Sunday, 15 November 2020

Tottle Brook

Casper lamented the fact that his great-grand-daughter Alice could not walk the full length of Tottle Brook, as he had done 60 years before, but they would walk as much as they could, as he done with her mother and grandmother and Anne, his beloved Anne. In unison they had cautioned him, the words ‘Bun, Dad, Pops’ all overlapping.

He had been 12, the day warm and with not a cloud in the sky when he set out from his home in Dunkirk, the university, council estates and Wollaton Vale yet to be built and only the Beeston and Derby roads to be crossed. His Tottle Brook walk would end when he reached the canal, then he would return home the same way.

The day before he had gone to the City Library and found the map section, where he copied the line of Tottle Brook into a notebook he had taken from school, removing the cover just in case it fell into the wrong hands and he was accused of stealing.

With a satchel, some bread, cheese, a couple of apples and a bottle of ginger beer, he had set off on his walk along Tottle Brook and had since done it twice more, with his daughter Avril and grand-daughter Aileen, now it was to be with Alice. In his book Anne didn’t really count since she had joined him, uninvited, 60 years ago and had been by his side ever since.

Casper had been at about where Brook Road is now when an imperious voice said ‘What are you doing?’ and he looked up to see  a squirt of a girl in a pinafore frock and wellington boots looking down at him. She was carrying a fishing net and a jam jar, no doubt fishing for minnows and sticklebacks if she was lucky. ‘I’m walking the length of Tottle Brook’ he replied.

The girl’s next question was ‘Where do you live?’ as if to say ‘This is my territory and you need my permission before you can pass.’ ‘Dunkirk’ was all Casper was going to give her, before adding as slowly as he could ‘All the steams, brooks and rivers in England, just like the sea, belong to the King and he  says all can freely traverse them  if they do not offend fishing rights and, as you can see, I have  no fishing net or jam jar, so I am  respecting your rights’. 

The girl, now standing beside him and nearly as tall as he was, studied him for a minute, although it seemed like an age, before saying ‘Very well, I’m Anne and I had best come with you just in case’ and that was how they had begun, her just 10 and always the leader. ‘Like a dog on a lead’ he had heard his grandmother say as they walked down the aisle past her. ‘Disgusting’. 

The policeman met Casper and Alice as they were about to leave Tottle Brook and cross Brook Road before scrambling through a hole in the fence on the other side. ‘What are you doing Sir?’ 

Casper stopped, stood where he was and began to tell his story… and in that moment Alice looked every inch like Anne all those years ago who, as if by magic, arrived on the bridge with Avril and Aileen. ‘The cavalry’ Anne said to the bemused policeman in her magistrate’s voice before he could ask.

An unwelcome visitor

 Mike Applebee was sitting in The Doughmother bakery and café, talking to Houlia, its owner, eating one of her brownies and  enjoying a black Americano, on a day off and he was glad of it. Life in The Fields had been hectic of late, with the death of Saffron Carter and the subsequent investigation, of which he was a small but important part. Then there was his wife, Kirsty, now home after a week in hospital, where she had been taken with appendicitis. Fortunately, and uninvited, her best friend Wanda had come to the rescue. They were coming to join Mike later for a light lunch, followed by a walk around the park. He was just bringing Houlia up to speed when the door of The Doughmother crashed open and two grown men collapsed onto the floor of the bakery, wrestling and punching one another as they did. 

Mike was up on his feet and pulling them apart before the two men did too much damage. ‘Clem, lay off him’ he shouted and Clem stopped and quickly climbed to his feet, whilst the other guy stayed down, who he recognised as Saul Gregory. ‘A bit off his turf’ Mike thought to himself. For now Saul Gregory was staying where he was — on the floor. ‘Outside. Both of you!’ Mike ordered.

