30 March 2010


Fran wasn't asleep. She heard the telephone ringing in the hall and the answering machine switch on, Jeremy's voice saying, 'Hi Dad. Call me when you come in.' Impatient as ever, not giving Jack a chance to get to the phone. Fran sensed Jack glancing at her before he went to return the call. Eavesdropping was impossible with the door closed.

'Was that the phone?' she asked when he returned.

Another time she might have challenged his excuse that it was a wrong number, but tiredness persuaded her to let it go.

Reaching across the coffee table, Jack seized the whisky bottle and looked enquiringly at Fran. She shook her head, but noted with interest how trifling was the squirt of soda he added to his king-size measure of Bells. There was most definitely something afoot.

Jack adjusted the cushion on his armchair and leaned back, gazing round the room like a man with a secret, deliberately avoiding Fran's eye. Intriguing, for Jack was not one for mysteries. Then without warning, with his glass en route to his mouth, he discharged the question which was patently disturbing him. 'What would you like for your birthday?'

So that was it. Her sixtieth birthday had him floored. Fran giggled inwardly knowing he would be even more perplexed when he discovered what she had in mind for him to buy. But more time was needed to prepare her case. Tomorrow, when her persuasive powers were sorted, she would tell him. A few moments elapsed before she said that something useful would be appreciated and promising to think about it overnight.

Jack picked up a section of his newspaper and began to read, while Fran packed her sewing away and struggled out of the rocker. She hobbled towards the kitchen complaining about the rigidity of her joints.

While toasting bread and preparing a plate of muffins she dwelt on the business of the computer, a piece of equipment she craved but never dared ask for. Shrewdly, she put a generous dollop of strawberry jam in a ramekin dish and brewed a pot of Orange Pekoe tea. Jack's favourite. It wouldn't hurt to pamper him. The Melamine tray they used earlier was still covered with a doily and on this she placed the supper things, best china and cutlery, a silk orchid in a bud-vase for effect.

Jack eyed Fran intently as she deposited the tray on the table. Seeing his eager expression she abruptly blurted out, 'I want a computer.' It took her completely by surprise and she could only surmise it was her subconscious mind that wrested such spontaneous speech from her lips.

Jack spluttered in his whisky.

From the way his face changed colour Fran feared an attack of some kind. She hurried to thump his back but he waved her off, frantically wiping his puce countenance with a hastily selected clump of tissues.

Fran bent to retrieve the empty tissue box and tossed it in the rubbish bin by the hearth. Satisfied he wasn't destined to suffer anything serious and having inadvertently set the ball rolling, she proceeded with forced nonchalance to reveal what she yearned for, lowering the modulation when she uttered the word Computer and concluding the dialogue with a soothing term of endearment.

'What do you know about computers?' Jack had plainly recovered, mocking as only he knew how.

Telling him not to be patronising, Fran explained that Jeremy had advised her to have one, having more confidence in his mother than Jack had in his wife. Because Jeremy decreed that it wouldn't take long to master the workings she urged Jack to think how useful it would be. She was exhilarated by this time, falling over herself to convince him.

Jack brusquely quizzed her on the cost.

Fran nervously suggested discussing it with Jeremy, but Jack pooh-poohed the idea and rose from his chair. Following one last swig, he pocketed his spectacles and collected his vitamin pills from the sideboard drawer. That done, he took his small change from the small-change dish. He believed that money was better placed beside the bed. It was no good arguing that burglars would find his pennies wherever they were located. At least the sight of his money didn't cause him to bemoan his fate for marrying a woman with exorbitant tastes; however, he did remark on the muffins, stating that he might have more for his breakfast.

Proffering her cheek for his kiss, Fran declared her desire to read and as she wished him goodnight she made a mental note to treble his portion of muffins and strawberry jam.

With the day's tabloids stacked in a neat pile and the cushions plumped, she sank into the armchair and opened her book, reading several paragraphs with unseeing eyes. Her concentration level was low. Her mind was anchored on convincing Jack that a computer was a requisite they could scarcely do without, that graphic pictures would be a valuable asset to their home. They could write books, become famous. They could play games, learn a language or two. It all depended on Jack. Her birthday was in three weeks. She had that much time to persuade him.


During the ensuing week Fran met several computer literates in such places as the library, the supermarket, and the building society. All went into raptures over mechanisms that could change one's very existence.

Her longing grew and soon developed into an obsession. Enquiries were made and alarming discoveries gleaned. Computers, it seemed, were costly; too expensive for Jack, who was not a wealthy man. Celebrity status would never be hers and the knowledge filled her with unbelievable disappointment. Despite that awareness she continued to eulogize the merits of owning a computer, commenting on its ability to teach new skills or improve an old one, trying to impress Jack with the little knowledge gained from addicted acquaintances. He listened but made no comment. Finally, she gave up.


