Friends

15 December 2015

A MAN IN MY LIFE

I have posted this many times because it once brought me fame! The reason for this repeat and more to come is due to domestic circumstances not being what they once were due to Joe's medical setback. Hope newcomers to this blog will enjoy this story.

A MAN IN MY LIFE (Lady Denman Cup Winner 1988)

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.

13 December 2015

WOMENS INSTITUTE CHRISTMAS LUNCH


2014 - WI members went for their pre-booked Christmas lunch at Westfield Court Hotel, a venue that had been used for several years. Every Christmas we booked again for the following year. It was surprising, therefore, to be told that in future the numbers attending would be a minimum of 30. Bearing in mind that we only went there once a year it was impossible to know if we could reach the required number. ‘Bring friends,’ was the sarcastic response when I said we might not be able to make it. Not the response one would expect from someone running a business. To my mind it would have been better to raise prices if money was the issue.

So after a lot of thought and asking round the area we came up with two alternatives: the local carvery and the local golf club... investigation to follow since Christmas events have to be booked WELL in advance.

The members were given the choice, which we thought would be based on cost, but the vote went for the dearest one... the Golf Club. Apparently wedding receptions are held there, along with special birthdays, and several people told me that the food and venue was good. With so many folk emphasising the good points, it was only natural to opt for the Club.

2015 - Christmas arrived with more excitement. It wasn’t often we ate at a golf club so the enthusiasm was understandable. On the day at the end of November we turned up in our Sunday best and were ushered into a very smart room with a wonderful view of the golf links from two enormous windows... obviously a place for spectators. There were three large circular tables with decorations swaying over each. Place names indicated our choice of food (we’d had the choice of three for each course) and little silver boxes containing balloons, party poppers and whistles ... the sort of touch that make you feel you’re somewhere special.

And then it was time to eat. Some of the girls treated themselves to wine, I stuck with water
(honestly) as I was chauffeur to another member. The soup arrived, which was excellent, and then the main course. I had chosen turkey since it was a Christmas meal, and I have to say it was cooked just right. I had my favourite panna cotta to finish and that too was excellent. All in all it was a good occasion, one to be repeated next year.

Or so I thought!

It wasn’t until I received a phone call from a member, during which she said how awful the food had been (she chose a different course to me) and that she was going to write to the Club to complain, that I realised all had not been well. Further enquiries revealed that other members didn’t care much for the food either. What was mine, then... was it a special for the President? I couldn’t see that happening but I did see that next year’s plans would have to be changed. Maybe the carvery could offer more quality for less cash. I have been there before and enjoyed it, and am invited to another so I’ll find out. Otherwise... oh dear, I can see a few head-scratching months ahead for yours truly.  

06 December 2015

A PAIN IN THE ... FOOT!


Following on from last week’s post about eyesight, I have another issue that I’d like to share. Not literally, of course, although...... no, perhaps not!

Every month I have my feet seen to by a podiatrist, once known as a chiropodist. Just like the opticians we knew and loved are now known as optometrists, and most physiotherapists as chiropractors. But I’m getting away from the point.

Friday was the day of the appointment so I went happily along knowing that pretty soon the feet would have respite, and so would I. Don’t misunderstand me, my feet aren’t bad, in fact, the podiatrist, oh to hell with it, let’s call him by his proper name, Steve. Steve often tells me the feet are pretty good for my age. I agreed with that until the following day when I woke with a chronic pain in the right foot. Pain, swelling and redness at the base of the big toe. And they were only seen to the day before!

By this time, of course, it’s weekend and no-one to consult. The pain got worse, and there was a certain amount of numbness in the toe. I could hardly walk. Well, I could, but a walk was more like a stumble, with arms gripping furniture en route. Laughable if you’re a spectator! Believe me, it went on all day and I was understandably fed-up as well as worried. On top of this, I had trouble getting a shoe or slipper on and that worried me even more in case I was making it, whatever IT was, worse.

(picture form internet)
It’s a bunion, I thought, and actually convinced myself of that. I checked with Google and found a site filled with advice on what to do. Separate the toes, it said, put a wad of cotton wool there to keep the toes apart. I did and I could swear I felt some relief. I remembered there was a family connection with bunions, my mother having had two removed, and that didn’t bear thinking about either. She couldn’t walk for weeks after the operation and had to wear black surgical boots which she hated. Perhaps it runs in the family, I thought, hoping against hope that it didn’t.

