a SenSe of Place
Angela Barton Rosemary Brierley Tony Challis Sarah Dale Helena Durham Liz Hart Pippa Hennessy Caroline Salzedo Fiona TheokritoďŹ€ Mike Wareham
This collection of work was published in 2015 by Nottingham Writers’ Studio, 25 Hockley, Nottingham NG1 1FH www.nottinghamwritersstudio.co.uk
Collection copyright Nottingham Writers’ Studio Copyright for individual articles rests with the authors
Nottingham Writers’ Studio gratefully acknowledges financial support from Arts Council England
Printed in Great Britain by Russell Press, Nottingham
INTRoDuCTIoN ...................................................................................................................5 PIECING ToGETHER THE PAST Rosemary Brierley ...........................................................7 PoTBANk Liz Hart .........................................................................................................15 THREE LuNDy PoEMS Pippa Hennessy ........................................................................24 I LovE THIS BoDy Caroline Salzedo ............................................................................30 EvIDENCE oF EARTHquAkE Tony Challis ......................................................................33 DISSoCIATIoN Helena Durham ....................................................................................34 DuSk IN AFGHANISTAN Angela Barton........................................................................36 THE DRovERS’ RoAD Mike Wareham ..........................................................................38 WRABNESS Sarah Dale .................................................................................................40 RIvER SWIMMING AT SkENFRITH Fiona Theokritoﬀ .....................................................43
In fiction, places can too often be relegated to the background: setting, a mere backdrop. But location is far more influential than might first appear. The setting of a scene can alter characters’ moods (a place with bad memories? or with cultural meaning?) and determine the course of events (can they be honest with each other in public? do they have to be quiet?). It can also reveal character by shaping a character’s choices (are they safe at home? or on the run?). on an even deeper level, the sense of place that a writer evokes can add dimensions and meaning, summon moods and conjure up powerful imagery that exposes a story’s beating heart. The theme for this issue is “A Sense of Place”, and the selected pieces show great skill in crafting settings that could never be called “backdrops”. From windswept coastlines that define a coming of age to socially rigid workshops that recall a far-too-recently lost world, the settings in these stories are vital players in their own right. This issue’s theme was selected in honour of Nottingham Writers’ Studio moving into its own dedicated premises. As the stories in this volume clearly demonstrate, place matters, and we very much hope that our new home can inspire, welcome and draw together the community of writers that we are so lucky to have. The NWS Journal Editorial Team
PIecIng together the PaSt Rosemary Brierley
Mombasa: a city on an island, less than five miles square, cloaked within the east coast of kenya. on the north side, Tudor Creek, a shallow harbour where, for centuries, Arab dhows came to barter beads, wooden chests and cloth for ivory and rhino horn. on the south side, Port Reitz, the deep inland waterway where naval battleships, destroyers and troopships sheltered at kilindini docks during World War II. Mombasa: only a name until a few years ago, somewhere I couldn’t have pinpointed on the map, a place I would never have visited if not for Aunt Flora. Flora had a secret, one she’d kept for over sixty years. The family knew that during World War II, she served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (Wrens) stationed in Mombasa and Ceylon, but she’d never spoke to anyone about her time there – until the last few years of her life. When she died at the age of 92, she left me her diaries. I have pictures in my head of the places she visited, but these are sketched from words. I need to go there and see for myself... * * * our ship sets a course through a gap in the ridge of white water that marks the coral reef protecting kenya’s east coast. We sail on between buoys, straight ahead towards the island of Mombasa. The low cliﬀs and the lighthouse loom closer, and at the last moment the ship turns hard to port and hugs the island so closely that we can see people playing golf on the headland and almost feel the spray from waves crashing on the rocks below. Then we have entered the narrow approach to kilindini docks. 7
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo The contour on the mainland side is natural and undulating, with palm trees growing down to the water’s edge and waves lapping onto sandy beaches; on the island side, it is man-made with straight-sided, concrete quays, corrugated iron warehouses and rusty cranes. The blue waters of Port Reitz stretch out before us. I try to imagine what it was like when the Wrens arrived on the 5th of April 1943: rows of dismal grey hulls, a forest of funnels, gun turrets and radio masts reaching up above the palm trees. From all accounts Mombasa is the last place anyone would want to be stationed. We were taken in buses from the docks along a very uninteresting road to the WRNS Quarters and I must say my first impressions were not good... All around the camp was barbed wire... and guards at the gate. Flora’s diaries make no mention of the work she did or where she lived: the Wrens had signed the oﬃcial Secrets Act before they left Britain. However, she once let slip that they were billeted at Fort St Joseph. “Fort St Joseph is in a restricted area. you cannot go there,” says omar, the guide my husband and I have hired for the day. Instead he takes us to a two-storey building with wooden walls worn and bleached with age. He tells us that during British rule, it was the law courts. It appears to have changed little since then despite the modern sign outside that reads The Centre for Heritage Development in Africa. Inside, it is dark and a fusty smell hangs in the air. No one is around so omar leads the way upstairs, turning to point out loose treads. At the end of the landing is a room where cobwebs hang from the ceiling and row upon row of hardback books line the walls. He explains to a woman in a sari that we are looking for information about Mombasa during World War II; they both begin searching the shelves. I try to help but cannot as the gilt lettering on the spines is not English. I feel like an awkward supermarket customer demanding an out-of-stock item. Then 8
A SENSE oF PLACE a man wearing a long, white kanzu comes in and speaks to omar, who ushers us back along the dusty landing and into a small room. Inside, a white man sits at an antique desk with a laptop computer open in front of him. When omar speaks to him in Swahili, the man’s face glows with excitement. He stands and, arms open wide, steps forward to greet us. To our surprise, he says, “God has brought you to me,” in a German accent. Hans, a marine archaeologist studying the coastline around Fort St Joseph, has become interested in its wartime coastal defences. He has discovered that Navy personnel were once billeted there. I can hardly believe it: I am talking to someone who can confirm Flora’s account, has a permit to enter this restricted area and oﬀers to take us there. once there, Hans shows his pass and the guard unlocks the rusty gate. A path of bare earth winds through the coarse grass and low bushes on a strip of land between the walled police compound and the sea. The cool breeze is a welcome relief from the scorching sun. All that remains of the fort itself is crumbling stone ramparts and an octagonal room half buried in the cliﬀ. Gun-slits frame a view over the old harbour on one side, and on the other, of rugged cliﬀs and the Indian ocean. I ask Hans where the Wrens’ bandas used to be. He says they were inside what is now the police compound and that, although he is allowed in there, he cannot take us with him. I try to be content with peering through the gaps between the bricks. And there it is: a hut almost identical to the one my aunt stands outside in a photograph preserved in her album. I take out my camera but Hans shakes his head. * * * The next day, omar is waiting for us along with Ahmed, the taxi driver who took us to Fort St Joseph. Before being posted overseas, Flora worked at Bletchley Park, and my research revealed that many of their code-breaking outposts were set up in requisitioned schools. The words HMS Allidina are written inside the cover of her diary; our destination today is Allidina visram High School. 9
