One Day I Passed Perfection

summer

The smell of shoe polish and summer,

The taste of dandelion and burdock lemonade,

The sun as rosy red as it ever was,

My grandmother’s arm around me

Kissing the top of my head,

The days of leaving home for school

Knowing everyone who mattered would still be there.

The Beano and Dandy on a Thursday,

Man from Uncle and Top Of The Pops.

One day ,

A long, long time ago,

I quietly passed perfection

And didn’t even notice.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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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

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

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 Last Cowboy (the start)

cowboy1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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The Legend of Little River

road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who is all around?” Asked Amy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How old are you?” Asked Amy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is this him?” Asked Zach.

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

“I wants a kiss,” said Zach.

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure?”

“Sure,” said Amy.

“Then it’s done.”

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

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

Her father looked up and smiled at Amy.

“Hey, great you got the dog.”

Amy looked around. “Where Mom?”

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

“Stop with the joking.”

“I ain’t joking,” said Amy.

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

From what I hear she’s mighty happy.”

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

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Thursday Angel

angel

She had been born on Christmas Day.

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

And she was.

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

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

She preferred to give happiness than to receive it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love you,” said, her mother.

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

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

They buried her mother on a Thursday.

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

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

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

And she did help him, as he helped her.

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

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

bobby stevenson 2017

Thing And Being Human

thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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Eli’s Letter

tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s when he told her – right out:

“I can’t read. Never have.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I knew you would, my darling son.

I knew you could do anything.

Love, Mom x”.

bobby stevenson 2017

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If All The World

If all the world went dark today,

And the yellow sun no longer shone,

And we felt our paths from place to place,

And loved by voice and words alone,

If we no longer saw our faces,

With all the tales that eyes can tell,

Would you and I remain as lovers,

Or would our hearts grow dark as well.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

The Man Who Knew Where Love Was Hidden

flatiron

There had always been wars. Even in the times of love and hope, there was always a reason to kill.

From the 17th century onwards, wars got more complex: families fought families, brother against brother, rich against poor.

If you were to ask when love started dying, it was probably at the dawn of the 20th century. For that was when Captain James Sandford, a man who had seen too many battles, began to notice the increasing coldness in hearts, and the dullness growing in people’s eyes.

It was only little things at first. Small, insignificant things. A gentleman giving a beggar a farthing instead of a penny. A landowner hitting a servant twice instead of the usual once. Even the poor were not exempt; folks stole more from other poor souls and yet they could still sleep at night.

So, it was, in the year of our Lord, 1903 that Captain Sandford decided to do something about it. From his travels in Afghanistan, he has spoken to medicine men, men who had talked with the Yeti (at least, that is what they claimed). In the years that James visited their homes high in the mountains, they taught him magic and sorcery (at least, that is what he claimed).

But the greatest of all tricks was the dilution of love into a potion. One so strong, that it could stop wars in an instant. The medicine men called it ‘God’s Tears’.

In the Spring and Summer of 1903, the Captain travelled the world, catching the tears of children for their mother, and the laughter of friendship, and the sweat of one lover for another. After diluting the liquid, he placed it in a large bottle, and placed this container in the highest building that he could find.

That was at the top of the Flat Iron Building in New York City.

As 1903, became 1904, and then 1905, the world grew darker and colder and soon the world was at war. All wars are bad, but this was an evil war which believed that humans were divisible into the great, the good and the dispensable.

There were more wars that century which became more about what the enemy were – about religion, about race, about the destruction of people.

And so, the world came to the 21st century and by then love was a scarce commodity. Soon love would be no more.

The problem was that our Captain James had fought one more war in France in 1916 and had fallen there, never to return.

And with him, he took the secret of God’s Tears to his grave. But somewhere out there, perhaps hidden on top of the Flat Iron building, there is a safe which contains a bottle where all the love in the world is stored – waiting to be uncorked.

It just needs to be found.

bobby stevenson 2017

 

This Year’s Love

hope

This year some people will leave your life

And new ones will enter

This year some dreams will vanish

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

This year you’ll make mistakes

And you’ll survive them all

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

This year some friends will fail to understand

And some will grow to love you

This year you’ll learn a little more about yourself

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

This year perhaps you’ll cry alone

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

This year some of your actions will be misunderstood

But you’ll discover that others understand in amazing ways

This year you’ll misjudge hearts and situations

And yet find more caring than you ever thought possible

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

And that will be all you’ll need.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Be Who You Are

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

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Painted Love

love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Clare,” there it was again.

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

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

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

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

bobby stevenson 2017

The Tin Can That Loved

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What happened to her and why she was there, would always be a mystery. Sadie, on the other hand, could remember everything about her time in the house.

When Sadie had found the child, she had been wrapped in an old sweater, and had been placed on a step at the front door. She didn’t cry at all – the baby only smiled and gurgled. Sadie could remember all of that exactly.

In the past, Sadie’s role had been to look after her families, to cook for them, to clean for them, and babysit the younger humans. It always ended up being more complex than that. Humans were complex, their lives even more so.

With this little baby, Sadie saw it as a chance to become one of them, to raise the baby as her own. She called the infant ‘Tiny’, as she’d heard one of the humans referring to a doll with that name. She had the name stored in her memory for the day she might need it.

Although the baby had been placed at the door for someone or something to look after her, Sadie, herself, had been forgotten about. Like any old hardware, she had been left at the house when the family had moved on. For several years, she had kept the living space tidy, and when parts fell from it, she would repair them.

Her wish had always been to nurture, to be a mother, just like the humans. So when Tiny was left at her door, she felt that whatever God had been listening, had answered her prayers. Two lonely souls abandoned in a cold universe.

Sadie could never cause harm to a human but that didn’t exempt her from theft. Sadie stole milk for the child, then later she would steal more sold foods for her little Tiny.

At first, Sadie was determined to teach her little loved one herself, but after a few months of these well thought-out activities, she realised that Tiny needed the company of other humans.

Sometimes it was hard to tell mechanical hearts from the real thing and so, Sadie was able to convince the school that she was Tiny’s mother (which she was) and get her enrolled in a nearby school.

Tiny never questioned that her mother was a robot – to her Sadie was the universe, entire. She was a love source in an uncaring world.

As Tiny grew taller and stronger, Sadie never aged – not that it worried Tiny. Except at school, when comments were made about how her mother never seemed a day older – not like their mothers. Sometimes Sadie would disguise her face a little with a scarf so as not to make it so obvious that she was not like them.

Sadie watched as her daughter grew into a beautiful woman. She smiled as she saw Tiny fall in love and Sadie hoped that one day Tiny would settle with someone who cared for her as much as she did.

Then the world fell in on them both. Someone reported Sadie, some mother who was probably jealous of Sadie’s ever beautiful looks.

They came for Sadie and when she protested, as did Tiny, she was told that mechanical hearts were not capable of loving humans.

There was a trial about the moral rights and wrongs by the State and the Church; and as the media reported it: ‘the tin-can that loved’ – Sadie stood no chance, no chance at all. Sadie was, after all, a S(elf) A(ware) D(irect) I(nterface) E(lectro) and that was the beginning and the end of it.

Tiny made one request that on the day she was to be married, that she wanted her mother, Sadie to be there. This was granted.The following day, Sadie was taken away and destroyed but she was always remembered as the first mechanical heart that loved a human.

There are many kinds of love in this world, as many as there are people (and robots), and all of them are beautiful.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Magic

woman

“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

lonely-friends_2741574

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

You’ll never know when or how it happens,

Never know what effect you’ve had,

Or who you’ve saved.

It might be the smile to a passing stranger,

Who was on their way to shout at someone –

A someone who would have driven home in an anger,

And didn’t see the person they knocked over.

Or a face on a train,

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

And jump.

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

And they saw a warmth in life again.

Perhaps you held the door open for a soul who then

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

About pulling the trigger.

One day, when you least expect it,

You will change the world,

And you will probably never, even know.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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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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My Favourite Thought

love

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

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

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

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

 

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

When I stumble through darkness, you carry the light

No one can fathom this smile on my face,

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

 

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

You are my moon and my stars and my sun,

You are the body where my dreams have been caught,

You are my love, my favourite thought.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Boy Who Loved To Handstand

lovers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2017

bobby2wee bobby

THING and His Teacher

thing

Her name was Elizabeth Browning, yep, just like the poet lady and to everyone at Thing’s school, she had been known as Mrs Honey. Where that name came from no one was sure, but she did make everyone feel good and warm (just like honey). There is probably a teacher like that in most peoples’ lives; someone who comes along once in the whole schooling process and manages to get the best out of everyone.

Thing remembered his first day at school and how he’d seen Mrs Honey skim the room with those deep blue eyes which came to rest on Thing’s gaze.

“And who might you be, little one?” She asked.

“They call me Thing,” he’d answered.

“Who do?”

“Everyone,” he’d replied.

“Then if it’s good enough for everyone then it’s good enough for me.”

And with that Mrs Honey had started to get to know all the new kids. For she knew that a classroom is just a small slice of the world, and some folks were going to have to be helped to swim through it all and some others would only need the lightest of shoves.

The most important point that Mrs Honey had noticed about Thing was, that he might look different from some of the other folks in the class but, basically he was just a kid like everyone else. It was the ones who didn’t look different on the outside that some folks could overlook and not realise that they were drowning inside.

One warm, scarlet red, evening Thing was sitting at the mouth of his cave and wasn’t really thinking about much – maybe a bit of this or that sometimes, but nothing that could trouble a mind. It had been a while since Thing had left school for the final time and Mrs Honey had long since retired, so he was surprised, as probably you and I would be, to see her walking her way up to the cave.

“Well I do declare,” she shouted as she got nearer. “How’s my little precious Thing doing these days?”

So Mrs Honey sat because, as she said, she wasn’t as young as she once had been, and she and Thing talked over lots and lots of different stuff. He told her that he was waiting on his parents to come home someday and she told him about how much she missed teaching and all the children that had passed through her class.

Then she asked what Thing had been doing since he’d left school.

“Some of this and some of that,” he told her. “I went looking for the horizon but I never got to find it,” he said sadly.

And Mrs Honey told Thing that everyone was looking for some kind of horizon, because everyone thought that happiness probably lay just over the horizon.

“So how come the horizon is so hard to find?” Thing asked his old teacher.

