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The front cover image is a photo of Clydach River* by Emma Meredith.ÂŠ *See Editorial.
The Pages and Friends Bookshelf and Blog. http://www.thepagesandfriends.blogspot.com
Marit Meredith (aka Anna Reiers) was born and brought up in Norway, but settled in South Wales,UK, in 1972. Married, with six daughters and eight grandchildren, she’s kept very busy on the family front – but whenever she can, she writes, edits and publishes anthologies in aid of various charities under the umbrella of The Pages. She is a published writer, aiming to be a published novelist, and currently working on some very exciting projects. www.thepagesandfriends.blogspot.com and www.wherefactfandfictionfuse.blogspot.com
Kristina Meredith (Stina) was born and brought up in sunny South Wales, to a Norwegian mother (see above!) and Welsh father. A brief interlude to London to study fashion, didn’t quell the cravings for the green, green grass of… well, Valley’s or Fjords - it just added to her identity crisis. Now a mother to a very lively and curious 3 year old boy, life keeps her very busy. Design has taken firmly to the backseat, leaving her time to pursue her ambition to write. The Apprentice Writer was set up by Kristina and Marit, in order to interact with likeminded souls, and to help Kristina as she pursues her writing ambition. She is now studying for an MA in Creative Writing. www.theapprenticewriter.webs.com Rosa Johnson was born in Hampshire. She taught agriculture and animal husbandry. She is married to a horticulturist and has two grown up children. Writing has been a hobby since she was in her teens. She wrote (writes) short plays, dialogues and character studies for children. Short stories, articles and several attempts at novels came much later. Keen sportswoman until her spine rebelled; she was forced to adopt a more sedentary way of life when surgery failed in 1986. Rosa must now be content to follow international tennis, rugby and cricket on the radio. She’s a dabbler and will have a go at anything. Sewing, bonzai-ing, decorating, art and crafts, acting, writing. Anything but singing! Her ambition is one day to find that she can excel at something.
Paola Fornari was born on an island in Lake Victoria, and was brought up in Tanzania. Having lived in almost a dozen countries over three continents, she speaks five and half languages, describing herself as an ‘expatriate sin patria’ She explains her itinerant life by saying: ‘Some lead; others follow.’ She recently took up writing, and her articles have featured in diverse publications. Wherever she goes, she makes it her business to get involved in local activities, explore, and learn the language, making each new destination a real home. She lived in Montevideo between 2004 and 2008, but now lives in Bangladesh. http://www.writelink.co.uk/blogs/Chausiku/
Myra King is an Australian writer living in Encounter Bay, Australia. Between 1980 and 2003 she wrote for several Australian magazines and had a fortnightly advice column in a Tampa Bay (Florida) newspaper. Most recently she was lucky enough to be awarded first prize in the UK-based Global Short Story Competition and shortlisted for the EJ Brady Short Story Award. Her stories, articles and poetry have been published in the UK, Australia, USA and New Zealand. firstname.lastname@example.org
June Gundlack’s love of writing started when following a Start Writing Fiction course at the Open University. She has won prizes for non-fiction articles in magazines and national papers and is currently working on a novel aimed at young teens. She is a regular Reader’s Letters contributor to The Daily Mail, and regularly supplies The Pages with anecdotes of events that could only happen to a writer.
Jean began her career as a freelance writer in the early 1980s. Her work has been published in many UK magazines and newspapers – including SHE, The Lady, My Weekly, Sports Industries, and Church Times – as well as in writing and travel e-zines. Now she showcases some of her work on constant-content.com and has made a number of sales there. Jean believes the writing life is very different now, with so many supportive on-line communities and websites like The Apprentice Writer – a far cry from the writer’s isolation only a couple of decades ago. Until recently, Jean’s writing has been slotted in besideteaching and marketing projects. Now she has retired from these sidelines and is rejoicing in the freedom to write as much as she wants. www.jakilljeansmusings.blogspot.com
Daniel Haynes is 33 years old and lives alone in Macclesfield, Cheshire. He writes poetry and short stories (mainly horror/supernatural fiction), but would love to try his hand at a full length novel sometime. His favourite writer is Stephen King. Dan is an Information Analyst/ IT person in the NHS by day, and a Writer by night. Other interests include playing guitar and mandolin, Scrabble, reading, gardening, music, cooking, and the occasional dabble into extreme sports! He dreams of giving up working full time and pursuing a writing career one day.
Trevor Belshaw , aka Trevor Forest, is a writer of both adult and children's fiction. He lives in Nottingham, UK with his wife Doreen and two mad Springer Spaniels, Molly and Maisie. Trevor is the creator of Tracy’s Hot Mail and has just released a book of short stories entitled, Designer Shorts. Trevor has released four children’s books writing under the name, Trevor Forest; Magic Molly, Abigail Pink’s Angel, Faylinn Frost and the Snow Fairies and Peggy Larkin's War are available in paperback and eBook formats. He is currently working on his new book, The Duck Pond Lane Detectives. Trevor’s short stories and articles have appeared in various magazines including The Best of British, Ireland’s Own and First Edition. His poem My Mistake was awarded a highly commended status and included in the Farringdon Poetry competition best entries anthology. His children’s poem Clicking Gran, was longlisted in the Plough Poetry competition 2009. Trevor’s short stories have been published in many anthologies including the charity anthologies. 100 Stories for Haiti, 50 Stories for Pakistan, 100 Stories for Queensland, Another Haircut, Shambelurkling and other stories and 24 Stories for Advent. Many of his short stories have been published by Ether Books. Trevor is a regular contributor to The Pages - and is now a fully-fledged student with the OU, too. Twitter@tbelshaw Facebook Trevor Belshaw and Trevor Forest Email: Trevor@trevorbelshaw.com Website: http://www.trevorbelshaw.com Blog: http://www.trevorbelshaw.com/blog Trevor Forest: http://www.trevorforest.com
David Robinson has been a writer since his teens, and semi-professional since the mideighties. He is extensively published both in his local newspaper and across the web and small press magazines. He turned out over 80 pieces for Kwickee, the mobile phone information service. He published his first two novels in 2002, and his third novel, The Haunting of Melmerby Manor was published in 2008 by Virtual Tales (USA). Usually writing either humour or supernatural fact/fiction, he is currently engaged on several projects, but has already published several novels – in the STAC series, Space Truckers series, Voices, The Man in Black, and more. See the blog link below for more details. He lives with his wife and crackpot Jack Russel called Joe, on the edge of the moors northeast of Manchester. http://www.dwrob.com/
“Now got the bus pass, still trying to find time to write and feel the muse stirring a bit more of late. Publications include Countryside Tales, Dogs Monthly, The Lady, Peoples Friend, Writers’ News, plus numerous times online both UK and USA. To date, still class two pieces that were used by Women’s Aid as my proudest achievement. It’s not always about money. ( Never bother mentioning the anthologies because there’s too many, and being disorganised haven’t logged them all). My job driving a mobile post office to rural destinations that have been deprived of their facility, often fuels the imagination. (I seem to be a sounding post for everyone’s tales of joy and woe.) Hope to one day finish the novel that was started years ago...”
CONTRIBUTORS:……………………………………………………….…..p 3 EDITORIAL:……………….. COMPETITION: ………The
Pages 2nd Annual Competition…………..........p 8
A PLACE TO VISIT: …………Lytes POETRY:
……………Album of Dreams………….Patsy Goodsir………p 9 The Age of Circumspection Cometh……Rosa Johnson………p12 ……………..Breakdown………………..Dan Haynes………...p20 ……………..In Tandem…………………Dan Haynes………..p23 ……………..Seabath…………………… Dan Haynes………..p31
SHORT STORY: …………Heather
and Gorse……….Myra King………….p32
at Little Oak 12………Rosa Johnson ………p15 ……........Travel Article: Grey Areas…...June Gundlack………p18
FLASH FICTION: ...............The
EXPLORING CULTURES: ……Doin’
BOOK REVIEWS: ………A
Leap of Faith, by Richard Hardie…….Ed…….p19 Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens, by Jonathan Pinnock…J.G..p28
PRESS RELEASE: …Flatcap
– Grumpy old Blogger, by David Robinson…p29
DIARY PAGES:………….DWBP… A Cheeky Little End… June
I picked up The Writing Magazine the other day, and was quite amused by the article on what launching a new magazine actually entails. It was ‘The Mistakes to Avoid’ that caught my eye. O-oh. Never follow your heart? Well, of course I did. As for not starting on a shoestring budget… there wasn’t a budget at all. Just the will to make it happen. ‘Never go without your salary’, it stated. Salary? What salary? I was chuckling to myself at this stage, but felt a bit guilty reading the last paragraph – the one about always paying your contributors. Ah. The truth is that I would have to win the lottery – or write a best seller - to be able to do that. Or fill the magazine with advertising. I think that would spoil the essence of the magazine, somehow (the latter, that is). It’s a simple eZine, doing what it says ‘on the box’ –giving you a good read. But my apologies – and thank you to all of you who have contributed to this issue of The Pages and all the issues before, and the ones to come (hopefully). Can you believe that we have been going for three years already? There is of course our Annual Competition – with two cash prizes up for grabs. I would ask anyone wishing to enter the competition to wait a few weeks, as I won’t be able to acknowledge receipts of stories and payments for a little while (I’ve got an appointment with a surgeon in a few days – having my writing/right hand ‘fixed’). Good luck to Kristina, daughter, co-editor and producer, who is now studying for an MA in Creative Writing at UWIC (Cardiff), and to Trevor Belshaw, stalwart contributor and good friend, starting his studies with Open University. I’m just a slight shade of green, I promise. Speaking of green, the front cover of this issue depicts a small part of this green and pleasant land, soon to be spoiled by yet another so-called advance of man. The Heads of the Valleys road, which already split the village I live in, in half back in the 60s, is being dualled. The stretch through Clydach Gorge, a place of scientific and historical interest, is last in line because of the difficulties this pose. As you turn off towards Clydach South, there’s a caravan site – recently updated – and then the lovely picnic area. My children – when in the local school (also gone) – helped plant up the area. The caravan site will be gone, as there’s extensive work to be done, including re-routing the river. The one in the photo. Two of my daughters, Emma (the photographer) and Kristina, took their boys down to the river to ‘fish’ with their nets recently. They had a lovely time. I worked out that it’s just about the place where the new slip-on road will be situated, going right over the top of it. They have another summer, but come 2014, the work will be underway, if the powers-to-be get their way. We have yet to find out the full extent of the proposed work, but what I have learnt so far, is not good news. Off my soap box. I may need it for future use, so I’m keeping it safe. Although I’ll be out of action for a while, I hope to get a winter issue out in January/February. Till then, happy reading – and writing.
