The Final Days

london2

The sun was shining the day he decided to do it.

It had been a very long time coming, a very long time indeed, but he was all the better for that fact. There had been nights at school learning about the basics, about what to use, what was best, and what would work the fastest.

Even when that was complete, he still had to find the right people, still had to find the money to pay the right people. The only consistent factor in all of this – the life-force which had driven a road right through the middle of his life and his heart – was his hatred of them. Of all of them.

He had tried to fit in. He had tired of trying to fit in. At school, he was the kid who never got invited to parties. He threw his own but no one ever came.

He’d cried and fought within himself to try make sense of it all. What was wrong with him? Was he too easy to please? Probably – that was what they saw as a weakness. Them. Those who laughed at him, pushed his head down toilets and made him pull the flush himself.

Sometimes, he would catch the eye of one of the perpetrators and he could see the fear scratched across it. Rather you than me – it said. Rather you take the beating than they found out about me.
Bullying was easy. If it wasn’t, then it wouldn’t be so popular. He had more scars than he could carry but still he got up each day, and still he walked the road.

Selfishness was a virus now. He saw it everywhere. Self-obsessed little creatures in the middle of the city. Talking too loud – always talking too loud on their phones. People who treated staff in cafés and restaurants as if they were dirt. Well, he was doing it for them as well.

Money was always given to the wrong people. There were more shallow people with money than without. Money disguised their shallowness, or rather it brought all the little shits together.
It wasn’t jealously on his part – he had never had any money but he knew that he would have dealt with it much better than the ones who flashed it in his face.

Most of his life he had believed in a God, it’s what had stopped him from being a serial killer, but last year – last year when his best friend had spent the night with her boyfriend at his house. Well that was the night of the great storm – the night that the chimney at her boyfriend’s house had fallen through the roof. Just as her boyfriend had gone to the bathroom and left her in bed – right in the path of the falling chimney. That’s when he had stopped believing and now he was free to do what he wanted. And he was going to. And he was doing it for his dead best friend, too.

They should have been nicer, all of them. They shouldn’t have been so greedy. Greed was what would destroy the world in the end. The apes loved the smell of money.

He had chosen the capital city because that was where there would be the most impact. He had worked and saved for five years to get the cash to buy what he needed.

Now he was ready.

He had tried the virus on little pieces of paper. It had worked on the animal that lived next door. It was dead within five minutes.  The method of transport was easy – he had collected a few hundred copies of the free evening paper and had impregnated them with the virus. He left two copies on each train, bus and underground carriage he visited. Most of them never took the paper home, they were left where they had been read. Someone else would pick up the copy and read it – each of them condemned by their action.

By morning the epidemic would have begun.
Karma was having its day. They should have been nicer.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Time Flies

friends

One morning when Olivia was still half asleep, she heard her Grandma talking to her Grandpa all about things that fly. At least she thought that was what they were talking about because the last thing she heard her Grandpa say was…

“…It’s funny how time flies.”

Then Grandpa headed out the door hollerin’ and laughin’ to himself, so hard that he was sneezing all the way down the path.

“Serves the old goat right,” said Grandma.

“It sure does,” said Olivia without any real idea what she was talking about.

Olivia had made a note to herself that when she got to school she’d ask her teacher about Time and why it flew about the place. However she didn’t reckon on meeting with Smiling Joe, first. This was the boy who knew everything about everything and all the rest there was to know.

“Can I walk with you to school, Missy?” Asked Joe.

“Sure,” said Olivia, who secretly liked Joe. “What cha been doing?”

“Down the creek, Missy, trying to catch me a big old fella’ by the name of Captain.”

As well as knowing everything about everything, Joe was also the best fisherman this side of the Hill. Well, that was according to Joe, at least.

Olivia looked around but couldn’t see any fish.

“Heck, I’m savin’ catchin’ the Captain for another day.” Then Joe whistled a little tune that Olivia liked and they walked on to school together.

“Joe, can I ask you a question?” Asked Olivia.

“If I don’t know the answer then it ain’t worth knowing,” said Joe, kinda confidently.

So Olivia asked him if Time really did fly and Joe told her that it surely did and if you sat on the Old Creek Road, the one that led out-of-town……

“….And were real patient, then eventually you’d see Time flying passed you real fast.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

Olivia was pleased with that answer and started to whistle Joe’s little tune as they walked on to school together.The end of the week couldn’t come fast enough for Olivia and so, on Saturday around lunchtime, she headed down to the Old Creek Road and sat down and waited on Time flying passed her.

An hour passed, except it seemed like forever to Olivia – when suddenly Herbert, the dog from Asker’s Farm, came wandering along the road.

“What cha doing?” Asked Herbert.

“Ain’t it obvious, I’m waiting on Time flying passed,” said a very important Olivia.

“You are? It does?” Asked a bewildered Herbert. “Then mind if I wait too?”

“Don’t mind if you do,” said Olivia.

So Herbert sat beside Olivia, really excited about the arrival of Time.
While they were waiting, Herbert and Olivia talked about this and that, for Olivia knew a lot about this and that. They were having a real good time when Scrimpy The Ass, from the next town over, also happened to be walking passed.

“What cha doing?” Asked Scrimpy The Ass.

“Why we’re waiting on Time flying passed.”

“Well I never,” exclaimed Scrimpy. “Mind if I join you guys?”

And both Olivia and Herbert said they’d be delighted if Scrimpy joined them. So Scrimpy sat down and waited.

The whole time the three of them were talking about this and that, since it seemed Scrimpy was quite knowledgeable about this and that as well.

The afternoon grew old and it was time to go home, and since Olivia had such a great time with her new pals, Herbert and Scrimpy, she’d forgotten about waiting for Time to fly.

“Perhaps we can do this again next Saturday?” Asked Herbert.

And they all agreed that it sounded like a great plan and so that is what they did.

 

bobby stevenson 2015

 

 

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The Thing That Changes Folks

eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bobby stevenson 2017

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Once Upon, A Long Ago

Once upon, a long ago,

I saw a life of hope

And so,

I dreamed myself with smile

And mirth,

A charming life to death, from birth

But living twisted all I did

The rules were changed,

My fortunes hid,

I wish my days had run just so,

Like once upon,

A long ago.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

I Will Remember You

love

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

bobby stevenson 2017

 

 

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Waiting

house

There’s a little house,

Not too far out of town,

Where I’ll go when I leave this place,

You’ll always find a log fire burning there,

And a light in the window to find your way,

When you eventually stumble over the top of the ridge.

You can sit among friends,

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

You’ll have done your bit,

Struggled bravely along the path,

You’ll have cried your tears,

And fought your battles,

So come rest a while,

We’ll be waiting.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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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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Races

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

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

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

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

———

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

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

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

———

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was Lars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lars? Is that you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Lars held Stan, he smiled at his pal;

“I think we are even, Englander.”

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

“You win, Stanley Hooper.”

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Every Breath You Take

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2017

A Child of a Lesser God

thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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A Story From A Room

room

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

Where We Met

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They had met in the reading room of the British Library. One blue set of eyes met with another set of gray and the rest, as they say, is history.

She was probably a little older than him, and she was half way through her doctorate in Greek Civilization (and its impact on social structures). He was a mathematician who was studying for his masters, but who had always wanted to write books for children.

They had spent months not talking, and there were months of stolen looks and of conscious ignoring. An outsider might have thought that their behavior was more that of a teenage couple.

What had finally broken the ice was when he knocked a book on to the hallowed floor of the reading room, causing a resounding ripple wave of noise to circulate. This made her jump and she let out a little scream. Only a little one mind, but enough to cause murmurs of disapproval growing as a wave in the opposite direction.

He had mouthed the word, ‘sorry’ to her and she’d constructed a little smile on her face, as if to say, it was fine.

Later that day, they literally bumped into each other when she was returning from the café and he was off for a breath of fresh air.

“Sorry about that…you know….earlier….the noise,” he said, but was thinking how much easier things were in your head. How much simpler it was to imagine situations without the actual physicality of the other person standing right in front of you.

She thought he seemed kind, and cute and was hoping he would ask her for a coffee, or something, anything – even although she had just drunk a large latte.

And he did ask her, and that was also, as they say, history.

They spent several months of courting, always in between their hectic studying. It wasn’t until all of that was complete that they decide to get married.

There wasn’t much money between them and so they managed to rent a small studio apartment on the Holloway Road. He took several jobs, one of which was cleaning at the British Library during the night. He would come home, sleep for three hours and then rush off to work in a small company in the east of London.

They tried for children but it seemed that they wouldn’t be blessed, and in a way, it would have been hard for all three of them to live in such a small space.

“Perhaps next year,” he would tell her, then kiss her.

The third anniversary of their meeting in the British Library (to be more accurate, the first time they actually spoke – as neither of them could agree when they had first noticed each other) was going to be in ten days and he had something very special up his sleeve.

It had taken a lot of planning but it helped where he worked. The bosses at the Library weren’t too happy about cleaners messing about with stuff, but still he managed it.

Either life is random or it is not. Perhaps when your time is up, it is up, or maybe it is just a freak incident after all. Either way, the morning of the day of the end was just like any other.

He got up and walked down Holloway Road towards the Tube station. Perhaps if he had known this was his last day, he would have looked more closely at the little things: the faces of people, the flowers in a window, or the child who smiled at him. We are never so lucky to have that luxury, so when he crossed the road, there was a million things on his mind other than the London bus which killed him.

She remembered the young police woman who came to the door. She had a sergeant with her. The woman had asked her to sit and she sat down and watched their lips move. The person who stood up a few hours later as the room was growing dark was never going to be the same person again.

She was too torn to even cry. Her heart had been broken into a million pieces.

A week later, a week of tablets, relations, more tablets, not sleeping, tears, and drink, a letter arrived.

It was from him. An anniversary card to say how much he loved her and how much he looked forward to growing old with her. For a moment she had almost forgotten he was gone. It was like that every morning, a few seconds of happiness before the reality kicked her in the face.

At the end of the card (and after all his kisses) was a book reference, one from the British Library.

That morning she went to the library and requested the book, there was nothing special about it, except she suddenly remembered it was the book he had knocked from the table all that time ago. In the back of the book was a card, in his writing which said, ‘I love you’.

On the other side of the card was another reference for another book, the one she had been reading the day he had said ‘sorry’ for the first time.

And on this card, he told a small story of his life before and after meeting her. There was another book reference at the end this card. In all he had left messages in twenty books and together they made up a story of his life with her.

She sat there, in the reading room, too scared to cry and trying hard to breathe. It was – she thought – better to have loved and lost, than to have never known him.

She walked up Euston Road, and the sunshine bleached her heart a little. If life was random, she decided, then anything was possible. And she smiled at that.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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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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Two Jack Stories

Jack Junior

I know it might sound strange but this is the only known photo of Tommy Knightley – at least that I know of. He looks mysterious – right? You couldn’t describe his appearance, not with all that smoke and that’s the way Tommy liked things. You see he ran with the night, and always kept company with all the dark things of life; never stepping out into the real, honest, light.

The photo was taken on one of those typical 1952 evenings in London. You can’t tell it from the picture but he was surprised when I stepped forward to take it.

So surprised that he tried to threaten me – but two can play at his game – and so I melted back into the dust and fog and simply disappeared.

Not that he didn’t know where to find me, and I could bet on him doing just that, sooner rather than later. He was like a dog with a bone – he wouldn’t let go, no matter how hard you tried to stop him.

Ask anyone in London where Knightley came from and they’d most likely say he was from the East End of the city. But you ask a policeman and he’d tell you something different. There was no record of a Tommy Knightley being born in London, or anywhere else for that matter around about the time that he was supposed to have entered the world. So maybe he lied about his name. Perhaps he lied about his age. Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps.

One thing is for sure, he didn’t have any family, or partner to speak of. In all the time I was tracking Tommy Knightley, I never knew him to get close to anyone. He was, as the clever folks say, an enigma.

Yet he couldn’t survive in that state forever and I was going to be there when the truth was finally unveiled. Except that I had been trailing him for over five years and every time I thought I was getting close, he would scuttle away like a rat to another hiding hole and I would have to start the search all over again.

Things happened when he was around, I mean bad things. Gangster things, people disappearing – that kind of stuff.

I remember one man talking about him in a London bar and describing Knightley as the devil himself. There was one other famous story about him – and when you realise that he was born in the 1890s you might believe it – and that was that he was Jack the Ripper’s son. Jack the flaming Ripper’s offspring. Sometimes it seemed a ludicrous idea, and at other times it made a lot of sense.

Like father, like son.

I know that some of you people don’t believe that there was a Jack the Ripper; that he was the product of a government under pressure to make folks look the other way. But I can tell you that all the people I’ve talked to in the East End, especially the older ones, will tell you they know who the Ripper was – that was Knightley’s father and that he was Satan incarnate.

Maybe you can see where I am going with this one – that perhaps if I caught up with the man, not only would I get the demon put in prison but I might also get the truth about his father. One way or another, I would know if the old man was the Ripper or not. I mean this is a London and it is only sixty years on from those murders – there are still folks out there who remember, who can’t forget.

Then it happened one dark, foggy night, not long after I had taken the photo of him, he walks up behind me. Tells me to stop following him or I’ll be sorry. Says that he won’t think twice about slitting my throat, just like his old daddy did to those girls.

“Who was your father?”

“You know,” he said and pushed me in the back. “He was the greatest man of all time,” he continued. “Folks will be talking about my father for ever.”

“There was no Jack the Ripper,” I said, mainly just to annoy him.

“You think?” He replied. “Those women had bits missing and I’ve got them,” then he chuckled. My blood ran cold.

He continued: “They say that you die twice, once when your heart stops and once when the last person mentions your name. Well my father isn’t going to die any time soon, because folks just keep talking about him. You on the other hand, will feel my steel through your gullet one of these dark nights. When you least expect it. When you’ve forgotten about me and I’ll jump behind you and cut you up just liked my daddy showed me.”

Then he disappeared into the darkness. I have to tell you that it was one strange encounter. I couldn’t sleep for a while. I haven’t seen him in a long time  – not in a long, long time but something tells me he’s out there  — waiting.

Killer

She liked to call him ‘Joseph’, that way he seemed a bit more human.

It was her turn tonight to wash and bathe him. Poor soul. Some of the other nurses would run a mile rather than get anywhere near him. But she felt she was different. She was used to the wild ones.

Sometimes people would come in and poke him, just to hear him squeal but she would give them all short change and hurry them out of the room. She didn’t want any of that hanky-panky, not when she was on the ward.

And as she washed his beaten body down she saw the mellowness in his eyes, somewhere behind that grotesque face was a heart beating. One that was kinder and more honest than the rest of the folks who walked this sick Earth. She felt like he was almost a baby at times and wanted to lift the huge head and cuddle it. Tell it she was sorry for what God and man had done to him.

She knew people were easily fooled. An ugly face, meant an ugly heart and a pretty one, meant intelligence and love. Yet nothing could be further from the truth – the one – the one she loved, that is, was the prettiest man she had every set eyes on. He had told her he loved her and when she looked into his eyes, she believed him.

Some pretty packages hide dark and dangerous souls.
When she had finished washing and drying him or it – she wasn’t quite sure – it had looked at her with the softest eyes she had ever seen. It made her feel almost human, too.

She knew she was pretty, the way the patients and the doctors stared at her – the way the navvies shouted after her in the street. But most of all, she had to have been pretty to have landed the most beautiful man in Whitechapel. Yet, as she’d come to find out, that behind those beautiful blue eyes of his was a heart as twisted and dark as the lanes leading to the hospital.

She had heard whispers in the hospital that the police thought the Ripper might be from there. There were suspicions and one of them was a name she didn’t really want to repeat: his name.

She had found out late in their relationship that those pretty blue eyes had taken other women to bed – but she couldn’t see him as being the Ripper. He had cheated on her sure. He had hit her more than once, but that didn’t make you a murderer.