Once standing outside, Saul regained some of his confidence and said ‘Are you going to arrest him for attacking me?’ Mike turned to Clem and said ‘Did you?’ ‘Yes’ came back Clem without a moment’s hesitation. ‘Are you really going to make it easy for me to arrest you?’ It was then that Saul said ‘You’re  not in uniform’. ‘I’m still a copper’ Mike replied, sensing that Saul didn’t like Clem’s willingness to be arrested. ‘So you’re having second thoughts about me arresting your assailant?’ Mike saw the hesitation in Saul’s eyes, like a man caught between a rock and a hard place. It was then he noticed Saul’s bulging pockets, with the tops of what appeared to be leaflets sticking out. ‘What are they?’ Mike asked. ‘What?’ came back Saul, instinctively placing his hands over the pockets to belatedly cover them up.

Out of the corner of his left eye, Mike caught Clem’s smile, as he volunteer a leaflet without saying a word. ‘PROTECT OUR TOWN FROM INTRUDERS – VOTE PHIL GREGORY – PEOPLES PATRIOTIC PARTY – THURSDAY 9TH NOVEMBER’.

‘Ah’ said Mike, now understanding everything. He was glad that the PPP thugs couldn’t find anyone on the Fields Estate to do their dirty work. Charging Clem would do him no harm, as he just happened to be the Eco Alliance candidate and could claim he was defending himself after he had been attacked by a racist, but to charge Saul with assault would help confirm a growing belief among voters that the PPP were no more than fascist thugs. He looked between the two men, before commanding Saul to empty his pockets and place all the leaflets in the litter bin close to where they were standing. Once Saul was out of sight he would cover the leaflets with wet leaves from the gutter. ‘We will forget that this ever happened’. Saul opened his mouth but said nothing. 

When Saul had gone Clem asked Mike why he let him go? ‘Think about it. There’ll be very few PPP leaflets delivered here. They won’t try again and Young Saul will have to explain his black eye to his brother. You in court would do no more than provoke them and we’d soon have a pitched battle on our hands. No thank you. Not on my watch’.  

Saturday, 14 November 2020

Please help me

I saw her come into The Oasis Café and look around. I like to sit at the four seater table at the far end of the counter with my back to the kitchen wall. To my left is the door to and from the kitchen. I am surrounded by the smell of food, especially the bacon cooking on the griddle. 

If I’m lucky, Shirley is wearing a skirt and I can see her calves. I know she lives alone in the flat above the café, because she has told me more than once. The first time I recommended a decorator and the second was to ask me if a home office was tax deductible,  as she had no need of a second bedroom, volunteering that ‘No one visits because I have no family, now my father’s dead’. I told her it didn’t seem right that such a lovely person should have to live alone to which she replied ‘I manage’. It was probably then that she hooked me, but I’ve spent the past three months since trying to do a final edit on my latest book, with Sebastian, my publisher, breathing down my neck, so I’ve done no more than look at Shirley’s legs and her pale, sad, face.

The problem is I’ve started on another story and that keeps interrupting. It didn’t help when the woman I started telling you about came into the café and saw me. She then walked the length of The Oasis, past four empty tables and rested her hands on the top of the chair across from where I was sitting. She could see I was holding a pen, poised to write in the notebook on a page I had already half filled. I was on a good run. ‘Can I sit here?’ she asked. ‘If you have to’ I replied, hoping the sharpness in my voice might be enough to change her mind and she’d go and sit at one the empty tables but she didn’t.

What struck me, when I saw her just after she entered The Oasis, was that what shape she had was masked by the voluminous fawn raincoat she was wearing and her face similarly lost under a matching rain hat made from the same fabric. My first thought was ‘Mrs Paddington Bear’, which brought a smile to my face, and now she had spoken I knew she was from the Scottish Highlands, a soft accent without the roughness of the Central Lowlands, an accent I find equally attractive because of what I can only describe as its ‘raw energy’. She was now sitting down and taking her gloves off. I put my pen down and looked at her again. ‘You’re from somewhere between Inverness and Aberdeen’. ‘Elgin’ she volunteered, ‘I’m impressed’. Her compliment appealed to my vanity and aroused my interest.

 ‘I spent my summer holidays in Grantown-on-Spey until I started work’ I replied, continuing ‘Why have you come to my table, when there are four, no five, empty?’ She gave me a penetrating look and said ‘I’m being followed, can we swop coats?’ I didn’t argue. I took my Barbour from the chair beside me and handed it across to her, dodging my coffee and the remains of my custard tart as I did. In its place I put her Burberry and thought these are the best two coats The Oasis will see this week, with a guilty smile of smug self-satisfaction, which I hoped the young woman opposite wouldn’t recognise for what it was. I then watched as she removed her woollen jumper and how her breasts moved freely as she did, comparing them with Shirley’s. I wanted to apologise to both of them but I was too ashamed of my thoughts to admit them to anyone.

