Introducing words from the workshops; writing by participants of events I’m running – from two-hour sessions to day-long writing safaris. It gives me a thrill to think these words didn’t exist* until then….
Copyright of all excerpts remains with the authors.
*in this particular order (Thanks Paul! See comments below).
WRITE the TOWN
A tarmac incline drags me down, frame wheels spinning, all brakes on. Down into the vortex of a forgotten world where sparse Saturday morning shoppers escape from parked metal boxes below. They sweep past, upwards, intent on opening lean wallets and credit cards in a paltry effort to mark Christmas.
Down, down, past the layer of vrooming car noise on the bridge. They are few. It’s quieter than other December years. Decline, incline towards Hayling Billy’s grassed path in the red brick tunnel below.
All quiet now, only a cycle’s wheel swish as it goes by, passenger’s lazily circling feet, click on click of chain and cog melody. Clack clucks of feminine heels resonate below from above, echoing the now absent rail tracks and locomotive wheels symphony. Gone, all quiet, a nature’s wonderland in miniature, steam and soot evaporated into mists of time. Some blackened bricks lean down and whisper memories from the tunnel’s roof.
“We were here”
All of us, communities who built, sweated, worked, lived and loved through hundreds of years, reduced to one tunnel and a grassy path. No huffing and chuffing engine, spitting steam and charcoal tinted air over shiny olive green carriages. Only a graveyard quiet guarded by a cohort of ancient eight legged sentinels. They lurk unseen in sooty silver gossamered brick holes, spreading the cloud of things gone and stilled. Spider heaven veiled in a shimmering grey shroud. Guarding scratched bricks, cave etchings of hands stretched from past passengers travels and carriages.
“We were here”.
Light pulls me out into the day beyond tunnel gloom where Nature’s ghost train meanders between high greened banks of rampant growth and past marshy stretches. I hear you sing amongst the bulrush clumps. A spring bubbling through reeds, gargling at its own importance. Pig rootling ground where soggy mush hides giant worms and other delights. Dampened and still, nature returns into itself for winter.
“We are here”.
Dead wood doors and brass line the street. All quiet. Whitewashed mock Georgian porticos display social standing. Accountant, Solicitor, Estate Agent, all deeply rooted in timeless foundations of solid houses. Generations forged in pillared society where have and have not withstand the relentless battering of time and misfortunes.
“We have always been here”.
Blue, green, glossy, flaky painted entrances to homes and hearths all invite with brassy adornments. Knockers, pulls, bells, some polished by caring hands, some dull with neglect. Invitations of muffled knocks and thumps as metal strikes heavy wood. Mystery and curiosity of who lies behind these hermetic entries to people and hearts. Here too differences are seen, veiled by nets and lace of varying shades of white, cream, yellow and grey. The have and have not, the still and living, past and present all ground into the pot pourri paste of today where boarded windows and scaly paint witness decline.
“We will always be here”
Hurried and impatient steps, click clack upon pavement, a family attempts speed. Longer legs compete with the shorter as adults try in vain to tune their pace in time with excited children. Their steps bounce with Christmas agitation, wayward as waves against rocky shore, pulled back by mother, pushed by father along the grey chill of this morning. Age creates a visible string of tension as hurried older fall into conflict with boisterous young. Parents remember their own youth along these same streets and season’s goodwill calms impatience.
“We were here”.
North South East and West converge onto a half circle space of blood poppies where remembrance is frozen into plastic flowers. They will not fade. Not like every year in war places filled of bones and regret. Or down in ocean graveyards where memories are black and silent. They are remembered and forgot, remembered and forgotten, each year bringing stiffened sadness followed by Christmas spirit. Gilded names of those who have passed are here, nestling on polished granite, communal gravestones for all to see.
They cut into the church graveyard, a semi circle of stone wall lying still below the weather vane. A North South or South North pointer, fixed in a still breeze of rust, indecisive of which way to follow. The remembered do not move and will not. Named sons and fathers etched in gold. Only the church’s raven song carols a serenade for company. Displaced graves stand in a stone henge around the church grounds. They have been put there against natural will. Bones left in dirt as names were moved for convenience. Aligned against the outer walls, raised in static signals, they are a monolithic monument to all that has passed and the forgetfulness of the present. They are the remembered ones’ guardians, set in stone, unmovable, Easter Island and Christmas facing North South East and West.
“We will always be here”.