“ ’Cause the horizon don’t really exist. It’s just somethin’ out there. Happiness is in here and here,” and with that she touched her heart and her head.

Then she asked Thing if he’d ever thought of teaching and he had to say that he hadn’t.

“Other folks wouldn’t let me teach. I mean, when I walk through the town people sometimes throw rocks at me,” he said sadly.

“And these are the folks that need the teachin’.”

“About what?”

“About what? About tolerance. About understanding. About how folks are all different in their own ways. About love.”

“I could teach all that?” Asked Thing.

“Hey child, you wrote the book on that stuff.”

And Thing said he didn’t remember writing any book and Mrs Honey said it was only a term of speech.

“You could be special in so many folks’ lives, if you’d only give it a try,” said Mrs Honey.

“Where would I start?” Asked an excited Thing.

“You come and see me tomorrow and I’ll give you pointers. Goodness, as if the world don’t need someone like you. You have a heart and a mind and you can’t let that go to waste. Believe me.”

And funnily enough he did believe her. And it felt warm, like honey.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2wee bobby

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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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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 Songbird

songbird

Some hearts are born to do certain tasks, and so it was with the songbird. She had been brought into the universe to sing her song so that others could hear and benefit.

Not that the songbird ever noticed, for each morning she would fly to the top of the highest tree and sing her heart out – that was the way she had been made and so it was the most natural thing for her to do.

One cold winter’s day an old woman happened to pass the tree, when she was on her way back from the cemetery where she had placed flowers on her husband’s grave. She was tired, as we all get tired and so she sat below the highest tree for a rest. She closed her eyes and wished that they would stay closed for ever so that she could meet again with her love, but then it happened – she heard the songbird and the sweet music warmed her heart to the world once more. The old woman raised herself from her rest and decided she would try another day, for one never knew what was around the next corner.

The snows soon melted and the winter became the spring and still the songbird sang her tunes. One afternoon as the flowers were coming to life, a fearful lad from the next village was on his way to meet his love. He stopped below the tree to think about the love of his life and of all the things he wanted to say but was afraid. Then the songbird sang her song and the lad realized that the world was a world of once chances and that if he didn’t tell his love now, he may never get another. He skipped to his love’s house whistling the tune of the songbird and spilled his heart out.

A child from several mountains over was struck with an illness and the only doctor who could help the poor child lived over the tops of several mountains the other way.  So her father carried the child over mountain, down valley and over the next mountain until he was so crippled in pain he could not go on. By chance he happened to sit beneath the highest tree just as the songbird started to sing and as he rested, he realized if there was that much beauty in the world then he could carry his sick child the rest of the way to the doctor.

And so the songbird sang and sang and helped each and every one who passed the tree.

The next year when the warm winds came to the hills, the songbird gave birth to her own little songbird. She had waited all her life for such an event. She would fly into the forest and bring back food, singing her tunes and she knew that one day, her own little songbird would sing a tune of their own.

One day when the songbird was out looking for food, a wind came and blew so hard that the little nest and her baby were blown down from the highest tree.

When the songbird returned to her tree, she saw her little one lying on the forest floor, eyes closed and no longer breathing.

That was when it happened, the songbird lost her song. She could no longer sing, there was nothing wrong with her just that her heart no longer wanted to – and so the forest became quiet.

When the old woman heard of the troubles of the songbird and how she had lost her song, she decided to visit the little bird. She sat with the songbird and caressed her and thanked her for all her songs.

Then a strange thing happened, the songbird let out one note – one pure and beautiful note. The old woman told the lad who was once fearful and he too visited the songbird, and thanked her for her tunes and suddenly the songbird sang another, different beautiful note.

And so it was that all the people who the songbird had helped came to visit, and each brought a musical note back to the songbird.

And although it took some time and perhaps the tunes were not as heartfelt as they once were, the songbird was able to sing again and the universe smiled.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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The Stars Want Her Back

When I first got to know her,

She was fully formed.

A woman with life, and humour and

Dreams.

And in the gaps between the dark times,

She talks about her dreams,

And all the reasons they never happened.

But now we have a fight on our hands,

For she is slowly leaking back

Bit by bit, thought by thought,

To where she came from.

For the stars want her back,

And there is nothing we can do.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

I Still Love You

love

I

Still love you

Though

It’s been a

Long time, it’s been a

Lifetime of

 

Living without you.

Our secret moments scar the

Visions I have of anyone

Else.

 

You were everything –  a

Once chance meeting in this lonely

Universe.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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This Year’s Love

human-emotion-happiness-14

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

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Girl Who Stole A Piece Of The Sun

 suc028_sun_jar_white_glow

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

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

“What never?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bobby stevenson 2015

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

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The 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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Thing and The Night

thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Over here,” said the voice.

“Where?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2 wee bobby

 

 

Everyone Matters

everyone

I remember that day we said goodbye,

The day I asked you if there were any regrets,

You said, you wished you had realised sooner

That everyone matters.

The thing is, I didn’t know what you meant then –

But I do now.

Who has any idea how much oxygen a person brings to your life

Or how much you bring to theirs?

You have no idea why a person is in this life or yours,

And so what you don’t do, is make judgements,

Treat everyone as though they have the potential to be

Anything or everything,

Love and smile,

You are not God.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2wee 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

 

A Kind of Love

love

Every year it was the same thing; was it going to be a big Valentine’s card (looks too needy)? A small Valentine’s card (looks too cheap) or a bunch of flowers?  She picked a large card and the most expensive flowers – if you wanted to make an impact you had to spend large. It would impress everyone and keep her Mum off her back.

“Who are these to go to, madam?”
She felt embarrassed saying it, so she’d written it down and then quickly slid the card across the counter.
The flower woman picked it up and read it aloud.
“Miss Sophie Breckstaw, 19, the Gardens. Any message?” The woman asked and Sophie wondered if perhaps, the woman knew.

So what if she did, there were bigger crimes in this world than sending yourself a Valentine. Okay it was sad but hey, if it kept her mother thinking there was someone waiting in the wings to taker her daughter away, it was money well spent.

She laughed as she stepped on to the street. Another year, another stupid lonely year. Nothing changes.
The following morning she opened her eyes to February the 14th. It was a blue sunny sky that had a hint of winter laced through it. She loved those kind of days. Where you came home from a walk and felt that you had experienced something.
She planned to be out when the flowers and card arrived so they would be left at her door. That way, the neighbours wouldn’t think that she was just an old maid waiting on an obsession with cats to kick-in.

Sophie was only 32, for goodness sake, but thinking back on it – several hundred years ago – that was probably a lifetime of living. There was possibly a time when 32 was the mark of an elderly woman. God, she felt depressed.
She decided she’d go to the library (where else?) – She’d hidden in there as an obese teenager (the bullies never went to the library) and she still found the place comforting. It was her church, her sanctuary.

She caught her reflection in a window and liked what she saw (well, kind of) – she was now the proud owner of a very svelte body and (almost) thought her face looked presentable. Sophie never usually saw the admiring glances she got from men and some woman. In her head she was still that ugly child, still fat and still unworthy. The trauma that school kids inflict on other school kids takes some people a lifetime to get over (if ever). Bullies may never achieve anything great in their lives, except for the fact that they live on in nightmares.

The library was full of old men, old women, the unemployed and Sophie – the……..well, she wasn’t quite sure where she fitted in. She was between jobs at the moment and had applied for a job in a bookshop just around the corner from the library.
“Miss Breckstaw,” whispered the librarian (the one with the wonky eye) to Sophie as she came through the door.
“That book you ordered, has arrived.”
“Which one?” Asked Sophie.
“Let me see, ‘Cosmic Ordering for Beginners’”.
“Oh that one, if I’d been any good I suppose I should have ordered it from the Universe, myself.”
Judging by the expression on the Librarian-with-the-wonky eye’s face, this was truly an irony-free zone.

So she was desperate enough to ask the universe for a job and why not, eh? Life was nuts, life was really nuts. It was only the stupid, social climbers who thought that life began and ended with the right schools, right jobs, and in saying the right things.

Just wait until the aliens landed, that would put a fly in the ointment. Still, the stupid middle-class folks that Sophie knew would probably try to social climb with little green men. It wasn’t enough for those folks to live a life, they had to go whizzing to their grave with fashionable clothes on.

Sophie thought that maybe she might (just might) be jealous of the people she despised. Okay not despised, but generally they got on her nerves.  If Sophie had been offered a pill which took away all her doubts, made her shallow and superficial, and therefore only unhappy, when her furniture got out of date – would she take it?
Probably, yes, she thought while sitting in the public library making a good job of impersonating the saddest human being alive. Maybe she wasn’t impersonating, maybe, in fact, she was the saddest person.

Still, here she was – she’d made her bed (through inaction and inactivity) and she would have to like it.
She decided that as she was too lazy to read a proper book, that she’d read a Dan Brown instead. She perambulated (today’s big word from her ‘one word a day makes your brain bigger’ book) over to the popular section. Usually the homeless, the drunks and the mentally challenged sat over there but she was willing to risk it to get a nice book, one that would drown her problems for the afternoon.

Sometimes, only sometimes mind you, she would fall asleep at the table and wake to find that the homeless, drunks, and mentally challenged were all looking at her in a disapproving manner. Some even ‘tutted’ and that didn’t help the way she felt about herself and so on those days she would go home and drink a bottle of wine, then cry at all the television adverts. She’d normally waken at 3am on the same seat and with her eyes glued together – it had passed through her mind more than once that maybe little people glued her eyes shut when Sophie was sleeping and drooling after a few glasses of wine.

It was as she was walking towards the popular book section, that Sophie was sure a man, who looked in his thirties (but was probably more thirty plus twenty – knowing her luck) had looked at her. It was one of those looks, where you know that there was a connection but you don’t know why you know that.

She didn’t look around, but she could feel him staring at her. Then again, Sophie sometimes went on these little fantastical trips where she was sure a stranger was having an affair with her, in their head. Problem was, it always turned out to be only in her head and not the stranger’s – so she now tended to take these so-called ‘connections’ with a pinch of salt.
She skipped the Dan Brown section and went straight for the weightier writers. Sophie thought that if he was watching, then this would look more impressive – still she’d normally got that wrong too. She’d found that when you tried to make an impression – no one was really noticing, and yet there could be someone she wasn’t aware of, drinking in her every movement. Life was very strange.

