This Sporting Life: Turning The Tap

I was ten at the end of 1966 when something in me clicked. That need to find my own distinctive passion. It was conscious but I needed something. And while I can’t be totally sure, I think mum was behind that discovery.

Let me set a scene of domesticity in the mid sixties in a family that hadn’t begun to swing in any meaningful sense. Mum would have been no more likely to have enjoyed the Beatles or the Stones as she would have enjoyed the then popular artificial mashed potatoes advertised by giggling robots. Her tastes extended to Sinatra and Nat King Cole. But it was her listening habits that helped me. She was a radio aficionado, attached to what was then the BBC’s Home Service. However there was a period in the afternoon, between the end of the afternoon play and the news at 5 when she was often driven to turn over. That gave her a choice: the Light Programme which comprised the worst of cheesy 1960s pap-pop, or the Third Programme, which during the summer months broadcast ball by ball coverage of the cricket. Mum fell in love with the rhythms, the anecdotes and banter that filled the gaps between the balls.

I must have begun listening during the summer of 1967 but my first real recollection is a year later during the cricket against Australia. England had a large, not to say fat opening batsman who, unusual for that time liked to give the ball a fair old wallop from the first moment. Colin Milburn’s career ended not long after when a car accident left him with only one eye but that day, at Lord’s England needed him to give it a bit of humpty. Listening on the radio while mum delivered some old clothes to some sort of charity shop, Milburn hit the ball for six. The commentators were ecstatic, so odd was this occurrence and I was hooked.

That summer, 1968 is famous for its protests and almost revolutions. To this scabby-kneed schoolboy, the excitement was to be found on an old transistor radio as England, my England tried to claw back a one nil deficit, going into the last game at the Oval. It was beyond exciting (to me) with rain, the perennial torment of the avid cricket follower causing fingernails to be chewed hard. In the end, in the last hour of the fifth day, with all England fielders round the bat, England won.

It had me, this game for Flanneled Fools by the short and curlies. Now all I needed was to learn the laws, develop some sort of skill and persuade someone to let me play in their team.

Easy…

Hmm…

Posted in cricket, memories, miscellany, thought piece | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Hatched Or Dispatched? #blogbattle #writephoto

The house was derelict. The garden was a mess. No one remembered anyone living there. If anyone had checked with the Land Registry they would have been surprised that there was no registered owner. More to the point there was no house shown on the official maps, but since no one checked, no one was shocked, no questions were asked. Indeed, until last Thursday, no one would have known there was a house and garden there at all. You walked along Carpenter Close, maybe noticed the yellow rose in the front garden of number 37, smiled and noticed a similar, albeit red rose at number 39. What you couldn’t have said, what you’d be incapable of describing was the boundary between the two, a boundary where this crumbling pile now sat.

Rene Gade took her tea to the front window and stared at her new neighbours. Well, the house anyway. She tutted – she was an expert tutter, teaching year 10s as an elective on the art of tutting and harrumphing – and glanced at her phone. Should she ring again? She answered her own question with a ‘what’s the point’ harrumph. The local authority were useless.

‘Yes, madam, I heard you. A house has appeared next to yours. When you say a house…?’

‘Four stories, Victorian…’

‘A complete house?’

‘Last Thursday.’

‘That’s impossible.’

‘Indeed. And it’s a mess. There are probably rats and all sorts.’

‘Madam, are you sure…?’

After that the call went downhill.

Rene wasn’t going to wait for some jobsworth. She put down the cup, pulled her house coat tight and marched out of the front door.

Close up, her new neighbours’ house was more decrepit than she’d thought. A sign, covered in dust sat next to the door. ‘The Hatchery’ it said. Bloody stupid, Rene thought and raised her fist to knock. As she did so, the door swung open.

Had Rene been less alert, she would have been drenched by the murky brown, frothy liquid that gushed out but her Viennese waltz had won plaudits across Lower Sydenham, enabling her nimbly to avoid the torrent.