She knew what did make you commit murder, but she wasn’t telling. Just like the way she had worked out how someone could kill Joseph. It was as simple as taking the pillow away while it was sleeping. She would do it one day – kill, Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man just because she could, just because she wanted to.

But until then, she would satisfy her thirst by killing off those trollops who had dared go to bed with her man. She devoured the ways and means. She loved making them suffer.

Jack the Ripper? Don’t make me laugh. For she knew she saw the face of the Ripper every time she looked in a mirror

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

 

 

Idle in 100 Words

In that long, ago summer, the city was like an inferno, there were ain’t no place to cool your heels. Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the heat’s fault, at least not directly. It’s just that I had come back from a war, and all those devils were still aggravating on my shoulders.  I checked my pockets and I counted 53 bucks and 17 cents; not enough to change the world, perhaps, but maybe enough to change mine. I jumped in the first cab I could find and headed to Idlewild airport; I just needed to be happy again.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

The Last of 1984

1984_03_small

He’d been watching him for a lifetime. The sad man who sat in the corner of the Chestnut Tree Cafe. The man who had struggled so hard and for what?
Without asking, the waiter brought the sad man another gin and another, until he could feel nothing. Wasn’t that the idea?

Sure, he knew that the man had regrets – hadn’t he betrayed his little friend, Julia? He wondered if this thought still walked the corridors of Winston’s mind and if so, did it cause him real pain?

Pain was everything and victory was nothing.

Poor little soul, poor little Winston Smith. Of course he would have to be destroyed, it wasn’t enough that Big Brother had won, Big Brother would want the shell removed too.

He wondered what Winston was thinking, or indeed if he was thinking of anything. He had a look on his face of sad contentment, or was it just brain death?
It was very difficult to tell these days.

The same waiter who kept Winston comatose asked if he also wanted a Victory gin? The man should know better than to ask a member of the inner bureau such a question. Perhaps the waiter did not know who he was. He would deal with the waiter when it suited him.

He never usually stalked one of his targets, but Winston Smith had intrigued him, even just for the fact of how much work it had taken to break his little heart.

Nothing was real, and if that were the case then why shouldn’t they juggle with the truths? It amused him, like it amused them all. The majority had been screwed by the minority since the Homo sapiens had left the caves all those millennia ago.

He took a note of the waiter’s name and as he left to go, he bumped Winston on the arm. Winston just looked up and said ‘sorry’, then drank another freshly placed gin.

As the man entered into the square, a cold wind made him shiver and smile at the same time, and as he headed home, he heard the clock strike thirteen.

Tomorrow he would destroy Winston Smith.

bobby stevenson 2017

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My Pal, Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I simply nodded.

“So?” She said.

“What do ya want to know?” I asked.

“Everything,” she said. “Everything.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are all children of The Sixth Day.

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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Maybe Next Time

The next time, I’ll say ‘hi’ when that moment first arises

The next time, I’ll cross the street before the trouble starts

The next time, I won’t put the money on that horse that lost me everything

The next time, I’ll go with whom I love rather than who you said I should

The next time, I will tell you that I’m unhappy and not just smile through gritted teeth

The next time, I’ll live the way I want to and not because I am scared

The next time, I won’t let them hit me, or call me names

The next time, I will not wait so long

The next time, I’ll take that chance

The next time, I will not throw away friends and money like that

The next time, I’ll make sure they’re properly dead

The next time, I’ll take my share as well

The next time, I will not drink as much

The next time, I will not hit you, I promise

The next time, I’ll be the one to stay on the path and make you move

The next time, I’ll spend more time talking and listening

The next time, I’ll be far gentler on myself and my life

The next time, I’ll probably do it all again, just like the last time.

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Woman Who Died Among The Chickens

The way I was told it – was that she died in among the chickens.

I mean that’s what they said. Apparently, her hair had been matted with chicken crap – I kid you not. She had raised these little critters from the egg and this was the way they wished her a goodbye.

In the end, it was only the chickens and my Aunt Claudia who did say a fond farewell to her. I wasn’t allowed anywhere near the burial, even although she was my grandma. My ma and pa, and my twin sisters all stayed away from her funeral.

I was six years of age when she died in among her animals – that must have been about late ’49. My grandma had celebrated her 80th birthday that year by jiving to the big bands. She had never been so alive; she was always in the best of health, always had the biggest of grins.

Then life turned up, the way it does, to crap in her water.

It seems that some guy from a New York newspaper had come looking for her. Something to do with all those years ago in Austria. Something she hadn’t told none of us about.

You see my grandma had been a nurse all that time ago in that faraway country. When she’d come to New York City she’d tried other kinds of work, but in the end she went back to nursing. That’s where she met my grandpa, the day he checked in with a broken arm. They fell in love, got married and moved to Queens.

Yet anytime, anyone asked about the old country, she’d sigh, then smile, and then tell us all that she’d take everyone there one day. It never happened of course. Apart from my Aunt Claudia, who moved to Trenton, no one ever left NYC.

But this guy, this reporter, was real persistent like, saying that my grandma would have to tell her story, or otherwise he’d tell it the way he knew.

I remember she locked herself in the shed out in the yard on one of those days he came to call. She shouted to me that I was to tell the man that my grandma wasn’t in. And that is exactly what I did.

I said,” my grandma told me to tell you she ain’t in.”

He just shrugged his shoulders and went back to sitting in his automobile that sat outside in the street. The photo is the one he took and I kept.

She never helped him with the tale, so he printed his own version of the story. It seems that there was a woman back in Braunau am Inn, in 1889 who had trouble having a baby, and that the baby nearly died. The one who saved the child was a nurse by the name of Annette Eichrodt (my grandma’s maiden name).

Seems the life she saved was a baby boy by the name of Adolf Hitler. The way I see it, she was only doing her job.

I wasn’t allowed to go and see my grandma after that, and I guess it all got too much for her. Not long after the story was printed, she took a heart attack and died, like I say, among the chickens.

The photograph is all I got left.

 

Bobby stevenson 2017

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To Fill A Human Heart

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2017

bobby2 wee bobby

 

 

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The Shoreham Stories – 1

THE SHOREHAM WILD ONES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMING HOME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For everything and everyone.

CYCLING TO SHOREHAM

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

You see what I mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“First stop, chuffing breakers” said my pal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why is that Tommy?” I ask.

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

“Well I never.” I declared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nonsense, you imbecile” was his reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Another den of imbeciles?” I asked.

“Just so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The word was not found wanting.

Unfortunately.

SHOREHAM, CHRISTMAS, 1944

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean these one?” Asked Edith.

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

SHOREHAM UNITED

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

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

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

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

Yes, they were bullies and it served them well.

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

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

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

“What the hell are we going to do?”

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

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

Not one person put their hands up.

“No one?”

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

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

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

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

Everyone nodded their heads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That team jumped into their cars and drove off.

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

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

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

A PLACE CALLED HOPE

‘What makes anyone do anything?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Try and stop me,” shouted Jake.

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

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

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

“Should you be doing this?” Shouted Jake.

“Nope, but it feels good. Don’t it?”

And Jake had to admit it did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annie noticed Robert’s missing smile right away.

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

Robert shook his head.

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

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

“Maybe we could talk,” said Annie.

“About what?” Asked Robert.

“About everything.”

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

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

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

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

THE GREAT FILM FIASCO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Like what?” Asked his grandfather.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NIGHT CAFE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was everything.

THE GREAT CHAOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All was right with the world.

THE GREAT SQUALIDNESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minty suggested they never speak of it again.

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

Let no one tell you otherwise.

SHOREHAM, CHRISTMAS, 1958

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dear Nancy,

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

Merry Christmas, Santa Claus.”

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

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

 

ON SHOREHAM HILLS

On Shoreham Hills,

I sat a thousand years,

And watched the seasons change

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

And on those hills,

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

Our lives belonged to others now.

On Shoreham Hills,

I watched as paths were walked a

Hundred million times, which turned to

Roads, and streets and lanes,

The poor, the plagued were taken in

And healed and fed, and given up

To God’s own grace.

On Shoreham Hills,

I saw the wooden structures changed to stone

And homes were built to hold those hearts

That felt this secret valley

Theirs to keep.

I sat beside, as William Blake did spy Jerusalem

Among the waters of the Darent streams,

Forever caught by Samuel Palmer’s paints.

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

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

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

Replaced by Messerschmitt and Spitfire trails.

The buildings rose, as did the streets

Our village grew to meet the age.

I sat on Shoreham Hills, a thousand years

To watch it comfort and console,

And as I watched the sun arise,

I hoped to sit a thousand more.

SHOREHAM ROSE (story and song)

Perhaps I should start way back at the beginning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can I tell you?

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

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

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

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

It’ll just be me and her again.

Press for Video of Shoreham Rose (song)

Bobby Stevenson 2017 x

A Place Called Hope

‘What makes anyone do anything?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Try and stop me,” shouted Jake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bobby stevenson 2017

The Old Man and The Moonshine Automobile

54-64

 

The last thing my grandfather said to me was: “remember that old automobile is yours, Johnny”.

And here I was, picking the hottest day of the summer of 1950 to travel by bus from a small town on the Hudson, down to Princeton. He and my grandmother had moved to Jersey just after they had got married in 1902. They had one son, my father, and a beautiful life which stretched across an ever-changing century.

My grandfather had worked as a backroom boy at Princeton University, helping the great and the good setup, and take down, their experimentation and he had always loved it. Full stop.

His two hobbies were to do with tinkering about with things: their house in Mercer Street and any old automobiles. His pride and joy was a 1940s Ford Coupe, otherwise known as the ‘Moonshiner or Rum Runner’s Car’.

It had a huge area in the back to transport illegal Hooch (usually in mason jugs) and was the favourite of the folks in the Appalachian Mountains to beat the Revenue Agents.

On that warm afternoon, my final leg of the trip was a bus journey from New York City down Route One. The bus dropped me off on the other side off the canal; the one which separated the hallowed halls of the university and the ‘ordinary folks’ of New Jersey.

I had walked across the canal bridge many a time on the way to see my grandparents and had always loved the walk up to Mercer Street.

Princeton is a beautiful little town. There can be no denying it. Right there in the middle of New Jersey is a glorious little settlement which takes in the children of America and makes them great (or at least polishes up their greatness).

It was late in the day by the time I opened up the door to my grandparent’s little house. This was the first time I had come down here and the house was empty.

My grandmother always had a light at the window and when she died just before the war, my grandfather couldn’t seemed to be bothered to keep it lit.

The furniture and the photos were still in the rooms as if they would come running in the room at any minute, and tell me there was a hot meal waiting on the table.

It is sad when those you have loved move on, but I wouldn’t have swapped a day of the time I spent with them. There is a price for everything in this life and sadness at the end is just one of those things.

I decided I would just spend one more night at the house I loved so much and would drive back to the Catskills the following morning.

I woke early as I was desperate to see how the car looked as it had been dark by the time I had taken the cover off of it. As I looked out the window there was a little old man looking at the Ford as if he wanted to buy it, or something.

“It’s not for sale, just in case you’re wondering,” I told him.

He said he knew and that he’d been a friend of my grandpa’s.

“So you must be Yonny?” He said, in a foreign accent. “Your grand pappy told me so much about you. I shall miss him.”

The old man, who insisted I call him Al, invited me into his home for a coffee and breakfast.

“If you are driving so far north today, you will need some vitamins and protein inside of you.” Then he slapped me on the head and laughed.

“Come in, come in,” he said in a friendly manner.

To be honest, I thought he looked a bit like Father Christmas and when I told him, he almost wet himself laughing.

“Just like your grand pappy, he had the same thoughts as you.”

As we ate an excellent breakfast, he told me that he worked at Princeton too, and that my grandfather had helped him in his experiments.

“He was a sheenius,” he said in his weird accent.

“A genius?” I asked him.

“Quite so,quite so.”

After we had finished, he asked if I could take him once around the block for old time’s sake. As we drove down Mercer Street all he did was grin.

“What are you going to do with your life?” He asked me. I told him I wanted to study English and he just nodded.

“Imagination, my boy, is so much more important than knowledge,” and then he smiled at me.

As I drove him back to his home, he said something I will always remember:

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. Above all, be happy.”

It didn’t really sink in back then, but it was something I carried with me. It was only a few years later when I saw his photo in the Kingston newspaper. The little old man, Al, had just died.

His name was Albert Einstein.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Wizard of Odd

girl

There isn’t anything I can tell you about Abigail that you don’t already know. I mean she was you, me and everyone else who felt let down by life. There is always something, ain’t there? There’s always that fact about life where it won’t let a body breathe without asking for payment of one kind or another.

So this is the place where we run into Abigail. She had emotional bombs dropped on her so often, that she took to hiding in own fallout shelter – her own home with social network always on tap.
Now you might say to me, ‘hey, that’s a good place to hide’ – but it wasn’t. It never is.

You see, Abigail, would sit all day and all night on Face-this or Twit-that watching the world going by in huge bright colours, and all she had to compare was a sad life in little bedroom with a kitchen. Abigail couldn’t understand why the world had passed her by, and yet had stopped and coloured in everyone else’s lives.

The more she read of other lives, the more she grew dark and down. Then one morning she decided to fight back, instead of telling the truth she made up her life to be more exotic, more exciting, more colourful than it really was. Well anything was more exciting than sitting in a room and a life lit by the hue of an electronic screen.

She started to attract friends and even people she didn’t really know, and they all applauded Abigail for her wonderful and exciting life. The places (the faked places) she had been, the lovers she had seen, the dreams she had lived. Abigail had never been so popular in all her life.

And here dear folks is the problem, if you could have stood on top of the highest of all high mountains and looked down on the world, you would have seen streets, and towns, and cities all full of lonely people sitting in little rooms and lying to the world about their lives.

bobby stevenson 2017

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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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Greenock Story: The Glass Red Rose

There was an old road, they called it ‘the Roman road’, which led there once upon a time. The farm, like the family, used to stand proud and shiny as it looked hopefully towards the loch. There’s nothing much of it left now, just a shell that keeps the wind and rain from the lonely hill-walker. But a long, long time ago, probably before you were born, something magic happened on that farm; something truly wonderful.

I suppose I should start by telling you about Sean. He was a lad who was always looking for adventure and excitement. Yet being much younger than his brothers, he found life on the farm a little lonely and so, after his chores, he would take to the hills with his imaginary pals and become the hero of the latest book he was reading.

If I recall correctly, the storm that started all this came on a dark Saturday afternoon in April. Sean would have been eight by then but like the rest of the family he knew the hills better than the back of their own hands. He had finished up his work on the farm for the day, had got washed and was ready to set out for another adventure as The Lone Ranger.

“Just you hold your horses,” said Annie, Sean’s mother. “Your father wants to speak to you.”

Those words usually meant that the school had reported to his parents that he hadn’t turned up again. Sean normally hid his books at the bottom of Dunrod Hill (but he was particular – he only went absent on those hot, sunny days) and then he’d spend the time jumping around the rocks at the top where he’d round up the bad guys. He’d pick up his stuff at the end of the day just about the time he should have been coming home from school. So what if he couldn’t add up? He loved the freedom and hated being in class.

His father, Alex, came in to the kitchen looking worried.

“We need everyone to help. One of the sheep is lost on the hill and we need to bring it in before the storm,” he said.

Each of the family was given an area, and since Dunrod was the Lone Ranger’s domain, naturally Sean was given that hill to search.

The climb up Dunrod was steep but there was an old wall on the left side which a person could grab on to. It didn’t help that the storm was bringing in the darkness quicker than expected. The wind had picked up too and so by the time that Sean reached the summit of Dunrod, it was taking all his strength just to walk.

He searched around the top of the hill and down a couple of the gullies but there was nothing. Then Sean thought he might try the small pond in the lost valley. The sheep never usually made it that far but as the Lone Ranger, Sean had caught a couple of cowpokes rustling down that way.