On the way back to her table, carrying ‘1001 Questions about Carpets’ (to be honest it had looked more intellectual but she hadn’t bothered to read the title) that she felt his eyes were staring into to her again. Did we all have a sixth-sense? Probably not, but still he did seem interested.

She lifted her books to move a little closer to him but when she got there, he was gone. Wrong again, she thought. She knew where this would lead, just like time in the Dragoon Arms Pub, where she’d go night after night hoping to run into a man she’d caught looking at her, and each night she would ignore him, and laugh loudly at nothing in particular. This did look super creepy as she wasn’t actually drinking with anyone. Anyway there were weeks sometimes that went by and he wasn’t in the pub, and then one night the guy would turn up and Sophie wanted to say, ‘how dare you leave me sitting here night after night, don’t you know that we have an imaginary relationship?’  – Still, saying that would have made her even creepier.

So back at the library, she decided to call it a day. She put on her old woollen hat and walked out into the rain. She decide that she would take the bus home, rather than walking, after all it was St Valentine’s day.
There he was, standing at the bus stop – did he know she sometimes she took this bus, or was it all in her head? She stood next to him and was sure she could feel him staring at her. ‘Maybe I am completely insane’, thought Sophie just as he turned and said something about the weather to her.

Instead of saying something back to him, Sophie grinned like a serial killer – she couldn’t help it, he’d caught her off guard.
When the bus arrived, he waved her on first (he’s a gentleman), then she sat on a seat which could take two, but he sat in the seat in front.

As Sophie’s stop came up, she stood very slowly, hoping he would stand too – but he didn’t. She could see, as she stepped off the bus that the flowers and card were sitting at her front door.
Sophie walked away from the bus stop in the opposite direction from her house, hoping that the bus would take her latest fantasy man away and he wouldn’t see the flowers.
Just then Mister Secombe, her next door neighbour, shouted on her:
“Where are you off to?” He called.

Sophie had to turn, make some stupid excuse and then walk up to her door.
“I wasn’t sure to whether to take in the flowers and card, or not. You’ve got an admirer,” said, Mister Secombe.
Sophie gave another stupid grin and then turned to see the bus hadn’t moved off and HE was watching her and the flowers.
So she did what she always did in these circumstances – panic. She picked up the card and flowers and threw them into Mister Secombe’s arms, shouting:
“Stop sending me these things, you know that you and I aren’t having a relationship.”

Then she looked to see if HE was watching but to her disappointment, the bus had gone.
Mister Secombe was completely bemused and wondered if maybe his neighbour was a bit touched in the head.

He was just about to tell her that the flowers and card weren’t from him, but Sophie had already slammed the door shut.

Still waste not, want not, thought Mister Secombe and he took the flowers inside as he had a very good idea of what he could do with them. It was one of his better thoughts and because of that, he whistled all the way to the cellar.
But that, dear readers, is a story for next time.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Top photo: http://weird-kitty.deviantart.com/art/Love-98730557

 

bobby2wee bobby

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The Dancers

couple_dancing_under_moon_light

When they were about five years old, she stumbled as they danced to the Christmas music playing on the old Bakelite radio. He picked her up from the wooden school floor. She smiled.

When he was thirteen, they danced together for the very first time as a couple. He had been learning to dance in secret to impress her at the party. She laughed as they danced.

At the wedding, they danced the way they had back when they were thirteen years old and the music was the same as the old school Bakelite radio.

When their first child was born, he ran outside the hospital doors and danced in the rain and thanked the angels for their kindness.

As their daughter received her degree from the college, the two of them danced a little dance as they walked up to hug her.

At their silver wedding anniversary they danced with their grandchildren and they wondered how they had ever got so lucky.

Every week they danced in the ballroom, and every week they would leave the hall feeling better than they had arrived.

When the doctor told him it was a brain tumour, he never spoke of it, not to her or to the children. Naturally the doctor had told her but she never mentioned it, either.

One day, he stumbled during the dance and she picked him up from the old wooden floor.

He said, “I think we should stop the dancing now.”

She turned away from him and let the tear run down her face.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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

elephant

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

bobby stevenson 2016 (alive, just)

bobby2wee bobby

 

 

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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.

Thing of Beauty

thing

There was a lot of time to think, now that Thing had lived in the cave by himself for a while. A lot of time to wonder why he was the way he was. A lot of time to wonder why people made judgements on the way he looked, rather on the way his heart shined out.

Those kids, the ones in the town below, had always picked on him, thrown stones at him, shouted names – and for what? Because he looked different. Kids, well humans really, hated difference.

Yesterday morning as he was eating breakfast (yes, Things did that too), he heard someone calling at the mouth of the cave.
“Hello!” a voice, shouted.
“Anyone there?” The voice continued. Thing rarely had any visitors, expect the odd kid from town shouting some abuse into the cave.

He had the same thought that he always had in these circumstances – Thing thought it might be his mother and father returning home, like he knew they would one day.
Although it wasn’t them, it wasn’t a bad surprise either. It was a cousin of his who lived in the north-country and whom he had met only when the families had all got together.

His cousin told Thing that it was his cousin’s Big Birthday and Thing was to follow him north to take part in the celebrations. All Thing’s people had a Big Birthday, it was to mark them standing on their own feet in the world. Thing was still to have his, hoping that his parents would be back for that.

So Thing packed a few belongings and started on the journey north with his cousin. It was wonderful to be in the company of his own kind – not that he disliked the humans – just that his cousin understood how it felt to be the way he was.

Thing had never been confident in the way he looked, and this was heightened by the name calling that came from the kids. But that night, the night he arrived with his own kind, his aunts and uncles all told him how beautiful he was, how he was a great reflection on his parents, who would have been so proud to have been there had they not…….
Then the aunts and uncles stopped as if they were about to say something they would regret. Thing asked what they were going to say, but they all changed the direction of the conversation and wouldn’t look Thing in the face.

On the Friday night, the evening before the party, Thing went out with all his cousins and they marched up and down the main street. About half way along the road, a human kid was walking towards them and Thing hoped the kid would not be horrible to his family as he was having such a great time. What occurred surprised Thing, his cousins started to shout names and throw stones at the human kid – and although for one split second Thing felt that it was good to belong to a group (and good to not be the one picked on) Thing realised that this whole situation was wrong and he wasn’t going to become one of the bullies who had made his own life a misery.
Thing walked up to the kid and comforted him.

“What are you doing?” Asked his eldest cousin. “He is a human, an ugly little misfit of a human,” said another of his family.
“He is a soul, that is what he is,” said Thing. “He is just like you and me.”
“No he’s not,” shouted another and Thing’s cousins all started to throw stones at the boy.

Thing put himself between the gang and the boy and when the stones started to hit Thing instead of the human, his cousins stopped.

“So you’re an ugly little human lover,” shouted the tallest of his cousins.

And Thing guessed that he was. The cousins told him that he wasn’t needed at the party the next day and that he should go home. No one wanted the little orphan anyway. Thing wasn’t sure what an orphan was, but he was too tired to ask.
He walked the human kid to his own home, and then Thing returned and slept outside his aunt and uncle’s house. He would walk to his cave the next day.

When Thing woke the next morning, his aunt was sitting by his side. She said, she’d heard what had happened and that he was indeed most welcome at the party.

“My children are young, and my children are wrong. They are scared of the humans,” said his aunt. “I heard what you did and you really are a most beautiful being, Thing. Not only in looks, but in your heart,” then his aunt kissed him on the forehead.

He had not been kissed in many moons and it felt good. He attended the party that evening and danced and sang and had the best of times. His aunt and uncle offered him a place to stay permanently but Thing refused, and told them that he had to return to the cave to wait on his mother and father.

“They will return one day soon, I know it,” Thing said proudly.

Thing didn’t notice his family all dropping their eyes when he said that, but he wasn’t caring anyway – he had been told he was beautiful and he couldn’t wait to tell his parents.

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2 wee bobby

 

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The Man on the Third Floor

brown1

You can make of this story what you want. You can throw it in the fire and see if I care. All I want to do is lay down the things the way they happened, and then you can make up your own minds. I guess with stuff of this nature, maybe your mind is already made up anyway. Still I reckon you might like to read it all just the same.

Where to start?

Oh yeah – up near the old sports’ track there used to be a collection of buildings. All had about fifteen floors and all of them falling apart.

The kids who lived there were never allowed to play on the sports field, and so they would make do with a little square in the middle of the buildings.

It was here that most of the kids from the area grew up: where they made friends, where they learned the rules of all sorts of things, including life. But one aspect in particular was always a little on the strange side. If anyone was playing a team sport, say football and a disagreement arose, then the kids would say ‘ask the man on the third floor’. They said he was a lonely old guy, who had been damaged by the war, and who spent his days watching the kids from his apartment all the way up there.

“What cha say old man, was that a penalty or not?” And after a few moments someone, usually one of the kids, would shout ‘thanks’, and they would get on with the game.

I tell you this because I used to play in that square. Started around the time I was ten or so. One real hot day we were playing football and Mitch fouled young George in a real bad way.

George looked up at the third floor and asked what the old man thought. Apparently it was a foul against Mitch – I say apparently, ‘cause all the kids who I was playing with, seemed to hear him, but I got to be honest, I heard nothing.  Things like that happened all summer – the man on the third floor would make a judgement call and everyone went along with it. I just wish I could hear what he had said – just once.

The real serious thing that happened, came about in a strange way. We’d stopped for a break as we had all worked up a big thirst. That was when Mitch shouted to the man that he needed his help. I asked him what help but he told me to stay out of it. Apparently Mitch had found young George, well how can I put this? Lying down with Mitch’s sister in a sexual way and Mitch wasn’t too pleased. See, since his granddaddy had passed, Mitch was the man of the house and he wasn’t going to let something like that happen under his roof.

“What should I do about young George, here?” Mitch shouted to the man in the apartment on the third floor.
“What’s that you say? Are you sure? Okay, if that’s what you say.”
And with that Mitch drew out a knife and stabbed young George right in the heart. I mean one minute young George was having his young face warmed by the sun and the next, he was as cold as an arctic summer.