A blue plaque above eye height, unseen knowledge undiscovered as if the town’s secrets are held to ransom by a sheet of enamelled metal. Betwixt, between, twittens they are called, narrow alleyways crisscrossing and intersecting rows of stilled houses. They once felt the steps and heard voices of families, hurried and slow, impatient and joyful. Red brick echoes of yesterday and yesteryear. Now silence veils them, cobbles draped in mossy algae as green as the Hayling Billy carriages and bricks moist with chilled tears of damp.
“We were here”.
Today the Post Office looms, striking the horizon high above the other buildings. It is red brick, like the tunnel nearby. I was built in 1936 it states in large brickwork over the entrance. I was important it says. But now it lies on the outskirts of life, almost forgotten, its previous status in decline. And there is the incline to the tunnel, red brick, built in 1866. Frame wheels spin towards the Spring that murmurs its present importance.
“I am here”
“Billy, Billy boy! Get your skates on or we’re goin’ to be late.” My Grandfather’s voice boomed through the twitten, echoing as it reached me at the end of the narrow lane. So I moved fast, skittering through the cobbled space, careering off high brick walls in my haste.
“Here I am”, gasping breathless at his side. Time to catch the train, the Hayling Billy that would take us five miles into the beachy distance. I was named after the steam locomotive that had pulled the narrow carriages from Havant to Hayling Island since 1867. It was now 1953 and I had just attained the symbolic age of seven…..a post war baby, when the aftermath of death and destruction had turned humans into frenetic life givers. We had a new Queen, another Elizabeth, and today was her coronation for the entire world to see and celebrate. And that was what we were going to do, have a party in the balmy June air. Down at the Kenwood Social Club, a little way along the Hayling Billy line.
I loved the Hayling Billy, especially in summer when you could put your arm out of the carriage window and touch the velvetiness of leaves on trees. It was nature’s train, winding gently below greened banks of rampant growth, with stretches of marsh lining the tracks. A spring bubbled through bulrush and reed clumps, gargling gently at its own importance.
Huffing and chuffing, the tiny steam engine dragged the numerous carriages and multitude of passengers towards the only tunnel. Sometimes the train stopped right there. Not because it was planned, but because Mr Brailey kept his pigs nearby and they were excellent escapists, heading directly for the marshy ground just the other side. There they rootled in soggy mush for giant worms and other piggy delicacies, criss-crossing the tracks and causing frequent halts to progress. Today was one of those days. We approached the low brick tunnel and I caught a glimpse of a pair of muddied pink hams on legs just the other side. A gentle shudder and grinding marked the end of locomotion to accommodate the animals feeding time.
The tunnel was always a delight for me, a wonder to be explored with eyes squinting in the half light and fingers outstretched to the soot grimed bricks. Whoosh whish and a lazy puff of grey smoke sauntered past, curling lazily through the dim air. I took in the smell through flared nostrils and sighed in pleasure.
I could see her on the ninth brick above the window. She was big as spiders go and I was certain that she had started living there when the railway was first built. At least a hundred years old I had thought in my child’s mind. Her miniscule front door was shrouded by a thick coating of silk, as were most of all the bricks. Spider heaven veiled in a shimmering grey shroud delicately laced with specks of soot.
“They will still be here when I’m gone.” My Grandfather whispered reassuringly in my ear but I didn’t understand the meaning. I was too young.
