Bearsville there had been an accident, he was sure of that fact. He was sitting on the wooden steps in Tinker Street waiting on the New York City bus. He liked to watch who got on and who got off. Someone said that it might have been a motorcycle crash and that you-know-who had been involved. What kinda played with his head is that he was almost sure he had seen you-know-who driving passed in a VW about fifteen minutes earlier going in the opposite direction. But this was Woodstock and to hell with the truth.

All the stories at Lives in 100 words

(https://thougthcontrol.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/lives-in-100-words/)

bobby stevenson 2016

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No Two Ways

two-ways

I guess the first thing I’ve got to say is – to do the things he did, you really have to believe that you are going to live for ever. Which isn’t exactly true: now is it?

There was no two ways about it, least not at the start.

At the beginning, he was expected by those around him to take the common road, and not the one less travelled. It was for his own good, his comfort, his security, there would be time later on (apparently) to seek out needs and hobbies and loves.

So he took the road expected of him. His loved ones, would tell all their friends and neighbours that their boy was doing so well with his life. Yes, they were the proudest parents in all the kingdom.

And as he travelled down the common road, he would stop from time-to-time to drink a glass of wine or two. For happiness was not part of his travel plans, and he had to find sunshine in other ways.

As he looked over to the road less travelled, he would tell himself, that one day, he would cross over and take that path. He would follow his dreams. But the roads grew further and further apart and soon he lost sight of the other one.

And when he looked in the mirror he saw the ‘someone’ that he expected to see there. The ‘someone’ whom everyone was so proud of and in his emptiness, he drank another wine. He even raised a glass to the stranger in the reflection.

When work became thin on the ground, he came to another crossroads and was almost tempted to take the road less travelled – but the rains came and the snow fell and he felt that perhaps that path was for others, who were stronger and braver.

This common road felt longer and steeper than the last one, but he continued to walk on (what other choice did he have?).

Friends moved away and his parents travelled to that unknown country from where no one returns, but still he walked that road – the common one. Wasn’t he almost there? Wasn’t he nearly at the end when there would be time to rest?

Who had he been walking for? Himself? Had he taken the easy road to keep everyone happy? And now those ‘everyones’ were long, long gone.

It had all been a show for an audience who had left the theatre, and now he never felt more empty.

So one day, one unexpected day, when another crossroad appeared, this time he took the other path; the one less travelled.

He knew he had probably left it later than he should have, but down that road lay sunshine, the real kind, not the stuff you found in a bottle. He loved to walk the path, not caring who knew or who watched. All along the route were toll-booths which took more and more of his money. He came upon a toll-booth one morning when he had no more money, so he gave the man his shoes. ‘Keep them’, he said to the man. ‘I have no need of shoes, a happy man has no use for them.’

He had worried what it would feel like to have no money, no possessions, no home, no work and this troubled the man for a time on the new path.

Then one day he stopped to drink a glass of water, and beside the well was a mirror and in that mirror was the greatest gift a soul could find:

Himself.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

“You’re Not From Around Here,Then?”

alien

Now I ain’t one to lie or even kid (if it comes to that), but sometimes a thing happens to you that’s so far out there that even your closest kin would swear you were talking with a crazy tongue in your head. But you all know me and you know I ain’t the lying sort, so you’re gonna have to come with me on this trip and take it for what it is – all true.

One night I was looking through my ol’ telescope at something or other – don’t you go believin’ Kathy Blue mind when she says I was tryin’ to see in her boudoir (that’s what she calls that dump of a room she stays in) – I wasn’t tryin’ to see in no boudoir, no sir I was looking at Venus and Mars as any curious scientist would be doing at that time of night with a telescope stuck to his eye. Now if you don’t believe me on that point then I do see much point on the two of us goin’ on – so if you’re of the sceptical disposition then I’ll say ‘howdee doo dee’ to you and bid you a good day.

Okay, so I’m guessing that if you’re still with me then you’re believin’ me and I thank you kindly, I truly do. The strange thing happened just after I located Mars (not a great feat I grant ya) when all of a sudden this light goes shooting across the sky and it was so bright that my telescope eye went kinda white for a long time. I thought I was havin’ a stroke, I kid you not. Then it all went black as black could be. I’m thinking to myself that this is probably a comet or somethin’ and once my eyes kinda returned to normal, I thought no more about it.

One night, it must have been about a week or so later, I’m out on the hills above town – and don’t go believin’ Kathy Blue if she tells you I was followin’ her or somethin’ ‘cause that’s just plain lyin’, that girl could win a medal in lyin’. It’s just that I like to go walkin’ in the hills and if she happens to be there too, then that’s just tough. At the time, I was tryin’ to walk in the opposite direction from Kathy Blue as she was shoutin’ at me, I mean, as if it was my fault we were both on the same hill. That was when I spotted the hut. When I say hut, it was more like a metal box, but hut will give you a good idea of its shape. It started to rain real hard and I ran to the box to get my head undercover. I was thinkin’ that it would just be me and a few wild beasts for company. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Inside the hut was a little boy or man or thing sitting in the corner. Now don’t go thinkin’ that it was like one of those sci-fi things where it’s bigger on the inside than it was outside – ‘cause it wasn’t – it was just the same size, inside and out. Now I’ve got that out the way, I’ll go on.

The man/boy/thing looked kinda startled and disappeared, then reappeared in another corner of the hut. I had to rub my eyes, I kid you not. I know what you’re thinkin’, don’t think I don’t, ‘cause I do. You’re thinkin’ that I’ve been sippin’ Aunt Fannie’s hooch again – well I ain’t and that’s a fact.

The man/boy/thing disappeared again and reappeared in another corner. By this time, I have to tell you friends, I was as crazy as a hornet in a jar. So I shouted to the thing to stay still or else (to be honest, I wasn’t sure what the else was).

Then it stopped, looked at me and I could see it was a small man who looked as scared as someone who had been caught in Kathy Blue’s front yard at midnight.

Now this is where you’re gonna have to trust me – I mean, really trust me – the little man said that he had crash landed on Earth and was trying to fix his ship so he could go home. To another planet. Or star. Or somewhere up there where Kathy Blue don’t go walking. So I asked him how he was doing and he said that the Hypo-diagonal drive unit was kaput and that he’d need to replace it. I asked could you get that local and he just smiled. He said he’d need to make it, but that the parts would be expensive and he didn’t have any Earth money.

You’re thinkin’ that he’s just a crazy man lookin’ for money but I ain’t never seen a crazy man disappear and reappear the way he did. I said I’d run home and see how much I could raise – ‘cause I don’t like the thought of a space man being lost so far from home, and he might just let me go with him and I’d get away from Kathy Blue once and for all.

I returned the next morning with all the money I had under the mattress and it weren’t much, I can tell you. Plus a couple of eggs and some bread. You know what he did? He ate the eggs – raw, I kid you not and the bread with the paper still around it. He told me that the money weren’t enough, it might get him past the moon but that would be it. He needed a lot more.

I told him I would go home and think about it and that night, when I was watching television with my granddaddy, it came to me.

If the spaceman could do that disappearing/appearing act on television then maybe he could make some real money. The television station we were watching had ‘So You Think You’ve Got Talent?’ on it and that was when it came to me. He could enter that stupid television show where stupid, stupid judges tell terrible lies about people who should be in hospital (least ways that’s what my grandaddy says) instead of which, they go on this show and try to play a ukulele while standing on their head. I kid you not.

So that is the plan and this is what we are gonna do. Me and the alien man are going to get him an audition on ‘So You Think You’ve Got Talent’.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

bobby stevenson 2017

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The House by the Sea

house

There was love above and below me in that house that stood beside the sea.
On clear days I could spot the horizon and that meant everything to me. It was the tallest of houses and the happiest of homes. It was stuffed full to the rafters with sisters and brothers and my mother and father.

We helped each other and we supported each other. We made each other smile and sometimes we made each other cry. These were the days which were warmed by the sun and seemed to last forever.

In the winter we drank broth and ate stews and hunkered down in the heat of each other’s company, comfortable that the others were there. There were card games, singing, communal cooking and laughter, oh yes, the laughter. There was always someone laughing in that house.When the storms hit the house, it rocked and swayed and the more it rocked and swayed, the more we felt safe. Don’t ask me what I mean by that, just that you had to be there to understand.

My Grandpa had built it for the simple reason that he wanted to prove you could build a house on the sand by the sea. There were those in town who said he was a brick short of a chimney but my Grandpa had always believed in himself and so it had happened. And having been built by such a kind soul and even kinder heart meant that the very building seemed to bleed understanding and tolerance.

When it swayed in the wind it sang to us, the building actually felt as if it was telling you that nothing was going to harm you. We were just to relax and bend with the wind.There was a writing room or rather I used it to write in it, but my brothers and sisters would read, paint, listen to the radio, have heartfelt discussions about the world and all the stars, in it. I learned a lot of things about life in that room and some things I probably shouldn’t have.

I realise now how lucky I was back then, what with all that softness, that gentleness, that amount of caring from my family; all of it given to me by some higher force. Boy was I the lucky one. My father and mother taught us to never ever to take anything for granted. To smell the rain, to feel the flowers, to stand on the roof of the house some days and just scream, scream for your very existence. Sometimes I’d scream for the overwhelming energy that was the world and some times I would scream for all the injustices that we heap on each other (even on ourselves) for there is no crueller person in the world than those things we do to our own minds and hearts. It’s like the man said, if we treated other people the way we treated ourselves, we wouldn’t last long.

So I wrote and wrote about the way things changed and the way that things stayed the same. I wrote about love and hate and war and peace. Those days were the most perfect of my life. But as I’ve written in these pages before, no one ever tells you that you are passing perfection – you only ever see it in the rear view mirror and that’s when you realise that there’s no reverse.

Each morning I could smell the cinnamon wafting its way up the stairs to my room and a few seconds later it was helped along by the smell of the coffee. My mother would be standing at the back porch with the wind coming in off the sea, both hands around her cup of hot brew and deeply breathing in the air.

