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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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 Legend of Little River

road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who is all around?” Asked Amy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How old are you?” Asked Amy.

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m just going to go on looking for my little dog, if you don’t mind,” said Amy.

“Is this him?” Asked Zach.

And sure enough when Amy looked over, there was Zach holding little Hoover.  Amy couldn’t thank Zach enough, except when it came to handing over the dog.

“I wants a kiss,” said Zach.

Amy shuddered at the thought, but decided it was a fair reward for getting the dog back.

When she’d kissed Zach, she wiped her lips with the back of her hands. Zach was grinning from ear to ear.

“Now let me grant you a wish,” he said, curiously.

Amy asked him what he meant and Zach told her that she could wish for anything in the world. She thought about this and that and then the idea sparked.

“I wish that my mother was the happiest person in the world.”

“Sure?”

“Sure,” said Amy.

“Then it’s done.”

Amy turned to shield her eyes from the sun and when she looked again, Zach had gone.

Amy held tightly onto little Hoover as she made her way back to the road. It was what she saw when she got there that she gave her the biggest of surprises. Her father was kissing a younger woman, who was most definitely not her mother.

Her father looked up and smiled at Amy.

“Hey, great you got the dog.”

Amy looked around. “Where Mom?”

Her father and the younger woman looked at each other and laughed.

“Stop with the joking.”

“I ain’t joking,” said Amy.

“You know your mother and I split up years ago and she went to live with that rich guy in New York.

From what I hear she’s mighty happy.”

I guess you got to be real careful what you wish for.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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My Pal

golf

This isn’t a story.

This is true and it isn’t meant to entertain anyone (perhaps none of them ever do), it’s only meant to put a few things straight in my head.

I had a pal once, a guy who would sometimes annoy and amuse in equal measure – I guess most people have friends like that. This pal had a harder start in life than some. When he was five years old his mother would appear at the school gates drunk and my mate would have to take her home.

All his life, he seemed to be running as fast as he could from that early situation in life. He worked twice as hard to be a better man and in some ways he was.

Him and his wife had a home that I would visit just to talk, or perhaps have a laugh, or maybe to sit and listen to music.

Music was a big thing in my pal’s life – although we didn’t always agree on what was good or bad. We all went to concerts together – some of those were the best ever.

My mate took me to golf days, like The Open, and although I didn’t play the sport, it was exciting to see all these talented folks up close. He did actually try to teach me golf once, but he could see I wasn’t going to be any good – mind you, that doesn’t stop people.

One night my bud was down this way in Kent – he was on a course in town, and we had a drink or two outside the George pub. One thing led to another and we argued – and when I got up in the morning to make him a coffee, he’d gone.

I went on my travels, mainly to the USA, and not only did months pass, but years got easily eaten up.

I never got in touch with him again.

From what I heard, my mate was always running from that start in life and had finally run into complicated places and complicated people.

A couple of years back, my pal walked into some woods near his home and didn’t walk back out.

I was watching The Open last week and I just wanted to say to my pal, wherever you are – I remember.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

The Thursday Angel

angel

She had been born on Christmas Day.

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

And she was.

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

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

She preferred to give happiness than to receive it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love you,” said, her mother.

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

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

They buried her mother on a Thursday.

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

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

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

And she did help him, as he helped her.

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

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

bobby stevenson 2017

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

 

A House

house2

I hear tell that the house is still there, still standing like. Leastways I heard that was the truth of it a few years ago from a sickly ginger-headed woman who had been passing the little cove. Said it was “the sweetest little shack she ever did see, and she didn’t mind who knew it”.

I still miss the place, the way I miss cigarettes. I forget for a time and then wish I was right back there, feeling good, feeling human again they way I used to feel.

The days when you are a teenager and the hormones are fighting and kicking their way around your body and for the first time (and perhaps the only time) you feel alive – I mean really alive. Music blows your brains out, the thought of nakedness makes your tongue run drier than a desert and you stutter and fret over the smallest of things. Then some days you feel as if you are standing taller than a mountain, I kid you not and you feel you could take on the world. Then someone sounds a whistle and your hormones go touring around your blood stream again and you are lost, good and simple. Tempers and anger and you don’t have the slightest clue why – just that it’s good to shout at someone, anyone.

Those were the years when I knew that house. The lost years, the days of wine and roses when Ma painted flowers and Pa would go missing for weeks at a time.