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo I expect just to look over the wall, but no, Ahmed drives straight in through the gates, alongside the pristine playing field and right up to the rear of the school. Surrounded by tall poplar trees, the walls of this two-storey building are freshly painted in magnolia, and the many windows have louvered wooden shutters to keep out the heat of the sun. The stone arches above them are picked out in sky blue. omar gets out of the taxi and beckons us to follow him through wrought iron gates into a courtyard surrounded on three sides by the building. The architecture is not African, but a relic of colonialism, reminiscent of a two-tiered cloister with walkways behind colonnades and stone balustrades. Leading oﬀ these open-air corridors are stout wooden doors; I guess they open into classrooms, as one of them is labelled 4W. A well-tended garden sits in the centre of the courtyard, boasting an abundance of large, shiny tropical leaves. We skirt around it, inhaling the fragrance of the creamy-white frangipani flowers, hearing only the faint drone of insects. omar leads the way up a few steps at the far end of the building, across a lobby and out again through the double front doors. 1921 is chiselled into the stone above them. I realise that the school is set on a cliﬀ top overlooking Tudor Creek. I once read an account by a wireless operator stationed in Mombasa. When the Arab dhows came into harbour, the boatmen beat their drums so loudly that at times they couldn’t read the signals. So I am right about interpreting Flora’s diary. This must have been the Bletchley Park outpost where they intercepted messages from Japanese admirals to their fleet in the Pacific, from generals to their forces occupying South East Asia. Here, behind closed doors in one of these classrooms, Flora played her part in decoding those messages. * * * As the only servicewomen in Mombasa, the Wrens were never short of invitations to dances or outings. oﬃcers aboard ships in port took them sailing down the kenyan coast. 10
A SENSE oF PLACE It was a glorious day and we left from the flagstaff steps. She was a fine boat, a 32ft cutter and there were four chiefs, a PO and us two Wrens. We did our best to learn about sailing although several times when I took over, I think they thought she would capsize and were all making remarks about being ready to swim. We sailed along to a very pretty beach where we dropped anchor. on another half day oﬀ, Flora and her friend joined two second lieutenants for a trip to White Sands. To get there, they drove across the Nyali Bridge to the north mainland, where we are now heading. The Nyali pontoon bridge, a flimsy structure that rose and fell with the tide, is long gone, so we take the new Nyali Bridge, a concrete, sixlane highway. The mainland road is lined with makeshift buildings constructed of coral, thatch or corrugated iron – anything, in fact. They house a nursery school called Little Graduates, a beauty salon named Pretty Woman. A shack no bigger than a garage has a hand-painted sign saying Nectar Pub. on open land, Masai people stand next to their traditional homes and watch us drive by. We pass a modern supermarket and a garden centre, then Ahmed brings his taxi to a halt outside the White Sands Hotel. The seashore has now been taken over by a string of up-market hotels. Back in the 1940s, it was a public beach with access via a narrow, rutted track. We bounced along; it really was a wonder we were not thrown out of the back... Eventually the road opened out and we found ourselves almost on the beach, there were a number of small, white, thatched bandas, situated amongst palm trees. It was a picture I shall never forget, a perfect spot…a place one reads about but can hardly believe exists, it was so peaceful and miles away from any signs of towns and civilisation. 11
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo As Flora and her companions ate their picnic, two local boys appeared out of nowhere. one of them wound sisal around his ankles to link them loosely together then, using the sisal to gain purchase on the ridged bark, he shinned up the trunk of a palm tree When he reached the top, coconuts rained down to land with dull plops in the soft sand. His friend scooped them up and oﬀered them for sale; Flora and company bought them, of course. After they’d eaten their picnic Flora looked round for some shade from the blistering sun. We had tea on the balcony of one of the bandas overlooking the sand-hills and sea. We were rather dubious of the small buttered pancakes they brought us but they tasted much better than they looked. More than sixty years later, my husband and I sit on high stools at the White Sands Hotel sharing a bar meal with omar and Ahmed. The hotel is pure luxury. We were greeted by a doorman in tails, led across gleaming marble floors beneath shimmering chandeliers to the veranda. We look out on a pond where tall sword-shaped leaves emerge from the still water, lily pads float on the surface and circular stepping stones lead across to the beach. I follow this path to the shore. Palm trees bow out towards the sea, casting frond-shadows over a great sweep of white sand that stretches for miles between green headlands way, way in the distance. Through the crystal clear water where the sea gently laps the shore, many varieties of conch shells and coral are visible. Further out, the ocean turns from transparent to turquoise, then to deep cobalt blue. The sun shines in the clear sky, and flat-bottomed clouds hover on the horizon. I now know why Flora called White Sands the perfect spot. * * * No bridge oﬀers a direct route to the south mainland so we take the ferry to visit Shelly Beach just as Flora did on her last day in Mombasa. 12
A SENSE oF PLACE It was an exceptionally hot day so we went across to the mainland by Likoni ferry... Once oﬀ the main road, you felt to be miles from civilisation, as there was nothing to be seen but palm trees in all directions with hills in the distance. There were several narrow paths leading to small native houses, very primitive with a small garden in front and several goats and hens round about. The metal ramp scrapes onto the concrete and Ahmed drives slowly oﬀ the ferry, hooting at the foot-passengers swarming around us. Today, the palm trees are gone, the ground cleared to make way for development. Mansions now occupy the area between road and shore, their grounds blooming with flame-coloured flowers of the flamboyant tree, purple and magenta bougainvillea. on the other side of the road, more modest homes of breeze blocks and corrugated iron are in various stages of construction, some with only two rows of bricks to mark the foundations and lay claim to the plot. Larger buildings have signs outside labelling them as accommodation for the disabled and underprivileged, homes to children whose parents have died of AIDS. In 1943, anyone could visit Shelly Beach. Not so today. Access is only via the big houses or the hotels that border the shore. We pull up in front of the Shelly Beach Hotel; it is surrounded by an electric fence, a barrier blocks the driveway and security staﬀ stand guard. The hotel has been closed since 2004 because, with the troubles in kenya, tourists have stopped coming and the company is bankrupt. one of the guards agrees to show us around what must once have been an idyllic holiday paradise. Now weeds carpet the rustic paths, black and green mould smudges the concrete walls of the holiday villas and the thatched roofs have slipped and hang at alarming angles. The swimming pool’s tiles are cracked, and just a puddle of rusty water remains at the deep end. The palm trees, however, stand proud, with warnings of falling coconuts still nailed to their trunks. As we wait for the ferry to take us back to Mombasa Island, we see the ship we will board tomorrow berthed among the container ships in 13
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo kilindini docks. on her last day in Mombasa, Flora also made this five minute crossing and, with a hand shading the sun from her eyes, searched among the grey battleships and frigates for the troopship that would take her on to her next posting in Ceylon. It seemed hard to realise that on the following day we should be sailing away and leaving all this behind. I never thought on arriving in Mombasa that I should ever be so sorry to leave. We too will be sorry to leave Mombasa. I arrived with my mind full of rough sketches, drawn from conversations with Flora and the words she wrote in her diary. Tomorrow I will take away with me real images of real people and real places, and a greater insight into my aunt’s past.