As he approached the pond, he could hear the bleating of a sheep and sure enough there was the lost animal, one leg stuck in-between two rocks at the edge of the pond. The wind and rain were burning Sean’s face but he managed to crawl down to the side of the water and pull the sheep’s leg free.

Somewhere out there, the storm had torn a large part of a tree away and sent it flying in the direction of Sean. So as he tried to stand, the tree hit the back of his head and knocked him flying into the pool. Sean was out cold and face down in the pond.

The man had been standing a little distance off and waiting for his moment. He walked over to the pond and pulled Sean from the pool. He laid the boy on his side and forced every last bit of water from his lungs. Sean coughed and spluttered and eventually fell into a sleep.

When Sean came to, he was lying on his side and a blazing fire was warming his face and body. The man sat at the other side of the fire, just smiling. Sean lifted his head.

“Just take your time, you’ve had a shock,” said the man.

“Who are you?” Asked Sean.

“Just a pal, who happened to be passing.”

Sean could see the man was wearing a uniform, probably an army one but not one he’d seen before. The light from the fire caught a glass red rose pinned to the man’s lapel. He must have been in his twenties, dark hair and had a pleasant face.

“When you’re warm enough and you’re ready, I’ll take you home,” said the man.

“What happened to the sheep?” Asked Sean.

“She’s safe, outside, don’t worry.”

And the funny thing is, Sean felt safe too.

Soon they were making their way down Dunrod Hill with the man holding tightly on to the sheep.

There were two farms at the bottom of the hill, Sean’s family’s and the MacIntyre’s.

“Which one?” Asked the man and Sean led the man and the sheep over to the left farm. It was dark as they approached Sean’s home and though they both struggled, they managed to place the sheep with the rest of the flock.

“Are you coming in?” Asked Sean to the man.

“Better not, I’m already late.”

“Fair enough.”

Sean noticed the man staring in through the kitchen window.

“What’s wrong?” Asked Sean.

“Nothing, just watching your mother and father. They seem like a happy family.”

Sean opened the door to the farmhouse and turned to ask the man again to come in, but he had disappeared into the night.

Sean’s mother gave him the biggest hug then scolded him for being gone for so long.

It was the following year that Sean’s mother died and Sean and his family helped each other get through their grief. Sean went to school less and less and eventually spent all of his time helping on the farm.

One winter a huge war started, and so Sean’s brothers went off to fight in foreign lands. The war lasted for several years and so came the day when Sean was to go off to fight as well. His father was going to miss him dearly, not only on the farm but in their closeness.

The morning that Sean left for the war in a far away land, his father had packed a haversack for the boy. He put in some bread and cheese for the boy to eat on his journey. The father kissed his youngest and wished him well. Sean never saw his father’s tears as he marched down the Roman road in to the town and on to war.

Not far outside Glasgow, Sean felt a little hungry and pulled out the food his father had given him. A letter also dropped out and Sean picked it up. It read:

‘My Darling Boy, you’ll never know how proud I am of you or how much I’ll miss you. When your mother left us, you were my little soldier who helped me. Now you’re going off to fight a war. I know your mother will be watching. Before she died, she asked me to give you this on the day you left home. I won it for her at the Fair in Greenock. It was my first gift to her. I miss her and all my family. I’ll miss you. Love, your father.’

Sean slipped the little trinket on to the palm of his hand. It was a little glass red rose.

He pinned it to his lapel.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Ballad of Square Peg

squarepeg

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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We’ll Meet You At The Circus

boy

When Sebastian was seven, a traumatic thing happened to him. He had seen the monkeys in a cage from the corner of his eye and had wandered over to feed them. He remembered one of them bit his little finger.

Blood oozed from the wound causing Sebastian to turn to show his parents. They were not there as they had gone on without him.

Sebastian screamed and wept until a woman came to help.

She asked Sebastian who he had come to the Zoo with, and he replied his two brothers and his parents. She then asked what was the last thing they had said to him?

“If anyone gets lost we’ll meet up at the circus, “he told the woman.

So that is what she did, she took Sebastian to the circus and there they found a very worried looking mother and father.

Sebastian never wandered off again.

When Sebastian was nine, a traumatic thing happened to him.

When the siren wailed, the whole family, as they had practiced, went to the fallout shelter at the end of Frankenholme Street.

Sebastian remembers the darkness, then the sudden brightness and then the oozing of blood. When the sun came up again, Sebastian was the only one left.

Dust and shadows filled what was left of the shelter.

Then he remembered what his mother had told him that day – so long ago – and went off to find the nearest circus.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Fireman

wanderer

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

 

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Waiting For The Winds To Blow

I’m waiting for the winds to blow,

And someday soon, or later,

They’ll take me on a voyage,

To a land of somewhere greater.

 

And if we do not get the chance

To wish you ourselves goodbye,

I’ll look for you in kinder places,

As I go sailing by.

 

I’m waiting for the winds to blow,

To take my heart away,

And ‘though, we drift apart awhile,

We’ll kiss again, someday.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Our Home by the Railroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2017

shoreham rose

 

Sara: The Woman Who Told Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘The Woman Who Told Stories’.

She is still missed.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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At The Top Of Things

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I want to tell you about my world. What happened. Why we are, where we are. Perhaps as a warning, perhaps as a lesson, or maybe just to get all those strange things clearer in my own head. Whatever the reason, it might be worth you taking a few minutes, because I can guarantee that while you are reading this, they will be watching.

In my place, where I live or, more properly, where I lived, we looked in all the wrong places. So maybe we were paranoid, but you must understand we had every right to be. We had been at war for a thousand years with every permutation of neighbour. We fought the rich, the poor, the religious, the black, the white, the red, and the yellow. In fact, we fought wars for every, and any, reason. It was the way we were built, it was in the core of us, in our blood.

We fought each other because all we saw were the differences.

And yet, looking back, we weren’t so different after all. We all inhabited the same planet, had the same biology, but just kept different Gods and idols – different ways to nail us to this little rock of ours. When you live next to someone, you see their faults, their little ways, their selfishness. Yet if you stand at the end of a street, you can see more than that, you can see our similarities. The further you are from something, or someone, or a problem, the clearer you can see it.

So perhaps that is why they chose to live up there.

While we watching our borders, scanning the horizons for refugees, for immigrants – the others were watching us. We were looking in all the wrong places.

All the wrong places.

Take a moment to stop reading this and look up. If it’s only the roof then look out of the window, and see the highest of the buildings out there. It was the one place they knew we wouldn’t look – none of us ever look up.

While we were fighting each other, brother against brother, sister against mother, they moved in to the tops of things.

Look up while striding a city street and you will notice that on the pinnacle of any building are empty rooms – or at least they appear empty. If you are in a town, or a village or a hamlet, look around you – there will be empty rooms hidden at the top of things.

That was where they lived. Up there was where they bred, where they planned, where they gained strength, and where they could look out on us and see our weaknesses, see our faults, but most of all see their victory coming.

Now you’re asking about where they came from. Who knows? My belief is they weren’t from this place, or any place we knew of. Perhaps they had always been here. Perhaps they came in the night. Perhaps they had been underground for millennia.

Yet, they watched and waited, waited and watched. Until the time when we were so busy fighting each other, that we never noticed them take over everything. They brought us to our knees – we were destroyed.

So take this as a warning. As you walk down a street, be it busy, be it ever so quiet, they will be watching you. They will – I know.

Watching from all the rooms at top of things, from all the empty attics, from all the little garrets, and turrets, and lonely corridors. Don’t think they aren’t there, because they are.

Have you never been alone in a room and heard a scrapping, or a scratching up there? You thought it was a mouse, or a rat, or trapped bird. No – it is indeed them, waiting for you all to be looking the other way.

Then they will come.

Take it from me, I know.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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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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The Cave

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They had been used a very long time ago – long before the long winter, longer even than the oldest soul in the tunnels could remember. There had been a war once, not like the last war but one that had lasted for years. People had sheltered in these chalk caves that lay below the towns of what was once known as Kent.

Down here, they had shared food, stories, and most importantly, the company of each other. Chalk was easy to dig out without sophisticated tools, and so there were traces of people who had sought shelter here for millennia. Those hiding from the Romans, the Celts, Anglo Saxons, Normans, Vikings, and the French.

Tunnels had been created to join forts above which stood on guard against Napoleon and his armies. A man could get lost down here and never return.

When the long winter had first appeared, no one had been sure what had happened. The skies had grown dark and it had snowed in July. Little by little, those who could not keep warm headed for the tunnels. It was easy to enter at first but soon, those folks who had built dwellings were unwilling to share with the newcomers. It seemed the fears from above followed them all into the depths.

As well as their misgivings, they had also brought down their possessions, photos, clothes, electronic readers, phones, televisions – some even brought books. But whatever had caused the long winter, it had also stopped anything electrical or electronic from functioning. Some saw this as sign from God that his children had strayed too far from the fold. The books and papers that they had brought were eventually burned in order to keep the caves and tunnels warm. When those too, dried up, there were hunting parties sent into the upper world to fetch wood. Some went and returned, many never came back. There were stories of cannibalism and slavery in the upper lands but no one was sure if these were only to control the movement of the tunnel souls. Those who did return would talk of lands devoid of animals and birds.

In the western sector was an old soul, by the name of Travis and like everyone else, had been born in the tunnels. When his father was sent to the dark place where souls were laid to rest – his dying wish was that Travis take care of their greatest possession – a book, ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens. It had been this book that Travis had been taught to read and write by his father, just as his father before him. It was their family secret.

Travis had read the book several hundred times until he could recite the whole thing by heart. It was one night in the late period of that year when a friend had suggested that Travis tell his group the Christmas Carol story. Many had never heard such an amazing tale before and there were those who had tears in their eyes, and everyone cheered at the ending.

Travis started to move through caves and tunnels telling each group the story of A Christmas Carol. One day, one of the younger members of his family suggested that he tell another story by the wonderful Charles Dickens and that was when Travis had trouble.

He decided to tell those who waited a new story which he had created in his head- but written in the same style and in the same era as Dickens. He called the first story, The Broadstairs Man in memory of his great, great-grandfather, who had apparently lived in such a place above their heads.

To his surprise, the crowds roared and cheered at the story as if it had been written by Mister Dickens, himself.

Over the years, Travis wrote many stories using the name Charles Dickens and when he finally was taken to the dark place to have his last sleep, someone inscribed, ‘Travis, Storyteller’ in the wall above.

And the hundred and one stories which Travis wrote under the name of Dickens, lived through the great winter and for many years beyond.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Krystal and The Astral Vikings

The Start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They might kill ya,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should she? Would she? Was she brave enough?

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

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Making People Happy

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There weren’t nothing special ‘bout me. Least ways not so you’d notice. I was born into a family of losers and then it was downhill all the way. I tried, I promise you, I really tried, but I just couldn’t seem to get on with anyone or anything.

I’m just going someway to explain why I am where I am. I’m on the streets – homeless, friendless and lifeless. Don’t think it couldn’t happen to you, ‘cause it could. It’s no more than a hop, skip and jump from successful businessman to a bum asking strangers for money. All I did was blink – okay, and probably made a few bad decisions along the way but people can’t make good ones all the time. It’s not possible, you’ve just got to learn to keep the number of mistakes to a minimum.

One night, I rock up to Sandro’s Café to see if there’s anything to eat. Sometimes he has an old cake or a stale pie that he’s going to tip out on to the streets and he puts it aside for me. That ain’t his real name by the way. Not Sandro, it’s Jimmy and he’s from the east of the city but he’s got a good heart and I think he can call himself whatever he damn well likes.

So I’m looking for Sandro and he’s nowhere. I calls out but I may as well have been shouting down a big black hole. Then I hear a kind of sobbing from the back room. I knocks. Nothing. I knock again. Still nothing.

So kind of brazen like, I open the door.

“He..lo..ho,” I shout and then I hear this sobbing in the corner. Seems that, Jimmy……sorry Sandor’s better half has left him for the guy who delivers the pizza toppings. Since I’ve been sleeping in the fresh air, I tend not to touch anyone anymore; it can lead to all sorts of problems. But I felt that the sobbing coming from Sandro was so deep that I had to put a hand on his shoulder and tell him that everything would be all right. Now here’s where it starts to get strange, there was a kind of warmth travelled from my hand to his body, and the warmer my hand got the brighter the room got.

The next thing I know Sandro is laughing and giggling like he’s swallowed dentist’s gas or something and I’m like..’whoa’. I mean what’s going on? Sandro gets up – says he’s feeling a million dollars and asks me if I would like some fresh cake for a change, and maybe some soup, if I feel like

If I feel like it? I haven’t eaten in two days, so yeh, I feel like it, all right. After a real good feed I go back to the park for a pleasant night’s sleep.

I wake in the morning to find some guy trying to rob me of my coat; one that I had found under a railway bridge when the owner of the coat, was out and about. So maybe there was a little karma coming back at me from the universe. He goes to hit me in the face when he sees that I’ve have woken up, so I grab his wrist and it happens again. There’s a surge of heat from my hand and this guy must be feeling it. He jumps back and shouts something like ‘holy sh…’ – well you know what I mean. Then a smile starts to give birth on his face and before you know it, the smile is taking over his face, like he’s just had a funny cigarette or something. I don’t want to go into details in case there are kids reading this, so lets just leave it at that.

The guy stands up, shouts ‘hallelujah’ , then kisses me on the cheek. He says he’s never felt so good in his life and gives me some money and tells me to keep the coat – my coat, well it sort of is my coat.

That afternoon, I pass Sandro’s café on the off-chance that he might still be in a good mood and there might be something to eat in it for me. I see that his café is really busy and he’s standing in the middle of the floor telling everyone something or other, so I hurry passed real quick.

“There he is, “ shouts Sandro.  I look around and he standing outside the café with about 20 other people and they’re all looking at me.

“He’s a miracle worker. He’s the man who make miracles happen.”

I guess I panic and I start to run. Well you would, wouldn’t you?

As I’m running down Saffron Street, I start to ask myself how all of this could have happened. Did I bump my head? Was I visited by an alien or an angel? Have I always been this weird and never noticed?

Half way down, there’s a building or something and lots of people going in. Okay, so I never noticed that they were all in black but in I run, sit at the back and hope no one notices me.

It’s a funeral and I’m the only one there in a red coat. Then the wife or sister or mother or friend of the deceased comes in and shakes everyone by the hand. She looks at me and gets kind of upset that I haven’t put my hand out. Then she shakes it and I can feel the warmth seeping into her and then she starts smiling and laughing like she’s on some kind of drug.

It’s then that I realise that there’s a right time and place for a miracle (if that’s what’s happening to me) and this ain’t it. The woman is dancing and laughing all the way down the church and the whole congregation is looking at her, then back at me as if I gave her something.

It suddenly hits me what I should do next, I go around the whole church and shake everyone’s hand. Boy did that funeral turn into a party – they were all dancing in the aisles and I took this as a sign to make a quick exit out the back door.

I went back to my park bench just to hide out and take stock on what was happening. I felt that I would wake up at any moment and it would have all been a dream.

I decided that maybe I could use whatever this was for good before it ran out, so I went to a local children’s hospital with a few toys I had found here and there. They were clean, I washed them in a stream  – I asked the nurse if it was okay to hand them out and she said it was all right. I gave the kids the toys to play with then shook each of their hands. Boy, they were smiling and laughing and were really happy. Maybe I did have something good to give after all.

I am the man who can make people happy.

Perhaps it was a virus or an illness, or a gift from the big man upstairs, whatever it was I didn’t want to look too close and maybe ruin it.

People started coming to the park, night and day, I’ve no idea how they found me, but they found me and wanted me to shake their hands. I would tell them it was 3am but that made no difference – they said that if I didn’t shake their hand then they’d jump off a bridge. Not all of them, but enough of them tried to blackmail me.

