04 October 2015


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A few years ago I decided to trace the paternal side of the family name. Little did I know that two other family members were doing the same. They got a lot further than me but they kept me informed of discoveries. However, I use the word discoveries loosely since everyone came to a dead end. They were using the internet and everything was going well until the name disappeared. At the time I blamed the Net, little realising that our family name was non-existent before a certain decade.

Quite literally ... non-existent. 
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When investigation revealed that the name had a starting point but no history, my Aunt Florence claimed that she didn’t really know who she was. She wasn’t joking, either... deep down she was quite upset. Anyway, we got as far as tracing her aunt who, she already knew, had four children all with the family name as we know it now. However, the children’s mother never married and bore a completely different name to them.  

Family members had their own ideas and came up with various invented stories of what happened. My favourite was that the relative in question was a lady’s maid who courted the son of the family she worked for.

Whoever the father was there was no record and he definitely did not bear the family name that we know. No, the name started with the four children, their mother having a completely different surname. Was it invented? I guess we’ll never know.

The more romantic of us dreamed up the tale that great-great-aunt courted a man who refused or was unable to marry the mother of his children. I visualise her waiting patiently while her lover lived the life of a toff, never letting on how he spent those furtive hours in the company of what would then be called a ‘slut’.

Perhaps he came from a wealthy family, with servants, one that looked down on relationships such as the one he entered and kept going for several years. Perhaps they were wealthy and of some standing in society. Think of the shame if they knew of their son’s behaviour and the fact that he had four bastard children. Perhaps they did know, perhaps his grandparents forbade marriage, threatening to cut him off from the family without funds to live on. What a tragedy that would be. But, no, my feeling is that the whole affair was kept secret in order that great-great aunt could continue working for the family. I mean, she did end up with four children needing to be clothed and fed.  

Another suggestion was that he was a criminal but I didn’t go along with that idea. If that was the case it would be his name that needed to be changed, not his kids. The main question in my mind is: why not name the children after their mother?

I remember meeting my four great-aunts, very respectable, nice people who, like their mother, never married. I wonder why?  How I would like to go back and question them but of course it’s too late. And to think this all came about because of a desire to trace ancestors, a task made more difficult because the name came out of nowhere and there’s nobody left to question. 

27 September 2015


Bowie Greene watched the small smooth-skinned creature slither behind the rock formation like a furtive whisper. Despite the arid conditions, the area was strikingly fertile. Low-lying gorse edged the rough mountain paths, rising almost to touch the self-seeded wild flowers spilling from crevices. Still hunkered after checking his boot laces, Bowie surveyed the cloud-free July sky, a fusion of blues streaked with the white vapour trails of military jets. Like an abstract painting. He sniffed the air and inhaled the minty freshness of his surroundings before springing to his feet. Hitching his rifle he plodded on, determined to overcome his fear.
The stony path zigzagged upwards for a hundred yards before changing its gradient. Running his hand around his neck to wipe away a gathering of sweat, Bowie braced himself for the ascent. He’d done this trek a thousand times. Knew every undulation, boulder, blade of grass. Long ago, when youth and health went hand in hand, he’d even done it blindfolded for a bet. But in all these years he’d never made it to the top.  No climber ever had. It was known locally as a mountain because of the climbing involved, incredibly steep in parts. From the ground the apex looked as if someone had given it a blonde wig. No-one had yet discovered what was up there to give it that appearance.
Gripping an arching slab, Bowie swung his body to a higher level. The rock was more angular, jutting cruelly towards his shin. His breathing quickened as he tried to dispel a straight-jacket sense of unease. He had reached the spot where once he’d taken ill. The fear of what can happen on Blonde Mountain still haunted him. Remembering Bernadette’s taunt, he pressed on. Driving his boots hard into the ground, he mustered every ounce of willpower and forced himself to pass the man-sized column of rock known to regular climbers as Ugly. The precise site of the heart attack.
It was a Wednesday when it happened, Bernadette’s birthday. He was hurrying. On that occasion he’d been content just to climb, leaving behind his ambition. He reasoned that he could do it and take the commissioned photographs in plenty of time … and would have if the weather had stayed calm.
He remembered shrugging off the discomfort in his arm, concentrating his mind on his wife.  She had been fraught for weeks over the shop; it was only fair to give her more of his time. He and Jamie had planned to take her out to dinner. Going up Blonde Mountain had been a mistake given the circumstances, but he wasn’t to know that at the time. When the pain worsened he had stopped near Dixon’s Dike to swallow a couple of painkillers and then advanced towards Ugly.
The final blow came shortly afterwards, half way to Ugly, wedged in a crevice where he’d paused to adjust his thinking. Should he go back or carry on? How much more would Bernadette take of his wild craving to reach the summit? The kick came right at that point. Knocked him sideways. He’d fallen 200 yards, crashing against the rock face, bouncing, until he landed on a ledge. And blacked out.
The rescue team found him. Surgeons saved his leg and treated his heart condition. They said he was a lucky man. Bowie knew he was, he was grateful, yet still the zenith of Blonde Mountain claimed his attention. Like most climbers he wouldn’t rest until he achieved his goal. So many times he had almost made it; so many times he’d failed. 

