Beautiful dance of death

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The sun, a pale orb, looks down
as chill winds careen and caper
through the tracery of branches
Thrumming timeless hymns
Nature’s long forgotten songs

Perching on swaying boughs
Funereal crows in mourning clothes
Flap wings black and feathery
trapeze artistes seeking balance
As they cry their discordant chorus

Leaves lose their tenuous grip
And fall, cascade to the ground
To join the multicoloured cavalcade
of prancing harlequins dancing
Across slick grass and uneven slab

I stand silent, listen and watch
This wintry beautiful dance of death

***

In memorium

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By Laura Driver

 
The sun streamed through the stained glass window casting a myriad of colour across the dreary black outfit Evie had laid out on the bed. Once dressed she gazed into the full length mirror; the dark circles under her eyes, her lank hair and badly fitted jacket confirmed that today she would be saying goodbye to the only person who had ever really understood her.
Staring out of the train window she looked across the glorious green landscape whizzing past. She’d grown up here, she and her brother had spent endless hours climbing trees and exploring. It was a happy time, they’d had an idyllic childhood, but that was before John had got involved in all that stuff with the police.
Exactly two weeks ago Evie had been summoned to her parents’ house where she was told the horrific news. Her brother had committed suicide by jumping off a suspension bridge, his body had never been recovered.
Today was a memorial service, a wretched attempt to say goodbye, Evie didn’t see the point without a body.
The church loomed at the end of the path where her relatives gathered, a mob of black-clad, sniffling miseries. The tinny chime of Evie’s phone alerted her to a text, she stopped and rummaged in her bag for her mobile.
The text message was from an unknown number and as her eyes flitted over it she froze, dropping her handbag, the contents spilling at her feet. Evie’s heart was thumping out of her chest. Her family, a mere few metres away, looked at her with confusion. She didn’t know what to do, she looked down at her phone again, her hand shaking.
The text read “They’ll never find a body because I’m not dead”

****

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This piece is a guest post by my daughter Laura Driver who has joined the writing group that I attend. It is her first fictional story. I began writing by contributing memoirs -stories about her childhood and mine – to her blog http://www.arewenearlythereyetmummy.com. Joining the creative writing group mentored by James Nash forced me out of my ‘memoir’ comfort zone and I have composed poems and written fiction. I hope that through membership of the group Laura too will develop her writing talent.

Worlds apart

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Jim Evans is sat in a compartment of a train travelling from Manchester to Leeds. It is 1949. He is sat in a corner. The train stops at a station and Jeremy Knight enters the compartment. Evans is dressed in a drab gabardine coat, Knight is dressed in a pinstripe business suit.

Knight: Morning! … By Jove nearly missed the bloody train.
Evans: (Looks up and nods, looks back at book)
Knight: (Casually throws briefcase on seat, sits, legs out legs crossed at feet, arrogantly looks around)
Knight: Good book?
Evans: What? (Trying to avoid conversion)
Knight: Your book. 1984. Just published isn’t it? Think it’ll ever happen, eh?
Evans: Doubt it.
Knight: Come on, who knows for certain! Nobody saw old Adolf coming. Gosh, hundred years ago people would never have imagined we would be flying about in planes.
Evans: You may be right (Discouraging tone of voice)
Knight: I’ve been in a plane, y’know.
Evans: Really (Tired voice)
Knight: A Lancaster bomber. Not flying. In a factory near Leeds, place called Yeadon. It was during the war; my father’s company supplied the Perspex bomb aimers window. A cupola they called it. Big vacuum formed bubble. Difficult to make, I can tell you. Anyway, we were on a visit to the factory and the chaps let me go into a plane. I remember lying there looking down, thinking, y’know, how jolly exciting it must have been, flying in a Lanc.
Evans: (Looks at Knight contemptuously)
Knight: Never saw action myself, too young; but did my National Service. I’m in the company now, Sales Director. Just been to Coventry to try and interest car companies in Perspex and plastics. It’s the place to go. They’re all there: Hillman, Humber, Triumph, Jaguar. The company couldn’t keep up with demand during the war, but now, well, we need to find other markets. It’s tough.
Evans: I can imagine.
Knight: You know the problem I have?
Evans: I couldn’t possibly guess.
Knight: My age. You know how old I am?
Evans: I’ve no idea.
Knight: 23. Twenty three years old. The people at the car plants can’t believe I’m a director, that I know what I’m talking about. The amount of travelling, the hours I’m on the road. Mary, that’s my wife, says I’m her hero!
Evans: I’m sure you are.
Knight: So, what do you do, for a living I mean.
Evans: I’m in entertainment. Cinema.
Knight: Gosh. How interesting. Doing what?
Evans: A projectionist.
Knight: Ah, em, jolly good.(Embarrassed. Changes the subject) So, em, were you in the war? Army, Navy?
Evans: Bomber Command. (The train pulls into the station, Evans closes his book) I skippered one of the Lancs you were playing in. I was just 23 then. You wouldn’t believe it would you.
Knight: Gosh.
Evans: And, no, it wasn’t ‘jolly exciting”. Good day. (Leaves the carriage)