“Good morning my much-loved and cherished son,” she’d say.
I forgot to mention that my mother came with a warning: she was a crazy as a box of frogs.
“And how has the universe treated you this fine morning?” she’d ask.
“Fine.” I’d say – I was trying real hard to cultivate a mysterious air about me at the time given the fact that I intended to be a writer.

“You don’t say,” then she’d smile, pull her house coat in tight and head back to making the biscuits for breakfast.
Sometimes I would sit with a hand under my chin waiting on the rest of the family to come down, trying to look European (although I wasn’t real sure what that meant). Other times I would sit with Grandpa’s old pipe and stare out to sea as if the meaning of life was somewhere out there to be found. Man, that pipe tasted real bad.

I went through a spell of chewing tobacco but it was short-lived due to the vomiting that accompanied it. Then I got a big hat and I decided that was the look for me.

There was a real hot summer when I would wear the hat from first thing in the morning to last thing at night. I even slept with the hat on, but I guess someone would take it off my head when I was fast asleep – while I was dreaming of the future life that I was going to live in that hat.

To be a writer in the last house on the beach was truly the best thing ever, in the whole world.
Then one morning my father came into breakfast and told everyone to remain calm and not to worry but Grandma had been taken to hospital. She had been my moon and my stars when I was growing up. She was the one who encouraged me to write, who had read Dickens to me and who now would listen to my own stories.

She’d never say if a story was good or bad, but when she said “My ain’t that interesting” I knew it wasn’t one of her favourites.
Her and my Grandpa lived in the best room at the top of the house, the one with the views and the sunshine, although when my Grandma was there, it always seemed to be full of sunshine.

In the evening when I was writing I could hear the dance music coming from their gramophone. Boy they loved to dance. When they were younger they would travel the county taking part in competitions. Their room was full to the roof with trophies.

When my Grandpa started to get sick neither of them talked about the illness, until the day my Grandpa said that perhaps they shouldn’t dance any more.That day my Grandma got sick, I went to the hospital in the afternoon and she was sitting up in bed and smiling. Boy that made me feel a whole lot better.

Everyday after school I went straight to the hospital and read her my latest story. At the weekends, if she felt okay, she would read me some of David Copperfield.

In her final week she asked to be allowed home, I didn’t know that she was finished, I honestly thought she was getting better. About two days before she left us for good and while the nurse was downstairs getting a coffee, she asked me to take her to the roof and bring the wind-up gramophone.

When we got up there, boy it was warm and you could see for miles. I turned the handle on the gramophone and put on her favourite tune and then she asked me to dance. I took her hand and I bowed and then we danced as if she was seventeen again.

bobby stevenson 2015

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The Man Who Mended Broken Hearts

a_lonely_road_by_alicexz-d5kgegf

He had spent most of his young life wondering where he fitted into things. He had tried football, but he wasn’t a footballer. He’d tried being popular, and he was worse at that than he was at football.

He had tried singing, acting, comedy, knitting (yeah, that was a disaster), writing, driving, working in a factory, and he succeeded at being useless at all of them.

A boy in his position might have gone off the rails and taken to stimulants, to make living a little more bearable, but instead he decided to shut down his life and wait for a change in the times.

He didn’t get depressed and stay in bed or anything. No, what he did was keep his head down; neither looking left nor right and this helped get him through the days, weeks, and years.

You’re saying to yourself what a waste of a life – but everyone, and I mean everyone, has wasted something in their lives. I guess you’re wasting valuable time reading this stuff. Still I’ve got you here, so we may as well plod on.

He never really had a relationship to speak of, as he considered himself too little in the world to be of any interest to anyone. But you know what? There is always someone watching you and wishing they could talk to you.

So he kept himself to himself, and kept his head down (as I was saying) and tried to be as invisible as possible. Then one day, one sunny, fine day, he was crossing the street and saw a woman carrying her child – one who was running to catch a bus.

The woman, who was wearing the worst shoes in the world to go running, slipped – and so she and her child fell into the road. He saw all of this and also saw that there was a bus coming which would hit the mother and child. He managed to grab the child and mother before any damage was done.

When you do that on instinct, there is no chance of keeping your head down and being invisible. He was called a hero in the local papers, and anyone who passed him wanted to shake his hand and talk to him. They all patted him on the back and it made him feel that he belonged for the first time in his life.

Things might have died away and returned to normal, if it hadn’t been for a young unhappy girl who threatened to jump from the top of the town hall. When the police tried to stop her, she said she would jump unless the man who saved the mother and baby came to talk to her.

While he was trying to keep his head down, and neither looking left nor right, the police came and collected him and told him a woman’s life depended on him. He talked to her and she asked why a man with no family and no friends (for that’s what the newspapers had said) was able to go on living. And he told her that he kept his head down and neither looked left nor right and he seemed to get to places. She said that didn’t sound like happiness, and he said that perhaps it wasn’t, but he said that he didn’t need anyone to keep him going. He said that if you can keep yourself content, then anything else is a bonus.

She told him that she was unhappy since everyone let her down, and people made her feel sad. And that was when the universe and he aligned, and he told her that happiness is not a god given right. Happiness is for you to make for yourself, and not to be placed in the hands of others. If you can be content with who you are (and considering the amount of trouble the universe has gone to make you, you should be) then when someone brings happiness into your life, then that too is a bonus. But never, ever, expect it from others – they weren’t put on this planet to make you happy.And she agreed with him and ran into his arms – and didn’t jump.

So now the man who kept himself to himself was even a bigger hero in the papers and crowds started to follow him and he found it hard to be alone. One evening when there was probably about 100 people following him, he turned and asked them all to sit down and that they did. He said that he had no idea what makes a person content but it must start with yourself. Only you can make you happy, and only you can fix a broken heart.

Some thought that he was cheating by saying that, because it was others who had broken the heart in the first place. He said that was exactly his point, your heart got broken because you trusted it with other people.

Then one girl put her hand up and said that it was good to need people, and to have people need you, it made you feel alive. Then she said that since he had been alone all his life he couldn’t understand that point. He thought for a moment, thinking that maybe she was correct, and then said, no she was wrong. If you love yourself first, then you can love others properly, but if you don’t love yourself and make others responsible for that point, then people are always going to break your heart, because you placed it in their hands.

And one little man at the back said that he didn’t like himself very much and didn’t see much of a chance of loving himself. He replied that we were all born to love ourselves and it was just that we got blinded to it, by others. Then he asked the folks that if they had a piece of paper then they were to write down all the problems they had – all of them, honestly put down. The problems would be anonymous and then each person was to throw the paper into the crowd and pick up another’s paper.

The crowd sat and read other folks’ problems and some laughed and some had tears running down their faces. Then the man asked who would swap theirs for the ones in their hands and you know what – no one wanted to. And that’s what he told them – be happy with who you are – the alternatives could be so much worse. It didn’t make all of them happy (or at least content) because as we know, some folks were born to be unhappy.

Happiness is your responsibility, he told them and they kept repeating that fact all the way home. Except for one wee man (and there must have been another) who had picked up his own piece of paper and felt that everyone must have the same problems as himself, and that made him happy too.

As for our hero, well he had finally found his place in the universe. It wasn’t grand and it wasn’t a world-famous footballer. He was just the man who mended broken hearts and that was good enough for him.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Photograph: A Lonely Road  alicexz.deviantart.com

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Weird Town

weird

One

Sandyway Beach was a little town with no more ambition than the frogs which sang it to sleep at night. It hadn’t really changed that much in the two hundred years it had been in existence, but it was still a nice little place to be born, live ,and die in.

Visitors were few and far between given that it was so far off the beaten track; the ones who did turn up tended to be lost or pretended they were when they found they’d driven all that way just to turn up in that little town.

But if you could see the beauty in the place and not ask too much out of life then it was a perfect place to waste away your days.

Wars had been declared and settled, rulers had come and gone, storms had kicked up a fuss and died down again, and not of those things ever touched Sandyway Beach.

Perhaps the universe was saving up all the town’s triumphs and disasters for one throw of the dice and perhaps that throw came in the shape of Clive Otterman.

Clive had once been a strong, fit man who could take on anything and come good, but little by little, bit by bit, life kicked the crap out of him until he held up his heart in surrender and decided to see out his days just sitting by the sea. He felt that life wouldn’t come looking for him under these circumstances; it would pass over him like the angels in the Bible and smite some other sucker.

I guess Clive had always underestimated life – in the way that we all do – because fate doesn’t always attack in big slashes and stabs – sometimes it kills by a thousand cuts and fate wasn’t quite done with Clive yet.

He’d lived long enough to know that life sometimes worked in mysterious way, truly mysterious ways – not Biblical, just those little surprises which sometimes happened at the right time to the right people. That’s what occurred with Tommy Speak, who was the man who lived on the beach and whom life had decided was ready for a little miracle.

If one word was used to describe Tommy it was ‘ordinary’ – in the way that all animals clinging to a rock circling the Sun are ordinary. His school report called him a normal kid – nothing outstanding. His Geography teacher had written ‘ordinary’ and left it at that. Except what is ordinary today could have been considered exceptional many years before. If an ordinary man had stood in the middle of the American Civil War with a camera/phone he would have been considered anything but ordinary. But look what you’ve made me do – I’m well off the story. So just believe me when I tell you that Tommy was the most ordinary person you could ever meet.

Then Tommy met Clive and the rest, as they say, is one huge, confusing mess. I’m not telling you here and now that Clive and Tommy were somehow called on by Heaven to do what they did, I’m just trying to say that from where I was standing it very much looked that way.

Two

Tommy never really asked for normal in his life, it was just the way he was put together and I never really knew if Tommy was just plain lucky or if the universe liked him so much that it gave him a helping hand from time to time.

One night, just before he headed back to the beach, Tommy lifted what he thought was his jacket – but in fact it turned out to be the jacket of one Jeremiah Andrews. I think that the fact the label inside said ‘Property of Jeremiah Andrews’ would have been a giveaway.