‘By the way, what’s your name?’ I asked. ‘I’m Carson Willard, short story writer, The Observer Sunday magazine, just after the crosswords’. She put out a hand, ‘Mairi McEwan, what are you going to do with me?’ I looked at her and pondered her question before giving her an honest answer. I haven’t made up my mind’. I could now see fear in her pale blue eyes, ‘Christ, does this mean they’re going to get me?’ It was my turn to reach across the table and take a hand. I looked into her eyes, so wanting to feel the thick red red hair on her head, and said ‘I promise that won’t happen’ and closed my notebook. I would give Mairi a safe, good life. I owed that much, not that I told her.

I stood up and stretched my back. Shirley saw me. ‘Another coffee?’ ‘Yes please’ I said and walked the three steps to the counter and, looking over, watched her put the froth onto Mrs Green’s cappuccino, who saw me and smiled. I then carried the coffee across for Shirley and returning to the counter I said what I should have said three months ago. ‘I’d like to cook you lunch on Sunday. Nothing fancy, plaice with butter, oven steamed in foil, plus roasted aubergines and peppers, followed by rhubarb crumble. One o’clock’. My stomach was knotted as I spoke the words.

‘Sounds lovely’ Shirley came back, her face looking more beautiful than I had ever noticed before, ‘but, be warned, if you treat me too well I might not want to come home’. I smiled back and kept the words ‘That’s what I’m hoping’ to myself.

Monday, 21 January 2019

A Background Noise

A background noise

Part 1 – The boy

He knew it was coming. The seed had been sown a few hours ago. It was still a shock when it did. Two burley men came into the room and said his name. He didn't have to speak. They just looked. 'Come with us. Now'.

All around they stare. Some cover their faces to hide the smirks. You could hear a pin drop. No one wants to hear their name called out. It was him alone they wanted. Now they had found him — like he found them. He had hoped no one had seen him. They deserved it. Especially Malc. Johnno was his friend, Malc shouldn’t have been there. It was his place.

Outside he is guided into the back of a large black saloon. The men have said nothing since saying 'Come with us. Now'. Mr Jones the headmaster mumbled something as he was taken away. It was the 'Now' which frightened him. The word had a finality about it. It was like standing on the gallows and hearing the beginning of a word, then oblivion. A hand touches his shoulder and he is ushered from the car into the back of a large building. He knows where and what it is. Put in a room, on his own, he is left for what seems an age.

When will they come? He will tell them what happened. But not them. 'Come with me'. The second time he has heard those words today. This time just one man. Softer than the others. He smiles and holds out a hand. He stays on the chair. His hands gripping the edge of the seat. He knows it is useless to resist. He doesn't want to look scared, but he knows his eyes give him away. 

He gets up and follows the man, through the door, across a passage and into another room. This time a table with five chairs and two doors. The floor is covered in brown lino and the room echoes to every sound. The walls are green with a band of darker green, just like a Green Line bus, and there is one long window along one side, at ceiling height, through which the light is fractured by panes of frosted glass and columns of iron. He can hear the High Road traffic on the other side, the whirr of the trolleybuses and  the soothing chugs of RT buses, but he doesn’t know if they are 18s or 92s. He’s no good with lorries or cars.

The door slams behind him and the man with the smile. The other door opens and in comes a tall, thin man, with a long face and lips like Christopher Plummer. His eyes are close together. He notices that first. The man is followed by a dark lady. She is sort of short and round, with big bosoms. He notices them first. The smiling man then leaves the room without saying a word. The man with eyes close together waits for the big bosomed lady to sit down, then he sits down as well. 

'Well, sit down… We have some questions to ask you and you must give us honest answers' says the man. 'Do you understand?' He hears the 'must', but his eyes are on those bosoms, now resting on top of the table. 'Why aren't they here'. He's sure they should be.