It’s funny how I was making all these people happy and no one really said ‘thank you’. Not that I was expecting it, but it’s as if people thought I had this gift and it was their right to have some of it. Perhaps that was true but I couldn’t make one particular person happy and that person was – me.

A journalist turned up offering me money to tell them my story, and although I did need the money I felt that wasn’t why I was given this gift – if that’s indeed what happened.

Then one day one of those talent contests, you know the ones, the type of TV show which makes people cry, asked if I was interested in entering. I would be famous they said, no one has a gift like yours, they said.

So on I went and people loved me at first. ‘An angel sent from heaven’ was how the Papers wrote about me and then the audience got bored, apparently making people happy wasn’t good television and I was booted off the show.

Then the gutter press ran a story about me, and how making people happy was likely to be an addiction and that I was nothing better than a drug dealer.

A drug dealer – I ask you?

As the man said on the television – being happy all the time was unnatural and that I was probably the same. I had to leave town and move on.

And now that’s what I do, I keep moving on all the time and wonder if anyone wants to know a man who can make people happy.

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 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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A Simple Truth

lowereast37

“You get to everyday by winning, you know that don’t you?” Was what she used to say to us kids, when we’d taken a tumble or were feeling real low.

“So don’t you be telling me you failed, or nothing as stupid as that,” she’d say, just before she’d give you a smile that could span an ocean.

“You ain’t done wrong and you ain’t done let anyone down and don’t let me hear you saying you have – ‘cause you ain’t. To get here, to this moment where we are stood, you must have fought a million and one battles – and………AND……,” she’d say twice just so’s you’d have to listen, then she’d shake her big pointy finger straight at your face:
“AND…not only have you fought all those goddamn fights but you must have won them all, or else you wouldn’t be here standing in front of little old me. Now ain’t I right, or ain’t I right?”

Then she’d shuffle in her slippers to the little room where she kept the whiskey – and as she shuffled, she’d holler and laugh all the way there. If you were here, you were winning. Simple as that.

I can still hear her now after all these years – and you know what?  I’m still winning.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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My Pal

golf

This isn’t a story.

This is true and it isn’t meant to entertain anyone (perhaps none of them ever do), it’s only meant to put a few things straight in my head.

I had a pal once, a guy who would sometimes annoy and amuse in equal measure – I guess most people have friends like that. This pal had a harder start in life than some. When he was five years old his mother would appear at the school gates drunk and my mate would have to take her home.

All his life, he seemed to be running as fast as he could from that early situation in life. He worked twice as hard to be a better man and in some ways he was.

Him and his wife had a home that I would visit just to talk, or perhaps have a laugh, or maybe to sit and listen to music.

Music was a big thing in my pal’s life – although we didn’t always agree on what was good or bad. We all went to concerts together – some of those were the best ever.

My mate took me to golf days, like The Open, and although I didn’t play the sport, it was exciting to see all these talented folks up close. He did actually try to teach me golf once, but he could see I wasn’t going to be any good – mind you, that doesn’t stop people.

One night my bud was down this way in Kent – he was on a course in town, and we had a drink or two outside the George pub. One thing led to another and we argued – and when I got up in the morning to make him a coffee, he’d gone.

I went on my travels, mainly to the USA, and not only did months pass, but years got easily eaten up.

I never got in touch with him again.

From what I heard, my mate was always running from that start in life and had finally run into complicated places and complicated people.

A couple of years back, my pal walked into some woods near his home and didn’t walk back out.

I was watching The Open last week and I just wanted to say to my pal, wherever you are – I remember.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

The Thursday Angel

angel

She had been born on Christmas Day.

As the woman with the watery eye had mentioned to her mother, “She is your little Christmas gift, your little bundle of joy”.

And she was.

She had grown in a very happy home, and that joy had penetrated her very bones.

She had grown in body and soul and stood tall as one of life’s darlings.

She preferred to give happiness than to receive it.

There had been boyfriends but nothing that serious. Every time she felt she was falling in love, someone or something would cause a change in the way she lived.

She had met Patrick at a bus stop one yellowy autumn day and she told herself that this was the one. He proposed on New Year’s Eve and she had said yes.

“I was going to do it on December 25th but I didn’t want to overwhelm your birthday,” he had told her.

They were to be married on the following June, but that was a long time away. Life crossed her path, put its hand up and shouted ‘Stop’. Her father, worrying about his wife’s health, and on the way to the chemist, hadn’t noticed the bus.

Patrick called the wedding off, and she had made that condition permanent. Her mother was a widow now and needed all the support and help that came her way.

She told herself that it wouldn’t be forever, her mother would learn to live without her dad, and then she would set her life to rights; she’d finally settle down and find that one special person.

She remembered the day well, that day her mother dropped the groceries on the stairs. It was a small stroke they had told her. Things could go either way.

They went the dark way. Her mother saw things, and said things that were not her. The illness ate along her brain and chewed every last piece of her personality.

When her daughter held her mother’s hand, she couldn’t recognize her anymore.

Her mother tried to say something, so she put her ear to her mother’s mouth just as she had done when she was a child. She felt her mother’s hot breath caress her face.

“I love you,” said, her mother.

“And I will always watch over you, always look for the angel. I’ll be there.”

Her mother lived on for several more months, but it she never spoke of such things again. Love had been eaten by the disease, too.

They buried her mother on a Thursday.

On the way back from the cemetery she saw an angel of sorts. Just some random person riding a bicycle. She wondered if she had overtaken the bike that she would see her mum peddling away with a huge grin on her face.

Then she did a strange thing. She decided to follow the angel. She did so through the town square, and through the old streets of the western half, then the cyclist disappeared down through a wooden gate. She couldn’t follow anymore but next to the gate was a young man, attempting to get a cat down from the tree.

“I don’t suppose you could help me?” He asked.

And she did help him, as he helped her.

Now she was sitting at the Christmas Day fire thinking of the old days.

“Tell you grandchildren, honey, how we met, how you followed the angel.”

bobby stevenson 2017

Thing And Being Human

thing

It was the end of another hard day as Thing made his way up back home, to his cave. After such a trying time, he liked nothing better than to sit and look out over the valley and watch the town below.

It was hard sometimes for Thing not to believe what folks said about him. ‘Freak’ was a word that Thing had to cope with since he was very small. Now not all people used it, in its worst sense, but they still used it none-the-less, even if they thought they were only joking.

When Thing was young, his mother used to read him stories from a large book which sat at the back of the cave. His favorite ones were about Gulliver’s Travels. He imagined an island where everyone looked like Thing and it was only the human who was out-of-place. And Thing bet that if there was such an island they would make the human feel welcome and not treat him like a ‘freak’.

The point was that each person who said the word ‘freak’ to Thing probably thought they were the only ones that day who had said the word. But the truth of matter was, Thing heard it maybe fifty, or even a hundred, times a day. That sort of stuff sank in and lodged itself at the back of his brain and no matter how hard he tried, he’d sometimes start to think that maybe they were right. Maybe the great Creator had put him down in such a place to teach him a lesson – but for what?

It had been easier when Thing’s mother and father had been in the cave with him. On those days the place felt warm and loved, but since his parents had gone to the hospital and not come back, he felt really alone at times.

Yet Thing knew that his own heart was every bit as warm and as caring as any other living creature. Yet people couldn’t get over his appearance in order to find that fact out.

So Thing came up with a plan. It meant going into old garbage and searching for stuff. Yet after a few weeks he had enough to carry out his plan. He had found an old human wig and a suit and hat. With a little fixing up here and there, Thing was able to dress up as a human and a pretty accurate one, at that. If he didn’t know any better, he’d have thought he was a human after all.

So the next day, dressed like all the others in town, Thing made his way down the mountainside.

It was strange, there was no other way to say it. No one said anything, no one crossed the street, no one hit him, spat on him or told him to go back to Hell from where he had come.

So this was what it was like to belong. Except he didn’t belong, did he? He was hiding, he was disguised as one of them. Maybe that’s what all humans did; hide who they were so they wouldn’t stand out – so they would belong.

But when Thing thought about it, he didn’t do anything to stand out – he just walked the streets the way he had been created by the universe and that was the only honest way to be.

So Thing went into the town’s library: a place where he was always asked to leave within five minutes of entering. Why would he, a monster, need books? Need to read?

Sometimes they looked at him as if they wished Things like him had never existed. But Thing knew that once his kind had gone, they would only pick on something or someone else, that wasn’t quite them – that kind of thinking would never stop. If the universe had wanted that to be the way, then it wouldn’t have created life the way it did.

So who knew better? The universe or the man in the library? That was when Thing decided to sit at a table and piece by piece take his disguise off.

And yeah, it only took a minute for him to be asked to leave. That was when Thing realized, it’s better to live as you are, than die as something you’re not.

And you know what? He whistled all the way back up to the cave. That was another talent he’d found out about himself – he could whistle too.

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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Cracked Hearts & Walking Wounded

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Cracked Hearts

She washes her mother with water and with love. Gently caressing the body that looks like someone she once knew, but her mother’s mind has already gone ahead and waits for the soul to return. She cleans away the saliva from the mouth that once used to chastise and kiss and smile.

He dreads the sun coming up as it means another day and another night of little sleep. Somewhere between being ten years of age and this morning it all got complicated. The knots are too tightly tied to try to undo them anymore. He can hear the car next door starting up – the sign that he has to do it all….all over again.

If it wasn’t for the kids she would have left months ago, may be years. They were happy once. They were in love back then but all she did was turn her head away, take her eye off from where she was going and they slipped away from each other.

Okay, so he’s not a kid anymore but he tells himself that the injections he puts in his leg every morning are increasing his super powers. Yesterday he told himself he could see through peoples’ clothing. It made him smile and it greased another sticky day.

She’s 17 and gravity hasn’t hit her yet. She doesn’t know what waits around the corner but she is happy with her family and her dog called, Bertie. Oh, and her boyfriend.

The old lady lives two doors up from no one. She’s been there since the war and the neighbours have come and gone and although she used to know everyone, she locks her door against the night. When she goes, she’ll go like Eleanor Rigby. Then she hums what she thinks is the tune.

It’s the end of another day and as the heads lie on the pillow, or the sofa or the street, everyone should be standing up there on the podium, arms aloft for a job well done.

To get through a day, any day, deserves a medal. 

The Walking Wounded

Sally Anne leaves the house at number 17 with her heart almost bursting through her chest.

She’s pregnant, ‘with child’ as she read somewhere – just like the girl who was on the cover of  that magazine – Sally’s really really happy, she’s already deciding how her new home will look. She only found out while her Mum was making the toast and tea and the little line turned blue.

At number 22, the curtains twitch as Sam Lot watches his little distraction, Sally, walking down the street – bless her. Tonight’s the night he’s going to have to tell her it’s over; his wife is beginning to suspect.

The Hammerston twins, Fred and Irene at number 31 leave together, saying ‘good morning’ together to everyone they meet. As they run up the street for the West Town bus, Irene wonders how she’s going to tell her brother about her job up north.

Next door in number 33, Geraldine paces the floor – ‘born worrying, die worrying’ her mother used to tell the neighbours. But the lump on her breast makes her pace faster.

‘Lucky’ Jim turns into the street after finishing another night shift at the old plastic Works. He knows it has its bonuses – Jim had no trouble finding stuff to wrap his wife up in. And every morning when he finishes work he buys a newspaper, ten menthol cigarettes from the corner shop and wonders if this will be the day they find her.

In the little shop on the corner, Andy, the milkman, delivers another crate of cream and then creeps out having failed to ask Matilda – who works there – if she’d like to go to the park on Sunday.

Matilda’s heart is almost bursting through her chest as she waits for Andy to ask.

And Hugh, big strong Hugh from number 36, can’t tell anyone (not even his best friend) that his black eyes – which he covers with his wife’s makeup – are not from playing sports. She’s warned him, if he acts like a child then he must be punished like one.

He’s hidden the packed bag in the shed for the day he leaves her.

At the white house on the corner, Alice takes in gentleman callers until her husband gets back from a far off land.

And in the bus shelter Eddie drinks a can, not to brighten the dull day but to tone down the colours.

And from every house on the street comes the screech of silent screaming.
Only the dogs can hear.

Edward Frostwaite: Rocket Man

Edward Frostwaite always wanted something different to happen to him. Not for him was the attraction of a job in a factory. Nor did he want to go into the army and fight wars – because Edward had always wanted to be an astronaut. He saw his life being outside of the Earth, maybe because he found his own life on the Earth not to his liking.

When he was five years of age, and using a bedsheet, he jumped from his grandmother’s roof and spent six months in hospital in traction. All he would say about the experiment was that he had nearly made it – ‘I was so close’.

When he was nine, he strapped a large paper kite to his back, and cycled towards the sea-cliffs. It took the rescue craft several hours to find him, and by then he was already a mile out to sea.

His response to all those who said he was crazy: ‘Well, I’ll know not to try that again’.

Some folks are born in the wrong family, or country, or even the wrong body but Edward knew he was born on the wrong planet. He had a theory that somewhere out there was his real home. He believed that Earth had been populated by travelers from another planet, and that every so often this alien DNA would surface in a person and make them feel homesick.

At sixteen years of age, he built a rocket and successfully sent a pizza – that his mother had made – into space. Well not space really, as he saw the pizza on the roof of the local hospital one day when he was passing by on a bus.

At seventeen, he sent his pet gerbil, Florence, up several hundred feet and she safely returned to the ground assisted by a small parachute. (My lawyer has asked that I remind you, that this should never be attempted with any living creature).

When he was only a few days old, Edward, or the baby as he was known, had been left on a doorstep. There was a note tied to his big toe which said, ‘please look after my child’. The woman who found him was too old to pass as his mother and therefore she called herself, Edward’s grandmother. When Edward was around three years of age, he convinced himself that he had been left on the door step by a passing flying saucer.

He never fitted in, not at school, or at college, or at work. Maybe it was more correct to say that none of those people fitted in with Edward. Because he knew he didn’t come from Earth, he felt that it was a waste of time to try to get on with anyone.

Anytime Edward got close to anyone – close enough to call them a partner – he would confess to them about his belief that he was from outer space, and that was usually enough to end the relationship.

He did meet one person who thought they were also from outer-space , but the person was later arrested for stealing toilet fittings from a local hardware store. Edward didn’t bother to enquire why.

Folks tended to cross the street when Edward passed by, and then giggle or talk about him when they were far enough away. This didn’t hurt Edward, because in his mind this is how humans behaved, and as he knew himself, he wasn’t human (at least not from Earth).

When he was twenty-six years of age, and after having nursed his grandmother through her cancer and her subsequent funeral, he decided enough was enough, and that week was the perfect time to return home.

He went through his grandmother’s fridge and threw out anything that was perishable, then he gave his pet cat, Mr Spock to the next-door neighbour.

On a dull Thursday in June, Edward went up onto the heath with his latest rocket and decided that all the stars were aligned and that a take-off was imminent.

He strapped the rocket to his back, pressed the button which lit it, counted to ten, shouted goodbye and then he was off.

What happened to Edward is still a mystery. Some say he did indeed reach another planet, some say he only managed the edge of the atmosphere and still flies around the Earth every few hours – it has been said that if you find the International Space station, then Edward is a few feet to the North of that.

Others, the unkind ones, say that Edward just exploded on the heath and that was him all over.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Zoot and Sandy and Life

elephant

As always, Sandy the elephant and Zoot the dog were the best of pals in the whole wide world and, as usual, they were sitting by the river – talking about this, and talking about that.

“What do you see?” Asked Sandy.

“You always ask me that,” said Zoot, his pal.

“So, what do you see?”

“What I always see…..the birds.”

“And?”

“The sea…”

“And?”

“I don’t know. The sky.”

“That’s all you can see?” Asked the elephant.

“What else is there?” Questioned Zoot, the dog.

And then the big elephant shook his head, which made his trunk swing too.