Applying a suitable ‘disgusting’ tutt, Rene stepped inside, halloing as she did so. From somewhere towards the back a deep voice replied, not that Rene could make out the words, beyond the voice was male and clearly drunk.

Well, she’d see about that. You didn’t dump a complete house next door and ruin the neighbourhood on Rene’s watch. Tugging her all purpose house coat tighter she headed towards the incoherence.

As Rene followed the narrow corridor, she had a moment’s concern that the house was so much a ruin that it might, at any moment collapse. However Rene hadn’t been conker champion for six seasons without developing a resilience and animal cunning. She skirted the gaping hole by the stairs, held her breath as she trod through the thick sulphurous green fumes that emanated from what appeared to be the downstairs toilet and pushed open the kitchen door.

What faced Rene would have been a terrifying sight to anyone not used to the 2pm slot on a Friday with Form 9E. In front of her was a large black table, though ‘black’ was merely the nearest colour Rene could call to mind, unless Dulex did an ‘Absence Of Light’ option. At the table a figure sat. A skeletal figure wearing a black cloak, with its hood thrown back. It eyed Rene, though again ‘eyed’ merely describes the position in the face that gazed at Rene. Socketed, might be nearer the mark. In its bony fingers it held a large pewter tankard which it proceeded to drain. As it did so, the dark brown fluid gushed out from under the cloak and began flowing towards and then past Rene. Once the tankard was drained, it hit the vessel on the table top, instantly refilling it and draining it again.

Between swigs the figure said, ‘yes?’

Rene sniffed, offering a tutt that combined disappointment with distaste. ‘Why aren’t you speaking in CAPITALS?’

The figure shrugged. ‘I resigned. They took away my voice, scythe and horse. If I wasn’t an embarrassment showing off my bones, I expect they’d have kept the cloak.’

‘There’s a new Death?’

‘It’s being advertised. Pestilence is doubling up for now.’

‘No one’s dying?’

‘Nope.’ The Skeleton Formerly Known As DEATH shrugged and emptied another gallon of ale. ‘It’s a new policy. Started last week. Compassionate Transition or some such bollocks they’re calling it. The old days of a swift dispatch are over.’ Another tankard went the way of the last.

Rene pulled up a seat. ‘That’s no excuse for dumping this excrescence of a building on my doorstep.’

‘It’s been here forever. It’s a halfway house. It’s just been invisible before.’

‘You what?’

‘You’ll be seeing more of these. All about openness and transparency, though I’ve always been pretty nearly transparent. Don’t worry, they’ve plans to tart it up a bit.’

‘I never knew. I thought, you know you died and that was it.’

Ex Death laughed, not with any humour. ‘Goodness me, no. You’d not believe the admin. No, I’d do my thing and then you’d come to one of these, and be judged or repent or what not and then,’ Ex Death pointed, first above its head and then below. ‘You want to see?’

‘Really?’

‘Why not? I’m not on the payroll any more.’

Rene followed as an unsteady Person of the Apocalypse led her to a battered door that she’d thought was the toilet but was, in fact, the basement and hefted it open. ‘Hold your breath and take a peek.’

It was ghastly: boiling pans, writhing bodies, endless TED talks on mindfulness. Rene stepped back hurriedly.

She turned but the unhorsed horseman was already climbing the stairs. By the time she’d caught up, it had pulled down a ladder and handed her a stick. ‘Just push up the hatch.’

She climbed the metal steps and pushed at the square of wood. As it hinged open she caught a flash of pink buttocks and a giggle.

Below her, the Pre Terminator sighed. ‘Sorry, I should have said to knock. They lack a little modesty. It’s all about them, you see. Total ego.’

Rene was no prude, but all that running around albeit in green Elysian Fields full of daisies and frozen yoghurt fountains seemed both energetic and a tad Disney. ‘Is this heaven?’

