About Grace Lessageing

Writer of novels, short stories, flash fiction, blogs. Leader of a creative writing group. Ex infant teacher. Living in Christchurch UK.

A Day to Remember…

Today’s post is a short fiction, due to my being out of the country for a couple of weeks. I hope it breaches the hiatus…

A Day to Remember
It was rare for Shirley and Brian to visit London these days, but it was a special birthday for Shirley, who’d expressed a desire to see ‘Phantom’ and managed to drag Brian along this time; Brian, who was not fond of shows and would have preferred to have visited the museums or Kew Gardens.
Deciding to make the most of their day, the couple bought a newspaper for him and a magazine for her before settling themselves into a seat with a table on the train, where on glancing at the headline on the front of his paper, Brian read, ‘World Summit to be Hit by Protest’. He frowned.
“Looks like we’ve chosen a bad day to visit. There’s to be some sort of demonstration. Let’s hope the transport system isn’t affected.”
Shirley looked up from the article she was reading about William and Kate’s likely choice of baby names.
“Well I don’t suppose they’ll be going where we’re going, will they? They’ll all go to Trafalgar Square, or wherever it is they gather up for these protests, not Oxford Street shops and the theatres.”
While they had coffee, Brian studied his map of the London Underground. As he was so much more adept at finding his way around than she, Shirley left all the navigating to her husband, who prided himself on his ability to understand maps and directions. He’d been persuaded to further indulge his wife by accompanying her to various department stores, despite his innate aversion to such establishments, although he harboured a secret hope that she would not want to linger too long in Selfridges, John Lewis and Debenhams.
“What exactly is it you want to buy?” he’d asked her, prior to setting off, but her motives had been as unfocused as usual.
“Oh nothing special,” she’d told him. “I just want to look.”
He’d kept his exasperation in check, owing to the celebratory nature of the occasion, but nevertheless the next couple of hours until lunch stretched ahead like a wide yawn; a boredom endurance test when he’d be trailing around after her while she flitted from one display to another in a kind of random exploration of merchandise.
A successful negotiation of the tube saw them surface at Oxford Circus, where throngs of purposeful pedestrians surrounded them, buffeting them as they stood to get their bearings. Shirley’s face bore a momentary, wide-eyed look of panic.
“Brian, we must have got mixed up in the Summit protest!”
“No love. It’s just busy. It’s always like this. You haven’t been up here for a few years.”
He took her arm and propelled her in the direction of John Lewis, holding tight to her elbow while they tackled the barrage of oncoming pedestrian traffic that surged towards them like a tidal wave. Having gained the sanctuary of the store, Shirley appeared to rally and Brian was obliged to follow in her wake as she floor-hopped her way from bedding to kitchenware, from toys to lingerie.
At one thirty, by which time Brian’s stomach was growling starvation warnings, they decided to look for a lunch venue, choosing to walk up Regent Street towards Piccadilly Circus on the grounds that it was quieter and easier to travel along, besides which there would be a more salubrious selection of restaurants and cafes around Wardour Street and Leicester Square, where the theatre crowds were catered for.
There was a slight altercation at Piccadilly Circus. Brian favoured a pie and a pint in the dark, gloomy and comfortable, olde worlde interior of The Captain’s Cabin, whereas Shirley hankered after the more opulent and upmarket decor of The Criterion. It was while they stood on the steps under the statue of Eros in a dither of procrastination that the young man approached them, gesturing towards the London Underground map that Brian clutched in his hand.
“Excuse me, but could I borrow your map a moment?” he said.
Shirley looked him up and down in a rapid appraisal, taking in his dark eyes, his neat, dark hair, his pale grey tee shirt with a surfing logo and the dark blue rucksack slung over one shoulder. He must be a student, she decided, perhaps he was doing some travelling before taking up a college place. She smiled encouragement, thinking of their own son, James, who’d taken a gap year to Australia a few years ago. Beside her she could see Brian’s shoulders straightening in preparation for the directions he was about to give the young man.
“Where are you trying to get to?” he asked him
“I’m heading for Trafalgar Square.”
The student’s face was inscrutable, like the Mona Lisa in that painting. Shirley and Brian had been to Paris last spring and visited The Louvre.
“Was it the National Gallery you wanted? It might not be the best day, you know. There’s a big demonstration going on there today; huge crowds. Tomorrow could be better!”
A small, tolerant smile tweaked the corner of his lips.
“Please,” he said, holding out his hand for the map. Brian kept hold of it, leaning towards the young man and pointing.
“We are here, Piccadilly Circus. You go down and take the Bakerloo Line to Charing Cross. That’ll be your nearest to Trafalgar Square. OK?”
“Thank you.”
He turned and they watched as he crossed the road and disappeared down into the subway.
Forty minutes later the pair was seated at a table in The Captain’s Cabin when they heard the sound, and followed others out on to the pavement to look for a cause. After a few moments it was followed by the disquieting shriek of sirens as the emergency vehicles forged their way through the streets. A stricken look passed between the two.

