CHAIN OF THOUGHT

 

Rosemary is for remembrance.

In France they cook it with roast lamb

A sprig tucked under the skin.

We drench ours in mint sauce,

Acid vinegar smothering the delicate flesh

But we are a nation of animal lovers

(So long as they are small and furry and don’t annoy us)

And we burnt those sheep and the lambs within

Their legs sticking stiffly from the flames.

The disease, you see, affected our agricultural economics.

The fells are cleared now of sheep

And I hear they are covered in flowers

Unseen since the sheep over-grazed their slopes

They evicted the crofters in favour of sheep

‘Woolly Gold’ the landowners called them

And the stone cottages have fallen down

Except where they have been refurbished

For human sheep, who love to flock

on holidays to places of natural beauty

Leaving them empty and dead out of season

The sons and daughters of village families

Have, perforce, to emigrate.   The prices

Are too high for them to bear

What do we, the common herd

Expect of our land?   To provide us

with food?  Or sanitised entertainment?

Easy access to gentle walks?

A theme park carefully planted

With ancient implements, ancient folk in funny dress?

Carefully laid-out paths for wheelchairs?

And guided trails to avoid getting lost?

(Or to keep the herd together?)

All threatened by climate change

Global warming, a new ice age

Depending on where the Gulf Stream goes

Made by us, as we use our cars

To take our under-exercised kids to school

Or do a massive shop at Supermarkets

For whom producers slave for pitiful pay

To give us cheap food and special offers

Fair Trade gives hope to those who labour

Education for their children, access to health

But do we care?   I doubt the majority do

Or even know.   Their news comes in easy

Sexy bites with juicy gossip and simple words.

Oh God, what have we done to your creation?

© Gillian Peall

This was written in 2001 when the foot and mouth disease was rife in England and Wales.     Burning pyres of cattle and sheep were seen throughout the land, footpaths were closed, tourism was checked, and it was a very sad time in the country.

Consequences

Here is a rather chilling story by John Griffiths.

*****

It was late, on a cold, bleak, winter afternoon when Bill heard the chime of the front door bell. He wasn’t expecting anyone; since Edna had died he didn’t get many visitors at all, let alone at this time of day.

Slowly making his way along the corridor to the front door, he was aware of two blurred figures through the distortions of the patterned glass door panels. Now that it was becoming dusk the images were even more indistinct and Bill couldn’t help feeling a little uneasy as he approached the door. Through force of habit he checked that the door-chain was in place; all those years of reminding Edna about security ensured this was automatic, now that he was on his own.

Bill and Edna had lived in this bungalow since they were married, their children had grown up here and it, and they, had grown old gracefully together. The bungalow was full of memories and reminders of their long, happy life together and he had never felt the need to move to a more manageable property. Rather secluded, set back from the road and screened from neighbours by  shrubs and trees grown large with the years, nonetheless they had never felt any sense of isolation while they had been together.

‘Never, ever, open the door without putting on the chain.’ How many times had he reminded Edna, over the years? And now it was second nature. The chain was in place.

Fumbling with the lock with fingers now a little stiff and painful, he finally opened the door to the limit of the chain. Peering through the gap, he was aware of two men in white overall coats; large, bulky men with woollen, ski-type hats pulled low over their ears. They were unshaven and looked, to Bill’s anxious eyes, a little sinister. The man nearest the door carried a large can of paint in each hand.

‘Afternoon, sir,’ the first man said, quite politely. ‘Just delivering the paint.’

Puzzled, Bill frowned slightly, trying to collect his thoughts. ‘No…you’ve made a mistake…I’ve not ordered anything.’

‘That’s odd….this is the address we’ve been given,’ glancing up at the number over the door. ‘Number 12.’

The second man had, what looked like, a flimsy delivery note. He held this up in the direction of the door, but too far away for Bill to be able to read anything. ‘See…Number 12,’ he said.

Then, despite all his warnings to Edna, Bill dropped his guard. Believing he might be able to help them find the right address by looking at the note, he removed the chain and opened the door a little wider.

Instantly it was shouldered open by the man holding the cans, sending Bill staggering across the hallway, where he slumped in a bewildered, breathless heap against the opposite wall. The door slammed shut. Totally alarmed and gasping for air, Bill tried to get to his feet.

‘Keep your mouth shut… don’t make a sound,’ snarled the man with the cans, who appeared to be the leader of the two. Roughly, the second man hauled Bill to his feet and dragged him along the corridor to the back of the bungalow, where he pushed him into the kitchen.

