The Thing That Changes Folks

eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bobby stevenson 2017

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Once Upon, A Long Ago

Once upon, a long ago,

I saw a life of hope

And so,

I dreamed myself with smile

And mirth,

A charming life to death, from birth

But living twisted all I did

The rules were changed,

My fortunes hid,

I wish my days had run just so,

Like once upon,

A long ago.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Every Breath You Take

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2017

A Story From A Room

room

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

Rest

I know you’re tired of that twisted road,

Tired of climbing those hills,

Tired of getting to the top of one,

Only to have to drop down into another valley,

So why not just kick off those dusty shoes,

And sit with me a while,

No need to talk,

Come listen to the birds sing,

Feel the sun on your face,

Or the rain in your hair,

Know that we are sitting next to each other,

Neither of us is the enemy,

We are both only trying to keep going,

Remembering that some days are harder than others,

It’s life that we are both battling,

So, close your eyes, breathe in gently,

And know that we will both get back on the road again,

In a while.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

I Am Stronger Than Yesterday

I am stronger than yesterday

With all its pain and sorrow

And I have made it through another night

 

I am stronger than yesterday

Each morning I fight to stand and face the sun

Letting it bleach all my dark stains away and

Shouting, Here I am, I exist

 

I am stronger than yesterday

As I shine a light in every dark corner

Where the Black Dog has left its scent

 

I am stronger than yesterday

I need to be, because today I have to start all over again

And fight those battles

 

But I am stronger than yesterday

Because yesterday I won another victory –

I beat the day. 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Maybe Next Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next time, I will not wait so long

The next time, I’ll take that chance

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

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

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

The next time, I will not drink as much

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

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

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

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

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

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Shoreham Stories – 1

THE SHOREHAM WILD ONES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMING HOME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For everything and everyone.

CYCLING TO SHOREHAM

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

You see what I mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“First stop, chuffing breakers” said my pal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why is that Tommy?” I ask.

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

“Well I never.” I declared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nonsense, you imbecile” was his reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Another den of imbeciles?” I asked.

“Just so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The word was not found wanting.

Unfortunately.

SHOREHAM, CHRISTMAS, 1944

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean these one?” Asked Edith.

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

SHOREHAM UNITED

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

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

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

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

Yes, they were bullies and it served them well.

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

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

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

“What the hell are we going to do?”

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

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

Not one person put their hands up.

“No one?”

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

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

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

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

Everyone nodded their heads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That team jumped into their cars and drove off.

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

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

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

A PLACE CALLED HOPE

‘What makes anyone do anything?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Try and stop me,” shouted Jake.

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

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

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

“Should you be doing this?” Shouted Jake.

“Nope, but it feels good. Don’t it?”

And Jake had to admit it did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annie noticed Robert’s missing smile right away.

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

Robert shook his head.

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

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

“Maybe we could talk,” said Annie.

“About what?” Asked Robert.

“About everything.”

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

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

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

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

THE GREAT FILM FIASCO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Like what?” Asked his grandfather.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NIGHT CAFE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was everything.

THE GREAT CHAOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All was right with the world.

THE GREAT SQUALIDNESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minty suggested they never speak of it again.

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

Let no one tell you otherwise.

SHOREHAM, CHRISTMAS, 1958

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dear Nancy,

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

Merry Christmas, Santa Claus.”

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

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

 

ON SHOREHAM HILLS

On Shoreham Hills,

I sat a thousand years,

And watched the seasons change

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

And on those hills,

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

Our lives belonged to others now.

On Shoreham Hills,

I watched as paths were walked a

Hundred million times, which turned to

Roads, and streets and lanes,

The poor, the plagued were taken in

And healed and fed, and given up

To God’s own grace.

On Shoreham Hills,

I saw the wooden structures changed to stone

And homes were built to hold those hearts

That felt this secret valley

Theirs to keep.

I sat beside, as William Blake did spy Jerusalem

Among the waters of the Darent streams,

Forever caught by Samuel Palmer’s paints.

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

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

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

Replaced by Messerschmitt and Spitfire trails.

The buildings rose, as did the streets

Our village grew to meet the age.

I sat on Shoreham Hills, a thousand years

To watch it comfort and console,

And as I watched the sun arise,

I hoped to sit a thousand more.

SHOREHAM ROSE (story and song)

Perhaps I should start way back at the beginning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can I tell you?

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

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

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

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

It’ll just be me and her again.

Press for Video of Shoreham Rose (song)

Bobby Stevenson 2017 x

The Secret of Life

boy

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

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

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

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

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

“Granddad, what is the secret of life?”

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

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

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

“Who says? Not me.”

And his grandfather walked away whistling to himself.

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

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

“Ma?”

“Yup?”

“What is the secret of life?”

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

She ruffled her son’s hair.

“What’s got you in this mood?”

“Just wondering, I guess.”

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

“And that’s it?”

“That’s it.”

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

“Dad, what is the secret of life?”

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

“Nope, just wondering.”

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

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

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What you doing?”

“Praying.”

“At this time of night?”

“Is there a good time?”

“Yep, never. What’s got your goat?”

“I want to know the secret of life.”

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

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

The boy clasped his hands again and started praying.

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

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

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

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

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

All the way.

bobby stevenson 2017

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STONES IN A SNOWBALL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bobby stevenson 2017

A Place Called Hope

‘What makes anyone do anything?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Try and stop me,” shouted Jake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bobby stevenson 2017

Waiting For The Winds To Blow

I’m waiting for the winds to blow,

And someday soon, or later,

They’ll take me on a voyage,

To a land of somewhere greater.

 

And if we do not get the chance

To wish you ourselves goodbye,

I’ll look for you in kinder places,

As I go sailing by.

 

I’m waiting for the winds to blow,

To take my heart away,

And ‘though, we drift apart awhile,

We’ll kiss again, someday.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

The Thursday Angel

angel

She had been born on Christmas Day.

As the woman with the watery eye had mentioned to her mother, “She is your little Christmas gift, your little bundle of joy”.

And she was.

She had grown in a very happy home, and that joy had penetrated her very bones.

She had grown in body and soul and stood tall as one of life’s darlings.

She preferred to give happiness than to receive it.

There had been boyfriends but nothing that serious. Every time she felt she was falling in love, someone or something would cause a change in the way she lived.

She had met Patrick at a bus stop one yellowy autumn day and she told herself that this was the one. He proposed on New Year’s Eve and she had said yes.

“I was going to do it on December 25th but I didn’t want to overwhelm your birthday,” he had told her.

They were to be married on the following June, but that was a long time away. Life crossed her path, put its hand up and shouted ‘Stop’. Her father, worrying about his wife’s health, and on the way to the chemist, hadn’t noticed the bus.

Patrick called the wedding off, and she had made that condition permanent. Her mother was a widow now and needed all the support and help that came her way.

She told herself that it wouldn’t be forever, her mother would learn to live without her dad, and then she would set her life to rights; she’d finally settle down and find that one special person.

She remembered the day well, that day her mother dropped the groceries on the stairs. It was a small stroke they had told her. Things could go either way.

They went the dark way. Her mother saw things, and said things that were not her. The illness ate along her brain and chewed every last piece of her personality.

When her daughter held her mother’s hand, she couldn’t recognize her anymore.

Her mother tried to say something, so she put her ear to her mother’s mouth just as she had done when she was a child. She felt her mother’s hot breath caress her face.

“I love you,” said, her mother.

“And I will always watch over you, always look for the angel. I’ll be there.”

Her mother lived on for several more months, but it she never spoke of such things again. Love had been eaten by the disease, too.

They buried her mother on a Thursday.

On the way back from the cemetery she saw an angel of sorts. Just some random person riding a bicycle. She wondered if she had overtaken the bike that she would see her mum peddling away with a huge grin on her face.

Then she did a strange thing. She decided to follow the angel. She did so through the town square, and through the old streets of the western half, then the cyclist disappeared down through a wooden gate. She couldn’t follow anymore but next to the gate was a young man, attempting to get a cat down from the tree.

“I don’t suppose you could help me?” He asked.

And she did help him, as he helped her.

Now she was sitting at the Christmas Day fire thinking of the old days.

“Tell you grandchildren, honey, how we met, how you followed the angel.”

bobby stevenson 2017

Thing And Being Human

thing

It was the end of another hard day as Thing made his way up back home, to his cave. After such a trying time, he liked nothing better than to sit and look out over the valley and watch the town below.

It was hard sometimes for Thing not to believe what folks said about him. ‘Freak’ was a word that Thing had to cope with since he was very small. Now not all people used it, in its worst sense, but they still used it none-the-less, even if they thought they were only joking.

When Thing was young, his mother used to read him stories from a large book which sat at the back of the cave. His favorite ones were about Gulliver’s Travels. He imagined an island where everyone looked like Thing and it was only the human who was out-of-place. And Thing bet that if there was such an island they would make the human feel welcome and not treat him like a ‘freak’.

The point was that each person who said the word ‘freak’ to Thing probably thought they were the only ones that day who had said the word. But the truth of matter was, Thing heard it maybe fifty, or even a hundred, times a day. That sort of stuff sank in and lodged itself at the back of his brain and no matter how hard he tried, he’d sometimes start to think that maybe they were right. Maybe the great Creator had put him down in such a place to teach him a lesson – but for what?

It had been easier when Thing’s mother and father had been in the cave with him. On those days the place felt warm and loved, but since his parents had gone to the hospital and not come back, he felt really alone at times.

Yet Thing knew that his own heart was every bit as warm and as caring as any other living creature. Yet people couldn’t get over his appearance in order to find that fact out.

So Thing came up with a plan. It meant going into old garbage and searching for stuff. Yet after a few weeks he had enough to carry out his plan. He had found an old human wig and a suit and hat. With a little fixing up here and there, Thing was able to dress up as a human and a pretty accurate one, at that. If he didn’t know any better, he’d have thought he was a human after all.

So the next day, dressed like all the others in town, Thing made his way down the mountainside.

It was strange, there was no other way to say it. No one said anything, no one crossed the street, no one hit him, spat on him or told him to go back to Hell from where he had come.

So this was what it was like to belong. Except he didn’t belong, did he? He was hiding, he was disguised as one of them. Maybe that’s what all humans did; hide who they were so they wouldn’t stand out – so they would belong.

But when Thing thought about it, he didn’t do anything to stand out – he just walked the streets the way he had been created by the universe and that was the only honest way to be.

So Thing went into the town’s library: a place where he was always asked to leave within five minutes of entering. Why would he, a monster, need books? Need to read?

Sometimes they looked at him as if they wished Things like him had never existed. But Thing knew that once his kind had gone, they would only pick on something or someone else, that wasn’t quite them – that kind of thinking would never stop. If the universe had wanted that to be the way, then it wouldn’t have created life the way it did.

So who knew better? The universe or the man in the library? That was when Thing decided to sit at a table and piece by piece take his disguise off.

And yeah, it only took a minute for him to be asked to leave. That was when Thing realized, it’s better to live as you are, than die as something you’re not.

And you know what? He whistled all the way back up to the cave. That was another talent he’d found out about himself – he could whistle too.

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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Eli’s Letter

tears

It had worried him all his life and now Eli saw that it had serious consequences. Thinking back, it just kinda happened. One week his mom was ill and then she got ill again and so he stayed home from school, and the schooling got less and less and his mom needed more help – so days became weeks and weeks became years and no one came looking after a time.

He wasn’t blaming her – no way – it was the way the cards were dealt sometimes in life. Then when his mom was finally laid in the ground, he’d left home and worked in the next country over and no one knew him there. So it didn’t really matter. He always found a way to hide it.

But today he realized that he’d been a fool. He could have killed Jodie, his grandson, that boy who was his life-blood itself. The boy and him had gone fishing just liked they did every Saturday in the good warm months. They’d sit there and chew things over. Jodie was going to be a great man Eli could see that for sure.

