A selection of pieces from eight Shorelink writers:
Henry Dallimore, Linda Kennedy, Sally Gardner, Anthony Berry, Jan hedger, Tony May, Roland Gardner, Bill Myers and Helen Warburton
A WEEEK IN THE LIFE OF A HELPFUL CAT
Hi there, my name is Tinker. I am a seventeen year old Maine Coon and I live in Pottsville with my two servants, Joanie and Henry. I thought you might be interested to read about a typical week as written down in my diary.
Was lying in my usual place at the top of the stairs. It’s a good thing my paws are white otherwise someone could easily trip over me in the dark and fall down them. They were up early today, guess they are off to Church, this at least it means I shall have a peaceful morning all by myself. Henry played a nasty trick on me this afternoon, he deliberately played with the living room fire so that I thought he was going to turn it on. This made me leave the warm spot behind the settee by the radiator all for nothing. I made a point of lying across the doorway of any room in which he was.
Oh dear washing day today! The whole house is being shaken by the machine and I can’t find anyplace where I can get away from it. And to cap it all, Henry forgot to clean my box and put my food down until almost 10.30! What a life!!
I really got one over on Henry today! You see the settee is a corner group, my servants have made a set of steps so that I might get up and sit with them whenever I feel like it. Henry gets annoyed when I walk over him when he is sitting there as I prefer to sit on his left. Usually he leans forward to let me go behind him but today he crossed his legs so that I couldn’t get passed. So I settled down on his right to await my chance. This came when Joanie asked him something and, while he was distracted, I walked over him to the left side. Fifteen all as I believe they say in tennis!
Spent most of the day behind the settee by the big living room radiator. Also there some electric leads there, I don’t know why, but, when I lie on them, I get a funny sort of tingle. Helps me sleep though.
A nice sunny day today but I decided not warm enough to go out onto the garden when Joanie opened the kitchen door. So instead I went upstairs to the office which is the only quiet room which has sunshine during the winter months. I stayed in the sun at the centre of the room and could not lie across the doorway and try to trip Henry up when he came in. At lunchtime my bowl was empty so I tried the usual ploy - sitting next to it looking sorry for myself. Never fails does that, my bowl got filled when they came out for their lunch.
Jimmy came to visit his Mom this morning. He thinks I’m a freeloader, I cannot imagine from where he got that impression, after all I make sure the fire doesn’t go out, the radiators stay warm and the house is safe whenever they go out. What more could they possibly want?
They went food shopping today so when they returned I made sure I was lying across any doorway they wanted to use. I feel that this ensures they tread carefully and do not drop any of the shopping. In the evening, they went out for dinner; it was a perfect end to the usual hectic week peacefully having a doze behind the settee.
Follow up note.
In June 2010 Tinker suffered a stroke and lost the use of his legs. We had no option but to let him go, it was a highly emotional experience and he is buried at Bobby’s.
In July we went to the ASPCA at Hillside and got chosen by a one year old Maine Coon who we named Pumpkin. I can assure my readers that Pumpkin is very much endowed with Tinkers qualities!
©Henry Dallimore 2013
September 30th 2010
| Linda Kennedy
Paid I was to raise them up, so all the crowd could see.
It’s what we do to lowlife scum, that don’t respect the law.
Some men scream when you strike the nails,
Some men shout curses and swear,
But this man quietly said his prayers
And suppressed a cry as the nails went through.
I nearly apologised.
But I was paid to haul him up, along with all the rest
And I did my job as I had done a hundred times or more.
But he asked his God to forgive us; I’d never heard that before,
So I paused a moment beneath him, felt his blood drip on my face.
I raised my fist to brush it away, cursing all the while,
But as I rubbed my face with the back of my hand
It felt like I was wiping away, all the vile things I had done
And I looked up at him half afraid
But he looked down on me with kindly eyes and I felt overwhelming peace.
I’m not quite sure what happened that day, I don’t quite understand
I’ve always lived a soldier’s life, I’ve seen horrors no man should see.
I’ve done and enjoyed the vilest things, so why should he forgive me?
And why did I suddenly realise the awful things I’d done?
Then feel my sins were behind me, as if they’d been washed away?
My friends think I’m a hero for crucifying scum
But I feel that I’m the lowest of men and I wish it was not so.
Paid I was to raise him up, but I don’t think I should have done
For I don’t think he was lowlife scum, but goodness personified
© Linda Bean Kennedy 2012
The Potters Wheel
Returning to her roots and familiar spaces
Having been to so many places
Studied many things;
Learnt how to make pots
To throw, coil and slab,
The different types of clay
How to fire them and how long,
Made grids and learnt the various
Properties of oxides, quartz
And feldspar when put on porcelain,
Stoneware and terracotta,
Her head filled with facts
Intellect took over.
But she wanted to make pots
Not china vaginas or significant
Symbols of the sea.
Confined by knowledge
Stifled by rules and expectations
She returned home
And remembered the Powder Keg Café,
Where she fell in love with Studio pots
And the feeling of ease she felt
With the cool potters.
She joined a group where they
Freed her vision,
Nurtured her dreams
And encouraged experimentation.
She created pots that bore
The marks of deft fingers and turning tools
And used delicious dribbley glazes
That dripped down the pots
Like icing on a cake
That puddles in pools on the plate.
She made glossy, lustrous pots
That sparkled like the moon on the sea
And she was happy.
She was home.
©Linda Bean Kennedy 28th January 2013 For my friend Ros who has taught me many things, and always listens, sorts me out and encourages me to follow my dreams.
| Sally Gardner
The Islander’s Tale
My name is Eva. This is my story.
I was born and brought up on the Island of Fraydor. Our school books described it as having a population of about ten thousand people, and being situated off the European mainland. Farming and fishing were the mainstays of the island, but a couple of small hotels and a few shops had grown up, and tourists were becoming a small part of the economy. Unemployment was unknown, and although some of the young men left to finish their education in other places, a high proportion of them returned to the island, often bringing their new wives with them. The books describe it as a hard-working community, not perhaps as close knit as you might imagine because, although there had been much inter-marriage over the years, there had also been a certain amount of immigration. I knew this was true, as my mother’s parents had been immigrants, seeking refuge on the island during the First World War and staying to make it their home.
My parents owned one of the island’s hotels, and, with my brother Armand, we lived in the top flat. Armand was three years younger than me, though Father always told him to look after me as if he was the older He was more clever than me so I expect that was why. The hotel was not very big and we were both expected to help with the work there and on the farm during the school holidays. We still had loads of free time, and the summer holiday-makers sometimes made a great fuss of us and often gave us presents when they left. We knew we must always to be polite and helpful to our guests, even the occasional ones who were demanding and rude. However, most of them were nice, and I suppose our young world was uncomplicated and even quite idyllic.
I was fourteen when everything changed. I had been aware of a difference in atmosphere, of whisperings, and my father putting aside his newspaper with a loud sigh and my mother’s injunction: “Pas devants les infants!” before he had a chance to utter whatever was on his mind. The visitors to the hotel were less, but it was autumn and that was not unusual, and although we knew there was a war happening, that was in another place, not on our island. In all its history, war had hardly touched the Island of Fraydor, except for a prisoner-of-war camp set up in 1942. Many of the prisoners had chosen to stay after that war and became part of the community.
The day our universe was transformed, Armand and I were on the beach with several of our friends, when we heard an ear-splitting noise overhead. We were searching the sky when Armand shouted out:
“Look- it’s whirly-birds- dozens of them! I think they are going to land on the beaches!”