rosemary Brierley gained an MA in Writing from Nottingham Trent university in 2006. Before retiring she was an associate lecturer for The open university and worked in the NHS. Since then Rosemary has had several articles, mainly on healthrelated topics, and a couple of pieces of short fiction published in national magazines. She is currently working on a memoir of her aunt’s experiences in WW2.
PotBank Liz Hart
Every time Jen tried to bring the eyes to life, she failed. They stared back at her, empty and uninterested. Twenty pairs of eyes, all lined up along the middle of her workbench. She picked up May Morning, one of the figures she’d just finished. A delightful young girl in a navy-blue and white gingham dress carried a basket of meadow flowers and gazed at an apple tree spread with palest pink blossom. Eight inches high with a lot of work in it, it was part of a rush order for a big American department store. Jen sighed. However delicately she wielded her liner brush, May Morning’s eyes stayed unmoved by the glowing blossom and the freshness of the morning. ‘Capture the eyes, Jen,’ her night-school art teacher had told her, ‘and you capture the essence of a person.’ The teacher had gone on to talk about Russian icon artists, how only the most devout and experienced were privileged to paint the eyes, for only then did the saint come alive. Jen wondered if the clay people and animals she painted lived in some way, just as the saints did. After all, God made man out of clay. karen the supervisor had called Jen the youngest and best freehand paintress in the shop. Jen had been pleased with the compliment, but she had studied the eyes in the portrait gallery at Hanley Museum and knew that painting eyes on pottery figures wasn’t the same as painting eyes on easel portraits, with their illusion of reflective light. If only one day she could be a portraitist, a proper artist, not a paintress on a potbank in Stoke-on-Trent. Not a factory worker whose 15
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo work clothes – as smart as any secretary’s up Hanley – smelled as if she misted herself with Eau de Turpentine. Not a girl who’d just been raised to accept her place in life and trained from school to decorate hundreds of pottery figures a week on piecework pay, with nothing to look forward to but marriage, children and a two-up, two-down, and the same two Wakes Weeks a year on holiday in Skegness. Last year, a social anthropologist from London university had spent six months observing and interviewing them as they worked, joining in the everyday life of the potbank. Intrigued, Jen had engaged her in conversation. Helena had explained that she studied people as they went about their everyday lives, in families, communities, in their work places. She’d seemed fascinated by things that were ordinary and unremarkable, like how the paintresses set out their workbenches, each one personal and unique, how they mixed their colours, and what they meant by “good work” and “bad work”. She’d listened with such interest when Jen told her about her Auntie’s pottery Dalmatian, half-size but modelled true-to-life, and how she changed the water in its bowl every morning before leaving for work. Helena had written that down in her notebook. Having someone there, interested in them as craftswomen, was nice even if Helena did have some strange ideas. For instance, she believed craftspeople and clay were intimately connected in a “kind of alchemy” that stretched back to Primitive Man. She’d said it was “a universal attempt to gain control over elemental forces of nature that had miraculously survived the onslaught of industrial production.” Helena had left four months ago to “write up” her findings, and Jen still missed her. Meeting her had changed Jen somehow. She’d started to see things diﬀerently. Helena had encouraged her to study for a Fine Art degree in London, even oﬀered to help with the application. But, uncertain about losing all that was familiar, Jen had hesitated, hadn’t applied. Since then she’d felt strangely restless. With a shrug, Jen forced her attention back to her figures. May 16
A SENSE oF PLACE Morning was good work for her, the figure flew through her fingers, and she could make her piecework money with ease. But, unless she concentrated, she’d start making mistakes and then the supervisor would return the board of work for her to do again. Given everything else happening on the potbank, she couldn’t risk producing substandard work. Later that morning, Jen stood in the canteen with the other paintresses, almost ninety of them from the two decorating workshops - the Small Figure Shop she worked in, and the Big vase Shop. They’d been summoned by Mr Allcock the new Works Manager to be told about his plans for “reengineering.” He was twenty-five, had worked in the car industry in Birmingham since leaving school and had just gained a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. He knew all about how a potbank ought to work. Mr Allcock stood at the end of the canteen in a white coat over his navy pinstripe suit, like a hospital doctor. ‘Now girls, as you know for the last six months we’ve been piloting a new system in the Big vase Shop. under the unit System you don’t paint a piece all through, like before, but only one or two colours, then it goes to the next girl, and they paint their one or two colours, and so on. Breaking the process down into units means we’ve been able to take women oﬀ the street and train them as freehand paintresses in six weeks, not six years!’ Listening to him, Jen thought of her friend Dorothy, who sat next to her at the workbench, and Sylvia and Enid who sat together further down the shop. All three were in their sixties and had known each other since school. At fourteen they’d been apprenticed for six years as freehand paintresses at Spode before being allowed even to touch the best ware. What would they make of all this? ‘Girls, you’ve got to remember that it’s the 1980s, not the 1780s, and the old master potters are long dead. If Stoke-on-Trent is going to stay ahead of the game, we’ve got to modernise, and that means new ways of doing things. Any questions?’ There weren’t. 17