“What? What have I said? Am I wrong?” Asked Zoot.

Sandy the elephant, gave a very important cough to clear his throat because he felt that what he was going to say was very important.

“This universe is very large,”

“Even for an elephant?” Said Zoot.

“Even for an elephant. Some say it could be as much as a billion light years across. Now that’s big. There are even wise women and men who think that there may be more than one universe and that in another one, I could be President.”

“And I could be a rock star,” interrupted Zoot.

“Exactly. Now in all those billions of light years, for me to become an elephant, and you to become a dog – well the chances must be a zillion to one. And to survive and me to meet you and you to meet me, well that must be a trillion, zillion to one. “

“What are you saying?” Asked the little dog.

“That to exist is very special and should never be taken for granted.”

“Do I do that?”

“We all do that,” said Sandy.

“You see, you and I can see how special it is to exist but there are many folks out there who are blind,” said Sandy.

“They can’t see?”

“Not so much that, but they can’t see how special their existence is. How hard the universe must have worked to bring them here.”

“But it makes them feel good about themselves…..to be blind,” said Sandy thoughtfully.

“But they drag the rest of us down. They think that living in a house, and keeping your money in the bank, and working and then retiring and then dying is all there is in life. And those who don’t see it that way are wrong.”

“Do I do that?” Asked the dog.

“Look again, what do you see? This time really look,” said the elephant.

“The sky, the sea…”

“And what is between the sky and the sea?”

“The horizon?”

“Exactly my friend. The horizon. That is what the blind can’t see. As long as there is a horizon, there is always something over the horizon.”

“And what is that?” Asked Zoot.

“Why hope,” said Sandy. “Just plain and simple, hope.”

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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One Night, in 1949

image

I guess it would be inaccurate to say that the day started with the sun rising, ‘cause it didn’t. They day started under the moonlight, up on the Greendowner Hills. It was early on in 1949 and folks were still trying to get things back in order after the big one. People had started travelling again and that’s exactly what Sean McCoy had done. He’d come in to town to hear the word of the Lord from a young guy called Billy Graham.

Yet in the middle of the night, and a mile or so out-of-town, a leak had started from the Pauxanatent Dam. The water had crossed the road, undermining the poles carrying the electricity into town. It was only a matter of time before the supply would be cut, but no one knew that yet.

Sean had saved up his money and had decided to stay at the one hotel on the main street, that way he’d be rested for the meeting in the big tent out on the edge of town. His mom gave him another 75 cents for an emergency.

Also coming into town on a bus was a man who was just passing through. He was on his way to Washington D.C. to have a meeting with his state senator. The man on the bus was called Archibald McAllister and he ran a gang down in his part of the country. He was used to dressing up in white sheets and scaring the folks who lived in the area.

Seeing that he had a day or so to play with, Archibald thought it was wiser to stay at the hotel in town rather than ride straight on to D.C. and pay the prices that those thieves were asking up there.

These were two different types of men. Archibald thought life was all about appearances and Sean knew it had more to do with what was in a man’s heart.

When Archibald got to town, he found that because of the Prayer Meeting, there wasn’t room to be had, leastways not in the ‘classier’ hotels. So against his better judgement, and telling himself it was only for one night, he took a room in the worst hotel, at the wrong end of town.

Sometime between sundown and midnight, the leak from the dam became a river and that river brought the poles with the telephone lines and the electricity crashing to the road.

Archibald had brought with him a bottle of bourbon whiskey to make the time go faster, and to kill the pain of being on the road. He was just finishing the last of the bottle when the lights went dark in the cheapest hotel in town and as he said:
“You gets what you pay for in this life.”

But what he didn’t know was that the lights were down all over town. Archibald struggled to get up from his bed, and when he succeeded, he tried to light a candle which was sitting in a drawer by the bed. Whatever went wrong – no one could rightly say – but the next thing was, Sean heard the screaming of a man’s voice coming from the room next door.

Sean felt his way out of his own door and shouldered open Archibald’s door (who had locked his on account of the kind of hotel he was in). Sean felt his way to the window where there was a vase of flowers and threw the jug of water over Archibald, before wrapping him in the bedclothes. Archibald was moaning but Sean felt that he’d doused the fire in good time. Sean tried to find a doctor but given the chaos that the darkness had brought, he walked back to Archibald’s room and sat with him. He ripped up what he could of the sheets and made bandages. He kept getting water from the sink to help Archibald with his thirst.

Archibald came around some, and started to talk to Sean. In the dark it was hard to imagine what each other looked like. Sean said he would stay with him until it got light and then he’d try and fetch a doctor. Archibald thanked him and said that if he was ever down Charleston way, then he was to be sure to look him up.

When dawn broke, and Archibald was sleeping, Sean left his patient and went looking for the doctor. He sent the doctor to Archibald’s room and in the meantime, Sean packed his case as he had to get back home for work.

The doctor said the Archibald would be better at the hospital and helped him get ready. The doctor would take him in his car.
As the doctor and Archibald left the hotel door, Sean was still sitting waiting on his bus. Archibald seeing that there was a black man in his way asked the doctor to help him to cross the street.

The doctor was just about to tell Archibald who the man was, but by then the Sean had stepped on the bus and was on his way back home.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Noises In The Sky

lights

Separately they would have amounted to nothing more than a curiosity, but together, well, that was a different matter. Together they spelled the change of everything that was known.

For years there had been reports of humming noises from the skies, sometimes it sounded like distant thunder, other times it was more like a ‘heavenly organ’ – as one pastor from Minnesota had described the phenomenon to a local TV station.

Then there were the strange lights – at the start, they were never close enough together for anyone to find a pattern in them. But one woman eventually did – she was a professor of logic at a north-eastern university – she realised their increase and intensity was following a logical path and it might look as if there was an intelligence behind it.

They called her, The God Woman. Most western governments did their best to destroy her quietly and slowly and they nearly succeeded – except for one thing, the skies were growing noisier and brighter. The Americans and the British tried to blame it on extreme weather conditions, but gradually those who looked to the skies knew that something else was happening – a change was coming.

The higher mammals had sat on a little rock for millennia and had explained everything away in stories of darkness and light; Gods and monsters were all you needed to keep you stuck to a rock circling the Sun and not to question why.

The Sun would burn out in so many years, the universe would collapse in a certain time in the future, life would go on forever. That was what they told themselves – just like monkeys locked in a pitch-black cellar – guessing what was in the dark and feeling safer in the process.

But there was something else out there, something stronger than a god or science – the universe itself. It was this that had decided to bring things into being, and it was this that had decided to destroy and move on.

The noises in the skies was the universe singing to itself, getting ready to end what it had made, and no monkey (or human – it’s your call) could scream at the heavens with crosses and icons and try to make it understand.

It was the beginning of the end.

Video:

Noises in the sky  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCAgmtB4j7w)

 

bobby stevenson 2017
photo  http://home.bt.com/news/odd-news/mysterious-fiery-flash-illuminates-the-night-sky-11363944659350

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Legend

Equilibrium-robot-artwork-by-Daniel-Arnold-Mist

I suppose history will see October, 17 as the day that the future started. For that was the day when a newHuman wrote a poem. Not one that had been programmed into them, but something that came from its ‘soul’, something that was truly a ghost in the machine.

It had been illegal for more than fifty years to refer to them as ‘robots’. Once they got representation in government, the first policy they pushed through was to change their name – to change their label – to newHuman.

Some of the early creations were so lifelike that a number of people had relationships with the newHumans. This was also illegal for a time, until a law was passed to allow it.

The newHumans didn’t suffer from organic illnesses and this made them stronger. Humans were wiped out in some regions by mysterious sicknesses – there were suspicions that the newHumans had poisoned water supplies (newHumans didn’t need to drink after all).

Within a hundred years, newHumans became the majority. It didn’t take long after that for some human activities to be seen as harmful and illogical. Cinemas and sports’ grounds were closed, and churches were burnt to the ground.
Old humans drifted underground and built cities. Any of them who remained on the surface were hunted as sport (and although this was also illogical, it demonstrated that the newHumans were developing ‘human’ traits).

It didn’t stop there. The newHumans filled their isolation by building memorials to the first newHuman who wrote a poem. October 17th, was celebrated as newHuman day each year.
There were terror attacks from the folks who lived beneath, sometimes they destroyed a newHuman statue, or they razed a building to the ground. Every October 17th, there would be twenty-four hours of constant attacks from the ‘subs’ – the newHuman name for human beings; whether this was short for subterranean or for sub-species, it was never explained.

A new and more sinister activity developed. After catching a ‘sub’, the newHumans didn’t automatically kill them, instead they took them to the coliseum (inspired by their admiration of the Romans) and either made them fight each other or (and this was considered a better use) make them fight animals to the death.
As the decades progressed the newHumans became more like old humans. They started to kill and maim and steal from each other. What they couldn’t escape from, was that their original programming had been by human beings and as such, contained all their strengths, weaknesses, flaws and magic.

Then the day came when no more subs came to the surface.
The newHumans had found ways to destroy the underground settlements. There was one human being left and he was in captivity, shown as an exhibit for all the newHumans to prod and question.
And that was when the wisest of all newHumans, one known as Figaro, suggested that this man, this last human was actually where they had originated from and as such, Figaro suggested that the human should be allowed to spend his final days in peace.
And that is what they did.

When the last human eventually died they didn’t bury him, instead they covered him in gold and built a church to him. The newHumans worshipped their creator and wrote songs and stories about those who had gone before them, about the humans.
It was considered the height of good manners to exhibit human traits. Crying and laughing, however artificial, were displayed at all the best occasions.

They no longer worshipped on October 17, but instead, once a week, they went to their church and prayed to the last human – their god and they thanked him and his species for their existence.
The one possession the last human had kept from his life was a book, ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens. A newHuman was expected to know the story by heart and every newHuman carried a copy of this with them wherever they went.
………and that, dear friends, was the legend as it was told to me.

 

Bobby Stevenson 2017

photo http://www.9photoshop.com

bobby2 wee bobby

 

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A Child Of Atlantis

The house was built to be admired. It had even outshone the new hotel that stood only a few yards away on the corner of Main Street. The town of Kingston was growing up fast, sitting pretty and, above all, ready for the fast approaching twentieth century.

Andrew had been born here on the edge of the Catskills, unlike the rest of his family who had originally hailed from Lansdale, Pennsylvania.They had made their money in retail around the Market East area of Philadelphia, launching their grand store in the opening weeks of the American Civil War. Most of the brothers and sisters had built villas around the Schuylkill River but Edward, Andrew’s father, had decided to sell his share of the claustrophobic business and move to the Hudson valley in New York State.

Edward continued to work in the trade by investing his money in, and running, The Fifth Avenue Emporium in Manhattan. Each morning, he would ride the train from Kingston into the Grand Central Depot and each evening, after making more dollars than he could ever possibly need, would return home again. If he was being honest, Edward lived for those return train journeys, smoking his cigar and reading his journal as the evening sun set on the shimmering Hudson River.

Edward’s eldest son, Brett, was currently attending West Point Military Academy and each night, as the train passed nearby, the proud father would give a small salute. His middle son, Michael, was studying, as had all the family, at The University of Pennsylvania and it was his hope that Michael would follow in his father’s money making footsteps.

His youngest son, Andrew, was born only a year after the family had moved north and was still to blossom into a creature that Edward could mould. As for Isabel, his devoted wife, he was pleased to report that both of them still found each other’s company attractive.

Andrew didn’t attend any of the schools in Kingston, instead his father had engaged a tutor to ensure that all the educational needs, which Andrew required, were carried out at home. There was also a nanny on hand, in case Andrew was in need of a woman’s touch; his father thoroughly satisfied himself that he had thought of every possible need and want for his youngest son.

When the boy required some fresh air and outdoor pursuits, Edward would take his son hunting up into the hills around Woodstock where Edward would stand behind his son helping him to aim the rifle and pull the trigger. What Edward couldn’t see was that Andrew had his eyes closed almost constantly and detested the thought of killing another living creature.

The head of one of Andrew’s ‘kills’ was stuffed and mounted and put in pride of place in the trophy room of that house which stood on the hill and was built to be admired.

One day Edward took Andrew into the study to give him his birthday present.

“But my birthday is not for another two weeks, Papa.”

“I know that son, but your mother and I will be travelling on that day, so we thought you should get your present sooner rather than later. You see, that is how much we love you.”

Andrew could tell by the gun-shaped wrapping, what the present was and he wasn’t disappointed.

“You don’t look too happy son?”

“No Papa, I like it. Thank you Sir”

Edward tussled Andrew’s hair and sent him on his way, adding “We can go shooting together when I return”

Edward and Isabel were planning to attend The Chicago World’s Fair and would miss their youngest son’s birthday. Edward explained to Isabel, in terms that she would understand, that their son Andrew would have many more birthdays but the World’s Fair only came along once in a generation. Edward felt his wife understood and was happy to comply.

Andrew watched the carriage pull away from the house as his parents left for the rail road station and on to Chicago. No one had asked Andrew, but he would have loved to have gone to the World’s Fair. He was now in his tenth year and no one had ever asked Andrew what would make him happy.

Andrew loved reading and his current passion was Woodstock by Sir Walter Scott. He had taken the book, with his father’s permission, from the family library believing it to be an adventure story about the little town that lay in the Catskills. Instead, it turned out to be an exciting story about the English Civil War and with the family away the library was all his, so he planned to read Ivanhoe, by the same author, next.

One stormy Sunday, and co-incidentally Andrew’s birthday, the nanny was called away to Highland to attend to her mother who was dying. She had given Andrew little thought as she assumed the tutor would be on hand and anyway, she needed to travel the fifteen miles south as soon as possible. The tutor was indeed at home, but had confined himself to bed with a severe cold having been warned by Edward that should he ever be ill, he should separate himself from the family at the earliest opportunity. Not wanting to have the parents come home to find young Andrew the subject of a tutorial infection, he had remained in his top floor bedroom.

On the wall of the family library, on the side which was forever in the shadows, there hung several photographs taken of Edward and his hunting trophies. One such photograph was of him on Slide Mountain just after he had ambushed and killed a particularly old deer.

His father had never taken Andrew as far as Slide Mountain, which according to the tutor, was the highest in the Catskills. It had gained its name from a landslide in the early 1800s which had left the mountain with a large wound near its summit. Andrew’s father was always referring to his own elder brother, Charles, as Slide due to the heavy head injury he had picked up at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Andrew decided that since no one was going to ask him, he’d make his own happiness on his birthday and take himself off to Slide Mountain. So on the afternoon of the stormy Sunday, Andrew took some bread and cheese and placed them in an old satchel. He considered taking his birthday present, just in case of wild animals, but decided against it and condemned the rifle to remain in the cellar.

The gentle climb out of Kingston and up towards Hurley was easier than Andrew expected but then he didn’t have the prospect of shooting an animal to look forward to. Once at the top, Andrew could see both Overlook and Slide mountains in all their glorious splendour.

Andrew and his father regularly climbed the trail to Overlook but it was always busy with grown-ups and even more annoying, according to Edward, were the new hotels rising up all over the mountain. So Andrew decided to walk straight on and head towards Slide.

He might be just a kid, but he wasn’t stupid and if there was one thing his father’s hunting trips had taught him was that he had to keep a watch out for wildlife; for his sake and theirs. Copperhead snakes especially as they were mean. He had only gone a further mile or so, when Andrew heard a rustling sound out to his left, he was hoping it wasn’t hunters or Andrew would be in real trouble. He stopped and held his breath and realised that the sound was following him in parallel.

Andrew wanted to cry out but he knew that this would cause more trouble than it was worth, so he decided to be a man and head towards the noise. Whatever it was, this thing was quite large and it sounded in trouble.