Bernadette was furious over his insane desire to try again, her criticism wordy and threatening. She spoke of divorce if he didn’t start to see sense. You’re too old, she said. It’s time you packed it in. She was generous, criticising him instead of using selfish reasons. Bowie knew she had plenty of those, fear being the main one, loneliness another.
Bowie feared losing Bernadette but pigheadedness overruled all emotion. Now he wondered what had possessed him to come up here. To escape his wife’s accusations or to prove her wrong? Ever since the outburst a week ago, when she fiercely charged him with having no spunk, his morale had been crushed. The only remedy had been to climb, to prove that he was still good at it. Bernadette thought the deal with the magazine was the main incentive but to Bowie the second photographic commission was merely an excuse. He would climb into the clouds to achieve personal fulfilment.

The route now was straightforward. Bowie had reached a plateau that enabled him to rest. He leaned against rock and looked out. He could see the village, a simple speck on a map of green fields. Unstrapping his back pack he removed the rifle and maneuvered the pack so that he could reach the camera and binoculars. As he did so he felt tingling in his stomach. Nerves! Suddenly alert, he twisted on his heel, aiming the rifle as he spun round. He stared at the rock. Nothing there, yet he could have sworn he heard stealthy shuffling. 

Unexpectedly nervous, sensing something was close by, he tightened his grip on the gun. Shivered, yet there was sweat on his face. Slowly, he turned. Saw the dog. It was like no dog Bowie had ever seen. Huge head, long body, stumpy tail. Unusual colouring; an indeterminate shade that reminded Bowie of wallpaper paste. Round his neck was a black band of dark fur that resembled a collar. Even as Bowie watched the creature disappeared, seeming to slither rather than run round the rock formation. Bowie lowered the rifle, wondering if this was the fabled animal climbers talked about. It was always referred to in local pubs as the Blonde dog. Some said it was the keeper of the mountain. Bowie had laughed at the idiocy of such a theory. However, if what he witnessed was not a familiar four-legged breed of domesticated pet then the whole episode must have been a mirage.  A hallucination!

After taking a batch of photographs, Bowie repacked the equipment, adjusted the climbing ropes, and moved on. An unexpected gloominess had settled upon him, a cloud formation that he didn’t like obliterated the sun. He once told Jamie that when clouds came the rock face lost its friendliness.  His son had laughed, unable to understand that rock could be friendly. He moved slowly, hesitantly, remembering the weather change he’d experienced before. That almost fatal day!  Ahead he saw something glide round a rock. An impression rather than a sighting but he knew it was the creature he had seen before. Probably didn’t like the wind that was getting up. 

When it came the rain was like a deluge, stinging Bowie’s face, the sharpness causing him to close his eyes. He struggled to adjust his helmet, pull the side flaps over his years, returned the goggles to his eyes. He hated both. It killed the freedom of a climb but he recognized the merit in taking safety precautions. He wasn’t a fair weather climber. It would take the hand of God to stop him climbing in a storm.

The dog reappeared and stayed in front of him. His coat was like a beacon in the growing murk. Bowie made no attempt to catch him up. The short distance between them was somehow comforting as if the dog was measuring the route in stages. At the end of this section Bowie would climb again. The thought made him feel exhilarated. At one point the animal paused, turned his head to look at Bowie, and snarled. A deep rumbling sound that echoed against the rock.