‘Not your sort of thing? If you pass the entrance test, there’s an app that will show you the options. Some people like rain, some sun. You get the choose. Mind you, it’s a bit tedious, all that fun.’

‘Can you change your mind?’

‘Not now but that’s on the agenda. Seen enough because I need to get seriously sloshed?’

They set off down the stairs. Rene rubbed her chin, ‘Why do you call this place the Hatchery?’

The skulled head turned back to Rene and offered her a rictus grin. ‘Oh these days we can do irony, too. It’s all part of this rebranding, making us a post-modern post-truth caring spectral transference operation. In the past we ended lives,’ it essayed a scythe-less swish and instinctively bowed its head, ‘but now we are part of the cross-over from one existence to the next. Management want us to take a more positive view on our work, be more inclusive. In the last, those who came through here knew whatever had gone before was gone, dust, dereliction. In the future it will be seen as a positive move along the path of existences. So they’ll be sofas, meditations and flowers and,’ he glanced around, ‘patchouli. They want you to think about being hatched rather than dispatched, see.’

They were back in the kitchen. The Spectral Assassin clicked his bony fingers, magicking two tankards that filled with the same brown liquid. ‘I’m meant to be clearing out my things but sod it. You fancy joining me? They still do a pretty decent nectar, although take my advice and avoid the crisps.’ He pointed at the floor. ‘They make them down there. A little fleshy, if you know what I mean.’

Rene sat and raised the tankard. ‘The Good Old Days,’ she toasted.

‘Indeed.’

I thought I’d combine two prompts: this month’s #blogbattle which is ‘Hatch’ and this week’s #writephoto which is

Posted in #blogbattle, #writephoto, creative writing, fantasy, flash fiction, humour, miscellany | Tagged , , , , | 19 Comments

This Sporting Life

As readers will know, I’m something of a sporting aficionado, and it takes little to engross me in a sporting contest. I can pretty much identify the moment when I moved from indifference to all and every sport to a growing passion as being when I was ten. Before I had little interest in the affairs of persons of sport and was less than enthused when asked/forced to participate in organised versions. Indeed those first attempts at organised sports have left indelible memories of various sorts.

Football

At primary school we played football in the winter terms. There was a clear and very unsophisticated hierarchy. If you were keen and had any aptitude i.e. if you swung a boot in the general direction of a ball, and you hit it more often than not, you were a striker. The more strikes the more central your role. Five out of eleven slots were reserved for these gods and acolytes.

Enthusiasm but less aptitude saw you placed in what today is the midfield but back then might be considered the fall back forwards. Three places were found for such water carriers.

If the opposition managed to wrestle their way past such maestros then there was the defence, made up of two Private Perkins (as in the WW1 ‘We need a futile sacrifice, Perkins’). These unsung and much under-trodden heroes were the full backs and expected to lay down their bodies in defence of their team (on the sound principle that there was no point in their using feet or heads because a lack of coordination and an inclination to wince made that form of defence pointless).

And behind then, shaking with a terror that only unwanted individualism could engender was the goalie. There was one requisite for the goalie – size – the more space he filled the less goal there was to be shot at.

I was a fullback of significant terror and little inclination. My fellow full back, Paul was myopic and weedy – his knees were of a normal size; it was just the rest of his legs that were underspecified. The goalie, Dave was more dirigible that dextrous. He filled both his role and the goal to the best that his circumference would allow. I was large, but not as large, rather blubbery in both senses: made of blubber and inclined to blub. I’m not sure how long the games lasted but, to us, they seemed to be longueurs of frigid boredom, interspersed with high moments of panic and either relief (when the ball went back whence it came) or despair and we formed a triumvirate equivalent of sponge pudding in human form: initially invested with hope that we might turn out to be welcome but eventually a disappointment.