Crazed Boy was one of my friends, heck who am I kidding? He was my only friend, still is – in that I carry the stone he gave me just before he went to ‘Nam and never came back. He turned me on to dirty music, black music my Gran called it, but we never listened to the elders – we just rocked and rolled until the sun came down and even then we’d light a fire on the beach and keep going sometimes until the morning.

When I think of that house, when I think of those years, I can still smell the ozone that drifted in off the sea and somehow kept me company. Everything smelled of the sea and you only really noticed that fact when you drifted into town and things started to smell of smoke.

Those were the electric years, the times when I felt that I had a million volts wired to my spine and I tell you what – I would give anything to feel that way again.

No one lived in the place for years afterwards. Some say it was haunted but I remember I drifted down that way one November, a couple of years later – it was easy to break in – and I saw that some of the Pastor’s blood sparkled on the walls. Even after all that time.

Boy who would have thought that one head full of blood would have made such a mess? He put the gun under his chin and told me and my Ma that he thought God had given up on him and then he splattered his head right across the gramophone and our only two books: one of them ironically being the Bible.

Apparently he was now in a better place, when I asked was that Detroit, my Ma slapped me so hard that my head bounced off the wall and I wasn’t sure if the blood was mine or the Pastor’s. She apologized later but said I had a way of talkin’ that got folks crazy like. I wondered if maybe I had made the Pastor shoot himself in the head.

It wasn’t long after that things started to go wrong with the family. Like we had been cursed by the shooting. My Ma died of a weak heart – so the Doctor said. My father was jailed for robbing a drug store in Woko County. My brother and I were taken into care and then we were split up. I never did see my brother again. I have been told that he made it good in the oil down in Texas. I hope that’s true, I really do. So if you happen to walk down by the cove some empty sunny day, and you see the house, just keeping on walking. It ain’t healthy to stick around.
bobby stevenson 2017

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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

Magic

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“I’ve never met a person who hasn’t done some magic in their life, not one”, said my Aunt Grace, then she would give a chuckle that could light the stairs and the stars. She was the best, I mean, she was the very best.

I did not know that we came from a family of magicians. I think everyone does – you just may not know that you do. Some folks are big and flashy with their magic, and others just do the odd trick here and there and never wait for a thank you.

One morning I asked my Aunt if she’d ever seen me doing magic and she just grinned.

“Listen my little sweet pea, your first trick was being born. Simple as that. The trouble folks went to get you into this world, well, it was a ton of trouble, I’ll tell you”.

To be real honest here, that don’t sound too magical to me but I took her word on it.

“Then one day, your mother was real down, after you being born and all, and you picked that very moment to smile – well, if she didn’t do a little jig around the room. Now you ain’t gonna tell me that ain’t magic?”

Still it didn’t sound as good as pulling a rabbit out of a hat, I can tell you.

Then my Aunt continued, “there was a day when your little friend….what she called?”

“Amy,” I said.

“That’s it, Amy. She had been told her daddy wasn’t coming home and I remember you gave her the biggest hug in the world, and then you offered her all your money in your little bank, so that her father could get home.”

“I did?”

“You sure did. And sometimes you may find that you’re magic just by walking into a room. Maybe someone’s life ain’t working too well, and all it takes is you to enter a room. You might not know it, you might not see it, but you, just being you and being there might be all the magic that someone needs.”

I thought about that and I had to tell my Aunt I hadn’t noticed any of that.

She said that wasn’t the point. My Aunt said that the point was, that the when I forgot about my magic, she would be there to remind me about it. ‘Cause, you see, we all forget about our own magic. So maybe it would be a good thing for me to remind other folks when they forget.

I said that I would, even although I wasn’t too sure what magic was.

My Aunt said I was to give it time and one day I’d notice other people’s magic. She was sure of that point. She really was.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

One Day When You Least Expect It

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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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Strange Freedoms

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bowie

TOMMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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KATIE

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

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

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

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

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

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MARCUS

Five…four…three…two…one…

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

And now he knew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just then the nurse came into Sadie’s room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bobby stevenson 2017

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Just Love

love

It’s a very short life,
And an amazing one,
Full of miracles and caring,
With a universe or two, or maybe more, thrown in,
All decked out with black holes and sunsets,
And yet you chose to spend it hating,
And loathing, and hitting and shouting,
And name calling and abusing.
Whatever this is, it’s a short life,
And in your hating,
You’ve missed the greatest
Experience of your existence,
Don’t hate, just love.