‘Okay. I’m going to have a look around while you make up your mind to tell us what you’ve got stashed away.’ The leader left the kitchen and Bill could hear him going from room to room. The noise of the opening and closing of drawers and cupboards filtered through to the kitchen, and Bill became increasingly agitated, while the second man watched him closely, in silence.

All the years he and Edna had lived here in peace and tranquillity; all the love and devotion they had poured into their life together, and their precious home. Now a vicious stranger was desecrating Edna’s memory. It was just too much for Bill to bear.

Suddenly the leader reappeared in the doorway of the kitchen carrying a table-cloth bulging with spoils from around the property. Dumping it on the floor, he demanded to know what other cash and valuables were hidden away. He waited for Bill’s answer with a look of utter vindictiveness.

By now, Bill was so upset by what was happening to the home on which Edna had lavished so much of her considerable energy and love, that he was unable to speak.

‘Right…we’ll see what we can do to jog your memory,’ with which the leader scrabbled around in a drawer before producing a heavy kitchen knife. Fearing the worst, Bill gave a gasp and clutched his chest, which now felt it was slowly being crushed by an iron band. However, it seemed he was not to be the intended victim..yet. The man bent and swiftly levered the lid from one of the cans, revealing an undisturbed, smooth surface of bright, blood-red paint.

‘Nice colour, eh?’ with a sneer. ‘We’ll see what it looks like around the walls.’ With that, he swung the can sending an arc of paint cascading over the wall, producing a wide, crimson gash. ‘Looks better already. Now let’s have a go at the rest.’ And he could be heard, slowly hurling the paint over the walls as he proceeded down the corridor.

Something dreadful happened then as Bill watched this awful vandalism to all he and Edna had held dear. As he slowly, unbelievingly took in the scene around him, the once pristine walls now more resembling the inside of an abattoir, his mind, tortured beyond endurance, snapped and demanded vengeance, and an end to it all.

For years, his family had gently chided him about his insistence on keeping some sort of weapon handy, ‘just in case’, though he had never thought he would, one day, have to use it. The weapon he kept in the kitchen was an old cricket bat that had always remained propped up in the corner, behind the kitchen door. There was another under their bed.

Slowly, very slowly, Bill edged backwards, unnoticed by the second man who was more concerned with the cupboards and drawers he was rifling through. Bill’s stiff fingers closed slowly around the handle of the bat. He gripped it as tightly as he could and waited for his opportunity. He could still hear the leader at the far end of the bungalow and, when he saw the second man crouching and engrossed in searching a cupboard, he swung the bat with all the force he could muster, catching him at the base of his skull. The man collapsed without a sound.

Dragging him out of sight behind the kitchen door, Bill waited; but not for long because, still carrying the now empty paint can, the leader entered the kitchen where he was immediately felled by another stroke from the heavy cricket bat.

When the two thugs recovered consciousness, they were alarmed to find that not only did they each have the mother of all headaches, but they were also gagged and bound, back-to-back, in two kitchen chairs, their forearms rigidly taped to the arms of each chair. Their initial panic was somewhat heightened when they saw their intended victim carefully laying plastic sheets onto the floor around them, humming gently to himself as he did so.

Completing his task, Bill noticed that they had regained their senses and, to their intense alarm, he favoured them with the kind of smile generally reserved for a favourite grandson. To add to their fears, he now addressed them in a most pleasant, one could almost say, kindly, manner.

‘You must be really hungry after all your efforts, today,’ he said. ‘I’ll get you something to eat.’ He turned towards the kitchen worktops and, with a gentle smile, selected a large, very sharp, kitchen knife.

‘I don’t suppose you knew I was a butcher for many years,’ he said, conversationally. ‘I had a very good reputation for jointing. Very quick, very skilled.’ And he chuckled.

With no more delay, he proceeded to remove each of their hands at the wrist, making a very neat job of it, even though he said it  himself.

‘Right lads, how about a fry-up?’ Tossing the hands into a large frying pan, Bill hummed quietly to himself as he added some cooking oil and plenty of seasoning, giving them a stir. Browning them nicely on all sides, he placed them onto two plates he had been warming for them, but, turning to the bound figures, he was disappointed to see that they appeared to have lost their appetites.

© John Griffiths 2017

 

 

Exciting news from one of our dragons!

