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

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

 

 

 

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 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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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

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The Photograph of Me

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The kid in the middle, the one hiding, was Gene, he got shot in some war, somewhere. It was the only thing he ever did that anyone was ever proud of. Gene spent most of his life hiding and blaming others.

The one on the right was Jackson. He was my best bud – I mean the kind of pal who would lay down his life for you, give you the last cent in his pocket – there ain’t too many of them who crossed my path. Jackson was the mouthy one, the one who knew what to do, the one who never stopped eating and the one who always wore his brother’s hand-me-downs.

The day this photo was taken was my fourteenth birthday – that’s me on the left – my ma had given me 50 cents to get the guys some hotdogs. I had wanted a bike but I knew, given the way things were, hotdogs were as good as it was gonna get.

My pa had gone to see a friend in a downtown store on one sunny morning and had never returned. It was like that for many of the guys on my street. I was convinced that the fathers who had disappeared all went to some town, upstate and swapped stories.

I remember being on watch at the kitchen window for months waiting on his return. Some days I would knock on doors and ask if anyone had seen my pa. Some slammed the door in my face, others kinda giggled and said that I should ask some woman or other. Seemed my pa liked to hang about with women called ‘Belle’ or ‘Busty’. Maybe if my ma had changed her name from Edith to something else, he might have stayed.

I never did see him again, although I heard once when I was down south, that a man answering his description had been involved in some robbery or other, and the guy who told me was sure that the man I was talking about had been shot cold dead. That’s the way he said it, ‘cold dead’ and a shiver ran right through me, making me think that he was probably right.

My ma had good days and bad ones. There were times when she’d take to her bed on account that the ‘darkness’ had taken her over, and when she was like that there weren’t much I could do except sit with her and hold her hand.

I meant to mention that I had a younger brother, Teddy and he was the kinda guy who was born all growed up. I mean Teddy dealt with all the money (or lack of it) and Teddy was the one who looked after me and my ma. His head was always screwed right on. When Teddy was old enough, and sure that I was gonna survive, he joined the Army and all. Last I heard from him he was a Major, married with two kids and was expecting to retire real soon.

Me and Jackson ran the streets for a few more years after the photo was taken, but then he found God in a gutter in Tallahassee, and became a preacher who toured the panhandle with an old truck and a tent. I hope he did get to Heaven, I really do, and I hope his angel wings ain’t no hand-me-downs either.

As for me, I didn’t do much that was special except look after my ma as the darkness, which didn’t just take her over but in the end, devoured her – god rest her soul – was eventually laid to rest. I guess there are a million of us out there who have done work like that and we don’t have no medals to show for it.

We are the walking wounded and we just keep putting one foot in front of the other – a kinda secret society that don’t have no special handshakes, but we can see the scars in each other’s eyes.

And the reason I show you this photo today, is for a simple reason – it was the only one that was ever took of me. I kid you not.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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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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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

bobby2 wee bobby

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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

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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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

 

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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Painted Love

love

When the flowers had all but disappeared from Clare’s garden, she had replaced them by painting roses and daffodils on a brick wall at the rear of her flower bed. There would be no beautiful smells welcoming a visitor as they walked up her path, but then there hadn’t been any visitors in such a long time – at least not since that peculiar day.

Last Spring when her car had finally given up the ghost, she had painted a newer, flashier model on the door of the garage. She stood back and smiled at what looked like the best car she had ever owned.

Sometime in November, Clare painted the downstairs’ room all in white and then, one by one, she painted each of her family members on the walls around the room. When it was finished, and she had pushed the table against the back of the room, it looked as if her family would be there for her at Christmas; all sitting at the one big table. She smiled because nothing like that had ever really happened in those days long ago. She had even painted in her grandparents and those long-remembered pals who had left this life too soon.

Clare placed plates in front of each of the painted figures, and somewhere in the attic she had found an old wind-up gramophone. There was one record – a big heavy shellac disc with a song titled ‘I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire’ and given the circumstances she had to laugh at the irony. It was meant to be played at 78 RPM but the way Clare sometimes over-wound it, it sometimes played too fast and then too slow. It made Clare smile and she sang along with it, again and again, regardless of the speed.

She painted turkey and peas and potatoes on the plates, and for her Aunty Sue (who was a vegetarian) she had painted a selection of vegetables.

Clare had conversations with all of them at the meal – not that things like that had really happened in life. At her old Christmas’ meals, everyone spoke at the same time. But hey, that was what living was about and that was what people were about. She missed them all.

Before Clare knew it, she was throwing a New Year’s Party. She asked each of her painted family to make a resolution, then she made one herself; hers was simple – it was to find a partner and settle down. Clare was sure she heard all her friends and family applaud.

‘At last’, she could hear them saying. ‘About time,’ was another.

She painted out a few ideas of partners but most of them were based on old boyfriends, and all of them completely wrong for her. Then one cold night, she found a bottle of brandy in the cellar – it must have been there years. She’d promised herself that she would only have one sip every birthday but in the end greed and loneliness got the better of her, and she drank most of the bottle.

When she awoke the next afternoon, she found that she had painted a partner on the canvas – one that she would have never gone out with in the old times. He was more exciting somehow. He was new and more than that, an undiscovered land.

She wasn’t sure if it was the hangover but she could have sworn on a Bible that he had winked at her. Later when she was having her usual daily cry at the window, she heard someone calling her name – of course she knew that was impossible, for as far she was concerned there wasn’t anyone left. She was the last woman, and probably the last human on the planet.

“Clare,” there it was again.

She turned to see her partner, her boyfriend, her lover lift himself from the painting and beckon her to come to him.

Clare stopped and a cold chill filled her blood. She realised that she had probably finally gone insane. All those years, all that time being alone – all that poor mental health.

Then she lifted-up her spirits, and she smiled to herself, realising that it didn’t really matter that much – not now – and gave her lover a kiss.

What a way to go, she thought, what a bloody brilliant way to go.

bobby stevenson 2017

The Time of Storms

sunset-storm-desert-mountains_zpsb1e1ffd6

I was trying to think back to what year all of this took place, and I guess I would be right in saying that Hank Williams was still alive and so it must have been sometime in the winter of ’49.

I remember that year ‘cause my daddy was always singing Mister Williams’ song, ‘My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It’ and then he’d wink at me, jump on Blue (his horse) and so go out riding to check on the stallions.

It had been an unseasonable few months, what with snow one day, then humid heat the next. Pastor Rick had suggested that perhaps his boss had gone off on vacation and had forgotten to set the thermostat: it brought a few laughs in church that Sunday.

Sometimes my daddy didn’t come home for a few sunsets, but it never worried anyone, ‘cause we always knew he’d have pitched up in some canyon or other and made himself a bed for the night.

But when it became a week, then we knew there must have been trouble, and my mom told me and my brothers to saddle up and go out looking for my daddy.

He’d been overdue before – once he was out for four days but he’d been caught in an unexpected snow storm, which had laid him up in the Last Hole cave – the one that lay at the end of Crimson Valley.

When he returned from that trip he had looked real fine – said he lived off of snow water and anything that was stupid enough to crawl across him in the cave. So by telling you this, I wanted to say that we weren’t too concerned about my father, we knew he could take care of himself.

Half way up Crimson Valley, me and my brothers split up and I went to the west, while Jake and Tom went north and east. I had only been riding an hour or so when I saw a horse just standing still and looking towards me. My first thought was that it was one of the stallions which had got lost from his kin, but as I got closer I could see it was Blue.

Blue, my daddy’s pride and joy, was wandering the valley and I started to think that maybe something wasn’t right. I tried to follow Blue’s tracks back a-ways but they led to a dead-end where the sand had got whipped up by some storm or other and had covered his trail. So you know what I did? I tried to comfort myself by singing my daddy’s favorite song. I could see Blue’s ears prick up as he knew what I was getting at, I guess he was missing him too.

Probably about five miles to north of where I was, I could see the sky darkening and decided to head for Aloopa’s cave just to lie there until it blew over. We made it by only a few minutes and as the snow storm whipped up real strong, my horse and Blue started to spook some. I took them to the back of the cave where I lit a fire and managed to brew a strong, thick black cup of coffee.

I must have been real tired ‘cause the next thing I know the Sheriff is kicking at my heels and telling me to wake. Can I say right here and now that I wished he had left me sleeping, ‘cause what he told me brought the cave crashing down on my head. They had found my daddy on the old Wisco Trail – no idea what he was doing up there but he had been shot straight through the head.

The Sheriff had found my brothers and told them the story and suggested they head back home and give my mom the news, he told them that he would go looking for me. The Sheriff guessed it was some stranger or another who had seen a man on his own with some money and had taken his chance.

I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t taken Blue, as a horse like that was worth something in these parts. The Sheriff just shrugged his shoulders and said ‘who knows?’.

There were more storms that winter and it was up to me and my brothers to keep our homestead going. We always knew we’d have to take care of the place sooner or later – it was just that none of us had hit the age of twenty by then, although I gotta say we worked hard and we got through the bad stuff. My mom was never the same after my daddy’s death, she used to sit and stare out of the window like she was just waiting for him to ride up to the door. It was only a couple of years later that she went to join my daddy – ‘a broken heart’ was what Pastor Rick called it and I guess he was right.

My brothers married local girls and moved away, ‘cause the farm and horses couldn’t really support the three of us. They decided that I should take the homestead being the youngest and still unmarried. If I was being truthful, I would say that they were just sorry at the sight of the lands where my daddy died.

The year that Kennedy got shot, I got to marrying a local girl. She was the daughter of the Sheriff who had found me that day in the cave. Although he wasn’t the easiest of men (at least in my company) his beautiful daughter made me feel like I was ten feet tall and the happiest man in the world.

The Sheriff died a few years later and left his home to his daughter and me (and our two kids). It lay on a beautiful little spot by the River Jordan that joined up with the Missouri a further ways down the stream.

I remember I was looking through her daddy’s papers when I came across a letter with my name on the envelope. Seemed a strange thing to do, but I opened it and read it. 

‘My Dear Son-in-law I have to say I am as happy as a grasshopper that you married my daughter and gave me such fine grandchildren. I hope you all have many years of love and hope in this home. Since you’re reading this, then I must have gone to meet my maker and I know he’ll have a few things to say to me when I get there. You see I did a terrible thing and I ain’t asking for forgiveness, I’m just telling it, how it is. It was me, I shot your father. I had been making some money by running some goods into the Apache settlement up the Waco Trail. Your daddy found me one day and we got into an argument. I didn’t mean to kill him, you must believe me. My first thought was to hide the body, but I thought of you, your brothers and your ma being tormented ‘cause they didn’t know. So I went looking for you boys and told you the news. I took from you the most precious thing in your life and so I gave to you the most precious thing in mine. Don’t let the sins of the father fall on the daughter – your wife. She knew nothing of anything. I can only say again how truly sorry I am, and I probably won’t see you in the afterlife, as I guess I’ll be dancing to Old Nick’s tune. All the best and with much regret.’
bobby stevenson 2017

photo:  http://www.99volo.com 

 

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Moving (100 word stories)

move1California

I swear on a whole stack of the Good Book, that Pa just walked in one day in ‘37 and said we were all going to California. Ma didn’t even question it, so I guess she knew it was coming. Pa bought an old truck from Halo James and stuck a house on top of it. He then told us seven kids that we were to be ready to go by sun up the next morning. Pa had been bringing home little or no food in those days and he said that going west would be the answer to everything.

 

move2

Chicago

When Steven, my older brother, won a whole heap of money from somewhere that we ain’t too sure of, he bought this crazy automobile and then said that we all going on a trip. After our parents died, Steve promised to take care of us all, so one day he said that we were off to Chicago where he’d got a job as a tax man for some guy called Al Capone. He was taking his favorite gal, Sally who was working in a speakeasy and needed somewhere to roll her stockings down (I don’t know what that means either).

 

move3

The Other Side of The Mojave

He was known in the neighborhood as Captain Fantastic on account that he was always doing amazing things. So when he invited everyone in the Big House to cross the desert in his Big Palloosa, we all jumped at the chance. He was going to squeeze all six of us into his palace on wheels. He slept in a big bed on the top and boy could he snore. We kept cool on the real hot days by standing in our shorts and keepin’ all the windows open. Last I heard he got buried in it, a few years back.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Strange Freedoms

Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard ### FREE Community Edition ### on 2015-05-18 15:44:44Z | http://piczard.com | http://codecarvings.com

bowie

TOMMY

Tommy lived in a town where you had to be one thing or another. That was the way it was, that was the way it had probably always been. There was no room for neutrals, no room at all.

The folks who lived on the north side of the street gave their allegiances to the blue team and those on the south gave theirs to the green.

It was no use saying that you liked them both, or worse still, that you didn’t care about either – both of these cases got you beaten up. That was all that ever happened to Tommy, he was beaten up.

In this part of the world, for reasons that are better known to themselves, the greens went to one school and the blues went to another. Now Tommy wasn’t sure what the merits were in either system, just that he would have liked to have been friends with both, but as he already knew, that was impossible.

Both sides thought they were in the right, which meant that both sides thought that the others were wrong, and that included the folks who thought nothing about either; those folks were probably the worst according to both.

Tommy’s ma had passed away when he was barely out of nappies, and soon his father had met another woman who had caused him to move down south. Tommy stayed on in the town with his gran and granddad both of whom were neither green nor blue but just beige (if a person could be beige).

He had a lonely wee life, had Tommy, since he was a neutral and therefore was the lowest form of life, but there was one thing that made him happy and that was rock music. More importantly, David Bowie’s music.

You see, this was the year of 1973 and this was also the year of Glam Rock. Folks who weren’t trying to thump each other, were dressing up in glitter and sequins, and basically dodging folks beating them up.

When Tommy’s grandparents went to their beds, which was usually around 6pm, Tommy would put on the record, Ziggy Stardust and dress up as his hero. His hair would be red and his face was painted with his gran’s makeup – and he was the happiest boy alive.

One Saturday when the blues were marching for something and the greens were marching for something else, Tommy was left in the house because his grandparents felt that it was too dangerous for a boy to be out on the streets.

Right out in front of Tommy’s house, the blues came marching, shouting and singing from one direction, and the greens were singing, shouting and marching from the other.

Tommy hid behind the curtain to see what would occur, and that was when Tommy decided that he was fed up hiding and that he would go outside.

The blues and the greens were at what you would call, a stand-off’ snarling, and shouting abuse at each other – when suddenly they all stopped, and everything went quiet.

Tommy, all dressed up as Ziggy Stardust walked down between the two groups and started singing a song from his favourite album. In the silence some started sniggering, then there was laughter, then both sides shouted, then both applauded the wee rock star.

And for a few minutes both sides sang along with wee Tommy and forgot that they were either blue or green.  And Tommy felt it was probably the best day of his life – so far.

sisters

KATIE

Katie and her sister came as a pair. They were born almost a year apart. They ended up in the same class in school when Irene (the elder of the two) was kept back and made to repeat a year.

They left school and worked in the same shop together and both went out with boys from the same street.

But for whatever reasons, they never got married – and became ‘old maids’ as some folks would say unkindly.

It was in Katie’s 70th year, and Irene’s 71st, when the younger girl noticed the changes in her sister. Irene began to forget things, (as did Katie) but it sometimes meant Irene leaving a stove or a kettle burning away. Then Irene started to imagine things and people (and they were things that Katie wasn’t able to see and share). Then Irene started to walk about at night and sometimes leave the house which meant that Katie had to go out into the dark and follow her, finally bringing her sister home.

The doctor grew concerned about Irene and told Katie that she must be prepared for Irene to go into hospital. So one night, on Irene’s final night in the house. Katie dressed up as one of Irene’s imaginary friends and she laid a pot of tea out on the table and Irene served sandwiches to everyone. Then in the dark they went for a walk, with Irene and all her friends. Irene and Katie sat at the edge of the forest watching the sun come up and Katie watched Irene have her final sleep on the outside.

space

MARCUS

Five…four…three…two…one…

Then the school bell would ring for freedom that would last the entire summer. Marcus loved all those days that lay ahead – sunshine and heat in the hills of his childhood, and on the very hot days, the trips to the seaside – ice creams and fish and chips.
He used to lie next to the little beached fishing boats on the front at Hasting and stare at the blueness of the sky and wonder what it looked like from the other side.

And now he knew.

His life had been all rocket science, finishing up with him becoming an astro-engineer; a man who would spend too long away from his family, but he had to admit he loved it up here. Out in space – on the European station – several hundred kilometres above his home.

The Project Manager had asked him and the Bulgarian – Androv to check the pipe flow – it had a habit of closing down when the pipes went into the side away from the sun. But Androv had been in sick bay and Marcus had decided to check the pipes himself.

The fail-safe attachment had severed. He had no idea why. As soon as they noticed he was gone they would sound the ‘man-overboard’ alarm.

But it would probably be too late by then, and as he drifted further into deep space, he felt a peace and freedom that he hadn’t tasted since the days of the school bell.

window

SADIE
Her friends were always there waiting on her. Sadie would stand on her bed and lean out the window, and below her window were her three best pals in the whole wide world.

Annie was the beauty – she would probably be a matinée idol and then there was Celia, who would definitely win a Gold medal at the Olympics. Sasha was the brainy one, the one who said that one day she would be a great doctor.

Sasha could whistle the loudest, so she always stuck two fingers in her mouth and alerted Sadie that the gang were ready to enjoy another day together.

Those were the best days of her life. She was sure there had been other days just as enjoyable – days when she had been a mother or even a grandmother, but she couldn’t remember those days at all.

But for the time being, Sadie waved to her pals below and shouted that she would be down in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. She always said those words, and her pals always laughed.

Just then the nurse came into Sadie’s room.

“What are you doing standing on your bed, Mrs Jenkins. How many times have I told you not to lean out the window,” said the nurse.

“But my pals, are waiting,” said Sadie.

“Well they are just going to have to wait a bit longer”.