Everyone seemed to think the judgement was fair since it had come from the man on the third floor and so the rest of the guys prepared to move young George’s body out of the square.
Someone shouted up about where they should move the body and apparently they received an answer, ‘cause a couple of them shouted ‘thanks’ to the man and nodded their heads.

The whole gang helped lift away George’s body and when they asked me, I said I had to get home as my Mama was waiting. My friends accepted this and they all moved off lifting the body with them.
When it got quiet, I decided that I had to do it and go and visit the man on the third floor.

The stairs up were dark, I mean real devil dark. I got to say I wasn’t looking forward to all this. Some of the guys said, no one goes near the third floor, ‘cause anyone who does never comes back. I was willing to take that risk.When I got to the door, I knocked – but there was no answer. Then I noticed the door could open.
“Hello,” I shouted as I pushed the door.
And do you know what I found in the apartment?
Nothing, that’s what I found. The place didn’t look as if it had been lived in for years. So who were the kids getting their instructions from?

Beats me.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Being There

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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

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

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Man Who Mended Broken Hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Photograph: A Lonely Road  alicexz.deviantart.com

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A Brilliant Life

awesome

(I am happy to inform you that your piece,
‘A Brilliant Life’, has been selected for a
community reading group project at the University of
Northampton. ‘A Brilliant Life’ will not be sold and
will be used for educational purposes only, but — as you
hold the copyright to your stories — it is up to you to
give permission for its use. If you have any issues with
your work being used by the University of Northampton)

 

Martin was a man.

That was the best and the worst of it. He lived in room that served as his bedroom and sometimes as his kitchen. He had no friends to speak of but then he had no enemies either.

His parents, Fred and Annie had high hopes for their boy. They had fought so hard to have a child that when Martin finally did arrive, he was their moon and stars and sun.

He had a good heart and some might say he had the best of hearts.

He tried to be strong for himself and his family and he made sure he smiled every day but he did find, as we all do, that there are people in this world who won’t let a soul breathe. He didn’t judge them too harshly as they had their own reasons. He would simply let the world get him down for a while, pull the covers over his head then after a sleep he’d feel better once again.

Martin had his dreams of course. He’d wanted to be a professional footballer then he’d wanted to be a famous actor and other times he’d wanted to sing in front of a million people. After his mother’s death he’d wished he’d been the person who had found the cure for cancer.

Martin never became any of those things, not because he lacked talent but because he felt there were better people than him. Those who knew how good they were, those were the ones that deserved success.

He dreamed of love and being loved but it never came to be or at least he may have had his eyes closed as it was passing. He watched his school friends grow and marry and have children and he wished them well and just sometimes as he sat in the park and saw the parents and their children play, he wished that he was them.

Now don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t jealous, not for a second because the world shared out its good and bad and with his parents Martin had the best of all worlds.

Sometimes he wished that he’d had a brother or sister, just someone to visit at Christmas. To have nieces or nephews that he could buy presents and birthday gifts.

Martin saw every single day as a bonus. He wasn’t lonely and he wasn’t a loner, he just felt people had better things to do with their time than talk to him.

But he watched the world and he saw the people and their troubles and without letting anyone know he would try to help.

When he had a little drop of extra coins in his life, he would put the money in an envelope and leave it on the step of some deserving door; the lady whose husband who’d left her alone, the child who needed an operation, the man who just wanted a day away from the house.

Martin wasn’t a saint, not by any stretch of the imagination. Martin had hurt people and he’d wasted opportunities and most importantly he’d wasted time.

Because we all have our own ideas of what sin is, but to Martin wasting time was up there with the big ones.

He sent Christmas and Valentine cards to the lonely souls in the street. He sent postcards to the old lady who, like him, had no family. She probably didn’t know who or where it came from but the important thing was that someone had written to her.

You see none of what he did was ever big but it mattered to the people he helped.

This world is awash with lonely souls and to someone like Martin who could appreciate that point, he felt it was his place to do something about it.

Martin’s gone now and I’m not sure if he moved or just closed his eyes for the last time.

No one really noticed that there was no longer a light on in Martin’s house but they did notice there were no longer little gifts on the door step, or that cards were no longer being sent.

Martin had accepted that what he had been given in his life, was his life and he had used it all in the best way he could.

He sometimes smiled, he sometimes cried and he nearly always laughed.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Short Lives (100 word stories)

New York City, December 1963

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

 

Going Home

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

 

Another Walk In The Park

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

 

Where The Citizens Are…

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

 

Last Walks – A Final Breath of Air

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

 

Last Walks – Three Out of Four

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

 

Last Walks – Lost and Found

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

 

Last Walks – Feeling Like A Million

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

 

Last Walks – Paris 1940

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

 

Last Walks – A Street

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

 

Last Walks – A Farewell

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

 

Last Walks – East Germany 1962

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

 

Glasgow, Scotland 1960

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

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

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

He turned over carefully and smiled.

 

Moving – California

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

 

Moving – Chicago

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

 

Moving – The Other Side of The Desert

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

 

Americana….

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

 

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

 

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

 

1934 Fremont Street looking East

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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and finally…The Boy Who Told Stories.

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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

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Stones in a Snowball

thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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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

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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

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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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My Granddaddy and the Starman

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I remember it was a cold day, is all.  My teacher came to take me from the class, said I had to go and see my granddaddy on account that he was leaving real soon.

To be honest, he hadn’t said nothing to me, and I was his best pal. He said that I had a head on my shoulders that was ninety years beyond my age – which makes me a hundred in anyone’s money.

Anyways – as I’m reaching my granddaddy’s house, I can see my aunts and uncle looking real, real sad on the steps.

Maybe it’s on account of his going – but if I’m being honest, he usually don’t go fishing until around September.

“He wants to see you. You’d better be quick. There ain’t much time.” Is what my aunt Mamie said to me, before licking her handkerchief and wiping my face. I gotta tell you, I ain’t a fan of aunts licking their handkerchiefs.

So I get to the bedroom door and my ma is coming out. Her eyes look real dark, and there’s black stuff running from her face. She wipes the tears away hoping I won’t notice – but I do – then she puts on that smile, that I know is fake.  She gives me the biggest of hugs – bigger than when my little brother didn’t ever come home again, and then she pushes me through the door.

My granddaddy ain’t getting ready for his vacation. No sir, he’s just lying in bed like a no good critter (that’s what he usual calls me).

He tells me to come over close and sit beside him on the bed. I gotta tell you that he don’t look well, but sometimes that happens to folks.

Then he tells me this little story. I’m telling you it exactly as he told me.

“Here boy, look at that photo. Know what it is?” I shake my head, ‘cause I really don’t know what it is.

“Well that is one of those space aliens from outer space. I took his photo with my Kodak Brownie. The little creature didn’t seem to mind. Told me he had broken down in the next valley and was waiting on some of his own kind to get him back to the stars.”

Well I tell you, I had never heard my granddaddy talk like that before.

“So this little critter got to talking to me in real good English and we was talking about this and that, and how the New York Mets hadn’t been doing so well. Then I told him about your grandma and how her passing had been the most painful thing in the whole of my days. And do you know what the little critter said to me?”

I shook my little spellbound head.

“He said, not to mind about her going, that we had all been here and would always be here. I had to tell you I wasn’t sure what he meant. So he explained further. He said that all the atoms and stuff that made us up, were all from the beginning of the universe. Over the billions of years they would change into stars and planets, and animals and space dust, and then disintegrate and become other things. And just the once they all came together and made you.”

I said, “me granddaddy?” and he nodded his head.

“So when your grandma went away – and when I go too, all that will happen is, I’ll turn to dust and go back to the universe and float about for the rest of time. Once in a while, a bit of me might come together in another human being and when you look at a new-born baby, there could be a bit of your old granddaddy there.”

Then granddaddy said he was real tired and could I go and get my ma again. He said he’d tell me about what happened to the starman another time.

He never got the chance. By the time my ma got back he was gone – and not fishing.

I gotta tell you, I still look at new-born babies and wonder.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Thing and His Friend

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Thing had never known a time like it, at least not since he had been on his own. The Spring had slipped into Summer and now the leaves were falling all around the front of the cave. Some of the folks from the town had stopped by on their way to the top of the mountain, some stayed for just a few minutes, some for a several hours, talking about this and that and smoking pipes and stuff. Some folks just hurried by with a ‘howdee’ on their way through.

So he really wasn’t alone and when his mother returned life would go back to the good times. And yet this was the second winter coming that Things was without her and he couldn’t stop hoping she’d be back.

It was on Sunday in early December that one of the walkers mentioned to Thing that there was another like Thing in town. Perhaps his mother was returning just in time for Christmas? He’d have to get the cave real sharp, ‘cause his mother always believed in cleaning and keeping things straight. “There’s a place for everything,” she would tell him.

He quickly cleaned and polished until there wasn’t a speck of dust to be seen. He knew his mother would approve and so he felt safe enough to go down the mountain into town and make sure it was she.

Just beyond the Library was a crowd of people, all standing in the way they used to gather around Thing; back in the days when they were scared of him, that is. But times had changed and people just let him go about his business. So maybe they were welcoming his mother, Thing did something he didn’t usually do, he broke into a run. He could see her head and her arms – people must be welcoming her home.

But it wasn’t his mother, sure it was another like him, but it wasn’t his mother. This was one of his own kind who was being welcomed into town, mainly due to all the hard work and kindness that Thing had shown to the town’s folk.

Maybe this one knew where his mother was – maybe this one had met her on the way here. But the one who looked like Thing didn’t know anything about his mother. Thing just turned away for a spell and sighed and then spun around, smiled and welcomed his new friend into the town.

Thing said there was always a warm corner in his cave for a friend, at least until his family got back. But his new friend said he felt right at home in town and was probably going to stay there.

Sure enough one of the farmers took the other Thing in and let him stay in his barn. Thing was confused, ‘cause surely Things should stick together, since they both knew how the other thought about people and life.

This got Thing down and he went to the back of the cave to sit and talk to his mother, hoping wherever she was, that she could hear him. He said that life had been good for a while but he would have liked to be friends with the one who looked like Thing.

Suddenly a little wind blew in the cave and there was the one who looked like Thing standing at the entrance.

His friend could see that something was bothering Thing and so he asked him what was wrong. Thing told him that he had hoped they would be pals  and that he’d stay in the cave, at least until his mother came back.