The dark lady leans towards the man and whispers in her ear. She nods, then says, very softly, 'Do you know what you did today?'  He grips the side of the chair. 'They should be here too' he thinks to himself. He looks away from her face, with its button nose and lovely brown eyes, past her bosoms, across the table and onto the floor, where his eyes stay fixed.

'Would you like some lemonade and a biscuit?' the man says. He nods and says to the lady 'We'll take ten and start again'. Four custard creams and a bottle of lemonade with a straw are placed before him. He has never gone so long in his life before without saying anything.

There is a knock on the door behind him. It's the man with a smile again. 'They're here and they want to see him, sir'.
'Who told them?'
'The Headmaster sargeant, he had little choice’, then a pause before adding ‘He had to'.
Then they were in. Bursting through the door. He stood there. A seeming colossus. 'We want to speak to him alone'. Then that word again. 'Now'. This time it filled him with relief.

The Christopher Plummer lips of the man with the close eyes moved as if to say something, but the lady with the lovely dark eyes rested a hand on his jacket sleeve and he turned away instead, then they walked out through the other door. He realises that he can now relax his grip on the chair and finds that his fingers are aching. Painful in fact. Unsure of what to do next, he sits and waits. He is about to be rescued or punished?

They are as good as they have ever been. He has never seen them panic. When he has done wrong, he has endured the quiet, knowing that there is no arguing. On reflection, always fair, although it rarely seemed that way at the time. Thankfully, it didn't happen often. He knew the boundaries and it was their game he was having to play. And now?

'What you did was wrong' he hears his nanna say. 'But I may have done the same' says his grandad. 'Malc told his mum everything and I mean everything. She came with us and she is telling them now. Then we can go'.

He never saw Malc or Johnno again. He was too relieved to wonder what had happened to them and soon life returned to much as it was before that day. Only years later did it become important again and, this time, he was in charge.

Part 2 – The man

The moment he saw him the years melted away. He would have known him anywhere. A man now, but still Malc. The second coincidence in two days. What would be the third?

The day before he had met Grace's parents for the first time. Her mum had been with the police and he recognised the eyes straight away. He then remembered her bosoms and felt guilty for doing so. Involuntarily, he thought Grace must take after her dad. Then he came into the room and he knew she didn't. He had the physical build of a miner. He saw enough men in his job as an occupational health worker to know. Square, stocky, muscular and on the short side. During lunch he found out that he came from a family of miners, but after  starting work on a colliery railway, he had joined the LMS and ended up in London, where they'd met. She used to wave to him when his engine pulled into the station and after a few months he called out and asked if she would like to go to the pictures.

The made an unlikely couple. A black policewoman, albeit retired, and a train driver. Inter-city diesel electrics now. Promotion had taken them north – just like his own search for a job had taken him to a northern town. And like him, they liked it. He made friends quickly, then met Grace. It was fairly instant and their lives seamlessly merged without them really noticing. Within a few months they had settled into a routine and decided it was time to tell their parents.

Grace was in the habit of going home on bank holiday weekends when she was not at work. This time she told them she was coming just for the Saturday and bringing 'someone special' – which is how he came to be confronted with those eyes again. Nothing was said.

In truth, he could not remember much about the day. He told Grace as they drove away and headed south to meet his family. They spent the night in a Best Western hotel on the edge of London. They knew he wasn't coming alone. He told his step-father that her name was Grace and that they had been living together for a couple of months.

Had they not decided to go into town on the train and parked the car at Potters Bar Station, he would not have seen Malc. With twenty minutes to wait, they went into station coffee shop, got their drinks and sat down – which is how he came to see Malc. He was alone and dishevelled, like a man recovering from the night before. He was rotating a mug and looking into it as if it were an abyss. Then he noticed his feet. It was if he was treading water. He looked up and their eyes met. Had he looked away, nothing would have come of it, but he didn't. He looked at Malc and waited for a reaction.

'Do I know you?'. It was the voice of a man – not the Malc he had known. He said nothing. The silence was broken by 'The train now arriving at platform two is the 11.09 to Barnet, Woodside Park, West Finchley…' by which time they were on their feet and opening the door onto the platform. On the train he told Grace about the coincidence and that that had been the Malc he told her about the day before.