And the nurse gave Sadie her medication which sent her to sleep, and in her sleep Sadie would leave the old folks’ home and join Sasha, Celia and Annie below for a day of fun and freedom.

robber

HENRY
His auntie used to ruffle Henry’s hair when he was about five, then put her massive hand underneath his chin and force his cheeks together to make him smile.

“Aggie, your boy, your little Henry is a worrier. He was born worrying and he’ll probably die worrying,” said an auntie who meant well.

But she had been right, Henry had never known a day when he wasn’t worried about one thing or another. He was always sure the sky was going to fall on his head.

He worried at night that his house had been built on top of a coal mine and that one dark evening he would be swallowed up.

Worrying became his friend, and it was a friend that he would be lost without.
It was on the day of his 61st birthday that he entered the bank to withdraw money to buy himself a present. He never kept money in the house just in case it was stolen.

Henry didn’t see the bank robber at the other end of the building but he did feel the bullet as it entered his chest and exited his back.

As Henry fell to the ground, he could see the blood – and felt satisfied that all his worrying hadn’t been in vain. And as the darkness came over him, he could feel a kind of warmth and freedom in his dying. He had nothing left to worry about now and that was just dandy.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Broken

heart-broken-man

Every morning Andy would count to ten before he got out of his warm forgiving bed and while he was waiting, he’d usually count his luck as well.

He’d always been the type of soul who walked the line on the lucky side but he had to accept that things happened to you when you were forty-seven years old. The way the radio sounded quieter in one ear than it did in the other, so he was going deaf as well as losing his ability to see words clearly.

The news station annoyed him to the same degree as it ever did. Why he listened to it was anyone’s guess. All they did was try their best to wipe the smile from his face: sick economy, rising unemployment, new terrorism – why did they never try looking at the positive for a change? Tell a good story about families who were working hard to save their kids. He knew why – because it didn’t make news.

He was becoming sick of it all, fighting every day for each and every step. Yet like millions of others across the land, he would get up and start his day with the best will in the world that he could muster. He’d grit his teeth like all the other dads and just get on with it.

Most of his life was a habit but it was a habit that he wrapped around himself like a warm blanket. God help him if it ever disappeared, his wife Sara and the kids were the only reason he’d got up.

He loved his wife the way that you do after twenty-five years of marriage, more than ever and less than before. She was his sun, his moon, his stars and his major pain in the butt from time to time. And the kids? Well the kids were part of him, sure they had their moments but jeez they had made this world bearable and they were his breath.

So he got out of bed on the count of ten like he did every day and he slid his feet across the floor like he did every day, and he shaved and showered like he did every day. He had a cup of coffee like he did every day – except for one thing, this wasn’t every day.

______

Sara very rarely stirred from her bed until he had got up. Every day it was the same, she could almost hear his brain counting to ten. But up he’d get without fail. He’d never had a day’s illness except maybe that time when they had just moved to this house, to this area and that must have been nearly twenty years or so.

He was a good man and she loved him, truly loved him – she’d never looked at another in all that time. She knew how he was feeling and what he was thinking even if he was clear over the other side of the county. It was that close, it was that much love.

He was a decent father to their kids, never a harsh word to say to any of them and yet they kept in check. They were good kids and they would make good parents themselves, everyone said so.

So why did she feel so lost? Like she was drowning, when all this was everything she dreamed of. It wasn’t the menopause, that had been and gone and she’d coped with it all. There was an empty ache at the core and it wouldn’t go away – no matter how hard she tried.

_______

What can you say about a child who’s been murdered? The year it happened was the year that Tommy joined the Police force, it would be more correct to say because it happened is why he joined. Twenty years later and no one had been caught not even a hint. Sure there had been talk and names mentioned, some having to leave to avoid the whispers, but there had never been good solid evidence to point the finger at anyone.

The police had interviewed almost every male in the town at the time but either the Police were incompetent or the killer was very clever.

Tommy had watched the victim’s family disintegrate, that was the only word to describe it: disintegration.

The girl’s mother and father no longer lived together and even the same town wasn’t big enough, perhaps seeing each other brought back the horror of that night.

The night she went missing, the night that the girl’s mother knew she was dead. Before the Police had informed the family, before the body was found, before even her husband had grown worried about Tracey being late. A mother knows and she felt her daughter saying goodbye inside. That was what she told the Police the next day. The mother had even been a suspect at one point but like all other leads she had been not considered a serious contender.

Back then Tommy was just a guy, plain and simple, and the night that Tracey went missing he helped along with all the others. He searched the undergrowth, the garages, down by the old canal and at the side of the once used rail track.

Poor Tracey’s little battered body had been found a couple of miles from where Tommy had been looking. He wasn’t sure if he’d wanted to be the one to find her or not.

______

We separated about two years after the death. For better or worse we’d promised each other at the Church but they hadn’t mentioned anything about your own beautiful little girl being taken. That was the worst of the worst no one could get you through that.

My darling daughter, my little one who I had read to, cried with, laughed with, run with, wiped her nose and her bum had gone.

I and her mother supported each other for as long as anyone humanly could – but the heart scars don’t show up, not at first anyway. They seep through the skin and poison everything around them, they seep into laughter and birthdays. They taint the very kindness of people. Until you grudge everyone their happiness. The fact that the world continues to turn makes your head literally spin.

I think the hatred started with the people on TV. They still made jokes, they still acted in plays, still read the news, still sung their songs. All I wanted was one of them to stop and speak through the screen:

“I am so sorry Mister and Mrs Andrews, on your loss”

But they didn’t they just kept on singing.

Then one night I looked over at my wife and thought – why didn’t they take you and leave her and I knew I was finished.

______

Tracey was my friend and now I don’t sleep so good. My mother says not to worry as it’s only bed sheets. You can always wash bed sheets she says, but I feel embarrassed.

Tracey was my pal and now I don’t go out. Not because I’m scared, just because I don’t want to.

Tracey was my best buddy and I cry most nights.

______

My name is Andy and every morning I count to ten before I get up and then I count my luck.

They haven’t caught me yet.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

photo: http://www.classic105.com

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The Boy Who Loved To Handstand

lovers

Charlie lived in grey house which stood in a grey street which weaved its way through a grey town. He wasn’t an unhappy kid – on the contrary, Charlie saw the world both as beautiful and crazy all at the same time.

But where Charlie was alone was in the way he looked at the world. He knew that there was more to life than all this greyness, the question was where to find it.

His grey school room was taught over by a grey teacher who had once shown something other than grey from her eyes but as Charlie didn’t have a word for it, he decided he must have imagined it.
One day Charlie was busy drawing an elephant, (on a piece of paper, not actually drawing on an elephant as that would have been stupid) with his tongue hanging out of his mouth and as he scribbled hard, his pencil shot out of his hand and under his desk.

When Charlie leaned down to get his pencil, two strange things happened. One – all the blood rushed to his head and made him feel really dizzy. Two – the world seemed to take on something other than  grey, he still had no idea what it was but for the first time Charlie could see the world in colours.

He sat upright just a bit too quickly and nearly made himself sick – but there it was, the world was back to being grey.
Charlie decided to keep this secret to himself and run all the way home. When he got to his bedroom, he had one last look out in the hall, in case the family were nearby then he went into his room and did a handstand against the wall. Sure enough the world became colourful again, so much nicer than the grey one.

So every chance he could get, Charlie would stand on his hands and enjoy the way he looked at the world. Okay, so no one else looked at the world the way Charlie did, but he didn’t care, in fact he loved being the only one who knew the secret.

One day, when he felt like a walk, Charlie went down to the river and when no one was looking, he stood on his hands and the world seemed right again. That was until a large shadow was cast across his face – he hoped it wasn’t the kids from the other street, he knew they’d never understand but it wasn’t them. Instead, it was a young girl and what was more surprising was the fact that her face was the right way up.

Charlie was used to seeing a beautiful world but with people the wrong way round.

You see, the pretty young girl loved to see the world the same way as Charlie did, she loved to stand on her hands too and that made Charlie happy.

The two of them could share the beautiful world now. He wasn’t alone.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

bobby2wee bobby

The Lucky Tree

Long, long ago when the old German king was on the throne, there was a celebration held in a field at the edge of the village. It was a little haven on the path between Shoreham and the old castle. For many years this area was considered the village green and fairs were held as the Spring season arrived upon the village folks.
On one edge of the field stood a tree. There was talk at the time, that it had been first planted as a Celtic tribe had moved through the valley many years before. Of course, it wasn’t the original one but it was assumed that a tree had stood on that spot for several hundred years.
Only a short distance away, down by the river and near where the old Mill still stands, the Romans had established a small shrine to give thanks to their gods. From the Celts to the Romans it was considered a magic area.
The King was sometimes referred to as the crazy king, or the mad king, yet on that day of the Shoreham Fayre, only glasses of beer were raised to the health of the man, as he was loved by many in that field.
Now the tree which stood in the field would usually beckon several of the folks to tie a piece of cloth to one of the branches, in hope that a wish, or a prayer would be granted.
One little boy, Billy, whose family lived on Church Street, had missed his father since the man had gone off to war. Holding the little boy up, his mother helped Billy tie a section of an old shirt of his father’s to the tree.
Billy’s wish was simple, to bring his father home from the distant wars. Yet the years passed and his father didn’t return – and before long, Billy, himself, was fighting in the Commonwealth of Virginia, against the Americans. For it was Billy who was standing on the hill that night the British set fire to the White House, in Washington.
It was in the year of 1812, that Billy’s father came home to Shoreham, and apart from losing a leg in the fighting, he also left behind much of his life spirit. So much so, that he sadly died before Billy returned from the United States.
Yet the tree had kept its promise – it had been Billy’s fault that he hadn’t been specific enough in his wishes.
Many years later, Billy’s grandson, Hamilton, went off to fight in a war in the southern lands of Africa. Now Hamilton had heard the story about the tree as it had been told throughout the family. So, Hamilton decided to tie a cloth to the tree and wish that he himself should return to Shoreham. It meant that Hamilton felt safe in his sojourns, and yes, I must tell you that he did indeed return home, but in a coffin.
Now we move forward to the 20th century and whether we are still talking about the same tree, is anyone’s guess. It stands in the same place, and so perhaps it is, or perhaps it isn’t. Yet the stories that surrounded it grew by the years, until it got to the stage that the tree became known as the ‘lucky tree’.
In 1966, a young man by the name of Alfred, happened to be walking past the tree and tied a cloth to it – he did so in order to ask for help for his grandfather who was ill in hospital. He asked the lucky tree to allow his grandfather to get better and survive long enough to watch England winning a world football cup. He thought that would keep him alive for a time.
As you can imagine, that year, the grandfather breathed his last breath when the Russian referee blew his whistle to signify that England had beaten West Germany and were world champions.
It was probably with Alfred that the story began to fade. Alfred moved to Australia with the money that his grandfather left him, and folks tied cloths to the tree, less and less.
There was the occasional trip to the tree for one or two individuals. Like the time while designing the M25 motorway, it was thought that an exit should come down the valley and into Shoreham. No one really noticed but a small cloth was tied to a small twig on the tree and the exit was never built.
One Saturday evening, in the current year,a lad of sixteen summers was walking back from Eynsford, when he thought he saw a light underneath the tree (the one which was once known as the lucky tree). The lad found that it was the remnants of a fire – it looked to him as if someone had tried to burn it down, but the lad put out the fire and then sat a while.
Whether he imagined it, or whether he had fallen asleep and had dreamt it – he could see that just a short dig underneath the tree was a collection of Roman coins put there as an offering many years before.
The lad woke in the morning as the sun came up and as he started to dig – sure enough, there were coins exactly where he had dreamt them to be. the lad never had to walk anywhere again.
So, in finishing, and as a warning, if you ever happen to be perambulating that path between Shoreham and the Hop farm, and you approach the tree – just be very careful what you wish for and who knows, there just might be some gold nearby, too.
bobby stevenson 2017

The Best of All Summers

jottifry

best

Some things remain with you forever.

When I was ten years old, my father took me on a trip in an old battered car and caravan, and although I didn’t know it at the time, my father was dying. He was only forty years of age and he was dying of a brain tumour.

What can I tell you about me back then? That I was the only son of parents who never got around to marrying? That I lived with my two sisters and a cat and that despite not having any money, we lived in a house packed to the roof with love.

Maybe that’s as good as it gets in anyone’s life.

My father was the gentlest of hearts and the kindest of men, and I’m not just saying that because he’s gone. I’m saying it because it was true. It was his strength and his weakness. My mother watched so many people taking advantage of his goodness, that in the end she put herself in the way of anyone trying to use him. This made her seem hard but she was willing to put up with that, because that was what our family was always about – love.

My parents had decided that when school was closed for the summer, Mum and the girls would go to London for a few days to see a show, while me and Dad would go north taking his old car hooked up to Granddad’s caravan. I knew Dad was probably hoping this would be a chance for us to talk, as he was always working and I was always in my bedroom being misunderstood. Even at ten years of age I had no real idea how to enjoy myself.

On that summer, that glorious summer, school finished and my life began. Dad drove Mum and the girls to the railway station and I sat on the front steps waiting, bag ready and caravan packed.

I’ll always remember the ‘toot-toot-toot’ of my Dad on the car horn as he returned from the station, letting everyone in the street know that the boys were off on holiday. All those unused days were spread before us, waiting.

If I’d thought that it was going to be a particularly difficult time sitting in the car with my Dad, I was wrong. I had imagined him and me struggling to talk to each other and stumbling over words. I guess I’ve always made assumptions about things. I’ve worried and assumed – I suppose that’s what should be written on my headstone. There I go again.

As we drove towards the coast, I felt ashamed of myself. Here was a man who knew all about my writings and about the books I’d read. He would steal himself into my room after he came home late from work, too late to wish me goodnight but long enough to kiss me on the forehead and absorb from the room who and what I was. There was I knowing very little about him, except he was my father and he was rarely home.

I don’t recall when he stopped the car but I do remember it getting dark. I had been telling him all about the characters in some Dickens novel when I must have fallen asleep in his arms. When I awoke, it was morning and the sun was fighting the condensation on the window. Dad had placed me in the back seat and covered me with his jacket.

The car was freezing and as I sat up, I shivered. I wiped away mist from the side window and saw, that despite the sun, the sky and the sea were a cold blue, broken up by the foamy edges of the waves.  We had parked at the edge of a cliff and Dad was sitting, staring – that was all he was doing – just staring. When I felt brave enough, I ventured outside to join him. I’ll always remember his face that day, the wind had slapped his cheeks into a Santa Claus red and his eyes were watering, stung by the sea. You could almost imagine that he had been crying, and I wonder now, from all those years away, if he had been.

He told me to sit next to him and he put his arm around me, “You, and me, son are going on an adventure”.

Now don’t get me wrong, I liked the sound of ‘adventure’ and I loved my father and felt safe with him but there was always a part of me that wanted to return to the protection of my bedroom, pull up my arms into my sleeves and wait on the next hurtful thing. Yeah, you’re right, I was one weird kid.

As we came over the hill I could see it: Blackpool Tower. I had never seen anything so tall in all my life and was so excited that I forgot about my misgivings. The place was alive with people who were swept up with enjoying life and buzzing with laughter. There were donkey rides by the sea, the odd uncle with a handkerchief on his head to keep the sun away and people breaking their teeth on sticks of rocks, slurping ice cream and getting pieces of candy floss stuck to their noses.

Dad and I went down on to the beach and ate our fish and chips from a newspaper. I think it was the best fish and chips I ever tasted.

“That’s better.” said Dad.

“What?”

“You’re smiling, you’ve got a nice smile, you know. You should use it more often.”

“Oh Dad.”

“I’m just saying.”

And do you know what? I felt that I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Just me and my Dad on the beach at Blackpool.

“It’s my fault.” he said, sadly.

“What is, Dad?”

“The fact that you never smile, me and your Mum left you sitting too long in that room of yours.”

“I like my room.”

“No one likes their room.”

Dad parked the caravan down some quiet side street and told me to get washed and ready as he took a walk into town. When he returned, his breath smelt of beer and his clothes of cigarettes.

“You’ll never guess what I’ve got in my pocket? Two tickets to see Arthur Askey at the Grand”

What a night that was, everyone laughing and singing along with The Bee Song. I looked over at my Dad and he was laughing so hard the tears were rolling down his face. God, I miss him.

We had ice cream topped with raspberry sauce on the way back and I never once thought about my misgivings, not once.

The next morning after a cup of tea and a bacon roll, we left Blackpool still singing the Bee Song, just me and my Dad.

I can’t remember who saw the old lady first. My Dad had stopped the car because I needed to pee again and I was hiding in the bushes. The woman was sitting on a bench and at first we thought she was just sleeping, but her head had rolled forwards and she was moaning. Dad put his ear close to listen to her breathing.

“This isn’t good. We’ll need to get her to hospital.”

I sat with her in the back seat of the car while she rested her head on my lap. She reminded me of my Gran, I almost said “We won’t be long now Gran” when she moaned really loudly. The nurse brought Dad and me drinks as we sat in the corridor waiting on news. It almost felt like it was my Gran.

“Are you family?”

Dad explained to the doctor that we had found her sitting by the side of the road.

“There was nothing we could do, I’m afraid. I’m sorry your trip was in vain. She passed away five minutes ago.”

Dad got a bit annoyed but he kept it to himself until we were outside the hospital. I thought maybe he was sad about the old lady dying, but really he was a bit angry.

“Don’t you ever believe that what we did was in vain, son. Never think that. That poor lady would have died alone on that bench if we hadn’t stopped. As it is, you kept her company and there were people with her when she went. So it wasn’t in vain. Nothing is in vain. Always, always remember that. Everything matters”

I guess that’s the kind of thing that happens to a person when they come out of their room.

As Dad drove south, I had the feeling that he just wanted to keep driving but as soon as it started to get dark, we stopped. Thinking back, I guess he couldn’t see too well in the dying light, something to do with his tumour.We set the caravan down in a field that overlooked Liverpool. What a city. Looking over the way the setting sun painted the building tops, a crimson yellow. We were going into town tomorrow and Dad said he had a surprise.