That night, I couldn’t sleep for the pain and in the end I swallowed a couple of paracetamol in the hope that they would help me get to dreamland. They did ... what a relief.

A friend who popped in on Sunday morning asked what Steve had done to the foot. Like me, she blamed the expert. The pain was even worse and I was really beginning to fret. There was nothing for it ... I had to go back to Steve.

8 o’clock Monday morning, I phoned and told him the tale. ‘Drive straight over,’ he said. Always assuming I could drive!! No worries there, I could drive better than walk. Actually the pain seemed to have subsided a little although the area of complaint was still an unhealthy red.

After a fleeting examination Steve declared ‘It’s not a bunion’ and then decided to keep me guessing which was, of course, impossible since my mind was hell bent on thinking only of bunions.

‘It’s GOUT!’

Gout? What the hell was he talking about?

Then he told me that without a doubt I’d had an attack of arthritis (which I do
get in other areas) aggravated by the very damp weather, and it had pinpointed the toe area. Hence the gout! He recommended a stiff course of paracetamol and ibuprofen for one day which should remove both redness and pain. ‘Go all out,’ he said, ‘knock it on the head.’ I couldn’t get to the chemist fast enough.

I have always associated gout with overweight, heavy drinking males, which I’m not. Just fancy, a slim thing like me afflicted with gout. Whatever next?!

In order to add a bit of colour to this post I looked on the internet for suitable pictures. I found some of bunions ... wowee ... so now I'm thanking the good Lord that my problem was gout!

29 November 2015

I NEVER THOUGHT IT WOULD HAPPEN TO ME.......

(picture from webmd.com)
MACULAR DEGENERATION

I wrote about this before - see here - when I first discovered there was a problem so I guess this is an update of where I am now.  

I want to explain about the problem I have with reading blogs that have coloured or white text on black or very dark background. Actually it’s the background that’s the problem. Anything black or navy defeats me... clothing, for example. When I wash and dry dark coloured items I can’t see to fold them ready to be put away. The light always has to go on so I can see what I’m doing. It never used to be so; I always prided myself on having good eyesight.

Never take eyesight for granted. We don’t appreciate it until it starts to decline, as in my case. I thought Macular Degeneration was something that happened to other people, not me. I’m only just starting down the path but already I’ve stopped laughing. It’s so inconvenient, as well. If I’m shown something by someone I have to back off because it’s a strain to the eyes to focus close up. Fortunately I can enlarge the font for most computer work but typing figures in columns is beyond me since enlarging tends to throw columns off screen. I had to resign as Joe’s secretary because of it. 

One of the hardest things is trying to read blogs with dark backgrounds and I was very pleased when one of my blogging friends changed the colour of his font. Thank you, Larry. I appreciate it. Sometimes it’s a struggle but at the moment I’m coping. However, I dread to think what it will be like in future. I hope bloggers will understand if I disappear from their blogs. It won’t be for any reason other than being unable to follow what they’ve written.

(picture from vwmin.org)
It has its funny side, though. When I type email messages I have to check and recheck that there are no errors ... even then I miss some. You see I used to be an ace typist with an official high speed of a hundred-and-something wpm (words per minute). I forget the exact figure but it was high, nearer 200 if my memory serves me right. Well, I still have that speed but the brain interferes with my decision of where to place fingers on keyboard. I have told it to stop interfering but I’m ignored so I’m stuck with typing and reading and fervently hoping I spot all the errors. 

22 November 2015

Regretfully, this is the world we live in.....

Another teenager murdered. A respectable 15 year old who had the world in front of her, a girl who should be rejoicing in life. Instead she is murdered and only God knows what she went through before the end. The police found her mobile phone first, and then some of her clothes, and then her body – in a field. Two men charged, one with murder and having sex with a child, the other with grooming and having sex with a child. Their ages.... 27 and 28. I feel sick and very upset thinking about it.

Unfortunately, she’s not the only one who is treated this way, and what do we do about it? Damn all! I have aired my views before and was amazed by the controversial replies. We had hanging once and I would advocate that it was brought it back. Let’s face it ... prison is neither deterrent nor punishment to those who would commit such crimes. 

I agree that careful steps need to be taken before hanging someone but the American knows how to deal with it. Some say hanging is no deterrent but at least it removes some of the scum we seem to be rearing in vast numbers.

My heart bleeds for the parents of murdered victims. How could you live with the knowledge that someone hurt your child? I am surprised our government hasn’t done something about it. I think they’re scared of facing the truth, scared of upsetting people, scared to make a decision in case it upsets their followers.