He was right. They were coming lower and lower. We were all gripped with excitement and began to jump up and down and wave to them. But before they could land, several of the children’s parents were upon us, pulling them away and screaming at us to take cover. Panicked, we ran from the beach with everyone else, but when we reached the cliff-top, instead of turning for home, Armand and I hid behind a large rock so that we could watch what was happening.
There weren’t really dozens, just three. Jostling for landing space on the beach. Although we were high up on the cliff, we could feel the sand being churned up into our faces and we covered our eyes to stop the stinging and peeped through our fingers. Even before the propellers had stopped scything through the air, men wearing dark green suits jumped out and ducked under the spinning blades to stand below us. They were holding guns like the ones our father and his friends used for hunting. They all seemed to be tall and have very fair hair, not like us islanders who were almost uniformly dark and small.
I gazed at them in amazement. “Oh, Armand, they are so beautiful. Who do you think they are?”
Armand shook his head. “No idea. Let’s go and ask them.”
And before I had time to wonder where our friends had gone to, he was running down the cliffs and calling: “Hallo, hallo, where have you come from, can I have a go in your whirly-bird?”
The men looked at him scrambling down the cliffs and laughed and waved to him. I followed more slowly, not because I felt shy but because I was not as wiry as Armand, my body was already becoming that of a woman even though I was still a young girl inside. By the time I caught up with him at the bottom of the cliff, two of the blond giants had lifted him up and he was sitting in the cockpit of one of the helicopters. We had seen helicopters twice before, once when Madame Martine had been having her twins and then when old Monsieur Deneuve was taken ill. But they flew off to the hospital before we had a chance to get near them. So I knew that this felt like a great treat to Armand, who wanted to be a pilot when he grew up.
One of the men turned to me and held out his hand. “My name is Max. What is yours?” He had a nice voice.
I took the proffered hand and shook it. It felt smoother than my Father’s and looking up I realised that Max was quite young, probably not a great deal older than me. I smiled at him. “My name is Eva. And that is Armand, my brother.”
Before he had let go of my hand I heard a shout behind me, and the next moment my father and several of the men of the Island were upon us. My father pulled me away from Max, and then strode over and ordered Armand to come down. Pushing us both behind him he turned to Max, who was now surrounded by the strangers.
“What have you come here for?”
The mood had darkened in some imperceptible way, but the strangers continued smiling. One of them went up to my father and held out his hand as Max had done, but my father ignored it. The man let his hand drop, but his smile stayed in place.
“I am Commandant Klaus Smitt. We come as your friends. We have been ordered here to protect you from our common enemies. We shall cause you no trouble. We shall require to be billeted in your homes, but we bring provisions, and we shall be your shield against invasion. However, we must insist that all your guns are handed to us for safe-keeping.”
I could tell that something was not right, that my father and his friends were angry, but after a muttered conversation, my father turned back
“Very well. I cannot pretend this is totally unexpected and I see we have little choice. I am sure that you know there two hotels on the Island. Each one of the hotels will take ten of your men, and we will arrange for the accommodation of the others.. I hope you will consider that is satisfactory, and in repayment for our co-operation will allow life to continue as normal here. And,” he was looking at Armand and me as he added this: “you will not expect to have any social contact with our families.”
I was puzzled. That seemed quite rude to me. When various builders had come to the Island to help construct the shops and hotels, they had become our friends while they were with us. What had these men done to be treated so curtly?
However, the Commandant nodded: “We will abide by your rules. My men will follow you in about an hour, once we have sorted things here.”
As soon as we were out of earshot, I caught up with Father, who was striding so fast with the other men, that they were nearly running.
“Father, why were you not pleased to see those men? They were so polite, and nice to us?”
“Eva, there are things you do not understand. This is grown-up stuff.”
“But are they bad men? Max didn’t seem like a bad person.”
My father stopped. “Well, he might not be. But it is a bad situation, Eva. Can you understand that?”
I nodded, although I was still unsure that I did. “Why did they say they were protecting us?”
One of my father’s friends said: “It’s another word for occupying us,” and they all laughed but not in a funny way, and I felt more confused than ever, but I didn’t like to show it by asking what they meant.
“Eva,” said my father, “you are probably right, they are probably nice young men just doing what they are told. It is just that we would rather they were not doing it here.”
I nodded again. I supposed that ten people turning up at the hotel without any warning would mean a lot of work for my mother so I understood that, and told my father that I would hurry on ahead to help her. But I still felt excited and pleased that these fine-looking people were going to stay on our island and looked forward to getting to know them. Armand already seemed to have made up his mind not to like them, in spite of their friendliness to us, so I didn’t tell him how I felt.
I was disappointed that Max did not come to stay in our hotel, but the soldiers who did were very friendly and laughed a lot. One of them, Hans, was very good at drawing, and one evening when they had been with us for several months, after they had eaten and I went to the dining room to gather up their dinner plates, he called me over.
“Look, pretty Eva, I have done a picture of you. Do you like it?”
It was lovely. I was sure I was not as pretty as he had drawn me, but I was at a loss for words as I stared at it. No-one had ever drawn me before, although one of the holiday visitors had once taken our photographs, but we had never got to see them.
Hans laughed at my expression. “Here, take it. It’s for you.”
I stammered my thanks and ran from the room, being careful not to crease it, and dying to show my mother.
“Look, Mother, look what Hans has given me!”
My mother took it from me and looked at it carefully.
“It is very good of you, Eva.”
But she did not smile or appear pleased. Rather, she did not seem to know how to react, and ignoring my outstretched hand, put the drawing on the table.
“Leave it there, Eva, for your father to see later.”
“But I want to show…”
“Leave it, I said!”
My mother was rarely so curt. I stepped back as if she had physically hit me, my eyes filling with tears.
“Oh, Eva, I’m sorry. You haven’t done anything wrong. It’s just… Look, go and collect the eggs from the hens, and by the time you have done that I’ll have talked to your father.”
There were not many eggs that morning, and it didn’t take long to gather them into the egg basket. As I approached the kitchen door, I could hear my parents raised voices. It was so unusual to hear them almost shouting at each other that I stopped dead, inadvertently eavesdropping.
“Greta, we can’t let her take this, or anything from them. We have to put up with all this, but for our daughter to accept a present, and such a personal one, is a step too far.”
“I know. But you should have seen her face. She was so pleased. I can’t hurt her, she is so trusting. After all, this is Eva we are talking about, we always have to make allowances for her, everyone knows how she is.”
There was a pause while I stood there wondering what kind of allowances. I knew that I wasn’t as clever as the other children but no-one treated me differently as far as I knew.
Then my father said with a sigh in his voice: “Just this once then. But make it quite clear to her, no more presents.” And with that he came into the garden and nearly walked into me. We stood looking at each other.
“Father, is Hans a bad man?”
My father hesitated, then he touched my cheek.
“Oh, Eva, life is not as simple as we would like. No, he is probably not a bad man. But as you just heard me say, no more presents. OK?”
I nodded. And went indoors with the eggs, and picked my picture up from where Mother had left it on the table. But the joy had gone out of it. I felt like I sometimes did when I was trying to do numbers, or read anything difficult, as if everyone could see and understand things that were hidden to me. I rolled my picture up carefully. In the hall Mother was talking to her friend, Tante Emily, about the two soldiers who were staying in her house.
“At least they are clean and well-mannered,” Tante Emily said.
I wondered why she would expect them to be anything else. I somehow knew that I should not show her my picture. Once Armand would have been there to show it to, but he was increasingly out with the other boys. One night recently he slipped into my room and put a bag under my bed.
When I asked him what was in it, he said: “Nothing for girls to know about, Eva. You mustn’t peek and you must tell no-one. It is our secret.”
I did look into the bag when I heard him go to bed, and it had father’s old hunting gun in it. I thought that was a very silly thing to make such a fuss about.