2nd Annual Competition
Short Story Competition: This time we are going to stick to the short story, and we’re inviting you to submit stories inspired by Shakespear’ Sister song ‘Stay’. As with last year’s theme ‘Yesterday’, you are welcome to interpret this in any way you wish. You could look at the refrain and go all gothic – or even venture into other worlds in science fiction stories: You'd better hope and pray that you make it safe Back to your own world You'd better hope and pray that you'll wake one day In your own world... ...or just take your lead from the actual word ’Stay’. Maximum 1000 words. Fee: £3 for one entry, £5 for 2 entries. Payable through PayPal, to email@example.com Please add the Transaction ID from PayPal at the top of your email. Stories to be sent as attachments to firstname.lastname@example.org DEADLINE: 31st December 2011 1st prize: £50 + copy of the anthology ’Stay’ 2nd prize: £25 + copy of ’Stay’ 3rd prize: copy of ’Stay’. The proceeds of the anthology will be donated to the homelessness charity Shelter. Good Luck everyone! PS It would be a good idea to leave any entries for a few weeks, as my operation will mean that there will be a delay in acknowledging received entries and fees. Ed.
ALBUM OF DREAMS I was trying to escape, forget about work, money and all other burdens, using a book as the barricade. The soft grass freckled with wild campions, tickled my shins; a suitable spot to relax and dream. He stepped out from the trees, wearing a mahogany candelabra, like a bejewelled king, his coal black nose sniffing the air. The bold Monarch of the Glen majestic, revered, held me with his treacle eyes. His coat a swirling patination, rippled in the mountain breeze. This was his home, no place for me, head lowered, he observed and moved silently on. Respect cancelled camera, but the shutter in my heart sent the moment to a precious album of dreams.
ÂŠ Pasy Goodsir
A Place to Visit…
Lytes Cary – National Trust House and Estate You could easily spend the better part of a day at Lytes Cary. But if you happen to be travelling on the A303 route between London and Exeter, on opening days this National Trust (NT) property is equally good for an unusual driving break. It’s only about a mile away from the Podimore roundabout. You take the A372 signposted for Langport, then take the first right and it comes up on the right, close to the left turn to Kingsdon. There’s a café for snacks and drinks, an amazing garden to stroll in, a longer walk to the river and, of course, the house. And if, like us, you choose to visit the house, you’re in for a treat. Lytes Cary is quite a small house by NT standards. “But you have to remember”, said an enthusiastic steward, “that in the year 1450, you would have thought it very grand. Most of the Trust’s larger stately homes were not built till the 18th century.” True enough. Even so, on a warm spring day with sunshine beckoning outside, there were so many fascinating treasures around, I and my other half just couldn’t do the fast gallop through we’d intended. Every time we turned around something else caught the eye – for example, the stump mirror in the Oriel Room with it’s own large magnifying glass tucked behind that you could lift out to get a better view of the intricate stitching in the pictures along the bottom which were worked in the sixteen hundreds. And then compare that with work done on it a hundred or so years later - embroidered depictions of the old house in the top left and of Montacute top right. “Because the daughter of the house moved there when she married and they were pictures of her two homes,” yet another steward informed us. In case you didn’t know, all NT stewards are volunteers and really have to be passionate and dedicated to give up their time to stand or sit around indoors to stop anyone touching what they shouldn’t and wait for a receptive ear to bend about the surroundings. Unless you want to read it afterwards, there’s no need to buy a guide book because you can find out much more from these volunteers. The Oriel Room came after we’d passed through one of the best examples of the great hall and minstrels gallery I’ve seen, despite its miniature size – a sort of paradox of great on a small scale, it seemed to smell, look and feel ancient, warm and friendly. Perhaps I am biased because I’d love to live surrounded by woodcarvings and panels but for this life I was unfortunately born in the wrong century. Then came a room turned into a study by an early 20th century owner of the house, who added a very tasteful extension, the inside of which you don’t get to see, presumably because it’s inhabited by the current owners. But when, later, you stand back from the outside, take note of the roof tiles, a larger size, different colour and strangely older looking at both ends, including on the new extension.Still inside the house, there are a few more rooms to see upstairs before you are directed outside and around the house to the chapel which just has room for about eight people to sit in its diminutive pews. Once again there are grand features in a tiny setting and amazingly, none of it seems out of place.
But after this comes the garden – a garden of rooms on a truly grand scale. But the only one immediately obvious is the largest of all, the sweeping lawns that front the house, dotted with 10
formally shaped evergreens and bordered on one side by a high hedge with open “doorways” that lead to corridors and entrances to numerous other “rooms”. There are no recommended routes – you can just wander at will through the variety of peaceful areas and discover all the surprises that await: blossom trees and a colourful border; a formal fountain with statues; a wild flower meadow; the tennis court and swimming pool. We’d been told to lookout for the swimming pool because, “when they built that there was no mains water and they’d need a supply if there was fire, you see.” We could just imagine a chain of people passing along buckets but, fortunately we found no record of it having to be used in that way.
Looking over the croquet lawn to the house from a garden room "doorway". There was also a working farm at Lytes Cary. The farmland was private except for the River Walk that crossed it. at the end of our visit we followed the directions on a leaflet purchased at the house about this walk of up to 1.8 miles that took us through the fields with options to follow both sides of the River Cary crossing once on a road bridge and once on a footbridge before we followed the circular path back to the house.
Fountain in one of the garden rooms. I'm planning another visit now because, since our last one I've heard that more estate walks have been opened up, as well as a sizeable area of allotments for local people. This is one of 1000 allotment areas that the NT set up since 2009, to encourage communities to get together and grow their own vegetables and fruit.
© Jean Knill
THE AGE OF CIRCUMSPECTION COMETH
If music be the food of love, then take excess of it, for soon your frail and feeble form won't stand the stress of it. At fifty comes the time to hesitate, to look before you leap. The stamina that once was yours has fled, you need more sleep! I would not have you chided gentle sage, be warned, when pleasures of the flesh you seek, for though the spirit's willing in old age, that ardent passion is not met by flesh that's weak. Let Bacchus reign, where once sweet Venus ruled, and Cupid too would see your ardour cooled. I beg you now to exercise restraint and probably you'll never hear complaint. Be not downhearted. Do not concede defeat, abbreviated pleasures you can meet. Remember, what is short is often very sweet!
ÂŠ Rosa Johnson
It could only happen to… June.