Cricket

Cricket was played in the summer term and I had, back then, absolutely no idea what to do and where, beyond avoid at all costs, the ball. In every other sport I encountered under ten, the balls were pneumatic and while they hurt they weren’t out to maim or kill. Unlike cricket where the ball was a psychotic spheroid that you were expected to avoid with the use of a plank of wood or nimble footwork. Neither came naturally to one such as me. When it was time for the team unfortunate enough to have me as a member took to the field, all I wanted was somewhere where the ball wasn’t. I have a vivid memory of being exhorted to ‘catch it’ at one point. I had seen this done but had not then undertaken such a suicidal mission myself. I raised my hands in the form of a cup – a sort of fleshy grail – and held them in place until my brain registered the ball would actually connect with them. Self preservation is one thing, but merely taking the hands away protects only the hands. My chest didn’t move so fast and took the full impact. It hasn’t spoken to my hands since.

Atheltics

We had games regularly which involved hefting coir mats on to the playground and building a horse before we were exhorted to undertake a set of PE exercises. I don’t recall many save that I was the only member of the class – and that included the planetary Dave – who couldn’t manage a forward roll. Mine began in the approved fashion but by the time I’d spun over myself I was heading at 90 degrees to where I started. No matter how many times the teacher in charge shouted, exhorted and physically forced me, I listed left.

At the end of the summer term there were proper athletics: running, jumping and doing odd things with sacks and eggs. I recall being in a three legged race with Paul. He was a third my size and a quarter my volume. Inevitably we fell and he ended up under me. While that did nothing for his life as an athlete, it helped crystallise his career choice as a shadow.

The tipping point

My brother the archaeologist, natch. I’ve explained how my bone deep envy coloured my relationship in those early years. He was so much better than me at everything. When, in a fit of despair my parents bought me a butterfly net in the hope I might be encouraged to my own hobby, the Archaeologist, having won a full scholarship to the nearest private school found his summer holidays lasting longer than anyone else; thus he took up the net (admittedly, I had shown zip interest in it, but it was mine to ignore) and discovered what was to be one of his top enduring passions. That was it. I was going to find something, anything that I could call my own. It didn’t take long to realise that was sport. He hated sport, even more than I had.

I had found my calling; all I needed was to change shape, learn the rules/laws and develop a set of skills. Pah!

Next time, we will see how that worked out…

Posted in memories, miscellany, sport | Tagged , , , , | 22 Comments

The Garden June 2022

This time of year the garden seems to pause. The poppies are done and the dahlias still to arrive. Still you can make up you mind.

Oh and yes we’ve allowed the lawn to grow out and the clover in it flower.

And Dog? Poor soldier was stung on the foot. Not happy.

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Seeing In Summer #99wordstories

This week’s #99wordstories prompt from the Carrot Ranch is

June 27, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about swarms. What could swarm? How does the swarm impact the people or place in your story? Is there something unusual about the swarm? Go where the prompt leads!

Seeing In Summer

Some places celebrate summer with fetes and festivals; Little Tittweaking has Arnold Paraffin’s bee swarm extravaganza. Arnold’s bees aren’t any old buzzers, but bestriped performance artists (who also make honey). Each hive choreographs itself into a sculptured structure which is then judged (from a safe distance) by the chair of the horticultural society, Bette Sensibly. Past winners usually disperse quickly, when the finger buffet appears. This year’s winners, a vibrating icicle surprised everyone, by self immolating on the barbecue. When interviewed later, the Queen explained she’d been told it was the only safe way to keep the bee swarm.

Posted in #99wordstories, carrot ranch, Carrot Ranch Congress of Rough Writers, creative writing, humour, little Tittweaking, miscellany | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

Damaging Civil Society Through Re-enactment #writephoto #littletittweaking

This week’s #writephoto prompt takes us off to Little Tittweaking unexpectedly…

The Little Tittweaking Reenactment Society has been a hot bed for intrigue and unpleasantness. Its committee comprises three elderly rebarbative grandmothers, the jaundiced Nan King, the icy Nan Tucket and and the monstrous Nana Purna. Despite being congenitally incapable of agreeing with the others, the society somehow functions. In 2019, a decision of a sort was taken to reenact the principle events of World War Two, commencing on the 80th anniversary in September.