It felt as if everyone knew something that I didn’t. I decided to walk down to my favourite hidden cove on the beach. I carefully rolled my picture up and tucked it under my arm. It was a lovely day, and when I got there I laid out the picture and put a small dry rock on each corner of the paper so it should not blow away. Then I leaned back in the shade of the cliff, looking alternately at the picture and the lovely green/blue of the sea. I took off my sandals and let the sand run through my toes. I soon became drowsy and could feel myself dozing off.
“Hallo, little Eva, is this one of your places, too? I thought I was the only one who came here.”
I looked up with a start into the astonishingly blue eyes of Max. I had hardly seen him since that first day. I smiled at him with with delight.
“This is my very favourite place. Fancy you finding it, too!”
“May I share it with you?”
“Oh, yes, please. My brother hardly comes here now. I was feeling quite lonely.”
Spreading a blue and white striped towel on the sand, he sat down beside me, casting a large shadow on my picture.
“I do like that, Eva. Did Hans do it?”
I nodded. I wanted to tell him about what my parents had said, but that would seem disloyal, so I didn’t, but I felt so comfortable sitting beside him that the confusions of the day began to recede.
“I don’t think it does you justice. Hans always has an eye for a pretty woman, but you have a special quality that he has not quite caught.”
I looked to see if he was pulling my leg, but he was quite serious. Suddenly the world seemed a golden place, where the beautiful Max thought me special. I laughed out loud with the joy of it and jumped to my feet.
“I’m going for a swim – come on.”
And I pulled him to his feet and ran down the beach straight into the water, soaking my shorts and shirt. He followed and plunged straight in, pausing only to throw his sandals off. Like two eels we swam round each other and splashed and raced and laughed until he cried:
“Enough, enough! You may be a mermaid but I am not a merman! I am exhausted.” and he dragged me onto the sand where we lay giggling in our dripping clothes. Finally, we found our way back up to the cove and dried ourselves as much as possible with his towel.
“The sun will dry us before we are home.”
“Eva, do you make a habit of swimming in your clothes?” He was still laughing, as was I.
“Well, if you hadn’t of been here, I might have taken something off, but it wouldn’t have been right, would it?”
He looked at me for a long time, then he shook his head. “No, it wouldn’t have been. Thank you, Eva, this is the most fun I have had in a very long time.” And he bent, and kissed me very gently on the tip of my nose.
I could feel myself blushing, so I picked up the towel and shook the sand off it so that he wouldn’t see my face. He handed me the picture.
“Eva. Can we meet here again?”
“Oh yes, that would be lovely. But tomorrow bring your proper swimming things so we don’t get so soggy. I’ll race you up the cliff path.”
But before I could sprint away, he caught my arm.
“Eva, it might be better if no-one else knew. If we kept it a secret, just between ourselves.”
I thought for a minute. It felt a bit strange, not to tell anyone. I thought about the bag under my bed. Everyone else had secrets, even Armand, so why not me? The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.
“I’ve never had a real secret before. It shall be our very own secret. I promise not to tell anyone if you don’t.”
And so it began. It was a magic few weeks, not only the swimming and the laughing- yes, Max laughed a lot- but the talking. On the island, we all knew everything about each other, but I knew nothing about Max and as he gradually told me about himself I felt a great pride that he had chosen me to share his confidences and his friendship. I realised that he was lonely, that he missed his parents and his two sisters, and that although he told me how much he loved our island, he was desperately homesick.
“Why did you come here, then?”
He was taken aback
“Oh, Eva, I didn’t have any choice. When we are told to join the army, that is what we do. And then we continue to do what we are told. I have been lucky, sent to this lovely place with nothing to do but take my turn in guarding the helicopters while we wait for it to end.”
I struggled to understand. I thought grown-ups did what they wanted to do. And what was going to end? The world continued to be a very puzzling place. He saw my face.
“Come on - I’ll race you across the inlet. No more moaning from me, I shall just think about how happy I am here, today. And when I go back, I shall miss all this, I expect.”
“Will you miss me?”
“Oh, yes, my little sister. Most of all. Come on.” And he was gone, running ahead of me into the sea.
Late that night, I was woken by a series of gun shots. In the past this was not at all unusual, as the men went out shooting rabbits most nights in the summer, but there had been no shooting since the soldiers came. I got up and looked out of the window. It was a bright, moonlit night but I could see no-one. My mother came into my bedroom and sat on my bed.
“You won’t see anything, Eva. They are on the beach. Let’s pray for our men, Eva. We hear on the radio that the war is nearly over, and tonight they are going to try and take the helicopters and fly them to the mainland.”
“But who is shooting?”
“They are fighting some of the soldiers who are guarding them. Your father and Armand have worked with the others to round up and repair all the obsolete guns, so they have something to fight with.”
I looked under the bed. The bag was still there. I grabbed it up and ran to the door, still in my nightdress.
“They have forgotten this one, they will need it. I must take it to them.”
And I ran down the stairs, ignoring my mother’s attempts to stop me. I ran down the cliff path, holding the heavy gun as if it weighed nothing. What was Armand thinking of, going without it?
Then I saw them. I saw my father and several of the others, holding their guns in the faces of the soldiers and laughing. Laughing at them, as they threatened them .Backed up against the helicopter was Max and I could see how frightened he was. I didn’t stop to think. I shouted
“Leave him alone. He’s my friend.”
And without conscious thought I raised the gun and pulled the trigger. The kick of the gun threw me to the ground, and as I fell I heard a scream and another shot.
As I scrambled up, I saw Armand lying on the ground. My father called:
“Eva, you have shot your brother. Put the gun down.”
But as he spoke, there were two more shots. One of the soldiers reached behind him and shot my father with a small pistol at the same moment as Armand pulled himself up and shot Max between the eyes. I stood, frozen with horror, as the blood poured down Max’s face and he fell back against the sand. Then I realised that both my father and Armand were lying still, and the other men were dragging them away.
I ran. I ran into the cove and hid at the back of it. Max was dead. Perhaps everyone was dead. Had it been my fault? Had I really shot Armand? If I had intended anything it was to distract them from shooting Max. He was a good person. Father had said he was. He was my friend.
I don’t know how many days I hid in the cove. I heard the helicopters leave the island. Then there was noise. Shouting and screaming. Women’s voices calling my name. I was frightened. Tante Emily found me. She dragged me out of the cove onto the beach.
“Did you think we didn’t know what you have been up to with that soldier?” She was almost spitting at me. “Whore, murderer, collaborator.”
I didn’t understand the words she was shouting. I looked frantically for my mother. I could see her way up on the cliff path watching. Not moving. Tante Emily grabbed my arms and the women surrounded me. I knew them all. I had lived with them all my life. Why were they treating me like this?
Tante Emily produced a pair of scissors and started to hack at my hair. What was she doing? I watched as my hair fell to the ground and some of the women picked up hunks of it and waved it in my face. She kept cutting until I could feel the heat of the sun on my scalp. Then she pushed me to the ground so that I lay at her feet.
“Now everyone will know what you were, what you did.”
One by way the women moved off. Each one spat at me as they went. Finally I was alone. I looked up to where my mother had been. She was gone.
I am old now. I have lived alone in the woods on the far side of the Island for many years.
Armand survived. I never saw him again, but his son occasionally came to see if I needed
anything, and later his son’s son. Nobody ever stops to talk. A lot of tourists visit the
Island nowadays, I see them on the beaches. I suspect that I am a local curiousity because
of the stories of my wickedness. When the beaches are quiet, I go and sit in our cove and
remember that once, I had a magic summer.