The sign must have been a warning of sorts that the bridge was unsafe but Jodie being Jodie ran over the bridge and the next thing Eli sees is the bridge crumble and the love of his life fall into the water. The boy went under real fast and it was Eli’s quick thinking that saved the boy. Eli had swum down to where the boy was being held by a current and pulled him to the shore.

The cop had asked, as had the emergency guy, as had Jodie’s mom. Didn’t you read the sign? But he hadn’t because the truth of it was that Eli couldn’t read – not a word.

His daughter went on and on at her father that night, telling him he couldn’t be trusted with her son and that was the end of the fishing. No more trips with Jodie, anywhere.

That’s when he told her – right out:

“I can’t read. Never have.”

It took the legs away from his daughter, she sat, then she looked at her pa and she cried for all the lonely years he must have kept the secret.

“Tomorrow, we’re gonna fix things. It’s never too late.” She told him and she meant it.

It was hard work and at first Eli kept wanting to give up but there was one thing that he wanted to do before he died and that was read a letter. One he’d never told anyone about. One his ma had left him when she finally passed.

“One day, you’ll read this Elijah. When I’m long gone.”

So the days and months passed and Eli could read little things, like the books the kids used to read. Man was he proud.

No one had ever known in his town or in his own family that he’d spent years hiding and finding cunning ways to lie.

Every night when he had come home from work to the family, he had pretended to read the newspaper – he was just too ashamed to tell anyone and it seemed too late to ask for help.

Then one night not long before Eli died, he took his ma’s letter from under the drawer where he had hidden it and he opened it – and he read it:

“I knew you would, my darling son.

I knew you could do anything.

Love, Mom x”.

bobby stevenson 2017

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If All The World

If all the world went dark today,

And the yellow sun no longer shone,

And we felt our paths from place to place,

And loved by voice and words alone,

If we no longer saw our faces,

With all the tales that eyes can tell,

Would you and I remain as lovers,

Or would our hearts grow dark as well.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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

 

This Year’s Love

hope

This year some people will leave your life

And new ones will enter

This year some dreams will vanish

And others, not thought of, will come out of the sun

This year you’ll make mistakes

And you’ll survive them all

This year you’ll win some things and you’ll lose some things

This year some friends will fail to understand

And some will grow to love you

This year you’ll learn a little more about yourself

Some of it you’ll like and some of it you won’t

This year perhaps you’ll cry alone

But you’ll also laugh at things you won’t explain to  others

This year some of your actions will be misunderstood

But you’ll discover that others understand in amazing ways

This year you’ll misjudge hearts and situations

And yet find more caring than you ever thought possible

This year you’ll learn to love yourself just that little bit better

And that will be all you’ll need.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

bobby2 wee bobby

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Be Who You Are

Be who you are,
Be magnificent,
Be strong,
And except to those who cared too much,
The one who never quite belonged.
Be who you are,
Stand tall, unique
Be grand
The one who smiled at little jokes,
That no one else could understand.
Be who you are,
Let laughter roll the same as tears
Take pleasure in the here and now,
Not in the days or months or years.
Be who you are,
Be loved
And loving everything,
Don’t back away from chance nor dare,
You too will have your song to sing.
Be who you are,
Let happiness and joy
Break through,
The universe was wise enough
To only make the one of you.
bobby stevenson 2017

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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

One Day When You Least Expect It

lonely-friends_2741574

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

You’ll never know when or how it happens,

Never know what effect you’ve had,

Or who you’ve saved.

It might be the smile to a passing stranger,

Who was on their way to shout at someone –

A someone who would have driven home in an anger,

And didn’t see the person they knocked over.

Or a face on a train,

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

And jump.

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

And they saw a warmth in life again.

Perhaps you held the door open for a soul who then

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

About pulling the trigger.

One day, when you least expect it,

You will change the world,

And you will probably never, even know.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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We Need Your Heart To Sing Its Song

Hope2

 

Don’t cry too long

My little one

The world is waiting on your smile

Don’t listen to the midnight whispers

It is their way

To make things dark

Don’t feel

That other hearts are hardened

Sometimes they need

To take a rest

Don’t wish that you were someone

Other

This life is only meant to test.

Don’t think

That you are somehow chosen

For all the trials in the world

Don’t cry too long

My little urchin

We need your heart to sing

Its song.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Seventy Times Around The Sun

dog_full

“Nothing is stranger or more ticklish than a relationship between people who know each other only by sight, who meet and observe each other daily – no hourly – and are nevertheless compelled to keep up the pose of an indifferent stranger, neither greeting nor addressing each other, whether out of etiquette or their own whim.”
― Thomas Mann

He always left work at exactly 5pm – no earlier and no later. He had no ambition to be promoted and yet, he had no want to work for free either.
5pm, it was and not a second more.

Each evening he would wait at the corner for the bus, which would take him within walking distance of his home. He always had the correct money and didn’t expect a ‘thank you’ for his consideration.

As he left the office there was always a little man who would sit on the sidewalk, just watching the world go by. Sometimes people would give the man an odd penny for his troubles, but he was never really sure what troubles it was that the little man had to endure. The man refused to give away hard-earned cash to a little man on the sidewalk who only watched and did nothing more. Yet this never put the little man off from wishing everyone who left the office, ‘a good evening’.

The man always sat on the same seat each morning and evening as he rode on the bus. Always the same folks would get on at the same stops each morning and get off on their return. If one hadn’t made it that morning, he would wonder where they were, ill, at a wedding, on vacation but he would never, ever think to start up a conversation with any of them.

He lived alone and although he saw his neighbors to say ‘hello’ to – that was as much contact as he courted. He had no need for anything more. At weekends he would watch the neighbours walk their dogs, or children, or partners up and down the neighbourhood.

If life had meant him to have acquaintances, it would have surely made it obvious to him which people he should engage.  At the store, when he bought his groceries, he would only make eye contact with the staff when they had totalled his purchases and wished him a good day. He would smile, say ‘thank you’ and leave. And this was the man’s life. It was neither great, nor a disappointment. It just was.

Then one day as he was leaving the office, he tripped on a shoelace that had come undone in the elevator. As he lay on the sidewalk, no one stopped to help – after all, you didn’t talk to people who lay on sidewalks.

Yet the little man who watched – came over and asked him if he could be of help. The man said that wasn’t necessary as he had only tripped and could stand, but not one to be put off, the little man helped him stand and then asked if perhaps, he was hurt in any way. The man said he was fine, but the little man used some money that he had been given – but hadn’t asked for – to buy some water for the man to drink. The man said ‘thank you’ but it hadn’t been necessary. The little man said it was necessary – unless, that is the man belonged to some other place than Earth. As the little man said, we are all on this spaceship circling the sun, some get to ride 70 times around it, some more, some less but we are all astronauts.

And the man thought of that all the way to the bus stop. As he got on the bus, the driver whom he had never spoken to, asked if he was all right as their seemed to be blood coming from his forehead. The man touched his own head and saw that the driver was right. The man must have hit his head as he landed on the sidewalk. So the driver gave him his handkerchief to stop the flow, at least until he got home.

The man then thanked the driver and sat down. He was only five minutes from his dropping off point when he felt dizzy and seemed to black out. When the man came around, he found that he was lying on the bus floor, with his tie loosened and the folks (the ones he saw on the bus but never spoke to) were kneeling over him. One was cleaning his face, another had placed a jacket under his head, and one was holding his hand. When they got to his stop, he was able to stand but one of the passengers insisted on walking him to his house.

On the way there, two of his neighbours stopped to ask if he was all right. The one from the bus who was walking him home, told them the story and the neighbours said they could take it from there, and they would see he was all right.

The neighbours made him some soup and told him he should get a good night’s rest and he would be fine in the morning but if he wasn’t, he shouldn’t hesitate to call them.

And because of that shoelace untied, the man found that all those faces in the crowd that he had never spoken to, were only friends he had yet to discover.

bobby stevenson 2017
photo: http://www.scabbage.com

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My Favourite Thought

love

You are my favourite thought, favourite smile, favourite life,

You’re my first thing in the morning and my last thing at night,

When I speak to other souls, it is you in my head,

I long for you beside me, I dream of you in bed.

 

You are my favourite thought, favourite day, favourite night,

When I stumble through darkness, you carry the light

No one can fathom this smile on my face,

It is you – it is you, who makes my heart race.

 

You are my favourite thought, favourite deed, favourite one,

You are my moon and my stars and my sun,

You are the body where my dreams have been caught,

You are my love, my favourite thought.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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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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Who’s To Say?

Who’s to say it isn’t today

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

Who’s to say it isn’t today

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

Who’s to say it isn’t today

That your problems will vanish without a fuss?

Who’s to say it isn’t today

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

…..Just saying….

 

bobby stevenson 2017

They Came Today, The Angels

They came today, the angels,

My turn, they said, my turn,

And me, a watcher of the clouds,

Had seen them fly for years, up, up, up,

Spied through the brown glass ceilings of this old house.

Out there, they’d scratch and scrape and hunt the heavens,

In wings of gabardine and gossamer,

To search for souls, like me.

They came today, the angels,

Out of a gunpowder sky,

To tell me that this path

Had gently ended

And a new one would begin.

They came today, the angels.

And even as I turned and sighed,

I somehow always knew they would.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

The Man Who Lived Twice

violin

There was a story from the early 1950s in Glasgow about Sammy; a man who used to play the violin. Sammy didn’t have a home but sometimes a kind soul would let him rest his head on their sofa or in their garden shed.

In those days people used to queue outside the movie theatres awaiting the start of the film, if it was a rainy night – and in Glasgow that was almost a certainty – people were cold and bored and this is where Sammy would find his audience. Up and down the queue he’d play, old ones, new ones, tunes from the War and tunes from the dance halls. Kind folks would throw a penny or two into Sammy’s hat; he’d nod with a thank you and move up the queue. Folks were glad to see old Sammy and it all felt part of their night’s entertainment.

When the building had swallowed up the audience for the last show, Sammy would tip the contents of his hat into his pocket and head off to the Coronation Café for a cup of tea and his first food of the day. On good days he might have a cake to follow. This particular day had been a good day and he’d made seven shillings and three pence. Two shillings of this would go into a box he kept hidden for the days when he didn’t feel too good and couldn’t make it to the cinema.

If he didn’t have anywhere rest his head that evening, Sammy liked nothing better than to sit in the café and talk with friends and strangers – about this and that and everything else in between.

Sammy had lots of favourite topics; one was about God and his place in the universe.

“There can only be two theories on the universe, either there is a God and all of this is a reflection of his personality, or this is a universe without a driver and it is all the more wonderful for that,” Sammy would say with a wicked glint in his eye.

But people didn’t really listen to an old man who played a violin in a cinema queue. I mean, what would someone like that know?

The other things Sammy liked to discuss were his belief that one day soon, “before I die,” he would say, “we will see man walking on the moon.” And the second, a big topic with him, was that television would quickly take over the world.

Friends and strangers would laugh at the outrageous things he said, after all he was an old tramp who knew nothing.

One night, one cold rainy night, when ironically the people were queuing to see Singing In The Rain, Sammy found that the queue was so large there was little room for him to move up and down, so he had to step on to the road and that was when it happened. When the number 59 bus hit Sammy full on.

Some folks thought he had died right there and then, but he’d only bumped his head on the way down and had passed out. Naturally they took him to hospital where he spent several comfortable and warm nights. It even went through Sammy’s head that perhaps he should make jumping in front of a bus a regular occurrence.

A big chief from the bus company came to see Sammy in the hospital probably just to see what the damage was.

“You shouldn’t have been on the road, you understand it was your fault,” said the big chief. But the truth of the matter was that some of the people in the queue said that Sammy had been pushed into the road and that the bus was going too fast, especially on a wet and windy night.

“So taking all factors into account, we have decided to give you this,” said the chief and handed Sammy a cheque for £150. Sammy asked if it was okay to have it in real money instead, as he didn’t have a bank account. The chief sent over his secretary with the money to the hospital the following night.