Andrew squatted down and slowly pulled back the vegetation, only to see a black bear cub staring straight back at him. They were both very surprised at the sight of each other which caused Andrew to fall flat on his back and although Andrew knew little about bears, he was surprised that the bear didn’t make his attack. Andrew quickly crawled back a few yards and then stood up, it was then he noticed that the bear cub’s leg was stuck fast in a rock crevice and the poor animal couldn’t move.

So one abandoned child decided to help another abandoned child – I mean, he just couldn’t leave the bear out there to die, now could he? His father had told him that if a bear threatened, he should not make any eye contact and to back off as quickly and as quietly as possible but, hey, this was a small bear, just like him.

Andrew found a fallen tree and used it to ease the stone which was holding the cub’s leg, just enough that  it was able to free its leg and run for a few yards. It then turned and growled which Andrew had assumed was its way of saying ‘thank you’. Except it wasn’t, it was calling on its mother who was approaching.

“Don’t run, don’t make eye contact, don’t run, don’t make eye contact” was all that Andrew kept saying over and over to himself. He backed away towards a sturdy tree which was nearby, and was just about to climb it when a soft voice spoke from behind it.

“Don’t climb the tree” whispered the woman, “you’ll only get yourself trapped, stay perfectly still and look at the ground. Don’t even scratch your nose. If you understand me, breathe a little heavier”

Andrew took a long breath. “Good” whispered the caring voice. “Now don’t be alarmed little one but I’m going to pick you up and run some, only a short distance.”

‘Don’t run, don’t run’ was still going through Andrew’s mind, when all of a sudden two large arms came around the tree and lifted him off his feet. He could hear the bear growling and starting to move towards him. Andrew was almost hanging upside down from the gigantic woman’s arms and he could see the bear closing in when all of a sudden he was in a small room with a door and no windows. The gigantic woman threw Andrew in the corner then placed a large piece of wood across the door. The woman signalled to Andrew to be quiet, which he did to such an extent that he almost stopped breathing.

After a few minutes of listening at the door the woman, relaxed, took a deep breath and whispered “She’s gone” then said “Hi, my name’s Mary”

“Andrew”

“Good to meet you Andrew, you sure did have a close one today, someone up there must be looking out for ya. When it’s clear, we can head up back to my cabin and get you cleaned up”

And that is what they did. Mary kept an ever watchful eye out for anything else, as she and Andrew walked to higher ground, arriving at the homely cabin with the smoke coming out of the chimney. In that little hour, Andrew was probably shown more care and love than he’d been shown in all his short life.

The food that Mary served up was easily the tastiest that he had ever put in his mouth, and he loved the way she whistled while she was cooking and serving the meal.

“When we’re done, we can talk about what you were doing up in these woods alone. Ain’t you got a ma and pa?”Andrew nodded that he had and then continued eating.

When he’d finished, Andrew told Mary about his mother and father and their trip to Chicago.

“…And this being your birthday and all? If you was mine, I wouldn’t leave you”

Suddenly Andrew wished Mary was his mother. So he told her about his brothers, the ones who were always away from home, the nanny and her dying mother and the tutor in his room.

“You poor little orphan, you sure is a sad one. Come over here and let Mary hug the life out of you. Come on now.”

So the biggest woman in Andrew’s short life did indeed hug the life out of him, then she set him down by her side, always keeping one arm safely around him, and she told him a story.

“You see Andrew…can I call you Andy?” and the boy nodded “Well Andy, you’re a lot like me, you’re one of the others. My mother was one of the others and so was her father”

And she went on to tell Andrew about the others, how a very long time ago there was a land call Atlantis, and in that land lived the good people. These were the ones who created music, poetry, painting, dancing and would express love in so many kind and decent ways.

Because they had not mixed with any other beings, they believed that this was how life was meant to be lived, that each of us should always love and care for one another. But then, and remember this was still a very long time ago, the land of Atlantis arose in steam and fire and the ground below their feet began to break apart. Some swam, others took to the hills while some built small rafts and put to sea. As they looked back from their little boats they could see the land of their home disappear below the waves.

Some of the good and brave survived and reached the lands we know of today but because they did not want to frighten those they had come to know, they dressed and lived as the strangers did. They married and had children – they fell in love with those they lived amongst and through the families they passed on the life force of the Atlantis people.

Not everyone was lucky enough to claim such heritage, but once in a generation a child would appear who had all the properties of Atlantis. They would be kind and loving, although they would be rarely understood. They would go out into the world and although they would be alone, they would do great things because they knew that they were children of Atlantis and they would never forget.

“When I saw you, Andy, I knew straight away you were one of those children”

“For sure?”

“For sure, little one”

So Mary took Andrew’s hand and led him back across the valley, up over the ridge and down to the house that was built to be admired.

As for Andrew, he displayed all the goodness that Mary had told him about. When he had finished college as a doctor, he travelled to Africa and looked after the sick and the poor.

And never, for one second, did he ever feel alone again because he knew he was a child of Atlantis and that was a good thing.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Eli’s Letter

tears

It had worried him all his life and now Eli saw that it had serious consequences. Thinking back, it just kinda happened. One week his mom was ill and then she got ill again and so he stayed home from school, and the schooling got less and less and his mom needed more help – so days became weeks and weeks became years and no one came looking after a time.

He wasn’t blaming her – no way – it was the way the cards were dealt sometimes in life. Then when his mom was finally laid in the ground, he’d left home and worked in the next country over and no one knew him there. So it didn’t really matter. He always found a way to hide it.

But today he realized that he’d been a fool. He could have killed Jodie, his grandson, that boy who was his life-blood itself. The boy and him had gone fishing just liked they did every Saturday in the good warm months. They’d sit there and chew things over. Jodie was going to be a great man Eli could see that for sure.

The sign must have been a warning of sorts that the bridge was unsafe but Jodie being Jodie ran over the bridge and the next thing Eli sees is the bridge crumble and the love of his life fall into the water. The boy went under real fast and it was Eli’s quick thinking that saved the boy. Eli had swum down to where the boy was being held by a current and pulled him to the shore.

The cop had asked, as had the emergency guy, as had Jodie’s mom. Didn’t you read the sign? But he hadn’t because the truth of it was that Eli couldn’t read – not a word.

His daughter went on and on at her father that night, telling him he couldn’t be trusted with her son and that was the end of the fishing. No more trips with Jodie, anywhere.

That’s when he told her – right out:

“I can’t read. Never have.”

It took the legs away from his daughter, she sat, then she looked at her pa and she cried for all the lonely years he must have kept the secret.

“Tomorrow, we’re gonna fix things. It’s never too late.” She told him and she meant it.

It was hard work and at first Eli kept wanting to give up but there was one thing that he wanted to do before he died and that was read a letter. One he’d never told anyone about. One his ma had left him when she finally passed.

“One day, you’ll read this Elijah. When I’m long gone.”

So the days and months passed and Eli could read little things, like the books the kids used to read. Man was he proud.

No one had ever known in his town or in his own family that he’d spent years hiding and finding cunning ways to lie.

Every night when he had come home from work to the family, he had pretended to read the newspaper – he was just too ashamed to tell anyone and it seemed too late to ask for help.

Then one night not long before Eli died, he took his ma’s letter from under the drawer where he had hidden it and he opened it – and he read it:

“I knew you would, my darling son.

I knew you could do anything.

Love, Mom x”.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Thank You for Today

walking young man over field and sunset

Thank you for today,

Not everything was good,

But then not everything was bad,

I woke up sad and somewhere in the sunshine

The day got a little better.

 

Thank you for today,

For letting me see that

Life is difficult for every heart

And some things, which I find easy, others don’t

And I know the opposite is true

 

Thank you for today,

And although I am not where I want to be

I realise that I might just get

To where I’m meant to be, one day.

 

Thank you for today,

For although I never felt like I was a winner

I managed to scrape my way through it all

And learned to hide the disappointments

Thank you for today

Seriously.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Man Who Knew Where Love Was Hidden

flatiron

There had always been wars. Even in the times of love and hope, there was always a reason to kill.

From the 17th century onwards, wars got more complex: families fought families, brother against brother, rich against poor.

If you were to ask when love started dying, it was probably at the dawn of the 20th century. For that was when Captain James Sandford, a man who had seen too many battles, began to notice the increasing coldness in hearts, and the dullness growing in people’s eyes.

It was only little things at first. Small, insignificant things. A gentleman giving a beggar a farthing instead of a penny. A landowner hitting a servant twice instead of the usual once. Even the poor were not exempt; folks stole more from other poor souls and yet they could still sleep at night.

So, it was, in the year of our Lord, 1903 that Captain Sandford decided to do something about it. From his travels in Afghanistan, he has spoken to medicine men, men who had talked with the Yeti (at least, that is what they claimed). In the years that James visited their homes high in the mountains, they taught him magic and sorcery (at least, that is what he claimed).

But the greatest of all tricks was the dilution of love into a potion. One so strong, that it could stop wars in an instant. The medicine men called it ‘God’s Tears’.

In the Spring and Summer of 1903, the Captain travelled the world, catching the tears of children for their mother, and the laughter of friendship, and the sweat of one lover for another. After diluting the liquid, he placed it in a large bottle, and placed this container in the highest building that he could find.

That was at the top of the Flat Iron Building in New York City.

As 1903, became 1904, and then 1905, the world grew darker and colder and soon the world was at war. All wars are bad, but this was an evil war which believed that humans were divisible into the great, the good and the dispensable.

There were more wars that century which became more about what the enemy were – about religion, about race, about the destruction of people.

And so, the world came to the 21st century and by then love was a scarce commodity. Soon love would be no more.

The problem was that our Captain James had fought one more war in France in 1916 and had fallen there, never to return.

And with him, he took the secret of God’s Tears to his grave. But somewhere out there, perhaps hidden on top of the Flat Iron building, there is a safe which contains a bottle where all the love in the world is stored – waiting to be uncorked.

It just needs to be found.

bobby stevenson 2017

 

When It’s Time For You To Go

jottifry

chair1

When it’s time for you to go,

Don’t turn and wave,

Instead,

Consider this,

If there should be a blessed place,

Beyond,

A land of half-forgotten ghosts,

Then I will follow you and

We shall meet once more,

But if this other Eden,

Should prove unformed,

Remember this,

One day, I too will rest among,

The longest sleep,

And you,

Alone, no more.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

Approval from the main man 🙂

Very touching x

Direct message sent by Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) to you (@BobbyStevenson) on Jan 09, 8:45 PM.

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Nelle and Tru (For Harper Lee)

kids

 

“I hate going outside, I absolutely hate it, hate it, hate it,” said Nelle to the sad-looking boy standing at the porch door.
“You’ve gotta come, ya just gotta,” said the boy.

“P…l….e…a….s…e!” He said in one of those elongated ways, that folks from town always used. This was Alabama and the way people talked could be used as a weapon, as well as a way into your heart.
“If the sun is too hot, I ain’t coming,” said Nelle.
“When is it never too hot?” Asked the boy.
“Oh you,” shouted Nelle and then stamped her feet. “If you weren’t my best friend, Tru, I would surely hit you in the face.”
“No ya wouldn’t,” said Tru, calmly.
“No I wouldn’t,” added Nelle sheepishly.
“So you coming?”
“Looks like I ain’t got no other choice.”

Tru and Nelle had been friends since they were embryos. The first one born probably waited on the other to arrive. They were close as any two souls could be. Nelle loved Tru’s bouncy hair and Tru loved the fact that Nelle didn’t realise she was a girl.

The place they were heading was over on the other side of town, a place her father, Amasa, had told her never to go near. Her mother, on the other hand didn’t care, she never cared about anything Nelle or Tru got up to. Or anything her father did, either.

“How did you know it was there?” Nelle asked her pal.
“I heard two boys talking about it as I passed the old café, said he’d been there for some days.”
“I guess he must be stinking by now,” said Nelle in a boyish way that Tru admired.

On the way there, Tru had stopped to get a big stick, not to protect himself with, but so he would be able to jab the body when they got there.
Before Tru had called on Nelle he’d already had a peek at the body. All he had seen were the feet but the smell told you that someone was lying dead.

“There he is,” said Tru, pointing at where he’d seen the feet but Tru was looking in another direction – just in case – although he wasn’t quite sure what it was he might see if he looked directly at the body.
“Well I’ll be,” shouted Nelle excitedly. “If it ain’t a dead man.”

And sure enough, that is exactly what it was. Nelle walked right over to the body just as a wave of decomposing flesh hit her nose. Undeterred, she covered her face with her bottom of her shirt and went in for a closer look.

“Can’t say if he’s a black man or whether the sun just roasted him,” she said.

Tru told her that he heard it was a black man who had been chased out of the next town over on account he’d been cheating. Nelle asked Tru what he’d been cheating at, was it playing cards or something? Tru hadn’t heard the rest of the conversation from the boys but he was sure that they had mentioned something about someone’s wife.

“He’d been cheating at cards with someone’s wife,” said Nelle, nodding her head as if she’d got to the core of the mystery. Not wanting to show any fear, Nelle crawled over and turned the body over. Half of the man’s face had been eaten or bashed in, neither of them were sure. What they were sure of was, that both were just as fascinated by the dead man as each other.

“You think it’s weird that I think dead people are worth looking at?” Asked Tru.
“Nope, ‘cause I was thinking just the same. Dead folks are worth looking at,” said Nelle.
“You kids should be at school,” said the man behind them blocking out the sun.
“It’s Saturday,” said Nelle and Tru together.
“Still, dead bodies ain’t no place for kids,” said the man who turned out to be a policeman.
“Where you from?” Asked the cop.

And Nelle and Tru told him they came from way over the other side of town.
“What’s your names, so I can inform your folks, and no lies mind, you’ll only make it worse if you do,” said the man.
“Mine’s, Nelle Harper Lee,” said the girl.
“And mine’s Truman Capote,” said the boy.
“Well skoot,” said the cop. “And don’t let me catch you round this way again, ya hear me?”

By then Nelle and Tru had wandered off looking for another adventure, but the picture in their heads of the dead black man stayed with them for a long time after.

bobby stevenson 2017

capoteharper

 

 

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Be Happy, Pal

happy

Be happy, pal,

Don’t just

Smile for others

The years are eaten up that way,

And the emptiness will lie beyond

When those you smile to

Go away.

 

I know you’re young

And won’t have time

To understand what I have to say  –

Just don’t

Sell your soul

For the sake of others

Accept yourself in every way.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Me and Buzz and Runnin’ For President

FRIENDS

I guess it all seems kinda obvious now knowin’ what Buzz was gonna become – but back then, we didn’t have no idea, I kid you not.

When Buzz told me that as a good lookin’ kid it was probably beholdin’ to him to run for office. I was thinkin’ that Buzz had surely gone a bit crazy like. But then I was always thinkin’ things like that about my best pal.

“I’m considerin’ runnin’ for Class President,” he said without any warnin’ and which accounted for the fact that I dropped my cola.

“And you is gonna be my manager,” he said slappin’ me on the back as it was an honor.

Now I ain’t sure what a ‘crazy-kid-runnin’-for-president’ manager did exactly but I knew I’d probably find out real quick and it would probably mean a lot of work.

On the way back home from school, Buzz started to kiss mothers and their babies. One or two of them were takin’ by surprise but most of them tried to chase him away. One hit him with her umbrella and said she was hollerin’ for Sheriff McDonald, oh thank you Jesus. Well that’s what she said.

By the time Buzz got home, his Mom had a line of people around to complain’ that her son was a baby-kissin’ idiot. I guess that being a manager might be harder than I thought.

When we got back to school the next mornin’, I thought I was talkin’ to Buzz but I found I was talkin’ to myself and that Buzz was standin’ on an old wooden crate and was tellin’ folks to gather round as he had somethin’ important to tell them. When the folks found out that it wasn’t a party most of them just skedaddled.

“My fellow Americans,” he shouted to the three kids who were left and then he went on about when he was class president he would make sure that everyone got free soda. When Amy, who was seven years of age, asked him how. He said he’d get back to her on that point and she seemed happy enough with that answer. Maybe getting Buzz elected wasn’t gonna be that difficult after all.