My name is Eva. This is my story.
©Sally Patricia Gardner August, 2011
Tommy and Daisy Higgins
All Saints Street
It was the day my little brother Tommy was born. Cor...if only he knew the world he was coming into. Or the tragic events which would surround his birth then he might have stayed where he was. His name was actually going to be Winston like a few thousand other kids born during the war years. If he was a girl then he would have been Winifred. But my Mother decided that he was to be a Thomas, a Tommy.
That was my Fathers name.
The war had already wreaked havoc on us here on the south coast. I mean who’d have thought that the Luftwaffe would target Hastings of all places. Oh I know that after the war a lot more of the secrets came out about what was going on in some of the factories and big houses around here but nobody was really aware of it all at the time. Besides the Ministry of Home Security were not really that forthcoming about it all. Hastings needed cleaning up all right and some would say that it needed a bomb sticking under itself. But that was just a joke – nobody really meant it.
It was 23rd May 1943, what would have been the middle of the war and my family and me still lived at Gracious passage just off All Saints Street in the old Town. It was a sweet little cottage really, standard two up and two down. It was small for a family of six kids and my Mum and Dad. But it was home, it was where we all felt safe. We thought the Germans could throw whatever they wanted at us and we’d be safe in our cellar or the weird and odd contraption called the Anderson shelter in the back garden, built on a slope and always full of water even in the summer.
The little house was lovely and warm over the winter and my Mother always had a good fire going in the hearth. I was only six years old at the time and the fourth of the six of us. My older brothers Billy and Eddie and my sister Daisy, she was the eldest, used to take me out each day along the beach just after Rock-a-Nore and pick any driftwood or anything along that stretch that would burn. It was the only section of beach we could use as the rest was mined and shut off with barbed wire.
Access to the beach was forbidden then and only certain fisherman were allowed access and they had to have permits which they showed at the guarded entrance. Everyone was frightened then that the Germans would land on the beach in Hastings so every precaution was taken. But we knew a special way to get onto the beach through a tiny gap at the end of the breakwater. You didn’t walk along the beach though because it was dangerous and three fishing boats had already been blown to pieces. But if you stayed at the foot of the rocks then would be safe and just away from the eyes of the patrols.
There was a lot of material which could go on the fire. It just drifted and found itself stuck on our little piece of beach by the rocks. Sometimes you couldn’t make out exactly what it was that you were carrying home. It was wood or reinforced cardboard or driftwood or branches from trees which had fallen into the water from further along the coast. There were the occasional non-descript planks but other times you knew that you were picking up wood that was part of a boat. We were always sad about that and my sister Daisy blessed herself whenever it was obvious. We knew it was probably a craft which had been blown up by one of the German U boats that were patrolling the channel or one of their supply ships on their way to one of the deep French ports they had taken over. It was easy to tell if the wood was from one of the small fishing boats along the coast. We knew all of the boats in Hastings and the fishermen and they seemed to fare well. There were often reports about boats being blown out of the water closer to Ramsgate or Folkestone, those unsuspecting fishermen who strayed out too far just to put food on the table.
We were proud of the fact that we were one of the last families that remained together and lived in the old town. Most of the kids by then had moved away to the North or into the country to stay with host families. The evacuation process had already started but after the blitz in September 1940 there was an urgency about it – it was real and bombs had started dropping, up to that time it all seemed unreal. London was the obvious target and the south coast was the route the German planes took. My Mum and Dad decided it was too risky for us all to stay here and they reluctantly arranged for us to be taken on the transports to host families in the Midlands. But we were a close set and so they couldn’t bear to send us away.
“Now look here, Tommy Higgins” my Mum said to my Father as he stood in the scullery in his uniform which we were all so proud of. “I brought these kiddies into the world, with your help I hasten to add and I promised each one, the moment they were born that I would look after them and protect them until they reach sixteen years old. I can’t send our babies away to strangers and God knows what might happen to them”.
She wiped a small tear from her eye before continuing. She was just about nine months pregnant then and her cheeks were rosy. Ripe my Dad called her.
“They should be with us. No, Tommy, pet. These kids are our responsibility and we brought them into the world. We should take our chances and stay together”.
It was settled.
My Father smiled. He was clearly relieved that his family were to stay together.
So we took our chances and we were all relieved that we would stay no matter what Hitler threw at us. Oh, the authorities were not happy with us all because it was inconvenient and schooling was going to be a problem. They had already started using St Clements Caves then which were utilised as an air-raid shelter, a hospital and for our school. They worked well and all the children regardless of their age or ability were put in the one group so my family all stayed together.
We unpacked our little cases, well, cardboard boxes really. Mind you, there were few clothes to be had then. Clothes rationing started in June 1941 and there just wasn’t the material about let alone the money to buy them. But my Mother did well with all the hand-me-downs and as the fourth child I was happy enough to wear the cast-offs from my brothers and sister.
And then Dad joined the Home Guard and oh…how proud we were.
He wanted to join up but my Mother was secretly pleased when his request was refused. You see, anyone between the ages of 17 to 65 who were either too young, too old or somehow infirm to join the regular army were exempt, whether they liked it or not.
My Father had a disability. He was a hunchback.
Now the term they used these days is Kyphosis, a spinal deformity or growth mutation which stems from developmental problems in the womb. It gives a round back appearance and those with it get called a host of offensive names. But hunchback seemed ok and my Dad and anyone else who had the condition used the same name. Political correctness just didn’t seem to exist then.
But my Dad was not in the least bit disabled and I was a very lucky kid. You see the hunch at the top of his back was right by his shoulder blades and it formed a natural and very comfortable shelf, a very flat shelf that a boy could sit on. Nothing special you might say but when we sent to watch Hastings Town, now United, getting thrashed by teams that weren’t any better just luckier, then I got the better view. I was the kid on the terraces that never had to worry about being too small. I watched the games from Dad’s shoulder and never missed a bloomin shot.
Dad became part of the 23rd Sussex Battalion for the Home Guard for Hastings and Bexhill. He worked on the trolley buses which had become his paid job but he loved patrolling the beaches and his patch was from Warrior Square to the beginning of the fisherman’s drying huts on the Stade. He worked most evenings with his mates who were somehow deemed to be disabled but to us they seemed fit and quite capable of fighting.
Still, it was good to have them around and they were given titles which they loved. They had previously been called Local Defence Volunteers which I preferred to Home Guard. Crikey, defence volunteers, it sounded to me like a hero from one of my comics. Mind you, they never had to save the world or anything like that. The worse that could happen would be a dog might run onto the beach, if it managed to get through the barbed wire and they had to coax it off with food or a couple might be too close to the pier, just trying to find a dark spot to spend time together.
The seafront was a no go territory with the barbed wire, gun emplacements and tank traps. Mum was always worried when Dad went out, especially in the dark and said a little prayer to keep him safe. The relief was apparent on her face when he and the other volunteers returned safely each night.
But we were proud of them and my Dad was doing his bit.
Each Sunday lunchtime he would meet his mates from the Battalion at the Swan Inn on the High Street next to Reeves shops. It was a ritual. Mum would be getting the Sunday dinner ready, mostly fish or vegetables during the war though the occasional piece of meat. But whatever she cooked it was good and with so many mouths to feed, there were never any leftovers and you got used to the taste which often lacked seasoning because the ingredients just weren’t available.
On this occasion he was getting ready to go out and see his mates.
“Now my Angel, are you sure about me going out today” he asked and waited for her reply. He liked to call her his Angel – his guardian Angel looking down on him and always protecting.
She was fully nine months now and looked like she was about to pop any moment.