++++

Our mentor James Nash arrange for the acclaimed playwright Julie Wilson – Bokowiec to give a talk about theatre craft and writing plays to our writing group; a brilliant and illuminating session.
Our task for the week was to write a short scene.

Years ago, I read about an RAF bomber crew member who shortly after the end of the war, saw the pilot of his plane, the man who had been responsible for the Lancaster bomber and the lives of his crew, working in a cinema foyer. During the war the pilot would have been in his early twenties. The responsibilities and risks were awesome. Almost fifty percent of bomber crews died. Roughly 55,000 young men.

Evans is my war hero trapped in a train compartment with Knight the young braggadocio businessman.

 

 

 

Where the heart is.

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Sitting at a table in the Melkem Megab Restaurant you might think you are somewhere in Africa; but then you look out onto the drab streets of Harehills in Leeds. The restaurant offers authentic cuisine for the city’s Ethiopian community.

Over a traditional meal of lamb eaten with our fingers I listen to 30 year old Yosef describe his childhood in Ethiopia. He is the son of an Eritrean mother and an Ethiopian father; two countries at constant loggerheads and occasionally at war, ever since Eritrea became independent from its larger neighbour.

He spoke with obvious pride about the rich culture and history of his country, so I asked the obvious question: “Why did you leave Ethiopia?”

“I was conscripted to fight in a war I did not believe in.” He said, then tried to explain the Byzantine politics of the two countries and how he had conflicting loyalties.

I wanted to know how he arrived in the UK.

“I escaped and crossed the border into Sudan. People helped me travel to Libya, for money of course. I was taken to Italy by boat where I worked for a little time before travelling to the UK.”

“Was it dangerous, Yosef?” I asked, thinking of the recent images on the news.

“This was 13 years ago, it was safer then. There were not as many refugees as there are now.”
I was interested in why, after all this time, he had not taken British nationality.

“I will go home. I am saving money to buy a shop in Aksum, my hometown. It is in the highlands in the north. It is beautiful.” he says wistfully, gazing out at the red brick terraced houses and cobble grey sky.

“It sounds a great place and good plan.” I say.

Yosef smiles. “Yes, I miss Ethiopia, my homeland.”

*****

The prompt or task given to my writing group was to write a short piece in the form of an interview. I decided to draw on a conversation that I had  in a restaurant with an Ethiopian friend , Yosef Alemayo. This longing for their homeland is often expressed by many Africans that I know. Luwam a lovely and gracious woman said to me ” You do not understand, this is not my country, my language, my home. It is painful too painful!”

Nein! Nine! Nein!

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Last night I was sat with Val and Kate in a restaurant in Puerto de Pollensa. We somehow started reminiscing about how difficult it was to phone someone in the UK from Spain, long before mobile phones were thought of. I contribute a tale of a trip to Granada and the then primitive Spanish telephone system. The story is this:

In November 1986 Ann, Kate’s mother, Laura, her sister and I are approaching the outskirts of Granada. It is a late holiday to recover from a harrowing year. Ann is in remission, we are optimistic and in good spirits. As we approach Granada the snow caps of the Sierra Nevada mountains are draped like clouds in the cloudless blue sky. Before entering the city we stop in a lay-by to review the map. As we ponder the map a man on a moped pulls up alongside us and taps on the window of our Seat Panda. If we follow him he will lead us into the city, and, of course, he knows of a nice affordable hotel. We shake off the worry that he has the appearance of a bandito and follow him into the beautiful and historic city. Predictably he pulls up in front of the most expensive hotel in Granada, and a concierge in a top hat and an confused expression approaches our battered rental car. As Laura is only nine years old I still my tongue and simply say a polite “no thank you” in appalling Spanish and drive off leaving the Bandito and the Concierge in a heated conversation.

Eventually we find a more suitable, modestly priced establishment: the Hotel Roma.

It was clean and pleasant. There was a central courtyard where we would be served breakfast and the evening meal. We were lucky to get a room as the hotel was hosting a party of German school children.