Alarming Start A NOISE outside the house disturbed me. I jumped out of bed – a good way to instantly check blood pressure, as I then walked in a dizzy swagger to the window. After peering bleary eyed through the curtains and seeing nothing of note, I returned to bed, bumping on route into the bedside table, causing the alarm clock, the large, solid metal type with choice of deep ring or shrill screech, to fall onto my foot. An audible, ‘ouch, ouch, ouch’, was clearly heard by probably half the residents of my street. After suitably reassuring my foot that it wasn’t broken, had not bled that much, I returned to my precious sleep – or that was the plan. No sooner than my head hit the pillow, the incredibly irritating shrill screech of the alarm began. Presumably the tone had changed from deep ring to shrill screech when it fell to the floor. I aimed my hand at the clock intending to hit the ‘snooze’ button but the clock jumped off the cabinet – or appeared to. Then, it rolled under the bed. I then had to lumber out of bed and crawl under it to retrieve the screeching clock before it woke the other half of the street’s residents. A glance at the clock showed the little hand at 6 and the big hand at 3. I had no choice; I was late, it was time to get up and get ready for work. After a soothingly warm shower, I returned to the bedroom to get dried, dressed and ready-to-go. I rummaged in my top drawer for the deodorant, hold firm hairspray, moisturiser and make-up – the necessary ingredients to help with some of the ravages of time. I sprayed the deodorant and then tried to take my blouse off the hanger. It took a few seconds before I realised why my arms would not move – the hairspray under the arms being the culprit. Back to the bathroom for a quick soapy removal of the sticky lacquer and return to the bedroom for a spray of deodorant. My make up would be minimal, I’d wasted enough time for one morning – so hair now dried and a light spray of hold firm to keep it in place. Then I put on best suit and new flat ballet-type pumps and walked off to the bus stop, feeling chuffed that I’d survived the assault of the alarm clock and the sticky axillae. A couple of people spoke to me about the weather, one person looking at me with a curious tilt of their head. The bus arrived and I bounded forward in my trendy ballet pumps – I hadn’t realised you needed to walk using different muscles to keep the wretched things on, and the one on my left foot (my smaller foot) flew off and under the bus. I stepped back and waved the driver on. I collected more puzzled looks. I prayed the back wheels of the bus would miss my lonely pump – they did. I picked the shoe up, and put it back on. While waiting I practiced my flat-foot-penguin-walk almost to perfection by the time the next bus arrived. I find people watching on the train rather entertaining; however, today I was not the observer. A guy sitting opposite me seemed distracted enough to tilt his head to look at me from a different angle. I looked over my shoulder in case his entertainment was behind me, but it seemed I was the victim. I glanced out of the window trying to forget about the odd looks … until I got to Liverpool Street. My oyster decided to be irritating, refusing to ‘tap out’ so I had to walk to find a member of the station staff to let me through the turnstile. After successfully finding one, he looked at me – no words spoken, just a tilted head. 13
I wondered if ‘tilted-head’ was a contagious condition. I walked to the bus stop to get the number 8 bus for the remainder of my journey. The driver didn’t look up as I got on, so I didn’t notice if his head was tilted. I sat down and decided to put some lip gloss on, discretely, aided by my tiny mirror. I lifted the mirror up and the sight before me, made me tilt my head. I had a lopsided face. I recalled deciding to make a cup of tea mid-make-up – that’s when the lopsided face must have occurred, as I remembered after drinking my tea, I’d just put the makeup back in the drawer. I swallowed, audibly. I checked my bag but only had my lip gloss. There was no way I could make good the lopsidedness, there was no option - I would have to go au-natural. I mean, one made up eye looked quite good, long silky lashes, shadow and liner. The other eye looked a mere dot with no colour to enhance it. No wonder I’d been getting strange looks. I always carry a small pack of wet-wipes to remove the shared-catch one-catch-two freegerms on buses and trains, so managed to do a quick ‘repair’ job on the made-up eye, bringing it down to size to match the left eye. A quick slick of gloss on the lips and I hoped nobody would notice the no-make-up look at work. It passed off almost without comment from my colleagues … although, one did ask if I had a swollen eye, the one I’d hastily unmade-up on the bus! . Tomorrow I am going to visit a shop that sells alarm clocks…
© June Gundlack
The Garden at Little Oak 12
The Garden at Little Oak in Late September 2011 Well, here we are in the garden again with late September sunshine making us wish the sun had shone more frequently through the summer. We didn’t suffer as much as many other parts of the country because we weren’t deluged with rain but the skies were frequently dense with louring clouds.
Strange things have been happening this year. In the early summer when we thought all the spring flowers were over, some of the primroses bloomed again, dicentras bloomed all through the summer, the small one has only just finished! Wygelias flowered twice, though the second showing wasn’t as vigorous, roses have been superb and have put on a lot of new growth enabling the removal of old wood when pruning. Often roses struggle among our stones. Of all our flowers I have enjoyed the nasturtiums as much as any this year. An absolute riot of colour in all shades imaginable growing along fences, in hedges, up through the potentillas, among the vegetables and where they should be in the borders and hanging baskets. Forgive me if I insert my poem on these engagingly unruly plants.
Nasturtiums They are the prostitutes of my summer garden, bawdy and brash, gaudy and glorious. Voluptuous in their moss-lined hammocks, trailing sultry shades of orange and ochre. Alluring, making passes, flaunting themselves on the rockery, sniggering and winking from their unmade beds. Faces tinted with startling shades of vermilion and gold, they impose themselves flagrantly on my perennial borders, and return to mock me on the gravel paths Calling and laughing raucously through their open throats, their brazen mouths painted in hot umber and steamy red, they demand my attention. Passionate and promiscuous, They are taunting me, tempting me, and I submit.
Bougainvillea have been a part of our garden for many years but they have never flowered as prolifically as they have this year. They are fantastic. The regular dark mauve colour grows wild all over southern Europe. Young agapanthus bulbs each produced one flower. The colour was superb. As we close the garden down, like the bougainvillea they will be in pots in the greenhouse and should produce more flowers in 2012.
We had no lonicera fruit or goji berries last year and though we’ve had flowers this year still no berries, so we have made the best of a good crop of cherries. I stoned the second batch before committing them to jam and we have two grades of jam. Premium with some stones, and Tip Top with lots of yummy stone-less fruit. Most of the regular fruit bushes like black and red currants and gooseberries have done well and the apple trees have given their all producing like never before. Grenadier came first and there were plenty for friends, this was followed by the Russet. The Bramley has half the crop remaining to be picked and we have enough to supply the local greengrocer as well as friends, neighbours and a lady who makes pies for The MacMillan Coffee Morning.
The Bramley Apple Tree in flower. Beetroots have been patchy this year. The fault of the seeds-man I am told. Patchy because some are dark red, some pink and some puce. The dark ones have more flavour, the others are just edible. They’re more like fodder beet or sugar beet I fancy. We have grown climbing French beans which have been a great success. Broad beans and runner have been good too. We have a problem with French and runner beans... it’s a Pointer problem. Liza is addicted to beans and we have to keep them within enclosures or she strips the plants and then isn’t fit to live with afterwards. All our Pointers have been addicted to vegetables and I often wonder if more people were aware of the preferences of dogs would they get a little more of what they fancy. They like apples too, but shouldn’t have the pips. One bitch we had, by name Klinker, would even beg for lettuce when I was washing it but she always wanted it dipped in mayonnaise. We thought rats had been at the beetroot in the ground one year until I spotted Klinker nibbling the tops of the round red roots all along the rows. All the dogs have liked mange tout and sugar snaps and picked them as they have the beans if they get the chance.
We grew gardener’s delight again this year, and Alicante... a freebie packet of seeds. Big and beautiful tomatoes on the vine but completely devoid of flavour, though it seems to come out in soup. Gardener’s Delight won hands down. We have tried to grow butternut squashes for the first time and are still watching them grow. I can see them from the kitchen window, but they are still quite small. Courgettes have done excellently but cucumbers in the green house with tomatoes, were dispatched as soon as they showed patches of white mildew. Another failure was sweet corn. There are fields of it across the road so I don’t know why we bother! 2010 saw our lawns affected by severe drought, 2011 has been quite different. Lush green swards, the curse of the gardener who has other jobs to do, but they look superb when they have been mown. The garden table has spent much of its time under cover though the chairs are outside hoping they will be used again for a fourth or fifth time this weekend. The pink geranium we always grow under the rose arch is still flowering, having produced in excess of 60 stems of , which is 20 or more, more than last year. It has looked splendid with the small pale pink (alba) fuchsia and purple clematis on the other side of the arch. Our small wild cyclamen in pink and white continue to spread and make lovely presents for visitors. Currently there are only a few of the pretty dark green leaves with the flowers but by the time the flowers are over the leaves will be prettily marked and quite beautiful. Some of the corms are as big as dinner plates. Very much against our instincts we have taken a tree down this year, a chleradendron. It has wonderful white perfumed flowers which turn purple and kingfisher blue in the centre later in the spring. Unfortunately it has an unpleasant effect on my eyes and hay fever sets in with a vengeance when it is flowering. If you suffer with any pollen allergies chleradendron is best avoided. We may try one further from the house. It has been a funny old summer. I feel that it came and went while I was looking the other way but much of the produce has enjoyed the warm dampness. The Autumn raspberries are coming in now and I hope there is some sun for them. They are so much more satisfactory than the early ones, particularly in this area.