 

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

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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Ronnie (Feb 12th)

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I guess you never really know when your own will start but in hindsight I know his began on February the 11th at 10.23pm.

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Ronnie was 19 and clever. He had worked hard to get to college and study a subject he loved – chemistry. Now I know what some of you may be thinking but that was what set Ronnie’s pulse racing. It was the movement of electrons and the swish of the molecules that set his heart on fire; none of us are the same, we just do what we do.

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The university was one of the old Scottish traditional types situated on a hill and established five hundred long years before. Going here had made his family proud. Not only was their son going to a good university, but he was going to be a chemist.

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Ronnie was one of those lucky ones, always in the top percentile of a class, happy, smiling and always popular. It’s a gift that not many of us taste.

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It was called Higher Ordinary, the class. It was second year for those that had survived the trench warfare of the year before. In their first year lectures were mobbed and seats were filled, five hundred in the morning and another five hundred in the afternoon. This was a long time ago when science was popular and before everyone wanted to be on television. Now in the second year things were quieter and although there were still several hundred students, everyone knew everyone else.

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The week always finished with a Friday afternoon of laboratory work which some found exciting and just as many thought of as a chore. Ronnie loved this class, it meant he was either going home to the South West to see his family, or he was staying at college to enjoy a weekend of work and socialising.

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Although Saint Valentine’s day was on the following Monday, the college were holding a dance in the Men’s union on the night of Saturday the 12th. Ronnie was determined he was going to go to that, it was a party and half the chemistry class would be there.

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The Chemistry mob had their own social club called the Alchemists. It was fun in the later years, but for the new starts with their wide eyes and innocence it was a club to be looked down upon and derided. A behaviour that was perpetuated by those who been spurned in their initial year. They took their revenge from the dizzy heights of second and third years.

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Many of the Alchemist Society were going to the dance and so it seemed stupid for young Ronnie not to go. He wore the only real suit he had, one he would hope to use for interviews when his course was over. He really should have been studying that weekend but he was very clever and fast in the take up and he would get by.He always did.

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Although he was popular, he was always a boy who liked his own independence, so he never arranged to meet anyone there – the chances are, he always did. He would travel to the dances on his own and depending on his luck, he would either walk home alone or with a friend.

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He got ready for the dance early that Saturday night as he’d stayed in the evening before to save money, meaning he could enjoy himself without the usual guilt. It was still light when he headed over by the Cross and into University Avenue and as was always the way of things, he met a couple of the guys from class, me included.

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Eight pm and we entered the bar at the Men’s union. In those days the University had a ‘men only’ bar and a ‘men only’ union. The girls had their own union but apart from certain rooms, theirs tended to be mixed.

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Nine pm and we all headed upstairs to the dance hall (that’s what we called it  back then) and the place was beginning to get busy with the St. Valentine’s crowd.

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Ten pm and Ronnie decided he wanted to get back and do some work, we had a large exam coming up the following Tuesday. We said goodbye and Ronnie walked up over University Avenue.

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As he was crossing the road, he was bumped by a man coming the other way.

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The man had broken into a butcher’s shop a little way up the street and stolen a knife.

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He stabbed the first person he met, this happened to be Ronnie.

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No one noticed Ronnie lying on the street at first. He just looked like another drunk, in a city of drunks.

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When the passerby saw the amount of blood coming from under Ronnie’s arm, he ran to the nearest telephone and called an ambulance.

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A woman came over and held his head. She noted that all he did was moan.

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Ronnie’s breathing became more erratic.

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The ambulance arrived and the paramedics checked for life signs. Ronnie’s pulse was weakening.

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Ronnie stopped breathing.

0

There are 86,400 seconds in a day.

This is a true story.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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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

bobby2 wee bobby

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Amazing Grace

old-woman

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

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

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

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

“What cha doing?” She asked.

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

“At what?”

“At Heaven.”

“Can you see it?”

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

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

“Yep, my granddaddy.”

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

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

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

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

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

Again I nodded my head.

“And it hurts?”

I nodded, once more.

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

She looked at me with those big Amazing Grace eyes.

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

Then she stood.