They were waiting at the window and had the front door open to greet them as they walked up the garden path. It was if Grace had been one of the family for years. His sister and her tribe were coming to tea. At lunch there would be just them, no distractions. All eyes were on Grace. Nothing was said. Now they all knew. He didn't mention Malc. Before Johnno there had been Leo the lodger, but they never knew that, they weren’t around.. Nor did Grace until years later.

A few months later they married. It was the only occasion their parents met and they seemed to get on well enough. They rotated birthdays and Christmases and when the children came along they decided to work part-time and to share the responsibilities. From time to time he thought about the third coincidence that never was and Malc the man. Perhaps he had expected to see Johnno. Grace described them as part of 'life's background noise' which his brain, most of the time, was able to 'tune out' – as a psychiatric nurse she knew about these things. 

He saw it in The Guardian, 4 June 1984. Four column inches. He measured them. 'Sex offender dies in explosion' read the headline. 'John Masters, recently released from prison after serving thirty years of a life sentence was killed when an explosion ripped his caravan home apart. In 1953 he was found guilty of sexual attacks on four boys whilst working as a park-keeper in Harrow and Wembley. After his conviction, many more victims were identified. Surrey Police and the county fire service believe his death to have been an accident caused by Masters failing to correctly connect a gas cylinder in the caravan. Masters was caught in 1952 after being locked in his park hut with a young boy.

He showed it to Grace. It was closure of sorts. At some point he would add his own footnote to history. He was not in the records. He was not officially interviewed. Grace's mum and dad went first, followed soon after by his mother. Last year his step-father died, a good man. They had told the children years ago over tea when they had asked why they had no more brothers or sisters. He explained why he always wanted them to have their own rooms and that their mum loved him enough to understand why. Nothing had been said since. Perhaps now was the time. And that was it really. He had survived. Life had been more than kind. He had Grace and they both had modest NHS pensions. They read a lot, played bowls and did community things. The kids came to visit, families in tow. Never alone, even though that would be nice. Occasionally, still, the 'background noise' comes to the fore and he wonders about Malc.

He has never seen The Eastbourne Gazette dated 11 June 1984  and its small headline 'Beachy Head count now 20'. The report went onto say: 'The 20th body this year was recovered from the foot of Beachy Head on June 9th. It is thought to have been there for several days. The body of a man aged about 40 has yet to be identified'. Six months later he was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave with no one to mourn his passing.

Robert Howard
10 May 2011.
2149 words.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Hello I'm back after a year that really was and Tommy gets lucky — a short story

The past year really has been something else. I entered 2017 waiting to have open heart surgery to repair a faulty aortic heart valve I was born with, but which only came to light after 73 years thanks to my being diagnosed with 'established fibrosis of the lungs' in the summer of 2015. I had the operation at the end of February and spent six months recovering (all went well and the NHS treated me like royalty), then just as I thought I could return to writing proper and posting to Senior Fiction my wife Susan was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time (the first time being in 2006) and had her operation the week before Christmas. We will know tomorrow if she needs chemo.

Then, as I was recovering, a link posted to Susan's Ancestry website page in April lead me to finding out the name of my father after 73 years and meeting 
in October a half-brother I didn't know I had, who is nine years older than myself.

So I think it not unreasonable on my part to claim that 2017 was an exceptional year. What I did do was to continue scribbling in notebooks, so I have a few stories to type up over coming months. It's just a question of where to begin, so I've decided to start with the latest, 'Tommy gets lucky', a revenge story of sorts, as well as an exercise in description and dialogue, written for a friend. I hope you enjoy...


How my Tommy looks. A picture I found on the web without any accreditation (it just says 'download'). If anyone knows the copyright holder or the website it is from please tell me and I will try to get their permission to use this image.

Tommy was bait. He could pull far better than Clancy, who the former called ‘Top Dog’ in his head but never said.

Tommy got the introductions, always his name first. They would stand and talk a few moments, maybe walk together. Clancy would make a note if he liked what he saw and heard. Dog owners have routines and Clancy’s golden rule was never to interrupt or disagree. Woman with dogs like adoration and Tommy gave this to perfection.