“Don’t you worry, Tommy, this is a son and as you well know I am always right” she started, gave him a little wink and smiled at my dad. “ Now he ain’t about to pop out yet and I should know with the amount we’ve got. No, don’t worry pet, everything is fine – I’ll give him a few days more yet”.
She turned and got on with the dinner. My Dad walked over to her and kissed her on the neck.
“If you’re sure, Love?” he asked and winked at her.
She smiled coyly and waved him away.
“Go on out you go, If there’s a problem, then mark my words, you’ll know about it”.
He went out to the pub and it was the last time we saw him.
My Mother, with all her experience was wrong that day and when her water burst, she was more surprised than anyone.
My sister Daisy, for one so young, knew exactly what to do. She grabbed the towels we kept by the door and checked the water kettle to make sure there was sufficient to clean the baby which, very soon, would make his entrance into our little world in Hastings.
“Oh Daisy, my little gem, where would I be without you”? My mother said to my sister as she pulled herself over to the day bed they set up in the kitchen.
Daisy smiled and she seemed very adult and professional. She would have made a good nurse.
“I’ll go and get Ma Hunter she’ll be at the Post Office as usual and I’ll tell Dad to get back here now” she said to my Mother. “Can you wait about ten minutes, Mum”?
My Mother was breathing very deeply. “Yes, the contractions are not too close together. Tell Ma Hunter the water’s dropped and the child has not yet slipped. She’ll know what I mean”.
“Okay Mum, just hang on, I won’t be long”.
It was the last time we saw our sister daisy. She stopped and told Ma Hunter, the midwife and general know everything and tell everything as we called her, that the baby was on his way. She said she would be straight over.
Daisy ran down the High Street to the pub and as she turned the handle to the public bar the Luftwaffe plane was overhead and opened its payload doors. It dropped its deadly cargo of bombs on the beach and the Old Town of Hastings.
It was one minute to one o’clock when the bomb hit. The plane was part of a convoy of ten others and two of them dropped out of a cloud and flew along the seafront. There were children playing there and the planes fired at them. One of them flew up to West Hill and dropped its bombs taking out the pub and a couple of houses in Swan Terrace.
The sirens had been on and off that day and we knew that the planes were still somewhere over the country but you just never knew where they would be and which area they would cross on their way back to the continent.
It was our turn that day.
There were eighteen people killed.
There was very little left standing.
It’s ironic that the moment my Father and my Sister died, my brother Tommy entered the world.
He was a beautiful, bonny child and born on a day of great sadness not only for my family but for many others along the south coast.
How cruel the war was becoming.
Needless to say I’ve never forgotten his birthday.
©Anthony Berry 2013
| Jan Hedger
Smoke Rings in Guernsey
stubbed out the cigarette
with the heel of his face
reflecting boots and quietly
watched the boy; shoulders hunched,
holes in the elbows of his jumper,
a cane fishing rod in his hand and
eyes fixated on the water
just occasionally the eyes focused
on a single piece of flotsam, but not
once did the boy turn his head and
meet the eyes of the soldier; who
by now had moved to within six feet
of his side. “Are they biting today?”
remained silent. “ I have a boy back home,
he likes fishing too. We used to go together,
but now he also fishes alone.
May I sit?” The boy shifted slightly,
appearing a little uneasy
“I’m supposed to hate you.”
remained impassive except
for a sharpness of pain in his
blue eyes and an escaping
sadness of a drawn out sigh.
But it didn’t escape the boy,
who raised his head a little.
“ What’s your boy’s name?”
his name is Gunter, after my father.
And your name?” The boy lowered
his head again. “Do you miss him?
My father is away; he can’t come back
to the island, because you are here.
That is why I am supposed to hate you.”
sat down beside the boy,
his long legs reaching down
the harbour wall. Heedfully he lit
a cigarette and with practised ease
blew smoke rings into the air
between them. “Yes I miss him.
It is hard no, to be separated.”
followed the smoke rings
with eyes as grey as the sea;
till they disappeared into a nothingness.
Is that what hate is; a nothingness?
the boy responded,
slipping the fishing rod
into the soldiers free hand.
Not a fish was caught; in
that tangible afternoon,
when son and father
sat on the quayside, eyes
levelled on the horizon,
sharing the loneliness
and distance of war.
In all my Night and Day
Bring me sunset in a cup *
That I may drink its pleasure
Taste its sweetness and its fire
And know a love beyond measure
of poppies flocked in golden wheat
In the dying blood of the sun
Bringing me consolation
Bring me the moon on a saucer
That I may lap its treasure
Taste its milky-white delight
And know a love beyond measure
of jasmine entwined in a leafy arbour
Scented ‘moonlight of the grove’
Bringing me amiability
Bring me dawn on a silver platter
That I can swallow deep its pleasure
Taste its honey-coloured glow
And know a love beyond measure
of daises in a dew-drenched meadow
Unfurling their petals in burgeoning light
Bringing me ‘my eye of the day’
Bring me the sun in a china bowl
That I can sip its promising treasure
Taste its orange-scented heat
And know a love beyond measure
of a single Gerbera on a solitary stem
Corolla of radiant vermillion
Bringing me warmth and happiness
Then let me pour them freely
Into all my night and day
And speak the language of flowers
To know a love beyond all measure
The first line is taken from Emily Dickinson poem *
| Tony May
Playing Catch Up
I was never prepared for birth.
No idea had I of what lay ahead?
Safety and security, love warmth and companionship all seemed
to come fitted as standard with my Mum and Dad.
Ill prepared was I for growth.
Bullied at school, I found myself mystified by others hatred,
confused by their jealousy?
Did not everyone have a loving family?
I had no answer to relationships.
Pretty girls attracted me but were as if from another world?
I knew not the answer to their questions nor had the skills to
communicate my feelings to them.
Loneliness came hard to me.
One day, friends and childish ways just seemed to disappear.
Getting married, moving away or working were the common
Everyone had ‘moved on’ they said while I had remained
I could not cope with responsibility.
Bills and rent to pay, deadlines to adhere to, legal business to
Too much, it was far too much to contend with and I was lost
as a child in a busy market place looking for its mother and
I shall never be ready for death.
So much yet to do, yet, so little I have done.
So much desire yet such frustrated passion.
No sons or daughters to sit upon my knee or buy Christmas
No wife to celebrate anniversaries with – nothing to mark the
passage of time except the changing face of the person staring
at me from the mirror.
I was never ready, nor perhaps would I ever have been.
How was it for you?
©Antony May 22/08/09
“Best Eaten Cold.”
I always hated Derek Murrells.
Actually, when I was a kid, I more feared than hated him.
He was the local bully. Once, when I was about eight years old he and a couple of his mates cornered me on my way home from school and gave me the mother and father of all thrashings. It wasn’t that I’d done anything or even that he didn’t like me – it was just that he was a nasty piece of work and enjoyed inflicting pain.
After that I mostly managed to avoid him. My fear only turned to hatred when he kicked his dog to death. I knew old Patch. He was a sweet old thing, but at the age of about fourteen, dogs tend to become partially incontinent. That was his sin and his ‘loving master’ made him pay with his life.
After that, I used to lay awake at night hatching ways that I could take retribution on Jesse Murrells for his cruelty. Then, almost nightly, I would have this dream about how I would kill him. My problem was that I didn’t want anyone to know that I would be responsible for the death of my adversary and at the age of ten it’s quite difficult to arrange murder by remote control.
A few years later I heard that he had moved out of the area and I became more interested in girls than murder. On the whole, girls proved to be a more rewarding pastime and I completely forgot about Mr Murrells for about sixty years.
One night, we were having dinner in the local pub. I was half listening to a conversation going on between a few of the locals at the bar – as you do, when I heard something that rang a very distant bell.