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

And she gently moved on down the street.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

painting ‘Old Woman With Toad’ by Judy Somerville.

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Life

bird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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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

The Man on the Third Floor

flat

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 a 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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We Walked A Path Once

stars

We walked a path once,

You and I,

And shared some gentle time while basking in the sun,

We walked a road once,

You and I,

Fighting with the storms that blew upon our way,

We walked a highway once,

You and I,

And dealt with all the loss and hurt that fell before us,

We walked the Earth once,

You and I,

And broke with everything that Heaven threw in our direction,

But now the time has come for the parting of the ways,

And you will take one path and I will hold the other,

And we will walk the Universe,

You and I,

But with other souls as company.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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

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

bobby2 wee bobby

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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

 

No Two Ways

two-ways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Himself.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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.

Footprints On A Carpet

foot
Even if it’s only footprints on a carpet
Or blades of grass crushed where I once sat
Or a muddy scar upon a garage wall
Where my hand had leaned upon
Or a thumb print on a pane of glass
On that day we talked and talked
Or a smile that made your face light up
When you thought of what I said
Or a note left out to tell you news
Now crushed and thrown away
Or a space that I once stood upon
Now emptier in the absence
Even for just one of those
That I am remembered by – then I’ll be satisfied,
I was here.
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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All The Good Things

 

She got up that morning – wondering,
 
About all the things that made her sad
 
And all the things that made her mad
 
So she put them in a big black hat,
 
Counting…one…two…three….
 
Then she saw her child and saw her friends,
 
And that love that she knew would never end,
 
And she put them in a big white hat,
 
Counting…one…two…three..
 
And when she stood and looked at that
 
The good, the bad and the big tall hat
 
There were more of all the good things there,
 
And she had to smile at that.
 
 
bobby stevenson 2017

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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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Martha’s Room

edward-hopper

(for my mother)

Martha had a room, one that she would refer to as a ‘spare room’. Not that the size of her house allowed for such extravagances – she had a kitchen, a little area to sit, a small toilet at the rear of her house, and a little bedroom upstairs. Next to that was Martha’s spare room.

When she and Ted first got married, it had been kept ready for a little child. Ted told his wife that he ‘wanted’ two sons and two daughters, Martha said she would be content with a happy, healthy child.

Ted had painted the walls of the room with characters from books – he had done all this himself in the hope that one day his own child would look up from a cot and smile at the paintings.

In the first two summers of their married lives and with no blessing of a son or daughter, Ted put some of his old books in the room. Martha was understandably upset but like Ted said, there was nowhere else for them to go.

The years drifted by and no child was gifted to the couple. Then one quiet May morning, Ted went into the spare room and noticed all the junk covering the walls and floor. He also noticed, sadly, that all the characters he had painted had faded in the sunlight.

“There ain’t no child coming, Lord, I can see that now,” Ted said quietly to himself and so, that afternoon, he went out and bought the whitest of white paints and decided to throw out all the junk and re-paint the room.

Ted and Martha never talked about children again, but she was delighted with the new white room which Ted had painted.

“This shall be our room for all the good things,” Martha said to Ted.

And that is what it became. All the presents given to them at Christmas or birthdays were placed in the room in order that they could be admired and kept good. Dishes, cups, paintings, bottles of this and that, were all placed in the spare room to be kept good.

Once in a while, Ted would go into the room and admire all the gifts and would ask Martha whether they could use a plate or a dish but Martha would always say ‘no’, and tell him that the room was to keep everything good in their lives, and keep those things safe.

When her few friends came back to the house after Ted’s funeral, she took down some of the china cups and plates from her room and allowed her guests to use them.

With Ted no longer there, Martha didn’t notice her mind beginning to wear away. Sometimes she forgot things, then she forgot names of those who came to call. One morning Martha came down from her bedroom and couldn’t remember who she was.

These days Martha looks out of her hospital room window and not far away is her own home with the spare room. She can see all the good things stored in that room – but Martha doesn’t know that it is her house, or that the objects are all the things she and Ted kept for better days.

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

 

 

Mole Hills and Mountains

friends

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

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

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

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

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

“What cha doin’?” He asked Olivia.

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

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

“See ya,” he shouted to Olivia.

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

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

“What cha doin’?” He asked.

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

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

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

“What cha doin’?” Scrimpy asked.

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

“Mind if I sit?” Asked Scrimpy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Last Human

tears

We are only memories.

