Nein! Nine! Nein!

img_6017

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

img_5998

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

 

image

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?

image

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

image

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

image

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. 

A deadly time

image

On the last day of their holiday, Bill and Sonia, from Chicago, were invited to visit a military enactment in a nearby village. They had enjoyed Jonathan and Martha’s company while staying at the hotel, so they were pleased to be asked to join them. Travelling in their fellow holidaymakers’s car they admired the beautiful, scenic countryside, illuminated by a bright summer sun. As they approached the outskirts of the village Jonathan turned into a farm track and parked under the shade of an oak tree.

“We’ll walk from here, guys! The organisers like to keep the village looking authentic.” explained Jonathan as he switched the engine off. They got out of the car and Jonathan opened the car boot, then he and Martha handed out clothing.

“We like to dress the part; adds to the experience.” Said Jonathan, “Here, try this helmet for size, Bill, you too Sonia. I’m afraid we’re all soldiers today!”

Bill pulled the metal helmet on and bent down to look in the door mirror. Smiling, he could just imagine himself as a Roundhead about to fight in a battle.

Dressed in their uniforms, they walked down the road to the village, their helmets and pikes glinting in the sunlight.

The village square resembled a film set; soldiers milled about and cannons pulled by horses clattered by on the cobbles, drowning out the shouting of orders. Then columns were formed and the soldiers started to march over the bridge.

“Gee, this is awesome, so real!” Said Sonia trying to keep step.

“Awesome, but pretty hot in this gear, Honey!” Said Bill looking around for Jonathan and Martha.

******

The battlefield stank of blood, burnt flesh, shit and smoke. The officer, looked sadly around at the carnage, then, bending down from his horse, took the strange object from the soldier.

“You found it upon this body, soldier? Around the wrist, you say? He said, pointing at a butchered corpse.

“Aye, Sor,” said the soldier.

“Strange object indeed,” said the officer picking away glass fragments, “see, there are letters, an inscription, ‘Rolex’. Perchance a Lord Rolex….? Odd numerals too, carved upon the rim. This the General must see!”

“Perhaps ’tis an instrument of Satan, Sor?” Said the surly soldier, then watched as the officer rode off with his battlefield trophy.

Still waters

image

On the first day of the holiday, Colin Ashby was stretched out on the bed covered only by a thin white sheet. The sun, forcing its way round the edges of the heavy drapes cast just enough light to be able to see where his blood had sprayed across the suede upholstered headboard and over the pleasing watercolour rendering of Lake Como hung above. At the time of the discovery Colin Ashby’s wife Julie, running along the edge of the lake, far from the hotel, did not hear the hysterical screams of the distressed chamber maid.

++++++

The holiday had come as a complete surprise to Julie and Colin. A letter, from Angela Osborne of Tricorn Travel, addressed to Julie, invited her and a partner to travel to Lake Como and spend a week at the Hotel Serbelloni in Bellagio. The writer of the letter extolled Julie’s reputation as a travel critic and blogger, and expressed admiration of her weekly column in the Guardian. The holiday was gratis, on the proviso that Julie would write and publish an article about the establishment. The hotel management and staff would be unaware of Julie’s professional interest; she would be a secret guest.

The holiday offer could not have arrived at a better time. After a whirlwind courtship, Julie and Colin had hardly been married a week; an impromptu honeymoon would be the icing on the cake. The letter, along with two airline tickets, fluttered to the tiled floor as they embraced, laughed and danced in the kitchen of her apartment.

Landing at Milan airport in glorious sunshine, they emerged, luggage in tow, from the terminal to scan the unfamiliar surroundings for a taxi. To her surprise, a man standing near the door held a card with her name scrawled across it in capital letters. So much for travelling incognito she thought, as she introduced herself to the driver. They sat in silent absorption of the scenery and themselves as the car effortlessly negotiated the narrow roads leading to Como. The car stopped at the edge of the lake where the Hydrofoil would take them on the last leg of their journey. As they turned to thank the taciturn driver the car was already moving away. They enjoyed the swift journey across the lake and were soon making love on the king sized bed in their luxuriously appointed room.

Later, in the dimming of the day, after a pleasant dinner, they had sat on the patio in elegant wicker chairs looking out over the placid waters of the lake that held the image of the mountains beyond. As the sun slowly set, their first evening deteriorated as slightly drunk they argued. A flute, half full, had been unbalanced and fell on the paving scattering shards of glass that glisten and sparkled in the lamplight. Julie, shocked and upset at this turn of events, had gone to bed alone.