Fran woke early on her birthday. Atoms of dust danced in the single sunray entering a gap in the pink cotton curtain, making the white sill shine like a mirror. Jack was sound asleep, his snores competing with those issued by Ben who was recumbent on the sheepskin rug.

Half-heartedly she climbed out of bed and checked her appearance in the looking glass. She didn't feel different. She didn't look different. Apart from a few wrinkles around the mouth, one or two around the eyes, and a bit of a belly, she didn't look anywhere near sixty.

Feeling more cheerful Fran followed the Labrador down the stairs. His posterior undulated as he negotiated each step. Sweeping a wayward strand of hair from her brow, she unlocked the conservatory door and let him out. A heady fragrance emanated from the dewy garden. The air was blissfully serene, tranquility punctuated only by the distant clinking of milk bottles, the low growl of the trundling float, blackbirds in the nearby cherry tree, its branches laden with pink blossom.

Thinking tea on the patio would be nice, with lashings of hot buttered toast and a muffin, Fran retraced her steps through the conservatory. A cardboard box caught her eye, lurking behind a sun-lounger. Newly deposited; not there yesterday when she swabbed the floor. She peered inside and saw two packages wrapped in mufti-coloured paper. The strangest feeling came over her as she scanned the duplicate tags, each one wishing her Happy Birthday.

Whooping with joy, Fran transported the smaller parcel to the kitchen where she attacked the string with scissors. Shredded paper fell like streamers. Sufficient staples were prised out for her to rip the lid asunder. And there it was. The Computer.

'Hold on, hold on,' Jack cried as he emerged from the bathroom and encountered his excited wife rushing up the stairs.

'Thank you. Oh, thank you,' she panted, throwing her arms around his waist.

He kissed her hair. 'Happy Birthday, Fran.'

On account of its awkwardness Jack unwrapped the second package and Fran gazed lovingly at the dull grey monitor. Breathing ecstatically, she exalted his kindness.

Fingering the edge of the keyboard, Jack confessed the most amazing thing. The biggest surprise of all. The gift, the wonderful, unexpected gift was a prize - first prize in the social club's raffle. An opportune win the week before her birthday.

'Jeremy's been guarding it for me. Incidentally, I'm to tell you he'll be over this evening with his present.'

'Great,' Fran said, trying to quell a let-down feeling. Needing to be active she plugged in the kettle. A small parcel was propped against the milk jug, wrapped in glitzy paper and tied with red ribbon. A stick-on label bore her name. Unreasonably she questioned whether this was the raffle's second prize. But the testiness rapidly disappeared when the mobile phone was exposed, nestling in pink tissue with a satin rose stuck to the tiny window.

Oh what pleasure. What shame.

The grounds for tetchiness were clear. The computer had only cost Jack the price of a ticket; this lovely thing in her hand had been chosen and paid for especially for her. The price sticker was affixed to the box. Jack did not deserve his deplorable wife.


A week later Fran was ready to consign the machine to outer space, unable to grasp either DOS or TOS, WYSIWYG or ASCCI, macros or configuration … default or otherwise. Even Jeremy, when he came to give her lessons, seemed to speak in an alien tongue. He assured her she could do it. He directed her to press the keys and see the result. Trusting his wisdom, Fran complied … and eradicated a whole programme. She felt sick whenever thing's went awry, scared stiff of the monstrous machine with its vicious tendencies, flashing red alerts, issuing instructions that this or that couldn't be done as if a villainous character was monitoring her every move, not caring about her daily headaches or her need for merciful handling.

And then the battle was over.

Things finally made sense.

Instigated by her newfound enlightenment, bored with lonely evenings, Jack begged for instruction. How proud she felt teaching her brainy husband, a man who could add figures in a flash without the aid of a calculator, a man with knowledge at his fingertips, a man who knew everything.

They became computer enthusiasts. In three months they could brag about advantages, conveniences, and blessings. Their lives were filled with challenges like writing blockbusters or reporting for the local rag. Fantasies of fame cluttered their foolish heads. Venturing into other uncharted areas would be child's play after coping with a computer; taking chances and gambling with their remaining years would be painless; making the most of a new beginning would be no trouble at all.

24 March 2010

A Man in My Life (2nd Repeat)

I've had a request to post this story again and it is my pleasure so to do. The story won a National short story competition in 1988 so I'm a bit proud of it.