‘It’s okay, Blonde,’ said Bowie, thinking it was up to him to soothe the dog’s trepidation.  The dog trotted forward. Bowie wondered why he had called him Blonde since he wasn’t convinced that climbers’ tales had any foundation. The dog seemed stronger somehow, his carriage more assured. Dominant! It struck Bowie that the dog thought he’d taken over.

The weather worsened. Rain sliced through the air, the wind driving it full force. Bowie was unsure of his footing. His boots slid instead of holding him firm and his hands were icy cold. There were better gloves in his pack but he had no time to get them out. The dog, though still ahead, stood perfectly still as if on guard. ‘What shall I do, Blonde,’ asked Bowie, moving tentatively along the narrow ledge towards the dog. He wasn’t quite prepared to fight his way down.  The dog lay down in Bowie’s path, preventing another move forward. He looked at Bowie with unflinching eyes that were like small fires. Daring him to move! Bits of rock shifted beneath Bowie’s boots, tumbled off the ledge into the whirling space that an hour ago had been so tranquil. Behind the dog a boulder became dislodged and hurtled towards home base. It was as well he’d stopped at that point. Bowie began to feel scared, hoping his heart would hold out if conditions deteriorated even more.

The dog eased himself onto all fours, growled twice, inclining his great head as if indicating that Bowie should follow. Bowie did. He inched after the animal, exercising caution as he circumnavigated a rocky projection. His feet felt heavy. He could barely feel his hands. He longed for a cigarette and remembered what it was that made him pack up. It was a Wednesday, Bernadette’s birthday.

Rounding the projection, he suddenly stopped. In front of him was the huge mouth of a cave. The dog sat at one side of the entrance like a guard dog. Ignoring the attacking rain, Bowie stood open-mouthed and stared. In all the years he’d climbed the mountain he had never before seen a cave. The dog walked in a little way, stopped, looked at Bowie as if urging him to follow.

It was a typical cave, small and dry, enough room for Bowie to lie down if required. Initials and messages were scratched on the grimy walls. Bowie squatted on the floor and shrugged off his pack. A message near where he laid the gun was ‘next time will bring medal for the damn dog.’ Bowie looked at the animal for inspiration about why he needed a medal. The animal’s long body filled the width of the entrance as he lay there looking out at the teeming rain, head on one side, an ear raised like he was listening for something. Bowie called him, tried to make friends. The dog resisted all sound, stayed still as a statue, listening and looking out.

The noise of the rock fall was colossal,  vibrations so fierce Bowie thought the whole mountain was collapsing. He dug his heels into the ground, tensed his body against the cave wall, too scared to think about anything except how the hell he was going to survive. He prayed like he’d never prayed before, wishing he’d heeded Bernadette’s advice. He didn’t know if he’d even see her again. The tears were hot in his eyes, sobs rose, bursting wretchedly from him, adding weight to alarm. If only he’d stayed home where he belonged.

The dog nudged his head under Bowie’s arm. Seeking comfort? Oh my god, thought Bowie, the dog needs saving as well. Moving his head up to Bowie’s face, the animal licked his cheek. Bowie threw his arms around his neck and hugged him hard. ‘It’s okay, buddy,’ he whispered. ‘I’ll save you.’

They sat there, man and dog, waiting for conditions to steady. The rain was abating and Bowie could have sworn he saw a flash of light on the rock. He was afraid to look outside, afraid at what he might see. Blonde began to fidget, rose leisurely and went to the entrance. Looked out, turned back and barked at Bowie. As he crawled to join him, Bowie could have sworn there was a smile on his face. 

Looking out, seeing the blue sky Bowie would never have guessed he’d been caught in such a violent storm. Still on his knees he moved further out, saw the damage done to his beloved mountain. His elation quickly disappeared when he saw that the whole of the route he had taken had gone.  Not a ledge was left to walk on.  ‘What do I do now, Buddy?’

The dog wagged his short tail, moved to join Bowie outside. He barked once and trotted off to the right. Came back, looked at Bowie, barked again, and trotted off. To the right.