Between the money that Sammy had in his box and some of the money the bus company gave him, Sammy bought himself a little caravan and a place to put it. For the first time in many years he had a permanent roof over his head and some money to feed himself.

He didn’t waste the cash, instead he bought himself a rather smart suit from Woolworth and on the first night out he wore it, he noticed a big change in people. Folks walking along Argyll Street would say hello to him, or nod or wish him well. After all, he was a smart dressed man and so he had to be one of their own.

He decided to use some of his money and go and watch a concert of classical music in a big hall on Bath Street. It was love at first hearing and when he talked to some of the performers afterwards they suggested that if he loved to play the violin then why didn’t he come along to their rehearsals on a Thursday.

After the first Thursday he attended, Sammy was asked to join the orchestra and this made him happier than he had ever been before.

After practise, the gang, as Sammy called them, would go to a late night café bar and discuss this and that and everything in between. When Sammy told them about his thoughts on the universe and the Moon and television, they sit enthralled listening to this well dressed, talented man with so much genius in his head.

Wasn’t he the cleverest, most talented man they had every met?

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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One Final Thing

thing

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

 

The Perfect Seconds

face

It has been said that a man dies twice. Once, when his heart stops beating, and the second time, when his name is mentioned for the very last time.

It was that final point which obsessed him, especially now – when he thought of what he was going to face. The plain, raw, truth of it all.

The only anti-dote he had for his problems was sleep, and that had served him well. His father used to look life-tired and then he would mumble: ‘sleep it is a blessed thing’. He didn’t know where his father had taken the quote from, but he was right – it was the panacea for all ills.

In his sleep, he could dream and be who or whatever he chose. That was where most of his writing ideas had been born – all in the middle of his sleeping imagination.  Some days he would awake with a full story formed in his head, and it was those stories that he would live on – for in there was the real him. All those stories contained some sliver of his DNA. That is what he should be remembered for – not on what he had said.

Writing took time – spoken words were cheap.

But it had been his spoken word that had placed him in the situation he was now in. One didn’t criticize the State and hope to live to tell the tale.

Yet he would forget all of that when he was asleep. And when he would wake up, he’d hide in those precious first few seconds: ‘the perfect seconds’, he called them – when his brain was still in the half-light of sleep, and he could not remember how the world really was.

It was soon broken by that grinding thought – that one which reminded you of who had died, or who was ill, or who you owed money to – the thought that delivered all the problems in your life in one sickening blow. That was when the world would shake you awake – but for those few golden seconds when a human being first becomes conscious in the morning, those seconds were the very, very best. You remembered nothing of your existence. A little piece of paradise before being tainted by the shadows.

The man was now fully awake and those precious, perfect seconds were long gone. He could distinctly hear the crackling in the background as they powered up the electric chair.

There was a thump as they threw the switch to test the beast. It quietly hummed a little tune.

As he looked up at the damp roof, he knew that sleep would be his soon – for eternity.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Stars Want Her Back

When I first got to know her,

She was fully formed.

A woman with life, and humour and

Dreams.

And in the gaps between the dark times,

She talks about her dreams,

And all the reasons they never happened.

But now we have a fight on our hands,

For she is slowly leaking back

Bit by bit, thought by thought,

To where she came from.

For the stars want her back,

And there is nothing we can do.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

One Day My Friend, We’ll Soar

fly

One day, my friend, we’ll soar,

Far, high above these streets of darkened hearts,

We’ll tilt our wings to freedom,

And scrape the highest of the skies.

One day, my friend, we’ll soar,

Up there, all wrapped in splendid sunlight,

Riding azure blue jet streams,

Breathless with that rush of life and air.

One day, my friend, we’ll soar,

So let me take your broken body upon my back,

And both of us shall climb in painless flight,

I’ll let you rest up there a while,

But promise I’ll be back.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

I Am So Proud Of You

proud_of_you-3172

I am so proud of you,

In so many ways,

Proud of every sinew in your strained body,

Proud, that even with a fractured heart,

You can still stand and smile,

Still look the world

Straight in the face.

I am so proud of you,

For although you ached for love yourself,

You gave your away to those who needed it,

Proud that when it took everything inside

Just to get to midday,

You got there and you survived,

And  still you remembered and still you cared.

I am so proud of you,

That while you drag all that darkness with you,

You can still make it to the end of the day –

Whatever

Is at the finish of all this,

(Perhaps we’ll knock on that final door,

And no one will be there),

Just please, please remember this,

With all your heart,

I am so proud of you.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

On The Right Tracks

june 7 post Patient_Feeling_Better

There is a little railway station just north of somewhere and to the east of that other place. And one time in your life, you’ll either have stood waiting on a train there or will have passed through it, I promise you.

The station wasn’t anything special, it just helped people get into the city and received their tired bodies at the end of the day. It had been built in the 1850’s and judging by the architecture, it was a statement to a country with an empire. But things change, and empires fall, and now the station just had a ticket office and a toilet.

It wasn’t small enough that people talked to each other, nor was it big enough to get lost in – it was a station of an awkward size, where people saw the same folks everyday but were standing too far away to communicate. And  so life went on as it always does.

Then one cold November, just after that thing that happened, but just before that other thing was about to occur, Jonathon Nasby came to the station as the Station Manager. Okay, all he did was sell tickets and clean the toilet but that wasn’t going to stop Jonathon – who had once dreamt he was going to be an astronaut or failing that, regenerate into Doctor Who.

At first, Jonathon (who had never been actually told to his face, that life was hard) started singing as he sold the tickets. There were those (as there are always ‘those’) who found the humming and singing a distraction, but for most, it was a little break from the hum-drum of travelling to work.

Then Jonathon started to sing as he announced what trains were going where and the ones which weren’t coming. A few faces would crack a smile while standing on the platform and possibly, one or two would forget about their troubles for a few minutes.

It wasn’t long before Jonathon was telling little stories for the folks who stood, waiting:   about how he had got the job, how he had never been picked for sports’ teams at school and how, despite everything, he felt that a Station Manager was a brilliant job and he wanted to thank everyone who had helped him.

One or two of those waiting broke into applause, and like an Oscar speech, Jonathon decided to thank everyone in his life. One morning, a note was left at the ticket office which just said ‘thank you’ and Jonathon felt that was the best note he had ever been given in his life.

In between the songs, the selling of the tickets, the cleaning of the toilet, and the little speeches, Jonathon started to write his own little stories.

One snowy day when everyone was generally feeling miserable he made this announcement:

“Good day my fellow travellers, I want you to think about your problems. I guess most of you are standing there thinking of them anyway. Now, in your head, give your problems away to someone in the station and you take their problems. Swap yours for theirs. And I know you’ve probably heard it before but I, reckon that if you could really see all their problems, you’d be screaming for your own back.”

Then Jonathon broke into his version of Bohemian Rhapsody (doing all the voices). The station became so popular that people started to change stations and leave from Jonathon’s because it made their day. It got so crowded that sometimes there wasn’t room to move.

The big chiefs on the Railway Board decided to investigate and discovered that Jonathon’s spirit and outlook was just what they needed at one of the big city stations. Soon he started to run the Jonathon Nasby School for Railway Enhancement and Entertainment.Jonathon realised that all people really wanted was someone to tell them that they were okay.

Jonathon is the Prime Minister now and of course broadcasts a song to the entire country every morning. Today the song was the Beatles’ ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and folks in every city, town and hamlet were heard to sing along with him.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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This Year’s Love

human-emotion-happiness-14

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

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Best

best-series1

Wrap up your soul from the north winds,

Turn your sweet head,

Facing the sun,

I know that those dark clouds will scare you,

But believe me,

The best is to come.

Let slip those stories they told you,

Just remember that you are the one,

Don’t let their sadness get weary,

For I tell you,

The best is to come.

Smile even ‘though it is hard work,

Cleanse weary eyes with some bright fun,

For these dark days

Will lift soon my darling

And I promise,

The best is to come.

Take strength in the ways of the old times,

When your laughter and hope can return,

Don’t stumble and fall,

Take my hand love,

For you know that the best

Is to come.

bobby stevenson 2017

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My Uncle Bertrand’s Dream

broadwaysaratogasprings1900

The year we moved from the 1800s to the 1900s, was the year that my Uncle Bertrand came to town. That man was larger as life and twice as bold.

He’d made all his money in some venture in Morocco, Africa, at least that’s what they said about him – you could never tell about my uncle what was true and what wasn’t.

Except maybe that he was the kindest man who ever walked the face of the Earth. When I was down, and maybe crying, he’d find me in the back yard – he’d say:

“Robert, there are more good things in this world than bad, and there are more good people than wicked ones,” then he’d pat me on the head and smile, one of his famous smiles. That usually did it for me, and I could feel a little warmth coming back to my heart. Man, my Uncle Bertrand was good.

I ain’t sure if you can see the picture and all, but if you can – my uncle is the gentleman standing proudly next to his horseless jalopy, in front of our house. It was the only carriage in Saratoga Springs, and he’d steered it all the way up from New York City. Just in case you’re asking, the picture was taken by my good pal, David Kodak, who was always experimenting with things like that. He was going to be a scientist one day.

As for my uncle Bertrand, he was scared of nothing.

“As long as I’m breathing, my fine young nephew, I will keep on making things happen. Many times, I’ll fail, but a man who ain’t failed, ain’t lived.”

Amen to that, I say.

Then one day it happened. One sunny day, when the world was warming right through to my bones, my uncle Bertrand called at our house, and asked if it was okay to take the ‘young rascal’ – that being me – on an adventure. My mother said it was fine as long as I was back by dark and we didn’t go in that ‘godless contraption’ of his.

The thing is we did. I sat in that machine, like I was the king of everything. Man, it felt good, and my uncle steered and steered all the way to the Niagara Falls.

I mean the actual ‘Falls’ – we had lived in Saratoga Springs for ever and no one had ever taken me to see the Falls. Man they were a sight, I can tell you.

“Let’s take a walk,” said uncle.

And we walked right to the very edge of the waterfall.

“Taste that,” he said, grinning.

I wasn’t sure what it was I was supposed to taste, but I nodded any way.

“That’s the taste of freedom, and that is what is so great about living. Anyone can almost do anything and I plan to do that.”

So I asked him what he meant and he pointed out there, to the Falls.

“That,” he said. “That’s where freedom lies, I’m going to walk across the Niagara Falls on a tightrope.”

Well, if I had thought about what my Uncle Bertrand was going to say, it would not have been that, I can tell you.

So at least once a month, me and my uncle would head out to the Falls and we’d sit there and smell the freedom. And me and him would look at each other and we would understand what all this freedom meant.

One day, my uncle said to me, “Robert, I want you to promise me that if you ever have a dream, then you chase it, and chase it and beat it down until it’s got no choice but to do your bidding. Then you sit on the back of that beast and you ride it for all it’s worth. No point in being alive, otherwise. All those folks who died a long time ago and just move about until it’s official.”

That day I promised him.

It was a train that killed him, in the end.

Some cargo train from Ohio, caught my uncle and his jalopy when it got stuck on the rails at a crossing. ‘Never stood a chance’, the Sheriff said. The train just kept on riding the rails, not knowing that they’d brought my uncle down. Still, it was a kind of adventurous way to go. He would have approved, I know he would have.

So I’m writing this story in 1925 and I’ve been overseas. I’ve been to Belgium and I’ve watched people die in wars.

And maybe we all heave dreams, and maybe most of them do die or get suffocated by life. And sometimes – well sometimes, maybe you pick up another man’s dreams and carry them on.

And that’s why today I am getting ready to walk across the Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Maybe I’ll make and maybe I won’t but at least I’ll have tried.

I mean, what’s the point of being alive?

bobby stevenson 2017

Leaving Traces

firends

Don’t think you are never seen, dear friend,

You leave a trace wherever you wander –

A smile, a laugh, a hope.

Don’t think you are never heard, my pal

There is always someone listening –

A song, a word, a joke.