The room is so quiet that if you stood outside the door you would suppose it to be unoccupied; but there is an abundance of sound: crackling firewood, squealing chair springs, the vibrating window when a plane takes wing, the tap of steel needles, and the expletives when I drop a stitch. You might hear these sounds if you listen hard but you would not see Jeffrey's wicked endeavours to make me lose count, my voice rising with each enumeration as I walk two fingers along the pin, determined to outwit the arm-waving comedian and cursing the misfortune of being saddled with an imbecilic brother.

The mantel clock proclaims its own opinion, issuing dull thuds, which are supposed to be reverberating chimes. Two o'clock, and the rest of the day to get through. Even the fire-logs serve to emphasise the hour, a pair of charred timber chunks spilling to the hearth. I toe to safety the smithereens of charcoal and inhale the intoxicating smell of burning wood as I study the flames, remembering my youth, when Jeffrey persistently devised new ways to destroy my concentration and the strife at school when homework was inadequately completed.

The dreadful clacking of Jeffrey's dentures infiltrates the reverie, transporting me to present time like an exploding bomb. First I am ensconced in daydreams, then, suddenly, I encounter reality head-on. Unexpectedly, my brother's grinning countenance brings a swelling to my throat. Family features: grizzled hair, bristly brows and pointed nose, except that Jeffrey now has pendulous jowls, skin dark with liver-spots, and hazel eyes mottled with age. At eighty-five he should be past indulging in puerility, but it is too late for him to change and, anyway, I am fond of his desultory ribbing. Occasionally.

While he gazes at me in his silly fashion, I set the rocking chair in motion, anxious to start the next stage of the complicated pattern yet hesitant in case Jeffrey renews the struggle for power. He looks docile enough, sitting erect like a spectator waiting for the show to begin, but I never know when he will embark on another wild prank. In two minutes I could be despising him; in three, I could be storming to pack his bag and return him to the home from which I delivered him, beseeching the dear Lord to explain why a man in my life is so essential.

My confession might shock you. If you could witness this scene of cosy domesticity you might think I am satisfied with my life, that my days consist of snug tête-à-têtes and happy reminiscences or that the daily woman's duties give me ample time to knit and amuse my brother. But how can I expect her to clean the mess that incontinence affords, or supervise his eating, and encourage him to aim for his mouth instead of his shirt? And yet, on reflection, your assessment could be right. Beneath the grievances, you might detect a glimmer of the affection I feel, for despite intensifying bouts of wrath and irritation I love the old fool to pieces.

Pleased that Jeffrey has settled to read I resume my occupation. Pins clicking furiously, my thoughts roam the years, evoking instances of his outlandish behaviour. Though his impaired mental state drives me to distraction he can be enormously entertaining; like now, as he absorbs the printed word, contorting his lips and nose as if they are moulded from rubber.


In the shadow of a frivolous father and two ebullient brothers, Jeffrey grew vague and bewildered before his time. As a consequence he relied on me for support, seeing me as an island of sanity in the midst of a chaotic existence. That's why I never married. The concept of leaving my guileless brother to fend for himself was inconceivable, though lately I long to be free of obligation. Notwithstanding, the good days outweigh the bad. In fact, until the onset of true dementia, most were agreeable; funny even, if an old man's waywardness can so be called.

As dotage accelerated, Jeffrey became quite adventurous. At seventy, equipped with his pensioner's pass, he toured the county for bargains. But his logic left much to be desired. He once travelled a distance to save twenty-pence on melon, then spent ten times that amount on chocolate. I still remember his gleeful look when he produced the melon and the box of chocolates, and my incredulity.

The fingers are flying now and the rocker's going like a swing as I call to mind that day we waited in Woolworths for our brother to end a discourse with a chum. Thirty minutes trudging round counters, failed attempts to resist Jeffrey's pestering at the photograph booth and the endless wait for obscure pictures. Secretly chuckling, I recall Jeffrey's restlessness and his entreaties for a go on the weighing machine - several times - for the sheer joy of cramming weight cards in his pockets, which on the journey home were distributed among the passengers on the bus, his laughter so infectious that the whole of the upper deck joined in.

My feeble eyes are filling up; it always happens when I reproduce the images of bygone days. A pity they couldn't stay the same.

You should see Jeffrey now, playing peek-a-boo around the Daily Mail. I pretend not to notice his buffoonery. I could curb him but he's been in enough trouble since the episode next door. Unbeknown to me, on the days when I allowed him out alone, he developed the custom of going in the neighbouring gate and walking into Miss Smedley's house demanding tea. Initially she humoured him with biscuits or a cake, but when he burst in and ordered tea and toasted soldiers, with no regard for her undressed state, she ceased to think it amusing. He's now on tight rein lest the woman carries out her threat to call the police.