As was customary in Little Tittweaking, little forewarning was given of the upcoming plans. Indeed so surprised was Ivor Goneski, the one Polish resident to find the three harridans, dressed as members of the Waffen SS invading his allotment that he took to his shed and refused to emerge without a police guard.

The town began to complain at the regular occurrence of air raid warnings that followed, variously, the unexpected arrival of an Ocado van, a swarm of Estonian bees, which found a home on Postillion Gerund’s overzealous architraves and the perturbation caused by the Vicar losing his kite during a particularly poignant exorcism of Mrs Jeroboam’s radishes.

Happily, the lull that replicated the period of ‘sitzkrieg’ coincided with the first lock down in 2020. The three witches had plans to invade Madame Pincenez’s novelty toiletries emporium but when the route via Hard Ken’s woods was closed, they retreated via the Churchyard while consoling themselves that no one really cared about the French anyway.

Hopes rose, as some of the restrictions were lifted that their next extravaganza – to replicate the Battle of Britain, through the medium of corralling all the German shepherds and English bull terriers and getting them to fight – might take place, but the dogs, when approached, said they were essentially pacifist, they preferred sniffing anuses to ripping off ears and could they please have more chicken?

Disappointed but far from downcast, the Nans plotted their next campaign. The lack of a beach initially made the Battle for the Western desert seem unfeasible, but the entrepreneurial Nans offered to childmind their seventeen grand offspring in the school sandpit. In an unexpected turn of events, five year old Jemima Piddle forced a retreat of the forces of good, aka Mrs Plectrum’s nursery class when she evacuated her bowels in Horace the Dinosaur. Other planned evacuations of the children were thus put on hold.

Now on a roll, just before a second lockdown in December 2021, Nan King donned her Madame Butterfly wig and attacked her neighbour, Pearl Sofwisdom’s hedge. The damage to Pearl’s Arbour didn’t go down well and ever since the Sofwisdoms have tried to undermine the Nan Plans.

The controversy arising from such wanton foliage destruction, has caused a rethink of the events. An injunction was sought to stop the planned Operation on Barbara’s Roger as being both tasteless in the light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and likely to cause Ned Stalin to stop supplying illicit sachets of psychotropic borscht to the residents of Little Tittweaking’s Home for the Permanently Bewildered.

Consequently, the Nans have gone underground while they plan their reenactment of the D Day landings. No one knows what or where this might take place which has led to the residents of Little Tittweaking fortifying their front gardens with new fences and the occasional gun battery. Everyone is on edge and not looking forward to 2024. As the Reverend Hamish McTatty recalled at a recent town meeting which was called to try and raise funds to repair the damage to the Church when the Nans withdrew from their early attempts to squat in the Toiletries Emporium in Early 2020, ‘They Dun my Kirk, so whatever next?’

Posted in #writephoto, creative writing, humour, little Tittweaking, miscellany | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Week Twenty-Four: 2022

I’ve never had a massive urge to attend the Glastonbury festival, or any of the other biggies that dominate the summer weekends hereabouts. Maybe it is the idea of standing for hours; maybe it’s the risk of mud topping one’s boots, having heard horrors of people, knee deep in gloop, just about ready to embrace the ‘experience’ when a small yet perfectly formed stool pops to the surface next to one’s wellies; maybe it’s the idea of the communal loos and the state they will inevitably be in by the Sunday. It’s all a little Sub Sherlock – ‘It’s Alimentary, Dr Watson’ – for me. But I enjoy watching the broadcasts, bands and artists old and new.