Rhubarb forced in the garage. Soon we shall be bringing many of the pots into the green house and tucking them up for the winter. We have one or two ideas to try out like bonzai-ing a yucca and growing cyclamen in a parsley pot. The mind boggles. I’ll let you know what happens in the next issue of Pages. © Rosa Johnson
Grey Areas Last year I experienced the baked vegetable tourists. This year, I stumbled upon grey areas and I’m not referring to the climate. I suppose I’d not before noticed the grey areas, just ‘people’ who would bagsie their sun-loungers early in the morning, many hours before most hung-over Brits had opened one tired eye. This year I was introduced … okay, I observed (I like people-watching), a new invader, the silver-grey, the wire-grey, the mottled-grey and the balding-grey. They too swooped in the early hours, almost unseen – but, ahem, I had two rather late nights that ran well into the morning hours! I observed neatly folded towels kept in place by best-sellers on the prized position sun-loungers, those under the new canopy-type-shades, closest to the pool, the bar and the all important facilities. How often have we heard the ‘tsk, tsk, tsk’ of these grey haired people as they mutter about the youngsters not ‘avin any respect for others? I tried to guess who out of the sunbed-hoggers would arrive first, to show their faces and more. I didn’t play the guessing game too long as the grey-army arrived and I was amazed to see that most were in the 69-90 age group! Their speed and accuracy as they positioned themselves for an all-over basting session was varied – some landing with an audible ker plunk and others landing more acrobatically with legs waving until their co-sunbathers could muster the energy to help them push their legs down flat to allow them to lounge in a more comfortable position. Others were more successful in parking the first time without the need for a three-point-turn. Those of us younger guests (yes, I am qualified as younger for any readers who do not know me) were entertained as the grey-army recalled, and recalled, and recalled – because some kept forgetting, forgetting, forgetting, stories on the theme of ‘when I woz young’. Simple things then ‘when they woz young’ gave pleasure, they said. Today though, they insist on the best, the newest the faddiest. The young ‘uns, they say, may have their looks and youth – but they’ll never beat a bit of the old grey humour, wisdom and treachery. I love old people…I aim to be one – but not yet! © June Gundlack
A Leap of Faith: A Temporal Detective Agency Novel, by Richard Hardie. I don’t profess to be a talent spotter, but I know talent when I see it, and as some of you may know from The Pages and Friends’ blog, it was the cover of Richard Hardie’s novel A Leap of Faith, that first caught my eye and propelled me towards the publisher’s site, in order to buy a copy for myself. I’ve said it before, and it’s worth repeating: a good cover will make the reader want to read the book – and draw them into the story. This cover, by Tracey Tucker, is an excellent example. I was in for a treat. A Leap of Faith is the first book in The Temporal Detective Agency, a children’s novel (at the older end), and yet I, as a very mature reader, was bowled over. Not only is it a great story, it is cleverly written, combining historical events and legendary historical figures, with the writer’s take on events as they may have been, giving the powerful knights of the past proper, fleshed-out personalities – and all narrated in Tertia’s voice, pushy, sarcastic and totally believable as a contemporary of today’s children. One of the knights, Galahad, was persuaded to come along for the ride - where he is now a celebrity chef, running Olé Grill. The story starts in the present, in Trafalgar Square, atop Nelson’s plinth. Now what would Tertia, the outspoken young apprentice to Marlene – Merlin’s lesser known sister – be doing there? This is just a small clue, but integral to the story, which began in Camelot, in the 6th century, and concludes in the 16th and 21st century. Set on the Welsh coast, on the Gower, The Temporal Detective Agency is based in Merlin’s Cave. Tertia and Unita, both apprentices to Marlene, are desperate for a good mystery to solve, but there are times when they seem to have bitten off more than they can chew. But Tertia is nothing if not resourceful – besides the fact that she has personal reasons to solve this particular one. Tertia and Unita originally lived in the time of Camelot, but they weren’t the only ones to end up in different centuries, and in different places. It’s a great tale of good versus evil (but who is who?), with Tertia and Unita coming up against Welsh smugglers and wreckers in the 16th century, Unita finding love, A Scotland Yard detective – afraid of heights – getting drawn into it (and proving to be not such a bad guy) and the search for The Black Knight threatening their very beings. Tertia’s and Unita’s first big adventure sets the bench mark for the adventures to follow. I’m first in the queue to buy the next one! Visit Richard’s website at: http://rhardie.com/ A Leap of Faith is available from 46 South Publishing in iPad, Kindle (Mobi) and PDF versions, for $4.99, but the manuscript is also with Richard’s American agent – with view to it being published in paperback. http://www.46s.biz/
Marit Meredith 19
A life once shared has become a home halved.
Routines are lost in a vortex of meals for one; afternoons spent listening to the clock echoing endlessly through the halls of our family-sized house.
Carnations sit withered, stagnating in cellophane: your futile attempt to bring the colour back.
Picture frames are black holes on the sideboard, awaiting the next chapter of happy families.
ÂŠ Dan Haynes
The Visit. He walked across the veranda and stopped just behind her. 'Jodie?' The young girl stared into the darkness and said nothing. 'Jodie, I...' 'Don't talk to me.' 'Come on, Honey, I just...' The girl whistled tunelessly and studied the darkness. 'Jodie don't...' 'You left us.' The man bowed his head. 'I know, Honey. I didn't want to.' 'You just left, without even saying goodbye.' 'I couldn't, Jodie, there wasn't time, your Mom...' 'Mom was hurt real bad. Do you know that?' 'Yes, Honey, I know that. Do you miss me too, just a little?' 'No, I got over you, it took a while, but I made it.' 'I never got over you, Jodie. Never will.' The girl got up from the step and turned to face him. 'You haven't changed much.' 'No,' he laughed. 'I don't suppose I have.' He reached out to put a hand on her shoulder. She stepped back quickly. 'Have you seen Ryan?' 'Not yet, I don't know if he wants to see me.' 'Probably not. He calls Jim, Dad, now.' 'And you? Do you call Jim, Dad?' She shook her head. 'He's not my Dad. I call him Jim.' 'Is he looking after you Okay? Does he...' 'What do you care? You left us. He wouldn't be here but for that.' She sat on the step again and wiped away an angry tear. He placed a soft hand on her hair. She snapped her head away, then dropped her chin to her chest and began to sob. 'You went... without...saying...goodbye.' He sat on the step and placed his arm around her shoulder. A few seconds later she buried her head in his chest. 'I would have given anything to stay, Sweetheart. You know that. I would never do anything to hurt you.' The sobbing slowly subsided. When she spoke again her voice was soft, all the anger gone. 'Christmas was bad, and Thanksgiving. I didn't celebrate my birthday, not properly.' 'I couldn't send you anything, Jodie. It wasn't possible.' 'I know, Dad. I'm older now, I understand.' A voice called from inside the house. 'Jodie? Dinner's ready. Come wash your hands.' 21
She stood up slowly. He crouched and took her hands in his. 'You had better go or you'll be in trouble.' She threw her arms round his neck and hugged him. 'Thanks for coming, Dad. Will I see you again?' He sucked on his teeth and tipped his head to the side. 'Never say never. It's difficult, but I'll try to come over now and then. It might be a while 'til next time though.' She stepped back and gave him a smile. 'I love you Dad.' He nodded slowly. 'I know, Honey, and I love you, never forget that.' She smiled again. 'Sorry for behaving like a brat.' She turned away and crossed the veranda as Jim appeared in the doorway. 'Jodie, how many more times...' 'Sorry, Jim. I was just thinking about Dad...it's three years ago today that he died.'
ÂŠ Trevor Belshaw
IN TANDEM We were a winning combination travelling in uniform motion. Attuned to each other's balance, legs pedalled in harmony. We conquered hills as a team, and revelled in downhill moments, our eyes always staring around, excited by what lay ahead. Then gradually we grew weary, looked away from the road, dwelling on what was behind and ignoring dangers in front. Now we pedal out of sync and brake at different times, as potholes buckle our wheels and debris is dragged through our spokes. The chain is taut with pressure and constant strain. There's a jolt as chaos overtakes throwing us headlong into the ditch.
ÂŠ Dan Haynes
Doin’ Dhaka When I arrived in Dhaka a few months ago, I was full of enthusiasm and desire for new adventures. People looked at me sceptically: 'Hmph, you'll see, in a couple of months you'll get real like the rest of us. You won’t venture much further than Gulshan II unless you really have to.' Gulshan II is the neighbourhood where most expats live. With a population of fifteen million, Dhaka is not the easiest place to get around. It takes about an hour and a half to drive five miles, and it’s not safe to walk or cycle. So you eventually give up trying.
As my friends predicted, I soon lapsed into the home-club-nearby shops circuit, anything else seeming like too much of an effort. But that changed one morning in June when I found a message from Virginia Ironside in my junk mail. Virginia Ironside? She's not junk: she's seriously famous! Back in the Seventies I used to read her Agony Aunt column in Woman magazine. She's written loads of books. And now she has a weekly column in The Independent, and a monthly one in The Oldie. And there's the connection. Virginia had read my expat piece about rickshaws in The Oldie, and liked it. In her e-mail she explained that she had been in Dhaka a few years ago, and had bought some rickshaw art - paintings on tin plate. She had given them away. Did I know if they were still made? Would I be able to find someone who could locate some? This was exactly the push I needed. I decided to hire a professional guide for the occasion. So a couple of days later Mithu arrived at my home. Together with Willington, my driver, and my Danish friend Anette - new to Dhaka and still unjaded - we ventured off into the old city. Our two-hour journey was not wasted: Mithu, speaking excellent English, gave us his views on Bangladeshi politics, current issues, transport, and so on. Our first stop was Curzon Hall, named after Lord Curzon, the former British Viceroy to India. It was built in 1904 as a Town Hall, and is now part of Dhaka University's science faculty. It is a harmonious blend of Mughal and European architecture, built in red brick. Set a little back from the busy main road, near a small lake, it has a peaceful feel about it.
Curzon Hall is historically significant. In 1948, after the partition that established what is now Bangladesh as East Pakistan, this was the seat of the language movement, which opposed the imposition of Urdu as the sole national language of Pakistan.