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

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

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

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

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

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

All we can do is remember.

It is all that we have.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2016 (warmblood?)

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The Book Keeper

book

It had been his job as long as anyone could remember. He was the Book Keeper and he enjoyed all that the job entailed. Sure he never slept, but wasn’t his life the greatest gift a soul could be given?

He couldn’t remember being taught his craft, and yet he had always known what to do, when to do it and how to do it. ‘Funny that’, he had thought to himself, many times, when he had a spare second.

He was the Book Keeper and as the book-keeper, he kept books. Seemed simple – but yet it wasn’t.

He had to ensure that every book was carefully placed in its correct shelf. That every page was exactly as was required and that all the information was up to date.

His main problem was not to lose pages when he moved the books closer to their correct areas in the library. A page lost could mean the difference between life and death, and the losing of one page tended to mean that many more would follow. The bindings would decay and more pages would be lost.

For Book Keeper, the job should really have read, Soul Keeper. For each book was the representation of a soul currently living.

Therefore, when a page was lost, that individual forgot some information, or some memory was wiped. As the books got older more and more pages would slip away. There was no point in the Book Keeper looking for the lost pages, they all lay at the bottom of the library and he could never know into which books they should be placed.

As some souls grew closer together, the Book Keeper would move those particular books, closer and closer. It was the souls themselves that decided on their fate, the Book Keeper only moved the books to reflect the current state of play. As the individuals grew further apart, so he would move them to different parts of the library.

When a book reflected a soul who had led a good life, and that soul had reached its return date, the book would be placed in the archives. If the book was corrupted and stained by a life badly lived, then the books were thrown into the fire at the rear of the library. Nowadays the Book Keeper had noted that there was more book burning than archiving, but then all life went through cycles. There was nothing new in that.

If the Book Keeper had a sadness, it was this, he would have loved to have told the owners of the books, how fragile their books really were. How quickly some books fell apart, and how, on the odd occasion, a book would tumble from the shelf and be lost forever.

If they could only see what he could see. How a book owner should make the most of the pages they had; a book was only in the library one time, and one time only. If life was a perfect structure, there would be no separate areas of the library, or different levels of shelfs, but then, the Book Keeper only looked after the books. He hadn’t built the library or devised its rules.

That had all existed long before he had arrived.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

THING and the Lesson

thing

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.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

Bob-young

wee bobby 2016

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…breath-taking…..

giphy

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

bobby stevenson 2016

 

 

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The Morning of the Day…..

morning-sunlight

She could feel the sun on her heart, as its rays broke through the window. There was a bird, a blackbird, singing in the old twisted trees. She heard the cyclists from the city, shouting to one another as their bikes sailed past her front door. The aroma of the freshly made coffee had skipped the stairs and had, instead, entered her room through a little opened window. There was a quiet tap as a Bee kept hitting on her glass pane, looking for somewhere new to live.

Then without warning, the heat started to bubble though her veins, and pumped her lips and brightened her eyes. No longer did her heart skip a beat, it was like an engine, blasting a way forward.

She had done with the dull days, and the rain, and the mist that had arrived with the darkness. She had done with avoiding mirrors and reflections. She was finished with treating herself as the enemy, and listening to the sourness of others: their paths were their problems, their responsibilities.

She sat up in bed, smiled for the first time in a long time, and decided it was the day to be happy again.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

Life Coach

bus2

So I’m sitting on the bus, or the coach, or whatever you
Want to call it.
And I’m talking to the man next to me.
You see, they’d sent me a list of things to take
On the trip a few weeks ago.
I’d packed everything they had recommended:
Integrity – Check
Happiness – Check
Personality – Check
Some intelligence – Check
Abilities – Check
And I’m thinking to myself, that this time is going
To be good.
Just then the celestial steward stepped aboard and explained to us all, but mostly for the benefit of the newbies who hadn’t done this before..
“Welcome to the bus – we’ll be dropping you off at your allocated life. As you know, when you leave the bus, you’ll forget everything about this place and where you came from. We’ll see you all on the other side. Have a great life and remember folks to enjoy yourselves.”
I heard them shouting about what I thought was my stop – and so I rushed to the door.
It was just as I stepped off the bus that I heard the driver shout that this it was not my stop.
Crap…..here we go again.
bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2 wee bobby

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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 Edge

man
I have been here before,
You should know that of me,
I’ve walked to the edge and stood,
Almost to the tipping point,
Held only by the up drafts,
Daring the winds to mellow,
and let me drop.
When the time comes,
What then?
Jump or be pushed.
There are only so many times,
I can blackmail the angels.