Lois Elsden has some very exciting news:

My exciting news is that my novel Radwinter is now available as a paperback, an actual book, a real book you can hold in your hands!!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-x/dp/1521415196/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1497946489&sr=1-1&keywords=lois+elsden

To fill you in on the background to this, in case you don’t know, it has been my ambition for as long as I have known anything, to write books; all my life I have written, it has been my passion, but when I gave up the day job I was able to write full-time. I began to publish my work as e-books through Amazon KDP, Kindle Direct Publishing. Now I can publish my books as paperbacks on Amazon!!!

My first paperback is the first of the Radwinter series, called, of course, Radwinter! It is a genealogical mystery –

Thomas Radwinter goes in search of his family roots; using the internet he traces his family back to war-torn eastern Europe, and follows their journey from arriving in England in the 1830’s, across southern England. However, the more he finds out about his family’s past, the more he sees his own family, his brothers and his wife differently. His relationship with them changes… and he begins to understand his own character, and to find out as much about his present life as his family’s history.

As well as writing my next novel, I am also preparing my other Radwinter stories, and all my other e-books for publication as paperbacks… which is jolly exciting I can tell you (as Thomas might say!)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-x/dp/1521415196/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1497946489&sr=1-1&keywords=lois+elsden

 

THE CORPSE ROAD

This was inspired by the Corpse Road between Rydal and Grasmere in the English Lake District.   It has now been sanitised into “The Coffin Trail”, and can still be walked across the hills.    It would be a fair old trek carrying a coffin!

 

They buried her baby in her arms,

A lad that never breathed.

She was freed from the torment of labour pains

But her husband remained to grieve.

 

They bore the two along the track

In a coffin wrought from wood.

A straggle of mourners followed on

Slowly, as best they could.

 

For the road was called the Corpse Road,

Travelled in rain or hail

By those who followed the bodies for burial

At the churchyard down in the vale.

 

Before the dangerous steep descent

They rested their load for a while

Where others before them had gathered their strength

By the Coffin Stone next to the stile.

 

When they reached the grave-filled churchyard,

They gave her and her lad to the soil

And buried them deep with a sad farewell

Then turned to return to their toil.

 

For the Corpse Road was frequently trodden

By the folk of that lonely place.

Death was a neighbour far too close

And they knew too well its face.

© Gillian Peall

 

SHORT SHORT STORY

I made sure I was up earlier than usual, and at 6 o’clock I crept downstairs in the darkness, leaving Amanda asleep.   I had planned everything carefully, and quickly rewired the toaster.   It was now live.

I tidied up the odd bits of wire and replaced the screwdriver in the drawer.

At 7 o’clock Amanda came down, yawning.

“You were up early, Will” she said.   “I heard you creep out of the bedroom.”

I swore quietly under my breath.   “Needed the loo”, I muttered.   “Too much beer last night!”

Amanda meanwhile had put the kettle on, and cut slices of her homemade bread.

“Pop these in the toaster, will you, while I make the coffee”.

© Gillian Peall

 

FAMILY RELATIONS

 

It wasn’t the clothes that upset me.   They were no problem:  I sorted them into 3 piles, charity shop, jumble sale and bin, and put them in black plastic bin bags.   It was her personal things which she had kept in her little box in the dressing table drawer which brought the tears flooding.   Mum had never let us children see in there – “there will be plenty of time when I’m gone” she would say, and now she was.

We’d buried her yesterday, alongside Dad.   All the relatives had gone home now and the house was very quiet.   Laura had offered to help. Bless her, she’s been a wonderful daughter all through this, but I felt it was something I should do by myself.

I lifted the box from the drawer and looked at it for a moment, and then slowly opened the lid.   Inside was a tightly packed pile of letters, photographs and cuttings.   Me as a small child, my dark hair a riot of curls.   The twins, so close to me in age, their fair hair cut with a straight fringe.   Mum always said I took after her side of the family with my dark hair, but where the curls came from she couldn’t say.   I looked through the rest of the photos, Mum and Dad on their wedding day – no white wedding for her, and no bridesmaids, it being wartime.   Dad stood stiffly beside her, the empty sleeve of his jacket neatly pinned across his chest.   Just him and her.  Underneath was an envelope with some letters and cards, and a couple of photos.   I looked at them, and something stirred in my mind.   There was a young man, surely only in his teens, looking at me with the same mop of dark curly hair that I saw in my mirror every morning.   And his eyes were just like Laura’s.   I turned the photo over.   “George” it said.   Just that.

There was a very worn official envelope and in it some letters.   I opened them carefully.  The address was Grandmother’s house, just round the corner from here.