We had continued moving slowly down the slight incline to the spindly wooden bridge over Langstone Harbour, brakes whining in pain at the personal loss and economic decline to come. At the disappearance of black smoke veils and open carriages full of steam; to Mr Brailey’s heroic pigs; at goodbyes to my eight legged friends who would live on for hundreds of years, guardians in webbed crime of the two letters he had etched into one red brick that day in the tunnel:
L.G. – Leonard Gamblen
My day in Havant
Heading into town
Where streets are teeming with history
My head turning this way and that
I catch a glimpse of antiquity
An excellent example of Georgian Houses
Flanked by a plaque
Which tells you so
A step away
Havant Borough Council
Foster ‘shop local’, ‘eat local’, ‘stay local’
Unconvinced I carry on
Passing MDF panelled shuttered windows
With lace curtains and potted plants
Pasted on by PVA glue
St. Faith’s church sits proudly in the heart of the town
And I stop to see the blood red of the poppies
Commemorating loved ones who died
For King and Country, in the course of duty
And I think of my own Father, a pacifist
No stories or angst of war torn memories
A gentle man with no hair
On to the market
Where dark clothed individuals walk unhurried
Carrying their few bags
The only sign of Christmas are in the wreaths
Placed at the front of the flower and plant stall
And a solitary man with a Santa Claus hat
And so this is Christmas
Discarded plastic bags and cardboard boxes strewn on the pavement
Cafes half empty, stall holders shouting out their trade
The running commentary of “Rump steak sweetheart, only a tenner”
“Plenty of rumps – that’ll be lovely”
And my thoughts turn to other times
In the cold kitchen of Hillsview Avenue
Remembering the silences when meat was served
And my fallen head and heavy heart would weep
At the thought of lambs, chickens and cows
Slaughtered for Sunday roasts
Forced to eat, or “you don’t leave the table”
Mr. Meat Man looks jolly, with a wink and a smile
When you give him a tenner
Market prices of two for a pound
Priced up in large felt-tip black, so as to notice
And ‘Daddy’s little helper’ on fluorescent jackets
Handbags and dirty old boxes of outdated perfume
And Mr. Simms milkshakes
The Big Issue Seller
Looks cold and disgruntled at nobody buying
And so this is Christmas
Making my way towards the Art Gallery
On Prince George Street
The signs of ‘For Sale’ and ‘Closing Down’ outnumber the plaques
Squeezed out by Cameron and Clegg
The Spiritualist Church where they believe in the living dead
Where at thirty-two I started to go
For a message or sign, that life really does go on
Into Homewell I find the Spring Waters of Havant
Unveiling quivers of light
That change from grey/brown to silver
Strangled now by green slimy weeds and fallen autumn leaves
The Parchment Factory sits snugly alongside
Boasting high quality parchment for the Magna Carta
Twittering Way and Speed the Plough
Make me snigger at the sound of their names
The community centre advertise a Carol Service on the 11th
And coffee mornings on the first Saturday of the month
Children’s artwork tired and faded Sellotaped on dirty windows
And I remember Helen aged five
Here at the Bear Hotel you can book now for Xmas
And at Moods they do tanning and fitness in their holistic studio
Making my way back to where we first met
I enter the world of relics and modernity
The museum pieces encased in glass juxtaposed with current technology
To the sounds of ‘Slade’
And so this is Christmas
Why don’t you see them arrive?
The landscape is desolate but the aliens love it here. Nobody knows why, and nobody sees them arrive.
They first appeared long ago, in craft made mostly of wood. These they parked in neat rows along the brow of the beach, and then abandoned them. Nearly all painted blue, the craft have no electricity, running water or lavatory, and sleeping overnight in them is strictly forbidden. Yet new generations aspire to buy them. When the deal is done they prise open the door, only to find a tea towel from another galaxy and a smell you can almost touch.
So what is it that attracts these alien beings? Can they taste the salt in the air? Can they hear the scrunch of shingle beneath their feet? Perhaps their only wish is to retrace the oft-repeated legend of the Russian princess who proffered free gin to all her visitors in the garden of number 240 on the Havant road.
Certainly the breeze breathes life into many. They shed their daily clothing and dress up in black rubber suits. They launch a transportation device shaped like a huge cigar, and climb on its back. The wind fills the sail and they travel to a secret destination. Here, they turn round and return to whence they started. If they are inept and become swept out to sea, a whirligig craft that seems lighter than air appears in the sky, throbbing, and plucks them out of the grey green water.
Look, here comes another, from a different solar system altogether. He is dressed in garish trousers, pushing a trolley. A bag on the trolley is full of sticks. He selects one of the sticks, takes a small white ball from his pocket, puts the ball on the ground, and hits it as hard as he can with the stick. He repeats the process until the ball disappears into a hole.
He smiles, and reaches into the hole to retrieve his ball. He grasps instead a cold and slimy being. It is the ghost of a bygone earthling, a wartime COPP sailor, who wears the expression of a doomed man. He knew, before he died, that even the most simple-minded commanding officer must recognise the stupidity of stepping into the unforgiving briny when weighed down by three hundredweight of standard issue kit.
Along with his underwater writing pad and pencil, trowel, torch, watch and brandy flask, he is equipped with the dead weight of a .45 service revolver.