The Word Hooker

words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2 wee bobby

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She Carries A ‘Phone

phone

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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2017 – Next Year’s Love

hope

Next year some people will leave your life
 
And new ones will enter
 
Next year some dreams will vanish
 
And others, not thought of, will come out of the sun
 
Next year you’ll make mistakes
 
And you’ll survive them all
 
Next year you’ll win some things and you’ll lose some things
 
Next year some friends will fail to understand
 
And some will grow to love you
 
Next year you’ll learn a little more about yourself
 
Some of it you’ll like and some of it you won’t
 
Next year perhaps you’ll cry alone
 
But you’ll also laugh at things you won’t explain to others
 
Next year some of your actions will be misunderstood
 
But you’ll discover that others understand in amazing ways
 
Next year you’ll misjudge hearts and situations
 
And yet find more caring than you ever thought possible
 
Next year you’ll learn to love yourself just that little bit better
 
And that will be all you’ll need.
bobby stevenson 2016/2017

The Wall

life

Those who were on the inside, never realized their situation, as such. It was those on the outside, looking in, who observed that there was an ‘us’ and ‘them’- that there was a difference.

And so it was with Crandid. He had been on the other side for as long as he could remember, and had always looked in with a mixture of pity and jealousy. To be that content, he thought, at least to look that content, would be worth a time on the inside.

Everything had a price – Crandid knew that. Everything had a cost and he knew that if he were ever to penetrate behind the walls, then there was sure to be some sort of sacrifice. Some means of extracting a part of him, in order that he could live in contentment with the majority. Was it just compromise or was it selling your soul? Was it worth selling your soul to be content?

Just how happy were the folks on the inside? Thought Crandid. It’s not as if he could ask them until he was actually in there – then what? Would they tell him the truth? Would they know the answer themselves?

That was when Crandid came up with a plan. At around 2am until 2.15am, the security personnel in his sector would leave the vicinity of the outer wall. Most went to the bathroom, some still smoked. The fifteen minute break in every twelve hours was decreed by the Provost.

This gave Crandid the time to paint his slogan on the wall:

‘Your life is a lie.’

He made it back over the wall without incident before the security folks came back.

Crandid knew there would be those who couldn’t see it, and those who didn’t read words (and perhaps those who didn’t want to see), but the rest would have to come face-to-face with it at some time in the day.

Standing on a high hill not far from the wall, Crandid could watch the reactions of those who were inside.

The first to pass that morning was Mister Jasper, the banker. He lived with a frozen face – a face that only reflected contentment. That was when Jasper saw the phrase on the wall.

He felt his stomach sink – someone out there knew. Knew his secret. Knew that he had never wanted to be a banker – he’d always wanted to be a gardener. To create and raise things from the soil. He was lost. He ran the World bank, a job he despised.

Crandid saw a rather well-dressed gentleman, read his slogan, break down in tears and throw away his business case.

A little later, a woman dressed in expensive clothing happened to walk by. She was smoking a cigarette and was talking on her phone. She looked at the slogan and not only did she stop talking, she dropped her phone.

She felt a shock run all the way through her body. Who knew? She thought. Who the hell knew?

Every night she played the role of the contented wife, and every night she did what she had to do, to be a good and happy wife – but who knew she was also having an affair with the woman across the hallway? Who?

Crandid caught the sight of a woman running away from his slogan. She looked anxious – a look he had never ever seen before from one who lived over the wall.

Early in the afternoon, the Provost of the Highland Sector was sitting writing his next speech for the Assembly. As he looked at the sun, he read what Crandid had written on the wall.

His heart almost stopped. Who knew his secret? Who knew that he had lied about his college degrees, that he had lied about his time as a medical doctor? They were coming for him now, he was sure of that. There was only one thing to do and that was to confess in his speech to the assembly this very day. The Provost ripped up his papers and started again.

This action confused Crandid but one thing was for certain, in all three cases, those who had read his slogan had lost their contented look and replaced it with a face more serious.

Perhaps, thought Crandid, no one was really content. Perhaps all those on the inside had sold their souls to live there, and the false face of contentment was their price.