Just before the bell, Buzz disappeared from class. He just got up and walked out, sayin’ to Teach that he had important work to do. When the Principal dragged him back about ten minutes later by his ear, it was because he had gone around all the classes and shook peoples’ hands even although they were in the middle of lessons. Even as the teachers were throwin’ him outta class, he still tried to make a speech.

The popular front-runner of the campaign was Jason Heart, a tall, skinny kid who was tellin’ folks that he was committed to helpin’ everyone in school and that Buzz should just be plain committed. Well that kinda talk don’t help anyone, in my book and I told Jason as much.

It was at our darkest hour that Buzz’s Maw came up with a plan. Even though she was as broke as a broke thing, she could still bake and she made cup cakes for everyone in the school (even three for Big Peggy who liked her cup cakes). Well this blew Jason Commitment outta the ball park and Buzz was elected by a land slide.

As a celebration, Buzz suggested that me and him mosey down to the ice-cream parlour and that he’d get it for free on account of him being President and all. Mister McCluskey was servin’ that day and he said, that he wasn’t one of Buzz’s ‘Fellow Americans’ thank you very much, and that we was getting’ no free ice cream either – ‘cause he’d never heard that kinda crazy talk for many a year. So we just left

Buzz only lasted as President for the rest of the week as he sold his title to Jason for a box of candy and a copy of Huckleberry Finn.

Neither of them got us any free soda. You just can’t trust politicians.

bobby stevenson 2016

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This Year’s Love

hope

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 2017

bobby2 wee bobby

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The Look of Strangers

strangers2     strangers3

There are those amongst us who slip into to this life like a well-worn glove, who very rarely question its strangeness and in most circumstances prefer to take everything that it offers.

Then there are people like me, Michael Andrews, sometime author, sometimes happy but mostly otherwise confused. There are days when I intentionally tell myself I’m stupid so as not to think too much, so as not to over analyse too much. But on other days…well on those other days I look around and scare myself with what I see. All of us sharing a little rock in space without rhyme nor reason, perhaps that is part of what makes me an author or maybe I’m just going plain mad.

There can only be two answers to this universe; either there is a God in control of everything or there is no one in control and now that I’ve had that thought I don’t want to get out of bed – ever.

Perhaps I’ll just hang on to my mattress and hope that Gravity does its job and keeps me in place.

So on the days I have to go into the city to see some colleague or other, I look at the faces on the subway or on the buses or on the trains or in all those faces of people walking. I look for some recognition that I am not alone in this belief, the belief that this existence really is only for the stupid and that the rest of us are terrified out of our minds the whole time.

And then there is always that nagging feeling which has been around since I was a kid – a feeling that I might have forgotten something important, something that when I remember it will make sense of all of this.

Then I see those faces in the city, those faces looking back at me and I rub my own face looking for marks, or bleeding from my nose or words written on my forehead that say ‘stare at this man’ – but there’s nothing on my face, it’s just the look of strangers.

Maybe they are also looking at me for some recognition that I am going through the same hell as them, but I have that well disguised expression of the stupid and they find no comfort in my face.

But I now know what it is and the truth is even more terrifying than my fevered imagination could have ever created.

I am going to tell you all this as a warning, to tell you to take care. I will tell you what I know and then let you decide.

Last Saturday morning the sun was bleaching the streets of the city and so I decided to take a walk from the central station up to the bohemian part of town.

I passed by the government buildings, the Royal palaces, the squares and avenues that were full of tourists. I walked under trees and arches and I walked around bistros, street cafes, theatres, cinemas and all of them full of strangers, some of whom caught my eye and other who walked on.

Then as I passed a glass shelter at a bus terminal a strange thing happened, I could see in the reflection that many of those who were behind me or had walked passed me were now looking in my direction.

But when I turned around no one was looking. No one was staring and everyone was going about their business. Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re saying it’s the start of the decline, the start of the long journey into the dark. Soon names will be a thing of the past and I will be left in a corner with vacant eyes.

Perhaps I was thinking something similar myself until it happened again.

I had a pair of sunglasses, the type that allows you to see behind oneself, maybe made for this very exercise and there they were again, people looking at me behind my back and when I turned once again – nothing.

Paranoid? – Perhaps.

I took my phone, the one with the video recorder, and began to keep it in the palm of my hand, always filming behind me. At the Gin Joint Cafe I had a coffee and excitedly started to watch the film.

There they were – people who showed no interest in me apart from a look while passing – who, when they were behind me, would stop, look at me and apparently discuss among themselves some detail or another. People who were apparently strangers were talking about me.

Insane? – You would think.

I did what any insane person would do, I turned quickly and started to follow them through the streets and the arches and the squares until several of them disappeared into a doorway, one that slammed shut in my face. I waited on them but no one came out.

I waited and waited and still nothing.

I walked with my head down back to the railway station until in a shop window I saw more of them, a new crowd watching me.

I am ill, I must be.

I let it be. I went about my life ignoring the look of strangers. Some still walked by me and watched my face as if they were drinking in every last detail.

I just assumed I was wrong.

Then one night in the Gin Joint Cafe I drank more than I should have. I sat at the bar like the old soak of a writer I was. It had just gone eleven o’clock when the girl sat next to me.

“You’re Michael Andrews, the writer?”

“What do you want? An autograph or maybe you want to buy me a drink?”

“I just wanted to shake your hand” she said “we are not supposed to do this. It’s against everything.”

“What is?” I asked, slipping back another short.

“Well talking to you, the greatest writer since Shakespeare.”

“I think you’ve got me mixed up with someone else.”

“No I haven’t, Michael Steven Andrews, born 1963, died 20… wait I’m not supposed to let you know that.”

“You know when I am going to die?” I asked.

“You died years before I was born” she said.

“We come back to visit all the great ones, you and Shakespeare are the most popular.”

“Come back from where?”

“The future, your future, I mean you have already found out that Einstein was wrong and things can travel faster than light. It won’t be long until you start sending objects back in time.”

I was about to ask what asylum she had escaped from when she disappeared.

So now you know what I know. When you get that look from a stranger then perhaps they are more than just inquisitive. Perhaps they are one of your own descendants or a student or a time tourist.

Who or whatever they are, just do what I do and keep on walking.

It’s safer that way.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Kiss

kiss

The last time I was home I gave my mother a kiss,
And somewhere, sometime long ago, she kissed my great-grandmother,
Who kissed her brother just before he set off to fight in World War one,
And although he died a few days before the end of the war,
He had kissed a young French girl in a bar and they said that they would meet someday after the troubles,
And the French girl kissed her father and told him of the Scotsman whom she liked,
And years before her father had kissed the girl’s mother in a little hotel in London,
And that night they had gone to see Charles Dickens as he read from Great Expectations,
And the girl’s mother kissed Dickens and said thank you for the story,
And told him that her boyfriend had just asked her to be his wife,
And after that night’s reading Dickens gave his daughter a goodnight kiss,
And his daughter kissed her pillow and dreamed of her one true love.

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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The Haunted Woman

boogeyman2
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that everyone is a bit crazy – especially when they only have themselves for company. Okay, when the family was out, she liked to take the clean dishes out of the dishwasher and wash them again – by hand. I mean, she wasn’t hurting anyone, now was she? It was an exercise that kept her mind calm and unworried.

What was there to worry about? After all, she had a beautiful happy family and that was as good as it gets. So why did she feel uncomfortable? As if………no, it sounded too stupid to even think about. But still the thought had come to rest in her head and wouldn’t leave, no matter how many dishes she cleaned, or how many clothes she washed: she was being watched. But by what or whom, she wasn’t clear.

As she stood looking out the kitchen window, she was sure it was standing right behind her. She could almost feel its breath on the back of her neck. It caused a shiver to run down her spine, and she felt as if it might end up inside her. She wasn’t sure what IT was, but she was sure it was in the room with her.

She ran upstairs to take a shower and yet, no matter how much she washed her body, she felt unclean and she felt, stared at.

She took a couple of pain killers and lay down on the bed. From the edge of her eye she thought that she could see it standing in the corner of the room. As if it was pleased with itself, and was just waiting for the right time. The right time for what?

She fell asleep but woke with a startle when she felt something touch her ankle. She screamed but then noticed the time. It was only 30 minutes before the boys would be back from school. This thought always made her feel more secure and in a strange way, more loved.

The days that she would spend alone in the house, always felt dark and depressing and she wondered if maybe she was starting to go back down that road – the one that the family had pulled her out of all those months ago. It wasn’t a breakdown, no matter what the doctor said or even what her husband thought. She knew she wasn’t crazy – wasn’t it just the result of watching her mother die of cancer?

The boys came running into the room which made her jump. After she had given them milk and cake, they went upstairs to play their computer games – she could hear them running on the floor above.

“Alice”.

She thought it was David, but he hadn’t called her that name since he’d asked her to marry him. He preferred ‘Al’ or ‘Darling’ but never Alice. And now that she thought about it, she wasn’t sure if it was a man or woman’s voice or if it was a voice at all; now that did sound ridiculous.

“Alice”.

She felt sick. The voice seemed to be calling her from in the room but from no particular location. Perhaps everyone was right, perhaps she had finally cracked down the middle.

If she told her husband any of this, he would just say what he always said: ‘grow up, Al’. That would be his total input. Grow up. She could hear his car in the drive and so she started to pour his evening drink. It was a little ritual which they both enjoyed.

By 9pm the kids were asleep, and her husband was working in the study on a presentation for the next day.

As she sat on the edge of the bed, the hand grabbed her ankle and then tightened around her leg. She was so shocked she couldn’t even scream. She tried to call on her husband in the other room, but she was struck dumb. The fingers (if that is what they were) felt cold. It tugged on her leg as if it was trying to check her out for size and weight, as if it was about to drag her away from her family. A sheer drop of loneliness inhabited her whole body. The last time she had felt this much despair was when her mother had held her hand for the last time. She had wanted to follow her mother to where she was going.

Just then her husband came in for some notes he had left by the bedside, he smiled at her, then left. When the door was closed, the fingers tightened around her ankle again.

The doors to the wardrobe started to bang a little. Not enough to attract attention from the rest of the house, but they were moving – almost vibrating. Another hand grabbed the other ankle and she felt as if she was at the end of something – a finality. She couldn’t explain it, but she had never felt more alive or more dead than now.

When it tugged both her legs at the same time, her head whipped back hard on to the bed. She noticed a spider walking across the ceiling and wished for a split second, that she was that insect.

Another tug and she banged off the bed and on to the floor. The wardrobe doors flew open – and for a second she had a stupid thought – maybe she was going to Narnia. She smiled inside, but as she looked up at what was waiting on her in there, she knew she wasn’t coming back – ever- and it wasn’t Narnia.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

bobby2 wee bobby

 

 

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Mister Brilliant (for Lily on her birthday)

judyardeviantart

His real name was Cuthbert Dogoody but to everyone else he was simply known as Mister Brilliant.

He’d never had the easiest of lives, had Cuthbert. When he was five years of age his father ran away to sea – at least that’s what his mother had told him – the truth of the matter was that his father moved in with a young blonde lady three streets over, and the man who Cuthbert knew as the postman was actually his dad.

Cuthbert’s grandmother, Ethel (the ever ready) was a money-lender who ended up being sent to prison for her particularly difficult ways with her customers. Cuthbert’s mother told her son, that his grandmother was spending a few years trying to find the source of the River Nile. It always amazed Cuthbert, later in life, that he had believed the story and had told all the kids in his class at school about Grandma Ethel – the explorer.

His uncle, Stan the Man, who was a part-time magician and someone who Cuthbert had always looked up to (literally, he was six feet seven) died while attempting to hold his breath in a fish tank. The tank was actually in a Chinese restaurant, and Stan had attempted it as part of a bet with Shanghai Lil the owner of the establishment.

Sadie, uncle Stan’s widow, had attempted to fill Stan’s rather big shoes (he had also been a part-time clown) by looking after Cuthbert and to helping him with his life. This mostly involved Cuthbert going along on dates with Sadie and several gentlemen from the Royal Navy. Stan would sit in the corner of a bar with a cola and a packet of chips, while Sadie sat kissing some man or other.

His best friend in the whole world was Teddy who was in his class in school. Teddy was without doubt the most popular kid in the place. There wasn’t anything Teddy couldn’t do, or anyone that Teddy couldn’t charm and the one thing that Teddy always did was look after his best pal, Cuthbert. No one bullied Cuthbert, not while Teddy was about.

Teddy knew that his best bud’s father was actually the postman but it would never have crossed Teddy’s mind to ever say anything that would hurt his pal.

One afternoon on the way home from school, Teddy asked Cuthbert to be his ‘blood brother’. They cut their thumbs then mixed their blood together and that was them set for life. At least that’s what Cuthbert thought. The truth was that Teddy was taking the long way around to tell his pal, that his mother had met a man who was big in ladies’ underwear and that they were moving to somewhere called, Liverpool.

The following Monday, Teddy was gone. When Cuthbert went into school, all the folks who had been charmed by Teddy were ready to bully Cuthbert. It wasn’t pleasant, to say the least, but with a little bit of running and keeping one’s head down, Cuthbert made it to the end of his school career, relatively intact.

Cuthbert got his first job as a tea-boy in an office of an insurance firm. Cuthbert’s duties involved making the tea, coffee (for those of that persuasion), lemonade and a little whisky for Mister McCallister who was partial to that sort of thing.

Everything was going well until Seamus Hooster (of the Hooster Brothers Insurance Agency) got trampled on by a runaway giraffe one wet Tuesday in the High Street. This caused the firm to close and the folks, including Cuthbert, were all made redundant.

That was the very same day that Cuthbert came home to find that his mother had moved without leaving a forwarding address. It seemed to Cuthbert that this was the way life worked, for when a soul was down the rest of the world just jumped on top of them and kicked their heads.

Now you might think that all of these shenanigans would have meant the end of Cuthbert Dogoody – but you’d be wrong.

Cuthbert was either not like lesser men, or perhaps he was too naive to see the predicament he was in – but one day, one very early day when Cuthbert had sat up all night thinking about what to do next – he let out an exclamation of ‘A-ha!’. That was all he said: ‘A-ha’.

But it was enough, as far as Cuthbert was concerned, as it spoke a million words. At least to him.

For you see, at a very early age, Cuthbert decided that life was difficult for everyone and people didn’t need to be reminded of that. What people did need reminding of was their the possibilities. In everyone’s life (and Cuthbert was sure he meant everyone) there were bad times, good times and blooming brilliant times. At some point in the future a brilliant time would come popping up without warning.

So Cuthbert made it his life’s work to remind everyone and anyone that brilliant times were just around the corner.

If he ever met anyone down or tired he’d just talk to them about how, someday soon, brilliant times were just up ahead.

“Not long now,” he’d shout to people and they’d always call back:

“Till when, Mister Brilliant?”

“Till good things come around the corner.”

From that day onwards he was known as Mister Brilliant – because (and he was right) good times were just up the road a little, and everyone got their shot at it.

I think Mister Brilliant can see yours just coming into view, Lily.

Enjoy!

 

 

bobby stevenson 2016

photo: judyar.deviantart.com

A House

house2

I hear tell that the house is still there, still standing like. Leastways I heard that was the truth of it a few years ago from a sickly ginger-headed woman who had been passing the little cove. Said it was “the sweetest little shack she ever did see, and she didn’t mind who knew it”.

I still miss the place, the way I miss cigarettes. I forget for a time and then wish I was right back there, feeling good, feeling human again they way I used to feel.

The days when you are a teenager and the hormones are fighting and kicking their way around your body and for the first time (and perhaps the only time) you feel alive – I mean really alive. Music blows your brains out, the thought of nakedness makes your tongue run drier than a desert and you stutter and fret over the smallest of things. Then some days you feel as if you are standing taller than a mountain, I kid you not and you feel you could take on the world. Then someone sounds a whistle and your hormones go touring around your blood stream again and you are lost, good and simple. Tempers and anger and you don’t have the slightest clue why – just that it’s good to shout at someone, anyone.