I can’t bring the girl back but by heck I can curse those that killed her... and hope that one day we get back to being a caring community no longer littered by scum.  

15 November 2015

Where I am and where I want to be...

Adelaide Hoodlass
who was responsible for the start of the Women's Institute
100 years ago

Doesn't time fly? It seems only five minutes since I blogged about an invitation to stand as President of my local Women's Institute. In fact, that was two years ago. 

Last Thursday was Election Day, always a nervous time for me in case I didn’t get anything or everything right. I wrote my presentation well in advance and kept updating it as the weeks went by and it seemed to go down well. I’m not the only one who has to report, the secretary (new to the job) has to present one, as does the treasurer. Mind you, the treasurer had more to worry about than I did but it’s no consolation on the day. I tried to introduce some humour before getting down to the nitty-gritty and that raised a smile from the audience members. Actually it was a good thing to do because it made me relax more.

I am not a good speaker. I dare not even try to talk without the written word to refer to. However I did practice reading with plenty of pauses and lots of looking up at the members. I have read about public speaking but it doesn’t come easy to me. Nerves play a big part; even if my subject is familiar and well known I still fear making a hash of it. Oh how I admire those who can stand there and talk for an hour without a hitch. But I’m okay with a script in front of me.

I had made my mind up in advance about what I wanted to do and decided that I would stand down if someone else put their hand up. Being President is a worrying job sometimes. No matter what you do to encourage enthusiasm it never seems to work. We’re an ageing institute, you see. Everyone has been there and done that and doesn’t want to do it again. Under those circumstances there’s only so much we can achieve.  The Women’s Institute does great things but it’s younger people who keep it going. I never thought I’d say that but we have to be realistic. All the oldies want is a cup of tea and a chat and to listen to a good speaker. Anything else would be hard work.


I was voted in. An honour really, but after thanking them for their confidence I told the members I would only serve for one more year.... adding that three years was more than enough for anyone. I shall be 82 next May (you can raise your hands in horror or merely smile) so I’ve reached the stage of wanting to take it easy. Being president doesn’t allow that to happen because there’s always things to dream up, plan, and arrange. I’m running out of steam so that back seat is beginning to beckon.

I can’t complain, I’ve had it good in the WI. I moved up the ladder quite quickly and took on responsible jobs; I was County Chairman for four years which was a big responsibility but enjoyable so I can’t complain that I haven’t seen life in the WI. 

08 November 2015

LIGHTS AND LAMPS

(picture courtesy of buydesignerfurniture.co.uk)
(picture from internet)
Old houses are not geared to modern technology. When we moved into our present home, twenty-four years ago, there were plug sockets to spare but not now, not with the laptops, Broadband connection, printers, scanners, land-line phones, lamps, electric shavers, hair dryers and tongs, televisions, radios, kettles, irons, washing machines, dishwashers, portable fires, lamps, and even more that need regular charging, like mobile phones and iPads. Admittedly some don’t need to be plugged in all the time but they’re in the minority. Then there’s all the extension leads needed to extend devices to the areas we want them. It’s not always possible to arrange furniture so that electrical items can be used where we want them, therefore extension leads and adaptors are vital assets. They run along the base of walls like starving white snakes, from electric sockets to wherever the next lamp is situated.  Other cables run across desks and counters, tucked in for safety. You should see my computer desk... you can’t see the desk for strewn wiring. Have you ever tried to tidy wires so they look respectable?

I had everything arranged to my liking but didn’t take into account the age of certain items which meant purchasing new stuff. And isn’t it strange how things pack up at the same time as if they've waged war and decided to leave the family that had given them house room for so long. Lamps seem 
to be the in-thing for deserting an already sinking ship. First the Mother-and-Child lamp packed up beyond repair. I take it you know what I mean but if not, well, an M&C lamp is an up-light (that’s mother) with a smaller light attached (that’s the child). It’s the only style of lamp that throws light everywhere ... up and around. After the anguish of losing that source of light, a smaller bedside lamp gave up the ghost. Fortunately (bad choice of word under the circumstances) I had other smaller lamps stored in a cupboard in case of emergencies such as this.  Out they came and one by one they broke and became unusable. It was time to go shopping.