Clancy chose to live near the town centre so he could play all the parks and nature reserves around the town, including the riverside but not the canal. Another rule was that they had to be on bus routes. Tommy loved buses and if Eileen the clippie on the 16 hadn’t moved he may have stopped a long time ago. Then there were holidays, always self-catering. Whitby was popular with single women of a certain age — ‘cougars’ he heard them described and the term stuck in his head.

He had a nice two up and down house on Old Station Street behind the town’s new railway station. Well it was new 50 years ago and it had just had a makeover. Now it was described as ‘A world-class interchange’ despite the fact that the town’s bus station was a five minute walk away. The house backed onto the town’s canal, the towpath of which was on the opposite bank. Clancy had his own mooring where he kept a small boat complete with a daybed and a galley so that he and Tommy could entertain.

Clancy’s house was worth four times what he paid for it ten years before. At the time he had just inherited half a house from his grandfather and had a decent job copying images so they could be placed onto tin boxes without infringing copyrights. When the factory closed he went solo and he was doing OK. What helped with the house was the town’s old technical college becoming a poly, then quickly morphing into a new university. This last change attracted academics and related professionals, plus better-off students, all needing homes or rooms and almost overnight Old Station Street became prime real estate. It really was a case of location location location.

Tommy couldn’t leave the house without attracting attention and he loved that. So did Clancy, female students bending down to stroke Tommy became his favourite kind of eye candy and they were good competition for the cougars. He was beginning to like the taste of kittens. Tommy though preferred the oldies and it showed. Those Top Dog liked often came with a pooch, so Tommy got some action too and he enjoyed that. The truth be known, the town had a good few Tommy lookalikes. If Top Dog could do it, so could he. 

Clancy knew the dangers, which is why he conducted his affairs one at a time and let a location where he scored lay fallow as long as he could. Better an affair die of boredom than in a big fight. The few times that happened Tommy was in there somewhere. More than once he was left holding a box of small puppies. 

“My little sweetie how could he? She’s a pedigree and that dog of yours is no better than the mongrel he is!”

“I’ll have you know Tommy’s a cross-border collie.”


At some point a door usually slammed and Tommy was clever enough to know what his kennel was for. Top Dog would  give his secret tickle and say “You’re a sly one you clever old dog. How come I never catch you?”

The thing about cougars was they just wanted a nice time whereas kittens often came with expectations. They saw Clancy as a guy 10-12 years older with  a good job and a stylish home in the centre of town. “A weekend crashpad” was how Zara described it. They met on the campus when she stopped to make a fuss of Tommy and since he had no cougar in tow at the time Clancy took full advantage of the opportunity. Zara was easy meat — more pork rib than shank, his favourite cut — but she turned out to be a tasty morsel and, worryingly, had his measure. It all came to a head a month before graduation when Zara asked “Can my mam stay with you for my graduation? She manages, but you know how hotel prices go up for this kind of thing. You are coming aren’t you? You could come together”. How could he say no? He couldn’t.

Anthea arrived on the 4:33 from York and Clancy agreed to meet the train. Platform 1. Clancy couldn’t miss her, just like Zara only bulkier and he liked what he saw, but she was ahead of him, waving, then shouted “Tommy”, who broke Clancy’s hold of his lead and shot across ten metres of platform as fast as his four legs could carry him. “My my, you’re every bit as handsome as your photo” then looking up saw Clancy close-up for the very first time and she liked what she saw. “You must be Clancy” but they couldn’t shake hands because Tommy was earning his keep, jumping against Anthea, lifting her skirt as he did so, barking as if to say “Look what I’ve found”, Clancy and a few others nearby turning their heads towards Tommy registered a nice pair of thighs wearing proper black stockings and suspenders. Anthea came action ready and Clancy was already finding his thoughts hard to control. Tommy was panting and his tongue was dripping for more of Anthea’s hand as she stroked back and forth under his chin. Tommy was as close to dog heaven as he could get in the absence of an amenable pooch, all helped by her soothing voice saying “Good boy good boy” over and over again.