Next morning they switched on the television news to see an image they recognised. It was the unmistakeable face of the lovely young man. Hussein Omar, he was called; the suicide bomber of Trafalgar Square.

Next week-Eastern travel tales…

The Uninvited Guest

Today’s and next week’s posts are short fictions as we are away. Normal service resumes in 3 weeks time with travel notes.

The Uninvited Guest

How many there are! The only space remains here at the back, near the door. I’d have chosen to sit here anyway, since I am less likely to be spotted and can make a swift exit whenever I choose.
Who selected this music, I wonder? It makes me realise how little we know those who are closest to us. I wouldn’t have opted for ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. It is far too gloomy. ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ would have been a more cheerful opener-and more appropriate, of course.
Ah-someone is closing the door. The service must be about to begin. And there is someone approaching the podium, the woman they’ve chosen to officiate. She’s Pastor Mona Chesterton, according to the programme. They’ve got that correct, at least; getting a woman to do it.
I can just about see the casket from here, between the heads of those in front. I’m hoping it’s cardboard, sustainable and eco-friendly; only one spray of flowers so they must have asked for donations instead.
Pastor Mona has asked Val to take the stand. She’s going to read a poem. Ha! This will be interesting! Although I love my sister Val, she isn’t the most literary of people. I think her reading material consists mainly of ‘Hello’ magazine and the Daily Mail so she’ll have had to Google funeral poetry or ask someone for a suggestion. Yes. Just as I thought: ‘Stop All the Clocks’. She’d have remembered it from ‘Four Weddings’. When it comes to Auden I’ve always thought ‘Tell me the Truth about Love’ was one of his best. She must have practised reading the poem but she’s made the classic mistake of reading too fast. I notice she’s sat herself next to Stan, close enough for their arms to be touching and a little too close for mere comfort. I suppose she’s got what she wanted now, hasn’t she? Good luck to them is what I think.
Stan isn’t going to say anything. That’s wise of him. The hollow echo of his words would be magnified in this cavernous building with its barrel-vaulted ceiling.
They’re all standing to sing ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’. What a cliché! The singing is a bit weedy, as if they are a load of drunks at four o’clock in the morning, which is disappointing. I’d have liked some gusto, a rousing chorus of enthusiastic mourners.
Ah, here are James and Becca, together, for moral support, perhaps? They’ve got scruffy pieces of paper. I suppose James has scribbled something on the way here, which is his normal approach to any task. Becca looks pale but dignified and I expect she’d be delighted to be described so. They are a handsome pair of young adults, considering the genes they’d have been handed. I’ve enjoyed hearing their childhood memories but I was startled by their choices. Camping? When was that? Perhaps they went with Aunty Val…
Pastor Mona is summing up now, with the platitudes used by those who never knew the deceased. She’s asked everyone to stand for the final hymn, ‘Abide with Me’, which will be appropriate for Stan and Val, at least, as the carton begins to slide away behind the blood red curtain.
It’s time for me to leave so I’ll slip out during this dirge of a hymn. I’m glad I came but happier still to be outside in the fresh air of this April afternoon.
I know what you did, Stan and Val. They say revenge is best served cold and cold is my future now. I’m going to extract a great deal of entertainment from watching your regrets as I occupy your dreams and loiter around your shared bed disturbing your recreation.
I feel a new spring in my step and a soaring joy to be away now. You’re a long time gone. Can’t wait to get started…

Our Lives in their Hands

We are all in others’ hands. From before we are born, to being brought up, to getting an education, to driving our cars or stepping on to a bus or train, to earning money, to visiting the GP; in every single area of our lives we depend on others for our safety and wellbeing.