While the Vet and the Pest Controller are there, telling one and all how great it is, I’m entirely happy to be an armchair critic – Paul McCartney’s voice isn’t as bad as I thought it would be but he really does need to give up on Hey Jude; Billie Eilish’s whispering style doesn’t translate to the small screen; Elbow are a fabulous band; and Diana Ross should be told that taffeta isn’t her thing but while her voice still has the wheels she can wear what she likes; and I do like Sam Fender.

While on the subject to music, how splendid is it that Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill is back in the charts? I remember liking Wuthering Heights in 1978 despite myself. At that time I was a dedicated follower of all things punk, even though my nascent legal career and some genetically indisposed follicles meant I couldn’t carry off the spiky haired punk look. You’d have been more likely to have found me listening to the Ramones, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, the Stranglers, Dr Feelgood, the Pistols, the Jam, the Clash et al. But you couldn’t ignore that extraordinary debut. What I hadn’t realised until this latest moment in the sun for La Bush was how she broke so many glass ceilings in her career to date. I shall have to go to her back catalogue and remind myself of her skills.

about as radical as I got…

For the purposes of balance, I should remind readers that my career as a follower of the modern music genre didn’t start high on the cool spectrum with my first two albums being by, respectively, Gilbert O’Sullivan and the Carpenters. The only way is up, or so they say.

The news that the SCOTUS has repealed Roe v Wade is depressing. I have no affinity for or truck with religious zealotry which seems to be at the root of this change and it is just so regressive. I have early memories of my (Conservative leaning) father moaning about the Labour government that lasted from 1964 to 1970, and naturally assumed he must know a thing or two. But as I look back on the extraordinary achievements during that period, I have to wonder if any government, before or since was as reforming. They didn’t get it all right – their attempts to control rents for private tenants effectively destroyed the private rented sector over the next twenty years. But amongst the legislation that started then we have: Equal Pay, Equality in Race Relations and banning sex discrimination in work, legalising homosexual relationships and Abortion, the ending of the death penalty, criminalising drunk driving and a Prime Minister who defied convention and the Special Relationship and refused to join the US in Vietnam. Harold Wilson may seem like a grey man, more civil servant that dynamic political leader but, in truth, couldn’t we do with some of that clear sighted insightful government right now? All I can say of the current administration is that it shows no signs of trying to reverse any of this hard won progress. That, at least, is something.

The garden continues to be be splendid though we have competition. I was walking Dog back from our morning’s perambulation on Sunday and passed the grand vista that encompasses Dulwich College, one of three large, well endowed and successful private schools hereabout. Around the edge of their playing fields that are overlooked by the stunning Victorian buildings there was this, one part of several strips of wildflowers they have planted.

I may not have the backdrop of a significant gothic pile, but I still think mine are better…

Posted in 2022, thought piece | Tagged , , | 47 Comments

Translating Heroes #theatre

I saw a film in 1985 called Letter To Brezhnev. It was fairly popular but I doubt it travelled widely. It told of a romance between a Liverpudlian woman and Russian sailor and I might have imagined there would be subtitles. There weren’t – the Russian spoke English – but in the first ten minutes I wished there were as the woman and her friend had such thick Scouse accents that I was clueless what was happening.

Last night I saw To Kill A Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre in the West End. The opening is a bare stage where the three narrators emerge. These are Atticus’ two children, Scout and Jem and their friend Dill, unlike in the book when it is just Scout. It was when Scout first spoke that Letter to Brezhnev popped into my head. The actress adopted such a thick Southern accent that I had no clue what she or indeed they were on about.

It turned out they were talking about a character falling on a knife and that foreshadowed the ending.

Which was one of many ways in which the play differed from the book.

Which was something of both a challenge and a risk.

Which led me to wondering about adaptations of the classics.

That start and the early court scenes were unsatisfactory. Scout isn’t six, she’s nearer thirteen; the judge is too obviously on the side of the accused; Atticus almost preened.