Seeing Clancy close-up Tommy turned his attention to Top Dog, still barking as he did, his tail now battering Anthea’s knees. “You must be Clancy. I’m Anthea. Thanks for putting me up. I really do appreciate it”. “That’s okay” Clancy lied, but he was already beginning to change his mind. She would be nice to have around the house for a few days. “I’m sorry about that. Tommy get’s very excited when anyone makes a fuss of him”. “So do I” came back Anthea with a grin spreading across her face as she spoke the words.

“I keep meaning to take Tommy to training classes” Clancy said in a half-hearted way. “Oh I wouldn’t do that. With Tommy you’d lose what we’ve just enjoyed. I like him just as he is”. “Maybe you’ve got something there” Clancy replied as he picked up her bag and walked to a gate from the platform which went straight onto a road. “This is Old Station Street and I live in that terrace on the left, at the end there, two minutes walk”. Tommy was quiet, walking between them, his lead hanging loose, listening and understanding what words he could. In his company there was no such thing as a private conversation. 

“Can’t wait to see it, Zara says it’s lovely”.

“Don’t know about that. Plain is how I’d describe it” adding after a pause “It reflects my Baptist roots. I hate homes heavy in colour as much as I hate white text on coloured backgrounds.”

Anthea picked up on the use of the word ‘home’ and liked what she heard. “Zara says you’re a graphic designer”.

“Not really. I used to copy images onto tin boxes, now I do book covers mostly, working with publishers and marketing people. I only occasionally get to meet an author, then they are usually self-publishing”. She picked up on the fact that he pre-empted her questions and wondered if it was something he was going to make a habit of whilst they were together?

All Anthea got to say by way of a reply was “Sounds interesting” as Tommy pulled on his lead and Clancy let ago as they stopped. “Home” was all he said as he looked at her and put a key in the door.

“Your house”.

“How did you guess?” he said with a smile every bit as broad as her grin.

As the door opened Clancy invited Anthea to go first. He was warming to Zara’s mum. 

“That’s clever”.

“You like my little lobby?”

“I can’t wait to see what’s on the other side”.

The door he opened was half-glazed, the room beyond hidden from view by a moon-white fabric blind on the other side. Anthea guessed that the blind only obstructed the view when he was out or had an unexpected caller. “Wow” was her reaction, “When can I move in?” laughing a deep throaty laugh which hinted she had once been a smoker, but Clancy could pick up no trace of nicotine or tabacco on Anthea’s clothes or her breath. Had he done she would have been a complete no no. The thought of ash in his home made him feel sick.

The ground floor beyond the door was covered in cord matting. Clancy saw Anthea looking. "It's made from horse hair. I couldn't afford it now". Against the wall was a straight staircase beneath which was a door leading where?  "A cellar" he said. The rest was one large space with a glass roofed extension to the back which flooded the ground floor with light and overlooked a small back garden. Beyond Anthea could see the canal and, she suspected, the boat Zara had mentioned. There was a galley kitchen to the right but a surprising absence of lingering smells — something Anthea hated about open-plan living. Clancy read her mind yet again. “What makes the space work is air-conditioning. Cost as much as everything else put together, but worth every penny”.

‘Do you have any more surprises?” she asked, laughing again. Clancy obliged by lowering an electrically controlled fabric screen, moon-white again, from above the sliding extension doors. He waited for a further exclamation and it came on cue.

At the time £12,000 seemed like a lot of money but it was an investment which repaid itself time and time again in the bedroom above. It played out a hundred ways, all enjoyable. The cougars and kittens he enticed into his lair invited themselves into his bedroom with no help from him. The toilet was part of his ‘must try’ glass panelled bathroom, complete with a small hot-tub and a walk-in shower big enough for two, and was actually part of his bedroom, but which could be screened off by yet another electric moon-white blind.

Clancy let the ladies discover these things for themselves and excused the openness of his bathroom saying “There’s just me and when I have guests I use the screen.”

The front third of the first floor was petitioned off to provide Clancy with a workspace and from the front windows he could watch the trains as they arrived and left the station. Only pedestrians using the footpath which marked the line of an old level crossing and a short-cut to the canal walked by, apart from his neighbours of course in the half-dozen houses beyond his. It really was quite idyllic if you liked living in a once industrial town. A small copse of silver birch and beech marked the line of a long gone railway line. There was a murphy bed in the workspace for overnight guests, but Anthea would not be sleeping on that Clancy was sure.