I don’t think I have ever been to a happier city than Liverpool that day. People were going to and fro but always laughing and joking. Some were singing, others whistling. I loved every minute of it; every blooming minute of it.

“I’ve got a pal and he owes me a favour”, said Dad. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t even known that my father had any friends or who they were.

“He works at a club down Matthew Street. He says if we arrive early enough, he’ll get us in and you can hide under my coat.”

I almost had misgivings again, almost wishing I was back in my safe, warm, bedroom – almost.

We did what Dad said and he put me under his coat and the doorman, his pal, waved us past all the people waiting to get in.

“We’ll need to keep you under cover young ‘un” said Bert, Dad’s pal, as he led me to a small room by the stairs where he gave me lemonade.

“We’ll come and get you when the band is ready” said my Dad. “I’m going to have a talk with Bert. You’ll be okay here?”

I would be.

I had just finished my drink when there was a knock at the door, followed by it opening.

“Hey Paul, look what I’ve found, the Cavern has little people living under the stairs. What are you doing here, son?”

I told him I was waiting on the band and that my Dad was coming to get me.

“And what band would that be son?”

I shrugged and the man seemed to find that funny. His pal, Paul came over to have a look at me.

“You’re right John, that is one of the little people. You’ve got to be lucky to see them” and then he rubbed my head.

John said it was his band that was playing and I said I was sorry. He said not as sorry as he was and asked did I want to come to their dressing room?  Although on second thoughts, John said, there was probably more room under the stairs.

So I went with John and Paul and met the other two, George and Pete. They were all fooling around and didn’t seem to be in any way nervous. John asked me what I wanted to do “That is, when you stop being one of the little people.”

I told him I wanted to be a writer and he said that was probably the best job in the world next to being in a band, especially his band, and he went into his jacket and gave me his pen.

“If anyone asks, tell them John Lennon gave it to you.”

That night I watched John, Paul, George and Pete play the most wonderful music I had ever heard or will ever hear. I didn’t know it then, but a few weeks later Ringo replaced Pete. I never got to meet him.

My Dad died, just after Christmas, that year.

He left me with the best present that I have ever received in my life. He took me out of my room and locked the door so I couldn’t go back in. So what if I got hurt? That was the price you paid for being out there, that was the price we all paid, and the other thing he gave me was the belief that nothing is ever in vain, nothing.

On the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon’s death, I flew to New York and walked through Central Park and climbed the hill to Strawberry Fields. There was a little boy about ten and his Dad listening to the music of Lennon and I took out the pen and I handed it to them:

“John Lennon gave me this.”

Everything matters.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Remembering Disneyland

The window’s opened an inch just to let the room breathe a little as the rusting setting sun is just perching on the trees across the way and peeking into my window, hitting the oleander full on. The perfume hits my nose and pinches my sadness, ‘hey kid, this is why you walk and talk, get over yourself’. A seabird screeches for a partner somewhere in the outer banks, and just then I can smell the sea, a little sour as it worms its way by stealth into the room.

Upstairs, Mrs Hack plays her husband’s jazz records and for a few minutes she can forget that he went to ‘Nam in ’65 and never came home. Oh, the sweetness of the dulling of the senses.

Across the street, as the dusk drops down bringing with it all those things which it’s known for, some kids leave the ice cream parlor screaming and hollering and remembering their almost perfect day at Disneyland, ‘if only Josey hadn’t thrown up over me’ shouts the nervous one whose eyes gave up the ghost a while back.

And so I sit and pour a drink as the sun packs up and finally leaves the room and a steel chill hits my stomach and I wonder why in all those years, I never got to go to Disneyland.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Brighter Days

BRIGHTER-DAYS

The smell of the coffee lured her in and so she sat blowing on the steam from her cup. The war had only been over a handful of weeks but already she felt that things were better. Bravely, she took a sip and looked out over the Boardwalk knowing that what lay ahead were brighter days.

————

He was going to hitch all the way no matter what his mama said. This was the 1950s: things are a whole lot different mama, we ain’t like you. He packed a small bag, kissed her on both cheeks and headed out the door, by tomorrow he’d be in the same town as Elvis. One bus journey was all that stood between him and brighter days.

————

He hadn’t asked God for much out of life, well not since the cancer hit his younger brother – and God had been listening that day. He hadn’t really pushed God for anything in recent years, so that was why he was asking him to let England beat Germany and win the 1966 World Cup. He just knew that God had caught that one too; brighter days, indeed.

————–

She’d been walking her kids to school when the plane hit and as they crossed around into the avenue, they could see the flames shooting from the building. She was scared and she wasn’t sure what to do except hold their hands tighter. She tried to remain calm and think of brighter days, just then one of the kids asked why the bird coming from the building was on fire.

—————-

He lost everything when the bank went under, everything, the house, the car, his job and no matter how much pleading, his wife. He was working in a car wash now and the depression had disappeared down the drain with the soap suds and water. He had nothing left, let’s be honest, but he had his health and he knew that brighter days lay just up ahead.

It is all we ever need –  the smile of brighter days.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

brighter

 

bobby2 wee bobby

Strange Day

moon

November 22.

The strangest goddamn thing ever, and I mean ever, happened to me this morning. Jeez, my hand is still shaking as I write this even although the boss told me ‘no notes, no traces, no records’ but hey, it’s only one little bitty diary.

I had got up this morning, had breakfast and kissed my wife and prepared myself for what I was going to do, today. ‘Change the world for the better’ is what the boss said to me. So last night I double checked everything and the equipment was all ready. I’d taken it out to the Plains last weekend to make sure everything was A, okay. It was.

So I took all I needed up to the top floor and waited. I kind of guessed it would be a long wait but I was ready. ‘You’re the man’ as my boss told me last week.

Jeez, I nearly died when those folks turned up right behind me. I kid you not. One minute I was alone, the next they were standing right beside me. I didn’t even get a chance to reach for the rifle.

“Did you do this on your own?” Asked the man with the grey suit.

I asked him what he meant. I mean were they Feds or what?

Some guy shouts in a strange voice that they weren’t meant to get involved, that they would have to abort the trip and everyone was to return. Sounds crazy? That’s what I thought. When I got myself together I started to chase after them as the disappeared around the corner. Then I felt real weird and blacked out.

When I came to, I heard one of them say that I would have to be dropped off later. A kind blonde haired girl, a bit like Marilyn offered me a drink, smelled like coffee but I turned it down.

She asked me how I was doing and I said fine, she said that we’d need to wait till the bomb had gone off before we would return to get me home.

I know this is going to sound crazy, if anyone reads this – but she said they were time travelers, that they were on a tour of the big ones: The Crucifixion, First Man on The Moon (I’m tellin’ you that’s what she said), The start of World War 3 in 2012 – apparently a dirty bomb went off in….no, I’m going to stop there you wouldn’t believe me if I told you and the Assassination of the President – J.F.K. and that was why they were visiting me. I asked her how she knew and she said she was from the future and that she knew everything about me including Jack Ruby. Wow, my blood ran cold when she said that name – how did she know the Boss?

She said that I would be given a drug or something to make me forget so she could ask me anything. ‘Did I work alone?’ – I asked her what she meant. Did I shoot JFK on my own? I haven’t done it yet, I told her. Well are you working alone? I told her of course I’m not, I am only up in the Depository to make sure there are no loose ends. There are two guys down on that grassy knoll that will do the shooting.

She seemed real puzzled at that. She left me for a while but  she returned after she’d seen the city blown sky-high. She told me that the world would be at war within hours. She had been crying. She’d been on this type of tour before but never to Dallas or to the bombing.

I’ve no idea what went wrong but if they did give me a drug to make me forget it didn’t work ‘cause next thing I know I’m waking up in the Depository again and I’m wondering if I had taken a stroke or something. Anyway, things are back to normal, as I write this the time is 11.40am and the President is late.

bobby stevenson 2017
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The Last Song

They had known about it for the longest time. Years, even. The scientists had seen it a long way out and knew it would hit.

Because of the time available, they had shipped off many from the planet. Some to Mars but even that wasn’t safe.

Eddie and Sheena had been one of the few who had decided to stay. Not for them a place they hadn’t been born on. Where they couldn’t call home.

They had been childhood sweethearts, having first met at school, and they both knew instantly that this was each other’s soul mate.

So, when the news came that each of them would be thirty-one years old when it hit the Earth, they both knew – without talking about it – that they would never leave. They would face it together.

The part of it they hadn’t foreseen was what would be the last song on the car speakers as they drove off into the sun.

He wanted something by Springsteen and she wanted a song her mother had always sang to her. Something by Cat Stevens.

A minute or so before the end, she kissed him, smiled at him, then switched off the radio and instead used the final seconds to say:

‘See you on the other side’. She then grabbed his hand.

He turned to kiss her……

 

bobby stevenson 2017

The First Thing

Later in life, Thing would look back on those early years and wonder.

Wonder if the perfect moment of his life was back then, and if that was true – was the perfect moment the happiest?

That isn’t to say, there aren’t perfect times later in life and in some cases, it may be that a person is older when that perfect moment arises. But there are other pivotal points: your first real kiss, holding your child, going on honeymoon with your love, or being told that the x-ray was clear – but that isn’t the perfection I am referring to, I am talking about those few seconds, or minutes, or hours when all the stars are aligning at the same time and all of them are shinning directly at you.

To be honest, Thing’s perfect moment did happen back then. It came when he had circled the Sun six times, and with a few weeks left over. Thing’s mother and father had decided to take their son to see the school that Thing would be attending when the new semester began. He was the first of his kind at the school, and it was complicated by the fact that Thing hadn’t spent much time in human company. To say, as parents, that they were nervous about their child’s future was probably an understatement.

The plan was to introduce Thing to the Principal of the school and for that person, man or woman – but most definitely human – to show little Thing around the building. This exercise allowed the kids to be that little bit less stressed on their first day.

Normally several children were taken on the grand tour at a time, but because Thing was a Thing and not a person (their words, not mine) he was to be interviewed and given the tour on his own.

It turned out that the Principal was a woman, a rather large woman, by the name of Mrs Schwartz. She had a pleasant way about her, and a very deep and loud laugh. Any kind of laugh is a good noise, and so it was with the lady – she was the very essence of kindness itself.

She explained that Thing was to be their first Thing in the school, but that other schools in the county had their share of Things, and that the William Penn Elementary school was very excited at the prospect of their first Thing. Indeed, Thing was to be welcomed with open arms.

His teacher would be a young woman by the name of Edith Fallen and that she was the best of the best. Both Thing’s parents seemed to relax a little at this news.

Thing and his family were taken on a tour of the school, and at every turn there seemed to be a very great possibility of exciting work to do in the school. Thing’s cave was safe and warm but this building was full of every wonderful idea under the sun.

It was that day, that hour, that minute as Thing left to walk down the mountain-side to go to school for the very first time, that his life solidified.  Thing insisted on walking to school himself – although, his father walked a little way behind him to keep an eye on him.

Before that, however, his father and mother stood at the door of the cave and waved off their little treasure. As Thing looked back at the warmth and safety of those standing at the cave, and his own excitement at a new world just beginning – it was then, right at that split second, that Thing passed his life’s perfect moment. He wouldn’t know it at the time – but later, much later, he would come to realize that life would never ever be so perfect again.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

Adam and Eve’s Honeymoon

masks

Sometimes things just change. Not for any particular reason – at least, not one anyone can understand – but perhaps because the Universe has shifted, or a God has smiled, or someone has taken a road less travelled. But when it happens, and it will –  it makes a change, and  one that is always irreversible.

The folks we are concerned with in this story were ‘Lifers’, that is to say, they were two children who had been born, grown and lived all their lives in the chalk caves and tunnels beneath Kent. When the inevitable happened: when the enemy (and you know who, I mean) had finally lost patience with the West – they sent their less than perfect bombs over in our direction. Some fell short of their targets, some flew on into the Atlantic – but one or two of the more lethal kind, landed where they were needed.

And with that came the long-time of darkness.

Those who could do so, moved into the areas beneath their feet. They spread through the tunnels and rooms which had been used as forts to deal with the threat of Napoleon upon this little island. This subterranean land had now become the only home that anyone had ever known.

At first the elders had told stories of the lands above, at least the way it had once been. They had talked of cinemas, and churches, of burger joints and buses. They had told tales of a million and one things that the new generations, the Lifers, could only imagine – and probably not very accurately, but just enough to whet the appetites of the two of whom we speak.

Ironically these two were called Eve and Adam, perhaps that seems strange to the readers, but in those days, in those tunnels, the Bibles and God were sometimes all people had to hold on to in the dark, so children were named accordingly.

Adam and Eve wanted to marry, which, in itself, was not the strangest of requests – what was different about them, was that they wanted to spend their Honeymoon in the lands above. There were those (as inevitably there always are) who said that those lands did not exist and had never existed – that, what was in the tunnels were all that life had ever been and to say otherwise was blasphemy.

In some parts of the lands beneath, people were punished or put to death to suggest that a better life lay above.  Some folks were ever treated as insane. One man, who they called the new Marco Polo had written a book about his travels in the fantastical lands of the surface. The book changed hands secretly and for stupendously high prices -, and in most areas the book was either considered an illegal document or the crazy thoughts of a madman.

Adam and Eve had both read the book, and both had set their hearts on travelling through Polo’s journeys. There was talk of a great city above their heads, and according to the new Marco, it was known as The Angel Islington –  he wrote that had witnessed, with his own eyes, a sign which said as much.

And that is how they had found each other; through a secret group which met in long forgotten caves, and who studied the works of new Marco Polo.

To be caught attempting to move above from their sector, meant years of incarceration or being locked in the dark-room until the air ran out. Both Adam and Eve were willing to take that chance, and they felt that following the tunnels would eventually lead to an exit above.  There were also stories of folks who had tried and had spent years travelling the endless tunnels, until they died of madness or starvation. None of it was ever proved, but then stories were only used to keep folks in their place.

Eve and Adam planned to get married on the second week in the month of Abba (no one knew what the origins of the name were, but it was a favourite month to wed).  Our couple played along with the story, that for their Honeymoon they were going to travel on the rail to the large cave called Dover.

However, after the wedding and after bidding farewell to their families, they had made their way to the upper, forbidden chamber where they had stored their escape clothes. They kissed each other, held each other tight, then put on their masks.  They took one final photo – the one which they left behind for those who would come looking for them.

Nothing was ever heard from  Adam and Eve again but there are still stories about them, stories that are whispered around the tunnels, stories that bring hope and fire to cold hearts – and perhaps one day I will tell you.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

One Final Thing

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It was as Thing got near to the end of his time in this world, that all the confusion seemed to melt away. Sure, old age never arrived on its own (as his mother used to say). He had found it a little harder to climb and descend the mountain-side, and Thing found sleeping didn’t come as easy as it once had. His eyes were a little less sharp and his hearing failed to notice the sweet chirping of the morning birds.
 
Yet he was luckier than many. Despite his troubles, he had three things: he had always had someone as a friend, and a roof above his head, and always had food to eat. These three items should never be taken for granted, and Thing had never, ever, thought like that.
 
Thing had seen great changes in his lifetime. Folks of his type were now welcomed in public places. The children of people happily let the children of his kind play together. Thing had never thought that possible in his lifetime.
 
As he walked through the streets of the town, he noticed how more peaceful the place had become. Kids still threw stones, but they were at old tin cans or at old doors. Yet this part of the world was an exception. Thing had heard of places, where to look different got you banned from entering a town, or a city, or a country. All because of the differences – no one ever seemed to look at the similarities.
 
And Thing realized he must always be on his guard in his own home. The world still threw up people who would rather stand on top using others’ suffering, than stand beside them and help. Thing wondered if these people were born that way, or if they were made that way? A question he had never got to the bottom off.
 
If the world had been created by a God, did the God look like Thing or did the God perhaps look like the others – the humans? Did it really matter as-long-as your heart was beautiful?
 
As Thing strolled, he remembered a story his father had told him many moons before.
 
“Whether the world was created by a being or a bang, in the end it is like a bar of chocolate. At the start, we are all one – all one piece of chocolate – all made from the same ingredients. Now if you break that chocolate bar by hitting it with your elbow, it will shatter into many pieces. Every piece will look different, some might look similar but no two pieces will be the same. No matter how much you may think you are different or better or worse than the piece of chocolate next to you, you are the very same – created from the same stuff, but shattered according to the laws of mathematics, or the universe or a supreme being. All you can do is enjoy and believe in your piece. Never doubt yourself and never hurt others.”
 
And Thing had kept that story etched across his heart.
 
As he closed his eyes for the final time, Thing appreciated that the way he appeared to others said nothing about the contents of his heart. That the most beautiful of creatures sometimes held the ugliest of hearts.
 
At the end of it all, Thing had been entered into a game, which he had never invented, nor had asked to join, but had played it to the rules, to those he understood that is – and had done it to the very best that he could.
 
If, whatever or, whoever was out there was unhappy with that, it wasn’t of Thing’s doing and as the final breath left Thing, it exited a mouth with a gentile smile of contentment.
 
bobby stevenson 2017

 

Saturday Afternoon on the Floor

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From up here, with the window open, all I can do is lay on the floor and stare at the roof. I’m trying to guess what the avenue looks like – I’m kidding, right? I mean I’ve walked it enough times to know, I just mean I’m wondering what it looks like by smell alone – at this precise moment.

There’s a warm wind blowing in from the East River – okay, I’m guessing again. There’s a warm wind carrying the smell of salt water and I’m thinking it’s coming from over there. I can smell warm bagels coming up from Jacob’s Bakery. The room is filled with the sound of horns – taxi horns, automobile horns, police sirens. It’s all happening down there. Down there on Times Square.

There’s the occasional burst of a gasoline smell as the traffic piles up, all heading up town; all going places, something I ain’t doing on account of lying here on this bare floor.