It is quite unlike the guns to be found where the fat alien families gather. Here amongst infernal noise and flashing coloured lights they pull the trigger to win cheap teddy bears and plaster dogs. They mount machines that whirl them round in circles until they feel dizzy and sick. Next they sit on a bench that rises vertically up a steel column; when it reaches the top the bench drops suddenly to the ground, making them scream. Afterwards they sit and eat chips, doughnuts and ice-creams, and wash them down with sugary drinks. Often they put a small white stick between their lips, set fire to the end of it, and blow out smoke; then they eat more chips. You really have to wonder what planet they are from.
Far out to sea, a looming grey hulk, made mostly of metal, appears on the horizon. It is carrying more aliens towards this shore. They make landfall some miles away, but it won’t be long before they find their way here. What brings them? Why don’t you see them arrive?
The Surfers Bobbing up and down Gliding the waves The men in their wet suits Skim the horizon To show off their expertise Not in uniform in the dust of the desert Or confined to a cabin at sea But here where surfing Is the name of the game Kites above with invisible strings Suspended like butterflies Share in the pleasure of being free Released to the elements and The October sun Scores now settled They gather belongings Taking home the coveted prize The battle of the wet suits won Beach Hut I can’t remember The day I arrived So many of us Shades of brown, white and blue Huddled together A table space between We at the front With a ‘bird’s eye view’ Delight in all things pleasant Those at the back Grumpy With dogs cocking their legs On blistered wood While owners look the other way Doors bolted The shutters down Gone are the sounds Of conversation The turn of a page The kettle whistle And Radio Two Waiting for Xmas And Happy New Year With gingham curtains and comfy chairs Granny’s mirror And the new half tea set Still in the box Watching the sunsets And changing skies The tapping of rain Getting louder and louder Like the beat of a drum As it plays on my frame Beyond my sadness Until they return She with her paintings He with his books I can only take comfort Of being a beach hut On Hayling Island And Radio two
“Well at least it gets me away from the castle for a day or two and those ghastly courtiers. So His Highness wants a practice session before his big day out at Bosham, eh. He’s a wise old bird and knows very well that he cannot command the tide. The forces of God and nature are far greater than even his majestic powers. Now where is this damn beach hut?”
Edwin turned down the row of wooden huts. His feet ached from the long walk from Havant and his cloak was still wet from crossing to the island via the wade-way at Langstone. Sand had blown onto it and stuck to the damp surface. It felt coarse and gritty against the soft fabric. “It is ruined,” he sighed.
He looked for the number on the first beach hut. F2 it said. “Oh no, I need number D27. It will take forever to find it. I hope it’s not that ghastly pink and blue striped one.”
Bending against the strong south westerly wind he walked down the beach to the water’s edge. His eyes watered and his teeth ached. Turning his back to the sea he looked back up the beach and surveyed the rows of wooden huts. “They are no more than painted garden sheds,” he thought.
Then he spotted one hut that stood out amongst the others. It was painted gold with two spiral columns supporting the veranda roof and bearing the Royal Coat of Arms above the door. “Typical! That must be it.”
Edwin felt happy now and trudged back up the beach towards the Royal Hut, ignoring the pain of the pebbles caught in his sandals and wedged between his toes causing his feet to bleed.
Inside the hut was very basic with a wooden boarded floor and a simple kitchen of a hob, a sink, a kettle and microwave. There was no washing machine, tumble dryer or dishwasher or any of the other luxury appliances available at court.
Edwin was worried. How could he look after His Majesty in such a hovel.
“I will sleep now and in the morning start my preparations for HRH’s arrival,” he muttered to himself.
There were two beds in the hut, one royal king size bed, large and luxurious with a thick duvet cover and one small single camp bed with two army blankets for a servant. “I will sleep in the Royal bed tonight,” he announced to himself.
Edwin climbed into the large bed and rested his head on the soft down pillow and pulled the warm quilt about him. He lay there for ten minutes but could not nod off as he was overcome with a feeling of guilt.
“He was a servant and must sleep in the bed provided for him”, he thought. ”What if someone came in in the night and found me in the King’s bed? But no one was going to come here to such a remote place,” he reasoned. “Surely this is a perk of the job.”
His mind was in torment so he reluctantly got out of the Royal bed and got into the servant’s camp bed instead. He pulled the coarse blankets about him. His skin itched and he shivered with cold. There was no pillow to rest his head on. He lay there thinking about the grievance letter hr would write to his employer. His grievances were many, no provision of horse, boots, waterproofs, hotel room, ……. But soon he was sound asleep.