That was the evening of the Grand Night Dance. Everyone in town had been at the hall for a jig to thank the Founding Fathers for putting Sandyway Beach exactly where it should be – in the perfect location. Needless to say, Tommy had been drinking Archie’s famous Crab Beach Brew and this left him with the feeling that he could take on the world.

There had been stories passed around town for years about the kind of business that Jeremiah was operating; it covered everything from diamond smuggling to selling donkey meat to the Mexicans and everything in between. To be truthful, those were actually some of the better Jeremiah stories; as the others would have made your hair stand on end – assuming that you had hair,that is.

Tommy swayed and swaggered his way down the cliff path towards the beach, something he had accomplished in many conditions (sometimes it was him, sometimes it was the weather, sometimes it was both). He could do it with his eyes closed and he normally did, but this night he had a strange feeling that he was being watched. I think most folks have got that ability to know when pair of eyes are drilling into the back of their heads.

Suddenly right in front of him, like an apparition, was Everard Smithton.

“Howdee, Tomaso,” as that was the way Everard liked to talk.

“You almost made my hair turn white, Everard,” screamed Tommy who didn’t have any hair.

“Sorry Tomaso but I hate walking back this way alone, especially with that thing on the loose,” said Everard in an accent that was hard to pinpoint (and  I’m talking about a continent, never mind narrowing it down to a country).

“What thing?” Asked Tommy, who actually wasn’t really caring.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got a smoke?” Asked Everard.

Now here’s the funny thing, Tommy didn’t smoke but he immediately reached into the top pocket of Jeremiah’s jacket and there were cigarettes and a lighter.

“Well I’ll be….” said Tommy and handed the stuff over to Everard.

“Much obliged,” said Everard as he lit his cigarette.

The two of them were just jumping from the last rock on the sandy beach when the thing that had gotten loose moved towards them.

“What are those two eyes?” Asked Everard, nervously

“Well, my guess is that they’re two eyes,” said Tommy sarcastically (Crab Brew always made him sarcastic).

Then the moonlight caught the animal full on. It was a leopard which had escaped from Fanny’s Victorian Circus which was exhibiting at Seapoint, two towns over. The leopard was stealthy crawling towards them, the way that cats do just before they go in for the kill.

As the leopard started to charge, Tommy went into the right pocket of Jeremiah’s jacket and there was a pistol which he pulled out and shot at the leopard. Tommy missed but the leopard wasn’t hanging around to try again.

“Well I’ll be..” said Tommy.

When they got to Everard’s caravan, they said goodnight and Tommy and his pistol headed for his home on the beach.

On the other side of town, Jeremiah Andrews was just getting out of his truck when a large leopard jumped him. He went into his right pocket to get his pistol and the last thing that went through his mind was: why had he just pulled out a half-eaten sandwich (one that Tommy had left in his jacket for the walk home). By the time Jeremiah got to hospital he was stone cold dead.

As Tommy entered his boat-on-the-beach which he called home, he put his hand in his left pocket thinking the key would be there and in fact found several thousand dollars all tied up with string.
“We’ll I’ll be…” said Tommy, realising this had been one of his better days.

Clive Otterman was not a shy man, nor a man who had been known to be the crazy one in a group. He was just a guy who, it could be said – had lived, and then one day when he was long dead someone would say, ‘I wonders what ever happened to that Clive Letterman?’ then the guy who asked the question would sip his drink and forget why he asked.

Now to be forgotten ain’t a bad thing, it ain’t a bad thing at all, but each of us would like to think that maybe just once in a while someone would have a thought about you and perhaps smile or even shed a tear that you were long gone.

There was a box under Clive Otterman’s bed where he kept his quiet desperation. It wasn’t something that he took out in public to be stared and pointed and poked at, nope, Clive’s desperation was kept well buried and he found that bringing it out in the middle of the night was the best solution.

Each of us lives a kind of desperate life, unless you’re real stupid and you don’t question a single thing (there are folks who say that not questioning is the happiest way to live, but I would have to question that – yeh, that was me being ironic). What I’m trying to say about Clive was that he could get a little addicted to feeling desperate and when he wasn’t feeling desperate, he would start to worry about not having something to worry him – wow, when you start down the irony path, it gets hard to put the brakes on.

Desperation fuelled him, he needed to worry to work, or move, or do things which meant that when he was happy, he was the laziest sonofabitch that ever sat on his bee-hind.

I guess what I ‘m really trying to tell you, is that Clive was born with his collar turned up, his head down and was just spending time waiting on his death without hurting anyone else or himself. You’d think that life would say that was a reason to leave the poor sucker alone and let him get on with it – but you’d be wrong. Life had put a tick next to his name the way the Revenue people do and that could only mean one thing – trouble.

The night that Clive and Tommy came together in the universe, I guess the planets were in some sort of weird alignment but come together they did.  Clive had been down on the beach filling his lungs with good sea air before he planned to go too bed when he heard a gunshot and a man shouting ‘We’ll I’ll be…’ in a manner that suggested that the man’s nose was bleeding.

Clive ran to the little boat house on the beach expecting to find a dead lover and someone with a revolver standing over the body. Instead he found Tommy who had just shot the tip of his nose off with his careless use of a firearm.

“We’ll I’ll be, if tat ain’t the weirdest ting…,”  Tommy was talking through his bleeding nose and it made him sound comical.

“I was so sure there weren’t anymore bullets in the ting…”

“Seems you were wrong,” said Clive forgetting about his quiet desperation for a few minutes.

“Do you see the end of my nose anywhere?” Tommy asked.

“Well there’s a question I didn’t think I was gonna be asked when I got out ma bed this morning,” said Clive who looked down and found the end of Tommy’s nose.

“Is this it?” Said Clive proudly holding the nose tip aloft.

“Dat’s an olive, I tink,” Said Tommy who wasn’t about to have an olive stitched on to the end of his nose.

“Then I guess you blew the end of your nose to the four corners of this room.”

“Are you saying ma nose has vaporized?” Asked Tommy.

“I guess I am, by the way my name is Clive, Clive Otterman and you are?”

“In a lot of pain,” said Tommy in a sort of smarty pants way.

“I’m going to take you to the hos-pee-tal right now and then we are going to become good friends, I can feel it,” Said Clive in a genuine way.

“You would do dat for me, take me to the hop-i-tal?” Said Tommy with tears in his eyes. 

And so that was the night that Clive and Tommy became the best of buds, although it wasn’t going to be an easy friendship nor a particularly uneventful one but then Angels and their friendships never are.

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Decision at the Bottom of the Stairs

GlagowThe only thing that had surprised him was that the snow had fallen so early that year, and as he walked up Hope Street, he decided to take a tram as far as Charing Cross.

Glasgow was bitterly cold and even although he had on his brother’s best coat, it didn’t seem to keep out the freezing air.

He had intended to take the tram all the way to the Kelvin Hall, but he really needed time to think. He couldn’t get any of that at home, not with the way his mother and father were behaving.

As his mother helped tie his scarf, she kissed him on the cheek and whispered in his ear, that she knew he’d make the right decision. His father, on the other hand, had shown him a picture of his own father and said how proud he was of his son.

He had worked hard to get this opportunity, but what good would it do him if the world came crashing down around him?

He lit a Capstan cigarette as he entered Kelvingrove Park, and decided that by the time he had arrived at the bottom of the stairs, he would make his mind up, one way or another.

His younger brother was only 14 but he was now looking up to his big brother to do the right thing.

As the park rose up towards the Park Circus, it gave the walker a beautiful view of the west of Glasgow and most importantly, the university.

It was all he had ever wanted to do – to be a writer, and now he was walking towards Glasgow University in order to register for a BA in English. Or to be more accurate, they called it ‘matriculation’ up there, after all it was the fourth oldest English-speaking University in the world. It had been founded in 1451 and he was the first of his family to ever get so far.

As he walked down the snowy path, he lit another cigarette and stood looking over the city that he loved so much.

What was the point of learning, if you couldn’t defend yourself? He almost thought about tossing a coin, heads he went right to the university, or tails he went left and, well you know.

Of all the times he had picked to go to university, he had to pick this particular moment to do it. It was autumn 1939 and the world was turning on its head.

Did he go to university or would he sign up for the army?

He threw the smoke away and he almost slid as he hurried down the path. He had finally made his mind up as to what he was going to do – and he gently smiled as he walked towards the stairs.

 

bobby stevenson 2015

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Two Fingers in the Salt,One in the Sugar (3 screenplay intros)

tony

1.CLOSING DOORS – THE LAST DAYS OF TONY HANCOCK  

(Warning – Strong Language and Adult Situations)

“ONE BY ONE HE SHUT THE DOOR ON ALL THE PEOPLE HE KNEW, THEN
HE SHUT THE DOOR ON HIMSELF.”

SPIKE MILLIGAN ON TONY HANCOCK

This is just the first few pages of an early script about the last days of Tony Hancock  (British Comedian)

Tony went to Australia to attempt to revive his Television career but without the support of his writers and pals (all of whom he dumped), the revival failed and he took his own life at the age of 44 in the basement of his producer’s house.

This is an excerpt from Wikipedia:

Hancock died by suicide, by overdose, in Sydney, on 24 June 1968. He was found dead in his Bellevue Hill apartment with an empty vodka bottle by his right hand and amphetamines by his left.

In one of his suicide notes he wrote: “Things just seemed to go too wrong too many times”.

BLACK SCREEN

TITLES:

“ONE BY ONE HE SHUT THE DOOR ON ALL THE PEOPLE HE KNEW, THEN

HE SHUT THE DOOR ON HIMSELF.”

SPIKE MILLIGAN ON TONY HANCOCK

 

DIRECTOR (V.O.)

Okay Tony, can we take that line

again?

HANCOCK (V.O.)

“Oh no, I’ve got the giraffe again, I’ve got three of these, why can’t I get the packet with the hippopotamus?”

Silence.

HANCOCK (V.O.) (CONT’D)

Does that sound funny to you? It doesn’t sound funny to me.

BELL RINGS.

DIRECTOR (V.O.)