I was well aware that a couple of the lads would do a bit of poaching in the local woods if they could get away with it. And they were aware, from conversations that we had in the days when I worked behind the bar, that killing animals for pleasure was not something I could go along with. But, since the local copper was chief organiser of the poaching expeditions and I had reason to believe that more highly ranked police officers were sometimes invited as guests, I needed to keep a fairly low profile on my objections.
Anyway, what I gleaned from this surreptitiously overheard conversation was that one of the participants that I didn’t know, on a solo expedition had injured a deer and that instead of finishing it off with a well placed shot, had let it escape temporarily. I was horrified to hear his reasoning for this barbaric act. In effect, he was confident that the injured animal could not get far and, given the price of 30/30 ammunition, he could go and track the animal down by its blood trail after it had died from its wounds. The conversation seemed to dry up at this point, because I think that the local lads could not cope with the thought of an animal dying in agony to save the price of a bullet. Given the nature of the proponent of this act, they did not like to voice their objections.
This, of course, is one of the problems when people have firearms to hand. If you cross someone who is a bit unbalanced, they are just as likely to settle their differences with a fatal shooting. Which is why, in the frontier environment of the USA, on average, eleven thousand people are killed by guns every year. Mostly, by people who knew each other.
Anyway, after the drinkers had drifted off for the night, as I was paying the bill, I asked the landlord, an old friend of mine, the identity of the strange poacher.
“His name’s Murrells,” he said. “Moved into the area about eighteen months ago. Don’t know his first name.”
‘I do,’ I thought.
That night I had the dream again.
My entire life has been littered with amazing coincidences and this was just the latest – I did not realise that this was just the first of a whole series.
I was having the dream every night. Was I really going to have to kill this man to achieve peace of mind? I found that I was actually giving the deed serious consideration.
Anyway, I was forced to shelve the proposed murder plan, because I couldn’t figure out how to get away with it. And I didn’t hate him enough to go to prison for the crime.
Then came the second in the series of coincidences.
I was walking the dogs in Brede High Woods, as we did daily. For some reason that I can’t remember I was walking alone that day. I cut through the woods between two paths on a route I had never taken before. There, half submerged by leaves and bits of fallen tree, was a large metal iron ring. It was in the form of a flat band and looked to me as if it had once formed the rim of a wooden wheel. Being a sucker for anything old, my imagination was immediately fired as to why this man-made object was in the middle of the woods.
Luckily, I had my tape measure in my jacket pocket so I was able check the diameter and the width of the band. Not that this information would tell me anything, but I knew a man to whom it would. The diameter was 59 inches and the band was 2 inches wide.
When I got home I phoned an old friend, Ellis James, who still practiced his dying art as a wheelwright in a Kent village not too far away. I told him my theory - that I had found the remains of a wooden wheel, most of which had rotted away leaving just the iron rim.
“What are the measurements?” he asked.
I told him.
“Wrong size,” he said. “The genuine article would have been either five feet diameter, or more likely four feet – but no way, 59inches. That’s a forgery you’ve got there.” He laughed. “Sorry I couldn’t be more help.”
Ten minutes later my phone rang.
It was Ellis again. “I’ve been giving it some thought. I think that what you’ve got isn’t 59 inches in diameter – its 1.5 metres. And the width is 5 centimetres. That’s a continental piece of equipment – can’t be English – they’ve never made wheels that size.”
“So what’s my next move, to find out what it is?”
“Beats me – unless you can find a manufacturer’s mark. They usually stamp them next to the join. Take a wire brush and clean it up a bit.”
Next morning I was up there again, armed with a wire brush. I found the iron band, wrestled it clear of the undergrowth and began to clean an area a few inches either side of the join. First surprise – it wasn’t made of iron. Under all the muck it was aluminium. Finding no marks on the outside of the rim, I began to clean the inner edge. Then came a major shock.
I exposed three groups of identifying marks. The first group said, Krupp; the second, Peenemunde; and the third, A4.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Only a WW2 nerd like me would comprehend what this stuff meant. Krupp had been the largest German manufacturer of heavy armaments during two world wars. Peenemunde was the research facility where the Nazis developed their revenge weapons and A4 was not a paper size, but the German designation for their V2 Rocket.
I’m afraid that I curtailed the dogs’ walk and rushed home at top speed. Usually, I do all my research on the net, but my first port of call was my standard reference book on the required subject: Doodlebugs & Rockets, by Bob Ogley.
The way that the metal ring was laying and the slight depression in the ground next to it had been ringing bells with me all the way home.
It took me about five minutes to find the pictures I wanted. There was a photo taken in a field just outside Waltham Cross on January 10th, 1945. It showed a slight depression of loose soil and an aluminium band lying next to it.
The explanation with the picture said that the V2 had dived almost vertically into the ground and failed to explode. The metal band that supported a join in the body of the rocket had detached itself on impact. The adjacent picture, taken in the same spot two days later, showed a crater thirty feet in diameter and there was a rather sad account of how a bomb disposal team had died trying to defuse the weapon.
Then came the real research – this time on the net.
Knowing which sites to look at helped. Within two hours I had all the information I needed. It seems that early in 1945, the Germans had decided to remove the usual contact detonator from the nose of about one in twenty of their A4 rockets. They replaced it with a booby trap fuse designed to explode when the bomb disposal men tried to make it safe.
Unfortunately, the author of the blog didn’t seem to know what activated the booby trap.
I filled a large glass with wine and sat down for a think. Some years before I had done a lot of research for a story that I had written about a bomb disposal officer.
The first port of call for these incredibly brave men was always the ‘clock stopper.’
This was an electro magnet which was designed to freeze the clockwork fuses employed by the Germans on their delayed action bombs. If the clock stopper worked the bomb could be disarmed.
Now, supposing that the German ordinance experts decided that they should design a fuse that was triggered by a magnetic force? Good trick, eh?
Now all the pieces of the puzzle were falling into place and suddenly, I had a plan.
Using my spare mobile phone, I contacted the target.
“Good afternoon, is that Mr Murrells?”
“Yes, who’s that?”
“It’s Jim Beldon, Mr Murrells. I manage the Brede High Woods site for the Woodland Trust and I was given your name as someone who might be willing to help me with a project.”
“Help - In what way?” came the somewhat surly reply.
“This is all highly confidential, Mr Murrells and before I tell you any more, I shall have to ask if you are willing to keep any information I give you, strictly under wraps.”
“You make it worth my while,” replied a voice that was suddenly sounding very interested, “and I can keep it as quiet as you want.”
“O.K. on that basis, perhaps I could come round to your place and we could discuss the details.”
He lived in a rented cottage just outside Northiam. I didn’t think there was much chance of his recognising me from all those years ago. After all, these days I was disguised with a lot of wrinkles and very little hair.
When we were sitting either side of a wood fire in his rather scruffy accommodation, I asked him once more to repeat his vow of secrecy regarding what I was about to tell him.
“I understand that you are highly skilled in the use of metal detectors,” was my opening gambit. Like most bullies, he was a boaster.
“Made a lot of money from what I’ve found with that little baby.” He indicated a metal detector propped against the wall. “You have to know what you’re doing, mind.”
This was the time for a bit of flattery, I thought.
“Then you’re just the man for me.”
“What we have, at a secret location in Brede High Woods, is a German V2 rocket – or at least, the remains of it.”
“If it’s unexploded, that could be bloody dangerous, couldn’t it?”
“No – at the end of the war, the German’s were producing them under a lot of pressure from Allied bombing and about fifty percent of them were duds.” I was gambling on him not knowing much about the subject and fortunately, I was right.