Realising he should follow, Bowie went back for his pack and rifle, then stepped out to join the waiting dog. They were on a well worn trail with just enough width for a single person to walk, hitherto unseen by Bowie who thought he knew everything about the mountain. He followed the dog. The downhill walk was easy, patches of soaked grass already steaming in the sun.  Occasionally the animal turned to check that Bowie was still there. Bowie kept checking the way they’d come, seeing the split in the mountain where the rocks had come loose, knowing that he could have been killed. Silently he thanked the Lord for giving him another chance of life.

As he trudged behind Blonde, Bowie remembered the etchings on the wall of the cave, and the one that read: next time will bring medal for the damn dog. The damn dog that had saved Bowie’s life and probably the lives of many others. He wondered how he’d never heard of the animal’s lifesaving activities before. And what was that he’d said: that only the hand of God would stop him climbing in a storm.

‘Hey, Buddy,’ ‘he called. ‘You’re not God are you?

But the animal had vanished, seemingly into thin air. 

20 September 2015


(Picture by byanguela,
I never know what the weather forecast is because I can’t keep up with the speed-talkers on television. Usually women! By the time they've got to the end of their spiel I feel quite worn out, even breathless. Is it because they’re under time-pressure or do they always speak like that? Or is it that my brain has slowed down and won’t take it in?

I wouldn’t mind if I needed a weather forecast. I mean, I lived a long time before the instigation of complicated calculations and managed quite well just by looking out of the window and noting the appearance of the sky. We could tell by stars and temperatures if we needed raincoats or sunscreen. Even the birds were an indication of forthcoming conditions. 

What’s even worse, though, is the way modern misses act the part. Literally! There must be a condition of employment that they attend drama school. How do I know this? Well, I don’t. I’m just going by the incessant arm flourishing as they guide the way to the part of the map they want to talk about, followed by a joke or two, and a twinkling eye as they bestow huge smiles at the camera and position their bodies in seductive pose. I guess that’s to make male viewers feel good and take their minds of the weather. You don’t see the men preening and showing off. They just tell it as it is, although still complicated. Men, of course, have lower case voices so even if they do race along we can (mostly) understand them.... unlike the shrill voices of women. I’ve  got to the stage of wishing women were barred from talking about the weather.

Who are they for, these daily forecasts? Farmers must find them useful, and sailors definitely need to know, and maybe people who work outdoors but surely the latter can take the weather as it comes instead of relying on an attractive presenter on telly. People who REALLY need to know have their own source of information, I can't imagine them waiting for the six o'clock news to find out. 

Many years ago there was an old country man who could give accurate predictions purely by looking at the clouds and observing patterns of events. When interviewed he explained that he watched the sunset and if it was very red he knew the next day would be fine. He knew all about berries, which apparently were indications of forthcoming weather conditions. Holly berries, for instance, was said to indicate the severity of winter. All clever stuff if you know what to look for.

I’m not sure who started the old wives tales, one of which was ‘rain Sunday, rain Monday’ and I remember the claim that mountains ending the day shrouded by cloud meant the next day would be dry and warm. Then, of course, there’s the old saying ‘red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning’. A few more ancient beliefs can be found here... all good enough for folk in those days.

Technology is a wonderful thing and I’m all for it. It’s just that I can’t stand the constant pirouetting and fast and piercing voices of women presenters. Give me a man every time, no matter what the weather!!!!!

14 September 2015


Seeing a woman on a motor bike reminded me of  my own experience with another kind of bike. I turned the experience into a short story and am posting it again simply to provide you with a laugh. 

Let me introduce the ARIEL 3

'Cheap to run and easy to maintain,' the salesman told the gathering crowd. 'And so safe you could let your granny ride it. She couldn't come to any harm on a three-wheeler.' He was demonstrating the Ariel 3, a new kind of motorised three-wheel machine, bright orange, with a basket at the front. The man said the contraption was designed with women in mind and, by the interest shown on the onlookers' faces, the ploy was working. Maddy Fox was wide awake by this time, having travelled in by train in a half-conscious state due to the late night she'd had. She didn't remember alighting at New Street or being transported up the escalator, in fact she might have stumbled over the rope barrier had the salesman not shouted a warning. He was a real loudmouth, and he'd made her feel such a fool dragging her across the display area and inviting her to sit on the orange machine until she'd fully recovered.
She had to admit the seat was comfortable and her feet easily touched the ground, and she was quite taken with the idea of travelling to work on the cheap, but could she afford it?
'Money back in no time,' the man said. 'A gallon of petrol is nothing compared to the cost of travelling by train five days a week, and you'd get the extra benefit at weekends. And think of how nippy it is. No parking problems or waiting in traffic queues. Take my word for it, a whole new world would open up.'
A week later Maddy bought one. She had asked several friends what they thought of the new invention and they viewed it as a worthwhile buy. So, since the consensus of opinion was that these machines would become fashionable, she bought one. She had never ridden anything like it before, and before long she knew she would never ride anything like it again.