Take twenty everyone, there is some noise on the tape.

TITLES: “June 1968, ATN-7 Studios, Sydney, Australia.”

FADE IN:

INT. TV STUDIO – DAY

TONY HANCOCK, forty-four going on sixty. Tony is walking towards his trailer. His PA hands him a cup as his PRODUCER walks beside him.

HANCOCK

Well?

PRODUCER

What Tony?

HANCOCK

Does it sound funny? These are no Galton and Simpson.

PRODUCER

Give them a chance.

HANCOCK

Give them a chance?  Listen matey, I’m all out of chances. Me.

The producer places his hand on Hancock’s shoulder. Hancock stops and kills the moment with a look.

The producer’s hand retreats. Hancock continues walking but the producer stays where he is; he knows better.

Hancock enters his trailer.

SLAM….a closing door.

INT. TRAILER – DAY

Hancock, life-tired, sits staring into an unforgiving mirror.

He opens a Qantas Airline Bag or should that be pharmaceutical central?

Some tablets are placed on the table, a bottle of vodka is retrieved from under the table – it’s been taped there – and is poured into Hancock’s cup.

He swallows the lot.

KNOCK.

HANCOCK

What?

PA (O.S.)

It’s me.

HANCOCK

Wait.

The airline bag is closed and the bottle taped back under the table.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)

Enter!

PA

It’s the sound men; it was a bird they picked up on the tape.

HANCOCK

So?

PA

Well they’re trying to shoot it out of its hiding place using a catapult and some moth balls.

HANCOCK

You couldn’t make this stuff up and unfortunately neither can my writers.

PA

It’s just….

HANCOCK

…it’s just what?

The PA turns towards the door and there are some fans waiting to talk to Hancock.
Hancock gets up and goes over to the door.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)

Fuck off.

He slams the door shut and then approaches the PA. Their faces are an inch apart.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)

What do you think I am? A monkey in a zoo?


The PA slides away and out the door.

INT. HOTEL ROOM – NIGHT

A TELEVISION is on.

The room is empty and someone is showering in the bathroom.

We will find out that this is Hancock. On the television is an interview with Hancock and John Freeman.

TELEVISION HANCOCK

“It’s partly true that I’m a lonely person. There are times when you’re desperately lonely, standing in the wings, at say, the Palladium….”

Moving around the room we see the items that reflect his life at the moment.

TELEVISION HANCOCK (CONT’D)

“….You’re out there alone. To be shot at, shouted at, booed, have rivets thrown at you (which I’ve had) and seven pence ha’penny thrown at me at Bristol – which I picked up carefully off the stage and bought myself a half of bitter…”

A script lying open on the bed.

TELEVISION HANCOCK (CONT’D)

“How do you make comedy? You don’t make it with measured ingredients – it’s not cake. You make comedy with feeling…..”

The Qantas bag on the bedside table.

TELEVISION HANCOCK (CONT’D)

“What I play on television is an extension of myself and the idiosyncrasies of other people combined…”

Two bottles of brandy and a bottle of vodka.

TELEVISION HANCOCK

“You are, after all involved in life, and you do certain stupid things yourself. So if you are going to stand there and throw stones, at what point of perfection do you stand? If one is going to be critical without any chance of comeback, it’s like hitting a child”.

A HAND turns off the television. It’s Hancock’s. He slumps on the bed in a towel , pours a vodka into a glass and smiles to himself. He picks up the ‘phone.

HANCOCK

Get me Mrs Sennett in Bournemouth, England. (Pause) That’s right, my Mum.

While he waits, he picks up a couple of tablets from the bedside table. He washes them down with vodka.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)

Mum. Guess who?

INT. TV STUDIO – DAY

PEOPLE doing things. Carrying cables, scenery. People painting. The PA exits from Hancock’s trailer.

PRODUCER

How is he?

The PA crosses her fingers and moves on.

PRODUCER (CONT’D)

Come on now people. We have a show to put on.

The producer spots some of the team, watching.

PRODUCER (CONT’D)

I thought it was your day off?

STAGE HAND

Tony Hancock is in town.

PRODUCER

Hope he’s worth it.

The producer claps his hands.

PRODUCER (CONT’D)

Move. Someone get Tony. You.

A YOUNG GIRL is selected. She nervously goes over to the trailer and knocks the door. There is no response. She knocks again.

PRODUCER (CONT’D)

Just leave it. I’ll get him.

The girl runs off. The producer loudly knocks the trailer door.

PRODUCER (CONT’D)

(shouting)

Coming in.

INT. TRAILER – DAY

The producer enters. Tony is somewhere between Sydney and the moon.

PRODUCER

For fuck sake, what did you take?

HANCOCK

(slurred)

You know….what Sid said about me? He said….what was I talking about? Oh yes, Sid. He said….that I have the best timing in the business. The very best.

Hancock is not in charge of moving his head; it has its own life.

INT. TV STUDIO – DAY

There are many EXPECTANT FACES as Hancock and the producer emerge. However this turns to disappointment as the producer supports Hancock from the trailer. He carries him to the set.

PRODUCER

Come on people. We have episode six to put in the can.

The enthusiasm has eroded in the studio, everyone is going through the motions.

STUDIO LATER

Hancock stands ready, however his face shows that although the light may be on, nobody is home.

DIRECTOR

All you have to do is pick up the ‘phone.

Hancock nods like a drunk.

DIRECTOR (CONT’D)

And action.

Hancock lifts the receiver, dials very badly then ‘speaks in tongues’ into the phone.

DIRECTOR (CONT’D)

Cut. That’s the sixteenth take and that bastard is incapable of saying a complete line.

Hancock stands lost and sweating from head to foot.

DIRECTOR (CONT’D)

Hancock, you c*nt. Get out there and act.

Hancock is in turmoil. He is practising ‘Chinese burns’ on his wrists.

DIRECTOR (CONT’D)

(to producer)

Are you going to fucking call someone?

The producer nods. A PA hands him a phone.

PRODUCER

(into phone)

Get me the Managing Director.

INT. HOTEL ROOM – DAY

This is another time and another place. Hancock is shaved, dressed and sober. He sits reading the paper and drinking coffee.

A KNOCK at the door.

HANCOCK

(with gusto)

Enter.

The producer enters.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)

Coffee?

PRODUCER

Please.

The producer sits as he pours him a cup.

HANCOCK

So, did you see yesterday’s rushes?

PRODUCER

Ehm…no, not yet.

HANCOCK

Well, we can look at them today. I thought yesterday went exceedingly well.

These two guys are remembering different days.

PRODUCER

If you say so.

HANCOCK

Of course, I say so.

Hancock gets up.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)

Well, come on. Let’s get a move on.

Hancock is already out the door.

HANCOCK (O.S.) (CONT’D)

Come on.

INT. CAR – DAY

The producer looks at Hancock, not sure who is riding in his

car. Hancock is happy and smoking.

HANCOCK

I’ve got to get me Mum something.

Silence.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)

I hear the contract is for 26 shows. I was thinking I might do it in three batches and head home. See Mum and Joan. What do you think?

Silence.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)

Have I upset you?

PRODUCER

No. The Managing Director wants to  speak to you when we get in.

HANCOCK

Any idea, about what?

The producer looks at Hancock. Then shakes his head.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)

Can’t be too serious then.

There is a look on Hancock’s face as if he may know what the talk is about.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)

We could always take the whole thing back to England.

PRODUCER

If you don’t do it here, it’s all over. If you fuck up in Australia, there’s no where else to go.

The car pulls into the studio gate.

INT. PRODUCER’S HOTEL ROOM – NIGHT

The producer sits going through some paper work.
The phone RINGS.

PRODUCER

Hello.

HANCOCK (V.O.)

Evening.

PRODUCER

Tony.

HANCOCK (V.O.)

I’ve decided. I’m going to take the cure.

PRODUCER

Where are you?

INT. HOSPITAL ROOM – NIGHT

Hancock sits in a hospital gown.

HANCOCK

Cavell House Private Hospital at Rose Bay. That bastard said it was this or the first bloody ‘plane back to Blighty

………..to be continued

boy

2.BURIED  

(Warning – Strong Language and Adult Situations)

First Ten Pages of a Script

Episode One –  “The House of Tricks”.

BLACK SCREEN

FRAN (Voice over)
It’s sad when you get hurt so much that you can finally say,
‘I’m used to it’.

CAR ENGINE.

FADE IN:
EXT. STREET. 1966 – NIGHT
A DARK CAR cuts through the night like a shark.

INT. CAR. 1966 – NIGHT
Ribbed leather rear seat of an expensive car, probably a 1960s Rover.
Light from the occasional street lamp sweeps across the seat.
The car slows then stops, and a back-door opens.
The driver CLICKS the dial of the car radio, it sweeps through radio stations. It settles on something SOULFUL.
A CHILD, FRANKIE, his face is 14 years old, his eyes are ancient, slides onto the seat.
FRANKIE smiles over to someone, probably the driver. Then the usual terror makes his face adopt a grimace.
This kid has done all this, too many times, before.
Frankie closes the door.
The car drives off.
The street lights illuminate a thoughtful boy with a million things on his mind.

LATER
The car slows once more, and stops.
This time, DAN, 10 years of age and terrified, slips onto the seat next to Frankie.
Frankie doesn’t look at the kid, he just slides over.
Tears are forming on DAN’S FACE.
With both boys staring straight ahead, Frankie places his hand on top of Dan’s, then puts his fingers between Dan’s (as if to say, I’m here too).
SOMEONE outside the car, straightens Dan’s clothes, pats down Dan’s hair, and then closes the car door.
The CAR SPEEDS away.

INT. WESTMINSTER SQUARE. 1966 – NIGHT
Dan looking haunted out of the window of the car.
CAPTION: “LONDON – 1966”
The CAR drives around WESTMINSTER SQUARE.

EXT. GARAGE. 1966 – NIGHT
The CAR drives through the entrance of an UNDERGROUND PARKING AREA.