 

Don’t think you are ever forgotten, old friend,

For when we passed each other

In that briefest of time,

You left a piece of you with me

That I’ll carry wherever I go.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2016

Painting:  http://www.davidpott.co.uk/blog/2009/11/finished-painting-whitby-sunset-two-friends/

 

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Never Ever Let Them Get You Down

girl

1.Just ‘Cause You’re Breathing

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

 

2. Love and Hope

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

What life had brought to my heart.

“Was it joy, was it sadness,

Was it laughter and tears?

The kindness of lovers?

The friendship through years?

Or the dreams of a life

In a heaven above?”

 

“It was none of these things,

It was hope,

It was love.”

 

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

Don’t cry too long

My little one

The world is waiting on your smile

Don’t listen to the midnight whispers

It is their way

To make things dark

Don’t feel

That other hearts are hardened

Sometimes they need

To take a rest

Don’t wish that you were someone

Other

This life is only meant to test.

Don’t think

That you are somehow chosen

For all the trials in the world

Don’t cry too long

My little urchin

We need your heart to sing

Its song.

 

4. Today Is Going To Be A Great Day

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

 

5.The Luckiest People Alive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 flying_man500

6. One Day, My Friend, We’ll Soar

One day, my friend, we’ll soar,

Far, high above these streets of darkened hearts,

We’ll tilt our wings to freedom,

And scrape the highest of the skies.

One day, my friend, we’ll soar,

Up there, all wrapped in splendid sunlight,

Riding azure blue jet streams,

Breathless with that rush of life and air.

One day, my friend, we’ll soar,

So let me take your broken body upon my back,

And both of us shall climb in painless flight,

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

 

7. Dancing To The Music of Your Heart

I never picked a proper tune to dance to

And I never got in step with any soul

And in all those dancing years

I spent wishing I could hear

That melody which drove another’s goal

I guess it’s too late now to ever

Try to change things

As I’m nearing my own moment to depart

So I’ll quietly spend the time

That’s been allocated mine

Dancing to the music of my heart.

 

8. Be Who You Are

Be who you are,

Be magnificent,

Be strong,

And except to those who cared too much,

The one who never quite belonged.

Be who you are,

Stand tall, unique

Be grand

The one who smiled at little jokes,

That no one else could understand.

Be who you are,

Let laughter roll the same as tears

Take pleasure in the here and now,

Not in the days or months or years.

Be who you are,

Be loved

And loving everything,

Don’t back away from chance nor dare,

You too will have your song to sing.

Be who you are,

Let happiness and joy

Break through,

The universe was wise enough

To only make the one of you.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

elephant

 

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July 2nd: Eastman Day

human

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

mirror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2017

The Shadow House

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The building was old and smelt of a lonely staleness. As if once upon a time people had thrown a party there and then had closed the door behind themselves.

It had been built to fulfil a dream of a man whose name had been long since forgotten; one who had run out of money before the completion of the place and like his body had begun to turn to dust and rust.

It had lain that way for over fifty years when, Patrick, who had taken the wrong path one day, passed it and decided to buy it. The interior was part Art Deco and part Art Nouveau, part lost and part full of colour and life. It suited Patrick perfectly, because he too had a dream and that was to build a very special museum. One that would be unique – one that would bring tears and joy both at the same time.

To fill it the way he intended meant that Patrick had to hide in quiet places. He had to sneak into rooms when folks were occupied in other things – he had to search in old huts and sheds where folks had left the things that Patrick was seeking.

He found them. There was no problem with that, because people always left traces of themselves and that would always lead Patrick to a new seam of discovery.

It took him over two years to get the collection together the way that he wanted, and a further year to present them the way he wanted. In the end, exhausted and tired, he looked at his work and it pleased him.

For the opening night, he invited all those from whom he had taken an object – whether they knew or not. Some were amazed, others shocked, some were crying and some laughing, but no one could ignore the beautiful strange building with its beautiful contents.

The corridors were dark, and the walls were white to show off their contents. A man, a woman or a child would go to their exhibit and point; for on the big, impressive walls of the strange building were displayed – in all their glory – the shadows of the people’s former selves. Some folks stood next to their shadows and tried to fit into them, but time had moved on.

People looked at who they once were and wondered what had happened to them, to their lives. Some laughed, some cried, some wept, some danced but all were moved to show some emotion when they came face-to-face with their shadows.

Patrick felt his work was now done and that his house of shadows was indeed complete.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Frankie, Shoebuckle, Sunlight and Clutterbuck

womanFRANKIE

Frankie never got to make a movie as a star
She had to settle for standing at the back
And waving to the troops,
Or sometimes – smiling at the
Romantic lead as he bought bananas from her.
Frankie never got to make the movie of her life
She just settled for standing back and being an
Extra in everyone else’s.

 

 

 

man
Mr Clutterbuck

SHOEBUCKLE, SUNLIGHT AND CLUTTERBUCK

Mr Shoebuckle lived in a house filled to the roof with flaws.
They were in his attic, his cellar, every drawer and cupboard, and he did this as a way to avoid seeing them. He spent his life sweeping them under the carpet.

Mr Shoebuckle lived next door to Mrs Sunlight who didn’t want to see her flaws either, so she threw them out the house at every opportunity. The house was flawless and clean.
Mrs Sunlight would sigh sometimes because she knew that something was missing.

Mr Clutterbuck lived in the far house and he didn’t care where his flaws were – on his sofa, on his carpet or on his roof. Mr Clutterbuck liked his flaws , they kept him company and he knew that if he was going to have a long life then his flaws were going to be with him every step of the way.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Thing and The Night

thing

Thing missed being back at the cave. It was the one place that he knew his Mother and Father would eventually return. He had given up waiting on them and had struck out to see what was at the end of the world.

Thing wouldn’t be gone forever, all he had to do was reach the horizon and then come home. That was his plan and it was simple.

As he left town, he walked passed his school where he had some good days and more bad days. He turned the corner and watched as the cafe where he would hide on the bad days disappeared into the distance.

There had been friends and enemies, and like his school days there had been more bad than good ones. But don’t think that all of this had got Thing down. He believed and continued to believe that he was on the Earth for a purpose and who was he to disagree?

Quicker than he had expected, the town faded into the background and the dirt country road opened up ahead of him. Thing had thought he might meet folks along the way but he had met no one. If the truth be told, dear readers, the ones who had seen him had taken other roads, not wanting to meet this freak on their own. Not that Thing noticed any of this because a heart that believes they have a purpose in existing never see anything but goodness in others.

After several long hours on the road, it was getting dark. Thing had never been out this late, as he’d always stuck to his Mother’s instructions of being in his bed before sundown. On the longs days he had waited for his Mother to return, he was always settled in his bed by disk, just in case she came home and found him going against her rules.

There had been a slight hope in his heart that he would meet his Mother on her way back to the cave to once again, take care of her son. But the road was as empty as ever.

Day became dusk, and dusk became the darkness. Thing had found out too late that he was not able to see well in the dark of the open road, even although he could navigate his way around the cave.

When he could no longer see where he was walking, Thing chose a small area of grass underneath a tree. He was tired and ready to close his eyes to the night.

Thing hadn’t been sleeping long when woken by the sound of someone or something snoring.

“Hello?” He shouted out into the night. “Anyone there?”

And that was when the snoring stopped and a voice called back.

“Over here,” said the voice.

“Where?”

“I’ll sing a song and you follow my voice,” said someone or something in the distance.

Thing followed the really bad singing and nearly tripped over the source of the song.

“Careful,” said the singer. “Sit down here beside me, the others will be along soon.”

In the darkness the two of them talked about why they were in the forest and where they were heading. Thing told the voice that he was walking to the horizon and then coming home again. That since his Mother and Father had gone, he had stood every night at the cave entrance watching for them to come home.

The voice was in the forest, along with his friends because they too, had been left orphaned.

“No, I’m not an orphan,” said Thing. “They will return one day.”

“Sure they will,” said his friend but not very convincingly.

It was just then that the rest of the gang returned. They had been out hunting for food. They worked in the pitch black so as not to attract attention from those who would stop them getting food.

They gang had stolen meat from a farm a short distance from the river and had collected berries and fruits that they found.

They told Thing that he was welcome to share their wares on one condition, and that was that he told them a story to make them laugh or cry.

After their meal and in the pitch darkness, Thing thanked them for the food and then told them of his life. The way the friends at school had hurt and bullied him because they felt that he was different.

“You’re just like us,” said another voice. “We are all outsiders, and we are all a family. You should join us.”

Thing felt that perhaps he just might, then decided that he wanted to see the horizon before he settled down, and that if they weren’t going that way, then he’d continue on alone.

One of the voices said he was cold with the night dew and Thing said that if they all bunched up beside Thing, they could all keep warm.

And it worked and for the first night in many, Thing wasn’t alone and for the first time in his life he had a gang of friends.

Thing slept well that night, and dreamed that he was in his Mother’s arms.

When the sun came up the gang of orphans were standing over him, pointing their wooden spears at him.

“What have you done with our friend?” Shouted one at the back.

“He must have eaten him, the monster has eaten him,” said another.

Thing wasn’t sure what had happened. In front of him were a group of kids, the same type that had gone to his school.

“Let’s take him prisoner and sell him,” said another. Thing found an energy that he’d never known before and was suddenly running through the forest: no looking back.

The orphans chased him for a mile or two, but Thing just kept on running – running towards the horizon and away from a group of people who had only liked him when they knew him in the pitch black.

And Thing couldn’t understand why that made a difference.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2 wee bobby

 

 

What Are You Saving Yourself For?

hiding-from-life-960x761

You hesitate to say hello –
To that girl or boy,
To the stranger needing help,
You think twice about some invitation –
Another day, another time perhaps.

You aren’t ready, least not today
What with this and that, you have to do.
And so that chance you should have taken,
Has flown, has gone, has disappeared.

What are you saving your little self for?
Are you so sure of another chance?
Another day, another tune,
So certain of that one more dance?

What are you saving your little heart for?
Some far off day when your luck will flow?
Why delay and wait on something,
When the end is closer than you know.

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2 wee bobby

To Wonderland

kings_cross2016thameslink104kings_cross_old9

Kings Cross Thameslink 2016 and 1976

There is a place. You might have noticed it, or maybe you haven’t, but if you take the train from south London, up towards the North, the station is there.

It’s in between Thameslink and St. Pancras and no one gets off – at least, not unless they are meant to – and it’s here that it happens. This is the entrance to Wonderland, and there is no great hole, nor a large white rabbit, but you’ll get to where you are meant to be going, all the same.

That day, the day when my life changed, had been due to a power-outage, I mean one of the really big ones. Someone on the train said it was to do with a sunspot flaring up – whatever that meant.

One minute we were rolling along and then the train shuddered to a halt, and everything went black. It was an early dark winter’s day when I had got on the train, and the day had just got darker.

Someone shouted that we were all to stay where we were, as help would arrive soon. Some woman shouted that she thought she had heard gunfire and that it was probably a terrorist attack – that was when people started to panic in the darkness.

I have no idea how I managed to prise the door open – it was one of the older stock of train carriages and the door didn’t put up much resistance.

I fell out onto a dusty concrete platform. I expected someone to follow on behind me, but within a few seconds of my alighting, the train had lit up again and was on its way.

The station was dark, but I still had a small light in my phone. All I could see was the big red sign stating ‘Do Not Alight Here’. Seemed a bit late for that now.

What was I supposed to do? Walk down the track to Farringdon or up to St. Pancras? I decided to stay put for the time being, maybe someone saw me leaving the train and called the authorities. Or maybe I was just stuck.

I heard a scurrying, which I assumed was a rat or mouse – although it sounded a little big for those two options. Then a hand grabbed mine – I have to admit, I did jump. The hand, which felt like a child’s, tugged as if beckoning me to go with it.

Then I stupidly asked, ‘Are you a ghost?’. The hand just tugged again as if to say ‘shut up and follow me’ – and this child or ghost or whatever probably was my big white rabbit – so I followed.