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo ‘They’ll never be able to make it work in this shop,’ Dorothy announced when they got back to their workbench. ‘Sylvia and Enid will tell you the same. Wasting their time. Painting them big vases isn’t anything like painting figures. Just filling-in with a big brush. They’re not proper paintresses!’ ‘They say they’ve got robots now at Wedgwood.’ ‘Not freehand painting they haven’t, duck.’ ‘It’s only a matter of time,’ Jen said. ‘Whatever they do, no good will come of it. you’ll see. ’ Dorothy hummed to herself as she applied sky blue to the lace on May Morning’s petticoat. ‘Me youngest cast these,’ she said, fondly. ‘Been clocking-on at six o’clock every morning, working until seven or eight every night, to get this order out for Mr Allcock.’ Suddenly, from the other end of the shop, Sylvia cried out. ‘What’s up, Sylvia?’ Dorothy called over to her. ‘Black Eagle’s materialised, duck. He’s smoking his pipe at side of me chair. “No smoke without fire,” he’s just said to me.’ Jen glanced over but the spot beside Sylvia was empty. To her eyes, at least. At breakfast next morning, Enid nipped to the downstairs toilet, then met the Grey Lady on her way back. These encounters never bothered her. She just said ‘Morning, duck’ and stood aside politely while the Grey Lady walked through the wall. ‘See!’ Dorothy said when Enid reported the encounter. ‘Sylvia’s spirit guide yesterday, and now the Grey Lady. That Mr Allcock’s called-up things as he shouldn’t have.’ Jen didn’t respond. She was used to sightings of such visitations whenever change was afoot, although she’d never seen anything herself. She’d asked Helena once whether she believed in the spirit world, like all the other women did. Helena had bitten her bottom lip and thought for a moment, then smiled. ‘When I first came here Jen, I didn’t at all. I thought of myself as an objective social scientist studying other people’s beliefs. But then one evening a strange thing happened. I’d just been interviewing Alf the kiln 18
A SENSE oF PLACE man and it was getting late, almost dusk, and to get to the main door I’d come up through the First Floor Casting Shop. I stood for a moment and looked around. Something wasn’t right. The air was speckled with clay dust as usual, but it swirled around as if something had disturbed it. The shop was quiet, all the casters and fettler-spongers had gone home, yet it buzzed with life, more than ever it did in the daytime. There were rows and rows of pale ghostly Dalmatian dogs, unpainted clay bodies, all staring at me with white eyes. They knew I was there! I ran as fast as I could through the shop and down the stairs and didn’t stop running until I was out on the street.’ Three weeks after the meeting with Mr Allcock, two days before the unit System was to be piloted in their own shop, Jen said to Dorothy, ‘Some of the Big vase women have called a meeting. They’re worried for their jobs. There’s talk of making the ware in China. Big Brenda’s coming along to speak about what’s happening. you coming?’ The older woman shook her head. ‘It’ll never happen, whatever Mr Allcock says.’ ‘But when they’ve worked out how to do it under the new system they’ll send it to China and we’ll all be out of a job. Big Brenda told me they’re sending the head figure maker and his wife to train them. They’re going for two years at least, all expenses paid, a house and car and everything, top wages, and when they come back they’ll be made.’ Dorothy stared wide-eyed at Jen as if she’d just blasphemed. ‘How can Chinese make pottery?’ ‘They’ve been doing it for hundreds of years. Why do you think it’s called china?’ ‘yes, but it’s not the same as making earthenware figures is it, turning them out by the thousands on piecework? Anyway, where are they going to get the designs from for a start?’ ‘They’ll use our designs and make the moulds, same as us. Won’t be any diﬀerent,’ Jen said. 19
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo ‘you mean they’ll take our work and make it out there?’ ‘of course they will. May Morning and all the rest and for a fraction of the pay and no union. Like it used to be here, and will be again if we bury our heads in the sand.’ Dorothy scraped her palette knife on the mixing tile, her mouth tight. ‘That’s the trouble with you,’ she said after a while. ‘What?’ ‘Since that Helena turned your head you’ve got an answer for everything. Getting above yourself. Think yourself too high. Think you’re posh like her. But you’re not. you’re just a factory worker same as rest of us.’ ‘It’s not that...’ ‘What is it then?’ ‘oh, it’s... it’s... Dunno. Can’t explain.’ Well, she could, but would Dorothy understand? She didn’t feel higher or better than anyone else, she felt diﬀerent, and life called to her to find out what that meant. She didn’t want to become like May Morning, stuck for ever gazing out at the world with empty eyes. She wanted more from life, not less, and she ached to know what she might become if only the potbank weren’t such a small, enclosed world. ‘Now you listen to me, lady.’ Dorothy wagged the palette knife in Jen’s face. ‘Those Big vase women are always making trouble, spreading rumours. And you’re becoming a trouble-maker like them. It’s workers like you as’ll be death of pottery industry. Don’t know why you don’t go and join them. you don’t have to sit against me, and I don’t have to sit against you!’ As she listened, something inside her tore away, like a dam wall collapsing, and a great wave of frustration burst inside her until her knees shook and her hands trembled. She’d had enough of being treated like a girl, of not being heard, of feeling more and more like she didn’t fit in. ‘How dare you speak to me like that!’ she heard herself saying. ‘Why should I leave my workbench just because you don’t want to hear the 20