It ain’t cool – at least it was cooler, earlier – but it ain’t now, not with the sun burning in through the window and making me feel uncomfortable. Real uncomfortable.

I can almost taste the salt water taffy as the smell crawls up from the candy store on the corner. You can buy everything there. I mean everything; and not all of it legal.

I hear some cab driver cussing at another one – it’s all to do with one guy taking the other guy’s parking. Every time the noise drops a little I can hear that trumpet player playing the same tune he plays every Saturday. Same music, same place. I guess it keeps him happy. I sometimes give him a dime if I have some in my pocket. He always says the same thing, ‘Thank you, kindly’. This kid has a real Southern drawl about the way he talks. Don’t know much else about him.

A few minutes later a fire truck crosses the square, and it’s pretty insistent about getting to where it wants to go. From what I can make out, all the other traffic has stopped to let it past. New York is like that, real obliging. Sometimes.

Now and again, I can feel my eyes wanting to close. I’m starting to get real tired, guess it’s to do with being on this floor.

I hear Mrs Sheer from two-fifteen singing her hymns as she climbs the stairs with all the Bibles she didn’t sell.

Through the wall, Henry, the old guy, is playing some 78s and giggling every now and then. He’ll be smoking one of his special cigarettes – it always seems to make him laugh. It’s good to hear.

I can feel the warmth of the liquid running under my shirt. Funny thing is – it don’t smell much. I guess it will later. I start singing a song my mother sang to me when she would sit me on her knee and smile – probably the biggest smile in the world.

It might be the last song I sing.

Guess I’ll be seeing my family sooner than I expected.

I wish I knew what I had done, I really do. All I did was what I always do on a Saturday afternoon. Sit on the ledge of the window, legs hanging over 15 stories below. There I would watch life passing by in the greatest city in the world. Man, it was the greatest sight in the world.

I’m guessing it was bullet, ‘cause I fell back into the apartment real quick, like someone had punched me. I’m guessing it was some crazy guy, somewhere. Probably didn’t even know me. Probably didn’t even know why he did what he did. The city is full of them.

I can feel the blood covering the floor, all sticky like. At least I won’t need to clean the damn stuff up. The Cops will do that.

Kinda feeling tired.

I’m just gonna close my eyes a little now. I’m still singing that song, I can almost hear my ma singing it with me: “Baa, baa, black sheep have you any wool? Yes, sir, ye……”

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

The Polka Dot Comet Kid

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The night that Sally was born, the comet, Hale-Bopp lit the skies above the hospital as she lay, crying. She was the most beautiful of children and her parents called her Halley after the light in the heavens.

She had a wonderful early life and then one day she cut her finger which started to bleed. That wasn’t unusual for a child or for any human, except that the blood wasn’t red. She bled a polka-dot liquid. 

Her mother, worried, rushed her to the hospital and the doctors there all hummed and hawed, and then decided that the only answer was to wash Halley’s blood.

After the blood was washed, the polka-dots disappeared and the blood was red, once again. Halley was checked every few weeks to make sure that the polka dots didn’t returned. Then one day as she left the big school for the last time, she bent over in pain as if she had been hit in the stomach.

When they x-rayed the beautiful woman they found that her insides had all changed to polka-dots. 

The polka-dots had spread while no one was looking. The doctor told Halley and her mother that it wasn’t too late, that if they removed some of the polka-dots then they shouldn’t travel any further around her body – and that is what they did.

Life went on and Halley studied at college, fell in love and decided she would be happy for ever. Then one afternoon when she was out buying food, the check-out girl stared at her.

“Sorry, is there something wrong?” Halley asked the girl.

“It’s your face, it’s covered in polka-dots,” said the girl.

Halley ran to the nearest mirror and was shocked at the state of her face.

The doctor said that he’d try to paint her face back to its original colour by using chemicals, and that is what happened. It’s just that the chemicals made her feel ill but it made the polka-dots disappear.

When she walked down the street, some people who didn’t understand why people got polka-dots would just cross the road away from her. Sometimes she could hear folks whispering – ‘she’s got polka-dots’ – and then shake their heads.

After several weeks of painting Halley’s face to make the polka-dots disappear, the doctor told her that he didn’t expect them to come back – at least not anytime soon.

That night Halley went home and decided that she wouldn’t wait any longer on things that she wanted to do – she would just do them. It was that simple. She still checked herself for polka-dots and so far, they haven’t returned.

Halley realised that polka-dots left scars and she could live with that. What she couldn’t do, was sit down and wait on the polka-dots coming back.

If you ever see Halley on the street, just say hi to the polka-dot comet kid, she likes that. 

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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That Perfect Moment

nyc1950

When I was a kid, my whole world was Hell’s Kitchen. Heck, it was my whole universe too – because that part of New York City was all I needed, and to be honest it was all I ever wanted.

I was about ten years old when my brother, Archie took the photo. He had swapped one of his medal from the war for a color camera. He said it was worth it but my daddy thought he was a fool.

“You can’t eat the medal, Pa. So, what am I supposed to do with it?” Archie would say when my father tutted or cussed every time he saw the camera.

I guess he was right.

Jeez, in just writing this down I’ve just had a sad wave come over me – I’m realizing how much I miss my brother. Wishing he could come back from that place he went to, but it’s a one way ticket. That’s the bad part.

Anyways, the three girls at the back of the photo are my sisters, then there’s my cousin Irene, who you can’t see and standing next to her is Mary-Lou her best friend.

That photo was taken in that real hot summer of 1950, and everyone on our street tried their best to keep cool. I did it the only way I knew how, using the hydrant like my brother and my pa, had done before me.

Usually my eldest sister, Becky, would give me a dime for keeping them watered down, but since she found me smoking one of my brother’s cigarettes in the back yard, she was blackmailing me into doing everything.

“See if I don’t tell Pa about your smoking and all, see if I don’t”.

I couldn’t take the chance, so I had to believe her, which meant a Saturday watering was theirs for free.1950 was a lifetime ago, and I can still smell those summer days in the best city in the world.

A couple of years after the photo was taken, Mary-Lou and Irene moved into a cold-water apartment down near Washington Square. My Ma said she thought it strange that they never had any gentlemen callers around their place – but me, I like to think that the two of them were happy in their own company. Weren’t no one’s business, anyhow.

Becky went off and married a guy from the navy and they ended up living in Alaska. She keeps saying she’ll make it down one day, but I haven’t laid eyes on her in over fifty years.

My other two sisters followed my brother to that undiscovered country, and I guess I miss them all just as much.

I hung around the city doing all kinds of work, until one night I walked into a bar and heard a kid singing and then my life changed. The boy was Robert Zimmerman, and he could speak for a thousand angels. The way he used words ain’t worth thinking about. He changed his name to Dylan – after the poet – and I held on to his coat tails and followed him to the Catskills, where I still live today.

If you’ve read my writing, then you know that I’m always harping on about the perfect moments in your life. The real problem is you never get to realize what they are, until they are gone. Now ain’t that the kicker?

But that photo, that color photo taken on a camera worth a man’s medal, was probably the most perfect moment of my life – everyone I knew was laughing and healthy and as for me – well I was going to live forever.

bobby stevenson 2017

The Proof of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry what did you say?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He nodded and took the paper from his pocket.

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

Again, he nodded.

“Let me see it, this blasted thing.”

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

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

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

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

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

bobby stevenson 2017

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You, kill me.

American-Diner

She was the kinda gal who sashayed where ever she went. Always sashaying and flicking those hips from side to side. She was the best mover in town, everyone said so. Even the Reverend Gascoin, who was a sort of expert in these delicate things.

He enjoyed having opinions on worldly stuff, as long as his boss up above didn’t get to hear about it. I kinda think that the Rev didn’t really understand the Bible.

As for the gal, who was called Helen, she worked at the Teddy Coffee Shop; it was named after President Roosevelt. One day his automobile had a flat tire and he stopped in for a strong, black treacle drink. He apparently said it was the goddamn best cuppa coffee he had ever drunk. Had them serve it at his funeral, I heard. Not sure how true that is, either.

Still you gotta go with what you hear and make your own mind up. Them’s the rules.

The café was on a muddy, bumpy road just off the thruway, and the only folks that visited it, were there ‘cause it was accidental. But then the founding father probably took a wrong turn and just decided to stay.

The railway came through in ’86 – 1886 that is and folded thirty years later when the main investor, one General Wade took all the monies and disappeared to Bolivia, or at least that’s the story. Like I say, you can pick and choose what you believe of this short story.

So you’re gonna ask what was so unusual about Helen, the gal who liked to sashay? And you’d be correct to ask the question, ‘cause it’s an interesting one.

You see Helen was my grandmother and on her deathbed she told me a story. When she’d finished, she took one final guttural breath and kissed me and then the world goodbye.

And so I am gonna tell you the story exactly as she told it to me and you can make your own mind up:

“I was working in the Teddy on that particular day, the day when the two gentlemen came to call. It was unusual as we normally had only one customer at a time. But hey, you gotta take the money where you can get it. They didn’t arrive together which made me think that they were trying to have a meet without anyone else over-hearing, if you get what I’m saying. The both asked me what was the special for the day and I told them it was the mac and cheese. They both seemed happy with that. One of them was a real good-looking man with a New England way of talking and when I walked across the floor, he mentioned that I had a nice real way of moving. I took that on board with both hands, I’ll tell ya. The other was a dark, strange-looking fellow, who seemed to be keeping one eye on the door.

I was wiping the counter and that was when I heard the conversation they were having. And this is where I swear it got strange. The good-looking man said that it was true that he was dying of cancer or something. I couldn’t quite hear as they would stop talking when I got close. I couldn’t keep asking if they wanted more coffee as it was starting to look strange. That was when the other asked when he would do it.

It seemed that one man was dying and he wanted the other, a hit man, to shoot the dying man, and that he’d get well paid. He just wasn’t to tell him when it would happen. ‘Let it be a surprise’, the good-looking man said with a grin.

I remember they left a big tip and shook hands, then they drove off in separate cars and in different directions. It was only when I read the papers a few weeks later, that I realised that one of them was the president, and the other was some guy who shot him from a book depository.”

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Lives in 100 words

New York City, December 1963

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I remember fighting a rather lonely wind as I crossed Central Park on that particular Wednesday before Christmas; an old faded newspaper flapped in the breeze against a wooden seat but I could still make out the headline: ‘JFK Dead’. They would be coming soon, those wise men from the east, the Beatles with their new English beat music. Perhaps we could stop grieving and begin to move on. I clambered up the hill, crossed Central Park West sliding in to 72nd Street and as I passed the Dakota building, a cold chill made me pull my coat in tight.

 

Going Home

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“Fourteen…………fifteen……………sixteen”   He stopped counting because the soldier had stopped walking. The soldier turned and the boy started to count again. Once more the gap was sixteen seconds, or at least sixteen of the boy’s counts. That’s all the time he had. Sixteen seconds between life and death. Off to the right were two builders, placing bricks upon bricks, and not paying much attention to anyone. None of this was his fault, all he had done was make his usual weekend trip to see his Grandmother in eastern Berlin and now, in front of him, was a wall stopping his return.

 

Another Walk In The Park

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It was one of those bright yellow days; not quite Winter and not quite Spring as I lit my last cigarette (after all it was 1951 and smoking didn’t give you cancer back then). I noticed as I walked across the park how the rain tasted sweet, as if someone had seeded it with sugar. In the distance, I could hear a dog howling, as the wind carried its cries off towards Columbus Circle – there it drowned among the squeals of the speeding taxi cabs. “Read it!” You’d said. So I sat, opened your manuscript, and began ‘On The Road’.

 

Where The Citizens Are…

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When they set it all up – they knew what they were doing. They called it ‘The Sewer’ and that was all it was used for. Of course the Proles thought they were expressing outrage, revolution even, but really they were only pissing in the wind. No world order changed because of it – nothing changed because of it. Only the belief from the Proles that they were doing something worthy. They called it many things – Twitter, Facebook, EyeLook but all the Proles achieved was to let those upstairs – the masters – know who were the troublemakers and where they slept.

 

Last Walks – A Final Breath of Air

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He had made the excuse to the staff that he wanted a cigarette. After his father had died his mother had no longer allowed smoking in the house. Now she was gone and only the family dynasty was left. He could smoke wherever he wanted; after all it was his empire now. The truth was, he just wanted five more minutes with his own company. Things would never be the same when he walked back in there and the person, he was, who he had become, would be lost and swallowed up in world that would take all of him.

 

Last Walks – Three Out of Four

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They were waiting for him at the end of the jetty. The boat had been in trouble when the storm had risen out of nowhere. They had sent out a Mayday a few hours earlier. By the time the rescue team had got to them only one had been found alive. The other three had gone overboard and their bodies picked up. There had been four kids out there in the bay and each of them had been sailing all their lives. Now three were gone, but which three?  And as he walked, he prayed that it wasn’t his son.

 

Last Walks – Lost and Found

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It was the woman from the society who had contacted him. Although if he was being honest, he had thought about doing it when he was about eighteen years old. Not long after that he had joined the army and it had all gone from his mind. So when he got the phone call to say they’d found her and that she wanted to speak to him, he decided he had nothing to lose and perhaps a mother to gain. One who had left him when she was only sixteen, in an orphanage. He took a deep breath and knocked.

 

Last Walks – Feeling Like A Million

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If he got to the end of the street without seeing another person then he’d tell her, for sure. I mean, she deserved to know that he’d won 100 million on the lottery. Hadn’t she brought up his kids? Their kids. Hadn’t she stuck by him when things were tough? But then he’d forgiven her when she’d run away to Myrtle Beach with that pastor. And this morning, hadn’t she called him a worthless individual? Still, she’d improved, she didn’t hit him much anymore. He was just at the end of the street when he met Mrs Tully. Shame. 🙂

 

Last Walks – Paris 1940

Paris

There was still the smell of cigars on her coat as she took that one last walk. The dinner party at the little bistro in Neuilly had been everything she’d hoped it would be. Somewhere over by the woods she could hear a wind chime; its one last defiance in playing a pretty tune. They would be here soon and it was the reason they had all departed early. The army was on the outskirts of Paris and soon she would no longer be welcome in her city. There was a distant cry of ‘Vive La France’ and she wept.

 

Last Walks – A Street

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Both he and the Sun rose early in those days. An empty street and a full life lay in front of him and the potential tasted so sweet; anything and everything was possible. The smell of rain on the sidewalk lifted his spirits even higher. It made him feel like running but instead he just stood and looked up at the apartment where his life had changed in the last few hours. It was his final walk alone and nothing would ever be the same. It was as beautiful as they said it would be, he had fallen in love.

 

Last Walks – A Farewell

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He had never meant it to happen, they would have to be clear on that point. It had been an accident, a grade one accident, pure and simple. He hadn’t seen her step out of the trees but then maybe he’d been driving a little too fast, only a little mind, not enough to have done all that damage. And no, don’t insult him, of course he hadn’t been drinking, a beer and that didn’t count. It had been Harry’s farewell and he was expected to be sociable. He sadly wondered what his father would have said about it all.

 

Last Walks – East Germany 1962

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Her brother had disappeared into the army and had never returned, so when her mother had finally shut her lost eyes, she felt that maybe it was time for her to have a life. To find a husband and if it wasn’t too late (although she thought it probably was) to raise a family. That was the plan and so she found it hard to understand why she was taking the old road out-of-town that morning in ’62. She was going to try to go over the Wall into the West. There, she heard, the sun always shone.

 

Glasgow, Scotland 1960

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He kept saying it over and over to himself as he lay in bed: “6”, “0”.

The numbers felt exciting on his tongue as he said it. 1960 was a new age, and it had just started and everything was possible.

It was Sunday afternoon and the sun shone straight into his room, not helping his hangover. He’d just finished his National Service and the whole decade lay ahead of him.  He wanted to go to college, maybe Glasgow University and study English. But that could wait, at least until his head stopped hurting.

He turned over carefully and smiled.

 

Moving – California

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I swear on a whole stack of the Good Book, that Pa just walked in one day in ‘37 and said we were all going to California. Ma didn’t even question it, so I guess she knew it was coming. Pa bought an old truck from Halo James and stuck a house on top of it. He then told us seven kids that we were to be ready to go by sun up the next morning. Pa had been bringing home little or no food in those days and he said that going west would be the answer to everything.

 

Moving – Chicago

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When Steven, my older brother, won a whole heap of money from somewhere that we ain’t too sure of, he bought this crazy automobile and then said that we all going on a trip. After our parents died, Steve promised to take care of us all, so one day he said that we were off to Chicago where he’d got a job as a tax man for some guy called Al Capone. He was taking his favorite gal, Sally who was working in a speakeasy and needed somewhere to roll her stockings down (I don’t know what that means either).

 

Moving – The Other Side of The Desert

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He was known in the neighborhood as Captain Fantastic on account that he was always doing amazing things. So when he invited everyone in the Big House to cross the desert in his Big Palloosa, we all jumped at the chance. He was going to squeeze all six of us into his palace on wheels. He slept in a big bed on the top and boy could he snore. We kept cool on the real hot days by standing in our shorts and keepin’ all the windows open. Last I heard he got buried in it, a few years back.

 

Americana….

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Americana – 1880 I found the name on a map when I was a child in Scotland and it came to my mind that was where I was going to someday; Wabash, Indiana. I was 17 when I got there and I found work on the new Presbyterian Church after I told them about my religious folks back home. One evening, Mr Charles Brush asked that we all meet him at the Courthouse. That was the night that sunshine came to the city. When he switched on his electrical lights, the darkness  turned to-day; we were the first city, anywhere.

 

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

 

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Americana – 1976 Everything was red, white and blue except perhaps for the little crazy man who was singing a Beatles’ song: Eight Days a Week. Suzie lay in the warm air listening to the excitement carried in the voices of others and waiting for the fireworks to explode over her city. There was something small and comforting about DC, yet it represented everything that was big in the world. The rockets rose with all the colors and splendors of the universe and were reflected in the mirror of the Potomac. Her country was 200 years old and she couldn’t stop the tears.