I couldn’t see anything at all – the only thing I could do was trip over stones, and bricks and notice the change of smells, from oil, to gas, to a putrid stench, and finally to a sort of perfume (like flowers in Spring).

When I did get to see the light again, it was under an unbelievably blue sky – which in itself, didn’t make sense – unless I had been asleep for most of the night. Sitting on a rock, below this Summer sky were two children and an old man.

“Welcome,” said the old man. “You were expected”.

“Me?”

“You! Now sit”. I sat, and the old man put an arm around my shoulder.

“This is where you come to breathe.”

“Am I dead?” I asked him. He shook his head. “Look on it as a rest stop. You were going to see your dying father in hospital, were you not?”

“How did you know that?” The old man ignored my question and moved on. “It doesn’t matter how long you spend down here, it will be only the blink of an eye up there. So relax, unwind for you are amongst friends”.

“Is this Heaven?” I asked. One of the little boys smiled. Maybe I was still on the train and dreaming, perhaps I had ingested fumes in the station, or I had finally gone mad; maybe visiting my father in hospital everyday might have taken its toll.

And as if he read my thoughts, the old man said, “you are not mad. Go on take a walk. Please”.

The old man walked slightly behind me and continued to talk:

“When a soul is lost or tired, there are two ways the universe looks after its own. One is to dream. By dreaming you fix the connections in your head which lets a soul continue for another day. If that proves inadequate, then you are invited here – for an extended stay. It is for as little, or as long, as you feel you need.

“Is this where the lost people also come – you know, those who disappear?”

The old man shook his head. “That is another station – one that is seen only when it is requested.” He said.

“How will I know when it’s time to go back?” I asked him.

“You’ll know. Continue – please, continue to walk and talk with the others, they would be most grateful to hear from you”.

So that is what I did and not being sure if I had spent an hour, or a day or even a year. It is a strange sensation when time does not exist.

Some of the parents had lost children, or were nursing them. Some of the children had dying family members and they too had been called upon to give support. But while they were down here, this was their time – this was a little vacation away from the pain.

Then my father came into my thoughts, and I saw him in my mind’s eye lying on his sickbed and I knew instinctively that it was time to leave. I was ready to go.

I woke with a shudder, as the train was pulling out of the tunnel and finally into St. Pancras. I was back in my seat. Maybe I had been dreaming, or maybe there is a Wonderland between two stations in London.

I would like to think that there was.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

My Grandma’s Radio

radio

He delivered it, all pleased with himself, the night of the electrical storm which stretched all the way across three counties.

Old Jake had nothing else to give his sister, my grandmother, on her wedding day.

It lived proudly in the corner of the room and worked its way into being part of the family.

The night my father was born, my grandfather cranked it up to a full ten and couldn’t understand why the folks on the radio weren’t sharing in his joy.

The day my uncle died, I guess he was about seven years old, my grandmother couldn’t understand why the newscaster still kept talking as if nothing had happened. Didn’t they know? She wept.

When my grandfather went away to war, the radio was her friend, it was never off, it made the house seem busy, she said.

When the radio told my grandmother that her husband was coming home, she lifted her skirt and danced on the table when no one was looking.

That day, that black September day, in New York City when they flew the ‘planes into those buildings. Well that was the day we switched the radio off.

For good, we said.

When they cleared out my grandmother’s house, the radio was sent to the garage and that was where it stayed until I found it yesterday.

I’ve cleaned it up and changed its heart so it can play all the new tunes and talk about the new world – about the new joys and sadness.

I think it’s time I started listening again.

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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Just ‘Cause You’re Breathing Doesn’t Mean You’re Alive

elephant

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

bobby stevenson 2016 (alive, just)

bobby2wee bobby

 

 

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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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Finding Beauty

pascalcampionart

As she watched the Robin look through her window

She was sure it was smiling

It might even be looking at her.

Upstairs her mother lay,

Motionless – gone now,

Soon she would have to telephone someone,

And tell the world,

But until then, she would just watch the smiling bird.

 

The light of his universe came into the room,

His granddaughter smiled and everything was right with the world,

She sat on his knee, and he kissed her on the top of her beautiful smelling head,

‘What is the longest word you know, Granddad?’

He wanted to say ‘Alzheimer’s’ – while he could still remember,

But instead he kissed her head once more,

And held her tighter.

 

She handed him a sandwich made with love and tomatoes,

Through the train window,

And he noticed that behind his mother, was a stranger helping up a woman

Who had tripped,

The man wiped her blooded knee with his handkerchief,

Then he smiled,

And the son realized that those were the things he was going off to fight for.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

painting: Pascal Campion.

The Dust Road

As they drove the last few miles, the wind grew warmer

And he closed his eyes, fixing his mind on that evening

When they celebrated with a party

Everyone was there that night, alive and well

Taking joy in each others’ company

Never thinking that things would change so much

That fixed point in his head was where he ran to

When the days were cold and bare

Perhaps he repainted the colors every time he visited

But it was his to do as he wished,

For there he was truly, truly happy,

That one perfect night before his world crumbled

And turned to dust.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Thing of Beauty

thing

There was a lot of time to think, now that Thing had lived in the cave by himself for a while. A lot of time to wonder why he was the way he was. A lot of time to wonder why people made judgements on the way he looked, rather on the way his heart shined out.

Those kids, the ones in the town below, had always picked on him, thrown stones at him, shouted names – and for what? Because he looked different. Kids, well humans really, hated difference.

Yesterday morning as he was eating breakfast (yes, Things did that too), he heard someone calling at the mouth of the cave.
“Hello!” a voice, shouted.
“Anyone there?” The voice continued. Thing rarely had any visitors, expect the odd kid from town shouting some abuse into the cave.

He had the same thought that he always had in these circumstances – Thing thought it might be his mother and father returning home, like he knew they would one day.
Although it wasn’t them, it wasn’t a bad surprise either. It was a cousin of his who lived in the north-country and whom he had met only when the families had all got together.

His cousin told Thing that it was his cousin’s Big Birthday and Thing was to follow him north to take part in the celebrations. All Thing’s people had a Big Birthday, it was to mark them standing on their own feet in the world. Thing was still to have his, hoping that his parents would be back for that.

So Thing packed a few belongings and started on the journey north with his cousin. It was wonderful to be in the company of his own kind – not that he disliked the humans – just that his cousin understood how it felt to be the way he was.

Thing had never been confident in the way he looked, and this was heightened by the name calling that came from the kids. But that night, the night he arrived with his own kind, his aunts and uncles all told him how beautiful he was, how he was a great reflection on his parents, who would have been so proud to have been there had they not…….
Then the aunts and uncles stopped as if they were about to say something they would regret. Thing asked what they were going to say, but they all changed the direction of the conversation and wouldn’t look Thing in the face.

On the Friday night, the evening before the party, Thing went out with all his cousins and they marched up and down the main street. About half way along the road, a human kid was walking towards them and Thing hoped the kid would not be horrible to his family as he was having such a great time. What occurred surprised Thing, his cousins started to shout names and throw stones at the human kid – and although for one split second Thing felt that it was good to belong to a group (and good to not be the one picked on) Thing realised that this whole situation was wrong and he wasn’t going to become one of the bullies who had made his own life a misery.
Thing walked up to the kid and comforted him.

“What are you doing?” Asked his eldest cousin. “He is a human, an ugly little misfit of a human,” said another of his family.
“He is a soul, that is what he is,” said Thing. “He is just like you and me.”
“No he’s not,” shouted another and Thing’s cousins all started to throw stones at the boy.

Thing put himself between the gang and the boy and when the stones started to hit Thing instead of the human, his cousins stopped.

“So you’re an ugly little human lover,” shouted the tallest of his cousins.

And Thing guessed that he was. The cousins told him that he wasn’t needed at the party the next day and that he should go home. No one wanted the little orphan anyway. Thing wasn’t sure what an orphan was, but he was too tired to ask.
He walked the human kid to his own home, and then Thing returned and slept outside his aunt and uncle’s house. He would walk to his cave the next day.

When Thing woke the next morning, his aunt was sitting by his side. She said, she’d heard what had happened and that he was indeed most welcome at the party.

“My children are young, and my children are wrong. They are scared of the humans,” said his aunt. “I heard what you did and you really are a most beautiful being, Thing. Not only in looks, but in your heart,” then his aunt kissed him on the forehead.

He had not been kissed in many moons and it felt good. He attended the party that evening and danced and sang and had the best of times. His aunt and uncle offered him a place to stay permanently but Thing refused, and told them that he had to return to the cave to wait on his mother and father.

“They will return one day soon, I know it,” Thing said proudly.

Thing didn’t notice his family all dropping their eyes when he said that, but he wasn’t caring anyway – he had been told he was beautiful and he couldn’t wait to tell his parents.

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2 wee bobby

 

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The Man on the Third Floor

brown1

You can make of this story what you want. You can throw it in the fire and see if I care. All I want to do is lay down the things the way they happened, and then you can make up your own minds. I guess with stuff of this nature, maybe your mind is already made up anyway. Still I reckon you might like to read it all just the same.

Where to start?

Oh yeah – up near the old sports’ track there used to be a collection of buildings. All had about fifteen floors and all of them falling apart.

The kids who lived there were never allowed to play on the sports field, and so they would make do with a little square in the middle of the buildings.

It was here that most of the kids from the area grew up: where they made friends, where they learned the rules of all sorts of things, including life. But one aspect in particular was always a little on the strange side. If anyone was playing a team sport, say football and a disagreement arose, then the kids would say ‘ask the man on the third floor’. They said he was a lonely old guy, who had been damaged by the war, and who spent his days watching the kids from his apartment all the way up there.

“What cha say old man, was that a penalty or not?” And after a few moments someone, usually one of the kids, would shout ‘thanks’, and they would get on with the game.

I tell you this because I used to play in that square. Started around the time I was ten or so. One real hot day we were playing football and Mitch fouled young George in a real bad way.

George looked up at the third floor and asked what the old man thought. Apparently it was a foul against Mitch – I say apparently, ‘cause all the kids who I was playing with, seemed to hear him, but I got to be honest, I heard nothing.  Things like that happened all summer – the man on the third floor would make a judgement call and everyone went along with it. I just wish I could hear what he had said – just once.

The real serious thing that happened, came about in a strange way. We’d stopped for a break as we had all worked up a big thirst. That was when Mitch shouted to the man that he needed his help. I asked him what help but he told me to stay out of it. Apparently Mitch had found young George, well how can I put this? Lying down with Mitch’s sister in a sexual way and Mitch wasn’t too pleased. See, since his granddaddy had passed, Mitch was the man of the house and he wasn’t going to let something like that happen under his roof.

“What should I do about young George, here?” Mitch shouted to the man in the apartment on the third floor.
“What’s that you say? Are you sure? Okay, if that’s what you say.”
And with that Mitch drew out a knife and stabbed young George right in the heart. I mean one minute young George was having his young face warmed by the sun and the next, he was as cold as an arctic summer.

Everyone seemed to think the judgement was fair since it had come from the man on the third floor and so the rest of the guys prepared to move young George’s body out of the square.
Someone shouted up about where they should move the body and apparently they received an answer, ‘cause a couple of them shouted ‘thanks’ to the man and nodded their heads.

The whole gang helped lift away George’s body and when they asked me, I said I had to get home as my Mama was waiting. My friends accepted this and they all moved off lifting the body with them.
When it got quiet, I decided that I had to do it and go and visit the man on the third floor.

The stairs up were dark, I mean real devil dark. I got to say I wasn’t looking forward to all this. Some of the guys said, no one goes near the third floor, ‘cause anyone who does never comes back. I was willing to take that risk.When I got to the door, I knocked – but there was no answer. Then I noticed the door could open.
“Hello,” I shouted as I pushed the door.
And do you know what I found in the apartment?
Nothing, that’s what I found. The place didn’t look as if it had been lived in for years. So who were the kids getting their instructions from?