I purchased a few smaller lamps together with their permitted bulbs in the mistaken idea that they would solve my problem. That’s when I discovered that all electric light bulbs are now designed to save energy, which means they don’t have the strength or lighting capacity they used to have. I am
told it’s called mood lighting. Obviously they don’t cater for my mood. So, now I am working in dimmed light which is no good at all. I need light to see with. Naked bulbs would be ideal since shades just dim the light even more but appearances do count. I mean, visitors would think we’d hit rock bottom. I would suggest moving but I don’t think that would go down well, especially since Joe is still suffering. It wouldn’t be fair, would it?

Somewhat reluctantly we have ordered another M&C light for the simple reason that I can’t see a damn thing in the ‘office’ I work in. It’s like working in the war years when using electricity was frowned on. And with my eyesight the way it is I need as much light as I can get so I can’t wait for the new M&C to arrive. The only drawback is assembling it. It’s not a job for the elderly but fortunately I have a wonderful cleaning lady who has a handy husband. Heehee I don’t know if he’s aware that she promised his help when the item arrives. 


01 November 2015

INSIGHT TO NOVEMBER

(picture courtesy of www.windsorasheville.com)

November was the month, many years ago, when I was seriously burnt, and had the misfortune to be in hospital when victims of bonfire and firework ‘accidents’ were admitted. I felt obliged to write the following prose and poem, at the same time incorporating other monstrous November scenes.

INSIGHT TO NOVEMBER
The Prose

November is perhaps the most moving month of the year, steeped in tradition and teeming with expectancy.  Why yearn for sunnier climes or a terracotta tan when November's seasonal pulchritude comes free of charge. Broad avenues, awash with colour and piled high with copper jewels: red-gold gems, cascading from majestic trees, making way for fresh creations of embryonic buds.

Natural beauty contrasts sharply with more morbid attractions. Searing bonfires concoct a vivid tableau. Orange flames triumphantly lick the feet of man-made guys, egged on by a jubilant audience gobbling sausages and baked potatoes. Historical, traditional, and macabre, as are the fireworks: pretty explosives noisily winging, gloriously beguiling.

Scarlet poppies adorning our attire signify remembrance for the soldiers who fought for liberation … the war dead, who gave us optimism. Yields of mistletoe and holly and sometimes early snow prompt thoughts of Christmas celebrations, of nativity, and gatherings of families and friends.
   
Thus, November is a month of diverse elements: breathtaking, poignant, and sad. But it is never dull and those who claim that it is should examine its true potential, and wrest a soupçon of comfort from the depths of the sombre monotony that exists solely within their hearts.

This is November.    Enjoy.
  
The Poem
Broad avenues awash with colour,
Red gold gems tumbling to the ground;
Evolution preparing fresh creation,
Embryonic buds already sound.

Beyond the mists stem glowing vistas.
Nature sighs in resignation,
No challenger for graphic scenes
Of morbid fascination.

Poppies, red and unembellished,
Symbols of commemoration
To men in bloody trenches; soldiers
Sacrificing lives to give us liberation.

Carousals of darting, searing fire,
Triumphant flames of orange hue,
Incited by beholders’ hearty cheers
To kiss the feet of guys, and maybe you.

Motley fireworks, spectacular and loud,
Spiralling in the darkening night,
Gripping young ones, riveting them to pain.
Inevitably their shocking plight.

Advance through crumbly autumn leaves
Amidst displays of deciduous attraction,
But heed the groans as flames descend
And human euphoria condones the action.

25 October 2015

2121

  
(A public domain picture from http://www.clker.com)

2121

My name is Dorothea. I did have a surname but it was forgotten long ago. In this place people are known by their forename. It seems like only yesterday since I came here. Reflecting back to those dreary rain filled days when the sun rarely shone I acknowledge that to go back would be a catastrophe, yet that is what my family did. They thought returning to live on war-torn Planet Earth would be an exciting adventure. Not me, I’m happy with the adventures I get here.

Space travel has its advantages. If it wasn’t for winning the pools and booking a trip in the space ferry I would never have discovered this tranquil place where age is no longer a worry and termination nothing more than a distant dream.

Young Quamlo was my salvation. He originated from the place where I had landed and where I now live, a place called Sol Vellow which is on the coast of Swentiva. I’d never heard of either until I encountered him on a rocky haven at the foot of Jungos Mount and he gave me a brief history of the place. That was at a time when I longed for the green fields I’d read about in my early years. Because of that the rocks were disappointing. It was my first experience of such terrain; I always imagined it to be tough on feet and heart but there was a surprising softness about the walkways and an agreeable ambience that seemed to wash over me like soothing dew. The humid air seemed permanently scented but since there are few flowers I have yet to discover the cause.