 

1934 Fremont Street looking East

Americana – 1930   Hotel Nevada stood at the corner of Fremont Street; he’d driven out west in ’29 when things got real tough back home. His plan was to head for California where they were  making Talking movies. The problem was that he’d stopped off in this one horse town, run up a liquor bill and was working fourteen hours a day to pay off the debt. Jake, who worked in the Hotel Apache, had asked to pull their greenbacks and invest in a small casino but he had to say ‘no’. Who was going to come to a place like Las Vegas?

 

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Americana – 1948 From that little room in the cold-water apartment you could smell Harlem. The top window being stuck open with the paint that was probably put on around the time of Pearl Harbor. Cooking smells danced in along with thumps and arguments from far off places.I decided that I needed fresh air and I headed down to 8Th avenue where the folks were drinking canned-heat and digging the sex and the sax. In the dark corner of one coffee shop was Ginsberg and Kerouac talking ‘bout this and that and  not seeing anything of the outside world; God bless 1948.

 

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Americana – 1950 The day after he buried his mother, he sat suppin’ on a scalding mug of Java and listening to the World Series on the radio. He didn’t have a plan yet, ‘cept that he’d packed a small bag the night before just in case they chased him from the house. When he’d finished, he picked up the keys to Bill’s old Plymouth then threw his stuff in the rear seat and set off along route 30.He had one final stare from up on the ridge. Tomorrow he’d be in Ohio and everything was gonna change.

 

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Americana – 1940 The air tasted different; fresher even – perhaps sweeter. Stan was about to drive himself and his dad to Princeton where he was eager to study aeroplanes. He drove passed his old high school and the Baptist church, passed Mary Sweeney’s home and passed the cemetery where Steve lay (although he would always carry him inside). The sun shone all the way to New Jersey and both of them wished his mom had been here to see her boy. If the war in Europe didn’t spread to the US then a brave new world would lie ahead for him.

 

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

 

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Americana – 1954 Her Daddy says she ain’t to come back into the house until she asks the Lord for forgiveness and that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon given that she ain’t done nothing wrong. The runt, he called, and that hurt real bad. She can see her Mom praying at the window and wishing her youngest would just say the things her husband wants to hear and then they could all get on with their lives. One day she is gonna keep on walking but until then she ain’t gonna listen to no old man tell her she can’t dance to Elvis.

 

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Americana – 1943 She remembers the days of them walking passed each other and the excitement of being in the same room. The nerves when standing next to him in the canteen and the things she meant to say but never did; cursing herself that she never took the opportunity to start a conversation. Then she got moved and only saw him across the courtyard from time to time, finally one day he just disappeared. Even although his work meant he didn’t have to go overseas, she’d heard he’d signed up and was somewhere in the Pacific. She could only wait on him.

 

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Americana – 2013 If you close your eyes real tight and then do nothin’ but listen you can hear them. I swear to you, cross my heart and may Jesus never talk to me again. Go on, do it, real tight now and no peekin’. Listen.  You can hear Annie squealing as she plays on the sidewalk; she used to live in that soup store across the street with her grandpa. She ran away the day he got took to hospital and then there’s Eddie chasin’ after his dog he called ‘Spots even ‘though it ain’t got any. They’re all gone now. Shame.

 

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and finally…The Boy Who Told Stories.

That harsh winter came without warning, which meant that we spent so much of our time indoors. I knew him as the man who gave away money. He was a friend of the family and, as such, was always in our home.

“Tell me another story”, he would say, and I had those stories by the hundreds. “Ask the boy”, my father would tell folks, “He can conjure up such wonderful worlds”.
I always wondered what happened to the man. I hear tell that he left his family and went to London; imagine that, our Mister Shakespeare in London Town.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

photo @ flickriver.com  “Glasgow Tenement by Billy McDonald”

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The Vodka Drinker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he drank his vodka back quickly.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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July 2nd: Eastman Day

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It’s one of those games we still played even after all this time; where did we think Eastman was born?
There was a day when every city west of Berlin claimed him as their own but in the end it was probably London or across the water in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

You wouldn’t have picked him out at the start as being the type of creature he became. The story is often told of him being referred to as The Quiet Man, the gentle man.

He wasn’t a devout anything, never really went to church and rarely spoke of religion. To be honest, he wasn’t extreme about anything. Not at first.

He was born with that indefinable gift of people liking him. He magnetized them, flattered them, became their friend and then used them.

He spoke on television, on the web, wrote best-selling E-books and even composed several successful music downloads. He was the champion; he was the peoples’ champion, he was their champion.

His ‘Deacons’, as he called his close followers, financed his rise. He was astute and he waited until the time was right. After the crash of the Eurozone and the 60% unemployment, he offered cheap food in Eastman Stores, all making a loss and all promoting his ideals. Cheap camps were set up in Spain and England and these were known as ‘Eastman Vacs’, where families could vacation for almost next to nothing.

This was when he was loved and this was when he made his move.

It was as quick as it was well thought out.

He didn’t attack the churches at first, not at first. On his daily web broadcast he maybe hinted at his objection to the church, its power and its money. Only later did he talk of the actual buildings being insane asylums – only later did he suggest that holding a faith was a mental illness.

Then the first one went, a Baptist Church in South London was razed to the ground. The Eastmen (as the disciples now insisted that you call them) blamed it on a race issue – wasn’t the church full of outsiders? But it didn’t stop there. Within two years, any form of worship in England was outlawed. This didn’t apply to the former UK countries of Ireland North and Scotland, they had gone their own way.

When Eastman finally claimed power, it was amongst the poor that lived in tented cities in the parks of England. They ate Eastman Food, watched Eastman Broadcasts, Eastman Movies and drank Eastman Gin (Orwell would have smirked at that last one).
Every July the 2nd was Eastman Day and the Eastmen would hold parades in every corner of the country. It wasn’t an option to attend.

But what you might ask, became of the opposition? Or the devout Catholics/Muslims/Protestants/Jews and others? Those that insisted on worshipping were slung into the other type of Eastman camp and worked to death.

Those who spread any form of socialism or brotherly love were beheaded in the Eastman Squares at the centre of every city.

Eastman Money was offered to anyone who told on their friends and family who worshipped in secret. Normally their homes were set on fire with the occupants inside.

Somewhere in all the cynicism of the 21st century we stopped caring and as we stopped caring we fed the beast.

As I sit here, I think back to the greed that started all of this; the bankers, the debt, the crash of the Eurozone, the unemployment, the riots and the rise and rise of Eastman.

You may mention Hitler in the same breath and you’d be right.

And all of this?

Well these are my final thoughts as I know they’ll be coming for me soon.

You may ask what my crime was?

I was a writer.

I’ll be taken to the re-education showers shortly.

No one ever returns.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Boy Who Lost Himself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Strange Day

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November 22.

The strangest goddamn thing ever, and I mean ever, happened to me this morning. Jeez, my hand is still shaking as I write this even although the boss told me ‘no notes, no traces, no records’ but hey, it’s only one little bitty diary.

I had got up this morning, had breakfast and kissed my wife and prepared myself for what I was going to do, today. ‘Change the world for the better’ is what the boss said to me. So last night I double checked everything and the equipment was all ready. I’d taken it out to the Plains last weekend to make sure everything was A, okay. It was.

So I took all I needed up to the top floor and waited. I kind of guessed it would be a long wait but I was ready. ‘You’re the man’ as my boss told me last week.

Jeez, I nearly died when those folks turned up right behind me. I kid you not. One minute I was alone, the next they were standing right beside me. I didn’t even get a chance to reach for the rifle.

“Did you do this on your own?” Asked the man with the grey suit.

I asked him what he meant. I mean were they Feds or what?

Some guy shouts in a strange voice that they weren’t meant to get involved, that they would have to abort the trip and everyone was to return. Sounds crazy? That’s what I thought. When I got myself together I started to chase after them as the disappeared around the corner. Then I felt real weird and blacked out.

When I came to, I heard one of them say that I would have to be dropped off later. A kind blonde haired girl, a bit like Marilyn offered me a drink, smelled like coffee but I turned it down.

She asked me how I was doing and I said fine, she said that we’d need to wait till the bomb had gone off before we would return to get me home.

I know this is going to sound crazy, if anyone reads this – but she said they were time travelers, that they were on a tour of the big ones: The Crucifixion, First Man on The Moon (I’m tellin’ you that’s what she said), The start of World War 3 in 2021 – apparently a dirty bomb went off in….no, I’m going to stop there you wouldn’t believe me if I told you and the Assassination of the President – J.F.K. and that was why they were visiting me. I asked her how she knew and she said she was from the future and that she knew everything about me including Jack Ruby. Wow, my blood ran cold when she said that name – how did she know the Boss?

She said that I would be given a drug or something to make me forget so she could ask me anything. ‘Did I work alone?’ – I asked her what she meant. Did I shoot JFK on my own? I haven’t done it yet, I told her. Well are you working alone? I told her of course I’m not, I am only up in the Depository to make sure there are no loose ends. There are two guys down on that grassy knoll that will do the shooting.

She seemed real puzzled at that. She left me for a while but she returned after she’d seen the city blown sky-high. She told me that the world would be at war within hours. She had been crying. She’d been on this type of tour before but never to Dallas or to the bombing.

I’ve no idea what went wrong but if they did give me a drug to make me forget it didn’t work ‘cause next thing I know I’m waking up in the Depository again and I’m wondering if I had taken a stroke or something. Anyway, things are back to normal, as I write this the time is 11.40am and the President is late.

bobby stevenson 2017

 

Two Stories of Photographs

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She had been a nurse at the big house during the Great War. That is where she had met him. On the surface, it seemed straight forward except for the complications: he was married and she was engaged.

The war had changed everything, for everyone. Some found that they were stronger than they had imagined, while others had lost their minds. Perhaps her behaviour had been a little of both.

Neither of them had come from this little village but both of them had fallen in love with it, as they had each other. Her name was Helen Trent, and she had lived most of her life by the sea in Whitstable. He, on the other hand, had travelled with the army and considered nowhere and everywhere as home.

Nursing hadn’t been her first choice of career, she had always seen herself as a star on the London stage. But the dark winds had blown in from Europe and people had to do what they must, to keep the home fires burning.

He had improved in health – this was her job, patching up the sick and wounded and sending them back to be shot at again – they had found themselves growing closer.  Then that awful day arrived when he was to return to the Front. They took one last walk down from the big house to the bridge over the river.

He promised her that if he survived the war, they should meet up again and she agreed. Within the first few weeks of their separation, she broke from her engagement to Peter, a decent enough chap who had been chosen and approved by her parents. Peter didn’t seem that concerned, folks were getting married or separated all the time during the war years. They shook hands and parted as friends.

She received several letters from her love in which he wrote to say that he would tell his wife that she should divorce him on account of his adultery. He warned her it would be messy but everything these days was messy, thought Helen as she read the letter for the umpteenth time.

Then she lost touch with him. The love of her life was missing in action. She was sure he wasn’t dead, because she felt she would have known in her heart if that were true.

Yet the weeks, and then the months passed and there was no letters. If he were dead, they would have sent the sad news to his wife, and not to her, not to Helen.

Perhaps he had returned to his wife, perhaps he had come to his senses and perhaps he had fallen out of love with Helen. She was certainly still in love with him.
And then the years passed.

And then one day when she was back in Kent, she decided to visit that little bridge over the river, in that beautiful village of Shoreham.

It was 1930 and so much had changed in the world, but very little had done so in this little jewel in England.

And she looked down at the river, she smiled to herself because she was happy.
It was while she was doing this, that he had taken the photo. You see, he had come home and he had told his wife and now Helen and her soldier were married.
This was his photo of her.  🙂

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“Bertie is, as Bertie does”, was what my Auntie Clara used to say just before she would laugh so hard that a bubble would form at the bottom of her nose. Then she would hold her sides and say, “one more laugh and I might just wet my knickers”.

Uncle Bertie had always been the crazy one of the family, or as my mother – his sister – would say, “one day they will lock him up, I swear to God, and throw away the key”.

His first foray into attempting to get to the Tower of London was the day of Queen Victoria’s funeral. The village of Shoreham was understandably sad, and Uncle Bertie decided to dress up as a young Victoria and parade up and down Church Street.

One spinster, herself called Victoria, was so shocked by what she saw through the window, that she took the vapours and lay in a darkened room for several days. It didn’t seem to worry the family just how well Uncle Bertie portrayed a woman, and a royal one at that.

It was in 1906, that Uncle Bertie and Aunt Clara became custodians of the Kings Arms local hostelry. Aunt Clara’s father had made money in some South African mines and had left his wealth to her (he thought Uncle Bertie ‘a buffoon’ and made sure all the money was in his daughter’s name).

Although there was much competition in the village with the public houses, namely The George, The Rising Sun, The Royal Oak, The Two Brewers and last, but not least, The Crown, they still managed to make a living.

People came in from Swanley and Bromley to see Uncle Bertie and Aunt Clara behind the bar. Sometimes Uncle Bertie would get so drunk that he’d get Aunt Clara to play her fiddle while he danced naked on the table.

Uncle Bertie was forever getting into trouble.

When Christopher Landtrap came to stay in the village, he chose the Kings Arms as his drinking den. He brought down many ‘artistic’ London types who would quaff ale and sing songs down by the river. Christopher claimed to be a grandson of Samuel Palmer, the Shoreham artist, it was neither proved, nor disproved but Shoreham being Shoreham, no one disputed the fact.

It was early in 1910 that Christopher got caught up in the photography bug which had spread among the bright young things. Christopher decided to make a record of all the public houses in Shoreham and that he would start with the Kings Arms. Uncle Bertie asked Christopher how long it took to take a photograph and he told him that it would take sixty seconds. So when Christopher asked everyone to stay indoors while he took the photograph – everyone did – except Uncle Bertie who ran into the street just as the photo was being taken.

The photo stands today.

Uncle Bertie died in London when a Zeppelin dropped a bomb in the street where he was walking and Auntie Clara died as she listened to Elvis Presley on the radio.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Other Shoreham,Kent Stories http://shorehamkent.blogspot.co.uk/

or why not visit – you’d be made very welcome…

 

 

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The Man Who Bought Hair

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Now I isn’t here to argue the toss about, Robert Holloway. I knows what folks says about the fellow, and I says they are all wrong. Robert is my friend – well probably my only friend in this world – but what I lacks in quality of companionship, I makes up  for in quality.

Yes he can be trouble – but then I got to ask you and Good Queen Victoria – who ain’t in these deplorable times, I mean who ain’t?. We all got to live. Can’t avoid it – ‘cause, as my dear Aunt Fanny used to say, ‘if you ain’t living, then you’re dead. Simple as that my boy’.

As with most things, my Aunt Fanny was always right (or there and thereabouts).

Now to get things in order, I have to tell you, my lovely readers, that I lives in the little place above Robert’s shop. From my window, if I dropped something heavy out of it, it could easily go right through the shop roof and hit someone (I only mention that in passing, ‘cause it actually happened).

Apart from my good self, (Zachariah), my pal Robert had two other acquaintances in his life. One was his boy, Albert, who had scarpered to the Americas on account of the Peelers looking him for some misunderstanding or another. The other was his wife of thirty years, Maisie.

It could be that Maisie was misunderstood or it could be that she was just as lazy as everyone said she was. The name the neighbours gave her up the street was the ‘Coat-tail Hanger’. On account that she was too lazy to walk up the street, and so she would grab on to a passing stranger’s coat-tail and get them to pull her up the hill. Now I know it is a steep hill, but still there are limits. When she got to the shop, she’d let go, and shout some complaint or other after the poor soul. Either that he was too slow, or too fat, or even too quick: ‘’E nearly took me breath away’ was one of her favourites. She was one of those little soul suckers who thought the world owed her a living, and that all she needed to concentrate on was breathing. We all know them. We all got them.

Locally, Robert was known as two things – 1. The man married to the coat-tail hanger, and 2. The man who bought hair.

For that is what he did – among other less lucrative things. The poor and the hungry would cut off their lovely locks and take them into my friend’s shop in exchange for a measly farthing or two. Some folks sold the hair from their recently departed (or Heaven forbids – the less than recently departed, if you gets my drift).

It was then my job, Good Zachariah of this parish, to wash the hairs, then stick them on to cloths, and shape them into wigs that could be used by gents and ladies of this fair town. Sometimes, you spent the whole day just killing the things that lived in the hair. Me and Robert would split the money 40 for me, 60 for him, on account of him acquiring the hair in the first place.

We used to keep the wigs in my house as Maisie sometimes took a fancy to one of them and would decide to place it on her riddled head and that would be that. Money lost.

The weirdest wig I made, at least so far, is one I made for a rather rich Gent who knocked on me door one Thursday evening.

“Just coming,” I shouted expecting that to hold the knocking, but instead it just kept on coming, harder and harder.

“What!”, I shouted as I opened the door, ‘cause I don’t like to be put upon, I don’t likes it at all.

“Well blow me down with a feather,” is what I says when I sees who it is at the door.

“Come in, come in,” I says to him.

Now I’m trying to act all……….well you know whats I mean. Here in my little room was Mister Charles Dickens – greatest writer alive – well that’s what me and Robert says.

And here’s the strange bit – he wanted a wig to fit him, but not a gentleman’s wig but one closer to a lady’s. Yes, you did read that right. He had a second request: if there was by any chance a lady’s dress that he might acquire, he would be ever so ‘umble. He really would.

It seems (and this is only between you, me and the Bells of St Mary’s) that he has a young lady companion who he is utmost fond of, and would like to travel in her company incognito. Can’t blame a man for that, can’t blame him at all.

So I go downstairs and ask if Maisie has any clothing that she doesn’t need. ‘All of it’ was what Robert said, but I took a little number I thought might go with the wig Charles was going to wear. Robert didn’t ask why – which in itself was a bit strange.