We then moved on to Bangsal Road, known by expats as Bicycle Street. This is a busy narrow street which sells everything from bikes to motorbike spare parts to Allen keys which Anette was looking for ... and rickshaw art. Virginia had specified that she wanted hand-painted tin plaques, rather than the 'new-fashioned' screen textile prints.
We were in luck. Several shops sold them, and after some good-humoured bargaining, we had bought nine. From Virginia's e-mails, I understood she fancied animals, which we found, and aeroplanes, which we didn't though there were pictures of several other scenes depicting forms of transport which we bought. Then there were birds and flowers. I knew my sister would love a Bollywood one, and there was much discussion about the selection - were the faces too scary? Were the guns too violent?
From Bicycle Street, we headed to Hindu Street, a tiny winding lane packed with shops selling Hindu religious artifacts, bangles made from conch shells imported from Sri Lanka, incense, and all manner of bits and bobs. The street was lined with tightly packed with tailors, hairdressers, and hawkers.
Women filled up their pitchers at standpipes, and carts laden with pineapples wove their way through the general chaos.
We emerged into a wider street, and right in front of us was the Pink Palace, locally known as Ahsan Manzil. It used to be a government and trading centre, and Lord Curzon used to stay here on his visits to Dhaka. in the mid-19th century it was sold to the Dhaka nawab family, who converted it into a private home. It was left in a state of disrepair after the nawab's, then restored in 1985 and made into a museum.
Our last stop was the Sadarghat, Dhaka's boat terminal. It is from here that you can head south towards the Bay of Bengal - or simply cross the river. No new garments factories are allowed to be built in Dhaka, and the other side of the river is not Dhaka, so there are a lot of factories going up there now. We wandered up onto a huge boat where a couple of people had found shelter to sleep. Imagining these huge hunks of iron packed with three times their intended capacity brought me closer to those headlines that so often figure in the newspapers here: 'Hundreds drown as ferry sinks.'
And so, past children playing in the putrid water and shoes sheltering from the sun under umbrellas we headed back to our car, hot, hungry and thirsty, glad of our trip beyond the bubble of Gulshan II.
ÂŠ Paola Fornari
Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens, by Jonathan Pinnock I took this intriguing little book with me on holiday to relax with under the Algarvean sun. I’d deliberately not opened it until then –looking forward to what I believed would be something different having seen some of the comments on websites and previously read other works of words by JP. My posh duty-free smudge-proof (almost Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens-proof) blackest black mascara proved not to do what it said on the box as I entered the pages where in between my groans of ‘ooh-err-ishness’, moments of tittering and a slight need to overcome a stomach churn when I reached the expectorate and foul ale, suitably sated by a glass of what I hoped was unadulterated but weak Portuguese beer, I felt unable to stop myself staggering onwards between the pages experiencing… Hysterical Historical Tentacle moments. The tale took me on a strange adventure not too dissimilar to the feelings experienced of going under the influence of drugs (prescribed, not recreational); coming out of an anaesthesia – when still floating in a strange environment and after a knock on the head – again while not quite sure what is going on around you but enjoying the ride. JP has managed to create an amazingly addictive story that for me didn’t finish when I closed the book…A few hours later, satisfied that I had enjoyed a good read and a shudder or three, I entered a highly recommended Portuguese fish restaurant. I was shown to my table which was situated alongside a large tank of ‘victims’ ready for the evening’s menu. I’m a bit of a wimp and cannot look at food that is shortly to meet its demise, but was drawn to some strange movement near my left shoulder (the tank was large). Here I saw…many tentacles! I avoided the cataplana, squid and octopus through choice and fear…of alien invasion and settled for the safety of a salmon fillet, neither too risky nor too fishy and a guaranteed tentacle free plate. I hope we have not heard the last of JP’s tentacles, and eagerly await the next book. My spare copy of Mrs Darcy is now being moved around in the hotel at Vilamoura – guests are encouraged to share books, to share the words. I was proud to leave Mrs Darcy on a prime shelf and have no doubt the tentacles are still weaving their magic. I think I heard a feint ek-ek-ek as I closed the door to the book room… © June Gundlack
A Word or Several from Flatcap About a year ago some barmpot asked me for an interview to go into the Writelinkers Christmas Magazine. My first question was how much and they said, “Nothing.” When we’d all had a good laugh, I got a couple of pork pies and two brown ales out of the job and swore I’d never do it again. Now someone asks me to write a piece for this magazine and again I get nothing. Worse than that, when I asked, “When do you want it,” they said, “No rush. Any time in the next 24 hours will be fine.” I have to ask myself, is this the year when every tries to take Flatcap for a mug? “Ah, but, it’ll give you the chance to plug your new book,” they said. What new book? I didn’t know I had a new book. Then I learned that Her Indoors has been busy on the Kindle again, but this time it’s backfired on her. She intended Flatcap – Grumpy Old Blogger to be a diatribe against three decades as my erstwhile. She was looking for sympathy. Turns out everyone thinks it’s funny. So it’s not only backfired on her, but me too. Those posts weren’t meant to be funny. Take the case of the old lady in France, locked in her own bathroom for three weeks. She hammered on the pipes for help and what did her neighbours do? Got up a petition to have her evicted, that’s what. So what would they have done if she was being murdered? Asked her to keep the noise down cos they were trying to watch The X-Factor? Is that chuckleworthy? Then there’s my opinion on power bills. Are they gigglesome? I’ll grant you the shareholders are laughing all the way to the bank, but I find nothing humorous in receiving an electricity bill for the Royal Albert Hall… every month. And you have my personal assurance that nipping to the supermarket for two tins of dog food and coming back £195 lighter in the wallet does not bring a smile to my lips. Granted, I do have a quirky outlook on the world, but it’s because most of the things I see in this world are quirky. Who’d have thought that cats were capable of sorting out my complex bets? Who could imagine that crossing a pork pie with Cornish pasty would solve our political problems? Where else could you find advice on nicking the wheels off a P1 Lighting fighter? It takes a brain that’s wired up differently to spot these things. There are the naughty bits, too. As usual I’m a world authority on matters like sex and relationships, and you’d do well to heed my advice, especially if you’re a man. You’re intrinsically inferior anyway. I know. The missus told me. So why bother fighting it?
I did get my own back on the buggers who conned me into that interview last year. I included it in the book and I’m not paying them anything for it. You only ever catch Flatcap once.
Anyway, that’s enough from me. It’s all in there if you want to take the time to read it. From naked garden gnomes to pink stethoscopes, holidays in Mablethorpe to weekends in Bruges, and there’s even a little tale from Norway, just to keep Marit happy. Enjoy, and if you don’t enjoy, don’t bother writing to tell me, cos I’m not interested.
Flatcap – Grumpy Old Blogger is available for download for the Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005MSBSEC or in other formats from Smashwords at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/88478 and you can follow Flatcap at http://flatcapfritters.wordpress.com/
© David Robinson
SEA BATH I'm looking out over a porcelain horizon.
My knees are twin islands vanishing in waters warmer than the Med.
I think of twenty eighty, melting ice caps.
Suddenly I'm Holland sinking; and there's a shower curtain tsunami threatening to engulf.
Rising steam is sea fog, clouding a sixty watt sun; my foot, scraping in the depths, a ship's horn in distress. ÂŠ Dan Haynes
Heather and Gorse (In memory of two beautiful guide dogs, Paddy and Wilson) The wind is catching on itself, turning and touching my face from different directions. It isn’t helping me find my bearings. “Here, Jolly.” My voice draws across the paddock and drops a lonely line into the distance, where there is a break of trees. I hear him scuffling through the dry grass, smell the wet bogginess of him long before he bumps against my leg, all hair and wiggles and doggy joy. I run fingers along his neck, slip on his harness, adjust the strap and feel him lose tension like a storm that has run its course. He straightens, immediately business-like and ready for work. “Oh Jol, you’ve been in that damn farm-dam again.” I laugh at my words and hear again the solitude in the echo. I stand and face what I think is the direction of home but because of the wind change I am no longer sure. “Its great here, isn’t it Jolly?” I shouldn’t really be chatting with him; he’s a working dog once his harness is put on. I’ve told so many well-intentioned people over the years. “Please don’t pat or talk to the dog. He’s working and it may distract him.” Some have walked off with a “Pff!”, others apologise so profusely I can feel my face burn. Some say nothing at all. Jolly’s name, when I was paired with him at the Guide Dog School, was Roger. I call him Jolly, as in Jolly Roger. It suits him far better. And he made the transition to me from his trainer and the name as seamless as silk. The wind has weakened and I feel a spatter of rain warm against my face, it runs over my cheek like a tear. I brush it away and take a deep breath. David has gone away again, back to college. He said I could still let Jolly have his run though every day on his farm. I remember him ruffling Jol’s coat just before he left on the bus. “Can’t let you go without, old boy. You look after Nettie Pot when I’m gone.” Then I felt him touch my hair too. He’d held my face in his hands and kissed me lightly. “You’ll be fine, Nettie Pot.” He’d called me this ever since he’d seen something on an Oprah episode. My voice was tight as I’d said, “You know I hate that. It’s Antoinette or Nettie. Not some nasal device thing.” He’d hugged me and said, “Sorry”, then he’d touched my lips with a finger as light as a snowflake. “It won’t be long. I’ll be home for the holidays before you know it.” That had been almost a year ago. He hadn’t made it back mid-term. Too busy, he’d told me on the phone. “Really, Nettie Pot, I’ve been doing too much socialising and not enough studying. I’m getting behind in all my assignments. I’ll really need to get stuck into it this semester.” He’d laughed round and loud but the bottom dropped out of it and the sound had run away to nothing. Thunder grumbles around me. I can feel it in my chest and I shiver despite the warmth. I can smell the ozone, and sense the fizz of lightning upturning the hairs on my arms. My heart seems to beat inside my ears. There are only two things that really scare me: spiders and storms. Thank goodness Jolly doesn’t share my fears.