I refer to Quamlo as young but when I listened to his tales I realised he must be at least a hundred. The place, he said, was magical; youthful looks lasted for the rest of one’s natural life … however long that was. I used to laugh at the phrase eternal life, until I arrived here. Quamlo was quick to put me right. ‘It is not to be laughed at, Dorothea. Eternal life is something to be grateful for. Only souls filled with wickedness need have fear.’ 

Quamlo is an Independent, a term given to free spirits, although his feet are firmly on the ground at all times. He instructs the androids kindly but firmly to ensure his wishes are carried out with the minimum of fuss. I found that remarkable. When the cooling system failed he only had to raise a finger for Enrico to steer his great metal frame into the yard to get it fixed. 

My house is built in rock. On Planet Earth it would be known as a cave. It consists of six equal sized compartments, or rooms, if you prefer, in circular design. The kitchen is in the middle with five windows, each one picking up light from the adjoining rooms. Next to that is the feast room, the pool room, and three rooms designated as accommodation for guests, a bedroom for me and Quamlo, and a room designed specifically for gaming activities. The guest room is seldom used but it is always kept in pristine condition for visiting Nationals, they rarely give much notice and Quamlo believes in taking no chances.

The house once belonged to Umulo, once recognised as the Great Ruler of Swentiva until he was assassinated. The perpetrator of the monstrous crime was put to death in a painful manner.

It was about a year after the death that Quamlo approached me on the subject of us living together. He had been Umulo’s man, they had done everything together and the sudden loneliness did not sit well on his well shaped shoulders. I thought about it for a long time, weighed up all the consequences, taking into account the advancing years and the certain loss of youthful features. Since I was not born here I sensed that eternal life might not be mine. This belief, though, was kept from Quamlo lest it should arouse his wrath. Selfishly I decided that the prospect of living with him had its merits. Physically he was well endowed, his small stature complemented my lack of height, and I have evidence to verify the fact that he is a good provider. I want for nothing.

Over the years I grew stronger, more in control, able to give my own commands. I learned to stand up to the new Great Ruler so that his heavy handed behaviour meant little or nothing. Best of all I was able to protect the women who would otherwise have succumbed to his brutal ways. He thought nothing of shaving their heads if they dared to outwit him or cutting off fingers and toes for greater sins, betrayal being one of them. The Great Ruler possessed enough charm to lure the younger women to a marriage bed, but once there they were subjected to the most atrocious behaviour.

Whilst Quamlo worried about it there was little he could do to save the women from their fate if they fell for the false appeal. He was at a disadvantage because of his size.  In height he merely reached the Great Ruler’s hip. So at Quamlo’s behest, I became established on the council as Director of Women and Children. Consequently my battles with the Great Ruler were numerous. The fact that women turned to me for help immediately placed them as betrayers so I arranged a secret meeting place where they could not be seen discussing their affairs with me.

The location was on the far side of Jungos Mount, in a long forgotten cavern that had been occupied and then deserted by nomads. The entrance was almost concealed by unruly undergrowth; indeed I only discovered it when I tripped on a sturdy tree root. Qualmo agreed that it was a good place for the women to go if they needed help.

Confident that my plan would be kept secret I arranged secret sessions at the cavern.
There were many meetings with women who felt powerless to stand up to the Great Leader. One of them, Heliona, a rather handsome girl, tall and willow thin, was one of those to consult with us. Apart from a young son, she had no family and she was having a hard time brushing off the Great Ruler’s advances. She had already lost two fingers, both on the right hand, and she feared that more pain would be inflicted unless she succumbed to his evil desires. Her son was unable to help since on the nights she was sent for he was shackled to the wall of their home. 

After great discussion, amidst tears and tantrums and nowhere near finding a solution I suggested a consultation with the Wise Woman.

The Wise Woman was known as Mylha but hardly anyone used her name. She was a genius. Single handed she prepared potent and effective remedies for sickness and disease, healing lotions for the blistered feet of wretches who were forced to toil on stony ground, and aphrodisiacs for the Great Ruler. The latter were said to be concocted from thistle juice and frog spawn flown in from Planet Earth. Mylha kept a serpent in her stony yard.  She kept it for protection and that I could understand for who would dare to cross a serpent?

The plan was to remove the Great Leader by fair means or foul, with Quamlo’s help and that of the Wise Woman. Ordinarily I am not vindictive or even malicious but the plight of the women, and especially Heliona, was serious enough to take drastic action.