The next morning he awoke to the sound of seagulls calling. He opened the hut door and felt the heat of the sun on his face and his nostrils were full of the scents of the sea. He took a deep breath and filled his lungs with clean fresh air.
“This will be a good day,” he said to himself.
Margaret and Ellie
“What a plain garden,” Margaret said in her sneering voice. “I always knew George was no good as a gardener. Look at the state of that lawn.”
“He didn’t buy Whitedown because of its lawn,” Ellie snapped. “He bought it because the house was surrounded by big trees. He needed a place to be private, somewhere big enough to keep the paparazzi out.”
“Yes, but he could’ve done something with it,” Margaret said. She waved a hand at the small flower bed cut out of the lawn. “That isn’t even oblong.”
Ellie didn’t bother to reply to her aunt’s sniping this time. Her father had bought this house thirty years ago, at the time when he’d first discovered The Theory of Everything. It had made him famous overnight. Her father hated being famous, and retreated to Whitedown to walk around its gardens when he was troubled.
“What did he put that strange path all round the garden for?” Margaret was off again.
“It’s his Flatwalk. He used to walk around it when he needed to think. Darwin used to do the same.”
Ellie stared at her. Trust Margaret to not know who Darwin was.
Nyissa scrubbed at her tears and pulled her cloak around her. This was the fourth winter she had endured on Brittania’s shores, and it was the third one she had stood weeping at the grave of a child of hers.
What a ghastly cold, wet, damp place this country was. She fingered the big dark round bead at the centre of her mourning necklace and tried not to wish she had never met Lucius. But love was a fickle thing, and she had been totally smitten by the flaxen-haired legionnaire with his cheeky lop-sided smile. She didn’t see that smile often these days. Lucius too felt grief for the death of their children.
The mourners left the new grave, leaving her and Lucius alone. Nyissa took off the necklace. “I will bury this,” she said. “I do not want to take its curse into the future.”
“I agree,” Lucius said. “I will dig a hole by Paulus’s grave and place it there.”
He strode to pick up the wooden shovel the grave digger had used and soon made a hole in the sodden earth. Nyissa dropped the necklace into the earth, turning away while Lucius filled up the hole.
He put down the shovel and came to her, putting his arm around her shoulders. “It is done,” he said. “We are leaving the garrison in the morning.”
Nyissa felt the first stirrings of hope. There had been rumours, but now she knew they were true. “Where are we bound?” she asked.
Lucius hugged her closer. “Rome. We are finally leaving these blasted shores.”
The Folly of it All
My garden has two boring practical sheds but I would love to have a folly. Victorian gentlemen built them because they could; they had the money, the leisure, the imagination and the sense of purpose. Some of these follies must have been job creation schemes to keep the local peasantry busy between wars. I always wondered whether Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids were built for the same reason. You would need a lot of ‘sense of purpose’ for those.
If I had a bigger garden with a spring, I would have a grotto dedicated to the water god Sulis, and perhaps an ornamental hermit to live there. Enough moorland and I would have large standing stones for people to walk round and marvel at.
Avebury must be the ultimate folly with its large stones that sit in the sheep pasture like broken teeth. Tourists appreciate it I busloads, walking round the stones, hugging them, sitting leaning against them. The village must have been built much later with a battle between the stones and the plough before the area was finally adopted by someone from the Keiller marmalade dynasty – another Victorian gentleman who appreciated the value of a folly.
Given enough space, money and staff I would create my own Avebury in the back yard. The essence of a folly is that it can be enjoyed without being taken seriously.
Polly the Peahen
I looked up at the garage roof an there she was, huge, the size of four plump chickens. A long graceful neck supporting a very small head with a cluster of feathers on the top; her black beady eyes were watching me. She had a large body like a massive guinea fowl with a long grey drooping tail. Unlike the male peacock this was a useful working tail, not for spreading and showing off – just for taking off and landing like a proper bird.
Her squawky voice was a disappointment as it did not match her magnificent looks. Much as I loved to watch Polly the Peahen, I worried about what she would live on and how much of my vegetable patch a bird that size would hoover up before she moved on.
The citrus trees are in very large pots, to be moved around when the weather is inclement for the clementines. I imagine the plants being moved round on large skateboards by several people, all getting in each other’s way. There are flowers, fruit and leaves all on the tree at the same time, and in November! Is it like that in warmer countries all the time? No manpower or machinery needed? Fruit picking all year? In Britain there is always a moment first thing in the morning wondering what the weather is going to be like, and the British character never takes anything for granted.