One evening we are quietly eating our evening meal as the German children gather noisily around their teacher in the courtyard. The teacher informs the proprietor in English that they are going somewhere cultural and will return at nine o’clock and they file out of the door.
Later as we sit at our dining table a phone rings. And rings and rings and rings. The phone is mounted on the wall not far from my head. The proprietor is either profoundly deaf or dead. I’m not, so, desperate to stop the racket I decide to answer it. A bad idea.
“Hallo, this is the Hotel Roma.” The line is poor; it fizzes and crackles.
“Gut, gut, I vish to speak vit my son, Hans.” Says the caller, “Is ‘e there?”
Through the hissing of the line I pick up the German accent and just catch the name Hans. Obviously Hans is one of the school kids.

“He is not here. He will be back at nine.” I carefully explain in the pedantic way the British speak to foreigners.

“Vot! Hans is not there?” Says the anxious voice.

“He will be back at NINE!” I repeat impatiently
“Nein?”

“Yes, NINE.”

But through the crackling of the phone line the concerned father is only hearing the word nine, or nein: German for no.

“You say NO!, Hans is not at the hotel! Ver can ‘e be!”

“No, I said NINE!”

“Nein?”

“NINE!”

“Nein?”

This verbal tennis match with the word ‘nine’ continues for a few moments more, then, hearing the proprietor coming through from the kitchen, I terminate the call. As coffee is served I say nothing. It was all too surreal.
Somewhere in Düsseldorf or Hamburg a German Vater is staring at his telephone in anxious disbelief.
++++

30 years later fuelled by wine I loudly relate all this to Val and Kate with emphasis on ‘zee’ German accent and the words ‘vot’ and ‘nein / nine’. Kate laughs, obviously thinking the story funny, but Val only smiles weakly. As I wonder why she isn’t laughing Val leans forward and quietly tells me that the group at the table behind me are Germans.

“Bugger!”

As we stand to leave a woman at the offended table gives me a look that says: “Thank God the British are leaving the EU.”

A night at the Beach View Hotel

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The AA inspector’s opinion of the Beach View hotel in Blackpool was not positive. It was not so much the absence of a beach view, teasingly promised, that had disappointing Derek Sutton.

He had had a virtually sleepless night due to the exuberant and noisy occupants of room 8, on the other side of the thin, woodchip decorated partition that subdivided the once large and elegant Victorian room.

In his acerbic comment on the assessment form he wrote of the rhythmic and persistent thump of the head board on the wall, accompanied by what sounded like a hyena on crack cocaine that stirred a decade old memory of a safari camp on the Serengeti.

Unsurprisingly the guests in room 8 had not slept either.

Tracy, sat up in bed, ignored the admonishing signs and lit a cigarette.

“God, that was brilliant, Tony,” she said, “just like old times.”

“Yeah, fancy meeting up again at the conference.” Said Tony, adjusting his tie.

“It must be nearly three years.” Said Tracy.

“Yeah, must be. I got married the year after.”

“That’s great Tony. She nice?”

“Yeah…Last night, you were going to say something,”

“I was, Tony but we got carried away didn’t we.”

“What was it?”

“I just meant to say.. …bit late now though……the doctor at the clinic told me not to have unprotected sex for at least……..”

“You stupid, selfish cow………….!”

The violently slammed door of room 8 sent a Richter Scale tremor through the building. In the ground floor office, Doris Smalling, listening attentively to the appraisal of her hotel flinched, and a drizzle of dust dislodged from the plastic chandelier caused the inspector to cough.

“As I was saying, the soundproofing let’s you down,” said Derek, “otherwise, we might have be looking at two stars”.

+++

The challenge was to write a piece of 300 words that included the phrase ‘l just meant to say’.

Don’t be late, again

 

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When I waited in spring
Under the cherry tree
As the blossom fell
Like confetti
You were late

When I waited in summer
Under the cherry tree
As the green leaves
Shaded me
You were late

Then I waited in Autumn
Under the cherry tree
As leaves fell dead
To the ground
You were late

Now, I wait in winter
Under the cherry tree
As snow flakes fall
In the cold air
Don’t be late, again

Just fucking don’t

What watch?

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That posh bloke who arrived in the Bentley was in the bar last night.

I was doing the bar shift. Lucky the place was quiet; he got well pissed. Started ranting on about his wife. Going to divorce him, take all his money, wanted the shirt off his back. A proper bitch he said.

I was still on reception when he appeared in the morning. Looked okay, considering. Going for a walk, he said. Told him rain was forecast but he didn’t seem to give a toss.

“Eric,” he said, “kindly give this note to my money grubbing wife when she arrives.”