Beats me.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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The Promise

promise

When you fall, I will catch you,
When you call, I will be there,
When you stumble, I will lift you,
When you’re drowning, give you air,
When you hurt then I will hold you,
When you break, I’ll make you whole,
When you’re down, I’ll make you smile,
When you’re lost I’ll be your goal,
When you’re weak, I’ll make the world turn,
When you lose faith, I’ll be strong,
When you doubt, I’ll be your beacon,
I will love you all life long.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Being There

heart

To hold the sky from falling on your head,

To make you safe as you dream in your bed,

To stop the world from breaking your heart,

To help you build the most beautiful start,

These are the things I wanted for you,

But being there,

Just being there –

Is the best love I can do.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Today Is Going To Be A Great Day

great

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

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Man Who Mended Broken Hearts

a_lonely_road_by_alicexz-d5kgegf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Photograph: A Lonely Road  alicexz.deviantart.com

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A Brilliant Life

awesome

(I am happy to inform you that your piece,
‘A Brilliant Life’, has been selected for a
community reading group project at the University of
Northampton. ‘A Brilliant Life’ will not be sold and
will be used for educational purposes only, but — as you
hold the copyright to your stories — it is up to you to
give permission for its use. If you have any issues with
your work being used by the University of Northampton)

 

Martin was a man.

That was the best and the worst of it. He lived in room that served as his bedroom and sometimes as his kitchen. He had no friends to speak of but then he had no enemies either.

His parents, Fred and Annie had high hopes for their boy. They had fought so hard to have a child that when Martin finally did arrive, he was their moon and stars and sun.

He had a good heart and some might say he had the best of hearts.

He tried to be strong for himself and his family and he made sure he smiled every day but he did find, as we all do, that there are people in this world who won’t let a soul breathe. He didn’t judge them too harshly as they had their own reasons. He would simply let the world get him down for a while, pull the covers over his head then after a sleep he’d feel better once again.

Martin had his dreams of course. He’d wanted to be a professional footballer then he’d wanted to be a famous actor and other times he’d wanted to sing in front of a million people. After his mother’s death he’d wished he’d been the person who had found the cure for cancer.

Martin never became any of those things, not because he lacked talent but because he felt there were better people than him. Those who knew how good they were, those were the ones that deserved success.

He dreamed of love and being loved but it never came to be or at least he may have had his eyes closed as it was passing. He watched his school friends grow and marry and have children and he wished them well and just sometimes as he sat in the park and saw the parents and their children play, he wished that he was them.

Now don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t jealous, not for a second because the world shared out its good and bad and with his parents Martin had the best of all worlds.

Sometimes he wished that he’d had a brother or sister, just someone to visit at Christmas. To have nieces or nephews that he could buy presents and birthday gifts.

Martin saw every single day as a bonus. He wasn’t lonely and he wasn’t a loner, he just felt people had better things to do with their time than talk to him.

But he watched the world and he saw the people and their troubles and without letting anyone know he would try to help.

When he had a little drop of extra coins in his life, he would put the money in an envelope and leave it on the step of some deserving door; the lady whose husband who’d left her alone, the child who needed an operation, the man who just wanted a day away from the house.

Martin wasn’t a saint, not by any stretch of the imagination. Martin had hurt people and he’d wasted opportunities and most importantly he’d wasted time.

Because we all have our own ideas of what sin is, but to Martin wasting time was up there with the big ones.

He sent Christmas and Valentine cards to the lonely souls in the street. He sent postcards to the old lady who, like him, had no family. She probably didn’t know who or where it came from but the important thing was that someone had written to her.

You see none of what he did was ever big but it mattered to the people he helped.

This world is awash with lonely souls and to someone like Martin who could appreciate that point, he felt it was his place to do something about it.

Martin’s gone now and I’m not sure if he moved or just closed his eyes for the last time.

No one really noticed that there was no longer a light on in Martin’s house but they did notice there were no longer little gifts on the door step, or that cards were no longer being sent.

Martin had accepted that what he had been given in his life, was his life and he had used it all in the best way he could.

He sometimes smiled, he sometimes cried and he nearly always laughed.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Stones in a Snowball

thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 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

 

 

Weird Town

weird

One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well I’ll be..” said Tommy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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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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Thing and His Friend

thing

Thing had never known a time like it, at least not since he had been on his own. The Spring had slipped into Summer and now the leaves were falling all around the front of the cave. Some of the folks from the town had stopped by on their way to the top of the mountain, some stayed for just a few minutes, some for a several hours, talking about this and that and smoking pipes and stuff. Some folks just hurried by with a ‘howdee’ on their way through.

So he really wasn’t alone and when his mother returned life would go back to the good times. And yet this was the second winter coming that Things was without her and he couldn’t stop hoping she’d be back.

It was on Sunday in early December that one of the walkers mentioned to Thing that there was another like Thing in town. Perhaps his mother was returning just in time for Christmas? He’d have to get the cave real sharp, ‘cause his mother always believed in cleaning and keeping things straight. “There’s a place for everything,” she would tell him.

He quickly cleaned and polished until there wasn’t a speck of dust to be seen. He knew his mother would approve and so he felt safe enough to go down the mountain into town and make sure it was she.

Just beyond the Library was a crowd of people, all standing in the way they used to gather around Thing; back in the days when they were scared of him, that is. But times had changed and people just let him go about his business. So maybe they were welcoming his mother, Thing did something he didn’t usually do, he broke into a run. He could see her head and her arms – people must be welcoming her home.

But it wasn’t his mother, sure it was another like him, but it wasn’t his mother. This was one of his own kind who was being welcomed into town, mainly due to all the hard work and kindness that Thing had shown to the town’s folk.

Maybe this one knew where his mother was – maybe this one had met her on the way here. But the one who looked like Thing didn’t know anything about his mother. Thing just turned away for a spell and sighed and then spun around, smiled and welcomed his new friend into the town.

Thing said there was always a warm corner in his cave for a friend, at least until his family got back. But his new friend said he felt right at home in town and was probably going to stay there.

Sure enough one of the farmers took the other Thing in and let him stay in his barn. Thing was confused, ‘cause surely Things should stick together, since they both knew how the other thought about people and life.

This got Thing down and he went to the back of the cave to sit and talk to his mother, hoping wherever she was, that she could hear him. He said that life had been good for a while but he would have liked to be friends with the one who looked like Thing.

Suddenly a little wind blew in the cave and there was the one who looked like Thing standing at the entrance.

His friend could see that something was bothering Thing and so he asked him what was wrong. Thing told him that he had hoped they would be pals  and that he’d stay in the cave, at least until his mother came back.

“You have to live out there,” he said pointing to the world. “That is why we are all here,” said his friend.

And Thing told him of the hurt that he faced when he was out there.

“Sure there are those, the unhappy ones, who are jealous of other’s happiness and maybe from time to time they can hurt you more than you would like. But that is the price of living. That is what makes life worth living. There are good people out there too; I have chosen to live in town even though there may be enemies there, where there are enemies, there are also friends. If you stay in the cave you will never find out.”

And so his friend told him that there were probably souls out there who felt touched by Thing, who wanted to talk to him, to get to know Thing.

“But if you stay up here, you will only know loneliness,” his friend told him. “You can not say who you have inspired or helped just by being you, by persevering. But if you lock yourself away and say you have helped no one, then you are just a sad as those who try to hurt. The universe made you, Thing to live, not to exist in darkness. No one can protect you from all the hurt but that is the price, for in all that madness you will find love in the most unlikely places. And if your mother does not come back then that was her destiny, just as yours is to be happy.”

The two of them sat and talked for the rest of the night and then Thing fell asleep much happier than he had been for the longest time.

When he awoke in the morning he found that his friend had gone and so he looked for him but he was nowhere to be seen. The farmer told Thing that his friend had departed at first light. Then the farmer said that he had left Thing a present.

“I was to tell you it was it was a likeness of the one person who could make you happy,” said the farmer.

When Thing opened the present he looked into the mirror and saw himself.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2  wee bobby

 

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One More Day

RollingSun

“I know all of this is crazy

Every last crazy second of it

And I know that there have been bad times

And good times, and times that it hurts so bad that

You feel as if your heart has stopped.

But there has been laughter too, and friendship

And all the silent victories.

And love, most importantly, love.

No matter what form it has taken.

So yeh, I know it’s crazy,

What with all of this going on

And no reason for any of it,

Yet I’m going give it a try for another day

Just to see what happens.”

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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The Man Who Smiled At Stars

looking_at_the_stars-1482634

To all those who look at the night sky and smile.

Where we lived doesn’t really matter much, ‘cept to say that you could spit into another State from our porch. That was where my granddaddy sat thinking most days and most nights. He just cogitated – “yep, I’m sitting here just running things about my great big head,” was how he’d usually greet me. And to be real honest, it was a big, big head, man it was huge. It needed to be, considering how much it had to hold – what with all the things my granddaddy had done and all.

He’d been in two wars, although I can’t quite rightly say which two. He’d been a pilot and an engineer, and had even won a medal for swimming for his country: you can tell, can’t you, that he was my hero?

The day I want to write about was the day that my granddaddy put everything right in my head. Up until then I used to think the craziest things about everything, especially myself.

I used to think that I wasn’t worth nothing. I guess that was ‘cause folks kept telling me that, and I suppose after a time you start believing it. I reckon that is one of the worst crimes a man can commit – to take away a man or woman’s belief in themselves. That way they’ve robbed you of the most precious thing you’ve got – you. Now I ain’t the only one that’s suffered that way, no sir, the world is full of thieves that make you believe that you ain’t worth nothing – just ‘cause they are the unhappiest souls this side of the sun – they spread it like a virus making sure every other soul joins in.

Some people take years to put themselves back together again – and all those years are lost to them, to their families, to their friends, to themselves. Ain’t nothing ever going change human nature, but then again, none of us designed the universe that way. It’s just some of us luxuriate a little more in the darkness, than some other folks; if you hear what I’m saying.

Anyway, I’m deviating again from what I was wanting to tell you. One day when the world was young (at least to me) we got this new teacher in school. She was tall and pretty and had a way about her that had never seen in anyone else. When she looked into your eyes you believed every word she told, I mean it, every word.

One real warm afternoon she took out this big blue ball which turned out to be the Earth and she said that was our home, all out homes but (and then she paused so long that Becky Stanshaw started to cough) – then she told us that wasn’t where we came from at all. Well I nearly fell off my seat, what kind of craziness was she talking about? And apparently it was this – we weren’t just made up of stuff from Earth, no sir, we were also made of stuff that came from dying stars – way, way out there. Well, I’ll be, I thought, well I’ll be.

Now that day I ran home as fast as I could and as fast as Mr Clarity’s dog would let me, ‘cause it was always biting on my trousers and trying to stop me running. I swear one day I would just take my britches off and keep on running. So I got home just in time to see my granddaddy lighting up another cigarette and ready start another hour of cogitating.

He asked me what my hurry was, and I told him all about us, and the stars, and about how most of the bits we were made of came from out there in space, and he just nodded and smiled and sucked on his cigarette and bid me a good day.

Now I got to jump this story to a long time later, a way long time later when I had grown some, and I was sure of what I wanted to do in my life. The problem was, it wasn’t what my family wanted me to do. You see my family came from soldiers, ones that had fought in the days of the war of Independence, and in every skirmish and war since then. My granddaddy was a soldier, as was my father and my brother Brett, who had recently joined up. It was assumed that I would join up too – but I have to tell you here and now that was not in my particular way of thinking.

Now here I’ve got to jump way back again – to the first time one came to town (a circus that is). When I went to my first circus, well I was hooked from the very first second until the last and I realized then and there, that all I wanted from life was to be a clown.

That don’t go down too well in a military family – let me tell you – they all looked at me (except granddaddy) as if I was the worst kind of son and brother who had ever lived.

Well we fought and fought. I was not going to shame the family by being a clown, they said – I was a freak, they said – people would laugh at me, they said (I actually thought that was the idea, but didn’t dare say).