That was when Crandid decided he was happier to live on the outside. You didn’t have to lie out there.

Out here was for the brave, and for those who didn’t depend on others’ opinions to be alive.

As he walked back to his home, he felt sorry for the people he had seen today.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

A Christmas Walk

andrewroland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Andy! Andy!”

Andy ran to the utility room.

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2016

photo:  Christmas in the Cotswolds – Andrew Roland

 

Be Different

Be_Different_by_caniodicaStory written for a charity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2 wee bobby

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Being Human

get_image

Being human is never really understanding
Being human is loving and hurting at the same time
Being human is hoping and caring, loving and sharing
Being human is tears and pain and laughter and fear
Being human is wondering why the hell we’re all here
Being human is being lost for most of your life
Being human is cursing the gods then hoping they are there
Being human is watching the stars with the same wonderment we did from the caves
Being human is sacrifice, strength and sometimes bravery
Being human is selfishness and slavery
Being human is mental illness and confusion
Being human is sometimes an illusion
Being human is watching lovers fade
Being human is regretting all that’s left unsaid
Being human is wishing you had done some more
Being human is lifting yourself up from the floor
Being human is writing, painting and scoring a goal
Being human is making music that a heart can be proud of
Being human is everyone feeling but never always sharing
Being human is hoping that tomorrow will be better
Being human is all that we have.

bobby stevenson 2017

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A Shoreham Light

dance

To say that the village was different from other villages would be stating the obvious. It was a magical little place where small miracles occurred each, and every day.

It was the village which chose you, and not the other way about. It was a place that you felt you’d discovered by accident, but you were probably heading towards it all your life.

It cared for the sick and the healthy, for the rich and the poor, for the sad and the happy. It treated them all in its own way, and never left them feeling the worse for it.

The day that they all met up by the Cross, might have felt like it was the first time, but it wasn’t. It had also happened a long time ago, when the world had been at war. That had been the time of night and day raids, of bombs being dropped, of souls breathing their last.

She had walked up the path to the farmhouse, expecting to see it slumber in the morning mist, but it had gone. The farmhouse that is. It was that kind of time. A time of loss and change. A time of bravery and determination.

She had grown up in Shoreham between the wars when there seemed to be plenty of sunshine and friendship to go around, but the world had grown dark since then and she had soon realized there was only two ways to go. Either you took the darkness to your heart and sank, or you switched a light on and exposed the darkness to a clean sun-filled world.

That day, the day the farmhouse disappeared was the day when she nearly breathed in the darkness and let it stay for good, but then anyone could have succumbed to that way of living. It was the easiest way to go. She was better than that.

Just before dusk, she climbed the hill to the Cross and sat looking out on her little world, a world that was everything to her. Needless to say the actual Cross didn’t exist in its current form back then, it had been covered over to stop the enemy using it as a guidance: a sign of Peace being used as a means of War.

As the dusk turned to nighttime, and against her better nature, she continued to sit and watch. She could hear them miles away, the bombers coming from an overseas land ready to drop destruction on London.

The searchlights speared the sky both in front of her and behind, and it wasn’t long after the first bombers passed over head that she heard the explosions in Bromley or Orpington (she couldn’t be sure which).

Instead of heading for cover, she stood-up and smiled and started a little dance, a small jig that made her feel better even if death was raining down from the skies.

Her father and her brothers had come looking for her, and it was her dad who found her first, dancing on the hill by the Cross.

So what did he do? Well, instead of dragging her to safety he decided to join her in the dance and the two of them jigged as the night sky blasted between white and darkness.

When her brothers found the two of them, they laughed and screamed and joined in the dance. Some of the villagers must have seen their shadows lit up by the lights and many of them walked that night to the Cross and joined in with the dancing. Within an hour there were several hundred of the folks dancing and laughing and knowing that being up there was the only place to be – with friends, with their village, with their world.

And that was why when the world grew dark again, when a year came to Shoreham that was not the best of years, a young boy went up to the Cross and started dancing, and little by little and one by one, more folks walked up to the hill and joined the boy.

And the people of Shoreham all joined arms, and danced and laughed and cried and knew that there was not another place they would rather be, than right here, right now.

Even although they knew a greater darkness was coming, as long as they were together, they could get through anything.

bobby stevenson 2017

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