The room is dimming now that the winter sun has disappeared, and the fire needs banking. The clock thumps its message home. Four o'clock, it says. Time for tea. My daydreaming has taken me to girlhood and back, through teen-years to adulthood. And Jeffrey's cardigan is almost done. If the Almighty is willing I will finish it tomorrow, that is if Jeffrey deigns to let me get on. But then I'd worry. Since silence is an alien characteristic I wouldn't know if he was behaving or indisposed. Oh, if you could see him playing his game, retreating behind the paper like a guilty schoolboy whenever he catches my eye. I cannot help sniggering at his expression, a fooled-you kind of look, the sort meted out when my counting goes completely awry. I am tempted to teach him a lesson and leave his cardigan sleeveless but I cannot succumb to spite. You see, he won't have many more birthday gifts, and I won't have the foolish fun that life with him has brought.

See his face, see the way he peers at me like the simpleton he is. My throat constricts at the sight of him. Dear God, don't take him yet. For my sake, give him a year or two more.

22 March 2010

What Makes My Day?

Several of my colleagues have recently been fined for speeding, one of them done for driving at 43 mph on a 40 mph road. The police radar is definitely closing in on local drivers. Now, I can speed with the best of them but in order to protect my good name I have been making every effort to keep within the speed limit. It’s not easy to go slow with modern cars, but I’m doing my best.

New installations have appeared on one our notorious dual carriageways with a top speed of 40 mph and warnings to remind us of the restriction. Flashing alerts are the in-thing! I treat them like a game, see if I can go that bit slower to make them stop flashing just before I drive past. But lately there have been a few drivers who have zoomed by in the outside lane, causing the alerts to flash before I get there. It’s all getting to be a bit irksome. They probably glance at me and think ‘women drivers’ but whatever they think I won’t get done for speeding. Maybe they will when cameras are installed.

Further along the same road there’s a traffic island that’s so busy cars have to queue to get across or round. Imagine my delight when I see my zooming overtaker stuck behind several other cars in the outside lane while I draw alongside in the empty lane. It’s very like the tale about the tortoise and the hare and really makes my day.

I often wonder why drivers stick to the outside lane on dual carriageways, even when they’re not turning right, which impedes those who are. I guess I’ll never fathom the reason for it.

20 March 2010

My Lucky Day

If you haven’t heard of Kathryn Brown before, please note the name. I foresee a great future for her as a writer. You may, of course, already know her as Crystal Jigsaw who, together with her lovely daughter Amy, recently learned how to do Vlogs. For the uninitiated Vlog is short for video log.

The first one I saw was so natural and entertaining that I went back for more. It’s not everyone who can be natural in front of a camera but Kathryn performed like she’d been doing it for years. Kathryn is also a writer. She has written children’s stories and certainly has the potential for more advanced stuff.

The last Vlog I saw was a big surprise. Kathryn and Amy were organising a competition … on camera. The idea was to put names in a hat and Amy would draw five winning names. The prize was this

It was my lucky day. My name was one of the five winners and I am now the proud possessor of a book entitled The Adventures of Aaron Loch Farm, written by Kathryn Brown. To say I am impressed is putting it mildly. The book is beautifully illustrated and printed on good quality paper with her own cover design, which also appears on each page as copyright.

It has given me ideas for my own work and I cannot thank Kathryn enough for helping me organise my thoughts. Well done, Kathryn, let this be the start of something knew. A novel, perhaps?

17 March 2010

Fenny's Quest (Repeat)

Concealed by dense hawthorn, Margaret watched the young soldier rake the earth with his hands. In the diminishing light his fair hair blended with his khaki uniform. She could not see his face, but she imagined him to be handsome. As she adjusted the paisley scarf over her tawny hair, she wondered what he would say if he knew he was being observed.

Unexpectedly, the soldier straightened and brushed the dirt from his hands, then rested his weight on his heels. Margaret drew a sharp breath as his head swivelled in her direction. Certain her presence had been detected she ducked swiftly behind the bush, and was reassured to feel her bicycle propped against the grey rock, facing the house in which she lodged.

A commotion near the old barn told her that the fearless fox was on the prowl which meant that Sean Bannister, her iron-muscled landlord, would soon burst upon the scene. Sure enough, the heavy kitchen door shot inwards, casting a rectangle of light across the cobbled yard. Margaret sighed and turned away, silently lamenting the disruption of her quiet scrutiny.