“You have to live out there,” he said pointing to the world. “That is why we are all here,” said his friend.

And Thing told him of the hurt that he faced when he was out there.

“Sure there are those, the unhappy ones, who are jealous of other’s happiness and maybe from time to time they can hurt you more than you would like. But that is the price of living. That is what makes life worth living. There are good people out there too; I have chosen to live in town even though there may be enemies there, where there are enemies, there are also friends. If you stay in the cave you will never find out.”

And so his friend told him that there were probably souls out there who felt touched by Thing, who wanted to talk to him, to get to know Thing.

“But if you stay up here, you will only know loneliness,” his friend told him. “You can not say who you have inspired or helped just by being you, by persevering. But if you lock yourself away and say you have helped no one, then you are just a sad as those who try to hurt. The universe made you, Thing to live, not to exist in darkness. No one can protect you from all the hurt but that is the price, for in all that madness you will find love in the most unlikely places. And if your mother does not come back then that was her destiny, just as yours is to be happy.”

The two of them sat and talked for the rest of the night and then Thing fell asleep much happier than he had been for the longest time.

When he awoke in the morning he found that his friend had gone and so he looked for him but he was nowhere to be seen. The farmer told Thing that his friend had departed at first light. Then the farmer said that he had left Thing a present.

“I was to tell you it was it was a likeness of the one person who could make you happy,” said the farmer.

When Thing opened the present he looked into the mirror and saw himself.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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The Man Who Smiled At Stars

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To all those who look at the night sky and smile.

Where we lived doesn’t really matter much, ‘cept to say that you could spit into another State from our porch. That was where my granddaddy sat thinking most days and most nights. He just cogitated – “yep, I’m sitting here just running things about my great big head,” was how he’d usually greet me. And to be real honest, it was a big, big head, man it was huge. It needed to be, considering how much it had to hold – what with all the things my granddaddy had done and all.

He’d been in two wars, although I can’t quite rightly say which two. He’d been a pilot and an engineer, and had even won a medal for swimming for his country: you can tell, can’t you, that he was my hero?

The day I want to write about was the day that my granddaddy put everything right in my head. Up until then I used to think the craziest things about everything, especially myself.

I used to think that I wasn’t worth nothing. I guess that was ‘cause folks kept telling me that, and I suppose after a time you start believing it. I reckon that is one of the worst crimes a man can commit – to take away a man or woman’s belief in themselves. That way they’ve robbed you of the most precious thing you’ve got – you. Now I ain’t the only one that’s suffered that way, no sir, the world is full of thieves that make you believe that you ain’t worth nothing – just ‘cause they are the unhappiest souls this side of the sun – they spread it like a virus making sure every other soul joins in.

Some people take years to put themselves back together again – and all those years are lost to them, to their families, to their friends, to themselves. Ain’t nothing ever going change human nature, but then again, none of us designed the universe that way. It’s just some of us luxuriate a little more in the darkness, than some other folks; if you hear what I’m saying.

Anyway, I’m deviating again from what I was wanting to tell you. One day when the world was young (at least to me) we got this new teacher in school. She was tall and pretty and had a way about her that had never seen in anyone else. When she looked into your eyes you believed every word she told, I mean it, every word.

One real warm afternoon she took out this big blue ball which turned out to be the Earth and she said that was our home, all out homes but (and then she paused so long that Becky Stanshaw started to cough) – then she told us that wasn’t where we came from at all. Well I nearly fell off my seat, what kind of craziness was she talking about? And apparently it was this – we weren’t just made up of stuff from Earth, no sir, we were also made of stuff that came from dying stars – way, way out there. Well, I’ll be, I thought, well I’ll be.

Now that day I ran home as fast as I could and as fast as Mr Clarity’s dog would let me, ‘cause it was always biting on my trousers and trying to stop me running. I swear one day I would just take my britches off and keep on running. So I got home just in time to see my granddaddy lighting up another cigarette and ready start another hour of cogitating.

He asked me what my hurry was, and I told him all about us, and the stars, and about how most of the bits we were made of came from out there in space, and he just nodded and smiled and sucked on his cigarette and bid me a good day.

Now I got to jump this story to a long time later, a way long time later when I had grown some, and I was sure of what I wanted to do in my life. The problem was, it wasn’t what my family wanted me to do. You see my family came from soldiers, ones that had fought in the days of the war of Independence, and in every skirmish and war since then. My granddaddy was a soldier, as was my father and my brother Brett, who had recently joined up. It was assumed that I would join up too – but I have to tell you here and now that was not in my particular way of thinking.

Now here I’ve got to jump way back again – to the first time one came to town (a circus that is). When I went to my first circus, well I was hooked from the very first second until the last and I realized then and there, that all I wanted from life was to be a clown.

That don’t go down too well in a military family – let me tell you – they all looked at me (except granddaddy) as if I was the worst kind of son and brother who had ever lived.

Well we fought and fought. I was not going to shame the family by being a clown, they said – I was a freak, they said – people would laugh at me, they said (I actually thought that was the idea, but didn’t dare say).

It got so bad I thought of leaving home, and one night I just sat on the porch steps and cried. I mean I was old enough to join the army but I still blubbered.  That was when my granddaddy came out and sat with me. We just looked up at the night sky and the stars and he said:
“Remember kid, when you came running home from school all those years ago and told me about how we were all made out there?”
I nodded.
“Well maybe that’s all that’s wrong here. You see over there? To the right?”

And I said I did, and granddaddy said, “Well what if those in the family – who wanted to be soldiers – came from those stars and maybe you – who wants to entertain folks – came from one over there on the left. See what I’m saying? If we are all made up of different stars then how can we all be expected to be the same?”
And I said that I agreed with him, and that he had to be correct and he said he was.

Then he said one other thing that I will carry with me in heart wherever I go.
He said, that if all those stars out there were where me and him and all my folks came from, then how could any one of us be really lonely? ‘Cause when we looked out there, it wasn’t a sky full of stars we saw, it was a picture of our ancestors; our family; our beginnings.

And do you know something? He was totally and completely right.
So next time you’re looking up, say ‘hi’ and smile.

bobby stevenson 2016

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The Book Keeper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That had all existed long before he had arrived.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

Three Thousand Miles of Heaven

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They had first gone there when the world was a more complicated place and their lives were just plain and simple. Everything they wanted or needed, seemed easier to get back then.

They had married in a small church in Big Indian, a town snuggled in the beautiful Catskill Mountains. When Tony had suggested that they go on a honeymoon, he had been thinking more of the Poconos – not the journey that Helen had suggested: to ride a Trailways’ bus from New York, to Chicago and then on to Los Angeles.

This was the 1970s and cheap flights were a thing for future times. As for going by train, well the American rail system had seen better days. So the bus seemed the best solution – it was cheap, even if it was going to take them three days – not that it mattered, they were on honeymoon. That was enough.

They had managed to have forty-eight glorious hours on the West coast before it was time to return. They had sat on the beach on their second night there and promised themselves they would return, one day. No matter what.

Within a week of them arriving back home, Tony was on his way to Vietnam. It had been the reason they had married so soon and so quickly. Tony had picked a low number in the college draft and was told to report for training immediately.

There was no two ways about it – war had changed Tony, like it had for many young men and women over the years. Tony had seen and felt many things that would stay unreported in a lonely area of his brain, only to be taken out and re-lived when Helen was fast asleep and he could shed a few quiet tears.

He had seen buddies, ones who had told Tony of the lives they were going to have when they got back to Philly, or San Fran or a million other towns and cities, and yet Tony had seen many of those guys return in body bags.

So one night before they faced the Vietcong in a final push upstream, Tony promised himself that if he managed to make it back home, then he and Helen would move out West and make a life there.
And they had.

Tony had got employment with a big computer company, and it had given them a comfortable life in California. They had raised three kids, two girls and a boy, and each of them had married and had given Tony and Helen a total of ten grandchildren.

Their boy had joined the army and had been stationed overseas. The two girls had moved to the north, one to San Jose, and the other to Sacramento.

When the doctor told Helen about the spread of the disease, he had advised her to put all those important things in her life, in order. One was to tell Tony – something that had taken her almost seven days to get around to doing. Helen felt that there would be life before the illness and life after – and when the story came out nothing would ever be the same again.

Tony didn’t cry when he heard the news, instead he just picked up the basketball that always lay out in the yard and he shot a few hoops. When Helen took to her bed that evening, he went to the chair on the back porch – one he kept for all the private thoughts in his head – and he wept – he cried for Helen, for his buddies, and in some ways for himself.

In the morning, he tried to shine as bright as the California sun, but for those who knew Tony, they would have seen that his eyes were a little duller.

They spent the next couple of days living as if the news had never broken between the two of them, but every time Helen looked away at something, Tony would try to drink in her face, and smell and laughter, and try to keep them locked in his head for the cold days that lay ahead when she would no longer be around.

It was on the following Saturday, that Tony suggested they have another honeymoon and asked Helen where they should go.
“Home,” she said.
“But you are home,” Tony had replied.
“No, back to the Catskills. I want to watch the sun going down behind Overlook Mountain,” then she smiled at him and his heart broke.

She didn’t want to fly, the trains were still troublesome, and she felt that maybe the bus would be too difficult to ride, what with her illness and all. So she suggested they drive back home along the route the Trailways bus had taken them to LA all those years before.

“We can just take our time,” she told Tony.  They both knew she wasn’t coming back from the Catskills – that would be the end of the road.

Tony closed up their home – he would decide what to do with it later, that kind of thinking was for another time.

Helen packed all the clothes she needed and by the Monday morning they set off to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Tony got them a room in one of the smartest hotels in Vegas and that night, Helen went down and gambled for the first and last time in her life. She started out with a hundred bucks and by the time she had played cards and roulette, she was three hundred dollars up. She put a hundred bucks in a charity box and with the two hundred other, she bought a couple of bottles of good champagne. She and Tony sat by the window the whole night and watched the sun come up over the desert. Neither of them spoke, they just drank, and watched the wonders of the world, and then fell asleep.

In the old days, the bus would have gone straight to Cedar City, but instead, Helen asked Tony to take her on a detour to Flagstaff and then on to the Grand Canyon. It had always been on her bucket list and what with the kids and her job, they had never found the time.