By twenty minutes in, I was discouraged which was a shame. It’s a great story, the reviews from New York suggested the adaptation maintained the essence of the novel and, in Rafe Spall they had a supreme actor at the peak of his powers. What’s not to like?

Well, truth be told, once the split scenes settled into some sort of coherence and we’d deep dived into the meat of the story, things really picked up.

There were still some clunky pieces that flattened the enjoyment. Atticus’ cross examination of the accuser and his final speech to the jury felt a bit like they’d been drafted by a rap artist before being polished in the editing room. The final scene when Jem is knocked out and there is a question over whether he killed the main antagonist is played like a opera with out the music and bouncy baritones.

But overall it worked. If you know the book inside out, this will seem simplistic and lack depth. If, like me, you remember it from school and enjoy how the themes within are portrayed then the occasionally clunky dialogue and irritating triple narration won’t put you off.

It’s lucky we went, in truth. The original tickets were in 2020. Then it was rearranged twice in 2021. Persistence pays off, clearly.

Posted in miscellany, theatre | Tagged , | 25 Comments

History Repeats

‘She’s there, just by the shore.’ Sarah glanced nervously at Martine, hoping for some response. Any response.

‘How far?’

Sarah sighed. Martine was like the others. ‘About 200 yards, at two o’clock. She’s staring out to sea.’ Of course she was. ‘You don’t think I’m bonkers, do you?’

Martine put an arm round her friend. Yes, maybe a bit, she thought. ‘Course. Always were. But only after a couple of peach mojitos.’

The smile, when it came, was forced. ‘She never looks back. Not once.’

‘When did you find her?’

Sarah nodded, grateful that Martine was at least trying to believe. No one ever saw the woman. Only her. Of course, only her. ‘Three years ago. I thought I was mad.’ She snorted a short laugh. ‘I think the really mad bit was coming back the next year, to check. I had to know.’

‘Know?’

Sarah shook the tension from her shoulders. ‘Come on. I’ll explain as we walk.’

‘Where are we going?’ Martine vaguely hoped it was coffee. June on the beach wasn’t always welcoming.

‘To prove I’m as sane as you.’

Good luck with that, thought Martine as she followed her down the steps.

Sarah started speaking, in a flat voice. ‘Her name was Kate Atkinson. She was nineteen, married, with a daughter. On 25th June 1944 she came here to stare at France, knowing her beloved husband Albert was there, part of the D Day landings. He was a radio operator.’ She swallowed. ‘He was killed outside a small town about ten miles inland. A gas explosion, apparently. Kate received a telegram the day after hew as killed.’ She stopped and looked at Martine. ‘You wouldn’t think they could have been that efficient.’

‘How’d you find that out?’

‘The coroner’s court records were put on line a few years ago. Kate came here the same day she heard the news. She dressed her best. Nice skirt and blouse. Patent leather shoes. Shoes for dancing. She took them off and walked into the sea.’ She checked her watch. ‘In about five minutes.’

‘Geez, you’re not serious?’ Martine stopped and stared at the empty beach, trying to imagine being that depressed. Especially a mother of a child.

Sarah had kept going but she paused to wait for her friend. ‘I don’t get too close until she’s gone. I worry I might see her expression. I don’t think I could cope with that.’

‘Earlier, when I said how did you find out I meant how did you find her name.’

Sarah smiled. ‘It’s why I came first time. She was my grandma. When mum went into the home I found a shoebox in her wardrobe. There were pictures of Kate and Bert, a newspaper article about his death and hers. They only knew it was here she walked into the sea because she took off her shoes. It was foggy that day, a real peasouper, and no one saw her go.’ Sarah turned towards the shore and stood very still.

To Martine, it looked like a thousand yard stare, but she knew now what Sarah was seeing. Then Sarah sighed, her shoulders dropping as the tension left them.  Like the relief at the end of the minute’s silence, Martine thought.

‘Is it over?’

Sarah nodded. ‘Come on, before the tide turns.’