“Anyway, we’re not dealing with the dangerous end. That’s buried under forty feet of earth. It’s the guidance system that we’re concerned about and I doubt if that’s more than a foot down.”
“So what’s in it for me – I mean us?” said Mr Murrells.
“The Germans used platinum for their guidance systems. We estimate that at current prices, there should be about £10,000 worth sitting two feet beneath the surface. We were thinking in terms of 15% for you?
An expression spread across his face which I could not readily identify, but I guessed that it was closely related to greed.
“I’m afraid I have to be in the office all day tomorrow – important visitors. So perhaps we could meet on the site on Tuesday. Let’s say about 10.30 in the morning. I’ll give you the map reference in case you want to get there before I do.”
He fed the coordinates into his GPS and we parted on good terms. He was calling me ‘Jim’ by now and I nearly made the mistake of calling him ‘Derek.’ But he hadn’t told me his name and, for some reason, I didn’t want to get too friendly with him.
I had given him a day to kill himself – so I would spend the morning at home, talking to my neighbours and generally making sure everyone knew that I was nowhere near Brede High Woods.
Next morning I checked my watch for the tenth time in about two minutes and sipped my mug of tea. I started thinking about the last time I had a close encounter with a V2 Rocket. I was about four years old. Standing at the bus stop with my big sister. There was an almighty ‘whoosh,’ a flash of light and the ground sort of jumped under our feet. Then there was a huge bang. The Rocket had landed on the outskirts of Southborough Common about a mile away - a couple of houses were completely flattened but luckily no casualties.
I reached out to place my mug on the table and the ground jumped under my feet.
Then came the explosion and as I looked towards the woods there was a column of smoke about 100 feet high.
I couldn’t wait to read the Observer the following week. It was front page banner headlines. World War 2 bomb explodes in Brede Woods. Tragically, a local man was killed and later identified as Brian Murrells.
His brother Derek came from his home in Australia to attend the funeral.
Oops, I thought.
©Roland Gardner 2013
Whittakers in Moorgate opened at eleven thirty and closed at midnight. In good times and bad it was full to bursting. From around noon there was a patient smiling queue snaking down the stairs to the softly lit basement. After the markets closed Whittakers was thigh to thigh, with barely enough room to raise a glass or, in the old days, light a cigarette.
The family firm ran a dozen wine bars and restaurants dotted across the City and the West End, but Moorgate was special. It defied the laws of commercial gravity and made nonsense of everything Richard Whittaker had been taught at the London Business School. Henry Whittaker had been forty years in the wine trade. He trusted nobody with his hard earned secrets, least of all his only son.
The old man had seventy five percent of the business, Richard the other quarter. Jacob Pinkermann was the third director. He’d been promised shares every year since the Americans landed on the moon. So far the time hadn’t been right, but it was Jacob’s nature to be hopeful. His elegant business card called him Director of Finance. In truth, lately, his major role was as referee in the increasingly vicious heavyweight bouts between father and son. Last week they’d virtually come to blows. Jacob averted disaster by standing in the way of a demented uppercut. Had it connected, Richard would very probably have broken his father’s neck. This particular row started with a small difference of opinion about the pricing of a Chianti Riserva.
The company’s articles said all three directors had to attend for a board decision to be valid. In this way Henry made sure his son and Jacob Pinkermann had no way of conspiring against him. Even with three quarters of the votes it paid to be careful.
As usual the board meeting started at eleven. As usual Henry was half an hour late and this provoked the first raised voices. There was just one item on the agenda. Jacob knew it meant big trouble, maybe this time even the final parting of the ways between father and son. As majority stockholder old Henry could do more or less as he wished. He was quite capable of sacking Richard and would have done so many times, but for the three years’ salary plus bonus he’d have to pay to get rid.
The agenda item was Richard’s. It was the old row again. The one that wouldn’t go away. Richard’s language was fluent mid-Atlantic business school, every word carefully selected to infuriate father.
‘The board recognises the invaluable contributions made to Whittaker’s performance by the Moorgate outlet. The provisional numbers for quarter three show this distribution channel alone accounting for some sixty percent of overall operating profit. The upside potential is clearly maximised, but the Moorgate downside risk is not recognised in the group’s strategic plan. I propose the following.’
‘First, an immediate refit and redecoration of Moorgate. Several new openings in the catchment area have outline planning consent and these will expose the dowdy ambience of our most profitable distribution channel.’
‘Second, a re-orientation of our price points for Moorgate. There is a limit to what the market will bear. Moorgate’s current bar prices are forty percent above the nearby competitors. All cogent macro-economic theories insist this premium is unsustainable in the medium and longer terms.’
‘Third and finally, Moorgate is hugely exposed to the gender shifts transforming consumer markets across the developed world. Moorgate needs a restaurant, or at least a greatly extended food offer. Men are happy with alcohol alone, women and mixed gender groups increasingly look for leisure oriented and business objective related nutrition.’
Henry Whittaker lit a small cigar, balanced his reading glasses on the end of his nose, and carefully, line by line, read his son’s board paper. He finished. He stood. He said ‘shit, utter shit’. He tore the three sheets of A4 in half, and made for the door.
So began Jacob Pinkermann’s worst nightmare. The thing he dreaded most in the half hours before waking, but this time come to life. Come to real life when limbs can move and actions have real consequences. Jacob was a small man. Dark and swarthy, but slight and without muscle. The Whittakers were evenly matched, both front row forwards in their youth, but both now gone to seed. Jacob estimated their combined weight as not an ounce less than thirty five stone. Each was determined to damage the other, all reason lost, a decade of boiling grievances demanding instant retribution.
Richard stood in front of the door. Henry screamed for him to, ‘get out of the sodding way.’ Then it happened. Henry head butted his son with all the force he could manage. Jacob panicked. He heard himself shouting, ‘I resign. I resign. You two mad bastards can kill each other for all I care. Sort out the tax on your own. I don’t care anymore. I don’t care.’
The resignation went unheard. They’d knocked each other out. Richard slid down the panelled door, Henry keeled over on top of his son. Whittaker family blood seeped into the beige boardroom carpet.
Jacob checked both men were still breathing then realised he was trapped. He couldn’t shift the bodies to open the door. Nobody else could get in, and the third floor window was barred against intruders. He’d no choice but wait until one of them came round. Calling for help was unthinkable, the story would be all around the market before the day ended.
Richard stirred first. His nose was broken but the bleeding had stopped. Henry coughed, a disgusting gurgling cough, and just about managed to lift himself into the chair at the head of the boardroom table. Richard was dazed, but eventually stumbled his way to the other end of the room, and a smaller chair. Both Whittakers were white-faced, trembling, and silent. Richard rested his head on the table.
Pinkermann sat between the two, and for the first time in his self-effacing timid life took control of a situation.
‘Gentleman I have an emergency resolution for the board, if it’s not passed unanimously, I will resign today and with immediate effect. I remind you that Richard’s proposals must also be discussed at some stage before this meeting closes.’
‘I resolve that the Whittakers Group is demerged into two independent private companies. Henry Whittaker Ltd will own the Moorgate outlet, Richard Whittaker Ltd all the rest. I will be finance director of both new businesses, and recognising my loyalty and long service to the family I will be gifted twenty five percent of the shares in each.’
‘I will write new articles prohibiting Richard buying any part of Henry’s business and vice-versa. I also insist you change your wills so that control of Whittakers overall reverts to the surviving family director on the death of the first.’
Jacob closed his notebook. Avoiding Henry’s eyes he focused on the hypnotic pendulum of the long clock in the corner. He’d said his piece. He waited.Henry’s colour had changed again. A huge bruise was spreading across his forehead.