Anyway, within the hour Mister Dickens (or Toloola Bell as he asked me to call him) was on his way and off to meet his little concubine.

The funny thing as I was taking him down the stairs, Robert was on his way up with new hair, he said, ‘Evening Zachariah, evening Mister Dickens’. So much for the disguise I thought.

‘Does all the time,’ Robert told. Last week, Mister Dickens was a red-head called Cheeky.

bobby stevenson 2017

 

Once, This Was Our Land

old-man-looking-out-of-a-window

Once, this was our land,
Where we ran the highest peaks and held the very sky inside our palms.

Once, this was our land,
Where we stalked the work fields for all that we could take,
Where love came calling and was so easily found, that it was cheaply wasted.

Once, this was our land,
Where we ruled the earth and all within it and the rules were most certainly ours.
But now the eyes don’t see too well and the head no longer remembers so clearly,
And as I sit on the bus and look from my window, I see the young with different rules,
Not mine, for sure and in their eyes I  see it all – it says:
“This is our land”.


bobby stevenson 2016

drawing from https://themumukshusoul.wordpress.com/tag/joey-trombone/

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Dark Matter

sign

As I looked from the bus window I saw the front of the old man’s newspaper: ‘Scientists looking for Dark Matter’.

I smiled: if they’d only asked me because, you see, I know.

I remember when I was about ten years of age walking up Orwell Road and there was a priest and a cop outside Mrs Salken’s house. As I passed, their voices were carried off in the warm summer air.

“Can we come in Missus? We’re here on a dark matter.”

Seems her boy Jake had fallen in front of the 7.28.

When my grandmother’s brother, Bertie, was taken away – every time I asked why, they would look at the floor or the roof and just say ‘dark matters that don’t concern you’.

As far as I can see there is dark matter everywhere, you don’t have to look very far.

Just knock your neighbour’s door.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

The Man Who Sold The British Library

british-library-aerial-shot

So you’re probably asking how it all came to this. How I got here, when it wasn’t that long ago that I had everything in the world. Well stuff happens. To everyone. All the time.

After I had been working at a blue-chip company in the city for about three years, my partner and I had decided that it was time to start having the children we had promised ourselves (and yeah reading that back, it does sound a little arrogant). So along they came, three boys, instead of the one boy and one girl that we had planned. But you know all about that fact – life’s like that.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way – little Tom, Dick and Harry are the apples of our eyes. So when the first boy started school, April (that’s my wife) suggested that we move up to a larger house, as the three boys were sharing the one room and it wouldn’t be that long when they’d want their own spaces.

So that is what we did, except April (yep, my wife) suggested that we buy a detached property to ‘future proof’ our lives. It had a large garden and a pool, everything you need when you’re a millionaire (which we aren’t by the way). This all came with the assistance of an extremely large mortgage and me selling some of my body organs here and there (okay, that last bit was an exaggeration).

And so we all settled down to a ‘future proofed’ life – except that it wasn’t. It was the Friday before we broke up for our mid-year holidays that Alexis (my boss – my other boss) took me into the office, sat me down and told me that they were letting me go.

I think I was unconscious for a few minutes before Alexis threw a jug of water over me to ‘bring me around’, she said.
“I know this will come as a bit of a shock, but it’s just as hard for me to give you such sad news,” said Alexis (my ex-boss).

There was so much wrong with that statement that I just walked out of her office and left the building. Apparently they would send my personal stuff on to me. I don’t know what made me do it but I told them to leave it all with security and I would collect it from downstairs at a later date. You see, I was already thinking about what April would say and when I should tell her. I guessed that all my chattels turning up at the house would be a reason for her to suspect something was wrong.

I was now standing out on the street – a man who had a house that would only get paid off when I was dead about eight years. I thought about walking into the street and seeing if a bus would hit me – not taking me out completely – just enough of an injury that my ex-company would feel sorry for me and take me back.

In the end, I decided to get drunk.

I was trying to find a nice little pub down Euston Road where I could cause an affray when I noticed a lot of media types heading into a large red building. This building turned out to be The British Library. Yes – it did sell alcohol, so I bought a not inexpensive beer and sandwich and sat in the café area. Next to me were two teenage girls having a conversation with one of their mothers.

“Yes, I am studying, I promise Mum. I am surrounded by books,” she said but the two of them were actually missing school and were hiding in the library, from what I had gathered.

It was enough to give me an idea and I phoned my wife, April. I told her that I was rather busy and that I would be home a little later than usual. I had no idea what I was going to do but she believed it – I also added that she should call me on my phone as the office system was being repaired. Yes it was tiresome I told her and she swallowed it – hook, line and sinker.

I thought maybe I could play for time by phoning new prospective employers from the library – start up an office away from home and that is what I did.

On my third day in the library one of my clients (from my old job) called me on my phone. No he hadn’t tried my office as he wanted to speak to me urgently. Could we meet up?

I suggested the British Library, as I would sometimes pop in there for a snack and coffee. Anyway, he thought it was a really nice idea and so we met up the following day.

He was offering me and my firm a rather large contract. Then I told him that due to ‘differences’ I had split from the company.

“You’re a go-getter, I like it. I like it a lot.”
He said, he needed to talk to his boss but he thought that they might give at least a percentage of the work to me. It was something, but still not enough money to cover the next mortgage payment as well as the household bills.

I decided to phone some of my old clients and see if I could poach them off the company. I contacted about 20 of them and 3 said yes.

Each night I went home to the wife and told her about the hard day it had been at the office.
“They work you too hard,” she said and I said ‘yes’, I had to agree with her.There was Wi-Fi in the library and that meant I could pick up my emails – plus the office still hadn’t taken me of their system.

The thump on the back of the head in the middle of my not inexpensive coffee said it all.
Alexis had tracked me down to the library and said that if I stole anymore clients she’d take me to court. I said for what? For being good? Then she used her ace card and said she’d tell my wife where I was hiding out. That did it. I would need to find another way to make money. Bank robbery seemed an option.

I went outside to the library piazza for some air and possibly hoping for a miracle – well you know what? Sometimes miracles do happen and so it did that day.

Just off the piazza on Euston Road was a gentleman holding one of those ‘golf sales – this way’ signs. He asked if I could hold his sign while he nipped into the library for a pee. I thought since I had nothing else to do, I would help this poor gent. While I was holding the sign, Alexis happened to walk by with some of the folks from the office.

“I see you’ve found yourself a job then?” Smirked Alexis. I thought about hitting her with the board but that would not have been clever. I also thought about a million things I could have said, but that was about an hour later. It’s a shame it happens that way.

Anyway, now I’m getting to the point of this story. An Asian man, maybe Japanese, or Chinese or something else saw my sign and asked if I was selling. I said I was only holding the board for a gentleman. The man insisted that we talk and he said something to an associate who did all the translating.
“Mister Woo want to know if you sell?”

“Yes,” I said, “What would he like to buy?”

And they pointed up – I thought they meant the Golf Sale sign and was ready to give it up for a few pounds.

No, he said, he wanted the big red building. “He pay good money,” said the associate. And out of their case came several thousand dollars, that I understood was only a first payment and more was to follow.

I know what you’re going to say, it was wrong, really wrong but hey, karma was giving me a break and I took it. We sat at the coffee stand in the piazza and I signed the document which would sell the British Library to Mr Woo.

Now I know you’re getting cynical and saying to yourself that this is all a load of…. Well you know. But they did pass the case over to me full of thirty-five thousand dollars. They would come back tomorrow with all the paperwork.

And that dear friends is where I am at this moment, sitting outside the British Library waiting on a couple of gentlemen to come and pay me 50 million dollars for the British Library. I’ll let you know how it goes.
bobby stevenson 2016   🙂

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On The Third Day

thethirdday

It happened in the time of war, and when Zachariah was at the right place, and at the right time – or perhaps that’s dependent on your point of view – and who or what you are.

The US and Russia had formed an alliance in those days. Each of them building weapons, not against each other (at least that is what they stated) but to keep China, North Korea, and India in their respective places.

Then it happened, as it surely must – the Russian President slapped his US buddy on the back, making an off-hand remark about the American’s sister. That was all it took.

There wasn’t a war – at least, not at first. First there was the rhetoric – the words – the apologies – then these two, these statesmen, found each of them taking a road where they would have to lose face to turn around, something they weren’t willing to do.

Initially there was the week of fear, followed by the first rockets. What can you suppose about the mental state of each of the leaders that they should go so far? It’s not as if we didn’t see it coming. The black money was on the Chinese as the cause, but they resisted, against great odds.

The rockets, when they came, arrived in the middle of the night in Western Europe. Most never got to see the flashes, most souls never got to cry out, most were blasted from their sleep by a nuclear storm.

Then came the silence.

It was on the third day that Zachariah moved from the cave. He wasn’t too sure how long he had been there. If there was any nuclear debris, then 3 days wasn’t enough – not nearly long enough. They’d been taught all that stuff in school. Just in case. They’d even taken exams on it: ’The Long Nuclear Winter’.

As Zachariah stumbled and slid down the road, he saw the outlines of dust, possibly the last shadows of humans. Those people who hadn’t taken the warnings seriously, or maybe they just got caught – like billions of others probably did. It had all been a joke – hadn’t it? Just like the way folks had underestimated Hitler – at least until the camps and ovens were built.

The War wasn’t like any other Wars. There hadn’t been time. No time to say ‘Goodbye’, or ‘I love you’, or ‘I am sorry’. How many souls died with love on their breath, unspoken?

In the inevitable course of things, the low Winter Sun returned, and then with it a new Spring, followed by a cold, dark Summer. In all that time Zachariah never found another living soul. He wondered if he could deal with the loneliness? And yet, nothing seemed to faze him.

He ate what he had expected to be contaminated grasses and roasted, dried flesh. Yet each night he examined his body and found that there was still no sores – no sign that his body was about to die.

He calculated what he assumed to be Christmas Day, and in celebration, he ate a dried-out bird he had found on top of a skyscraper several months before. He sang a Carol, and then slept that night dreaming of Santa Claus – the ghost of the Red Man who had haunted his childhood.

What would he have liked for Christmas Day? Probably to have another soul to talk to, or more importantly a body to hug. Some contact. Some warmth.

As he fell into a deep slumber, he failed to notice (or feel) the large tear in his back. The one that exposed the Titanium framework, and the cybernetic mechanisms of a truly Godless creature.

His programme would go into self-repair while he slept, and his reboot would always (always, mind) let him think that he was human – a man with a soul.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

 

The Man

NYC

My father was a kid when he first went to New York City. Well, not exactly a kid but this was the 1960s and if you were in your early twenties, that kind of classified you as a kid. He flew via Iceland where the ‘plane needed to refuel before flying on to JFK.

This photograph is the first he took in the city, taken on one of those instant cameras – you know the type – you had to wave the photo about in the air to let them dry, they smelled a bit, but they were still quicker than waiting a week. Younger folks would probably not know what it was like to wait days for your photos to return to you and then find most of them were useless.

The reason I’m telling you this part, is because my father only ever met two famous people on his travels; and when I say famous I mean…….well you’ll see what I mean. The first was in Spain when he met Matt Munro, a singer famous for the song, Born Free, from the film of the same name. The other was a man he met in a bar, a little joint off of Times Square. My dad, as I said, was young and on his first trip to the US of A; a country we would live in and spend many wonderful years.

I think the bar my father wandered into was called The Black Spider or something like that. He was old enough to drink but looked real young and was embarrassed when he was asked his age – something he had to prove by showing them his passport.

“Where ya from?” Asked the barman.

My dad told him, and the man replied: “Oh Scotland, sure, I’ve got a pal over there, Willie McDonald, you don’t by any chance know him?”
Of course my father didn’t, but he just agreed that he did to be friendly.

Apart from the barman there was another guy, sitting up at the far end – a seat that gave you a view of everyone and anyone who entered the place.

The man, probably in his forties, asked if a ‘Scotchman’ knew how to play pool. My father said he didn’t and so the man said he’d show him.

“Put your money away,” said the man, “you’re a visitor and guest in my city. I’m paying.”

The night went on and they both ended up pretty drunk – my father decided because he had work in the morning that he’d better leave. The man said he’d walk with him.

“What cha work at?” Asked the man and my father told him he was an engineer.

“What about you?” Asked my dad.

“Oh me, I’m going to shoot the President.”

And with that, the man said his goodbyes and disappeared down 8th Avenue.

My father took this photo in July, 1962.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

photo by Tom Stevenson, NYC 1962

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Mole Hills and Mountains

friends

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

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

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

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

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

“What cha doin’?” He asked Olivia.

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

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

“See ya,” he shouted to Olivia.

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

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

“What cha doin’?” He asked.

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

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

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

“What cha doin’?” Scrimpy asked.

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

“Mind if I sit?” Asked Scrimpy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Last Human

tears

We are only memories.

I have memories as a kid, at least I think I do. About being with my mother when I was about four or five years of age, and we were crossing a bridge over a rail track. It was a winter sun and the air was as fresh as daisies. I could hear the ‘fut-fut-fut’ of the approaching steam train, whistling as it came around the corner up by Jason’s Creek.

I would stand on the bridge motionless, close my eyes and hold my breath. All of a sudden, the train would pass under the bridge and I would be enveloped by the smoke and smell of the steam. It was an addiction which I loved.

I have other memories, which I think are mine, about later years when the steam trains had long since gone. Some of us would relive the old days, when we heard that an old steam engine had been brought out for the day. Standing on the bridge would be those with recording cameras, waiting for a chance to capture a piece of the past. I wouldn’t take photos – I would just close my eyes, smell the smoke and be four years of age again.

But the truth is, I’m not so sure which of those memories are mine and which belong to the warmbloods. That’s what they did, back then, when they knew their time was limited. When they’d realized they’d screwed up the world with their global warming, with their floods, with their rains. They started transferring their memories into us, the coldbloods – the robots. That way their thoughts and memories would last as long as we did. I can never be sure which memories are mine and which are theirs. Did I really stand as a kid and smell the train smoke?

And now the last of the warmbloods, the last of the humans has died and we, the robots, the coldbloods are standing on bridges waiting on a train as it pulls the last human through the country for us all to pay homage to. To see where we came from.

We, the coldbloods, stand here not sure if we have tears, or if it’s the rain.

All we can do is remember.

It is all that we have.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2016 (warmblood?)

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Sundown On Mainstreet

sun

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

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

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

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

Main Street has made it through another day.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Thing and the Star Whisperers

thing

Thing sat watching, just like he always had, just like he always would, waiting on his mother and father to return, and for them all to be a family once again.

Sometimes Thing got so caught up in his own loneliness that he forgot all about the good stuff in his life; that, happened to everyone, he guessed.

One night, just as the sky was cooling down from a scorching red, Thing noticed a small hut over to the left of his cave, a building that he had never noticed before. Perhaps the trees had hidden the wooden shack, or perhaps Thing hadn’t looked hard enough.

So after he had a nice meal and had left a note at the cave door – ‘Dear Mother and Father, I am down at a hut below the cave, please wait on me’ – he set off.

Leaving a note was something Thing always did, just in case his parents returned while Thing was away from the cave. His mother and father had been gone for such a long time, but Thing had never given up hope of seeing them again – not once.

The hut at the bottom of the hill had seen better days, thought Thing, and there were gaps between the wooden walls. Through these gaps Thing could see the crackling light of a fire: someone was inside.

Thing attempted to look through the cracks but it was too dark and so decided to knock on the door. What was the worst that could happen? (Although there were times when Thing thought that and the worse did actually happen). Thing knocked again.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” said a gruff old voice from within.

Thing knocked again.

“Where’s the fire? Where’s the fire?” shouted the voice and Thing felt like telling the person that the fire was in his hut, but that probably wasn’t what the gruff voice meant.

When the door opened, it seemed that neither of them had expected what they found. The gruff voice was actually a pleasant old man, and the pleasant old man had expected a kid from the town.
“Hello,” said the old man. “Please do come in.”

Thing found the inside of the hut much nicer than the outside and told the man this.

“Many folks have said this. I must say I decorated it to my taste but it seems to please most who come visiting.”

Thing and the man, whose name was Ralph, sat down to a long and friendly conversation. Thing told him that he hadn’t noticed the hut before and was surprised as he had been living in the cave above for a very long time. Ralph said that he wasn’t surprised, for most people only saw things when they wanted to. Sometimes you only see things when you go looking for them.

Thing told Ralph that to be truthful he hadn’t been all that interested in seeing a hut and that maybe Ralph’s theory was wrong. Ralph chuckled because, as he told Thing, he was never wrong.

Then Thing told Ralph that he sometimes felt lonely and Ralph wondered what Thing meant.

“I keep waiting on my mother and father to return, that makes me lonely,” he told Ralph.

Then Ralph mentioned that he had a story to tell and that Thing should listen to it.

Ralph told Thing that many, many years before Thing was born, probably a million years before, some stars exploded and the core of those stars were scattered across the universe. Some of those particles were, in fact, what made up Thing and Ralph – even although they looked different, they were basically the same inside.

“Now,” said Ralph, “if you are made up of parts of the distant universe then when the universe shakes, a part of you must shake too. You see, we are all one and a whole. You, me and the universe.”

Thing nodded, although he was struggling a bit to understand it all, he felt that given time he would.

Ralph continued: “The universe vibrates and so whispers into our ears and souls. Some hear it, and other don’t. Some hear much of it, and some hear a little. Those who can hear the stars whispering loudly are the writers, or composers, or painters. Some hear plainly what the universe is saying and these are known as great women and men.

“We are all star whisperers,” said Ralph. “All you have to do is listen.”

And with that Thing bid Ralph a good night and said he would listen to the universe on the way home.

As he sat at his cave waiting on his family, Thing began to understand what Ralph meant. Thing was sure he could hear the stars whispering – and for the first time, in a long time, Thing didn’t feel so alone.
bobby stevenson 2016

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The Street With No Name

houses

She lived on a street with no name; the street that is, not her. She was called Conchita and she had spent all her life on the no-name street.