INT. GARAGE. 1966 – CONTINUOUS
The car stops beside several Bentleys, Rollers and Jaguars.
A LARGE BOUNCER TYPE – (we take it he’s the driver) – gets out and opens the door for the kids.
Frankie has done this all before, he knows the routine and where his place is in things.
The Bouncer waves to the boys to get out. Frankie stands beside the door – he looks back and sees Dan is sitting, petrified.

FRANKIE
Come on.

Dan still doesn’t want to leave the car.

FRANKIE (CONT’D)
I said, come on.

Frankie takes Dan’s hand and leads him out.

FRANKIE (CONT’D)
I’ll look after you.

Frankie means it.

DAN
I’m called D….

Frankie puts his hand over Dan’s mouth.

FRANKIE
Don’t tell me your name.

The two boys and the Bouncer walk across the garage to a private elevator.

INT. ELEVATOR. 1966 – CONTINUOUS
The lift doors open onto a sumptuous apartment.
This is a room full of MONEY and very little else. LUST has chased COMPASSION out of the door.
It is populated with the British establishment doing what they do best.

INT. THE HOUSE OF TRICKS. LOUNGE. 1966 – CONTINUOUS
Cravings being satisfied in every corner.
Frankie and Dan are standing in the middle of the room as OLD MEN eye them up.
As Dan becomes more anxious, Frankie squeezes Dan’s hand tighter.
SOMEONE grabs Frankie by his neck and drags him off to a room.
Frankie struggles to look back at Dan. Frankie smiles at him.
Dan is upset after being separated from his protector. Dan is standing isolated in a room of predators.

DAN
Don’t let them take me. Please, someone help me. Please. My name is Dan! Help me!
SOME OF THE ROOM turn for a second, smile at the boy, then turn away.

DAN (CONT’D)
Dan! Da….

Dan starts to cry. AN ARM picks up Dan and lifts him off to a waiting room.
Dan tries to hold on to the door frame, but his little fingers just scrape the paint and he’s pulled into the bedroom.
JIMMY (25) is the man who is keeping an eye on the room. He is watching and you can tell his mind is never on deep conversations; he is superficial.
Jimmy is conversing with several men. The ‘MINISTER’ is in his forties and overweight.

JIMMY
As you can see, new talent comes in all the time.

MINISTER
Fresh, delectable meat.

The Minister licks his lips and the OTHER MEN, laugh.

JIMMY
I prefer to say ‘fresh talent’.

MINISTER
Whatever you say James. Your parties are always a triumph.

JIMMY
You flatter me.

The Minister stuffs extra money in Jimmy’s jacket pocket.

MINISTER
I’ve had one helluva day in the House, so let me see the bait.

JIMMY
If you gentlemen will follow me. (To a TOPLESS MUSCULAR MAN)
My friends’ glasses are empty.

Jimmy snaps his fingers. The muscular man fills glasses.
The Minister rubs his hands, then grabs the bottle from the muscular man.
The Minister pushes himself to the front of the men and enters the room where Dan has been taken.

INT. THE HOUSE OF TRICKS. DAN’S BEDROOM. 1966 – NIGHT
A terrified Dan is tied to a bed and a LARGE MAN stands next to him. Dan’s mouth is silenced by tape.

MINISTER
Wonderful. Simply magnificent.

The Minister turns to the men.

MINISTER (CONT’D)
Gentlemen, behold the delicious quarry.

The Minister bends down beside Dan. He runs his finger over the scared boy’s hair, then lets his hand caress the boy’s face.

MINISTER (CONT’D)
Beautiful and fresh and ripe.

The Minister rips the tape from Dan’s mouth.

MINISTER (CONT’D)
I like to hear the whimpers – it makes me feel all warm inside.

The Minister looks at the men with him, and they all LAUGH.

The Minister puts his two fingers over the little boy’s mouth, who is about to say his name.

MINISTER
Shh, little one!

INT. THE HOUSE OF TRICKS. FRANKIE’S BEDROOM. 1966 – NIGHT
Frankie keeps looking back at the door, even although he is lying almost naked, face down on a bed.
The YOUNG MAN, who is surprisingly young (mid twenties), FORCES Frankie’s head to face forwards.
Frankie is ‘matter-of-fact’ about the process.
The Young Man is stripping off in the background.
The Young Man’s view of the naked Frankie lying face down on the bed.
The Young Man bends over and inspects a birth mark on Frankie’s lower back. From his accent and manner, this guy has been jettisoned out from a fifties’ public school.

YOUNG MAN
Interesting.

FRANKIE
What?

YOUNG MAN
That thing on your back.

The Young Man traces the mark with his fingers.

FRANKIE
The woman who delivered me was drunk.

YOUNG MAN
It rather looks like a strawberry. It’s…..pretty. Just like you.

The Young Man smiles to himself, then leans forward and kisses the birthmark.
The Young Man stands up.
The back view of the Young Man, naked. He has ROPES in his hand.

INT. THE HOUSE OF TRICKS. LOUNGE. 1966 – MORNING
THE MORNING AFTER THE NIGHT BEFORE. The sun is shining in the windows and bleaching away the debauchery of the previous evening.
The Rich and Famous have long since departed. They never spend the night in this type of place.
A TEENAGE BOY lies sleeping, half-naked on a sofa.
The CLEANER shakes the boy awake, who then starts to dress himself.
This is a business and everyone does their bit.

INT. THE HOUSE OF TRICKS. FRANKIE’S BEDROOM. 1966- CONTINUOUS
Frankie is sitting on the edge of the bed. He looks terrible but then again, he’s survived another night.
Bed sheets are strewn around the room, whatever went on in this place was wild.
The Cleaner enters and tries to ignore the boy. The Cleaner knows better than to say anything, but he can’t help himself and hands the boy his sweater.

FRANKIE
Thanks.

CLEANER
That’s all right.

The Cleaner smiles and continues cleaning up.

INT. THE HOUSE OF TRICKS. LOUNGE. 1966 – LATER
Frankie walks through the lounge and takes in the aftermath.
He heads for Dan’s Bedroom – he wants to make sure Dan is all right.

INT. THE HOUSE OF TRICKS. DAN’S BEDROOM. 1966 – CONTINUOUS
The room is empty except for the stench of depravity. There is blood on the sheets. Dan didn’t give up easily.
Frankie RUNS from the room.

INT. THE HOUSE OF TRICKS. BATHROOM. 1966 – CONTINUOUS
Frankie THROWS UP in the toilet. He probably does this every time.
Frankie has a gulp out of the water tap and then splashes his face.
Outside the bathroom, and reflected in the bathroom mirror, are TWO MEN (BIG MAN and FAT MAN) carrying a BODY wrapped in bed-clothes.
They continue into the lift.
The lift doors close.

INT. THE HOUSE OF TRICKS. LOUNGE. 1966 – CONTINUOUS
Frankie sneaks out of the bathroom and decides not to follow them by using the lift.
Instead, he uses a STAIRWELL that he has obviously used before.

INT. THE HOUSE OF TRICKS. STAIRWELL. 1966 – CONTINUOUS
Frankie looks carefully over the edge of the bannister.
NOISES from the guys in the garage, below.
Frankie creeps down.

INT. GARAGE. 1966 – CONTINUOUS
BIG MAN and FAT MAN dump the body on the ground, like a piece of meat.
Big Man opens the boot of the car and both men throw the body in the boot.
The door is SLAMMED shut.

BIG MAN
I’m going for a piss. Make sure he don’t run.

Big Man exits smiling at his own joke.
Fat Man smirks. He goes around the vehicle and lights a cigarette.
Seeing that the coast is clear, Frankie crawls over to the back of the car.
Frankie carefully opens the car boot, a little.
Fat Man, smoking, thinks he hears something, but sees a RAT moving across the floor and pretends to shoot it with his fingers.
Frankie holds the boot while pulling the cover off of the body.
Frankie jumps back.
There is Dan’s battered little face staring back at him. COLD and DEAD. His mouth is taped up.
Frankie has let the car boot swing up. This spooks Fat Man.

Big Man takes a gun from his jacket. Frankie scuttles behind the other cars. Both men search under the them.

Frankie crawls under from one car to another, as one of the men tries to grab Frankie.

BIG MAN
Come out you little shit.

Fat Man’s arm is attempting to grab under the car at Frankie.
Frankie scuttles quickly from underneath one car to another.
Frankie’s POV of the men’s legs walking around the other direction.
Frankie pushes himself out and runs for a door. It opens. He stumbles as he’s running so fast, but he scrambles up.

INT/EXT. TUNNEL. 1966 – CONTINUOUS
Frankie runs along a tunnel. In the background, Big Man and Fat Man are entering.
The door at the other end of the tunnel is BLOCKED by a PILE OF RUBBISH on the outside.
Frankie keeps kicking at the door. The rubbish slides and the door opens – enough to let someone the size of Frankie squeeze through.

EXT. LANE. 1966 – CONTINUOUS
Frankie runs down a lane behind the buildings.
At the end of the lane is a HIGH STREET, full of PEOPLE. Frankie disappears into the crowd as Big Man and Fat Man reach the end of the lane.
Big Man and Fat Man split up to search. Inside the crowd is Frankie getting lost and running.
MUSIC  plays and continues over the start of the next scene.
Camera lifts up over London and into the big blue yonder. We travel over distance and time, landing in…

EXT. RUGBY PARK. FIELD. PRESENT – DAY
MEN GRUNTING.
CAPTION: “PRESENT DAY”
THE CRUNCH of a RUGBY SCRUM. We are in the middle of it all, the grunts and the sweat.
A REFEREE looks into the scrum, then blows his whistle.
The MATCH is OVER.
The BULKY MEN head to the clubhouse.
We are interested in FRANCIS (60s). This is an old man’s league and these are old men.
CHARLIE (60s) one of the players from the opposing team slaps Francis on the back.

CHARLIE
Played well, Fran…..considering.