It got so bad I thought of leaving home, and one night I just sat on the porch steps and cried. I mean I was old enough to join the army but I still blubbered.  That was when my granddaddy came out and sat with me. We just looked up at the night sky and the stars and he said:
“Remember kid, when you came running home from school all those years ago and told me about how we were all made out there?”
I nodded.
“Well maybe that’s all that’s wrong here. You see over there? To the right?”

And I said I did, and granddaddy said, “Well what if those in the family – who wanted to be soldiers – came from those stars and maybe you – who wants to entertain folks – came from one over there on the left. See what I’m saying? If we are all made up of different stars then how can we all be expected to be the same?”
And I said that I agreed with him, and that he had to be correct and he said he was.

Then he said one other thing that I will carry with me in heart wherever I go.
He said, that if all those stars out there were where me and him and all my folks came from, then how could any one of us be really lonely? ‘Cause when we looked out there, it wasn’t a sky full of stars we saw, it was a picture of our ancestors; our family; our beginnings.

And do you know something? He was totally and completely right.
So next time you’re looking up, say ‘hi’ and smile.

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Thing and the Star Whisperers

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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.
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The Book Keeper

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It had been his job as long as anyone could remember. He was the Book Keeper and he enjoyed all that the job entailed. Sure he never slept, but wasn’t his life the greatest gift a soul could be given?

He couldn’t remember being taught his craft, and yet he had always known what to do, when to do it and how to do it. ‘Funny that’, he had thought to himself, many times, when he had a spare second.

He was the Book Keeper and as the book-keeper, he kept books. Seemed simple – but yet it wasn’t.

He had to ensure that every book was carefully placed in its correct shelf. That every page was exactly as was required and that all the information was up to date.

His main problem was not to lose pages when he moved the books closer to their correct areas in the library. A page lost could mean the difference between life and death, and the losing of one page tended to mean that many more would follow. The bindings would decay and more pages would be lost.

For Book Keeper, the job should really have read, Soul Keeper. For each book was the representation of a soul currently living.

Therefore, when a page was lost, that individual forgot some information, or some memory was wiped. As the books got older more and more pages would slip away. There was no point in the Book Keeper looking for the lost pages, they all lay at the bottom of the library and he could never know into which books they should be placed.

As some souls grew closer together, the Book Keeper would move those particular books, closer and closer. It was the souls themselves that decided on their fate, the Book Keeper only moved the books to reflect the current state of play. As the individuals grew further apart, so he would move them to different parts of the library.

When a book reflected a soul who had led a good life, and that soul had reached its return date, the book would be placed in the archives. If the book was corrupted and stained by a life badly lived, then the books were thrown into the fire at the rear of the library. Nowadays the Book Keeper had noted that there was more book burning than archiving, but then all life went through cycles. There was nothing new in that.

If the Book Keeper had a sadness, it was this, he would have loved to have told the owners of the books, how fragile their books really were. How quickly some books fell apart, and how, on the odd occasion, a book would tumble from the shelf and be lost forever.

If they could only see what he could see. How a book owner should make the most of the pages they had; a book was only in the library one time, and one time only. If life was a perfect structure, there would be no separate areas of the library, or different levels of shelfs, but then, the Book Keeper only looked after the books. He hadn’t built the library or devised its rules.

That had all existed long before he had arrived.

 

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THING and the Lesson

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Ever since Thing had been left to fend for himself, he had grown a little harder to life. I suppose that life is a matter of holding on to your innocence until gravity eventually catches up with you and then, it’s all a matter of how you deal with that.

From the outside, Thing was still the same beautiful soul that he had always been. The change was in the little things – like in his singing. Once, he would burst forth with a song to make himself happy and without him realising it, he also made those within earshot smile, too. But there had been too many times when there was laughter and sniggering at this singing by those at school, and so he became a little more self-conscious about his tunefulness.

Gravity hits us all in the end and hopefully most of us have someone there to help us through it all. The problem with Thing was that since his mother had gone off to a place that Thing was sure she would return from, he had to deal with all the harder problems of life himself.  And that can be a dangerous way to live.

Rules that are made to keep you safe, can inevitably keep people out.

He remembered what Grandfather Thing had told him “A heart builds walls to protect a heart, but in the end you build a jail for yourself, and in building that jail all the bad stuff is trapped inside with you”.

One day Thing went to school, as he always did, but lately he had started to stop singing when he got to the bottom of the mountain, so as not to attract attention. He would walk very quietly to the school doors and sit at the side of the classroom – in order that he would neither upset nor disturb anyone.

But there are two things wrong with that thinking (as his mother would have told him had she been there). The first is that there are some people in this world who are so unhappy within themselves, that they hurt people who are making a noise, just as easily as they hurt those who are quiet.

It is as if they were saying: ‘I am unhappy then I want you to be unhappy too’. The other point was that if Thing had bothered to talk to the children in the classroom, he would have found that there were people who wanted to talk to him too. One girl thought Thing was the coolest kid in class but as he’d never got around to speaking to her, he hadn’t found that out. Another kid at the front of the class wanted to know what kind of stuff he did for hobbies but was too shy to talk to Thing.

You see Thing keeping quiet – (and instead of him thinking that it meant ‘I don’t want to upset any of you’)  – ended up being seen as ‘Thing didn’t want to mix with any of us because he thinks he’s too good for us’.

In this life, you can’t second-guess anyone’s thoughts, and you can’t walk about protecting yourself from Gravity – because as sure as there is a sun in the sky, one day Gravity is gonna hunt you down and get you. And that’s when you want as many hearts on your side as possible. So Thing was making his life a little harder than it needed to be, by keeping himself to himself.

Yet sooner rather than later, Thing would find out that by breaking down the walls and being yourself would upset some people (because some people are walking different paths, that’s all) but the rest, the ones who saw the beauty in who you were, well, these were the ones worth holding on to.

And on that sunny day when Thing worked all this out in his heart and his head, was the day he started to sing again and not worry who could hear: because being yourself catches the hearts that matter.

He knew that when his mother returned, she would be proud of all these thoughts and the lessons he had learned.

Thing was growing up and he liked the feeling.

 

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Secret Things, Sweet Things

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Secret Things

She awoke, as she did every morning to the sound of the muffled, shouting voice and the door being unlocked before repeatedly kicked. Slivers of sunlight were all that her young eyes could understand until she reached for the old spectacles that were her only possession.

She was in the garden shed as this was where she lived.

There was another kick, usually when her father had just finished his roll-up cigarette.

She reached up to remove the old stinking blanket that covered the window. The morning light did what it usually did – the shock of it always burned her eyes at first. Sometimes the blanket was just her window curtain, but on frosty, snowy night it was a life saver. It just meant that she would awaken with her father’s face looking through the window – her privacy gone.

In the kitchen, her father and grandmother danced around each other; the dance of the bully and the gentle old lady. When the old woman’s daughter had disappeared, she had decided to wait on her return. As the months became years, she still had hope burning in her heart. The bully knew better, he didn’t expect his wife to come back.

The grandmother was limited in what she could do to keep her granddaughter safe and leaving was not an option. They had tried that and he had tracked both of them down, and both had been badly beaten.

He took them to the hospital afterwards and told the doctor that they had been attacked by a burglar. The doctor knew from the bully’s eyes what the truth was.

If it was a particularly cold night, the grandmother would take the young girl into her room for a few warm hours. By the morning, she had to be returned to the shed; the young girl’s sin was reminding the bully of her mother.

Each morning the little lost girl in her dishevelled clothes would leave her shed and look through the kitchen window. When her father was reading the newspaper, her grandmother would signal that she could enter and come to the table.

The young girl would sit very still with her arms by her side and wait to be told when to move.

Her grandmother would place toast beside the girl and then ruffle her hair. The little lost girl would eat the dry toast washed down with a glass of milk, but on this morning as the little girl reached for the milk, she knocked it over.

The quiet old lady and the little lost girl watched as the milk ran towards, then under, her father’s newspaper. The bully jumped, screwed up the wet newspaper, threw it at the little girl, knocking her off her stool. Before she left for school, her grandmother stuck a plaster on the cut on her forehead. The bully was long gone and so she kissed her granddaughter and ruffled her hair then gave her a few coins to spend.

On the bus she sat alone drawing pictures in the window condensation.

As three older girls passed her, they laughed, held their noses and then spat on the little girl. A kindly woman took out a paper handkerchief and handed it to the little lost one. The little girl wiped the spit away, then put the paper hanky in her pocket. In the class, she sat as she did at the breakfast table with her arms by her side. She sat alone.

The teacher handed out exam results to each pupil and behind the little girl, a classmate held her nose letting everyone know of the smell. The class laughed until the teacher told them to be quiet.

The teacher placed the young girl’s result on her desk: 10 out of 10 – ‘excellent’. The girl behind her stole the paper and threw it around the class. One boy ripped the paper into pieces. When the class emptied, the little girl put the pieces of her exam result in her pocket.

At lunchtime, the young girl walked to the cafe and bought chips with the money her grandmother had given her. The woman in the cafe smiled as the little girl smiled back.

Hungrily the girl walked and ate her chips before bumping into someone. It was one of the older girls who stole the little girl’s food and threw it to her friends. One tipped the chips on to the street then they all walked away laughing. The little girl picked up her chip paper and put it in her pocket.

Later that day, the little girl sat in the kitchen at the table with her grandmother. She drew a beautiful picture with her crayons. Then a door slammed and the grandmother motioned her granddaughter to go out the kitchen door – quickly.

In the shed the young girl hung the blanket over her window once more, just as her father put a lock on the shed door. He made sure it was locked solid. Under her bedding was a torch which the young girl switched on. She then took out the all the papers and hankies from her pocket and the plaster from her forehead. With a little pot of glue, all these things were stuck to a larger object.

The object was made up of bits of this and that. The little lost girl had built something out of all the badness that had come her way. As she shone the torch up towards the object, she smiled at what she has made.

She had built an angel which reached to the roof and watched over her.

 

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Sweet Things

She eventually found her mother.

Perhaps it was more correct to say that her mother had found her, having traced her daughter through a friend. The mother had been in contact just before the girl’s 21st birthday.

It had been a dark time when the girl had returned for her grandmother’s funeral. Her father had spoken to her that day, perhaps for the first time in years. He had screamed at her from time to time but on this sad day, as her grandmother’s coffin was placed in the ground, he whispered “She’s joined your mother”. She was seventeen by then and she didn’t want to believe him. She didn’t believe him.

Her father had shrunk since last she’d seen him and the drinking had taken its toll; he was barely forty and comfortably wore the body of an older man.

It had only been three years since the girl had gone to school and simply never returned home. She had taken the first bus that was leaving town and had paid for it with her grandmother’s lunch money. She’d been skipping meals to save up – what was the point anyway? There was always going to be someone to take the food away from her. Only when the bus was on the road and the town was just a distant church spire – did she begin to relax. She dumped her school clothes in a bin at the first comfort stop then dressed into a sweater and jeans.

Her grandmother had given her an address in the city, “just in case” she said. “In case I go, sooner rather than later.”  The address was meant for an emergency and this is exactly what this was. She felt sorry that she had abandoned her grandmother to that madman but she could take it no longer. She had given them all a thousand chances: the school, the teachers, her classmates, even her grandmother, to change things and no one had.

Then one morning when she awoke in the shed for the hundredth time, the angel gave her a look as if to say, ‘it’s up to you, no one else is coming to help’.

The address had taken her to a Mrs Beverly Smith of Harrow, London – a kindly woman who had once been a beauty and had once been her grandmother’s bridesmaid.

“Just call me Bev, love, everyone does.”

She lived on her own with a cat called Lennon. Her husband, Stanley, had ‘been taken’ five years before.

“I’ve got me son, ‘Arry, he’s a doctor in Aberdeen. Works for one of them oil companies. I’ve got two grandchildren, Sarah and Stanley. That’s enough for me, thank you for asking.”