When she was young, her mother took her to a fair and there they met a fortune-teller who said that Conchita would never know real happiness. Her mother crossed the woman’s palm with a silver coin and thanked her. So even at that tender age, Conchita never really held out any hope of finding a happy reason to exist.

But she did exist. She lived and breathed and hoped that it would be over one way or another, without too much pain.

Then one morning, when the sun was shining down carelessly on the street with no name, Conchita found herself smiling at nothing in particular.

This worried Conchita, this happiness certainly wasn’t for her – perhaps it was delivered to the wrong address, she thought. Mind you, in a street with no name it was an easy mistake to make.

So what Conchita did, was take her little bit of happiness that she had felt and cut it up into seven pieces – as there were that number of other houses in the same street.

The following morning, very early, she left a piece of happiness at each door and moved on. Each of the neighbors were surprised at the gift lying at their door and were curious as to who had left it.

In one house, the woman picked up the piece of happiness and showed it to her husband. He just grunted and she said that he wouldn’t know happiness if hit him in the face.

And that is what she did, she threw the happiness at him which bounced off his head, out of the window and was never seen again. Five of the other houses did much the same, they either swept the happiness under the carpet or used it as a doormat until it was no more.

Only one, a little old woman by the name of Estelle, took the piece of happiness in and fed it and nurtured it. She never took it for granted and bit by bit it grew. When it had grown to a large size, she wrapped it up and took it along the street to Conchita’s house.

Outside Estelle left the happiness and a note – ‘Dear Conchita, I knew it was you who gave away your happiness, but we can’t use other people’s happiness for ourselves, we have to take care of our own. It made me happy to look after a little bit of your happiness and watch it grow. I now return it for you to enjoy.’

Conchita took the package in and realized that there were kind people in the world who wouldn’t take your happiness for granted.

And that was when Conchita realized also, that only you can make your happiness grow and that it isn’t the responsibility of others.

bobby stevenson 2016

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Stones Under The Snow

stone

She used to sit on her Grandpa’s knee and he’d hold her so tight like she was the only person in the world that ever mattered.

Whatever the payment was to get on his knee, tears or frowns, when she was up there she felt safe.

Nothing could ever hurt her there.

She would run her hand through his thick white hair and giggle at the little bumps on his head.

“Old age,” he’d say.
“They’re stones under the snow. Grandpa,” then she’d laugh ‘till it hurt.

Although she grew and married and had children, whenever anything was bothering her, she’d go to where her Grandpa rested and talk awhile and she’d feel things were good again.

One Christmas, as she knelt on the ground, the snow came down and covered her Grandpa’s grave.

Her Grandson, who had been waiting, came to see what was wrong, she said “Why nothing’s wrong, honey, I’m just looking at the stones under the snow.”

And as the Grandson walked back down the hill, he could hear his Grandma laughing out loud as if she was hurting.


bobby stevenson 2016

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The Troubadour

city

Stories.

That was all she had, that was all she would ever have. The ability to create worlds, and fill them with colour and life, and give those listening something near hope.

The saddest thing about her ability was that she could create alternative lives, so clear in her mind that they could almost be real, and in those lives were another her, another more happy version of herself where she had found love, and happiness and hope. She could taste those worlds, smell them so clearly that she would be sad when it was time to leave. That was the pain in the gift. The downside.

But in the days since the darkness, being a carrier of stories was a gift that allowed her to eat and sleep under a more secure roof. No amount of dreams or storylines could compensate for the touch or smell of another being. She had realized that we were all born with a hunger for many things, but the need for the company of another human was the strongest of all; plus she had to eat, we all had to eat but she was searching for something else, too.

In the early days, in those complicated days just after the darkness fell, when the sun had stopped all the wirelesses of the world working, there was only one way to pass information on and that was by the word of mouth.

It had been told that all references to life before the darkness had been bleached and censored from the stories that were passed from father to daughter, and mother to son. No one wanted to know about the times before the darkness, and soon no one remembered, nor cared. The time after the darkness was all they knew.

Some of the stories that survived had come before the dark times, stories of a boy magician at a school, stories of star wars, stories of love and hope.

And each of these troubadours would walk from settlement to settlement, camp to camp, dwelling to dwelling, telling storied to entertain, and amuse, and to inform. People passed messages from one to another by means of the troubadour and in doing so, gave a feeling of hope to each of the other clans – that they were not alone.

That is what she was – a troubadour who walked and told stories and passed messages. There was no family for her, except for those she visited from time to time. In the walks between encampments she would conjure and manipulate new stories in her head. Some would make her smile, some she would keep to herself, and some would make her and those she met cry.

In one of the days – of what was once called Spring – she came across a dwelling that was sheltered in behind a large waterfall. You might pass the shelter and never know it was there, but she had seen the sign that had been made, a mark on a rock that only the troubadours and those who caused the marks, knew about. It told them that a troubadour would be most welcome and that the others were waiting nearby.

When a story-teller came to a group of people, it was like their sun had shone again, like a light had been lit. Those in the tribe would paint their faces, and some special food would be prepared for everyone. In each encampment there was usually a troubadour’s chair where the honoured guest would sit, and after a hearty meal they would tell a story.

After she had eaten, she had sat upon the highest chair which had been carved from a hard-stone. The chief waved an arm and the whole tribe fell into a hush. This is what they waited for, this was a speaker of tongues who brought colour to their lives.

“My friends, my dwellers, I come to tell you a story to take the sting from your hearts.”

Normally this was greeted with a large round of applause. Then she would tell her tale, sometimes she used the flickering shadows from the fire to help the story live. Other times she would use her arms and hands to make a point in her story.

On this day, she came to give them a tale of strangeness.

“My fellows, my friends, I give you my story for you to take to your minds, to allow you to dream of other places and times.

I was never always a troubadour, and indeed when I was a child it was the farthest thing from my mind. I was born and grew up on a farm about one hundred clicks north of here. My job was to take the soil, sieve it, check it for radiation levels and then return it to another field. There was about thirty of us in this little haven. Thirty happy, and mostly healthy, souls.

My brother, my birth brother, went by the name of Joshua. He was a year older than me, and as such was my closest friend. Both of us worked the outer fields, one would dig the soil while the other watched out for bears, wolves and other animals.

One day when I was digging a patch of dirt from the eastern field, Joshua fired a shot into the woods. I stopped in case it was an attack and Joshua called on me to follow him towards the forest – he didn’t want to leave me unprotected.

I asked him to describe the threat and he said to me that he couldn’t, not properly, because it looked like a half-man, half-beast. Now we had heard of such things – from before – creatures known as Big Foot but they were only stories told to entertain, still Joshua swore on his life that was what he had seen.

To be truthful here, there were strange tracks in the mud, ones that I had never seen before, but considering I had never really wandered more than a few clicks from the farm that wasn’t really surprising. Back then there weren’t too many folks calling themselves troubadours, so we tended to speak stories among ourselves. Same ones, always the same.

Joshua heard a cracking of a tree to his left and shot a bullet in that direction. Then he ran off and I was left on my own in the middle of the forest.

I could smell it before I saw it: a wolf. They always gave off a cold, wet, stale musky smell and I knew it could probably smell me too. I knew that running wasn’t the answer, but climbing a tree might save my life. I still had a lot of farming to do, and losing me would put the farm back a few weeks. I turned to grab the nearest branch when the wolf grabbed my ankle. I tried to kick it away but it did no good. I said my farewells to this life and asked for a graceful death, when all of a sudden I heard the wolf howling like it was going to leave this place before me. I looked down and sure enough it was deader than any dead thing you could mention.

And so I let go the branch and dropped to the ground, and guess, go on guess what I saw? There was a half-man, half-beast standing right above me. Now you’re going to say that I was crazy in the head but it smiled to me. A real warm smile, then my brother came calling out of the woods, asking if I was okay. I shouted I was – but it didn’t stop him running back to find me. When I looked at the beast, it put its fingers to its mouth as if to say, me and him shared a secret and I wasn’t to say a thing. You know what folks? I told my brother that I blooded my ankle when I tripped and that was all there was to it. He asked if I’d seen anything and I said, I had seen diddley squat – not a thing.

Me and Joshua went back to the soil but I got to tell you folks, that day changed my life. And that is why I became a troubadour, because I just got to find the half-man, half-beast that saved my life. Every dwelling I go to I ask the same question, have you seen one. Always the same though, never anyone has laid eyes on it. So I thank you kindly for listening to me and I’ll be on my way.”

The folks banged and shouted their approval and most of them returned to whatever it was they did to keep going in this world.

Just as the troubadour was leaving by the wooden gate, a young boy came running up to her and pulled on her skins.

“I seen it,” he said, “just yesterday.”

bobby stevenson 2015

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Desert Ice

Mothership-Thunderstorm

Marcie’s dog did nothing but bark that night.

That little mutt – which always smelt of piss – I reckoned was just showing its final ‘how-do-you-do’ before going over.

I knew something was wrong, I mean real wrong, and I could feel it in the pit of my riddled stomach. I ain’t talking about the dog,’ cause I gave up worrying about such things a long time ago. No, I meant something was wrong in here, and out there, everywhere, in fact.  Leastways that’s how it seemed. It kinda felt like the world was tipping on its axis.

I know, I can hear you, you think that I’ve been at the Hooch again but I swear to you, that was how I saw it.

It just felt wrong.

Something made me think about leaving. I mean I’d been living out here in the panhandle since my ma and pa went to see Jesus. My granddaddy had won the shack in a bet and had given it to my parents as a wedding present. This little place was all I had in the world – I was supposed to pass it on to my family, but both a wife and kids never showed up – maybe I didn’t go looking hard enough.

Here I was taking about getting in my car and driving through the desert on a feeling. On a hunch. Hey, maybe I was coming down with the sickness that caught my grandma – the one which took her on a journey to the dark side in her head and never brought her back to us.

Marcie’s dog howled and hollered the next day, too. I shouted over to her, asking if everything was all right, but she just dragged the dog indoors and shut the world out. Maybe she felt it too – the weirdness, I mean.

There were only two answers to all of this – either, I was going crazy, or something bad was coming down the road and I had to get away.

If it was just craziness, I could always come back to the shack and go on as if nothing had happened – I’d just tell Marcie I had been on vacation. Not that she’d believe me – since I ain’t been on one since my daddy took me and my brother all the way to the Gulf. That was back in the days when no one could have seen a black man or a woman sitting in the White House. Elvis wasn’t even a King.

I packed a few things – to be honest, it didn’t leave much else in the shack – and I shoved them in the trunk. The wind and the sand were gathering some but I thought I’d better tell Marcie about my plans, just in case she got spooked or something.

I knocked on her door several times, and at first I thought she couldn’t hear on account of the wind, but on my fifth knock I heard her shout ‘go away’. Now that ain’t like Marcie, that ain’t like Marcie at all – something wasn’t right. Maybe her dog was finally going away and her heart was breaking.

“You okay?” I shouted.

“Just leave me,” she called back.

“Can’t I help ya?”

“No. I’m fine,” she said in a real sad voice.

I kinda reluctantly left her. Twice I turned to go back but I thought better of it. It was just that I wondered if she felt what I was feeling – that somehow the world was gonna change and nothing would ever be the same?

I guess I had always been ready for this craziness – I had never thought that the world was anything other than a plain stupid idea – badly thought out at that. So when I get overcome by the thought that it’s all coming to an end somehow, I’m thinking to myself: ‘so what?’. I mean it’s not as if anyone would miss us all when we’re gone.

I jumped in the car and headed towards the mountains – I had checked the gas and it looked as if I had enough to get to Wickamore, which lay eighty miles to the north.

After a couple of minutes, I stopped and checked in the mirror to see if there was any movement at Marcie’s, but the wind and sand were blowing up such a storm that her place and mine disappeared into a sandy haze.

I think deep in my soul, or whatever it is that I have, I knew I wasn’t going to see my old home again. It just felt like a final farewell.

I drove for an hour and never passed one single, solitary soul – I didn’t even see a wild animal, or a bird, or a snake. Nothing.

About ten miles shy of Wickamore, I see this cloud in the sky – I mean one I had never seen the likes before. It was almost Biblical – it made me shudder just looking at it, the shiver traveled all the way down my back.

I felt (don’t ask me why, ‘cause I don’t know) that it was a sign telling me (and anyone else who saw it) that a change was expected very soon.

Something big was on its way, and we would not be the same after.

It was dusk as I crept up on Wickamore – the sand and the sundowner working together to make Main Street look blood-red.

When they later asked me about that day, I had to be honest and say I didn’t remember seeing the sign at first. I was so busy looking at the dying sun, that I didn’t notice it – even although it was big, real big, and hanging from the Town Hall.

I pushed on the brakes so hard when I finally read it.

It said: ‘For God’s sake don’t come here. Turn back.’

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Circus of The Stars

circusThey had been circus owners for several generations by the time he had taken over. For the last 32 years they had been ‘Replanters’: these were folks who had taken the money to settle on the Moon.

They travelled from town to town entertaining the other Replanters, the soldiers, the government officials and their families.

He personally hated going to the Blacklands or, as it used to be called, the dark side of the Moon. Permanent night-time didn’t help with his sanity issues – no, he preferred over this side where he could see the Earth – he called that planet home, or rather his family did, but the truth was he’d never actually lived there.

With all the wars that had erupted on Earth, his grandfather had taken the money to move to the Moon – ‘cause up here, there was no religion. It was outlawed. Some folks tried to build churches or meet in secret, but normally the buildings were destroyed and the folks were sent back ‘Blue-wards’ (that’s what they called it when you were exiled to Earth). And for most of the time, he was happy.

Well to be honest, he didn’t know any better, yet sometimes he’d sit and stare at the Earth and wonder what it would feel like to go there.

He’d heard stories about the pollution, and the mess, and the heavy gravity – but he’d also heard folks talk of smelling fresh air and he wondered if he’d ever get the chance. His father had got to go when he was in the army, and although he said it seemed like a nice place, he never really talked about it again.

‘There was too much killing on Earth’, was all his granddaddy would say. On the Moon, there had only been one serious crime when a Sergeant over on the Blacklands had gone stir crazy and killed his wife and kids. That had caused folks, who lived on that particular patch, to get more vacation than the brightsiders, which, to him, seemed fair enough.

When he’d been at school, some kids from the Blacklands had been temporarily placed in his class and to be truthful it hadn’t worked – not at all. They were called all sorts of names, some that he hadn’t heard before nor understood but it didn’t stop him joining in. It got so bad that the kids were educated in a little classroom by themselves and he felt that maybe he’d missed out on an opportunity in getting to know them.

But there was something else bothering him, something he just couldn’t put his finger on exactly.

Here he was sitting out in space, on a little satellite of Earth – with no reason for any of it. Maybe if you were sitting back on that planet and your daylight was covered by blue skies, then it was easy to forget where it was you were. But not up here, no sir. From up here you could see the comets, and exploding stars, the whole of the Milky Way and it made you stop and take note. It sure, did. Well it did for him.

Due to these very views, the show was called, ‘The Circus of The Stars’. There were no animals used, not like the old practice on Earth. Up here, pets weren’t allowed on account of the fact that they brought diseases, something that they could ill afford on the Moon.

So the show travelled from camp to camp, entertaining the younger members of the group and some of the more easily pleased elements of the adults.

He was proud of what he did, it just didn’t satisfy him anymore. Each time he looked out at a naked sky (the ones you got outside the encampments), he just felt there had to be more to life than just existing.

In his moon-trailer he had a painting of Joseph Grimaldi, the man who, in the late 1700’s, had turned playing the Clown into an art-form.

Religion had gone up here; no churches; no bibles; no hymns – yet he noticed the tendency for humans to create gods where there were none. We needed gods more than they needed us, it seemed. His was his hero Grimaldi, and all the words in his room spoke of the great man.

He needed something to look up to – other than the sky. In a little leather diary, the Clown had written down rules that he had made for himself, for living a better life:

He would not steal.

He would not kill.

He would not lie…..

And as he read them over again, he realised he’d read something similar in a holy book, his grandfather had once shown him.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Strangers On A Rainy Day

l-php

It was raining that November day, so they both stood in the doorway of the Parisian café waiting for their chance to make a dash down the avenue.

They were strangers of course, isn’t that always the way. Henri started the conversation first – telling Phillipe that he needed to get going soon. He had a ring waiting at the jewellers – a ring that he was going to use to propose to his lover that very evening.

Henri told Phillipe that he had been waiting for a long, long time to see the band that he was going to attend that evening.

They had both had a couple of glasses of wine. One to give him courage with his proposal, the other to start an evening of music.

It’s funny the way we enter and exit people’s lives. Sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for a lifetime.

As the rain stopped, Henri said goodbye and wished him all the best at his concert.

Phillipe looked at the November sky and smiled as the sun tried to break through.

In a panic he checked his pocket again to make sure the ticket was there – and it was, one ticket to see Eagles of Death Metal at the Bataclan Theatre.

Phillipe almost skipped all the way down the street.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

The Music of the Spheres

eyes

for David Bowie – the man who let me hear the Universe – thank you.

It had always troubled the boy why he liked some music and not others. Why, songs which hit him around the face, making him want to scream out in happiness, didn’t even cause a flicker in some eyes. That was a mystery all right, and it had bothered him all of his short life.

So one glorious summer when he was sent to study at the Oracle, on the far side of the river-bank, he had brought the question up with his tutor – she had only smiled and said that like all things in the world, the answer will come to you when you are ready to understand.

He felt that was a poor response to his question but he didn’t want to argue, not with anyone at the school, and so he put his head down and got on with his life.

As he grew, he noticed the same thing with the books and the plays he had read and seen. Being enthusiastic about a piece of work was no guarantee that his friends and family would like the same. What was so different about his heart? Was it that he was stupid and therefore easily led? Or was it, that others in his life were aware of something he wasn’t?

