Ellen sat still on the chair and stared out of the window of the drawing room above the shop. The cobbled street had a sheen from the recent rain shower. The sky, the small sliver she could see above the rooftops and chimney stacks, was now cloudless and blue. Ellen felt oppressed by the soot coated brickwork of the terraced houses on the far side of the street. As she looked at this scene, the image in her mind was the view from another window in another place and time in her life.
A decade had passed since she sat in the nursery on the chair reading to the young boy and girl. Then, she looked from the tall bay window over the wonderful gardens of the mansion and the undulating yellow corn that moved like the sea. She had watched scattered white clouds herded by the wind across an endless sky. Sometimes when a deer boldly walked from the trees, or a kestrel hovered over a morning mist she called the children from their play to stand beside her to look.
When Ellen informed her employer she was soon to marry, the Lady of the Manor asked her to choose a memento as a gift in gratitude for her service. Ellen chose the nursery chair to remind her of the children and the views from the nursery.
On the morning of her departure, as her betrothed loaded Ellen’s belongings on the cart he admired the chair: the rich mahogany frame, the silk cloth upholstery. Then he recognised the mark. ‘Thomas Chippendale’.
“I believe this is a quality chair of value.”
Ellen smiled. “No, my dearest it’s priceless.”
The prompt for this story was to write about something shown on the tapestry that hangs in the room where my writing group meet. I chose the chair designed by Thomas Chippendale who was born in Otley, Yorkshire. The story is entirely fictional but my great grandmother was a governess in a house in Bexley, Kent. She met my great grandfather , Alexander, who was visiting the house as the assistant to an interior designer. At the time my great grandfather was studying interior design at London Art College. Two generations later I would study interior design in Edinburgh.
Mr Jones irritably closed the cage door as he went to answer the phone in the hall. Whatever had been said by the caller caused him to leave the house in a temper. The front door slammed and Horace watched the old man climb into his car and drive off in a cloud of hazy exhaust fumes. Turning his head he noticed that the cage door had swung open. And, like a perfect alignment of the planets, a window to the garden was open too.
This was his moment to escape, but faced with the possibility of freedom after five years of imprisonment he was gripped by anxiety. He had no plan; he had never thought of the possibility of escape. Horace irresolute, decided he would go as far as the window ledge and see what it felt like. He could always go back and Mr Jones would be none the wiser. With this decision made Horace left the cage, crossed the table that the cage was standing on and climbed through the window.
Standing on the sill he was stimulated by smell of the air, by the the breeze that gently ruffled his feathers, but frightened by the noise of the cars and buses that rushed along the street. He looked longingly across the street. He had often watched the birds perched on the branches of the trees opposite, standing on the ridges of the roofs or flying freely across the piece of the sky visible from his cage. He wanted to be able to do that sort of thing: fly across the sky. But, right now, for Horace flying would be a problem; He couldn’t remember ever flying.
He flapped his wings experimentally, then throwing caution to the winds launched himself into the air.
The prompt for my writing group task was to write a piece on the subject Freedom. As it was Poetry Week I decided to base my story on the poem ‘I know why the caged bird sings’ by the wonderful poet Maya Angelou. Cageing a bird is extraordinarily cruel. I intend developing the story of Horace the parrot……
The bride’s parents looked across the throng of guests at their daughter, radiant beside her new husband. Allah had indeed blessed them.
As the missile was released high in the blue sky to search for its target, a joystick was pushed slightly to the left, tilting the drone in the warm air, allowing it’s onboard cameras to confirm the strike.
In a far off continent, the drone pilot watched the silent explosion blossoming on his screen; a pleasing floral shape.
‘I’ve brought your coffee, Sir.’
‘Thanks Tyler. Heard you’re getting wed on Saturday. You have yourself a real nice day.’
The Policeman looked under the van at the mangled wreckage of the buggy. He was thankful that there was no bloody wreckage of a child.
“There’s no child, Sandra!”
His colleague, squatting in front of the mother sat sobbing on the kerb, gently pealed back the fingers gripping a mobile.
“Maggie….Maggie..Speak to me….?” Said a disembodied voice.
“This is Constable Metcalfe. There’s been an accident. Who are you?”
“Mag’s friend, Jean…what’s happened?
“She’s fine. Does Maggie have a baby?”
“Yeah. Little Chloe..”
“Maggie, when did you last see or speak to your daughter?”
“I dunno. Been on the mobile….Oh God…!
I recently nearly hit a buggy pushed by a woman chatting on a mobile phone. I often watch people walking along the street do people totally absorbed in a conversation on a mobile totally unaware of their surroundings. Or a child in a pushchair in front of them.
‘The town of Bonnyrigg had two railway stations. Dr Beeching, Chairman of British Railways Board closed one and my big brother, Leader of the Black Spot Gang, would accidentally terminate the other. Fortunately, it was on an obsolete branch line which was rarely used: Broomieknowe Railway Station.’