The sight was breath-taking – literally – she almost choked at the wonder of the Canyon, then Helen took a deep intake of air and shouted, ‘I love you, Tony with all my heart and soul’ at the top of her voice. A couple next to them applauded her and she smiled back.

It was another day or so before they made Salt Lake City. They checked into a motel and then went for a walk. On Sycamore Avenue, Helen led Tony by the hand to one of those burger joints. It had been years since she had taken the kids to one of those places. Helen and Tony had the biggest burgers with fries and cheese, and when they were finished, Helen cleared away the trash, and hopped up on the table. She asked Tony to join her – and when they were both on the top, she started to dance and Tony quickly joined in.

“I’ve seen it in the movies,” she told Tony. “And I always wanted to do it.”
On the morning they crossed into Wyoming, the sky was azure blue and the wind was fresh. It was one of those days when Helen wanted to hold on to life until the end of time, itself.

In Laramie, Tony arranged for Helen and him to go riding. She’d been on horses as a kid but had lost her way somewhere down the line. It was the greatest feeling in the world, riding horse back and she and Tony felt like they were very first cowboys. Why had she left it so long?

In Cheyenne they had gone skinny dipping in the motel pool and when the manager told them there had been complaints, Helen walked naked from the pool back to her room. In the room, Helen and Tony laughed until their sides were almost bursting.

A couple of days later they made Omaha, Nebraska, and at the bar that evening, the two of them pretended that they were strangers to each other, ones who had just met for the very first time. A tall man with a strange eye tried to pick up Helen that night, which flattered her and annoyed Tony – a little.

They reached the Windy City a day or so later. Helen wanted to go to the top of the Sears Tower, but the following morning she was so ill that Tony had taken her to hospital.

She wasn’t getting any better and the doctor advised her to take several days rest, and then to fly back to New York. That night Helen asked Tony to take her out of the hospital (regardless of the doctors). So Tony dressed up in a white coat, put Helen in a wheelchair, and pushed her right out of the place. The two of them felt like kids again.

They drove around Lake Erie. It had always been a special place for Helen as a child. On vacation, her grandparents, and parents would rent a little cabin near the lake. She asked Tony to drive her to the cabin, but it wasn’t there anymore, it had been replaced by a large hotel and some cheap looking houses.

They stayed the night in the hotel which was someway between Cleveland and Erie, and she sat watching the dawn while Tony was still asleep. It was the same view she had sat watching in her grandmother’s arms all those years before.

She really didn’t feel so good but kept it hidden all through breakfast. It was just as they were heading into New York State, that she asked Tony to hurry the journey up. She felt that there wasn’t so much time.

When they drove through the woods of the Catskills, she let out a sigh. She had been waiting years to exhale this way.  Helen rolled down the window and breathed in a large fix of her cherished mountain air.

This was the place that had made her, and this was the land that would see her at rest. She had made it at last.
She was home.

bobby stevenson 2015

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Secret Things, Sweet Things

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Secret Things

She awoke, as she did every morning to the sound of the muffled, shouting voice and the door being unlocked before repeatedly kicked. Slivers of sunlight were all that her young eyes could understand until she reached for the old spectacles that were her only possession.

She was in the garden shed as this was where she lived.

There was another kick, usually when her father had just finished his roll-up cigarette.

She reached up to remove the old stinking blanket that covered the window. The morning light did what it usually did – the shock of it always burned her eyes at first. Sometimes the blanket was just her window curtain, but on frosty, snowy night it was a life saver. It just meant that she would awaken with her father’s face looking through the window – her privacy gone.

In the kitchen, her father and grandmother danced around each other; the dance of the bully and the gentle old lady. When the old woman’s daughter had disappeared, she had decided to wait on her return. As the months became years, she still had hope burning in her heart. The bully knew better, he didn’t expect his wife to come back.

The grandmother was limited in what she could do to keep her granddaughter safe and leaving was not an option. They had tried that and he had tracked both of them down, and both had been badly beaten.

He took them to the hospital afterwards and told the doctor that they had been attacked by a burglar. The doctor knew from the bully’s eyes what the truth was.

If it was a particularly cold night, the grandmother would take the young girl into her room for a few warm hours. By the morning, she had to be returned to the shed; the young girl’s sin was reminding the bully of her mother.

Each morning the little lost girl in her dishevelled clothes would leave her shed and look through the kitchen window. When her father was reading the newspaper, her grandmother would signal that she could enter and come to the table.

The young girl would sit very still with her arms by her side and wait to be told when to move.

Her grandmother would place toast beside the girl and then ruffle her hair. The little lost girl would eat the dry toast washed down with a glass of milk, but on this morning as the little girl reached for the milk, she knocked it over.

The quiet old lady and the little lost girl watched as the milk ran towards, then under, her father’s newspaper. The bully jumped, screwed up the wet newspaper, threw it at the little girl, knocking her off her stool. Before she left for school, her grandmother stuck a plaster on the cut on her forehead. The bully was long gone and so she kissed her granddaughter and ruffled her hair then gave her a few coins to spend.

On the bus she sat alone drawing pictures in the window condensation.

As three older girls passed her, they laughed, held their noses and then spat on the little girl. A kindly woman took out a paper handkerchief and handed it to the little lost one. The little girl wiped the spit away, then put the paper hanky in her pocket. In the class, she sat as she did at the breakfast table with her arms by her side. She sat alone.

The teacher handed out exam results to each pupil and behind the little girl, a classmate held her nose letting everyone know of the smell. The class laughed until the teacher told them to be quiet.

The teacher placed the young girl’s result on her desk: 10 out of 10 – ‘excellent’. The girl behind her stole the paper and threw it around the class. One boy ripped the paper into pieces. When the class emptied, the little girl put the pieces of her exam result in her pocket.

At lunchtime, the young girl walked to the cafe and bought chips with the money her grandmother had given her. The woman in the cafe smiled as the little girl smiled back.

Hungrily the girl walked and ate her chips before bumping into someone. It was one of the older girls who stole the little girl’s food and threw it to her friends. One tipped the chips on to the street then they all walked away laughing. The little girl picked up her chip paper and put it in her pocket.

Later that day, the little girl sat in the kitchen at the table with her grandmother. She drew a beautiful picture with her crayons. Then a door slammed and the grandmother motioned her granddaughter to go out the kitchen door – quickly.

In the shed the young girl hung the blanket over her window once more, just as her father put a lock on the shed door. He made sure it was locked solid. Under her bedding was a torch which the young girl switched on. She then took out the all the papers and hankies from her pocket and the plaster from her forehead. With a little pot of glue, all these things were stuck to a larger object.

The object was made up of bits of this and that. The little lost girl had built something out of all the badness that had come her way. As she shone the torch up towards the object, she smiled at what she has made.

She had built an angel which reached to the roof and watched over her.

 

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Sweet Things

She eventually found her mother.

Perhaps it was more correct to say that her mother had found her, having traced her daughter through a friend. The mother had been in contact just before the girl’s 21st birthday.

It had been a dark time when the girl had returned for her grandmother’s funeral. Her father had spoken to her that day, perhaps for the first time in years. He had screamed at her from time to time but on this sad day, as her grandmother’s coffin was placed in the ground, he whispered “She’s joined your mother”. She was seventeen by then and she didn’t want to believe him. She didn’t believe him.

Her father had shrunk since last she’d seen him and the drinking had taken its toll; he was barely forty and comfortably wore the body of an older man.

It had only been three years since the girl had gone to school and simply never returned home. She had taken the first bus that was leaving town and had paid for it with her grandmother’s lunch money. She’d been skipping meals to save up – what was the point anyway? There was always going to be someone to take the food away from her. Only when the bus was on the road and the town was just a distant church spire – did she begin to relax. She dumped her school clothes in a bin at the first comfort stop then dressed into a sweater and jeans.

Her grandmother had given her an address in the city, “just in case” she said. “In case I go, sooner rather than later.”  The address was meant for an emergency and this is exactly what this was. She felt sorry that she had abandoned her grandmother to that madman but she could take it no longer. She had given them all a thousand chances: the school, the teachers, her classmates, even her grandmother, to change things and no one had.

Then one morning when she awoke in the shed for the hundredth time, the angel gave her a look as if to say, ‘it’s up to you, no one else is coming to help’.

The address had taken her to a Mrs Beverly Smith of Harrow, London – a kindly woman who had once been a beauty and had once been her grandmother’s bridesmaid.

“Just call me Bev, love, everyone does.”

She lived on her own with a cat called Lennon. Her husband, Stanley, had ‘been taken’ five years before.

“I’ve got me son, ‘Arry, he’s a doctor in Aberdeen. Works for one of them oil companies. I’ve got two grandchildren, Sarah and Stanley. That’s enough for me, thank you for asking.”

Bev let the girl stay in Harry’s room, “Don’t suppose he’ll be wanting it anytime soon.”

Bev knew a woman who knew the manager of the local supermarket and got the girl a job on a Saturday. She proved such a dependable hard worker that after a month, she was taken on full-time.

“If you don’t mind me saying. I’ve seen them drawings you do, love. You’re too good just to doodle. I reckon you could be an artist.” Bev also knew a woman who knew a man that ran an art course at the local college in the evenings. Bev managed to get the girl on a course that ran over the winter.

By December, the girl’s art teacher was recommending that the girl go to Art School – “You are that good.” At weekends when she wasn’t working at the store, she was working on her portfolio. She painted Lennon as a thank you for Bev and it hung on the wall next to a photo of Stanley, her husband.

The following September, the girl was accepted into Central Saint Martin’s College of Arts and Design. This wasn’t just any art school, this was the best. When the girl had worked in the supermarket she had kept her own company, always expecting someone to take everything away from her.

At college she was spotted by a young girl called Leonetta, who befriended her.

“Just call me Leon.”

Leon was studying fashion and was in her second year. Her boyfriend was a footballer and insisted that Leon watch him every Saturday – so she took the girl along as company. One Saturday evening after football, Leon and her boyfriend came to Bev’s for something to eat. The girl had never had friends home before for something as glamorous as a meal.

The girl met a boy at one of the football matches. Eddie was his name, he was an electrician.

“You hold on to that one” said Bev, “Electricians are never out of work.”

And she did hold on to that one. She didn’t tell him of her past life, something like that would keep for another day. But one day when they were walking along the High Street, she laughed out loud and then she realised that she was laughing for the very first time in her short life.