While Sean circled the yard, brandishing his shotgun and bellowing vicious intentions, she looked once more over the barred gate to the fallow field. But the soldier had gone, taking with him the mystery of what lay beneath the ground where for three nights he had been rummaging. Filled with the frustration of ungratified curiosity, she swept aside her cloak and jumped on her bike, determined that tomorrow, before darkness descended, she would inspect the field for clues.

After a supper of potatoes and beans Margaret described the young soldier to Aileen, the landlord's wife, a tall, lean woman with greying hair.

'That'd be Fenwick O'Brien,' said Aileen, letting the sock she was darning fall to her lap. 'Always comes in March to search for the Springer's name tag. Been lookin' nigh on ten years. Won't rest 'til he finds it.'

'But he's gouging the soil, Aileen. Is the dog buried there?

'Oh no. Dog's with us. It's Sadie I'm talking about. It's a sad tale, if you've an urge to hear it.'

Aileen waited for Margaret's agreement before continuing. 'It happened on St Patrick's Day. We were celebrating with fireworks and a bonfire. Poor Fenny joined us, even though he was on compassionate leave. He was just showing the disc to his cousins ….'

'The disc?'

'Sadie's disc. She originally belonged to Fenny's young wife, Lucy, and when she died of pneumonia he had her wedding ring melted down and transformed into a dog tag.’

Aileen leaned back in the wooden armchair. ‘The night of the celebration, the cousins started a jig. Carefree with whiskey, so they were. It was trying to keep out of their way that caused Fenny to drop the disc. That was when the barrel of fireworks exploded. He was killed outright.'

Margaret was aghast. 'Are you telling me that the man burrowing in your field was a ghost?'

'I am. T’was a dreadful accident, and him just back from Lucy's grave.' Aileen flinched as she uttered those last words and glanced at the shuttered window as if expecting to see the soldier there.

Ludicrous was Margaret's opinion of Aileen's tale. The man she had witnessed was as real as Sean, only much more pleasing to the eye. Troubled souls did not burrow in moonlit fields. Despite the intensity of the peat fire, Margaret shivered. Abruptly, she reached across the range for the blackened kettle. If ever she needed a cup of strong tea, it was now. Moving to the stone sink, she swilled the enamel pot and spooned in the tea.

The outer door flew open and Sean rushed in with the liver and white Springer at his heels. 'Fenny's here again,' he announced, putting a reassuring hand on the animal's head. 'Sadie was frettin' to find him. Sure, it was as much as I could do to get her in.' He looked at Margaret who was pouring tea into three mugs. 'Ah, tea. Just the substance for a tired body.'

The following morning, bent on disproving the absurd fable, Margaret interrupted her journey to the village school. She wanted to examine the field at close quarters, needing to establish the authenticity of her own sighting. The soldier would have had a legitimate reason for scrubbing about in the dirt, though for the life of her she couldn't think what that reason might be.

She waded through calf-high weeds to the spot where he had toiled. Except there was no spot. The growth was undisturbed, the ground rock-hard; there was no fissure and no evidence that for three nights a pair of hands had probed the soil. In spite of her scepticism, Margaret shuddered. Unconsciously, she began to retreat, her eyes riveted to the alleged site of Fenwick O'Brien's yearly emergence.

As she prepared to climb the stile she noticed something glisten in the base of the hawthorn. A bottle top, she thought, thrusting a boot-covered leg over the bar and berating herself for letting her imagination run riot. But, astride the stile, she hesitated. What if it had been the disc? What if it had been safe all those years, protected by vegetation, or wildlife ... or Lucy. Margaret was bewitched by the novelty of such a phenomenon and though she tried to dismiss the idea as idiotic she went back.

Thankful that her arms were covered, she burrowed through a grimy mat of twigs, snagging her nails and tearing ribbons of skin until eventually her fingers closed on the circular object. She stared at it in amazement. It was not silver, as she first thought, but gold, and genuine by the look of it. It resembled a flattened ball about an inch in diameter. Ignoring her scratched and bloody hands, Margaret fished in her pocket for a handkerchief with which to clean the metal and she rubbed until the grime was removed and the name Sadie was revealed.

At school Margaret pondered over her find, giving only half her attention to the children, whose paint-smeared white pinafores were in danger of becoming totally coloured with purple, black and red. The dog tag lay heavy in her pocket and she frequently took it out to scrutinise the intricate engraving round the edge. It was more like a locket than a dog's tag, but there was no hinge and she felt stupid for trying to locate one. Why would a dog be wearing a locket, for goodness sake, but she giggled when she thought of Sadie being inspired by its splendour to find a canine beau and wear its picture around her neck.

Margaret checked the classroom clock, wishing it was time to go home and report the find to Aileen, then she climbed down from her desk and went to attend to the restless children.