++++++

After formally identifying the body of her husband, Julie numb with shock, stared out of hotel manager’s office window. She failed to see or appreciate the beauty of the vista; the late morning sun touching the mountains on the far side of the lake. The policewoman who had earlier taken her statement now sat beside her on one side of the rosewood desk. A senior officer of some sort sat opposite, silently reading her words. The harsh chainsaw rasp of a moped filled the room, then faded as the officer looked up and spoke.

“So, Signora. You have told me the last time you saw your husband was when you closed the curtains of your suite. Signor Ashby was sat where you left him, while a waiter swept up the broken glass around him.” Said the inspector. “Then, unable to sleep, at sunrise you went out running. Yes?”

“Yes.” Julie confirmed in a barely audible voice.

“And yet,” continued the inspector, “your husband, your late husband was found in your room, in your bed. Murdered.

“I don’t understand… I can’t explain….he wasn’t ..”

“Perhaps then, you could explain, please, the argument.”

“We quarrelled about my family, my father, my sister. They didn’t attend our wedding. He, Colin, that is, didn’t want them there, or my friends. He wanted a quiet affair. There were other things……… I’m not sure if I knew him at all.”

“Then, I may not shock you a great deal if I tell you that Colin Ashby is not your late husband’s name. Another interesting discrepancy in your story is that the company that you tell me arranged your visit, Tricorn Travel, does not exist. The only facts at my disposal are you and, forgive me, a corpse.”

“But the letter. Angela Osborne’s letter is in the bedroom, in my briefcase. My mobile, the texts……….”

“There is nothing in your room. No letter, no briefcase, no cellphone…….nothing.”

Julie held her her tear stained face in her hands.

“However, for now I cannot connect you the to crime. The modus operandi points to others.” Said the inspector. “I have arranged for you to stay in Como. My assistant will accompany you. Please do not leave the town until I give you permission to do so.

++++++

During the afternoon the weather changed. Dark ominous clouds gathered above the slate grey water. The atmosphere became oppressive. The dull vista mirrored her mood as Julie, sitting in a lakeside cafe, watched the hydrofoil cut through the still water as it sped towards Como. Only the day before, she thought, the car had dropped them off here in Como and she and Colin had taken the same boat to Bellagio; Colin, or whoever he actually was.

“There will be a storm soon,” said a voice behind her, “then this thick unpleasant air will clear.”

“Do I know you?” Said Julie looking up.

“No, but, by a strange twist of fate, we are related.”

“May I?” The young woman asked in accented English, indicating that she would like to sit, to join Julie at her table.

Despite the absence of an invitation, the woman sat. But this discourtesy was soon forgotten as Carlotta Trovato related a strange, but to Julie, a familiar story.

Carlotta’s story began in London in the summer of 2014. At the time she was estranged from her family in Sicily; a disagreement, a collision of an impetuous daughter and an overbearing father. She moved to London and found work in a recruitment company in the Strand. One client she managed was an importer of fine wines.

“My client was a handsome man and attractive. A relationship developed. I was, as you say, swept off my feet. Like you, Julie, I married James, or ‘Colin’ as you know him.” Said Carlotta. “I had an inheritance from my grandmother which he persuaded me to invest in his company. A company, that like him, did not exist. To cut a long, very long story short; he disappeared, I was left destitute. In time I was reconciled with my family, and with my father. Then at the beginning of this year, a friend, one I had made in London, a follower of your blog, read the exciting news of your engagement to marry. And, of course, she recognised your fiancé, my husband.

“My God!” whispered Julia as she recognised the familiar theme.

“It was our mutual husband’s misfortune that I am the beloved daughter of Don Diego Trovato ,” said Carlotta, “He is the head of a Cosca, a clan of the Siciliano Cosca Nostra, the Mafioso.”

A clap of thunder almost drowned out her last few words and large rain drops landed on the cafe umbrella like stones.

“I am sorry it was necessary to involve you, to bring you here.” Said Carlotta. “But, there is nothing to connect you with all this. The police know investigation is futile; this crime of honour will remain unsolved. Go back to your world, pick up your life and move on. You will soon discover that your money is still in your late husband’s account; you are of course now the next of kin. My inheritance from my grandmother? Well, that is gone. But my father is satisfied.”