A SENSE oF PLACE truth? At least the Big vase women don’t sit there, doing nothing, behaving as if nothing’s ever going to change, when it’s staring you in the face. If you don’t want to sit next to me, that’s fine. you leave! Go and sit with Sylvia and Enid and you can spend your time reminiscing about the good old days. Here I’ll help you carry your things.’ She started to gather up Dorothy’s family photographs and brushes. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ Dorothy grabbed Jen’s arm. ‘Put those bloody down!’ ‘Leave go of me!’ Jen shouted. ‘Mum! Jen! What are you doing? Stop it!’ The two women broke apart to see Dorothy’s son standing at the end of their workbench, staring at them. By now the workshop had gone quiet, and Sylvia and Enid had come over. ‘It’s alright, duck,’ Sylvia said to Michael. ‘Just a little ruck, that’s all.’ ‘Michael, what are you doing here?’ Dorothy said. ‘Why aren’t you in casting shop? And why are you carrying that black bin bag?’ ‘They’ve made me redundant, Mum, that’s why. I’ve no work. They’ve stopped casting May Morning. Going to make them in China. Supervisor came and tapped me on shoulder, said Personnel want to see you and when I went in they said as they was sorry but they’d got no more work for me, me job had gone, and they gave me this bin bag and told me to clear me stuﬀ and go home.’ ‘They can’t do that! union won’t let them,’ Dorothy said. She slumped in her chair, face pale as china clay. ‘Seems they can,’ Michael said, going to his mother and putting his hand gently on her arm. ‘Seems they can do a lot of things.’ ‘Michael, what are you saying? Sylvia asked. ‘I’m only the first, is what I’m saying.’ He glanced around at the paintresses from the rest of the shop who’d now left their workbenches to gather around him. Rows of them nudged up to each other, some linking arms, faces anxious, questioning, looking to him for answers. He stepped away from his mother and stood to address them, hands shoved 21
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo deep into his overall pockets. ‘you’ll all be getting your redundancy notices,’ he said, a crack in his voice. ‘It’ll be in Sentinel tonight. Potbank’s closing in three months. Going to pull it down to make room for a car park. They’re building a superstore.’ For a moment everything was still. No-one moved or spoke. The women gazed upon Michael in awe, as if at a Seer. Then, starting as no more than a murmur, an anguished cry began to rise from the group of paintresses like the wail of a dying creature. All around Jen, women held each other, cried on each other’s shoulders, talked, shook their heads disbelieving, shocked, angry, distraught. Jen knew she was witnessing the end of things. Michael had put his arm around his mother and was leading her away. ‘Taking her home,’ he called over his shoulder to Jen. ‘Dunna worry, duck. Weren’t your fault. It’s bosses setting us against each other.’ Then Jen saw the Grey Lady walking slowly towards her, head bowed, her white hands crossed on her chest, in mourning for the living. As the apparition neared Jen it lifted its head and smiled at her, a sad, knowing smile. Jen smiled back and the Grey Lady nodded and vanished. Next morning when Jen got to their workbench, Dorothy was sitting in her usual place, just as before, but she didn’t look up and say ‘Hiya, duck,’ as she normally did. Jen assumed she was being sneeped. Too bruised inside to be the first to speak, and unsure what else to do, she unpacked her toast and tea flask. She’d just sat down when Dorothy leaned across and kissed her cheek with the tenderness of a mother. ‘I’m sorry, Jen, for what I said to you, duck. you spoke the truth and I should have listened.’ ‘It doesn’t matter,’ Jen replied, squeezing her hand. ‘you didn’t mean it. We’ll always be friends.’ Then Dorothy reached under the bench and took out of her shopping bag two oatcakes, wrapped in greaseproof paper, rolled around crispy bacon and grilled cheese, still warm. ‘know you like them 22
A SENSE oF PLACE done like this, and I got up early to go oatcake shop so they’d be nice for your breakfast.’ Jen watched Dorothy arrange the oatcakes on a plate with a napkin she’d brought in especially. Something in those simple actions, the kindness and decency of Potteries people, stirred her deeply. She understood now that it came from a humanity that sprang from making things, from taking something of the earth and bringing it to life by the skill of your hands. How precious that was, and how much she’d taken it for granted. In that moment, Jen knew that she wasn’t staying. This was her home and yet she didn’t belong here anymore. She would phone Helena tonight and tell her that she’d changed her mind, she did want to apply to do a degree, and would she help her? She would become a portraitist. She wasn’t going to end up like Michael and Dorothy and all the rest, thrown on the scrap heap. She couldn’t stop the inevitable. Change would happen whatever she did. But one day she would reach back into her memories to resurrect something of this world which, by then, would be lost forever. She would paint the Dorothies and Sylvias and Enids; the designers, modellers and mouldmakers; the figure makers, casters and fettler-spongers; the aerographers, lithographers and gilders; the dippers, kiln men and sliphouse men. All her fellow alchemists. When they were no more, her paint brush would give them life.
liz hart taught and carried out research as a social anthropologist and historian, and studied Creative Writing with Don Webb at uCLA Extension. She has numerous non-fiction publications. Potbank is her first short story and draws on two lengthy periods of fieldwork in the North Staﬀordshire Potteries. She is currently working on her second novel, and would like somebody to publish her first.
three lundy PoemS Pippa Hennessy
my garden, sixty miles from the sea 1. this is the wrong island 2. the MS oldenburg bounds across the Bristol Channel my stomach churns an old man wearing blue dungarees and a dishevelled demeanour waves binoculars at a pair of guillemots dolphins fold the waves like silk the Rat Island oystercatchers shout welcome, welcome, look at me, look at me hammers on the hold door reply we're here 3. red wine swells nine voices to climb torch-beams to the glass-captured moon a burnished beetle follows me from the sealsâ€™ playground at the tip of Brazen Ward to Long Roost, where ten thousand razorbills and eight puďŹƒns nest 24
A SENSE oF PLACE a dunlin trips over my feet on its way to the next puddle skylarks, invisible, fill the sky five adults and seven children picnic by the concrete engine block of a WWII German bomber I wish the gulls would hush as a newborn lamb takes its first steps two puﬀed-up pigeons huddle and grumble by the one-roomed cottage where I shiver and can’t sleep for laughing 4. I am never more than half a mile from the sea the sea which is always flat and grey when I return to the wrong island
Pippa hennessy was a software developer in a previous life, but she’s much better now. She tries to find time to write in between her three jobs. When she does, she writes poetry and fiction, and has also published graphic stories and creative non-fiction. She first visited Lundy in 2000, and stayed there over 25 times in the next eight years. She has been yearning to return ever since.