Aileen had a hot meal ready when Margaret got home, baked ham and roast potatoes with sprigs of rosemary and carrot sticks adding colour. Margaret hung her cloak on the door hook and washed her hands at the kitchen sink. She moved quickly for Sean was waiting to say grace. As always his words stirred her, for where she came from grace was never said.

They ate in customary silence, Margaret hastily cramming food into her mouth in order to get the meal over. However, although she finished in advance of Sean, she waited until he laid down his knife and fork before venturing to speak. Laying the gold tag in front of him, she said, 'See what I discovered in the field.'

Anguish crept into his face as Sean picked it up.

Aileen gripped her husband's arm and with her free hand took the disc from him. 'After all these years,' she murmured in a solemn voice. 'Fenny'll rest now, bless his soul. And so will Lucy.' Aileen fondled the Spaniels's ears. 'I guess this one’ll be glad to get it back. Sure, she's been too long without her mistress.'

'Fenny must have loved Lucy very much,' Margaret said.

'She was the air he breathed. He worshipped her and she him.' Aileen put the tag on the gingham cloth, absently centring it on one of the blue squares. She eyed her husband who was lost in his own reflections. 'Sean took it badly. Felt guilty, bonfire being on our field. It was twelve months before he could talk about it. It was Sadie who pulled him through.'

Margaret offered to put the disc on Sadie's collar, but Aileen shook her head. 'Sure, Fenny needs to see it first or he'll never stop scouring. You'd better plant it in the field, somewhere where he's bound to find it.'

So Margaret returned the tag. Initially she had found the legend of Fenwick O'Brien fascinating, but now, as she poked black cotton through the hole, she questioned the validity of her actions. Did they honestly believe that hanging the dog's tag on a bush would put an end to such foolishness?

'A pointless exercise,' she muttered as she tied the thread in a knot and let the tag dangle. Aileen and Sean would be pleased it was reinstated and it suited her to oblige, but before the week was out she vowed to cut it down for it would serve her well when she saw fit to marry. As a measure of defiance, she flicked the disc so that it spun. 'To be sure, Fenwick O'Brien, you'll be digging that pasture til' kingdom come.'

The wind howled round the eaves that night. In the barn the hens made such a racket that Margaret left her bed to peer through the window. She was astonished to see the yard lit by moonlight, assuming that with such a wind it would be pitch black and the rain would be sheeting down.

She opened the window and leaned out. Beyond the silos, the line of silver birch trees swayed. A barn owl hooted and was answered by its mate. Margaret expected to see Sean wielding his shotgun, but the yard was deserted. Sensing movement she scanned the outbuildings, watching for the recalcitrant fox, but it was only Sadie nosing for vermin.

It was chilly for the onset of spring. Margaret hugged her shawl and started to turn away, but something about Sadie stopped her, something gleaming at her neck. She trembled and drew the shawl closer. As she watched, Sean appeared at the kitchen door. Sadie bounded to him and he hunkered down to stroke her. He seemed to freeze for a moment, then he put his hands round the animal's neck and tugged her collar round. Sean Bannister smiled as he fingered the gold disc. 'Sure and about time, Fenny lad. About time.'

14 March 2010



For amusement I have decided to relate four incidents from the first eight years of my childhood. Though distressing ordeals at the time I now regard them as useful subjects for short discourses.

My first memory was of being abandoned, left entirely alone for what seemed like hours, a small toddler sitting on a baby's pot. It was not funny. My incompetent mother had gone out, probably for a matter of minutes but long enough for the enamel chamber pot to make an impression on me. I learned at a tender age not trust Mom’s parenting skills.

Did you have occasions when you wanted to disown your mother? Judging by the nodding heads in the front row I see you did. Well, let me relate an episode that still makes me cringe.
The scene was a crowded double-decker bus. We were sitting in the seat behind the driver, whose interior window was open. My tactless mother had suspected that the morning ritual of scrubbing teeth had been overlooked. In a shrill voice she demanded to know had they been cleaned.

The driver laughed.

I answered in the affirmative, speaking in a deep whisper, praying other passengers had not overheard.

'Let me have a look,' Mother said.

More sniggers issued from the driver's cab.

A man called from behind, 'Go on, kid, open wide.'

Believe me, I could have curled up and died.

In strident tones Mother persevered with her persecuting performance, jabbing my arm and instructing me to do as the man said.

A hearty guffaw sailed through the driver's window.

(Your chuckles remind me of those which reeled from seat to seat, upstairs as well as down.)

There was nothing for it, I was compelled to put my teeth on public display.