I can feel him leaning into his harness, wanting to get going, sensing the danger with every hair of canine intuition. I grasp the harness handle and let the leash flop on his back. My fingers scratch through his coat, feel his life force, his heart beating a steady mantra. Come on, come on, let’s go, let’s go, it seems to be saying. “Forward. Home, Jolly.” We are off at a fast pace. There are rumbles of thunder overhead, like boulders tumbling backwards and forwards in some giant cement mixer. Jolly is pulling hard, his Labrador wiggle now replaced by a determined walk. I pull back, a slight leash correction, nothing more than a squeeze and release. He drops a pace in response and I imagine him looking at me apologetically. I’m breathing fast, I don’t know which track we’ve taken, but it seems to be the homeward bound one. And I trust Jolly, he’s the best guide dog I’ve ever had. “This is like when we first met David, isn’t it, boy?” My voice seems far off. The rain is soaking into my skin. I’m only dressed in a tee-shirt and shorts. This storm was not forecast until tonight and it’s been so hot for the past week. We reach a gate, Jolly sidles up so I can slip over the catch, it’s one of those chain and socket things, you have to line it up just right or the steel hasp won’t slide over. My hands are slippery with rain, and dam water from Jolly’s coat. I fumble, and Jolly moves just as I almost manoeuvre the hasp into position. I resist the urge to swear. My whole life has been about patience. And steady as you go. I don’t feel so steady at the moment. I’ve never had sight. I’m glad of that. Not ever seeing, I think, is better than having sight and losing it. “What does it feel like, Nettie?” my best friend and flat mate, Kayla, had once said. I’d reacted by asking, “What does it feel like to see?” We both had no answers. She never asked me again. Sometimes I try and imagine colours. I think I have the shapes okay, I know the smoothness of round and the sharpness of corners. The long and the short of everything in its place. Then there are all those numbers held in memory. How many paces here, how many steps there. Sequence of method in all I do. Safety in tidiness. I finally get the gate open and it swings away as we pass through. The wind picks up, a gust of terminal velocity that wrenches it from my hand. I follow along the gate’s length and pull it back to post, dragging Jolly behind me. A tree splinters nearby. Creaks a crack like a drawn-out gunshot. Suddenly, Jolly is gone. Now I feel him in front of me, pushing me backwards with his nose, leaning against me with all his weight. I stagger back several steps then drop to my knees. Thunder travels though the ground like a train crash. The tree has come down. I feel the wet-leaf-fingers of a branch glance my face. Feel the leaves bounce a-swish and then lay still. My body is trembling and my hands won’t stop tingling. Even though my breath is snatching away, I manage to steady my voice: “Hell, that was close wasn’t it, Jol? That almost fell on us.” I bury my face in his wet coat, let him lick me over and over. Tell him what a clever, clever boy he is. How he’s saved us both. Eventually my heart slows its tattoo, my breathing less audible. I swallow heavily and pull myself to standing. I think that the tree may be blocking our path but now more than anything I just want to go home. Jolly comes to my hand without words, I lean down and reposition the harness, grasp the handle. Force my voice calm: “Forward, Jolly.” He goes straight a few steps then turns. I know this is the wrong direction but it seems so familiar I flow with him.
Soon I sense hollowness all around us, I know it hasn’t stopped raining but I can’t feel it or hear the patter. Neither can I feel the wind. “Jolly?” That one word resonates, doubles and trebles and in an instant I know where we are. I reach out to the side of me, find the cold stone of the walled tunnel and breathe a long sigh. This was where we first met David. I had been with Kayla and Jolly that day and we were making our way though this underpass. I remember saying how strange it was not to hear the rumble of the traffic, until Kayla had told me how far down we were. David had been approaching from the opposite direction. “Hi girls,” he said, and then added, “I know I’m not meant to talk to your dog. My cousin is blind. He’s got a guide dog too.” I loved his directness. No hint of embarrassment. I slipped off Jolly’s harness. “He’s not working now,” I said. Jolly had been all over David like a tick. It had rained that day as well, not like this, but enough to keep us tunnel-bound for an hour. By the time it had stopped, David had invited us to his farm. I probably wouldn’t have gone if Kayla had not been with me. But I might have. I trust Jol’s judgement. It wasn’t long before I felt the same way. I never let on of course. But I loved the times when Jolly was running free and David would take my right arm and lead me through his paddocks, handing me pieces of flora, letting me ‘see’ the thorniness of the gorse or the paper softness of the heather. Jolly is sniffing the air, the trouble with Labs is the fact they are always hungry. I couldn’t smell anything, but that didn’t mean there was nothing to eat. What Jol would have thought edible anyway. “Leave it.” A half dozen ‘leave its’ echo, reinforcing the reprimand, but still Jol is sniffing and now he is wiggling and wagging, his tail wet-slapping my leg. Then I hear footsteps. Someone is coming. “David?” I whisper. Kayla’s voice reverberates, “Nettie. Nettie! Is that you? God, it’s so dark in here.” Now Jolly is wriggling fit to burst his skin. “Here,” I say, trying not to sound too disappointed. “Oh, Nettie, thank goodness you’re okay. I was so worried. Hi there, Jol, old lad.” I hear her ruffling Jolly’s coat. “We’re fine.” I decide not to tell her about our tree episode. She worries about me too much already. “Bloody weather forecasters, they couldn’t get it right if they looked out of the window,” Kayla says. For a moment I wonder what that would be like. Windows are square, the glass hard and transparent. My mind won’t stretch at that. The concept of seeing through something solid is beyond me. “Jolly has been so good. You know what I’m like in storms.” Kayla touches my shoulder. “God, Nettie, you’re wet through. Let’s get home. I’ve parked just down the road.” She stops for a second after we leave the tunnel. I hear her rattling in her bag. “Guess what?” she says. “David is back. He rang me just as I was going out to look for you. Told me he’d come over. I’ll give him a call. Let him know you’re fine and we’re on our way.” Jolly shakes himself obligingly before we climb into the car. He stretches out on his blanket in the back seat, panting hot happy doggy breath in my direction but I don’t mind at all. 34
I settle in and peel over my seatbelt. Turn my face towards Kayla. “Kayla, what does David look like?” I’ve never asked her this before. There is a small silence before she answers. “Oh, you know… like any man really. He’s got blonde hair, kinda streaky. Tall, but you’d know that.” Her words are coming directly at me. “Watch the road, Kayla.” Her voice has a grimace in it, “I don’t know how you do that. How did you know I wasn’t looking?” “Lucky guess.” I smile and feel the tension drop. Wonder for a moment why my intuition seems to be on high alert. And not just about Kayla’s lack of attention. “I have to tell you something, Nettie.” Coldness washes me like a tide. “David has brought someone home with him,” Kayla says. She’s turning the car now and I know we are nearly at our apartment. “Oh.” My voice is cracked, I try to mend it, tack it to other words. “Who is it? Are they staying?” She doesn’t answer but stops the car and says, “I didn’t ask. Look, they’re here already. I guess we’ll find out soon.” I don’t care what David looks like, one thing about being blind is you can’t judge any book by its cover, pardon the old analogy. But to be honest I do go for a nice voice and an intelligent mind, so I have my own terms of judgement, I suppose. But right now I’m feeling vulnerable, and wet, and tired. I know my hands are still shaking and not from being cold, although I’m that as well. I really don’t feel up to meeting anyone. Jolly leans against me as I tighten his harness. I can hear Kayla in the distance saying “Hello”. I can also make out David’s voice, low and sensuous. I stretch my ears but I can’t hear anyone else. “Nettie Pot!” David’s arms are around me like a wrap. I feel his muscles bulging hard into my back. “Welcome back, David,” I say. “Have you been working out?” I sound strong and relaxed. Think to myself I should take up acting. “Yeah, I have actually. You look well, Nettie…” David holds me at arms’ length and then leans down. “How’s my best boy?” I’m breaking all the rules letting Jolly go to him with his harness still on. But what the heck, I feel too flat to worry. I stand with my arms hanging by my side, waiting for the wildflurry that is Jolly to subside. It takes a full three minutes. I know, I am counting. I seize his harness. I can’t hold back any longer. “Kayla tells me you have a friend with you,” I say. David’s voice is moving away. “Yeah, come and meet him.” “Him!” My mind sings a happy song but not gay. David doesn’t play that tune. Cameron turns out to be David’s roommate. He seems nice. I think of Kayla. She and her last boyfriend have been split for nearly a year now. Suddenly I feel energy like a power surge. “How about you two stay for dinner? Kayla’s a great cook and I make a mean salad.” I lean down towards Jolly, who wriggles as if on cue. “Look, even he wants you to stay.” David laughs. “Well, we can’t turn down an invitation like that. Although what’s he going to serve us? I’ve seen what he eats sometimes. And it ain’t a pretty sight. I think of David’s paddocks, of his two ponies. “Hors d’oeuvres,” I say, deliberately mispronouncing it. Everyone laughs. It warms me like sunshine. I snap open my watch and touch the time. “It’s nearly six o’clock; if you two head off and get some wine we’ll make a start.” “So,” says Kayla after the men have left. “What do you think of Cameron?” 35