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo
In old light cottage A threadbare armchair enfolds me the flue howls back at the gale that portrait of Wellington gazes out of the window at the lighthouse. Handwritten scrawls fill the log book not mine, not yet. June 28th 2000 Saw a puﬃn. No time to write. Boat leaving soon. Sad to go. August 13th 2000 Another lovely stay. Did lots of walking. Then twenty-three and a half pages in one hand. October 23rd 2000 ...The electricity went oﬀ at 12:23 tonight. I had to get up to go to the loo at 2:14. The flue kept me awake for 3 hours and 47 minutes altogether... That october, when he wrote that, we were here for six days and another because of the storms. 26
A SENSE oF PLACE Slipping and sliding down the Clovelly cobbles, our pink labels matched his. Hello. We’ll be neighbours he said, standing too close. I turned away to laugh with my friends. We drank and tied our tongues in knots in the lighthouse, for six days and another. The girls won all the games and I fell in love with this peat-topped block of granite, glued by the Gulf Stream to the Atlantic’s edge. We celebrated the extra day, he complained his train ticket would expire. Now I know too much of what he did, when the flue screamed. He didn’t write that he asked me for a safety pin to hold his trousers up so he could get to North Light on schedule. He didn’t write that our singing woke him up when the boat was cancelled. 27
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo His review of the garlic bread served in the tavern was detailed and informative. He didn’t mention that we sat at the long table playing bridge loudly while he ate, alone. He wrote: 7:58am, I washed up. 8:13am, I took the rubbish out to the bins. He didn’t see the oystercatchers digging for worms just behind the cemetery wall or the gravestones of medieval chieftains standing where they had stood for centuries. He didn’t hear the seals singing as they rode the storm. He didn’t feel the spindrift skidding like rabbits across the heather. A threadbare armchair enfolds me the flue howls back at the gale and I write 18th April 2002 I am here.
A SENSE oF PLACE
Quarry Beach Do you remember the old ladder? its broken step halfway down, thorns scratching hands that clung to ropes and rotting wood. We climbed down anyway to where great granite eggs make thunder under the waves. our bare feet took us over seaweed and limpets to see orange beaks flash past, crying look at me and we wished we could fly. A seal swimming southwards as usual stopped briefly: why do beasts with such long flippers refuse to play with me in the waves? one stone on another, we built a tower to remind the sea we were here for a while I sat, warming my back, hatching an image of the sun and the sea and of you 29
I love thIS Body Caroline Salzedo
I love this body: the body that I know. It anchors me; takes me away from the chattering ‘monkey mind’. When I breathe, the monkey quietens. My lungs expand and massage the heart housed between them. In Chinese Medicine, the heart is the Emperor and good health occurs when the Emperor is happy. How often has my Emperor been happy? I send her my focus as if I am holding a delicate, precious baby. Is it her who sends these butterflies into my stomach? They release an aching that I cannot name, dark like a thicket of thorns. I ease my fingers underneath the ribs deep into the tissue. Gentle tears bubble up. Then with my slow, measured breathing, my stomach feels caressed; the tears stop; the butterflies still. Perhaps they have become dragonflies floating on the now-calm sea of my stomach. The aching thicket is softening: it has been a lifetime’s work to create; it is a lifetime’s work to unravel. From my stomach, liquid spurts through a valve into the small intestine. The pulsing rhythm of peristalsis is like a spiral, like the tides of the sea and movements of the universe. one of my Shiatsu teachers says it comes from your mother’s egg at conception, at that alchemical moment when something new is created. I send my mind back to the spring when it happened. Perhaps birds sang like they do now. The small intestine is deep in the body, not attached to the abdominal wall; a long thin tube with inner projections like sea 30
A SENSE oF PLACE anemones. Text books say the surface area is the size of a tennis court. It reverberates to change. In Chinese Medicine, it sorts the pure from the impure. As children, it’s our parents’ role to do that, and protect us from shock. If they don’t, as I know from all the small intestines I have massaged and tended like gardens, a deep need develops in the cells for safety and shelter. I breathe, for all the times when I felt lost and unsafe as a child. Now only I can make it better. The whole sea of the digestive system is calmer. Peristalsis is like a stately minuet. I take my focus to the valve between the small and large intestines, down by the appendix, where it changes from a narrower tube to a wider one; from taking things in to letting them go: a pivotal place. I feel a whirring, like it is out of kilter, and I rub it, see it in my mind’s eye opening easily, without spluttering. up the ascending colon, across and down the descending colon. The pillars of the large intestine whose strength holds us up are like one long tube on each side of our body. I imagine them filled with golden liquid, suffused with sunlight. I breathe and take my hand round the right side to say hello to my liver; vital to life. What a name! The liver has a spark like the flash of inspiration. I feel it can take me anywhere in the universe: a magic carpet; my bottle with a genie and all the wishes in the world, if I but know how to ask. And then the back; my spine and kidneys: my life story, told without pretence or bluster. We can put on a front. We cannot put on a back. Everything lies hidden here. The place between my shoulder blades where I erected walls behind my heart, and my back erupted with pain. Stories going right back to being alone in the darkness of the womb. In my mind’s eye, I have held that delicate, precious baby, like I held my heart, and sent her love. Breathe; remember that the stories are no more. They are in the past. I am sitting in a room in a familiar house. outside, birds are singing. Reality is this body I love and know. 31
NoTTINGHAM WRITERSâ€™ STuDIo My hands take me to a place of healing where I acknowledge the fear and joy of everything known and unknown. My breath unfolds and ripples, and something opens like a trap door, connecting me out into the universe and down into my deepest cells.
caroline Salzedo is a Shiatsu practitioner and teacher, writer, wanderer and crone, who runs creative workshops incorporating movement and self-expression. A passion for writing is part of her spiritual practice, reflected in her pieces about body work, and the stories she writes, some based on her time in revolutionary Nicaragua in the 80s.