Breaking one of his very own rules Clancy heard himself say “Would you like to see upstairs?” He let Anthea lead the way and lingered behind so he could enjoy what he saw. The only potential fly in the ointment was Zara if she decided to stay over, then it hit him! He was a baton being passed daughter to mother. He heard Anthea say “I’ve a pooch at home called Maisie. She and Tommy’ll make a great pair. Tommy’s bark said it all — Clancy was cougar meat! Not long after it was his turn to say “Wow” and Tommy’s barking at the end of the bed seemed to be saying “I’m one lucky dog.”

Robert Howard
20 January 2018
2096 words.

This is a revenge story of sorts, as well as an exercise in description and dialogue written for a friend.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

The joy that comes from a mess and how do you go about polishing a story?

Emma Donoghue.

I have just added a second quote to my right-hand column. It comes from an interview in yesterday's Guardian with the author Emma Donoghue. It encapsulates how I feel about writing. It's the first time I've come a cross a successful author speaking so plainly. Certainly, none of my tutors have been as bold as to say, in effect, 'Just write, you can make sense of it later'. My problem is that I don't pay enough attention to the after bit.

Perhaps, having come to fiction writing late, my head is full of a lifetime of ideas, all competing to escape, so I write them down and, the ones I like, I share on SeniorFiction. Most have been read and re-read half-a-dozen times before I have the courage to share them, even then I continue to edit the stories online. I tell myself that what all successful authors have is an editor. I know I need an editor buddy to do, in the words of Emma Donoghue, 'The polishing'.

Ian Rankin.

Over the years I have read enough articles, listened to and watched successful authors talk about how they write, a few of whom are honest enough to go as far as to say what they have with their editors is 'a relationship'. Ian Rankin is one of them. He also says that such relationships are not always successful. In one of his interviews I remember him describing an editor he worked as 'a real plot doctor'. The book was called Westward and published in 1990. It was, to quote Rankin, 'a mess'…

…which brings me neatly back to Emma Donoghue.

Perhaps the moral of this story is the age old one of 'be careful of what you wish for', but if anyone out there wants to edit one of my stories and sell it, providing we share the money fifty-fifty I'll be happy. I'll also agree to the editor having his/her name alongside mine.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Living with Isla and the Part stories

Isla Goodchild has been with me since early-2011 when I joined the Beeston WEA writing class, then led by Mike Wareham. He was a good tutor. I joined the class because I was looking for ideas as to how I might write a memoir. The local historian in me was already well aware of reminiscence writing, life story telling and autobiographies, having read hundreds over the twenty odd years Susan, my wife, and I published Local History Magazine. What I hadn't expected Mike to do was divert me, by introducing me to short story writing and its challenges.

Quite early on, Isla Goodchild came into my life. I knew from the off who she was — a amalgam of people and events, men and women, personal, family, work, politics. You name it, she was it. I could see her, hear her, feel her and she has been part of me ever since. Early on Mike asked the class to write in a gender not our own and there was Isla, in my head, waving, 'I'm here, I'm here'.

I love her. I have been writing and parking stories about her ever since. I have probably said before that I am more interested in how words tumble onto the page and how we remember the past, how we prioritise what we write, how easily we are distracted and diverted. Story telling is not a straight line, so why should we expect a life story to be a chronology of dates and events. It is not how we remember things.

Our heads harbour the lives we think we have lead, the ones we wanted to lead or could have had, and when we speak of them those we love and others are there waiting to correct us.

When I first met Isla in 2011 she came, it seemed at the time, out of nowhere, prompted by Mike Wareham. I quickly realised she has always been part me and her life is mine and those of others I have connected to, some fleetingly, whilst others will be with me I until the day I die.

Life is a collection of parts and this fact is enough to explain why I have began to post my Part stories. 

Tottle Brook

Casper lamented the fact that his great-grand-daughter Alice could not walk the full length of Tottle Brook, as he had done 60 years before,...