We met often in the cavern, which was considered a safe place. On those occasions ideas were submitted on how best to dispose of the Great Ruler. After many weeks of hard deliberation it was eventually agreed that only his demise could save the women of Sol Vellow. My idea was to use the serpent but Mylha disagreed. She decided that a tainted aphrodisiac would be a good idea. Since the pilot of the space craft was a relative she would have no difficulty getting the required items to mix into her brew, the brew that formed the basis of the formula.   

Together, Quamlo and I spent many hours devising a plan. We would invite the Great Leader and numerous other guests to dine with us to celebrate the legalisation of our union. We had lived together long enough to know that we were well suited so an exchange of rings at this time seemed not only appropriate but it provided an excuse for a feast.

The Great Leader would be guest of honour, and the women would act as hand maidens to his entourage. Mylha, the Wise Woman, would also sit at the feast table as the Chief Overseer was entitled to do.

The preparations took two months. Much effort was put into polishing the gold vessels which had once been in Umulo’s possession. It was thought they originated from Planet Earth but no-one was entirely sure. It was too long ago. As well as cleaning the house and making it pleasant for our guests, Mylha created a fashionable atmosphere to the main room.

Many ornaments were placed in strategic places. On a small marble bench she laid out trays of highly perfumed flower petals, where she acquired them a closely kept secret. In the centre of the table, opposite the place where the Great Leader would sit, she deposited a wooden carving of a bowing serf which she considered to be highly appropriate. She draped the ceiling with strings of colourful lights, the sight of which evoked an elusive memory. Familiar, yet unknown.

The room took on such a distinctive appearance I could barely recall what it was like before Mylha took over. She delighted in filling every space, a gap to her was unthinkable. And there was one, an opening right between two ornamental shelves. Spotting it, the Wise Woman cried in horror. ‘It is a bad omen,’ she cried. It cannot be allowed. A vacant space leaves room for hostile intrusions. That was how she came to change her mind about bringing the serpent to the gathering. The basket in which it lived would be ideal for filling the gap.  

On the day itself Mylha’s serpent was brought in. Its basket was tall with a tight fitting lid so that daylight and prying eyes were excluded. In its place between the shelves, behind the Great Leader’s chair, it looked exactly right though I did not care to think of the consequences should one of the serfs bump into it. Mylha laid a small pipe alongside, explaining that it was the pipe with which she would charm the snake.

Taking me to one side, she explained her change of mind. The potion she had so carefully prepared was not up to standard. A particular item had not arrived in the consignment from Planet Earth which meant that without it the other ingredients would not ferment. It was not clear to me since I do not possess the power of witches. However, seeing my growing agitation that our plan would be ruined she quickly assured me that the serpent would, in the end, play its part.

Since Mylha often states that she doesn’t expect to live long it crossed my mind that this might be the last occasion she charmed her pet from his basket. I remembered Quamlo’s theory that only souls filled with wickedness need have fear. It must mean that the Wise Woman and I should feel some apprehension for the malice in our hearts concerning the Great Leader.

I discussed the matter with Quamlo but he, whilst understanding my state of mind, persuaded me that we were merely punishing the Great Leader for his cruelty to women. He added that to allow him to continue brutalising, torturing and raping the womenfolk would make us as evil as the man himself.

The ceremony of union was conducted by Junson, a young man of 50 years and the son of Heliona. Junson was dressed in loose, white clothes with an ornate sword hanging from his waist. The sword was a symbol of union, although I was unable to make the connection. He didn’t have to do much except to read lines from an old book, but the placing of hands was important so Quamlo kept an eagle eye on that part of the rite. Quamlo and I stood side by side and every time I turned towards him I could see his surreptitious gestures. It made me smile with affection. At the end of the reading Quamlo and I were declared truly bound in legal confluence.

And so the reception began. The Great Leader took charge of proceedings by inducing the guests to partake of wine and make merry with each other. Having such freedom was rare so the men took him at his word. The few women who did not join them sat around as if they were waiting for something to happen. Passive, silent and fearful.

Eventually the Great Leader moved among them, tweaking ears and pulling hair. One woman was pulled to her feet so that he could kiss her, another was forced to accept his caress, and yet another was taken by him to the games room. Her cries could be heard from where Quamlo and I were sitting. That was when Mylha decided to act.