Bev let the girl stay in Harry’s room, “Don’t suppose he’ll be wanting it anytime soon.”

Bev knew a woman who knew the manager of the local supermarket and got the girl a job on a Saturday. She proved such a dependable hard worker that after a month, she was taken on full-time.

“If you don’t mind me saying. I’ve seen them drawings you do, love. You’re too good just to doodle. I reckon you could be an artist.” Bev also knew a woman who knew a man that ran an art course at the local college in the evenings. Bev managed to get the girl on a course that ran over the winter.

By December, the girl’s art teacher was recommending that the girl go to Art School – “You are that good.” At weekends when she wasn’t working at the store, she was working on her portfolio. She painted Lennon as a thank you for Bev and it hung on the wall next to a photo of Stanley, her husband.

The following September, the girl was accepted into Central Saint Martin’s College of Arts and Design. This wasn’t just any art school, this was the best. When the girl had worked in the supermarket she had kept her own company, always expecting someone to take everything away from her.

At college she was spotted by a young girl called Leonetta, who befriended her.

“Just call me Leon.”

Leon was studying fashion and was in her second year. Her boyfriend was a footballer and insisted that Leon watch him every Saturday – so she took the girl along as company. One Saturday evening after football, Leon and her boyfriend came to Bev’s for something to eat. The girl had never had friends home before for something as glamorous as a meal.

The girl met a boy at one of the football matches. Eddie was his name, he was an electrician.

“You hold on to that one” said Bev, “Electricians are never out of work.”

And she did hold on to that one. She didn’t tell him of her past life, something like that would keep for another day. But one day when they were walking along the High Street, she laughed out loud and then she realised that she was laughing for the very first time in her short life.

Eddy made her eyes smile.In her final year at art school, Eddie asked her to marry him and she accepted.

A week before the art show, she went back to Bev’s for a change of clothes as all the students had been working day and night and basically sleeping at the college. When she walked into the front room, Bev was sitting with a woman.

“She’s your Mum.”

Bev left the two of them to talk.

“I was younger than you when I left.  I couldn’t cope. He wasn’t a bad man, not at first. He just used to come home drunk and lock me in the shed out back. You know the one?”

The girl nodded that she did.

There were several roads that the girl could have taken that day but the one she took was to place her arms around her mother and they both wept.

She invited her Mum, along with Leon and her boyfriend,Eddie to the graduation show but pride of place was kept for Bev, her other mum.

Along with the girl’s drawings of Bev, Lennon and Bev’s family was a statue she had made from glued paper.

It was a tall smiling angel and underneath it were the words:

“Everything is going to be alright.”

 

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Stones Under The Snow

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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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Yellow Balloon

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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 2016

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Zoot and Sandy and the Birds

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As always, Sandy the elephant and Zoot the dog were the best of pals in the whole wide world and were sitting by the river.

“Them things in the sky,” said Zoot.

“The birds?” Asked Sandy.

“Yup, the birds, do you think they are happy?”

“I guess so,” said Sandy. “Why wouldn’t they be?”

“I wish I could fly,” said Zoot.

Sandy smiled to himself about flying dogs and then remembered that story about flying elephants.

“Why would you want to do a thing like that – flying , it’s dangerous,” said Sandy.

“Not for the birds, it isn’t.”

“Yeh, but they don’t know any better. Flying is all they know.” Sandy was getting worried about Zoot.

“What’s up, Zoot?”

“I’m fed up being a dog, I want to be able to fly.”

“Don’t you think, that one of those birds is looking down at us and saying, I wish I was an elephant or a dog, so that I can stay on the ground – I’m tired of always flying?”

“Nope.”

“I can bet you they do. It’s they way we are all made. Wishing to be something or someone else.”

“I do it all the time,” said Zoot. “I’m always wishing I wasn’t a dog.”

“That’s because being a dog is easy for you, you were born a dog, and despite what you wish for, you’ll probably die a dog. Unless you’ve got a hankering to tie a pair of wings on your back; it’s because you’re a dog, you don’t see how special that is.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” said a confused Zoot.

“We’re all made to be something that’s different from everything else. No matter what you say, Zoot, you’re unique.”

“I am?”

“Of course you are, and more importantly you’re my pal. Do you think I would be friends with just anyone?”

“I guess not,” said Zoot, who was a little more pleased.

“Some are made to fly, some are born to dance, some to sing, some to stand and see the stars. All of us, and I mean all of us, are different from the next thing. Even the leaves on the trees are all different.”

“So what are you saying, Sandy?” Asked Zoot.

“That you were born to be a dog, Zoot, my friend. And even if there is a dog kinda like you in the future, he won’t have been born in this time, knowing me, doing the things we do.”

“Like sitting by the river and talking?”

“Exactly. Too many people…”

“And animals,” added Zoot.

“And animals are unhappy with what they’ve got. But if they could only see that what they’ve got is a miracle then they’d stop wishing to be something else. You are what the universe made you. If you spend your days wishing it away, then you’ve turned your back on the universe. Why would anything want to do that?”

“So I should stop wishing I wasn’t a dog and just be happy.”

“You got it.”

“What about being a rich dog then?” Asked Zoot.

Sandy just looked at his buddy and smiled. That’s why he loved Zoot so much.

 

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Young Jed’s Story

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Young Jed’s father, Old Jed, had been the best darn garage man in this part of the county. It wasn’t just him who said it, everyone did. Old Jed had dedicated his life to the good folks of Cesarwood and their little automobiles – which was a good thing, considering the horseless carriage didn’t make it into Old Jed’s life until he was in his early twenties. Yet the boy and latterly the man, had been born to fix such things. He had engine oil instead of blood running around those veins.

Everyone said so.

And I guess Old Jed wouldn’t have been the father to young Jed, if it hadn’t been for the persistence of Myra – the local beauty who would walk past the garage at every opportunity. If she hadn’t, well young Jed wouldn’t have been born and Old Jed would have died a lonely old man, I reckon.

Jed, old Jed that is, could think of nothing more than a car engine. Even when Myra got a ring on her finger and a child in a crib, it was always the automobiles which were uppermost in his mind. When young Jed had grown some, Myra thought it best to take her son down to the garage to learn some of his pa’s wisdom, otherwise they were both likely never to see the man.

And young Jed, although not as good as his father, was certainly competent at fixing things. And that is how things kinda progressed for the next few years.

Then Old Jed went to the great garage in the sky and the business was turned over to his son. Myra went into a long decline of mourning and never really set foot in the garage again.

At first, young Jed kept the momentum of the garage going, and it didn’t seem that hard, but what he had forgotten was that folks get old and no longer drive. His father, as well as fixing the autos, was always out looking for new, young customers.

So within a relatively short time, Jed’s work began to dry up and he was struggling to keep himself in new shoes.
What happened next is probably a mystery to Jed as it is to anyone else. Young Jed saw the Judge’s car parked outside a café on the west of town. Jed loved the big automobiles that the Judge drove and so went over to have a closer look. It was then that Jed happened to notice that a little bit of rod was coming loose. Jed looked around and so help me, he loosened the rod a little more.

Jed sat over by the library and watched as the Judge started up the car and got no further than a drunk man’s crawl up the street, before the automobile came to a crashing halt. There was smoke and there was a burning smell as Jed drove over to where the Judge was cussing.

“Can I be of help?” asked young Jed.
“Well, I’ll be, young Jed, just the man I need righty here, this goddamn minute,” said the Judge – cussing as he usually did.

And so Jed went around the car, taking in deep breaths and shaking his head as if it was going to cost a pretty penny to fix (which it did). But the Judge could afford the cost on account of being the richest man this side of the Mississippi.
And that was what started young Jed on a life of what some might call crime. He would go out at night and loosen a nut here or a bolt there. He’d keep records so as not to pick on any particular car too often.

“Ain’t it strange,” said Mister Holly, “that my car seems to break down every 12 weeks, without fail, if you know what I’m saying.”

And young Jed did know what he as saying – very much indeed.

I’ve got to be honest and tell you that they never caught young Jed – but Karma threw its hand into the ring. When young Jed died, the undertaker’s hearse was one that Jed had only just loosened a screw on. So instead of taking Blind Man’s corner up on the turnpike, the wheel came off the hearse making it turn over and Jed’s coffin went shooting out and off into the Mississippi.

They never did find young Jed and folks in town found that their automobiles didn’t break down so often.

Strange that.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Me and Buzz and Soccer

Dick-Van-Dyke-Mary-Poppins

One of the other times that Buzz had a mid-life crisis was that summer when his first hair grew out of his chin. You would have thought that he was Fu Man Choo or somethin’. He’s tellin’ me he ain’t decided if he’s gonna let it grow into a full beard, or trim it using his Paw’s old razor. The one his Paw left him before he ran away with the dancer.

“Now that I’m grown and a man,” that’s what he said to me, with a straight face – a face with one hair growin’ out of it.

“Now that I’m a man, I’m gonna look after my Maw. Keep her good, in her old age.”

Well you know me and peeing myself, I had to run behind a bush before I wet ma pants good. What he was tellin’ me, was that he was ready for a career as a matinée idol – that’s his very words and I’m not sure if Buzz knew what they meant.

So the time had come that he’d have to look after his face on account it was gonna be his main source of income. He said he wasn’t sure if it was fair to let a face like that be blown up big in a movie theater ‘cause everyone would pass out.

Of course when he’s tellin’ me this I’m still behind the bush just in case I need to go again, real fast.

That was why Buzz had a mid-life crisis over the weekend and decided he was too old and too pretty to play football at school and that was when Mr Fairbanks suggested he should join the school soccer team, instead.

“It’ll save your good-lookin’ face, Buzz,” said Mr Fairbanks, who then nudged another teacher and they both walked off as if they were gonna pee themselves too.

Of course just playin’ soccer wasn’t good enough for Buzz, he had to be a ‘strike……er’ – now, the reason I’ve said it that way is because that’s the way that Buzz said it. I thought I could hear a funny accent in there but I assumed Buzz was practisin’ for his movies.

I didn’t see Buzz until two days later and by then he was talkin’ real funny like. I’m thinkin’ to myself, I’ve heard this funny talk before and sure enough I remember – right in the middle of the night, I shout out, ‘Mary Poppins’. Buzz sounded like Dick Van Dyke in that movie.

Buzz has decided that if he’s gonna be any good at soccer he had to talk with an English accent. Since Buzz ain’t ever heard one except in movies and stuff, I’ve got to say he wasn’t that good. When our teacher said ‘Good mornin’ class’, instead of sayin’ good morning back, Buzz said, ‘All right, Guv’nor and a fine mornin’ it be’.

I didn’t know whether to just give up and pee myself there and then or run to the restroom.

“Shall I see you, little urchin at dinner time as I’m looking forward to me pie and chips, guv’nor.” That’s what he said to me with his one hair chinned face.

“I’m playin’ me soccer game this afternoon, me old mate. Will you be comin’ to see me?”

They had to take me to the nurse’s room – I kid you not – as I had gone into hysterical collapse, least ways that’s what the doctor said. Apparently I had a real bad shock.Buzz never ever got a game of soccer, they picked Alexander as the striker and she was a girl.

“Stupid game,” said Buzz – all American, like.

 

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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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

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She Carries A ‘Phone

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When she was a child, she carried the ‘phone to let her mother know where she was. ‘Oh mum, I’m fine’

When she was young, she carried the ‘phone in case her friends would call. The long, hot summer days and nights of fun.

When she was older, she carried the ‘phone in case he called and asked her for another evening of laughter and love.

When she was a mother, she carried the ‘phone in case her little ones needed help. ‘You can never be too careful’, she’d tell them.

When she was a little older, she carried the ‘phone in case her grandchildren wanted some time with her.

When she was awake at night, she left the ‘phone by the bed and hoped it never rang.

When she was shopping, the ‘phone she carried called to give her the bad news. Her heart and stomach sank.

Now she is old, she knows that those she loves and misses can never call her, but she carries the ‘phone just in case.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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