Eddy made her eyes smile.In her final year at art school, Eddie asked her to marry him and she accepted.

A week before the art show, she went back to Bev’s for a change of clothes as all the students had been working day and night and basically sleeping at the college. When she walked into the front room, Bev was sitting with a woman.

“She’s your Mum.”

Bev left the two of them to talk.

“I was younger than you when I left.  I couldn’t cope. He wasn’t a bad man, not at first. He just used to come home drunk and lock me in the shed out back. You know the one?”

The girl nodded that she did.

There were several roads that the girl could have taken that day but the one she took was to place her arms around her mother and they both wept.

She invited her Mum, along with Leon and her boyfriend,Eddie to the graduation show but pride of place was kept for Bev, her other mum.

Along with the girl’s drawings of Bev, Lennon and Bev’s family was a statue she had made from glued paper.

It was a tall smiling angel and underneath it were the words:

“Everything is going to be alright.”

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Stones Under The Snow

stone

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

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

Nothing could ever hurt her there.

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

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

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

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

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

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


bobby stevenson 2016

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Yellow Balloon

yellow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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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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Thing and His Song

thing

Thing was never going to sing at the Paris Opera but that wasn’t the point; he sang because he liked it. It made him happy. Thing’s father was always whistling a tune and he did it so often that most times he didn’t seem to notice.

“What’s that tune?” Thing would ask.

“Heck, if I know,” said his dad.

Thing’s mother would also ‘tut’ at that point because she didn’t think that folks should say ‘heck’.

Thing’s father had told him that the Great Thing in the sky probably put a tune in everyone’s heart when they were born and that was the tune they worked by all their lives. It was the one they sang when they were scared, or happy, or in love, or sad or just because they felt like it.

Thing had a song about jumping as high as the clouds and on those days when he was blue or later on when he missed his parents, he would shout it out as loud as he could all around the cave and do you know what? He felt a whole lot better.

Sometimes in town he would sing the song real quite like so the he didn’t feel so alone.

Some sunny days in spring, folks would bring their geetars down to the town square and they’d sing about this and that and the other. Big one and small ones would stand and listen and join in -, if the feeling took them. It left everyone humming tunes as they walked home.

Thing wished he could sing just one song that would make folks happy and have them all whistling tunes and perhaps they would stand around and join in.

One day at school his teacher asked each person in the class to stand and do something special, tell a joke, perform a card trick, tell about their grandma – anything that was a little unique to them.

Thing listened in awe at the folks in his class, he laughed, he cried, he applauded and he hollered when the person deserved it –  although as Mrs Hills said, ‘hollering was for outside’.

Then it was Thing’s turn and he stood and he sang his jumping song. I think it was Casey Briggs who shouted ‘What cha call that? A thong? He ain’t singing he’s thinging’ and most of the folks in the class began to laugh. Mrs Hills clapped her hands, thanked Thing and asked him to sit again.

For a long time after and a long time after that, folks would shout across the street at him about ‘Thing the thinger who sings thongs’. Now I ain’t telling you this story about Thing so you’ll feel sorry and all – Thing wasn’t like that –  Thing had a song in his heart which had been placed there by the Great Thing in the sky the day he was born and it was his duty to sing the song if it made him happy.

Thing once asked his Dad, when he’d had a bad day with the folks in school, if maybe the problem was that we all had different songs in our hearts and that some folks didn’t want to listen or couldn’t hear the other folks’ tunes.

“Heck, you just might be right there, little ‘un’,” said his dad.

His mother gave out another ‘tut’ because of that word being used again.

Thing realised that the way he heard his song was probably not the way the other folks heard it. It didn’t mean anyone was wrong or right. It was just that a tune is a tune and only really exists to make you happy. If the others don’t like your tune then you should just sing it to yourself.

So you’re already packing up this story and thinking we’ve arrived at the end of it – but you’d be wrong.

One day when Thing was sitting at the door of his cave, some horses were grazing nearby and just at that point Thing felt the need to sing the tune he’d been given.

One by one the horses came over and stood and listened and shook their heads, the way horses do, and then they rubbed their heads against Thing as a way of thanking him.

You see, you couldn’t make everyone like your song – that wasn’t why you had been given it – but sometimes when you least expected it your song might seep into someone else’s heart and make them feel a whole lot better .

Thing decided you should never let anyone stop you singing your song and never ever change it or you just might miss a friend who likes your tune.

bobby stevenson 2016

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Cracked Hearts & Walking Wounded

dream

1.Cracked Hearts

She washes her mother with water and with love. Gently caressing the body that looks like someone she once knew, but her mother’s mind has already gone ahead and waits for the soul to return. She cleans away the saliva from the mouth that once used to chastise and kiss and smile.

He dreads the sun coming up as it means another day and another night of little sleep. Somewhere between being ten years of age and this morning it all got complicated. The knots are too tightly tied to try to undo them anymore. He can hear the car next door starting up – the sign that he has to do it all….all over again.

If it wasn’t for the kids she would have left months ago, may be years. They were happy once. They were in love back then but all she did was turn her head away, take her eye off from where she was going and they slipped away from each other.

Okay, so he’s not a kid anymore but he tells himself that the injections he puts in his leg every morning are increasing his super powers. Yesterday he told himself he could see through peoples’ clothing. It made him smile and it greased another sticky day.

She’s 17 and gravity hasn’t hit her yet. She doesn’t know what waits around the corner but she is happy with her family and her dog called, Bertie. Oh, and her boyfriend.

The old lady lives two doors up from no one. She’s been there since the war and the neighbours have come and gone and although she used to know everyone, she locks her door against the night. When she goes, she’ll go like Eleanor Rigby. Then she hums what she thinks is the tune.

It’s the end of another day and as the heads lie on the pillow, or the sofa or the street, everyone should be standing up there on the podium, arms aloft for a job well done.
To get through a day, any day, deserves a medal.

2. The Walking Wounded

Sally Anne leaves the house at number 17 with her heart almost bursting through her chest.

She’s pregnant, ‘with child’ as she read somewhere – just like the girl who was on the cover of that magazine – Sally’s really really happy, she’s already deciding how her new home will look. She only found out while her Mum was making the toast and tea and the little line turned blue.

At number 22, the curtains twitch as Sam Lot watches his little distraction, Sally, walking down the street – bless her. Tonight’s the night he’s going to have to tell her it’s over; his wife is beginning to suspect.

The Hammerston twins, Fred and Irene at number 31 leave together, saying ‘good morning’ together to everyone they meet. As they run up the street for the West Town bus, Irene wonders how she’s going to tell her brother about her job up north.

Next door in number 33, Geraldine paces the floor – ‘born worrying, die worrying’ her mother used to tell the neighbours. But the lump on her breast makes her pace faster.

‘Lucky’ Jim turns into the street after finishing another night shift at the old plastic Works. He knows it has its bonuses – Jim had no trouble finding stuff to wrap his wife up in. And every morning when he finishes work he buys a newspaper, ten menthol cigarettes from the corner shop and wonders if this will be the day they find her.

In the little shop on the corner, Andy, the milkman, delivers another crate of cream and then creeps out having failed to ask Matilda – who works there – if she’d like to go to the park on Sunday.

Matilda’s heart is almost bursting through her chest as she waits for Andy to ask.
And Hugh, big strong Hugh from number 36, can’t tell anyone (not even his best friend) that his black eyes – which he covers with his wife’s makeup – are not from playing sports. She’s warned him, if he acts like a child then he must be punished like one.
He’s hidden the packed bag in the shed for the day he leaves her.

At the white house on the corner, Alice takes in gentleman callers until her husband gets back from a far off land.

And in the bus shelter Eddie drinks a beer, not to brighten the dull day but to tone down the colours. And from every house on the street comes the screech of silent screaming.Only the dogs can hear.

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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Honey On The Thorn

reaching out
As you reach out,
You’re already asking yourself if it’s all
Too far,
And as your tongue stretches to taste the honey,
You know that the searing pain will follow,
Cutting deeper than your heart can take ,
But who among us,
Can resist?
And as the blood drips from the wound,
And you slam your eyes tightly,
Tightly shut,
Promising yourself it’s for the very last time,
Even then,
Even in that brief whisper of time,
When it’s not too late to turn and run,
Even then,
Your very bones are craving for just one more taste
Of honey on the thorn.
bobby stevenson 2016
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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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The Day That Love Was Invented

revolutionislove

The midday sun warmed his metal quicker than it warmed his skin parts. In this field, like every other field in the quadrant, everyone was equal. No one got more than any other cyborg, and, equally, no one would expect any less. It was the way it had been since memories began.

That was the way with memories – you only remembered the last time you thought of something. What you remembered was the memory of remembering. Memories were not permanent. When you thought of a holiday or a Christmas day in the past, you made a new memory and the old one was gone – for good.

The masters had still not perfected the droid body, it was easier just to grow the organic body in the sheds. No one ever went there, to the sheds – those places were for the farmers, the old ones, those who created all of us. No one knew who they were, but it was peaceful to know that they existed.

The head, the metal head, which heated all too quick, was the part that was created by the cyborgs. The old ways, the old brains had faults, had errors, had too many weaknesses wired into them.

In this new world of metal heads, everyone was equal. With the organic brain, no unit had the need to weep, or to laugh, or shout, or love. No one really knew what love was anymore. It was a concept, a memory, an old-fashioned trait which had been eradicated. How could we all be equal if only some fell in love, and others did not. What if the love was not returned? It was unfair. It was gone. It was unequal.

Those who lived in the far sheds, had talked about love coming from the brain. Those who had existed before the cyborgs, had left books in which they wrote about love coming from the heart. But where in the heart would it have come from? There was no centre of thinking or feeling in the heart.

That was why the masters knew that it was simply a safe organic pump. It maintained the liquid which circulated the fleshy body. A cold super-liquid kept the metal brain in motion.

There were two meetings each day – one before the fields, and one at the end of the shift. The fields were difficult places to work, but they were necessary to keep the organic bodies running, and to keep them stoked with energy.

The Prefect would take note of all cyborgs working that day, and check that all of them returned to the rest pods.