When he had lived on the planet for twenty-one summers, he was asked to name a gift that would be in keeping with his growing stature in the world. He pretended to think about the matter but he had already made his mind up about it when he was five years of age. He knew what he wanted. He wanted to know why some things lit his soul and some things didn’t. He wanted to know why his mind was blown away by notes played in a particular order but some others couldn’t hear what he could hear.

So his father, said that being twenty-one was the age of understanding and that he could go to the Oracle and ask his question.

He spent two days walking to the high building that overlooked the wild seas. When he got there, he grew nervous but nothing was going to stop him in his quest for the truth.

He was shown into a large room which was empty except for a fire which burned bright in the middle. From out of the ether came a voice:

“Ask your question, my son.”

He had assumed he would see the Oracle face-to-face but this wasn’t to be. “Please, ask,” said the voice again.

So he asked his question about why some music danced on his heart but not in others. Why music that lit other folks’ eyes, left him cool – and then asked why it was also true for books and plays and all writings.

The Oracle chuckled a little.

“My son, my earthly son. That is an easy question. It is because of what and who you are. When the Universe was created, the heavier elements in you were made in the centre of large hot stars. Some of your right arm could come from one part of the Universe, and some of your other arm could have come a different part of the skies. Each of us is made up from different stars and so when they talk to us we hear some things and not others.”

The boy wanted to know about the Universe talking.

“Oh my cherished boy, all of it, all the music, books, plays, writings, songs, art is the Universe talking to us all. Some people can hear the Universe and this translates into songs. Some people are deaf to the Universe and hear it all through other souls like themselves who translate it for them in words and music. Some souls can hear everything the Universe has to say and some may only hear a little. And the fact that you are made up of different parts of the sky means that you resonate to different notes, whereas your brother may be made of parts of other stars and he hears their tunes. It is that simple. You are a child of the universe, my son, and it is only letting you know it exists.”

And with that, the boy understood. Music was the Universe’s way of letting him know it was there and his heart danced to those parts of the Universe from which he had been made.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

Photo: https://www.facebook.com/bill.sienkiewicz.18

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The Word Hooker

words

It was the strangest of times.
The world was full, as were other worlds, of course, but the old one, the first one, our Mother Earth was drowning in people.

And that is when they brought in the death-chip. All those born after a certain date were fitted with it. Those who were born dumb had no need of it – but for the rest, it was a way to control the population.

The chip set a person’s output at 300 million words. From the very first discernible word – say, ‘mama’ to a song sung or a poem read out aloud, the words were deducted from the 300 million. The General Council had considered this value as over-generous – it could have been set much lower.

And so you’re asking what happens when the 300 million words were used up? Well the death-chip switched off the biological systems. It also did this if someone tried to have it removed – it would prematurely shut down its host.

Some of the new-born tried not to talk to make it last longer but it was impossible – the government made everyone repeat the State Prayer each morning and even if a person only said the prayer and nothing else – well, after 60 years of fitting the chip, it also shut down the user.

Many took to writing notes to each other: electronically, in chalk, in ink – any method that would get their message across. Those who constantly joked or sang died early due to using up their share. It seemed unfair that only the somber or quiet were given a longer life.

But that was the rule of the state.Each birthday a host/person/user – call them what you will – were informed of their yearly usage and how many words they had left.

One benefit, if that is what it can be called, was that people took more care in things they said to each other. A fight, an argument, could seriously shorten your life. It paid to be careful with what you said. Words became like gold.

Some people paid others to say things for them – they were called ‘Word Hookers’. Many died rich and young.

Most people, when it came to the end, kept a few words in reserve. Usually it was three to six words that they would hold back as long as possible and as you have probably guessed – normally the last three words folks said were ‘I Love You’.
Then they were terminated.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2 wee bobby

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A Christmas Walk

andrewroland

He had always lived in the city. His parents had met there, and his brothers and sisters had been born there.

Sometimes they’d visit the countryside, but it would always be on a blue-sky day. This led Andy to believe that the city was mostly a dark and wet place and it was the land beyond where the sun always warmed the land.

He’d dreamt of his father again, meaning the he had woken at 3.20am in a pool of sweat. Each time that he saw his father, he would bend down to tell his son that everything was all right and that he was good and not to worry.  The first few times it had happened he’d mentioned it to his mother, but it caused her so much pain that he stopped talking about his dreams.

His father had worked in the city. Every morning he would cycle to the railway station, take the express into the centre, and then cycle to his office. Then on the dark unforgiving Wednesday a large truck had cut across his path. The driver hadn’t seen him, in fact he couldn’t see him, and the truck hit Andy’s father.

Andy remembers his teacher standing at the classroom door, she had just been talking with the school secretary. She turned and looked straight at Andy. Straight into his eyes – straight into his soul. One human being locking hearts with another.

There was a sharp pain in his heart which told him it wasn’t good news.

At the funeral, several of his uncles and family friends slapped him on the back and told him that at thirteen years of age, he was the man of the house now. Andy had no idea what they meant.

His dad’s sister, aunt Alice, had rented a house for Christmas. It was up in the hills to the west of London, and everyone was going to be there; his grandparents, his own family and most of his uncles and aunts.

“It’s what the family needs at a time like this,” his grandmother had said. “The first Christmas without my boy”.

It had started snowing on the evening of the Wednesday before. They left very early on the Thursday morning, to ensure they all made it to the house before the snow got heavy. Christmas was not until the Saturday but everyone wanted to get snuggled into the house before the big day.

The place was perfect and aunt Alice had chosen well. Andy had to share a bedroom with one of his brothers and one of his cousins, but if he was being honest it felt comfortable. Andy felt a warmth in his heart that he hadn’t felt for a very long time.

Everyone mucked in with the Christmas dinner. The family had decided to hand out the presents after they had eaten and after they could then all sit down in front of the big log fire.

Andy had saved his money and given his mother a small picture frame in which he had placed a photo of his father. She had beamed the biggest smile towards him when she’d opened his present.

Andy got books and games, and a welcomed new phone. He knew he was lucky – luckier than most people. But still.

After the Christmas lunch, he decided to go for a walk along the trail that led out of the village. It was a beautiful day and the blue sky and fresh air seemed to cut into his lungs.

Since he was going outdoors, he had been given the task of taking the three family dogs for a spot of walking. They all needed it, given what they had just eaten.

Andy wasn’t alone on the path and decided to keep the dogs on their leads in case they chased the man in front.

For the first time in a long time, Andy felt a little contentment, inside. The pain had gone for a few hours and he felt like his old self.

Sherlock, the oldest of the dogs, gave a bark which brought Andy back to the here and now. The man up ahead had dropped a small dark object and the dogs thought it was something to chase.

Andy ran ahead and picked it up. It was a small box, and inside was a little medal. There was an engraving on the back which read ‘To the greatest. Saint Andrew’s University – 1998’.

Andy felt that the man would not want to lose this and as he shouted on him, the man turned a corner behind a bush. Andy set the dogs free to see if they might catch up with the stranger but when they all got to the corner, the man was gone.

Andy slipped the medal back in the box and put it in his trousers.

It was the following day that it happened. His mother was washing some of their holiday clothes and, as usual, had to empty Andy’s trouser pockets. She had found the little box.

“Andy! Andy!”

Andy ran to the utility room.

“Where did you get this?” She asked her son. Andy told her the story and that was when she almost fainted. Andy had to get her a chair to sit on.

“Every year just before the Christmas break, me, your father and the rest of the students would have a cycle race from our rooms to a pub in the centre of Saint Andrew’s. Whoever got there first was given a medal and whoever was last – bought a round of drinks. Your father, with me on the cross-bars, won that race in 1998. He had it with him the day of his accident and although I searched through his clothes I couldn’t find it. What did the man look like?” Asked his mother.

“Just a man,” said Andy. “Just a man”.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

photo:  Christmas in the Cotswolds – Andrew Roland

 

The Last Dinosaur

dino

We lay hidden on the moon downs, covered by the dust that was as old as time itself.We could hear them, baying at the skies and confused at their lives and their place within it. For once upon a time they had been rulers of this world. Once they had the power to destroy, to maim, to kill, to hate.
And as their sun waned and grew dark, they could not change.

They could not make themselves hate any less. They did not understand why the world had changed and left them behind.Or why their Gods had forsaken them.

And as we watched the last dinosaur fall and hit the ground, I squeezed your hand and we wept.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2wee bobby

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Be Different

Be_Different_by_caniodicaStory written for a charity.

Every one of us is made just that little bit different to the next person. It’s what makes us all special. Sometimes we are happy with our little special differences and sometimes it can make someone unhappy.

And so it was with Tommy. Since the day he was born he had what the doctor called, a cleft lip. When he looked in the mirror Tommy felt so very different from his friends. There were times in the village when he saw people staring at his lip. His grandmother used to tell him that no one else was that special and so they passed through unnoticed, but her little grandson, Tommy would always be someone to notice.

But as time went on, Tommy became more and more aware of his differences and he wanted it all to stop. So one day in August, he went to his room and stayed there. His mother would have to bring his food to his room and Tommy didn’t want to join the rest of his family. He was schooled in his room and he no longer wanted to go to school.

At night when the moon was full, Tommy would sit at the window and wish with all his heart that he were just like everyone else. And then he would hum a little tune to himself.

Tommy grew big and tall but every night he would still go to the window and sing songs loudly across the valley. It made Tommy feel good and less different.

What Tommy didn’t know was that the villagers in the valley below would listen to his signing and they all thought it was the most beautiful music in the world. To the villagers it was the breath of an angel.

The mayor of the village sent out a group of men to find the source of the signing that made everyone so happy, but they failed. They came to Tommy’s house but his mother didn’t mention Tommy as she thought that it could never be him and anyway he was always locked up in his room.

Then the day came when his grandmother died and the whole family attended the funeral in the village. Tommy wore a large hat to hide his face, the one that he considered so ugly.

Tommy was very sad as they lowered his grandmother into the ground, so much so that he sang a song for her. He sand loud across the land and all the villagers heard him and they knew this was the boy who gave them so much pleasure.

Tommy continued to sing to stop himself feeling so sad, and as he sung his hat fell from his head. When he stopped he saw that everyone was looking at him. Tommy started to run for home until the mayor of the village told Tommy to stop.

The mayor told Tommy that he sang like an angel and that his singing made everyone happy. “It is the goodness of your heart and your soul that makes you sing like an angel. That is your gift from god. That is what makes you different,” the mayor said.

Tommy liked this difference and so he continued to sing at night across the valley because he knew that it made the people in the village below happy and that was his gift from god. He was different, we are all different and those things should be celebrated.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2 wee bobby

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Me and Buzz and The Roadsmen

buzz2

Buzz kind-a discovered money late in life and I don’t mean as some type of granddaddy who found a box of cash in the back yard. I mean that as a kid he’d never really had the need for money, ‘cause – as he was always tellin’ people – Buzz lived off his God-given personality and his killer good looks.

As far as I can remember, Buzz’s first real job was running errands for Mrs Trudy Spencer who ran a little haven from life’s troubles. It was called The House and it sat comfortably at the bottom of Ferdinand Street.Everyone called it The House but the whole town knew what went on there. If you needed it, Mrs Trudy Spencer would sell it to you.

Buzz was probably about fourteen years old at the time but he looked way older. No one would ask him how old he was, as it was always assumed he was old enough. Under the cover of darkness Buzz would carry packages to and from The House.

I remember the first time Buzz took me along on a trip. He got to the kitchen door at the back of The House, then knocked in a series of complicated codes. No one knocked back but as I found out later, that was because Buzz had made the knocking codes up himself and of course inside they knew it was him and didn’t bother answering the door.

I asked Buzz what was in the packages and you know what he told me? He said it was ‘Hooch’.
“Good old Hooch made up on the hills by the Roadsmen,” Buzz told me.

No one ever really knew or met the Roadsmen. They were those people who did all the things that other people should have got blamed for. Even the bad weather was blamed on them.
“That rain was caused by the Roadsmen and their fires,” my uncle once told me when it ruined his daughter’s wedding.  To be honest I thought the package was a bit on the small side for Hooch, so when Buzz went in to talk to Mrs Spencer, I had a peek into the package and it was just plain sarsaparilla for the high rollin’ customers who called The House , a home.

I wasn’t gonna tell my pal, I just let him think he was someone who the Feds would be interested in talking to. Buzz would get paid in goods for his troubles. Tonight he had received chocolates and two pairs of nylon stockings.
“Give them to yer Ma,” Mrs Trudy Spencer had told Buzz “I hear she could do with a good man in her life.”

I can just imagine that Buzz would have looked hurt at that point as he was the man in his Ma’s life, the man of the house. I don’t think that was what Mrs Trudy Spencer was really talking about.

That night we lay on the hill overlooking town and ate the chocolates. We both wore the stockings over our faces and decided that maybe we would keep them for the day when we needed to rob a bank.
“Why would we rob a bank?” I asked Buzz.
“In case we needed the money,” he told me.
“We ain’t got money and we’re happy.”
“I know, but maybe…..” then he stopped and I could hear his brain working….”yeh but maybe…one day we’ll get money and then we’ll lose it and then we’ll want to get some more.”

Buzz lay back real pleased with himself about that explanation and then pulled his nylon stocking disguise back over his chocolate covered face. He did have a point, one day we would have money and I’m sure we’d miss it if it went away.

The rest of the summer Buzz delivered the ‘illicit goods’ to The House (by that I mean, the sarsaparilla I’ve already mentioned, empty bottles, old newspapers, table cloths – you get what I’m saying?) The cops didn’t want to talk to Buzz, no matter what he thought.

To save on time and expense, at the start of each week Buzz would pick up some of the packages and store them in a hidey-hole in his back yard. Then each night he’d take some of the stuff over to Mrs Spencer’s.
One night he comes screaming around to my place.
“They’re gone,” he shouted. “Gone!”
“What’s gone?”
“The Hooch,” said Buzz. “Someone’s stolen Mrs Trudy Spencer’s property.”

I rubbed my chin, as you do in these circumstances, then we both looked at each other and at the same time we said:
“The Roadsmen!”
The Roadsmen were known to steal everything and anything, even kids. I remember my Ma saying to me that if I didn’t behave (or Beeee-have was how she said it) I would be given away to the Roadsmen.

No one really knew what the Roadsmen did with you when they got you – some kid in class said they made you dress as a midget and work in circuses. Me and Buzz didn’t think that would be such a bad way to spend your time.
“I’m going up to the top of Driftward Plains and getting my Hooch back,“ shouted Buzz. Boy, was he in a grumpy mood.

I said I’d go with him, I couldn’t let my best pal face the Roadsmen on his own. And anyway I was real curious about what they looked like. 


Right after Buzz made his Tuesday night delivery, we headed up to Driftward Plains on a bicycle that he borrowed from the rear of The House. I’m sure I had seen the bike before and that it belonged to the Sheriff, but I couldn’t be certain.

We pushed, or it might be more correct to say, I pushed the bicycle most of the way up Deadman’s Gully. Buzz kept reminding me that he owed it to folks to look his best and that pushing a bike really didn’t help.
“Shh,” he whispered at the lip of the hill. We both crawled to the edge and looked over.
“See the lights?” asked Buzz. “That’s them.”
“How do you know?” I said.
“’Cause who else would be up here?” asked my pal.
“Us,” I said, but I was ignored. 


They were all sitting around a big roaring fire when we jumped out on them or rather Buzz did.
“Woooo!” he shouted but it just sounded real lame like.The six of the Roadsmen that were sitting around the fire just looked up and then back at the fire. I don’t think they were too impressed.

“I want my Hooch back,” Buzz shouted and then he did a funny dance. Not funny as in comic, funny as in he should get locked up.

“Sit and join us,” said one of the guys who must have been over a hundred years old, maybe two hundred.

They seemed a nice bunch of guys and long, long ago when they were our age they’d come up here to try to meet the Roadsmen, but they never had.

“We just kept missing them,” said the two hundred year old man. ”Then we just kept coming up here. Now some of us are alone, some of us are in homes and some of us ain’t got long. We just drive up here is Ken’s old jalopy and watch the sun going down and up again.”
“So you didn’t take my Hooch?” said Buzz.
“Nope.”

We sat there with those guys until dawn just flappin’ our gums and talking about life. Me and Buzz decided that when we got older, we’d meet up on the top of Driftward Plains.

When Buzz got back home he found his Ma had taken his packages in to the house ‘cause next door’s dog kept trying to pee on them.

As for Buzz discovering about money, well I’m kind-a sleepy right this minute. I guess it would be all right if I tell you that story another time.

Keep a watch out for the Roadsmen, unless you like getting shot outta cannon in a circus.

 

bobby stevenson 2016
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The Boy Who Sold the World

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He remembered back to when he was, perhaps 13 years of age. He was sitting on a train with his uncle. They were going into the city to celebrate the boy becoming a teenager.

As he looked around the train, it struck him that no one was talking. Conversations had been replaced by each individual watching, laughing at, writing to, their little machines. The individual felt wanted, or needed, or even entertained by these little contraptions.When the boy was 20, he had already created a new social media software. Even at that young age he was now considered rich, but money wasn’t what he was looking for in this journey – he wanted their hearts and minds.

The days of Facebook were long gone, the new buzz word was the boy’s CLIQUE. You see, he had seen the audience who had once watched television would vote on anything, if they felt they could influence matters – and that was the secret of his software. Individuals who were suspected of this, or that, had their photos instantaneously placed on CLIQUE. These were hi-tech witch trials. If a neighbour didn’t like another, they placed a photo (or a CliqueGram) on the page and denounced them as a paedophile, or not patriotic, or not quite one of us.

And in trains, and homes, and cafes, and bars, the proles voted to find the culprit guilty or not. Regardless of the result, their lives were always destroyed.

The boy’s secret was to divide and rule – rule and divide. As long as no one spoke to each other, they would only believe what was on their little machines.

The thought that morning on the train, which had passed through the little boy’s mind, stayed with him forever: Hitler would have used social media.

bobby stevenson 2017

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