Of course, later when I was making a brew, I steamed the envelope open; like you do, and read the message. It said:

Where the path diverges look for the discarded clothing, watch and wallet. That’s the cliff path.

I ran out of the hotel like Usain Bolt.

It was just as he said. A neat pile: pin stripe suit, shoes, shirt, old school tie. And the watch he kept saying was worth fifteen grand. I kicked the lot over the cliff edge. Not the watch of course. He wouldn’t need to know the time where he’d gone.

+++++

The writing group task : write a 200 word story written around a message given to me by another member of our group. Anonymously.

 

A Scottish culinary piece

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Early in our relationship, I took Ann on a date to see a David Gates, then a popular American singer perform at Leeds Town Hall. It was February and the auditorium was freezing, the victim of a power cut, and everyone was dressed in winter attire; the audience a sea of fur hats. It looked like a Dr Zhivago convention. This was the 1970’s the decade of power cuts, miner’s strikes and three day weeks. The star, probably wishing he was back in Oklahoma, heroically performed in a thin suit and a shirt with some buttons undone to reveal a bare chest, no doubt covered in more goose pimples than hairs. An equally heroic orchestra provided the music, supported by the castanet chatter of teeth from the audience. We clapped manically at the end of each number, the only way to generate bodily heat.

Periodically, during the performance the man sat next to Ann climbed over some empty seats in front of us, scuttled along the row and left the hall, only to return again a few minutes later to climb back into his seat. When he wasn’t seat hurdling he quietly, and annoyingly, hummed and and loudly whistled along with the performer. Either he had a severe incontinence problem or he was one, or maybe two, notes short of an octave. At first he was an amusing diversion and Ann and I smiled at each other in the darkness.

As the second half of the show starts there was a strange rustling noise from our bizarre neighbour.
“What’s he doing now?” asked Ann out of the side of her mouth.
I leant forward and peered through the gloom, leant back and whispered, a little too loudly, “He’s got his piece out”.
The surrounding seats creaked and squeaked as the members of the audience within earshot of my stage whisper shifted uneasily; the way sheep react when they notice a dog peering with intent through a five bar gate.
“CHANGE SEATS WITH ME, NOW!” demanded Ann, now rigid with fear, in a much louder stage whisper. We changed seats and I sat next to the oddball as he noisily munched his ham sandwich … or if you were a recent immigrant from Scotland, a ham piece.

Messages from the past

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They kept coming. Not every day but at regular intervals, disconcertingly regular. But, not so predictably regular that he could catch the person that left them. The messages were written on lined paper. Pages that seemed to be from the same notebook, yellow with age and with threatening jagged edges down one of the long sides where the pages had been ripped violently from the body of the book.

On the occasions when he found a note on the floor of the hall he would painfully bend over to pick it up, read it and then shuffle through to the lounge.There he would pull the curtains carefully to one side and peer out, surveying the street, studying the neighbour’s windows. He was becoming increasingly unnerved. The writer seemed to know him; know of his past life. Was the author seeking retribution or money?

The first note had said simply: ‘We have found you’. The faint, straggling longhand had given him no clue. Subsequent notes had similar brief messages or lists of long numbers in painstakingly neat columns. He knew what they referred to, but not what the sender wanted. Why now, he thought; it had been a regrettable fragment of time in his life, the larger part of which had been spent as Doctor George Simpson, unremarkably serving the community of this small American town.

****

It had snowed all day. Large snowflakes, like torn paper, floated down from the leaden sky thickly blanketing the lawns, the streets and the house roofs. It occurred to him that if a note was delivered that night a trail would be left in the virgin snow. A trail that may lead to the source of the messages, a neighbour perhaps.

In the dark, cold hallway he sat uncomfortably by the door. Waiting. The moonlight seeping through the transom window slid silently across the ceiling. The carved Bavarian wall clock had just chimed four o’clock when the letter plate rattled faintly and a folded piece of paper fluttered to the floor at his feet. He picked up the note, levered himself out of the chair, gripped his walking stick and pulled the door open to confront the messenger. There was no one there or a trail to follow. The undulating snow had a glittering crisp crust, unblemished by footprints or any other marks. Bemused, he unfolded the piece of paper; a faded picture of a young officer and a Jewish woman, a child clasped to her breast. The officer is pointing a Luger pistol at the woman………

His walking stick fell with a load clatter on the parquet floor. “Mein Got..Mein Got,” he whispered. Fear gripped him, crushed his soul and his heart. In his final moments, as he fell slowly forward into the snow, Hauptmann Georg Schneider, was thrown back into the nightmare of Belarus.

****

Our writing group were given the theme ‘messages’ as the prompt.