Each day, Borg 12a4 would stand on the third row and each day he would identify himself at the start and the end of work. In front of him stood a female labelled Borg 49b7, and as the days and weeks and months progressed, a strange thing happened to him. He felt a great elation when he saw her and looked forward to the end of the end of the day when he would see her again.

He had no idea why or what he felt.

During the work day, as each Borg tended to the crops, any weeds or any other wasteful growths were removed. Except he did another weird thing: he put one of these weeds in his store cup and did not destroy or tell the Prefect about it.

Therefore he could not understand why, as he waited on the Prefect calling his name at the end of the day, he wanted to pass the wasteful growth to the Borg who stood in front of him.

If there had been a witness to this, on that day when this first important action had occurred, perhaps they would have thought that indeed there was a ghost in the machine, and that perhaps love and loving was universal and not located in an organic brain.

Perhaps love wasn’t located in any place, at all.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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

Coldharbour: Passing Wonderful

lochinver

If Alexandra McMillan had been born in any era other than her own, she would have most certainly been burned as a witch. Luckily for her, she popped into the world the same year as Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone; inspiring her father, Robert, to name his new daughter after the Scottish inventor.

Robert McMillan came down from the Isle of Skye in 1870 with the intention of working on the Oban railroad; a few days later, he fell hopelessly in love with the best looking girl in Coldharbour. They married several months before Alexandra’s birth and neither of them ever regretted the haste of their marriage. Ian, their healthy robust son, who followed three years later, was to join what everyone agreed was the happiest of families.

Robert’s hard work and honesty brought him promotion within the rail company and he was assigned the difficult route of Tyndrum to Oban; a line that was pestered by constant rock falls from Ben Cruachan. One night when Alexandra was only six years of age, she drew a picture of a train being struck by a large boulder. The following afternoon the rail crash came to pass just as it had been prophesied and no one in Coldharbour ever looked at little Alexandra in quite the same way again. She never found her own behaviour, in any way, odd and neither did her mother, and in fact they would sometimes imagine the same things at the same time. The story was often repeated in the family that at the very moment Ian fell from a ridge in Glencoe, both Alexandra and her mother felt his leg snap.

She once visited an ‘old wifey’ who lived just outside Dalmally and of whom it was said had the gift of the second sight. So one afternoon when Alexandra had finished the big school, she walked the nine miles to the wifey’s house. Alexandra apologised that she couldn’t afford to pay the woman for a reading but the woman patted her hand, told her that everything happens for a reason and that one day she would return the favour. Alexandra was told that she would be loved and not loved in the same measure and at the same time.

“You will be loved by one who does not know you are there”, whispered the old wifey “You will have your dreams but in a different flavour from the wanting of it and not within the confines of Coldharbour”.
So on the long walk back home, Alexandra came to the conclusion that she would have to leave the village at the earliest opportunity to fulfil her dreams.She would study hard, she told herself, for therein would lie the escape route. Reading and the getting of knowledge was relatively easy for Alexandra, for more than anything else in the world she loved books. Walter Scott was her favourite author and Ivanhoe, her hero, but for her, the greatest of all writers was a mister Robert Burns from Ayrshire. It was always with a hint of regret to Alexandra that she found herself born too late to marry the great man.

She could break hearts with her rendition of ‘My love is like a red, red rose’ but she knew that the breaking of hearts in Coldharbour was a waste of her time and theirs.

There was never any chance of her attending college or university in Glasgow, so she read and studied and taught herself French which, she had to admit, had limited uses in Coldharbour until one day in early spring a French family visited the village. They had heard stories about the pretty church founded by the Vikings and it had proved so interesting that they delayed their trip to Fort William.

Alex, as the French family called her, was employed as an interpreter. Monsieur Picard felt that Alex’s accent was “a little unusual but your grammar is delicious”. High praise indeed as she’d never actually heard anyone speaking French until then. She found the family both exotic and exciting and in a very short time they became close, so much so that on the day they left, they kissed a startled Alex on both cheeks and insisted she visit their ‘little chateau’ in Montparnasse, Paris. Life came looking for Alex McMillan and found her packed and ready to take the journey.

She fell head over heels in love with Paris the moment she stepped out of the train at Gare Du Nord. This was a city in the middle of the Golden Era, la belle époque, a city that was impossible to resist.

Deciding to save the little money she had, Alex walked away from the station and turned left down a narrow street clutching her five centimes map. Every open door she passed had its own smell and its own personal story. There are slivers of time, when just for that second, you know that your life is almost achingly perfect – Alex would later call these the ‘passing wonderful’ moments – those moments when you are happy to just to be alive.

She crossed the Rue De Rivoli and lost her breath with the beautiful splendour of it all, but the best was yet to come. As she rounded the back of the Louvre and crossed the Pont Neuf, she saw reflected in the sparkling River Seine the Notre Dame cathedral and she wept. If there was anywhere in the world or any time you could wish to exist then it was here Paris, autumn 1896.

A little ginger man with a large straw boater pointed out the Picard’s ‘little chateau’. No wonder he had a wry smile on his freckled face, it was such a monster of a building, easily the largest on this stretch of Boulevard Raspail. After she had pulled the black lever which tipped the wooden block which rang the bell, she was told by a woman who was in the process of bleaching her moustache to go to the rear of the building. Alex sat in the servant’s kitchen scared to even breathe when suddenly Madame Picard swished into the room and screamed out “what have they done to my little Scottish friend?”

Madame showed Alex into a bedroom that was larger than her entire Coldharbour home. “You will be happy here and you may stay as long as you wish, dinner is at seven thirty”.Alex outstretched her arms, looked heavenward then fell comfortably back on to a big soft bed, life was good and she was still just ‘passing wonderful’.

At dinner that evening, Alex was seated beside an elderly gentleman whose hands were ravaged by arthritis but whose heart was still relatively untouched. “I noticed you admiring the painting hanging on the wall. It was a gift to my very dear and close friend, Alain Picard”

Alex recognised it as a Renoir or at least an excellent copy.

”It is called ‘Dancing at Bougival’, you like it?”

“Of course” said Alex.

“I am Pierre-Auguste Renoir and you are Alexandra, the fortune-teller, I have heard much about you”

Monsieur Renoir told her of his new neighbour in Montmartre who had recently arrived from the south of France and who was in want of an English teacher.

So the strange girl from the West Highlands became a teacher and a friend of one of France’s greatest painters. By December, she had moved to a flat in the Pigalle only a few minutes’ walk from Montmartre. By the following summer, her growing number of pupils had led her to set up a small English language school near the Sacre Coeur, although it didn’t pay well, she supplemented it by charging for fortune-telling. By the light of day she was the paragon of sobriety but by night she sat with her comrades in cafes, smoking, sipping brandy and discussing the current troubles. On one such evening she was given a pencil drawing of herself by Toulouse-Lautrec, it lay undimmed in her suitcase until it was found by her son many years later.

In late August of 1905, Alex had saved enough money to take a short holiday in the fashionable resort of Deauville on the north coast of France. It was populated, every summer, for several weeks by the international rich. Alex was hoping that maybe this was a place to find a husband before she was thirty and past her prime.

One day, as she was leaving the beach, she leaned against a post to put her shoes on when one of the straps broke. She hobbled for a short distance along the promenade before she was stopped by the most gigantic of men who asked in French, but with a distinct American twang, if he could help. Alex said of course he could.

“I’m assuming you’re not French…English?”

“Scottish”

“Ah, the land of Robert Burns” said the very confident, very tall black man with obvious good taste, thought Alex.

“He is my most favourite of all poets” she said proudly.

“Is he indeed…is he, indeed?” and with that Jacob took her small hand in his and led her to the Saint Bernard cafe, where over a glass of cheap wine she found out all she needed to know. He had recently left the French Foreign Legion where he had spent many a happy year, he was originally from west Philadelphia, a city in the United States of America, but had left that country suddenly for reasons he would not expand upon.

“And that, my Scottish, is the story”.

When she first made love to Jacob it was on Bastille night, just as the whole of Montmartre had turned into one large firework celebration; it was her time for true happiness, right here and right now, and so another ‘wonderful’ was about to be passed.

On Christmas day, Alex found out that she was pregnant. In Montmartre there were many combinations of couples, all one had to do was throw a stone and you were sure to hit an unconventional pairing. Outside of this environment life was very different, very different indeed. Even before Isaiah’s birth, Jacob’s family had found out about the baby and were begging him to bring it home. Whatever troubles had occurred to make him run in the first place, they must have now been settled as he felt it was safe to return.

One morning Alex woke to the silence. This was about the same time as Jacob was boarding a ship bound for New York with a baby. If ever a heart was broken, it was Alex’s heart; broken all the way through and quietly done.

She returned to the family home at Coldharbour where now only Ian, her brother, remained. No one in the village saw her light a bonfire early one morning, a large bonfire which contained all the souvenirs and memories of France. When the fire eventually faded away to embers and died, so did her eyes.

It stayed that way for many years until a letter arrived from a young American by the name of Isaiah Dupont who, he believed, may be Alex’s son and he wondered if she could meet him in Glasgow.She knew from the moment she stepped nervously into the Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street that this was her son – no doubt about it, he had Jacob’s face. He told his mother that he had met an English girl while studying at Temple University in Philadelphia and that they were now engaged and living in London. He showed Alex the letter that Jacob had asked to be sent to his son if he should fail to return from the Front. It explained what really had happened to his mother and how very sorry his father was. Then Isaiah told his mother he was to be married in August and he wanted her to be at his side.

Before Alex left Coldharbour, she visited the cottage of the ‘old wifey’ who’d once lived just outside Dalmally. The woman’s daughter thanked her for the years Alex had sent money from France and told her of the difference it had made to their lives. A letter lay on her mother’s fireplace to be read by Alex when she returned.

“I can never thank you enough for your kindness and for the beautiful way you have repaid me. I know by the time you read this you will have found what you are looking for. Once you were loved and not loved at the same time and now that time has passed. Go to them.”

Alex lived well into her nineties and was lovingly looked after by her son, his wife and their three children. She never went back to Coldharbour.

Each night, as she closed her eyes, she would clutch a book of poems by Robert Burns and within seconds sleep would paint a huge smile on her face.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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A Christmas Walk

andrewroland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Andy! Andy!”

Andy ran to the utility room.

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

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

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

 

bobby stevenson 2016

photo:  Christmas in the Cotswolds – Andrew Roland

 

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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