She moved back to the banqueting table, picked up the Great Leader’s goblet and filled it with an intoxicating substance. Upon his return from the games room the man was invited to return to his place and enjoy the substance the Wise Woman held out to him. Quamlo and I moved to sit nearer and I saw that as he tipped the goblet back so the serpent’s head emerged from his basket. Mylha played a tuneless air to encourage the serpent to rise forth and attach itself to the man’s back. The Great Leader knew nothing about it until the creature slithered up his back and bit his neck. With one drawn-out scream his flailing body fell onto the table. 

Death was quick. And there was much rejoicing. My guilt is hard to bear, more especially since Mylha died at the same time. She was right about not living long and it was her own serpent that killed her. Once it tasted blood there was no stopping it.  The creature was slain by Junson’s single blade.

‘So be it,’ whispered Quamlo, as he led me away.

For several days the memory of that awful time when Umulo was killed was uppermost in my mind. The punishment was execution and I couldn’t help but wonder if the Wise Woman’s death was her punishment for the present crime. If that was the case, shouldn’t I and others have been punished given that we planned the killing.

It was a tragedy all round but because of it the women now have the freedom Quamlo wanted them to have, to speak their minds, to say No when they want to, and finally to enjoy their lives on Sol Vellow. The Great Leader’s shadow is no more and my mind is finally at rest. It had to be. For the sake of mankind.

Since that time the population has grown, we have new babies, and new families. Quamlo is our leader and although he got there by foul means the people have accepted him. He is kind hearted but firm. People live by his rules and are grateful. Heliona and I are good friends. We often visit the cave where Mylha’s body was placed. We go there to pray and to offer our thanks for the risks she took on behalf of womenfolk.


18 October 2015

MONEY MATTERS!


Almost hidden by a spreading crab-apple tree she watched as he selected another card from his wallet and inserted it into the dimly lit cash point. It was a red card, the one he used before was blue. Two accounts by the look of it.  He withdrew a wad of notes on the blue so it would be interesting to see how much he got on the red. Eve’s eyes widened when she saw the size of the second bundle. What she wouldn’t give to have some of that in her collecting box.

The bank was an old establishment one, built in the 1800’s in what was now a tree-lined esplanade. Elegant, if old buildings were your thing; and it smelled of money. The area was inhabited by a wealthy section of society, which is why she was here. If she couldn’t get a bit of that wealth here she wasn’t the girl she thought she was. Material things were important but unavailable without cash, that’s why she had two jobs. Fundraising was her main one, temping for the agency was just a fill-in. Not for her the impoverishment suffered by her parents and grandparents, or the persistent complaints that life treated them unfairly. Nor could she adopt her sister’s lifestyle of living off her friends which was the cause of the rift in their relationship.

After pocketing the money in his rather gaudy jacket the young man glanced round before moving away from the machine.  Seeing his face startled Eve, convincing her that she knew him from somewhere. She racked her brains trying to remember. Perhaps he frequented her usual coffee bar, or maybe the wine bar where she and Hazel spent Friday nights? Apart from the weekly visits to the laundrette she didn’t go anywhere else, only work, and he definitely wasn’t an employee at March and McDonalds.

Eve switched the collection box to her left hand to relieve the numbness in her fingers. Colleagues had warned that the coins would weigh heavy after a while but she thought leather gloves would ease that. Only she hadn’t realised how difficult it would be handling tiny charity pins with gloves on. She could call it a day but was eager to win the contest for the one who collected the most for the city’s deprived children. She didn’t win many things; she simply wasn’t the competitive type, or hadn’t been until her sister Flossie announced her engagement to someone called Fred and asked for support with the wedding arrangements. Now she was all out making those arrangements, or rather finding the money to pay for it all. The parents weren’t in a position to fork out willy-nilly for all Flossie’s fancy ideas and Fred wasn’t much help. According to Flossie he ignored hints like he’d gone deaf. He was regarded as a well-respected member of the community, albeit a community at the far end of the land; Scotland, to be precise, which couldn’t be further away from their family’s Cornish home town. Even so, he didn’t seem to have much money.
 
None of the family had known she was courting, let alone soon to be wed. Their mother naturally came to the conclusion her daughter was pregnant but the next few months revealed no sign of ensuing parenthood. Eve could only assume that Florence and Frederick were truly and simply in love. It was such a pity he didn’t earn enough to pay for their wedding.

By seven o’clock Eve had had enough. She was cold and miserable. Her feet throbbed and she longed for a cup of hot coffee and something warm to eat. Since the workers and shoppers had gone home the walkway seemed deserted, there was just her to watch the activity of the shopkeepers shutting their shops. She had thought of waiting for the evening cinema goers but the bitter cold was making her head ache. Somewhat reluctantly she moved towards the bus stop, stopping only to adjust the chiffon scarf around her neck and search for her gloves. In one of her rare moments of self pity she wondered why she had volunteered to sell charity pins on such a foul day. Eve suddenly thought about the good-looking guy at the cash machine. And all that money. The charity would really like that. And the children would benefit.