2. Walled garden
A Victorian walled garden has been brought back to life, fruit trees espaliered and fanned on the walls but now the summer includes Mediterranean squashes and a modern weed blanket covers the fallow winter ground.
The hidden damp little room smelt like an abandoned house but the ferns flourished. Each leaf had a row of leaflets at each side, each leaflet hat its two rows of fronds and the process went on ad infinitum. They were full of themselves like Russian dolls, one inside another inside another, and their fractal nature appealed to the geek in me. It is strange how the ferns thrived in this unattractive environment, each to its own with plants as well as people.
4. Lily House
A beautifully structured Lily House, a perfect circle leading from the other Victorian glasshouses. Large plants in pots line the circular walls like wallflowers at a dance. The round pond is built like a dance floor with Amazon lily pads as podiums (or podia?). There are no predators; even the pitcher plants have gone, so fish of all shapes and sizes are free to dance in harmony. They do not need to shoal like foreign tourists continually moving to the middle of the herd to avoid being picked off by pushy peddlers with overpriced trash.
5. Rain Forest
Kew Gardens are so big that there is a small train to take people from one Wow Factor to another. Their rain forest is full of tourists so you can’t hear the rain or the recorded calls of the birds and animals. You can’t stop to see the exotic flowers as you are herded around. Staunton Park rain forest is a calm microcosm, like a little jewel in the middle of all the Englishness.
6. Arid House
There is no place in a modern house for large cacti, only for small ones with artificial flowers pinned on, squashed into silly little pots. Staunton Park has big Mickey Mouse cacti with many ears, spreading succulent plants with big fleshy leaves and dainty ‘living stones’ in between. Best of all there are tall dark green cacti with wavy edges and big spikes, like the ones in films of the Arizona desert but on a slightly smaller scale. Eventually they will outgrow their house and the top pads will be removed before they crash through the roof, small pads will grow out of the scars like twigs on pollarded trees.
When the gardens were first opened, the Vinery had a large grape vine with thick twisting stems the length of the room. The beautiful leaves surrounding the grapes were like sycamore, turning dark red and orange in autumn. There is no sign of it now, or the cluster of heating pipes that made it all possible. The vine must have been high maintenance because the room is now full of over-wintering geraniums and only the label remains on the door to remind us of the glories of the past.
Arid House a dry sterile desert with no moisture and no joy
Scabiosa field scabious, a big blue daisy
Chrysanthemum (sunny side up) a welcome splash of colour in winter
Rosemary for remembrance and potato wedges
Damp tropical house
Closing in on me
The sunlight blocked out
By the tallest trees
With twisted stems and forbidden fruits
Curling and climbing in every direction
Water drips from condensation
On panelled glass
Pipes designed to carry
The pulsating flow of water
Along and under metal bars which line the floor
Beneath my feet
The trill of birdsong
Breaking the silence
As the sound of the rainforest
Beckons you stay
The sickly smell of cactus
Fills my nostrils
Carrying the properties
For potions and creams
The commercial pull
Recommended for beautiful skin
Butt out in all directions
From bulbous shapes
Of parched fleshy plants
With a splash of red
Making your mark on nature
The colour of coal
As you lie in the sun
Swishing your tail
With flies dancing
On your back
Yellow plastic tags
Pinned to your ears
Numbers of significance
Meaning something to someone
Long black tongue
Licking your back
Stretching and staggering
The outstretched hand
Of a child
Piglets at Staunton
Six little piglets
Five black and pink
The colour of liquorice all-sorts
The other, of blackjack
Slipping and sliding
On Mummy pigs back
Piglets at Staunton
Know how to play
Taunting and teasing
One with the other
Rolling and wriggling
Suckling on Mummy pig
On a bed of hay
Brown, the colour of chocolate
Forlorn and sad
As you pace up and down
With muddied coat
Keeping you warm
The story told
How you carried Mary
Pregnant with Jesus
On your back
With Joseph by your side
Your ears twitching
With expectant head bowed
But with empty hand
I turn away
Next time will be different
In patchwork shades of green
Struggling to catch the late November sun
As it dips its head behind a cloud
Lead to a backdrop
Of glazed vertical p.v.c.