“Too soon to tell. Seems nice.” I’m washing lettuce and trying to find the salad dressing I made last night. “You really have it bad for David, don’t you? You should have seen your face when I said he was bringing home someone else. To tell you the truth I thought it might have been a woman, too.” “Do you think this needs a little more mustard?” I hold out the spoon with what I hope is a tincture of tartar on the end. “You’re not going to answer me, are you? But look, Antoinette, I’ve known you… how long now? I don’t want you to get hurt again. I’m really not sure about David.” I’d first met Kayla at a Guide Dogs’ fundraiser. Well, Jolly had found her really. I wanted to know where I had to register. I had a few items for the auction: my old Braille typewriter (I have a computer with a speech synthesizer now) and a harness that didn’t fit Jolly anymore. That was my fault. Too much good food. I didn’t even know she was sighted at first. She treated me so normally. And Jolly loved her. I could tell. His wiggle had increased by ten. It wasn’t long before she’d moved in with us (I’d been looking for a new flatmate and she’d been looking for somewhere to live) and after a few hiccups of the housekeeping kind we worked together like a good partnership. It’s paid dividends ever since. Jolly knows how to pick them. I set the table and open the wine to let it breathe. It smells divine. An expensive one. I sit down, my chair is closest to the kitchen door. Kayla comes in and I hear her putting down the men’s plates. Then mine. “Nettie, fish is at twelve o’clock. Chips at six o’clock. You know where you put your salad and the bread is in front of you.” Cameron’s voice sweeps the table like a broom. “Gee, Kayla you’re good with her. I get it, she knows six o’clock is…” David cuts his words in a snap, “Cameron, she has a name and is sitting right here with us.” “Oh, sorry, Nettie.” His voice is loud enough to hear in the next room. “And she’s not deaf, either.” I stand up, almost bringing the tablecloth and my plate onto my lap. “That’s enough, David. I can fight my own battles… anyway, Cameron doesn’t know. Lots of people make the same mistakes.” I sound more charitable than I feel. I head out to the kitchen. Mutter something about the salt. Jolly’s paws tip-scratch the floor behind me. I run water in the sink, lean against it with stiff arms, take a few deep breaths. Cameron is effusive when I return. I tell myself this is normal too. The wine is good and soon the conversation turns to the guys and their studies. David is doing a degree in English Literature, and Cameron one in Fine Arts. They talk about their tutors and Cameron makes us laugh with an anecdote involving one of their nude models. Finishing with, “so this prudish, and not too bright, student says to him, if god had wanted us to parade around with no clothes on we would have been born naked.” After dinner we throw tea towels at the men, who take the hint good naturedly and Kayla and I head off to the video store for a DVD. Just as we are pulling out of the driveway I remember I haven’t let Jolly out for his ablutions. “You stay home, I’ll go,” Kayla says, as she lets us out. “Jolly takes ages at night sniffing around before he gets down to business. I know what we want anyway.” I take Jol around the back and let him loose. “Go quick quicks,” I say, rather optimistically. Kayla is right, he always does seem to take longer in the evening. The weather has warmed and the air has a fresh-washed smell like clean linen. 36
I wander along the side of the apartment, feel the gravel scuffling away under my feet. Rosemary essence wafts up to meet me and I know I am directly beneath the kitchen window where it is growing. When I want to use the herb for cooking I only have to reach out and break off a sprig. Kayla calls it Nettie’s shortcuts to good house-keeping. She says I should write a self-help book. These thoughts are pleasantly jangling my mind when I hear my name mentioned and realise the window is open. Jolly comes sniffing up to me, snuffles my hand once and when I don’t react, disappears again. David’s voice is as clear as if he were standing next to me, which in a way I suppose he is. “Antoinette is such a great girl. I haven’t got the heart to tell her.” Antoinette even, I think, feeling the cold tide again. Then Cameron’s voice: “Well, man, don’t say anything. You don’t need to. I mean, you say there’s nothing in it. Between you and Kayla, that is. So let it lie. In both senses of the word.” I feel certain they can hear my breathing. I am struggling to make sense of their conversation. But part of me knows already. David’s voice again: “It’s just that Kayla’s been ringing me all the time and texting. Asking me when I’m coming back. She’s been so pushy. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t come home at mid-term.” “How come you’re here now then, man?” David doesn’t answer this and I hear Kayla’s car pulling up in the drive. My face is burning and my heart is a tight ache in my chest. No wonder she’d told me she wasn’t sure about David. She wanted me to forget about him so she could have a go. And was David being completely honest? What didn’t he want to tell me? There must have been something between them for Kayla to be acting like this. I feel like I don’t know the world anymore. My truth is turning as dark as my vision. Jolly comes up to me and bumps against my leg. I speak harshly to him, he sits down, completely still, even his panting has stopped, and immediately I feel all kinds of awful. He forgives me with a wash of his tongue and thumping of his tail. It sounds dull, like my heartbeat, and I just want to get to bed and curl up on the day like a possum. Dogs don’t have to worry, their life is one straight line of predictability. I scratch his head. “Come on Jolly, I suppose we better to go in.” Kayla meets me at the door, her voice light with anticipation, “They had one copy left, Nettie. But I just about had to wrestle it from another customer.” I try to get interested in the movie but my thoughts are unravelling, leaving tangled knots of disbelief. There is no way I can concentrate. I start to get up out of my seat. “Aren’t you going to watch the movie?” Cameron says, then his words trip over themselves. “Oh, god… I’m so sorry…. I didn’t mean to say watch…You know what I mean don’t you, Nettie?” His voice is still too loud. This time David says nothing. “It’s okay, Cameron, to say look and see, and watch, for that matter,” I say. “I do all those things in my own way. Gee, if I let that worry me.” Then Kayla says, “I never worry about what I say to you, do I, Nettie?” No, I think, and not what you’re doing either, it seems. I stretch and yawn. “I’m really tired guys, I’m going to give the movie a miss. Will you be out tomorrow, David? We’ll be at the paddock at the usual time.” When I wake the next day I feel normal, until I recall last night. I know I should confront Kayla with it. But if I do, I will have to disclose how I really feel. And I’m not ready for that. Not yet anyway. My last lover, Michael, had left me after two years. He’d wanted someone to look after and thought that a blind girl would fit his needs. He’d fought my independence until he’d lost so many bouts that one day he left and found someone who’d back up his corner. 37
It had hurt like fire and I’m not sure when I’ll be able to give myself like that again. It’s a long walk to David’s farm and the road is greasy with mud. Twice I slip and I am glad I have the harness handle to steady me. Jolly is living up to his name, his wiggle has a wag in it too, this morning. We arrive at Jolly’s favourite paddock, I let him go free and take up my post on a fallen log. I keep my hands on my knees and try not to think about the creepy things inherent to the countryside, especially spiders. Suddenly I feel a tickle at the nape of my neck. I scream and stand upright. Jolly is bounding around me and I realise we are not alone. “David! You mongrel!” “Spider on you,” he says. Despite myself I gasp again and then brush away his hand. Before I know it, words flow like lava. “I’m cross with you at the moment, David.” “Oh come on, it’s just a little joke, Nettie Pot.” He catches hold of my hand but I thrust it away. “I’m not talking about now,” I say. “I’m talking about you and Cameron, your conversation last night while you were doing the dishes.” There is a silence vacuum. It seems even the birds have gone quiet. David takes my arm and this time I don’t resist. “Come with me Nettie.” We walk swiftly in the direction of his homestead. Jolly is running away and then bounding back, barking once or twice before skidding off again. “There’s a blanket here,” David says. “Sit.” The one word like a command. I do as I’m told, feeling as listless as a sigh. “I’m a bit surprised, Antoinette,” he says, “I never thought of you as an eavesdropper.” I explain to him about Jolly and why I happened to be outside the kitchen window. But I still feel my face warming. I hear David stretching his long body out beside me. I pick up a corner of the rug, rubbing it between my fingers, feeling the contrast of the wool lining and plastic backing. Then I feel his hand over mine. He takes an indrawn breath, it seems an age before he lets it out. “Look, Nettie. I have to be honest with you. You give so many mixed signals I don’t know if the bus is running or not.” I laugh. “Gee, I can see your course is paying off. That’s not a bad metaphor.” David’s hand lifts from mine. “See,” he says, “that’s what I mean. Nothing is serious with you.” Jolly takes this moment to come up and shake dam water over both of us. The droplets prick little cold needles over my bare skin that don’t seem to dry. David is scuffling in a bag. I can smell the raw meatiness of a bone. “Here you go, old boy.” Jolly brushes past me and the smell is stronger. Soon I hear him padding away, his panting containing something solid. “So, David.” I take out a handkerchief and wipe my arm. “What is it between you and Kayla?” “You tell me? She’s your friend, not mine.” I clench my fists and thump the blanket. “Don’t get all cryptic with me now, David. I’m the one who doesn’t know what the hell is going on. What didn’t you have the heart to tell me about, for instance?” “I think Kayla may have the hots for me.” “So? Why shouldn’t she? What does that have to do with me? Is your ego so big that you think all women want you? Including me?” I know I have gone too far. David’s voice is quiet, a temporary lull before a gust makes it billow once more. “I know what trust means to you, Nettie. I thought, the way Kayla was acting… Oh, what the hell. 38
You think you don’t have a chip, but you do. Just like any of us. The meaning of life according to Nettie. Well, have a good one.” I sit still for what seems to be a long time. I know I am alone. In some ways I am thankful. But the numbness is lifting and now I can’t even think about what I’ve said. I cover my mind in a blanket of denial. I call out to Jolly and in minutes, it seems, we are home although I can’t recall how we get here. As soon as I enter the apartment, I can hear that David is there too. He and Kayla are laughing. I start to turn around but Kayla stops me. “There you are, Nettie,” she says. “Come and have a nice cuppa tea, and we’ve saved a sticky bun for you, too.” I can’t believe her audacity. David steers me gently to a chair. “Cuppa’s near your right hand,” he says. “Sticky bun on your left. And seeing I seem to be good at getting other things arse about, I’m going to let Kayla do the talking.” Kayla’s hand is on my shoulder, I feel her warmth through the thin fabric of my shirt. “I’m not going to beat around the bush with this, Nettie. The reason I’ve been phoning David is that I could see what it was doing to you, him being away, I mean. I knew you wouldn’t do anything about it. And I was pretty sure David didn’t know how you felt. I wanted him to come here so I could tell him. I wasn’t certain if he felt the same way about you.” Kayla stops for a moment. I start to say something, but her hand squeezes my shoulder hard, so I let her continue. “You two are both so bloody minded, that I knew if I didn’t intervene it would go nowhere. Now take this picnic basket and go, get lost… together.” I feel my wicker basket being thrust into my hands; feel the promise of food in the weight of it and, for the second time that day, I do as I’m told.