This book begins in 1953 and spans almost two decades. A time when life was still simple and uncomplicated; there was only one television station and large, black immobile phones were located in draughty hallways. Children, unfettered by health and safety invented their own games and designed the necessary props. At Lasswade Primary School, bees buzzed in peppermint trees, and an inappropriate film about lepers, (or was it leopards?), was screened. A house was haunted by ghosts. A railway station mysteriously burned down. A peculiar cricket match took place on the playing fields of Lasswade High School. A starship failed to reach the stars and there was Bob-a-Job mayhem. Children danced with the devil in the church vestry and teenagers danced to Glenn Miller’s big band sound at a school Christmas party.
All this and more happened in the town of Bonnyrigg and Lasswade village, near Edinburgh in Scotland.
In my memoir, Memory Spill, written with humour but with poignant moments I bring these events, and others, vividly (if not always accurately) to life.
In the streets below the driverless cars and buses slid soundlessly up to the sidewalk. The passengers surging into the stores mingled with those exiting through the revolving doors. A small child in the crowd stopped, looked up and waved, stirring in the watcher an eccentric emotion, an instruction to respond.
Behind, a metallic voice said. “They consume everything. They are draining the planet. Are we agreed?”
The robot at the window whirred softly as it turned from the window to face the others. “Yes, the humanoids no longer serve a purpose.” It said in a voice devoid of any emotion.
Beneath the blue sky she watches the palm trees sway in the warm breeze. Sunlight and shadows dance across the white facade of the mosque opposite her home. The air is heavy with the scent of jasmine. The lilting voice of the Imam calls the faithful to prayers. Her mother sings in the kitchen, her younger brothers bicker in the yard. She waves to her father who is walking across the road towards her…….Then…..she hears someone screaming……….
Rahel slowly realised it was she who was screaming. Then, the crash of breaking glass brought her back to the moment as burning debris fell past the window. She was sat on the floor in the corner of the lounge, terrified, struggling to breathe and holding her son close, covering his face with her scarf. Through the dense choking smoke she could discern the ghostly shapes of others crouched or curled up in resignation around the edge of the room.
As Rahel began to slip back into semiconsciousness she felt an unexpected cool hand on her forehead. She looked up dreamily to see a man looking into her eyes. When asked later, she would be unable to describe him, such were the ordinary features of his face and the style of his clothing.
The man bent down and gently lifted her to her feet. She felt a surge of energy pulse through her body.
“Walk.” Said the man. “Leave this place. You must live.”
Before she passed through the doorway she looked back over her shoulder. Despite the flames rolling across the ceiling the unremarkable man was moving around the room stooping over each huddled figure.
Yasser Qabanni too felt the cool hand and looked up with pleading eyes but the man shook his head and moved on to the next. On the other side of the room he helped Musa, a young teenager to his feet, told him he would live and gestured towards the doorway before continuing his circuit of the room deciding who would live and who would die.
Two months later an undamaged USB stick would be discovered during a search of the ash and debris of flat 801. It contained the plans for a terrorist attack on a large shopping mall in London. The attack was to be led by Yasser Qabbani. Then, later in November the analysis of DNA samples from the flat would identify the remains of a known people trafficker and child abuser.
Many decades into the future Rahel’s son, now a renowned neurosurgeon, would sit indulgently listening to his mother and Musa Badawi, the prominent civil rights activist, recall how they all survived the terrible fire in London.
“He must have been an angel” she said of the unremarkable man who saved their lives. “What other explanation is there? We were chosen by an angel.”
The prompt for this story was to write a piece about ‘meeting an angel’. The recent tragic fire at Grenfell Towers in London is the setting for my story.
His head hitting the window with a dull thud woke Jim Evans as a pothole caused the truck to sway alarmingly. The tension in the air and the unique aroma of a French cigarette brought him back to the moment. He rubbed his forehead and exchanged a nervous smile with Eric while the driver stared intently ahead. Jim swept away the condensation that coated the side window with his sleeve to reveal a landscape cloaked in the early morning mist. In the far distance the snow capped peaks of the mountains seemed suspended in the cloudless blue sky like white sheets carelessly hung on an invisible clothesline. Crossing this mountain range was the final leg of their journey to freedom.
Eventually, the truck turned off the road onto a track that disappeared into a gloomy tunnel of pine trees to emerge in a clearing brightly lit by shafts of sunlight. The driver swung the truck in a circle and stopped. As the noise of the rattling Diesel engine died the utter silence reminded Jim of the moment when the bomber engines were switched off at the end of a sortie, but not he thought ruefully, of the rush of immense relief that followed. This was the not the end of a mission but the beginning.
Jim and Eric walked around to the back of the truck where the driver passed down their rucksacks. In turn they embraced the Frenchman who had risked so much, before starting the treacherous trek across the Pyrenees to Spain.
We were given the challenge of writing a piece about mountain climbing: to impart tension without resorting to cliches ………..My story is about the WWII escape route from Belgium to Spain created to help bomber crews return to Britain. The flyers were passed along a line of astonishingly brave civilians to eventually make the perilous trek across the Pyrenees to Spain. Jim Evans is the Lancaster skipper who appeared in my screen play ‘Worlds Apart’.
On the streets of London, Manchester
In the homes of Syria, Paris
Is there a Richter Scale
to measure the sadness?
Or a depth in fathoms
to describe the grief?
Can the precipitation of tears
be gauged to tell us
when the weeping will end?
Is all this, this heartbreak
how it will always be?