'I knew it!' Mother cried as she inspected each tooth.

Sinking them in her neck would have been unkind considering they were thick with plaque and decorated with remnants of the barley sugar I crunched at the bus stop. But Mother was quite decent about the indiscretion. She didn't hit me until we alighted from the bus.
A third circumstance concerns the fruit which Mother confined to a cut-glass bowl on the dining room table, in a room overlooking the road. It was for display purposes only. The room was out of bounds but when Mother was out I would sneak in and pinch an apple or a pear, convinced that she would never know. One mad, mouthwatering moment I dared to steal a juicy red apple at a time too close to Mother's home-coming, lifting the fruit just as she passed the window. Caught red-handed! What could I do? Where could I run to? Too late to contemplate suicide, I prepared for a beating. And my appetite for apples was destroyed.

I wonder if all children are as apprehensive of their mothers as I was. Mine scared me. She would wallop me for no reason. I daresay there were motives; if there were it didn't occur to her to disclose them.
I recall the time I came home from school bursting to spend a penny and dashing straight to the outside loo. During the process of unburdening, my ankles graced by navy-­blue knickers, my fingers pursuing the elusive toilet roll, the door shot inwards. Without a word Mother reached out and slapped my face, then closed the door and returned to the kitchen. She had been so angry she couldn’t wait to dole out my punishment. I didn't challenge it. I knew when to keep my mouth shut. And until the end of my residence in that house I made sure to slide the bolt on the outside privy door.

Thank goodness parental attitudes have changed. At least I hope they have.

Thank you for listening.

13 March 2010

No Photographs... or else!

My camera is always with me when I go out. It has its own special pocket in my handbag to facilitate a quick draw when something catches my eye. Today seemed a good time to get snapping since the markets were in town and I was all poised to capture a church steeple, for once clear of obstacles in the path of vision, when a voice said ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you.’

I turned, thinking the remark was meant for someone else, but the small lady who said it was looking right at me. It seems that the authorities are stopping people from taking pictures with the threat of arrest. The little lady had been warned a few weeks back when she took a picture of a building of interesting architecture. It turned out to be a bank.

So what happens to all the happy snappers? Are they confined to finding their own subjects? Can they no longer aim and shoot our wonderful buildings to brag about to friends or even for educational purposes?

I came across several items on the internet about this subject and honestly didn’t realise it was such a big issue. I’m a Photographer Not A Terrorist is an appropriate heading for this link.

I should be interested to hear if anyone else has come across this new veto against amateur photographers.

06 March 2010

All Change (Repeat)

Martha strutted along the window sill, head erect and tail held high. Closing the new-home card, Jenny reached out to fondle her ears. There was a lot to thank her for. If it hadn't been for her twitching her whiskers at Steve and fashioning those symmetrical markings into the feline grin that had so captivated him, Jenny might still be living in her former home. Alone and thoroughly miserable.

Moving house in the middle of a blistering summer was not an ideal operation in Jenny's book, though it wasn't so much the heat she disliked as coping alone with the upheaval. The nation was enduring an interminable period of water rationing, peevishness, short sleeve orders and teenagers barely dressed at all. It was unfortunate that contracts had to be signed while August scorched.

Jennifer Cavell was moving to a new flat, leaving behind the pre-war property that had seen the demise of her mother, her father's emigration, two burglaries, and her husband's dereliction. With a history like that she should have been glad to go but whenever she checked the cardboard boxes containing the paraphernalia that represented her life, her despondency deepened. She had lived with the boxes for weeks; she felt as if she'd still have them around for the next few months.

Jack's flight into her best friend's arms had forced her to take stock. The house was far too big and too costly to run on a typist's remuneration. It was a sad house, teeming with nightmares, yet she was bound to it by the fact of being born there. It was Steven Brice who persuaded her to leave. Two tearful years was more than enough, he said, referring to the period of Jack's absence. It was time to move on.

As removal day approached, Jenny's mood had improved. The sight of packing cases seemed less daunting, her stomach stopped its silly plummeting every time her friends broached the subject of the move, and by the time the actual day arrived she was as excited as a teenager on a first date.

Working her fingers through the bunch of mouse coloured hair, Jenny gazed pensively out of the window. A woman was gathering washing from a rotary line. Behind her a frustrated toddler yanked his bicycle in an attempt to free the stabilizing wheels from the wooden fence. The woman stopped her chore to fuss the tearful child, soothing him, her lips forming reassuring sounds.