A bout of shivering decided Eve that enough was enough. A drink was called for to warm her. The Royal Oak wasn’t far away; maybe she could pop in for a coffee.  All day opening was in her favour, before that the pubs wouldn’t dream of serving coffee. She might even get to sell a few more pins.

~~~

More bravely than she felt, Eve walked into the pub. The warmth hit her, but the smell of ale almost choked her. The place was packed out with office workers, suited men with ties and high heeled well-dressed women. She glanced round, looking for a table and quickly realising the futility of such a thing. Instead she pushed through the crowd, heading towards the bar, catching her scarf as it slid from her neck.

It was only after bumping into a woman with a glass in her hand that she noticed the guy at the far end of the bar, the one she’d seen at the cash machine. He had his back to her but she’d know that jacket anywhere. It wasn’t everyone who wore such a colourful coat, green stripes on a yellow base. Eve pushed past a party of noisy drinkers to get a better view.

The move enabled her to see his reflection in the long mirror behind the bar. He was very handsome but now she realised she didn’t know him at all. That could be remedied, she thought, fully intending to head over to where he was leaning on the bar, nonchalant, like he hadn’t a care in the world, talking to a skinny jean-clad youth. Eve pushed closer. She had no idea what she would say to him but, hey, this was a pub... anything goes in a pub.
         
‘Yes, miss?’

Although she wasn’t looking in his direction the barman obviously thought Eve wanted a drink. And why not? After all she’d come in here with that in mind, though she couldn’t see anyone else drinking coffee. Without too much hesitation she decided to order a glass of Sauvignon and waited while a new bottle was opened. It made a lovely sound as the liquid flowed into a stemmed glass; it quite made her mouth water. It was at that point she heard a commotion behind her. Glass in hand she turned to look, heard someone say ‘Well, it must be here somewhere.’

A group of people were searching for something on the floor. Eve looked down wondering if she would spot anything. And there it was. It had been kicked under the bar’s foot rail, unseen in the crush, and only inches away from her right foot.

Taking a quick sip of wine, Eve replaced the glass on the bar, the movement causing the scarf to slither, as chiffon does, right off her neck. It shimmered as it landed in a small heap by her left foot. She bent to retrieve it.

~~~

In the privacy of the ladies cloakroom she examined the wallet, shiny brown leather, small enough to slip into a pocket.  Without opening it she could see that it bulged with notes. The boss at the charity base would be pleased to have so much money for the children, she thought, as she moved towards the door. Or even her sister! But her aim was not to steal; instead she would use it as an introduction to that exceedingly handsome young man who need never know how tempted she was!


11 October 2015

THE END OF PLASTIC BAGS


So, the UK is now fully committed to providing fewer plastic bags to shoppers. Of course we can still have one if we pay for it. 5p in English money ... not exactly a break the bank figure, is it? I wonder how many will pay up rather than carry their own bag(s) to the store? 

The fracas has started already. One guy refused to pay his 5p which forced the assistance to transfer everything from plastic bag to wire basket. Guy wanted to take the basket out to his car but his request demand wasn’t met. There wasn’t exactly a punch-up but things were heated enough to be televised. Now I’m wondering why the cameras were there in the first place?! 

Does anyone remember the days when paper carriers were used, you know, those recyclable things ousted for the sake of plastic. We used to carry groceries home in paper bags, ones without handles, hugging them tight in fear of dropping something, all the time fancying ourselves as being American. Yes, we had a Safeways and loved it. Then came Walmart, quickly followed by ASDA. I can’t remember who introduced the plastic bag but I seem to remember ASDA were first to have personalised carriers. My illusion of carrying ‘American’ paper bags like the people in films was quickly dashed.

Before that there were baskets. Oh boy, was I proud to use my pretty basket (which I still have, by the way) but that was pre-housewife days when not much shopping was done. I couldn’t imagine carrying grocery in a basket these days. Far too heavy! No, these days I get stuff delivered.

So now, when shopping I take fold-up bags which are permanently kept in handbag, purse, or car. They weigh nothing and open easily. The only thing about not having plastic bags is that there’s nothing to put the rubbish in. Still, we have wheelie bins for that.