INT. RUGBY PARK. SHOWERS. PRESENT – DAY
Francis is showering in among the usual banter. These are all MAN BEASTS who have played this sport to a good level, once upon a time.
Francis turns his back to us in order to wash. On Fran’s back is the strawberry birthmark we saw earlier. It might be older, and more tired, more wrinkled even , but it’s still the same one.

INT. RUGBY PARK. BAR. PRESENT – DAY
Charlie, from earlier, is at the bar, he brings over the TWO BEERS to the table, where Francis is sitting.

CHARLIE
Fran.

FRANCIS
God bless, Chaz. God bless you my friend.

Charlie sits down.

CHARLIE
Not enough to let us win, apparently.

FRANCIS
What can I say, the man upstairs supports Heaverbrook Over 60s. Always has.

CHARLIE
How’s life, anyway, you old scoundrel? How’s the family?

……..to be continued.

Dinosaurs-Cartoon-Style-Vector

3. FRANKIE & DINO

A couple of pages out of a script written for a US kids’ animation

EXT.DINOCAVE. DAY

DINO (pronounced Deeno) the young dinosaur is watching his

father (his hero), FRANKIE brushing his hair in the mirror.

Dad likes what he sees.

Next to the mirror is a photo of a dinosaur who resembles

Dean Martin.

FRANKIE

Did I ever tell you how your mom and I came to name you, Dino?

DINO

(to himself) Yes, dad it …

FRANKIE

It was after that great dinosaur

singer, Dean Martinsaurus.

FRANKIE gives the photo a polish while he starts to SING.

DINO covers his ears.

FRANKIE (CONT’D)

“When the moon hits your eye like

a Jurassic sky, that’s

Dinosauria”

With the singing over, DINO takes his paws away from his

ears.

FRANKIE (CONT’D)

Ain’t you excited? Heck! I know I am.Me and my son in our first

trek into…

(Frankie sings this bit)

“ta..ta. ta.ta..the Unknown

Forest”

FRANKIE looks at DINO.

FRANKIE (CONT’D)

Ain’t you even the slightest bit

excited?

DINO

Sure, dad but why do they call it

the Unknown Forest?

FRANKIE

It’s not the (Frankie uses rabbit

ears quotation marks with his

fingers) “Unknown Forest”. It’s

the

(Frankie starts to sing

this bit again)

“ta..ta. ta.ta..the Unknown

Forest”

DINO

But why, dad?

FRANKIE

Because, it’s unknown and it’s a

forest.

DINO

But fathers and sons go there

every year. Don’t they know it

even a little bit by now?

FRANKIE

Dino, it’s not good to ask too

many questions.

DINO

That’s not what my teacher says.

FRANKIE

She’s doesn’t know what she’s

talking about, she’s just a

Microraptor.

DINO

She’s smart.

FRANKIE

She’s small. Small raptor, small

brain.

DINO

She says you’re the smartest man

in Dinosauria.

FRANKIE

She said that?

DINO

Sure did, dad.

FRANKIE

You must introduce me next time.

FRANKIE looks back at the mirror and GROWLS at what he

sees.

FRANKIE (CONT’D)

You monster!

FRANKIE winks at his reflection.

INT.PATH ON THE WAY TO THE UNKNOWN FOREST

FRANKIE and DINO trudge on. 

 

DINO

Are we there yet?

FRANKIE

We’ve only just left.

DINO

So we’re not there yet?

FRANKIE

No. Patience, my son.

DINO

Are we there yet?

FRANKIE

Can’t you do something? What about Eye-Spy?

DINO

Dad, that is so last ice age.

FRANKIE

Well what about that thing you’re carrying?

DINO

Oh, okay dad.

DINO takes a large shell he’s been carrying and puts it to his ear. DINO seems pleased.

FRANKIE

So what is that thing?

DINO

It’s a SyPod, dad. You can hear the sea. All the kids have got one.

FRANKIE walks on totally amazed.

FRANKIE

What will they think of next? Jeez…
FRANKIE and DINO reach the edge of the Unknown Forest. 

There is a long QUEUE of DADS and KIDS.
As FRANKIE and DINO arrive at the back of the queue, the rest turn.

ALL

HI!  

DINO/FRANKIE 

Hi. 
HERBIE, the Unknown Forest guide, is walking down the queue selling stuff from a basket. 

HERBIE 

(to FRANKIE)

Map of the Unknown Forest?
FRANKIE looks at DINO who is looking back at his hero. 

FRANKIE

No thank you sir, we don’t need a map of the

(Frankie starts to sing

this bit again)

“ta..ta. ta.ta..the Unknown

Forest”

HERBIE

Whatever.

HERBIE starts to walk on, when DINO’s back is turned. 

FRANKIE whispers.

FRANKIE 

(whispering)

Can I have a map, just in case?

HERBIE

Hey I ain’t got all day, bud.

FRANKIE hands over the money and HERBIE hands him the map. 

DINO turns around. 

DINO

What’s that you got there, Dad?

FRANKIE hides the map behind his back.

FRANKIE

It’s a surprise.  

The Queue moves 

DINO

Is it a free pass to all the rides in Dinosauria?

FRANKIE

Nope. Now looky here, the queue’s moving. Let’s walk.

DINO

Is it a lifetime supply of DinoCola?

FRANKIE

Nope. Where do you get this stuff?

DINO sees it’s just a map. 

DINO

It’s just a map, Dad.

FRANKIE

It’s not just a map. There’s where you’re wrong.It’s a map

to (Frankie starts to sing

this bit again)

“ta..ta. ta.ta..the Unknown

Forest”

DINO

If you say so. (to himself) It’s not that unknown, then.
FRANKIE and DINO are now at the entrance to the Unknown Forest. AVOLONIA is there to greet and meet. 

AVOLONIA

Hi boys! Aren’t you two cuties.

FRANKIE

I like to think so.

AVOLONIA

So welcome to the  

(She sings

this bit)

“ta..ta. ta.ta..the Unknown

Forest”
FRANKIE looks at DINO with ‘I told you so’ expression.  

AVOLONIA

If you two boys could just shuffle over to the Father/Son Welcome Area,

little old me would be real grateful.

FRANKIE

Let’s go son into the….

DINO

I know, Dad. ‘Ta…ta…the unknown..’

 Excited FRANKIE is already way ahead.

bobby stevenson 2016

……..to be continued

bobby stevenson 2016

Save

Mole Hills and Mountains

friends

Olivia had been playing out in the yard when she’d heard a door bang in the house. As she got nearer to the porch, she could hear her Grandpa hollerin’ about this and that but mostly about Old Chief Makkawaw who lived up on Old Creek Road. Then her Grandpa slammed the door again. This kind of thing wasn’t like her Grandpa at all, so Olivia guessed he was in a real bad mood.

Olivia did what she usually did on those occasions, she crawled under the house and listened to her Grandpa and Grandma talking through the floorboards.

When her Grandparents were walking up and down she would only be able to make out some of the conversations. This time she was sure her Grandpa was upset with the Old Chief, as he was making mountains out of mole hills.

It took a lot of things to impress Olivia, who felt she was a real hard customer to fool (leastways that’s what her Daddy had told her).But she knew she couldn’t let this opportunity pass and decided that after her lunch she was going to go up to the Old Creek Road to see what the Chief was doing.

By one o’clock, Olivia was sitting real comfortable on the Old Creek Road waiting for the Chief to do his thing. It was just then that Joe, the boy from her class in school, happened to pass by.

“What cha doin’?” He asked Olivia.

“Why I’m waiting on the Old Chief, I hear he turns mole hills into mountains, and I want to see him doin’ it,” she said, excitedly.

And Joe was kinda sorry that he’d agreed to help his Pa on the farm and someone making mountains was just what a boy like him would be wanting to see. He told Olivia that she should remember everything, and that she was to tell him all about it at school the following day.

“See ya,” he shouted to Olivia.

“Not if I see you first,” replied Olivia, just like she always did.

Joe had only disappeared when Herbert, the dog from Asker’s farm turned up.

“What cha doin’?” He asked.

And Olivia told him about a man who could make mountains out of mole hills.

Herbert had to admit that this was a new one for him, but he also added that he hadn’t seen a mole in many a long day. Herbert wondered if perhaps he could make mountains out of other things too. Like when moles were real scarce.

They were just getting’ ready to eat some of the popcorn that Olivia’s Grandma had made that day when Scrimpy, the Ass from the next town over, happened to pass.

“What cha doin’?” Scrimpy asked.

And Herbert and Olivia explained all about the molehill/mountain situation.

“Mind if I sit?” Asked Scrimpy.

“Don’t mind if you do,” said Herbert and Olivia, on account of the fact that Scrimpy had always wondered how you made mountains and was real excited about finding out.

Well the three friends ate all the popcorn and then they waited, and they waited, and nothing and no one came up the Old Creek Road.

They were just about to give up when the Old Chief came staggering up towards them.

“I think he’s been at the Fire Water again,” said Olivia (something she’d heard her Grandpa say but wasn’t sure what it was).

“What you kids doin’ sitting in the middle of the road,” asked the Old Chief.

And they all told him they were waiting to see him turn a molehill into a mountain. So he asked why did they think that, and Olivia told the Old Chief that she had heard her Grandpa say it, so it must be true.

“Well it ain’t true, that old goat is always saying that about me and it ain’t true, I tells you. That Grandpappy of yours is always looking at the world through a glass that’s half empty.”

Olivia wondered if that was indeed true and that maybe she and Herbert and Scrimpy should go and investigate.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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Murder at the Mermaid Inn

 

merm2

He had just bent down to tie his shoes laces and this is what probably caused him to disappear behind the large box. It wasn’t that he was being nosey, it was the act of him bending down which had caused him to accidentally overhear the conversation.

“Who is going do it?” asked one of the men.

“Looks like it will be me,” said a younger voice.”He’ll be at the Mermaid Inn in Rye, tomorrow. We kill him there.”

“What about the body?” the older man asked.

“The Colonel said he’ll deal with all the rest.”