Beyond the three-storey development block, squirrels skipped across the lawn in the direction of the stream. Picturesque location. It didn't matter that the flat was on the top floor and the only access by means of stairs. Easy access. Everyone said it was a mistake. All those stairs and no lift; not even a balcony to dry clothes on rainy days. Jenny had ignored them, telling herself they were resentful because their homes were lower down the Desirable Residence market. Older and nowhere near as posh. Not one of her colleagues could boast the luxury of en suite, let alone one in avocado.

Jenny removed the band that secured her hair in a bunch, shaking curly locks to freedom. Martha lifted her paw to swat a flagging fly. Stunned, the insect dropped to the sill, buzzing noisily as it spun frenziedly, upside down, trying desperately to recover. The heat affects all creatures, Jenny thought, letting her mind wander over the day's occurrences.

The move had been like a scene in a Laurel and Hardy film. Momentarily, she was pleased Steve wasn't there to witness the chaos. Workmates had convinced her she could do without the expense of a removal firm. They would help, they said. Leave it to them. The distance wasn't far and they all had cars. No-one reckoned on the sweltering heat. Men in shorts and women in skimpy frocks passed goods and chattels one to another in a human chain: thirty feet from road to entrance, a thousand up the stairs, someone said. Another professed it to be at least forty miles from car to flat.

Dressed in stonewashed jeans, the white of her T-shirt enhanced by a broad, black leather belt, Jenny rushed here and there in an absolute fever of happiness. She delighted in her new surroundings. She felt welcome, as if the building had taken her under its wing.

Touring the apartment, Jenny was amazed at how quickly the rooms had assumed a new identity, switching from consummate bareness to sunny occupancy. So well did her possessions fit in, one could imagine they had been there forever. Even the inherited curtains and carpets looked brighter.

In the bedroom, she tracked down the suitcase that held what she termed her better garments. She selected a blue organza dress, plain, but classy, bought to wear at a dinner party given by Steven's boss. Tearing off the T-shirt and dropping it in a wicker linen-bin, Jenny went into the bathroom to wash. A stone's throw compared to the trek along the landing at the last house. She filled the sink with as yet unheated water, welcoming the coolness. Though her mouth was dry, she did not attempt to drink. The noise of an aeroplane droning overhead was more distinct now that she was nearer to the sky. 'Closer to God, too.' Chuckling, she returned to the bedroom.

Freshly made-up, aware that she looked her best, Jenny went to the kitchen for a drink. Martha was already there, miaowing to remind her it was feeding time. Jenny giggled as she hunted through countless cupboards. 'I'll have to label the doors,' she said, finally locating the one in which someone had shoved the cardboard box marked Cat Food.

Carrying a glass of blackcurrant cordial, sipping as she walked, Jenny returned to the sunlit lounge. Tiredness threatened to dampen her exhilaration but she didn’t give in to it. Hearing a car outside, she deposited the glass on the mantelpiece and rushed to the window. Disappointment engulfed her. A delivery van was reversing into a marked parking space. She would much rather have seen Steve emerging from his silver-grey Volvo.

Forgetting her drink, she leaned against the sill, positioned so that she could see the cars entering the estate. Predatory starlings searched the lawn for leather-jackets, fearless now the gardeners who tended the orderly flower beds had gone. The stream glistened, rippling gently. A squirrel nibbled an acorn beneath a burly oak. Jenny wondered if it was the one she saw earlier, abandoned by its mate.

Her thoughts rambled through recent months. Separation had its compensations, she decided, starting slightly as Martha leaped and landed effortlessly beside her, so close her fur brushed Jenny's bare arm. If Jack hadn't run off like a lovesick baboon, she wouldn't have pursued him, and she wouldn't have run across Steven, estate agent and cousin to her ex-best friend. He offered drinks and a meal and a sympathetic ear. He was her mainstay when her heartache overflowed, steadfast in his determination to pull her through. Unlike Jack, Steven Brice was a man of integrity. Jenny picked up the new-home card and opened it, reading again Steve's message: an expression of hope and a testimony of his eternal love. Tenderly, she pressed the card to her lips, cherishing it, wondering if it would be infantile to thank Jack for the part he played?

04 March 2010

The Derry Air

I always feel nostalgic when I hear The Derry Air, otherwise known as Danny Boy. It was my father's favourite piece of music so I thought I'd share it and My Dad with my friends.
It is played by the ever popular Phil Coulter.

02 March 2010


It's March already so here's something I wrote to remind us of what's in store


Blossoms in the trees,

Busy buzzing bees

Chirruping birds

Building nests

Spiders catching

Favourite pests

Frantically the ants all work

Cats behind the bushes lurk

It seems they’ve all contrived

Now that springtime has arrived

To catch up on the work

That in wintertime they shirk