Occupying the hidden
Planet of lilies
Resting on still water
A broken fragment
Hangs precariously above
Watchful of predators
The hushed voices of children
With their gaze of wonderment
Enter and circle the forbidden pool
As if a sound would waken
The fading lilies
By their passing season
The curious visitors
Meander back along the path
Drawn into the space
Of the walled garden
Where Granny and Granddad
Clearly out of practice
Negotiate the single-minded pushchairs
With raised voices and tried patience
Retreat to the welcome
Of the children’s play area
Silken threads flowing,
Stalks of shrub as anchors
To the stalkers waiting.
Away on breeze-inverted lines
Unbaited midges swarm
To be cut, dispersed, regrouped,
Some fish shoal a likening,
No shark or dolphin move
But asinine braying call.
Like a multi-layered kaleidoscope, the sounds come; near, close, further and far. Now children shriek, cry then laugh, mothers reprimand, console and laugh with them. Manly voice with pushchair and feet against gravel; now small, light, in delicate shifting and crunching of stone on stone; now heavy, snow ploughing aside shingly beaches.
She bent, blue-black sheen glistening, scintillating in the light. Past my door she came, heralded by a soft, long, drawn-out cluck. I couldn’t see her feet, only heard the low pecking on soft earth and moist grass. That odour wafted gently to the open door titillating my senses. What did she find? Blinded by instinct and the call to food, she picked and pecked a staccato in rhythm with her fellows. I loved the feathers on her back end as they shifted in time with the scratchings and scrapings. She would have been bald at the rear some years ago, her feathers adorning hats, coats, boas, a multitude of objects for fashion conscious women of wealth. Lucky creature. Today, she wouldn’t even make the supermarket shelves. Too small, a miniature hen with mini drumsticks. A child’s portion maybe or perhaps mini, mini chicken breast fillets to be skewered and cocktail appetiser kebabbed? But here she was now, glorious in sunshine and freedom to be what her instinct led her to be, delighting my eyes with that awkward beauty. Funny feathered feet trotting, plucking and clucking, hesitatingly scraping and scratching her way around my vision.
Hip hop play scotch
Let’s jump lets skip
And why not
From orange to blue and back
Onto castles squares –
Oh mind that wall!
That really scares
When dragons fly from out the mat
And I really don’t know where I’m at
So hop and skip, quick and back
From blue to orange then the black,
Then white centre of our world
Whilst skipping, a game of chess
Crowds had been dwindling steadily. No money around and let’s face it, the place really was dismal and uninspiring. All his fault of course, or at least that’s what the board of Directors had been saying. So he had to find something, desperately find something. So he did.
After a stingingly drunken night where sweaty nightmares of failure had put his palpitating heart into overdrive, he saw it. Oh yes, it was grandiose, a crowd puller and in addition, would put to use the twenty three idle workers who populated the park at present.
Beads of perspiration sprung from his forehead pores as stony faces stared across the boardroom table. “Sorry. Could you repeat that?”
“A monkey tree sculpted in stone,” adding hastily, “we could do a tropical Christmas celebration for the public. That would be so very different and generate income. (Oh God, these technical words that he loathed but which were his only channel of communication with the Directors.)”.
“I like it.” “Yes, we could build it opposite the lama pen next to the real monkey tree. It would be quite an attraction on that lawn space,” added another director.
Anthony’s breath caught painfully in his lungs for an instant. An initial moment of relief that his position was assured at the Park, but then the abominable realisation that he, the conservative and dull man that he was, now had to contend with something out of his scope of imagination. The looming prospect of a surreal situation taking over his life during the next months was too much. He gasped; air blocked in his throat and he fainted.
“Yallah, yallah!” The stick-waving Berber shepherd chased his unruly goats from the road. We had stopped but what an opportunity, so Khaled pulled the large old Mercedes onto the stony verge and we stepped out.
We could see the Atlas Mountains across the high barren plain that rolled away into the horizon. Only clusters of stunted argan trees interrupted the view. The goats saw more than us, perching high amongst the thorny branches like enormously furry and horned vultures. Bleating birds of prey. Yes, that’s what they resembled.
The shepherd suddenly produced a kid from beneath his flowing djellabah, displaying a wide toothless grin. “You take, you take?” It was as surprising as being confronted with a magician’s rabbit, though the shepherd obviously didn’t possess a top hat. Khaled whispered. “He wants some money for the photo.”
So we were immortalised. Mercedes driver, shepherd-cum-magician and I, holding a baby goat against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains and perching goats in argan trees. I can still smell the musky odour of warm bleating fur against my chest and the sweetness of argan oil on its breath.