Arthur never thought that the summer was going to be as exciting as this. He’d been prepared for it all to be a complete bore. His family was still in India and they weren’t due home for another two weeks. Since school had finished for the summer, he had been watched over by the staff. He found it easy to fool them. He would tell them he had a doctor’s appointment, the third one in the last two weeks, if they had bothered to count.

He just told them his aunt was the only one to take him as it was ‘boy’s stuff’. This allowed him to wander the streets of London, unmolested.

Arthur’s natural curiosity got him into all sorts of predicaments. One day he sat in St. James’ park watching two gentlemen in hats, talking very quietly to each other which convinced Arthur that they were spies. He had been sitting there so long that someone had reported Arthur to a police constable. One who insisted in taking the boy home to talk to his parents, Arthur knew that if this was to happen the game was up. So he told the constable that he lived on Piccadilly, it was the first place he could think of. As they crossed Pall Mall a horsed reared up, allowing Arthur to pull away from the constable and escape towards Trafalgar Square.

The reason Arthur had been watching the gentlemen so carefully was that if the men were spies then Arthur wanted to ask if he could join their group, or whatever it was that spies belonged to.

But this was the first time he had heard people talking aloud about killing someone in Rye or anywhere to be honest. He’d been to Rye every summer with his grandparents since 1902. His mother and father always chose the summer to travel, leaving Arthur with whomever was the nearest. He never believed he was abandoned; he just felt that he had all the freedom that a boy needed.

Arthur peered over the end of the box to see what the bad guys looked like. Actually they looked very ordinary, Arthur had always imagined baddies having moustaches and smoking cigars. The older baddy looked like his dad, and the younger companion well, looked like Arthur.

One of the two turned to where Arthur was hiding causing Arthur to throw himself as low as possible.

“What?” asked the younger baddy.

“Thought I heard something, that’s all. We’ll take the 7.18 tomorrow morning,” said the older one.

And with that they disappeared into the throng of the station.

Arthur would be back tomorrow to take the 7.18 train to Rye. No need to tell the staff, they usually let him sleep on in the morning anyway, so he could slip out unnoticed.

The next morning was a glorious one. The sun was shining and as Arthur got nearer the station he got more and more excited. Suddenly the summer looked a real treat, what with spies and killing and such, it was going to be a great one.

He had considered wearing a false beard but soon realised that he would be charged as an adult on the train, so he brought one of his father’s old hats; one that he could pull down over his face, if the need arose.

He got to the station very early – one reason for this was to avoid Cuthbert questioning ‘where the young master would be bound on such a lovely morning?’

Arthur chose the end carriage where he could keep an eye on everyone who was boarding the train. This was simple enough at first but as the train got more crowded there were just far too many people for him to observe satisfactorily. He thought he saw the baddies but he couldn’t swear to it.

Then a thought entered his head, what would he do if they had pistols? I mean an adventure is an adventure but being shot at was a tad too dangerous. Still, if Arthur did take a bullet Cuthbert would get the blame not taking care of the boy in the first place. A bullet wound would be a jolly good thing to take back to school, why they might even make him head of the house.

On second thoughts, Arthur liked to do his own thing and being considered for the head of house would curtail his freedom. If he got shot and killed, well the chaps might raise a statue to the bravest boy who had ever attend Claiborne. He wondered if all his pals would weep at his sacrifice and maybe his mother would throw herself on the ground and wish that she had been so much kinder to her brave son.

The train gave a jolt as it pulled out of the station bringing Arthur back to the here and now. He decided that sitting looking out the window was not the stuff of spies, so he pulled the hat down over his face in case he was spotted.

It took a long time to get to Rye, in fact Arthur had eaten everything he’d taken with him – even the emergency caramel bars. There were a few passengers who alighted at Rye, including the baddies which was a relief to Arthur who kept several steps behind them as they climbed up into the town.

At the High Street, the baddies took a turn up Lion Street towards St Mary’s church. His grandma’s house was on Church Square on the other side and hopefully the house was closed for the winter. Hopefully there would be no embarrassing meetings with one of his own family.

The baddies cut around at the top of Lion Street and were certainly headed for Mermaid Street – ‘the prettiest little street in all Christendom’; as his grandma was want to describe it.

Arthur was considering what to do next. The police constable was a good friend of his grandfather’s and perhaps he should contact him to let him know that two scoundrels were on the loose ready to assassinate a very important person, perhaps the King himself. Arthur wasn’t sure if the King ever stayed at the Mermaid Inn but he could be just passing.

Arthur pulled his hat down so far that he had difficulty seeing where he was walking, and as for the disguise – he had just walked into Mermaid Street when a woman’s voice said:

“Arthur? Young Arthur Rawlings, is that you?”

“Never heard of him,” said Arthur in his deepest, manly voice.

“It is you,” said the lady as she lifted his hat.”Wait until I tell my Sammy, I didn’t know your grandparents were back in town.”

“They’re not Mrs Andrews, I’m on a mission.”

“On a mission, you say. I’ve never heard the likes.” And with that she trotted off laughing to herself.

“Women!” said Arthur. Soon he was back on the trail but the baddies had disappeared, probably with guns blazing into the Mermaid Inn.

What should he do, call for help? Or deal with these scoundrels on his own?

Arthur decided that the worst that could happen is he gets shot dead and a statue erected, so he counted to three, and then counted to three again, and then three again for luck. Then he ran through the door of the Mermaid Inn shouting that someone was going to get killed very soon and that they should all take cover.

The police constable made Arthur a cup of tea while they waited on Cuthbert coming down from London to take him back home.

Arthur said he was sorry that he hadn’t realised that the baddies were in fact butchers who had come to the Mermaid Inn to kill a pig for the wedding that Saturday.

He was sorry and he wouldn’t do it again.
The truth was, he wasn’t sorry and he did do it again.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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If All Of This Were Up To Me

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If all of this were up to me,

My gifts would be of other things,

The son to spend an afternoon

With a father long since gone,

The granddad seeing his offspring grow,

As his life goes on and on,

The children gone before their time,

Would come back home and ring the chime,

And chances lost would be our choice,

To try just one more time,

The girl whose births would fill a home,

A brother not a day alone,

The friend who’d never know the pain,

Of all that cancer brings,

If all of this were up to me,

Then these would be my things.

bobby stevenson 2015  photo: Me collecting tadpoles

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The Man Who Smiled At Stars

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To all those who look at the night sky and smile.

Where we lived doesn’t really matter much, ‘cept to say that you could spit into another State from our porch. That was where my granddaddy sat thinking most days and most nights. He just cogitated – “yep, I’m sitting here just running things about my great big head,” was how he’d usually greet me. And to be real honest, it was a big, big head, man it was huge. It needed to be, considering how much it had to hold – what with all the things my granddaddy had done and all.

He’d been in two wars, although I can’t quite rightly say which two. He’d been a pilot and an engineer, and had even won a medal for swimming for his country: you can tell, can’t you, that he was my hero?

The day I want to write about was the day that my granddaddy put everything right in my head. Up until then I used to think the craziest things about everything, especially myself.

I used to think that I wasn’t worth nothing. I guess that was ‘cause folks kept telling me that, and I suppose after a time you start believing it. I reckon that is one of the worst crimes a man can commit – to take away a man or woman’s belief in themselves. That way they’ve robbed you of the most precious thing you’ve got – you. Now I ain’t the only one that’s suffered that way, no sir, the world is full of thieves that make you believe that you ain’t worth nothing – just ‘cause they are the unhappiest souls this side of the sun – they spread it like a virus making sure every other soul joins in.

Some people take years to put themselves back together again – and all those years are lost to them, to their families, to their friends, to themselves. Ain’t nothing ever going change human nature, but then again, none of us designed the universe that way. It’s just some of us luxuriate a little more in the darkness, than some other folks; if you hear what I’m saying.

Anyway, I’m deviating again from what I was wanting to tell you. One day when the world was young (at least to me) we got this new teacher in school. She was tall and pretty and had a way about her that had never seen in anyone else. When she looked into your eyes you believed every word she told, I mean it, every word.

One real warm afternoon she took out this big blue ball which turned out to be the Earth and she said that was our home, all out homes but (and then she paused so long that Becky Stanshaw started to cough) – then she told us that wasn’t where we came from at all. Well I nearly fell off my seat, what kind of craziness was she talking about? And apparently it was this – we weren’t just made up of stuff from Earth, no sir, we were also made of stuff that came from dying stars – way, way out there. Well, I’ll be, I thought, well I’ll be.

Now that day I ran home as fast as I could and as fast as Mr Clarity’s dog would let me, ‘cause it was always biting on my trousers and trying to stop me running. I swear one day I would just take my britches off and keep on running. So I got home just in time to see my granddaddy lighting up another cigarette and ready start another hour of cogitating.

He asked me what my hurry was, and I told him all about us, and the stars, and about how most of the bits we were made of came from out there in space, and he just nodded and smiled and sucked on his cigarette and bid me a good day.

Now I got to jump this story to a long time later, a way long time later when I had grown some, and I was sure of what I wanted to do in my life. The problem was, it wasn’t what my family wanted me to do. You see my family came from soldiers, ones that had fought in the days of the war of Independence, and in every skirmish and war since then. My granddaddy was a soldier, as was my father and my brother Brett, who had recently joined up. It was assumed that I would join up too – but I have to tell you here and now that was not in my particular way of thinking.

Now here I’ve got to jump way back again – to the first time one came to town (a circus that is). When I went to my first circus, well I was hooked from the very first second until the last and I realized then and there, that all I wanted from life was to be a clown.

That don’t go down too well in a military family – let me tell you – they all looked at me (except granddaddy) as if I was the worst kind of son and brother who had ever lived.

Well we fought and fought. I was not going to shame the family by being a clown, they said – I was a freak, they said – people would laugh at me, they said (I actually thought that was the idea, but didn’t dare say).

It got so bad I thought of leaving home, and one night I just sat on the porch steps and cried. I mean I was old enough to join the army but I still blubbered.  That was when my granddaddy came out and sat with me. We just looked up at the night sky and the stars and he said:
“Remember kid, when you came running home from school all those years ago and told me about how we were all made out there?”
I nodded.
“Well maybe that’s all that’s wrong here. You see over there? To the right?”