The Ariel 3 had a mind of its own. It had no problem travelling without a rider, and often did just that, but, when Maddy mounted, the thing refused to budge. She would turn the ignition key and pedal like crazy, but it wouldn't start, then when she climbed off to see what was wrong, the stupid little brake lever would disconnect and the contrivance would take off. As an added exasperation, on the rare occasions she got it going, the spark plugs furred up, yet remained in perfect condition on its solo performance. Nevertheless she persevered, and discovered that if she cleaned the plugs the night before all would be well.
Bernice and Margaret, the two girls Maddy worked with, were impressed, and both were brave enough to have a go. Accordingly, at lunchtime, they gathered in Church Street for a trial run, Maddy starting the machine and quickly alighted so that Bernice could hop on. Without fail it took off before she could hoist a leg, careered mutinously down Church Street, and eventually glided to a halt in a vacant parking space. Bernice slapped her thigh and declared it to be the funniest thing she'd ever seen, but Maddy was overcome by embarrassment, feeling she was doomed to be forever making excuses for the machine's devastating conduct.

One wet and windy evening, a month after taking possession of her flashy tormentor, Maddy, with a good deal of trepidation, kick-started the bike, and heaved a loud sigh when for once the thing jerked into life. She quickly set off for home, cutting down the side road which led to New Street. She took the corner carefully, giving pedestrians the right of way lest the machine chose that moment to romp, then prepared to take off. Sadly, her rather wide trouser-leg caught on the pedal and the bike tipped her onto the road then shook itself upright and advanced up the congested street amidst buses, cars and taxis, launching itself directly at the traffic lights, where it crashed, unharmed and in complete control of its own destiny, while Maddy viewed the new invention with all the hatred she could muster.

For two days, as if sensing her disapproval, the bike functioned precisely as it should and Maddy was endowed with a confidence hitherto lacking in their relationship, finally consoled that her money had not been wasted. Almost in celebration, she removed the basket from the handlebars and affixed a square case to the back, more in keeping with her role as city traveller and less likely to strew the contents on the ground. Securing the case with colourful spiders, an added precaution since her handbag, knitting, and lunch box were inside, she donned her helmet and journeyed home, exhilarated for the first time to be handling her newfangled, dutiful machine.
    It was Friday and the traffic was bumper to bumper on the steep hill where Maddy lived, but she didn't care. Gleefully she wove slowly in and out, overtaking big cars and small ones, occasionally encouraging the Ariel's progress with a toot on her horn. But half way up the hill, as she was debating the purchase of fish and chips, she heard someone yell, 'Hey, blondie, your bag just fell off.'
Over her shoulder, Maddy saw the blue case bounding on its corners down the hill. Hurriedly she parked the bike and ran to retrieve it.
The demon machine took off.
Maddy's hands flew to her face, watching with horror as it crossed the road and mounted the pavement, then rode the railway station's brick exterior like the wall-of-death, before turning an expert somersault and landing upright on the footpath. But it wasn't over. The impetus drove it back up the wall and sent it spiralling through another somersault before crashing down and narrowly missing a band of teenagers who watched with captivated expressions.

It had to go, and next day it was returned it to the garage from whence it came. Maddy demanded her money back, but was persuaded by the manager to try another machine. She did, and bought a Honda 90. Silver coloured and peaceful-looking.

Her friends, Bernice and Margaret, liked the look of the Ariel so much they each acquired one. Only Bernice had trouble, when her machine drove backwards through the Queensway tunnel - on its own.
Maddy wondered ... but it wasn't possible. Her bike was locked in a garage.
Wasn't it?