evIdence of earthQuake Tony Challis (House destroyed, 3rd July 365 AD, Kourion, Cyprus) Baby eighteen months old, time enough to name the others. Mother nineteen years; her young body had borne fruit. Father twenty-five, here seen clutching at meaning. Child, woman, man; three pelvic bones in line, still. A fierce inward thrust from male spine, right, to powdered infant skull, left. Coming from behind, his femur almost touches hers; mother’s arms over child’s head, and ribs galore: a palely ochred nest of bones. We know so much. What is most important we have always known. Nurturing warmth pleased these bodies as they strove to secure their harvest. The infant bathed in the sun, floated on the sea, until the flick of a god’s thumb; a hiccup of the sustaining planet. What remains of us is bone-deep. tony challis has spent many years working in education and therapy. He has been writing poetry since the 80s. He facilitates the Rainbow LGBT Writing group at Nottingham Writers' Studio and is secretary of Nottingham Poetry Society. He has become firmly enthusiastic about the compact but dynamic city in which he lives.
dISSocIatIon Helena Durham to pack seaside t-shirts, pullover fleeces and unread books to abandon the scent of pillow, the softness of rabbit’s ear to be doing this grown-up thing to take the train to feel it pick up the heart beat to lose a city, become blind to its name on the route map to inhale salted air, to exhale six hours of accumulated nothing to view an estuary mouth, to consider its width, its tides to fear its swallow and the lack of land to rub the right hand on white wash, the left on pastel stucco to fish for the name of this village to remember in moments of being here where there is to wish the flip-flops had not been forgotten to email photos of Pinky Murphy’s with its knitting-for-all basket, clotted cream teas to say this is the warmest place in Fowey in July to make a transient discovery: memory is a flickering light bulb to plunge into darkness, be fog over the sea to trust this is the day to leave to read the ticket’s destination, to follow instructions saying change, change, change to wash up at some station unable to make sense of the next reservation to have the presence to ring to hear her voice say 34
A SENSE oF PLACE New Street? Then you’re in Birmingham. Look for the train to Nottingham. Platform 11? one foot, then the other. Breathe, breathe gently. Ring once you’re home. to be conveyed to compare steam from the cooling towers with clouds over the bay on Wednesday to stroke the pebble pocketed for its smoothness on Thursday to rummage for the door key, to be tickled by beach sand from the paddle on Friday to breathe deeper with the click of the door in the warmth of red brick to sip hot chocolate from the favourite mug to snuggle up with pillow, stroke rabbit’s ear to close down to wake up, to check the calendar to wonder why a line was drawn through last week to shrug to shop, because the milk has gone oﬀ dissociation: noun2, a short-term defence mechanism against trauma, a post-survival disorder. In her more mature years, helena durham gained a degree in creative and professional writing. She has worked for the NHS and the Church of England. Her interests include writing, choral singing and mindfulness. She volunteers with the library service’s English conversation group for asylum seekers and incomers, and she is now an expert in explaining the phrase “Ey up mi duck”.
duSk In afghanIStan Angela Barton He looks for beauty in this brutal game Amongst the bitter dust of Helmand, And finds it in the sun’s splendour; Its amber rays caressing the mountain range. His army boots leave prints in the earth, As barren as unanswered wishes. But he finds no flower to press against his face To smell memories of his wife’s perfume. Waning daylight clings to rocks, Holding back the invading night. The wind, as sharp as a sickle blade, Is watched by a chalk-smudge moon. Through the silence his heart thuds, minute by slow minute. Squabbling insects dance and torment, Biting and sucking his pink-parched skin. He thinks of England’s gentle rain Dimpling puddles under pewter skies, And sighs. Dusk creeps onwards, darkening his thoughts of missed opportunities To say I love you. As night pours in from the sky.
A SENSE oF PLACE Does she see the same moon so many miles away? The soldier wipes his furrowed brow Wrinkled like the wind-blown dunes. Eyes raised, he looks into the navy blue; A shared constellation with home. Moving onwards Past peripheral shadows of outcrops, Like broken teeth in a rotting mouth. Tears roll down the hardest face each silent night In this foreign land, where each man dreams of going home.
angela Barton is busy editing her third novel, In The Shadow Of The Mulberry Tree. She has won awards for her writing and was delighted to win a national â€˜first chapter' competition. Having secured a Londonbased literary agent, Angela is hoping that her latest book, set in wartime France, will find that elusive publishing deal!
the droverS’ road Mike Wareham They came this way, the drovers. From holy Anglesey, y Mon they drove their little Welsh Black cattle across the silver shifting Llanfairfechan sands up through the wastes of Eryri where Snowdon loomed in misty snow. Shunning toll roads the tracks wove across the purple moors by standing stones lichened orange and grey in whorled runes a stone-narrow bridge across a peaty nant between two drystone walls a swarded green. They came this way, the drovers, Along this stony track through the gate by the blood-red rowan tree— across the Berwyn moors. By rushing Nant Rhydwilym three red barked pines confer— sign for an inn: ale singing bed for the night, a pen of stones and thorn to keep the cattle in. Stop to hear the drovers’ voices in the wind.
A SENSE oF PLACE From Anglesey’s green fattening fields three hundred miles to Smithfield slaughter they came this way, the drovers.
mike Wareham was an English teacher in East Midlands comprehensive schools for 33 years. Then he saw the light and started writing stories and poems instead, completing a degree in Creative Writing at Nottingham university. This was much more fun than marking! He still does spots of teaching – film, creative writing and literature – but only to those who’ve left school. He is also in bands, playing the guitar and singing Americana and Blues.