Those were the years when I knew that house. The lost years, the days of wine and roses when Ma painted flowers and Pa would go missing for weeks at a time.

Crazed Boy was one of my friends, heck who am I kidding? He was my only friend, still is – in that I carry the stone he gave me just before he went to ‘Nam and never came back. He turned me on to dirty music, black music my Gran called it, but we never listened to the elders – we just rocked and rolled until the sun came down and even then we’d light a fire on the beach and keep going sometimes until the morning.

When I think of that house, when I think of those years, I can still smell the ozone that drifted in off the sea and somehow kept me company. Everything smelled of the sea and you only really noticed that fact when you drifted into town and things started to smell of smoke.

Those were the electric years, the times when I felt that I had a million volts wired to my spine and I tell you what – I would give anything to feel that way again.

No one lived in the place for years afterwards. Some say it was haunted but I remember I drifted down that way one November, a couple of years later – it was easy to break in – and I saw that some of the Pastor’s blood sparkled on the walls. Even after all that time.

Boy who would have thought that one head full of blood would have made such a mess? He put the gun under his chin and told me and my Ma that he thought God had given up on him and then he splattered his head right across the gramophone and our only two books: one of them ironically being the Bible.

Apparently he was now in a better place, when I asked was that Detroit, my Ma slapped me so hard that my head bounced off the wall and I wasn’t sure if the blood was mine or the Pastor’s. She apologized later but said I had a way of talkin’ that got folks crazy like. I wondered if maybe I had made the Pastor shoot himself in the head.

It wasn’t long after that things started to go wrong with the family. Like we had been cursed by the shooting. My Ma died of a weak heart – so the Doctor said. My father was jailed for robbing a drug store in Woko County. My brother and I were taken into care and then we were split up. I never did see my brother again. I have been told that he made it good in the oil down in Texas. I hope that’s true, I really do. So if you happen to walk down by the cove some empty sunny day, and you see the house, just keeping on walking. It ain’t healthy to stick around.
bobby stevenson 2017

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Cycling To Shoreham 1901

cycle

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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Lassoing the Moon

moon2

(for Jim – the King of the Kings Arms)

The two of them sat at the shaky table in the Bright Water Café. They always chose this table as it gave Jake and his grandfather a chance to come up with ways to stop its unruly behaviour. Usually they would stick some folded paper under the short leg, but if they didn’t bother with that technique, then they would see how much of their breakfast they could eat before they spilt something.

It wasn’t a grown-up thing to do, but when Jake and his granddad met up, adult stuff went out of the window. Today they were being spies and Jake’s grandfather was teaching him the tricks of being James Bond.

“If you want to know if someone is watching you, maybe even following you – the trick is to yawn.”

“Yawn, Granddad? That’s it?”

“That’s it. Without looking around, Jake my boy, stretch out your arms, and then yawn.”

Jake did exactly as he was told.

“Now look around and see who yawns – that is the person who is watching you. Because yawning is contagious – if you’re watching someone yawn, then you’ll want to yawn too.

Jake looked carefully around but there was no one yawning, well no one except the man who fried the eggs, he was always yawning.

“So that means that you’re not being followed. Now that’s a good thing, right?”

And Jake had to admit that it was. Many things scared Jake, and being followed was one of them. Noises also bothered him. And busy places. It was all much as the doctors had told his mother and father – ‘your son is Autistic’.

No one knew what that meant at the time, but they did now. It was as his grandfather had said, just another colour in the human experience. Jake was sure that was a good thing.

His grandfather would try to introduce Jake to as many different and interesting things as he could. Sometimes those things worked – sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes the strangest thing entertained Jake. He loved animals, especially birds. Jake would sit and stare at their behaviour for hours. Other times he would grow bored very quickly and his grandfather had to think of something else.

Jake’s granddad did try to keep it to the same times each week, so that Jake could be ready and looking forward to whatever they decided to do; and if they stayed away from noisy, busy places things usually turned out okay.

When Jake’s grandfather started to grow older and found it more difficult to get around, he sat Jake down and told him a story.

“When I was a kid,” he said. “I had no brothers or sisters to play with, and most times, if my pals weren’t there, I got ever so lonely. So what I used to do was a little trick my grandmother had taught me. She’d say, close your eyes, and then shake your body a little to get relaxed, and I would do that. Then she’d say imagine you have the biggest rope in the world, and I would do that too. Then she’d tell me to lasso the moon. That’s it, she’d say, go on, throw that rope, and I would do as she said and I’d lasso the moon. Then when I was sure that the rope was tight enough, she’d tell me to concentrate real hard and walk towards the moon. That way, my little grandson, she’d say, you can be as free as the wind, and that Jake, is what I want you to do when I’m not with you some days. Close your eyes, lasso the moon and then walk to a quiet spot on the moon. Up there you can sit and watch all us silly people down here moving about.”

And do you know what? That is what Jake did whenever he was tired, or afraid, or scared of the noise. He’d close his eyes, lasso the moon and walk to a quiet spot.

bobby stevenson 2017

The Ballad Of The Quiet Man

man-on-bench

He said nothing, not a word ever passed his lips,
He just sat in the peace and quiet with a Mona Lisa smile,
One cold day the Angry People passed his way
All shouting about this and that and the other
They stopped and asked the quiet man if he was angry too
He said not a word and the Angry People liked that
“This man is so angry about this and that and the other, he is seething with rage”.
They shook his hand and on they went.

Then one summer’s evening the sad folks were passing by
They looked at the quiet man and then sat beside him
“This man is mourning, this man says nothing but the sadness shows upon his face”.
They wept beside the quiet man then walked on down the road

On an afternoon like any other, a stupid man was walking through as he was lost. He asked the quiet man the way to town and when he didn’t reply
The stupid man smiled and said, “I see you are as stupid as I am. ‘Tis better to say nothing and not look the fool.”
The stupid man wished his stupid brother well and continued to be lost.

Just before the start of autumn, some happy people were running and jumping and came to rest next to the quiet man
“Look here,” one shouted .”This man is so happy that he smiles in his contentment.”
And the people all cheered and carried him shoulder-high down the lane towards the town.
This happened to the quiet man more than he would have liked and once again he had to walk all the way back home.



bobby stevenson 2017

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Painted Love

love

When the flowers had all but disappeared from Clare’s garden, she had replaced them by painting roses and daffodils on a brick wall at the rear of her flower bed. There would be no beautiful smells welcoming a visitor as they walked up her path, but then there hadn’t been any visitors in such a long time – at least not since that peculiar day.

Last Spring when her car had finally given up the ghost, she had painted a newer, flashier model on the door of the garage. She stood back and smiled at what looked like the best car she had ever owned.

Sometime in November, Clare painted the downstairs’ room all in white and then, one by one, she painted each of her family members on the walls around the room. When it was finished, and she had pushed the table against the back of the room, it looked as if her family would be there for her at Christmas; all sitting at the one big table. She smiled because nothing like that had ever really happened in those days long ago. She had even painted in her grandparents and those long-remembered pals who had left this life too soon.

Clare placed plates in front of each of the painted figures, and somewhere in the attic she had found an old wind-up gramophone. There was one record – a big heavy shellac disc with a song titled ‘I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire’ and given the circumstances she had to laugh at the irony. It was meant to be played at 78 RPM but the way Clare sometimes over-wound it, it sometimes played too fast and then too slow. It made Clare smile and she sang along with it, again and again, regardless of the speed.

She painted turkey and peas and potatoes on the plates, and for her Aunty Sue (who was a vegetarian) she had painted a selection of vegetables.

Clare had conversations with all of them at the meal – not that things like that had really happened in life. At her old Christmas’ meals, everyone spoke at the same time. But hey, that was what living was about and that was what people were about. She missed them all.

Before Clare knew it, she was throwing a New Year’s Party. She asked each of her painted family to make a resolution, then she made one herself; hers was simple – it was to find a partner and settle down. Clare was sure she heard all her friends and family applaud.

‘At last’, she could hear them saying. ‘About time,’ was another.

She painted out a few ideas of partners but most of them were based on old boyfriends, and all of them completely wrong for her. Then one cold night, she found a bottle of brandy in the cellar – it must have been there years. She’d promised herself that she would only have one sip every birthday but in the end greed and loneliness got the better of her, and she drank most of the bottle.

When she awoke the next afternoon, she found that she had painted a partner on the canvas – one that she would have never gone out with in the old times. He was more exciting somehow. He was new and more than that, an undiscovered land.

She wasn’t sure if it was the hangover but she could have sworn on a Bible that he had winked at her. Later when she was having her usual daily cry at the window, she heard someone calling her name – of course she knew that was impossible, for as far she was concerned there wasn’t anyone left. She was the last woman, and probably the last human on the planet.

“Clare,” there it was again.

She turned to see her partner, her boyfriend, her lover lift himself from the painting and beckon her to come to him.

Clare stopped and a cold chill filled her blood. She realised that she had probably finally gone insane. All those years, all that time being alone – all that poor mental health.

Then she lifted-up her spirits, and she smiled to herself, realising that it didn’t really matter that much – not now – and gave her lover a kiss.

What a way to go, she thought, what a bloody brilliant way to go.

bobby stevenson 2017

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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Jeremiah and The Birds

birds

He wasn’t sure if he was the last man left or not. He hadn’t heard from any other living soul in about 45 full moons and Jeremiah wasn’t even sure what the current month would have been called in the old days.

It still felt warmish, so it was probably August or September. Although that didn’t mean much now, it was only when you shared events with others that the hours and days found some significance.

Jeremiah had stopped feeling lonely when the birds had arrived, the first lot had come from the north and settled in a field across the river.

Whatever had happened to the world, it had left Jeremiah and the birds to share the Earth. Jeremiah had been in the vault at the University when it had happened. He used to go down there to read or write on his lunch breaks as it was the only room where one could find real peace and quiet.

Perhaps he had been anti-social, perhaps that is why he had survived when the others had perished. His type of behaviour was a luxury – you needed other people around you to make you feel that isolation was a reward of sorts. When you were on your own there was no such thing as isolation – it just you and no one else.

When the birds had arrived, he had felt that the universe had sent him a message, that he hadn’t been forgotten – here were other creatures to keep him company. Although the birds were reluctant at first to come to his side of the river, he eventually tempted them over with seeds he had found scattered in the forest.

Once the birds felt safe on Jeremiah’s side of the river, they started to arrive in their numbers. Some built nests and raised families, then when the colder months arrived they all left and headed off in different directions. Some to the north and some to the east.

By the third year, Jeremiah looked forward to their arrival. He set up little areas to help them build their nests, he piled high the seeds he had collected through the dark winter and he sat watching the heavens for the return of his friends.

It was while he was observing a little bird pick up leaf and head off into the trees that it gave him an idea. By now the birds and their chicks had grown accustomed to Jeremiah’s presence and almost treated him like he was one of their own.

He coaxed some of the birds into a little hut he had built. They were allowed to come and go as they needed but at night they tended to settle down and sleep in the hut.

Jeremiah knew that the birds started to leave around the eighth month of the year – or what he thought was the eighth month – so he would hand feed each of the little birds in the hut. On each one he would write a note and attach it to their legs, the way people had done with pigeons in the old days. It didn’t seem to harm or disturbed the birds.

When he felt the time was right, he took the birds up to the highest hill and released them one by one. One or two returned to the hut below but most of them flew off either to the north or the east.
Jeremiah watched and hoped as his little friends flew in to the air.

On each note he had written.

‘My name is Jeremiah and I may be the last human alive. I am living three days walk from what was the big city. If you find this, write where you are on the other side of the paper as the birds will return to me, and I will come looking for you. If you know where I am, then come and find me. I am just another lost soul.’

For the rest of his years, Jeremiah watched and waited. The birds returned every year but none had another soul’s writing on their papers.

The sad thing was that a few days before Jeremiah died of a broken heart, in the forest one of his birds had built a nest on its return, too high for Jeremiah to see. On its leg was a note,

‘I am coming to look for you. Stay where you are.’ 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

 

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ME and BUZZ and THE ALIEN ABDUCTION

buzz2

He got the cops to call me instead of his Ma. She had said if he was arrested one more time that he would have to sleep in the town dump ‘cause she was washing her hands of him. Buzz knew she’d never do that but still – he didn’t want to take the chance, so I get woken by a call a 3.22 in the morning. I kid you not.

The cop at the desk looks at me as if I’m just as stupid as Buzz.

“He’s in the back and I think you know where to go.”

The truth is, I did know where to go – over the years, me and Buzz both had cooling off time in the room at the back. It was never for anything serious but then that’s what happens in small towns, the cops throw you in the back room to keep you out of the road of your Ma and Pa.

Buzz’s face was deep purple, I mean deep grape purple by the time I got to the room and there was some cowboy counting: ‘1001..‘1002’…’1003’…. I need to tell you at this point that Buzz was hand-standing against the wall and he was betting with the other kids in the jail that he could stay up the longest.

“Another ten seconds and you’re the champion of Duchess County jail,” shouted the cowboy. Who would have thought then – that would be the exact second when Buzz passed out? I mean he just lay there all dead to the world. I looked at the cowboy who looked at the other kids in the cell he’d been betting with.

“Act of God,” called the cowboy.

“What cha sayin’?” said the skinny little kid with bad skin.

“I’m sayin’, it’s an act of God.”

“And?” asked the mean kid with the tattoos. “And I want you to think real careful before you answer.”

Then the mean kid punched his palm with his fist followed by a real evil smile. I always wondered were these kids born with evil mean smiles or did they practice hard at it?

Buzz was coming around to opening his eyes as the cowboy was handing back the green stuff to the other kids.

By the time Buzz could stand, the rest of the kids had been released. He stuck his arm around my neck and I carried him out of the cop store.

Buzz didn’t want to go home, not yet, leastways not until he got a story together that his Ma would believe. She was like the secret police or somethin’, I mean that woman could smell a lie at spittin’ distance with her eyes closed – and boy did Buzz’s Ma know how to spit. When she was younger, she’d been the Tri-county spittin’ Champion. There were cups on her smoking table and she was real proud of them.

Every birthday party whether she was asked or not, she would chew some baccy then spit the whole caboodle across the room into a vase which was always sat next to her Grandma’s urn.

The back wall had brown stains where she’d been practisin’. When she got the baccy in the vase she’d give a chuckle then spit the rest of her goo into the fire, and after it sizzled she’d declare it the best birthday party ever.

You can kinda see where Buzz got his craziness from.

But I’m floatin’ away from the story here – so where were we? Oh, yeh, so Buzz comes back to my place and I asks him:

“What was you in for this time?”

“It’s a long story,” he says to me. It always is.

So I sit down knowin’ I’m gonna regret askin’ but I can’t help myself but before I can ask him for more, he’s already started the story…

“You remember, Becky Weiss?” asks Buzz.

I think I do but I ain’t sure, so I just kinda shrug my shoulder.

“Yeh, you do. She was the red-headed kid who claimed she’d been abducted by aliens.”

Then I remembered that Becky Weiss. She got pregnant at 15 and told everyone the father was a creature from Saturn who took her against her will in the middle of the night. When the kid was born it was the spittin’ image of Frank Dunbar from the farm down by the lake, I think her story kinda fell apart at that point.

“She’s got 5 kids now, claims the man from Saturn visits her every full moon and every year she gets pregnant. Well I met her tonight and guess what, she was askin’ ‘bout you.”

“Me?” Jeez until five minutes ago I could even remember who Becky Weiss was.

“Yeh, she asked what had happened to my cute bud.”

The blood-shot straight through the top of my head.

“She didn’t?”

“Did too. Anyhoo, that ain’t the story. When I first see her, she’s carrying some groceries an