‘You nasty little two faced scheming git,’ said Henry. ‘What do I care if you resign? I’ll have a twenty five year old top flight accountant sitting in your chair by the end of the week. Go, go now. Piss off back to Muswell Hill. I’m ten times the businessman you’ll ever be. You’ve vastly overplayed your hand Pinkermann. What on earth do you think will happen to me if I ignore your so-called threats, and your totally ridiculous demands? Tell me arsehole. Tell me, then go clear your desk.’
‘You will go to prison for at least two years, possibly as many as five if you’re unlucky with the judge,’ said Jacob.
‘Don’t be stupid man; it was a family row that got out of hand. Richard won’t press charges, even if he did; the most I’m in for is a fifty quid fine and a ticking off from the beak.’
Jacob laughed out loud. ‘Nobody’s interested in a sordid brawl between two arrogant ill-tempered wine merchants. If you ignore me you’ll go to prison for false accounting, tax evasion, and repeated misdeclaration of VAT.’
‘Over the last ten years I’ve used every legal and illegal trick in the book to minimise our tax and VAT. If you don’t do as I ask I’ll confess all to the Revenue & Customs in exchange for immunity against criminal charges. I won’t be a chartered accountant any more, but so what, it’s way past time I retired.’
‘How much’, Henry said. ‘How much have you fiddled? Nobody goes to prison for small change nowadays and how on earth did you get any of this past the auditors?’
Jacob was, at last, relaxed. He had control. He had old man Whittaker scared. Very scared by the look of him. Jacob spoke softly. ‘You know as well as I do that auditors are partnerships, also that most are no better than a collective of whores. They will do anything for money. The more bizarre, or the more disgusting the clients’ needs, the higher the price. But, whatever is wanted, money will make it happen. I’ve bribed the whores and paid off their pimps.’
‘You asked about the numbers,’ said Jacob Pinkermann. ‘As at close of business on Friday last, you’ve deprived HM Revenue and Customs of seventeen point four million pounds. Not small change. Impossible to ignore. You’ll be thrown to the wolves, made an example of. You’ve no defence because you’re chairman and chief executive of Whittakers – despite my repeated recommendations that you divide the roles and make Richard chief executive.’
‘Suppose, just for the sake of argument, I agree to everything you ask,’ said Henry. ‘How will Whittakers still escape prosecution? Eventually we’ll get found out, surely we will?’
Jacob smiled again, he was enjoying himself. ‘Yes we might get found out, and I can tell you when that’s most likely to be. My very good friend Alan Lewis retires in six years time. That’s how long we have. Correction, that’s how long you have. I shall be gone by then.’
‘Who the hell is Alan Lewis?’ Henry wanted desperately to lie down in a darkened room.
‘Alan Lewis, born Avroam Levi. Only child of a delicatessen and a seamstress. Bright as a button, first in economics at Peterhouse College Cambridge. Top of his year in the accountancy exams. Alan’s done well for a poor Jewish boy from Whitechapel. He’s Her Majesty’s Inspector of Taxes for the London 2 district. That’s everything with an EC postcode. Put another way he’s the taxman for the City of London. Alan knows all about Whittakers’ tax situation, but he’ll do nothing, and say nothing.’
‘You’ve lost me,’ said Henry, ‘the Revenue’s incorruptible. How can you be so sure?’
‘I can be sure,’ said Jacob, ‘because we’ve lived together for nearly twenty years. Alan is the love of my life, and I his.’
Henry looked as if he’d been slapped around the face with a large raw fish. ‘You mean you’re queer as well as everything else?’
‘By everything else you mean being corrupt, being Jewish, and a grammar school boy?’ And haven’t you heard, there aren’t any queers any more. We’re gay and proud of it. Don’t look so shocked Henry, if it helps your delicate sensitivities Alan and I are lifelong celibates.’
‘So, you’ve cornered me,’ said Henry. ‘I have no choice it seems. I’ll give you your many pounds of flesh, but you’ve made a mortal enemy. If ever I get half a chance I’ll pay you back with interest.’
‘One last thing,’ said Jacob. ‘You must tell Richard why Moorgate does so well. We buy bottles of average claret and Rioja for four pounds and sell them on for thirty two. If we increase prices, demand goes up, not down. Some of our account customers spend two thousand pounds a month, and still go home sober. Thursdays and Fridays we turn punters away, but still they’re happy to wait an hour for a square foot of our precious floor space. Moorgate is magic. You know it and you know why.’
‘He won’t believe a word of it. His head is full of business school crap. You tell him if you must. I’ve had enough excitement for one day. I’m going home. Richard will sleep ‘til he’s woken, always been the same. When he was a kid he could doze on a clothes line in a hurricane. Send me the papers I’ll sign anything you want. Forgive me if I don’t shake your hand.’
Richard was startled by a wailing ambulance siren. The room was dark. He was alone. His nose felt as if had been sliced and spread evenly across the rest of his face, like the bacon covering the turkey as it’s slid into the oven on Christmas morning. His head had been resting on a white envelope.
My dear Richard,
Forgive me leaving you alone, I have an early supper engagement before the theatre. I’ve attached notification of the decisions made at today’s meeting. For the record the articles say all three directors have to be present for a valid resolution, there is no requirement that all have to be conscious. Additionally your father has asked me to explain the exceptional on-going performance of Moorgate. Remember, when all the obvious answers to a mystery are dismissed, then attention must shift to the less and less likely.
Moorgate opened in 1965. At first it did very badly, barely covering its costs. Rightly, in my view, your father decided a refit was essential; however our budget was severely limited. Then, we had no more than a dozen regular customers; one of them was a Reginald Watkins. Mister Watkins was the maintenance manager of the Royal Mint, then based at Tower Hill. His habit was to drink one glass of Chablis and then sit in the corner with the Telegraph crossword. He always left at twenty past one. I vividly remember the day this changed, Watkins was still with us at three thirty, and he was drunk. Sad drunk, not nasty drunk. He’d told his wife the Mint was relocating to South Wales but she’d refused point blank to move. Adding insult to injury he’d been asked to get rid of all the plant and machinery that had been written down to nil value in the books.
Your father did a deal with Mister Watkins, all kosher and above board. The floor and all the other woodwork at Moorgate is made from oak and cedar reclaimed from the Mint. Most of it ancient heavy duty shelving from the coin stores.
The laws of commerce don’t apply to Whittakers of Moorgate because after centuries of contact between hard wood and hard currency Moorgate smells of money. It has the abiding, subliminal, addictive odour of financial success.
©Bill Myers, March 2010. email@example.com
I Talk To The Trees…
April, but the trees are bare,
Grey ribbed as trunks of elephants,
Not ready yet with us to share
The Season’s fashion’s verdant wear,
Velvet leaf and blossom soft
Are locked in still against the frost,
And upper branches, witches’ hands,
Raise barren fingers through the land.
You do not speak to me as yet;
Cold winds may moan, and casings creak,
Wild branches rattle, bend and squeak,
But while the outer husk may clatter,
All this din is empty chatter.
Show me sticky buds emerging,
Curls of new-born growth unfurling,
Pussy willow, silver soft,
Catkins dangling aloft,
Pour from Springtime’s buried treasure
Leaves of green in ample measure,
Then shall I take heart to know
And feel with you the Season’s flow.
©Helen Warburton 2013
Richard The Third
In fragile form the thin bones lie
Describing how live hands had laid him down,
The twisted pattern of the man laid bare
Beneath the car park’s simple painted ‘R’.
Stripped clean of life and all its frantic antics,
These bones in stillness still his presence know,
Their lone endurance witness to his story,
They lie in state, and will not let him go.
©Helen Warburton 2013