In silence the pair trudged across the wet sand, both of them gazing towards France as Kate has done seventy five years before. Sarah began hunting for something, her head down concentrating hard. ‘Here.’ Her voice spoke of relief not triumph.

Martine walked over. Sarah stood a few feet from a set of prints: the sole and heel of two size six, or so Martine guessed, women’s shoes placed side by side. Leading away from those two prints and into the sea were more prints but these were bare feet, deep and determined. She looked up and met Sarah’s gaze.

‘You can see them?’

‘Yes. Yes I can. Oh my dear, how utterly poignant.’ A thought struck her. ‘If you can see your grandma, what about your mum? Do you think she might? Even now?’

Sarah crouched down and traced the edge of one shoe print with her finger. A wave curled across the toe softening the edges. She stood, brushing away a few grains of sand. ‘Let’s get a coffee.’

As they headed across the beach, Sarah peered at the flat white sky. ‘I thought about that but it’s too late.’ Tears which Martine had expected earlier poured down Sarah’s cheeks. ‘She’s gone into the fog, just like Grandma did.’ She sniffed and took her friend’s arm. ‘Let’s hope they find some comfort in there, eh?’

Behind them the waves spread across the sand, smoothing it for another year.

This is another story that will feature in the upcoming anthology, Life and Soul.

Posted in history, short story | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

I Swear

As a child I was sheltered from the adult world in many ways. One part, to which I returned this week was swearing and what one might describe as Oaths, Ancient and Modern.

During my primary school years, I became aware of swearing though it was mild by today’s standards. The worst swearing imaginable was to insert ‘bloody’ into a sentence such as: ‘That’s bloody ridiculous.’

Dad also had problems with ‘damn’. And he squirmed if either the Archaeologist or I said ‘Oh God.’

Being told ‘Don’t swear,’ if we used these words was pretty common the older we got. The hypocrisy too as he wasn’t able, as was mum, to control his language under strain. But then again it was a time of don’t do as I do, do as I say.

As for the F and C words? I couldn’t have guessed what they might be, back then. Flipping? Cripes? Possibly the C might be a bit more blaspheming in a dad’s eyes: Oh Christ! That was a no no. So what could be worse than that?

I turned two corners in my early teenage years, in terms of language.

First, when my Uncle un-emigrated from Australia. I remembered my uncle and aunt from the early sixties but only snippets. They had a car before mum and dad. They loved picnicking. And uncle sang ‘There was an old lady who swallowed a fly…’ with lots of actions, just for me.

Then they decided to try their luck as ten pound poms, or whatever scheme was in place. When they returned, ten years or so later, they brought my two cousins. My first cousins, two lively super blonde girls of about six and four. We met at my gran’s in Kent and that first day is memorable for a walk to the shops. My aunt had us play a game of not treading on the edge of the pavement. When my cousin lost her balance and crossed a crack, her response shook me.

‘Oh bloody hell!’ She was about six.*

(* my cousin, however, denies this. Of course she does. She has the same, or similar, genes, the same instinct to snobbery as me).

I looked at my aunt. She smiled back at me. It didn’t matter. It was just a word.

I’m not sure how I processed this. But I’m pretty sure, after that, I wasn’t so intimidated by the power of language.

And the second thing? Chaucer. Studying English literature was eye opening. His language was… erm, earthy? Extraordinary? And we were being taught about it as if it was normal. No longer would the C word be cripes…

The power of language is extraordinary. So many words are used to hurt, to control, to embarrass, to belittle. But of course, it’s not the word itself, but who’s using it and to what end. Watching the Hoffman film on Lenny Bruce in the 70s had a strong impact. Since then I’ve been cautious about those who try and dictate what language I can use. I understand some words have been made to carry associations that give them a power over and above others. I am happy to abide by the cultural norms, if otherwise it would cause offence. They will no doubt change as they have changed before in my time.

But swearing? Nope, I enjoy it too much to stop now.

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