And I said I did, and granddaddy said, “Well what if those in the family – who wanted to be soldiers – came from those stars and maybe you – who wants to entertain folks – came from one over there on the left. See what I’m saying? If we are all made up of different stars then how can we all be expected to be the same?”
And I said that I agreed with him, and that he had to be correct and he said he was.

Then he said one other thing that I will carry with me in heart wherever I go.
He said, that if all those stars out there were where me and him and all my folks came from, then how could any one of us be really lonely? ‘Cause when we looked out there, it wasn’t a sky full of stars we saw, it was a picture of our ancestors; our family; our beginnings.

And do you know something? He was totally and completely right.
So next time you’re looking up, say ‘hi’ and smile.

bobby stevenson 2016

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The Book Keeper

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It had been his job as long as anyone could remember. He was the Book Keeper and he enjoyed all that the job entailed. Sure he never slept, but wasn’t his life the greatest gift a soul could be given?

He couldn’t remember being taught his craft, and yet he had always known what to do, when to do it and how to do it. ‘Funny that’, he had thought to himself, many times, when he had a spare second.

He was the Book Keeper and as the book-keeper, he kept books. Seemed simple – but yet it wasn’t.

He had to ensure that every book was carefully placed in its correct shelf. That every page was exactly as was required and that all the information was up to date.

His main problem was not to lose pages when he moved the books closer to their correct areas in the library. A page lost could mean the difference between life and death, and the losing of one page tended to mean that many more would follow. The bindings would decay and more pages would be lost.

For Book Keeper, the job should really have read, Soul Keeper. For each book was the representation of a soul currently living.

Therefore, when a page was lost, that individual forgot some information, or some memory was wiped. As the books got older more and more pages would slip away. There was no point in the Book Keeper looking for the lost pages, they all lay at the bottom of the library and he could never know into which books they should be placed.

As some souls grew closer together, the Book Keeper would move those particular books, closer and closer. It was the souls themselves that decided on their fate, the Book Keeper only moved the books to reflect the current state of play. As the individuals grew further apart, so he would move them to different parts of the library.

When a book reflected a soul who had led a good life, and that soul had reached its return date, the book would be placed in the archives. If the book was corrupted and stained by a life badly lived, then the books were thrown into the fire at the rear of the library. Nowadays the Book Keeper had noted that there was more book burning than archiving, but then all life went through cycles. There was nothing new in that.

If the Book Keeper had a sadness, it was this, he would have loved to have told the owners of the books, how fragile their books really were. How quickly some books fell apart, and how, on the odd occasion, a book would tumble from the shelf and be lost forever.

If they could only see what he could see. How a book owner should make the most of the pages they had; a book was only in the library one time, and one time only. If life was a perfect structure, there would be no separate areas of the library, or different levels of shelfs, but then, the Book Keeper only looked after the books. He hadn’t built the library or devised its rules.

That had all existed long before he had arrived.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

Shoreham, Christmas, 1958

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.

 

 

Merry Christmas!

bobby stevenson 2016

 

Three Thousand Miles of Heaven

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They had first gone there when the world was a more complicated place and their lives were just plain and simple. Everything they wanted or needed, seemed easier to get back then.

They had married in a small church in Big Indian, a town snuggled in the beautiful Catskill Mountains. When Tony had suggested that they go on a honeymoon, he had been thinking more of the Poconos – not the journey that Helen had suggested: to ride a Trailways’ bus from New York, to Chicago and then on to Los Angeles.

This was the 1970s and cheap flights were a thing for future times. As for going by train, well the American rail system had seen better days. So the bus seemed the best solution – it was cheap, even if it was going to take them three days – not that it mattered, they were on honeymoon. That was enough.

They had managed to have forty-eight glorious hours on the West coast before it was time to return. They had sat on the beach on their second night there and promised themselves they would return, one day. No matter what.

Within a week of them arriving back home, Tony was on his way to Vietnam. It had been the reason they had married so soon and so quickly. Tony had picked a low number in the college draft and was told to report for training immediately.

There was no two ways about it – war had changed Tony, like it had for many young men and women over the years. Tony had seen and felt many things that would stay unreported in a lonely area of his brain, only to be taken out and re-lived when Helen was fast asleep and he could shed a few quiet tears.

He had seen buddies, ones who had told Tony of the lives they were going to have when they got back to Philly, or San Fran or a million other towns and cities, and yet Tony had seen many of those guys return in body bags.

So one night before they faced the Vietcong in a final push upstream, Tony promised himself that if he managed to make it back home, then he and Helen would move out West and make a life there.
And they had.

Tony had got employment with a big computer company, and it had given them a comfortable life in California. They had raised three kids, two girls and a boy, and each of them had married and had given Tony and Helen a total of ten grandchildren.

Their boy had joined the army and had been stationed overseas. The two girls had moved to the north, one to San Jose, and the other to Sacramento.

When the doctor told Helen about the spread of the disease, he had advised her to put all those important things in her life, in order. One was to tell Tony – something that had taken her almost seven days to get around to doing. Helen felt that there would be life before the illness and life after – and when the story came out nothing would ever be the same again.

Tony didn’t cry when he heard the news, instead he just picked up the basketball that always lay out in the yard and he shot a few hoops. When Helen took to her bed that evening, he went to the chair on the back porch – one he kept for all the private thoughts in his head – and he wept – he cried for Helen, for his buddies, and in some ways for himself.

In the morning, he tried to shine as bright as the California sun, but for those who knew Tony, they would have seen that his eyes were a little duller.

They spent the next couple of days living as if the news had never broken between the two of them, but every time Helen looked away at something, Tony would try to drink in her face, and smell and laughter, and try to keep them locked in his head for the cold days that lay ahead when she would no longer be around.

It was on the following Saturday, that Tony suggested they have another honeymoon and asked Helen where they should go.
“Home,” she said.
“But you are home,” Tony had replied.
“No, back to the Catskills. I want to watch the sun going down behind Overlook Mountain,” then she smiled at him and his heart broke.

She didn’t want to fly, the trains were still troublesome, and she felt that maybe the bus would be too difficult to ride, what with her illness and all. So she suggested they drive back home along the route the Trailways bus had taken them to LA all those years before.

“We can just take our time,” she told Tony.  They both knew she wasn’t coming back from the Catskills – that would be the end of the road.

Tony closed up their home – he would decide what to do with it later, that kind of thinking was for another time.

Helen packed all the clothes she needed and by the Monday morning they set off to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Tony got them a room in one of the smartest hotels in Vegas and that night, Helen went down and gambled for the first and last time in her life. She started out with a hundred bucks and by the time she had played cards and roulette, she was three hundred dollars up. She put a hundred bucks in a charity box and with the two hundred other, she bought a couple of bottles of good champagne. She and Tony sat by the window the whole night and watched the sun come up over the desert. Neither of them spoke, they just drank, and watched the wonders of the world, and then fell asleep.

In the old days, the bus would have gone straight to Cedar City, but instead, Helen asked Tony to take her on a detour to Flagstaff and then on to the Grand Canyon. It had always been on her bucket list and what with the kids and her job, they had never found the time.

The sight was breath-taking – literally – she almost choked at the wonder of the Canyon, then Helen took a deep intake of air and shouted, ‘I love you, Tony with all my heart and soul’ at the top of her voice. A couple next to them applauded her and she smiled back.

It was another day or so before they made Salt Lake City. They checked into a motel and then went for a walk. On Sycamore Avenue, Helen led Tony by the hand to one of those burger joints. It had been years since she had taken the kids to one of those places. Helen and Tony had the biggest burgers with fries and cheese, and when they were finished, Helen cleared away the trash, and hopped up on the table. She asked Tony to join her – and when they were both on the top, she started to dance and Tony quickly joined in.

“I’ve seen it in the movies,” she told Tony. “And I always wanted to do it.”
On the morning they crossed into Wyoming, the sky was azure blue and the wind was fresh. It was one of those days when Helen wanted to hold on to life until the end of time, itself.

In Laramie, Tony arranged for Helen and him to go riding. She’d been on horses as a kid but had lost her way somewhere down the line. It was the greatest feeling in the world, riding horse back and she and Tony felt like they were very first cowboys. Why had she left it so long?

In Cheyenne they had gone skinny dipping in the motel pool and when the manager told them there had been complaints, Helen walked naked from the pool back to her room. In the room, Helen and Tony laughed until their sides were almost bursting.

A couple of days later they made Omaha, Nebraska, and at the bar that evening, the two of them pretended that they were strangers to each other, ones who had just met for the very first time. A tall man with a strange eye tried to pick up Helen that night, which flattered her and annoyed Tony – a little.

They reached the Windy City a day or so later. Helen wanted to go to the top of the Sears Tower, but the following morning she was so ill that Tony had taken her to hospital.

She wasn’t getting any better and the doctor advised her to take several days rest, and then to fly back to New York. That night Helen asked Tony to take her out of the hospital (regardless of the doctors). So Tony dressed up in a white coat, put Helen in a wheelchair, and pushed her right out of the place. The two of them felt like kids again.

They drove around Lake Erie. It had always been a special place for Helen as a child. On vacation, her grandparents, and parents would rent a little cabin near the lake. She asked Tony to drive her to the cabin, but it wasn’t there anymore, it had been replaced by a large hotel and some cheap looking houses.

They stayed the night in the hotel which was someway between Cleveland and Erie, and she sat watching the dawn while Tony was still asleep. It was the same view she had sat watching in her grandmother’s arms all those years before.

She really didn’t feel so good but kept it hidden all through breakfast. It was just as they were heading into New York State, that she asked Tony to hurry the journey up. She felt that there wasn’t so much time.

When they drove through the woods of the Catskills, she let out a sigh. She had been waiting years to exhale this way.  Helen rolled down the window and breathed in a large fix of her cherished mountain air.

This was the place that had made her, and this was the land that would see her at rest. She had made it at last.
She was home.

bobby stevenson 2015

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