WraBneSS Sarah Dale
It’s nearly my bedtime by the time we’ve packed the car and picked up my grandparents. I’m squashed between them in the back seat with a box on my lap. The box contains a full bottle of milk, a half empty bottle of milk with a pale blue plastic cap on it (which is supposed to make it spill-proof, but Mum doesn’t trust it), a loaf of bread, the butter dish from home (complete with butter), and an already open packet of custard creams. I’m reminded, frequently, not to let the box tip up. At our destination, only half an hour’s drive away, Dad slowly manoeuvres the car along the familiar lane, rutted and bumpy, with long grass brushing the underside of the car. The lane is only wide enough for one car. I watch the milk swishing from side to side. We have to carry everything from the car with us and I’m instructed again not to tip the box. I fear I will drop it deliberately, powerless to prevent the fleeting urge to do the one thing I am told not to. We’ve come to the chalet. We are on holiday. It’s my grandmother who started calling it the chalet. I don’t know why. It is a beach hut, though not a picture postcard one. It is not an icecream coloured accessory to a staycation, or an investment property. Far from it. This is 1972. It stands independently from its handful of neighbours. They are all built, or cobbled together, to diﬀerent designs. ours – it belongs to my grandparents – is made of dark wood, with big single-glazed windows looking out over the estuary. At eight years old, I think it is the sea, and 40
A SENSE oF PLACE assume that the clock tower visible on the other side is French. Close up, it smells of creosote, with a background scent of sea air mixed with pollen from surrounding crops. It stands on stilts to escape the highest of tides, with a dark and sinister space underneath. I try not to look in it on my way up the wooden steps just in case I see something terrible. At the top of the stairs is a decked area, decades ahead of fashion, and there sits the hut — the chalet — itself. It is big enough to sleep in, with a bunk bed for me, and a porthole to peer through. Musty air greets us as we open the door and go in. I finally find somewhere to put the box down. It has no water supply or electricity. If we need water or the toilet we have to walk along the shingly beach and up a steep flight of steps to a toilet block at the top. The steps are gritty under my bare feet, and slightly damp and cold in the shade, but at the top, we are suddenly in the warm evening sunshine flowing across the fields. I brush my teeth. No one makes me wash properly here. Then I return, already feeling salty and sandy, to go to bed. I try to stay awake to listen to the adults’ conversation, but lulled by the sound of their chatter and the gentle hiss of the gas lamps, I surrender to irresistible waves of sleep. The next morning I wake to the smell and sound of bacon frying. But something isn’t right. There are too many Dad-noises. Clattering, whistling. ‘Where’s Mum?’ I ask as soon as I scramble out of the bunk. ‘outside, she’s not feeling too good,’ Dad says. Before he can stop me, I push past him to get outside. The rain is blowing at me as if someone is throwing it in handfuls. I can hear it hitting the chalet and the deck. And there Mum is, hunched over a bucket, coat around her shoulders, her hair whipping around like strips of seaweed. Dark, wet, shiny. She looks up and glares at me, and at Dad who is behind me. I am bundled back inside. My pyjamas are wet and Dad tells me to get dressed. We eat our breakfast without Mum as if nothing is going wrong. I don’t like the bacon. It’s not crispy like Mum does it and I try to cut out 41
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo all of the fat. They tell me to cheer up and spend the day trying to make me draw a picture or go for a walk. Later, the sun shines shakily and Mum changes her clothes and brushes her hair before we have our lunch. We eat all of our meals sitting in a row. The counter runs under the windows with the view of the beach, the mud and the water. Lunch is invariably salad — tinned salmon, lettuce, cucumber, tomato. Everything is homegrown or homemade using familiar unquestioned recipes. For pudding, we have cake. There is gingerbread (sliced and buttered), fruit cake, scones with jam from last year’s raspberries. It is washed down with tea, served in Cornish blue china cups, the blue and cream stripes stamping a lifelong imprint on my memory. Today, I notice that Mum doesn’t eat much. I keep thinking about last year when Mum went to hospital. She wrote me letters and Grandma came to stay to look after me and Dad. We went to the chalet for the day during that time. I didn’t like it. I wanted Mum. Every day, they pretend that everything’s normal but I know it’s not. Mum’s not the same any more. She keeps sleeping. I’m not allowed to sit on her lap. I don’t like her like this. I don’t want Dad or Grandma instead. I cry in my bunk bed so no-one can hear me. I want Mum. I just want Mum. Weeks later — we’re back home, school has started again and the weather is cold — they tell me that there will be a baby. They look at me as if I’ll be pleased. I’m not. I only want Mum, and I thought she only wanted me.
Sarah dale lives in Nottingham and practises as an occupational psychologist. Her writing so far has focused on non-fiction themes relating to mid-life and resilience. She has self-published two books, Keeping Your Spirits Up and Bolder and Wiser and is now venturing into writing fiction. Her website is www.creatingfocus.org.
rIver SWImmIng at SkenfrIth Fiona Theokritoﬀ I am swimming in the border Both St George and the dragon Basking in a natural jacuzzi Mermaid, siren, floozy My dimpled thighs surrendering to breathless cold. Now, more like a Hampstead lady I creep, cautious over slithery rocks Borrowed daps keep my soft toes safe. I scramble out, and as I drip border drops the dust beneath my feet becomes old-blood mud. Listen as Ancient ferrous soil sings With the mettle of warriors’ souls, In a rusted lusty voice. Iron in the blood, clanging for honour on history’s marches, hard–fought tale of ransacked castle, river and bridge.
(The river Mynnwy runs through Skenfrith, its course delineating the border between England and Wales) fiona theokritoﬀ joined Nottingham Writers’ Studio two years ago. She writes mainly poetry, and is currently working on her first play. She produced her first poetry collection Undertow in 2013. After twenty years working in children’s publishing she trained as a homeopath, and now practises from her home in Nottinghamshire.
This issue’s theme was selected in honour of Nottingham Writers’ Studio moving into its own dedicated premises. As the stories in this volume clearly demonstrate, place matters, and we very much hope that our new home can inspire, welcome and draw together the community of writers that we are so lucky to have. Founded in 2006, Nottingham Writers’ Studio is run by writers for writers, and is dedicated to the support and development of all forms of creative writing. As well as creating a vibrant social community for writers to discuss and develop their work through courses, writing groups and live literature events, NWS has championed major writing events, including WEyA2013, the Eu-funded Dovetail Project, and Nottingham Festival of Words, Nottingham’s first city-wide literature festival for over thirty years. We are proud to support Nottingham City of Literature. Membership is open to committed writers who have been or are on the verge of being published, living in or connected with Nottingham. Current members include novelists, poets, songwriters, scriptwriters, copywriters, playwrights and publishers at all stages of their careers. our patron is 2012 International IMPAC Dublin Award winner Jon McGregor.
NWS is supported by Arts Council England through Grants for the Arts.
This issue’s theme was selected in honour of Nottingham Writers’ Studio moving into its own dedicated premises. As the stories in this volum...