For the second time in the day Julia sat with her tear stained face in her hands. The deceit, all the lies, death; It was all too much, too much.

Carlotta Trovato leaned forward, touched her hands lightly, almost affectionately, and said, “Of course, we have not met nor spoken of this matter.” Then, standing up , she walked away into the rain.

This is a short story developed from the first sentence prompt : On the first day of the holiday.  Our writing group home work for the summer break. 

Lost hat

 

image

He had left his hat. Somewhere. It certainly wasn’t in amongst his props. Where was it he thought? In his mind he retraced his steps, where he had been, trying to remember exactly where he left it.

While Magik Miguel was desperately trying to think exactly where he had left his hat, a young girl called Lily found it. It was the school holidays and Lily was helping her grandfather, the theatre caretaker, tidy up after a performance. He told her to pick up the discarded sweet wrappings and sweep up the popcorn spread around on the floor between the folding seats.

Really, she thought to herself, people are so messy!

After tidying the theatre she walked through to the room behind the stage where the performers prepared themselves before going on stage. Lily had heard actors calling this the ‘Green Room’. It wasn’t green, she thought, so why call it that? She had asked her grandfather but he had no idea.

Lily wiped the worktop and cleaned the mirror. It was when she started sweeping the floor that she noticed the hat under the chair. She picked it up and turned it over in her hands. It was a shiny black top hat, the sort that she had seen magicians pull white rabbits and doves from. She looked inside it. It was empty. There wasn’t even a feather or a rabbit hair.

Placing the hat on the worktop she pretended to be a magician. She said, “Abracadabra,” as she theatrically waved an imaginary wand over the hat. She was slightly disappointed that nothing happened. Then, thinking of the magician at the Christmas party she had gone to, she tried “Izzy Wizzy let’s get busy”. Not even a whisker! Then she remembered her mum’s uncle. Uncle Bill had been a magician. She would ask mum.

“When you were very young, don’t you remembered Uncle Bill saying “gilly, gilly” as he pulled a coin out of your ear? Said her mother. “Why on earth are you asking that?”

Her  mum never found out why. Lily had ended the call and put the mobile in her pocket. “Gilly, Gilly,” she said thoughtfully, then louder, GILLY, GILLY!

Nothing happened. Feeling a bit silly she decided to go back to sweeping the floor. As she pick up the brush her eye caught a movement in the mirror. She turned around and gasped in shock. A very white rabbit with pink eyes was peeping over the rim of the hat, it’s nose twitching inquisitively.

Lily carefully lifted the rabbit out of the top hat and placed it on the floor where it scampered into a corner.

“Gilly, Gilly,” she said again. Another white rabbit appeared.

Soon the floor was covered with white rabbits. She looked around the green room. “What on earth am I going to do with all these rabbits?” Then anxiously thought, “what on earth will I tell Grandpa?”

Just as Lily was thinking these thoughts, a hand suddenly appeared out of the hat. Not a normal hand. It was a sort of silvery shimmering hand, a hand made of glistening stuff. It appeared to want to be shaken.

Having been brought up to be very polite and shake a hand when proffered, Lily reached out and shook the silvery hand. As she held the hand she began to feel strange, slightly queasy. A bit like being seasick. She felt as though she was melting, becoming liquid. Before she had time to be frightened the silvery hand pulled her syrupy body through the hat and she was falling.

++++++++++

My writing group was given a prompt , the opening words of a short story: He had left his hat. This is my attempt at a children’s  story. When I have time I will continue the tale; follow Lily down into the mysterious underworld that supplies magicians with white  rabbits, doves and even elephants. Her mobile phone might prove useful. Magik Miguel may come to her rescue………

Waiting for news

image

I wait.
A sunbeam holds me
Like an anxious actor
In an unforgiving spotlight
His lines forgotten
His script missing
I too, have no words
For my audience of
Sightless, still statues
As I wait.

I wait
The sunbeam shifts
On its timeless journey
Across the cold marble
Releasing me
As I stand petrified
By foreboding
As the bloodless effigies
Look on, indifferent
As I wait.

I wait
As we agreed I would
I am waiting for you
To hear your footsteps
On the hard marble
A bearer of news
Of a battle lost
In this silent room
Of lifeless artefacts
I wait