© Myra King
The Diary of a Would-Be-Protagonist Being Perfect – or Just Good Remember the super-strings, back when there was seemingly nothing? I was fighting then to extricate myself and I thought that was it, once I was loose and free. No more strangulation by dint of a world in creation around me. But no, Anna has meddled in the process of my evolving being. Just because I'm in her imagination does not give her the right to sever my link with the living world. But that's what she's doing, the way I see it. Archiving, my hat. I’m achieving nothing. I feel those strings getting tighter. Would it work if I called for help? Perhaps not. I'm back to when there was nothing but me and him. Him? I'd clean forgotten. ‘E-hem! Friend? Are you out there? Helloooo...’ Oh, what’s this? I’m drawn into Anna’s world again. Or perhaps she thought I meant her when I called for my friend? Well, I suppose that might be it. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘Stacking these papers.’ ‘It looks suspiciously like a manuscript to me.’ ‘It is.’ Why does she sound so weary? ‘Is it mine?’ A soul can hope. ‘No.’ So, it’s the other one again. I need to get something straight in my mind. ‘This other manuscript, the other protagonists: I suppose you have fleshed them out nicely, given them a time and place in which to exist - proper lives…?’ ‘I suppose you could say that. At least I hope so.’ ‘Well, why can’t you flesh me out? I have to imagine myself as a whole – as a person, with a body and a personality.’ ‘Don’t make me laugh.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Are you trying to tell me that you haven’t got a personality?’ ‘Okay, so you have given me that much. What about the rest?’ ‘You have more than the other protagonists that you keep complaining about. You have the freedom to go almost anywhere, delve into the unknown, explore anything and everything. You can ask questions and argue, and be as difficult as you like. You’re not tied to a story line or a place as such, not like the characters in this manuscript.’ Anna patted the stack of papers. ‘Their lives are mapped out. The plots and subplots are inspired by real life. There’s a story to be told, a story that has to be told.’ ‘I see. Their lives are more important than mine.’ ‘That’s not what I said – or inferred. Their lives are different to yours – the reasons for your imaginary existences are poles apart. ‘I don’t understand.’ ‘Well, you are flights of the mind – exploring the unknown – and as such you enable my alter ego’s brain to keep ticking over.’ ‘I’d forgotten about her.’ ‘She’s part of the equation, and without her, neither one of us would be here.’
I couldn’t really disagree with that – not unless I wanted a fight – and two against one isn’t the best odds. Even if the fight is a verbal one. ‘So, if I’m flights of the mind, what is that?’ I nodded towards the manuscript. ‘Well, writing this story is cathartic - a release of emotion - to help my alter ego move on, to cope with something that happened to loved ones.’ ‘Is it a biography?’ ‘No, not at all, but it is inspired by real lives and real events. I think I have already told you that.’ ‘Is that allowed?’ ‘Yes.’ It’s enough to make me scratch my non-existent head. ‘I still don’t understand. Am I not based on a real person, with a real history? How is that different?’ ‘I didn’t know you.’ ‘Well, you wouldn’t. My alter ego lived millennia before you, but that doesn’t make me any less real.’ ‘In most people’s eyes you would be. Anyway, I didn’t know you – unlike the women who inspired this.’ Anna shrugged her shoulders. ‘So I didn’t love you.’ Talk about hitting a poor soul when he’s already down. I can feel a black cloud descend. I wish I had someone to turn to, someone to put their arms around me, to comfort me. ‘What’s up?’ ‘You don’t love me.’ Oh, what… ‘Blimey, let me go!’ She’s suffocating me with that bear hug. ‘But you needed a hug.’ ‘You call that a hug?’ Anna’s rolling her eyes again – a sure sign that I have either annoyed or exasperated her. Probably both. ‘You want to argue about that, too?’ ‘Not if you promise to be more careful in future.’ ‘What’s this all about anyway? You called me…’ I’d better play along, I suppose, and not let her know that it wasn’t really her I was calling. ‘You and me. My future. Our future.’ ‘What future?’ ‘Well, that’s what I was wondering. Do we have one?’ It’s Anna’s turn to scratch her head. ‘Do you have to think about it?’ I feel quite hurt. I must be at the bottom of the list of things to do, writing to get done. ‘Everything deserves a thought. Or two. Even you.’ ‘And?’ ‘We’ll see, shall we?’ If I was a child I’d take that to mean no. But I’m not – and I’m not giving up. ‘Time for a break.’ She’s making herself a coffee. I told her a nice, calming herbal tea would be much more beneficial, but the look she threw me said it all. ‘You’re just jealous.’ ‘Why would I be jealous?’ ‘You can’t actually join me in a cup of anything, can you? Or share a meal…’ What’s happened to her imagination? ‘I can join you. In fact, I will join you. I can do anything as long as your mind allows it.’ ‘Ah, well…’ 41
‘You don’t want me to join you? I can come back, you know, when you’re done with that lot.’ ‘I don’t know when that will be. It’s not good enough yet.’ ‘You mean it’s not perfect?’ ‘In a manner of speaking. I suppose I’m trying to perfect it, but I have read it so many times I can’t see the words for letters, or sentences for words.’ ‘Or wood for trees?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘You know, if you’re using an old saying, don’t change it.’ ‘Oh, shut up. I know what I mean.’ ‘But do you know what you’re doing?’ ‘Heaven help me, what kind of advice are you going to throw at me now?’ ‘If you don’t want to hear…’ ‘Come on, spit it out.’ She might not like what I have to say. ‘I’m waiting.’ ‘You’ve got to let go of that manuscript. You’re spoiling it by too many so-called improvements.’ ‘I’m editing, if you don’t mind.’ ‘Yes, and getting tempted to rewrite time and again. You have to stand back, tell yourself it’s good – before you ruin it by striving for it to be perfect. It will never be perfect – nothing ever will. But it can be good if you don’t get too obsessive about it.’ ‘When did you become so wise?’ Now, there’s no need for her to sound so sarcastic. ‘While I waited in the wings, so to speak, I had a lot of time to think.’ Anna nodded. ‘I suppose.’ ‘If you’ll give me a chance…’ Anna cast a long look at her other manuscript. ‘As soon as I have finished this.’ ‘You’re done. It’s done. It’s good, perhaps not perfect – or anywhere near perfect – but you’ve achieved what you set out to do with it. It’s going to be published.’ Anna broke into a smile, then started packing up the manuscript. That suits me fine. The sooner she sends it off, the better. I’ve got a thing or two we need to go over, and soon. My place in the great scheme of things comes to mind. And the question of my mind. Or the minds of any characters, in any stories, but most specifically mine.
© Anna Reiers
And a cheeky little end…
Purely by accident, so the photographer claims… (look closely)
‘Hope there's no blackbirds looking for worms.’