 

   1st September 1914

 

            Dearest George,

I felt so proud of you as you marched off down the street, but I was crying so much I could hardly see you.   Did you see me wave?   I shall miss you so much.   Dad says the war will be all over by Christmas when we’ve given those Huns what for.   Come back soon.   I love you so much.

                        Your loving Emily

 

The writing was childish and laboured, but undoubtedly my mother’s.   the letters were heavily creased and worn as though they had been read over and over again.   I opened the next one.

 

   9th September 1914

 

Dearest George,

I was so pleased to get your card and know that all is well even if the food is not very good.   Dad says the Maginot Line will keep us all safe.   I dream about you every night.

                        Your loving Emily

 

 

                                        20TH  January 1915

            Dearest George

I am so afraid you will be hurt when you go to France.   I went into the Church this evening and said a prayer for you.  Please come home safely and when I am old enough we can get married.

                        Your loving Emily

 

 

          2nd October 1915

            Dearest George

I was so happy when you came home for 2 days leave.   I love you more than ever.   You were so gentle with me.    I’m glad you have that photograph of our family.   Dad never looks in the album anyway.   I hate this horrid war!   Please come home soon.

                        Your loving Emily

 

Underneath these letters were a few personal items – a creased and folded photograph, a pass book, and a simple prayer printed on a cheap card.   And one more letter.

 

  5th January 1916

 

            My dearest George,

I’m so frightened.   I’m going to have a baby.   Yours and mine.   What am I going to do?   Dad will kill me.   Please come home quickly if you can.

                        Your ever loving Emily

 

And underneath that was the telegram every woman dreaded receiving.   The brutal announcement that their son, or husband, had been killed in action.   George Morrison, he was.   I put everything back in the official envelope.   I hadn’t known personal items were returned.   Why had Mum received those things?   What had happened to the baby?

 

The house had grown very silent.   I could hear the heavy tick-tock of the big clock in the parlour.   I looked further into the box.  A letter from my Grandmother to my mother, apparently living in Surrey at an address I vaguely remembered as my Aunt Maud’s.

      19th September 1916

   Dear Emily                    

  I  am pleased you are well and that baby is all right.   Georgina seems a funny name, but I expect you know best.   However, your Dad and I can’t afford to feed another mouth.   He is not well and cannot always work.   The boys do their best though.   Dad and I have been thinking.   Do you remember Jack Norris, whose poor wife Lily died when she had those twins last year?   His sister Ethel has been helping him, seeing as he has only the one arm and anyway can’t be expected to look after two babies and go to work.   Ethel has to go, and Jack is willing to give you and baby a good home if you will marry him.   He will do right by you if you do right by him.   You are a lucky girl and if you know which side your bread is buttered you will come and do as we say and make the best of it.

Your loving Mother

 

By now, the tears were streaming down my face.   I am Georgina Norris.   I had always regarded Jack Norris as my Dad, and the twins as my sisters.   But Jack was as fair as the twins were, and my other two brothers the spitting image of him.

I tried to put myself in Mum’s place, but failed.   I couldn’t imagine what she felt.   The time of the First World War seemed another age, another culture.

Right at the bottom was her marriage certificate.   Emily Rowson to John Norris, on the 12th November 1916.   She was 17.   I put everything back in the box and closed the lid.

 

*******************

EPILOGUE – a letter from Laura Cole to her mother, Georgina Cole.

Dear Mum,

We found it!   George’s grave I mean!   Took us ages but we got there – just where the War Graves Commission had said.   Took some photos, like you said and put some flowers there.   The wind was perishing cold, but everything was so calm and serene.   I wish Gran could have seen it.  It seemed funny to think that was my Grandpa in there.   Really weird.   Tim and I thought we were jolly glad we didn’t live then.

You do like Tim, don’t you?   Only I know you don’t much like us living together.   But I am going to have a baby.   You are pleased, aren’t you?   If it’s a girl we are going to call her Emily, and if it’s a boy, George.   You’ll make a smashing Gran!

Love and kisses, Laura

 

 

 

 

 

DAYLIGHT

 

They call it cold,

the light of day,

harsh, unfeeling,

all-revealing.

Prying in corners,

opening up secrets,

disapproving.

 

The morning light

shines on sequins

and cheap satin

turning them into rags

by a pumpkin.

 

Flat noon sun,

leaching colours

draining depths

short shadows

no perspective.

 

Evening sun, holding hope

of trysts, meetings, love.

Shadows linger, golden rays,

the depths of life

reflected in shady places.

 

Twilight hides, distorts,

distances bewilder,

lights flicker, shine

steadily, daylight fades,

the shades of night appear.

©   Gillian Peall