I watched a news report from Syria, in which a sick baby, afflicted with a hole in his heart had to be rescued from his incubator when the hospital treating him was bombed. The young paramedic carried the baby, drip and all. in his arms and held him during the bumpy ambulance ride. The baby gazed calmly up into the medic’s eyes and reached towards his face. After this journey the baby needed to transfer to another ambulance and a swap of personnel. This young child remained calm and trusting as he was passed from one pair of arms to another.

The extent of our dependence on others is never so stark as when we fly, stepping into a vehicle and surrendering ourselves to the mercy of the pilots and crew.

Trust in each other has to be the most important factor in conducting our lives. On an international scale, when we as nations don’t trust other countries, this is where conflicts are likely to arise. To behave in sneaky, underhand behaviour leads to double-dealing and confrontations. How much better to be open, to allow free movement and to share knowledge.

You could live on an island, become self-sufficient, never communicate. What kind of life would that be? Those currently in quarantine from the Coronavirus and others incarcerated on a cruise ship and isolated from the rest of us are finding life dull and difficult-even for two weeks; and this is with the benefits of internet communication. The admirable ‘Abels’, trapped in their cruise ship cabin are passing the time by becoming media stars. Elsewhere there is quarantine blogging from bored internees.

We are off to Thailand. We’ve deliberated long and hard, consulted others, read up [probably too much], prepared, acquired masks and gels. We’ll comply with any checks and instructions, steer clear of crowds, wash our hands. We’ll go to our destination and relax. We’ll be depending on others-and so will everybody else…

Telephony

Twenty four months have elapsed and for once I’ve been on the ball enough to know I’m up for phone and internet software renewal so during a lull in my week I make time to visit the phone shop.

The shop is brightly lit, hot…and chock full of customers. I settle down at an empty desk to wait for service, entertained by three children who are galloping around the small shop floor while their father works his way through the range of products available. The children pause their gallops only long enough for a brief prod at the buttons on a row of tablets lining one wall.

I wait and wait. Shop assistants come and go from the store room. More customers enter the shop. I shed my coat and my scarf, toy with my phone a bit, watch the children.

Some time later an assistant looks up and spots me where I sit at the vacant desk. ‘Have you been seen yet?’ he asks.

‘No’.

He tells me he’ll be ‘one minute’.

After a few minutes he settles across the desk and I explain that my contract has expired. I tell him I am not typical, that unusually I am not a heavy user of my phone, not glued to it, not a taker of selfies [I still use a camera], not a watcher of films upon it, or a downloader of things. I am, still, a laptop user. I type on a keyboard. This explains our use of the cunning, little white pebble that is our mobile wifi, worth its weight in bandwidth, which accompanies us on our travels.

The young man attempts a soft push, offering me extra capacity, extra minutes, an additional tablet device, a line for Husband [who will never be persuaded away from his pay-as-you-go]. I do actually consider the tablet for a few seconds-until I remember the nest of tablets languishing abandoned in a drawer at home. I explain we’ve never, ever exceeded our allocation, never needed to top up. If my existing phone cannot be recycled I’d like a new battery, only. This, of course is not an option-

When I leave the store with my new phone and upgraded mobile Wifi I feel unexpectedly chipper. The new phone is a Huawei. Will I be spied upon? The mobile pebble we’ve used for several years has always been Huawei so I am sanguine enough about having their phone.

At home I follow the instructions for copying everything from  old to new with perfect results. The new phone has a larger screen, is able to alert me with a proper telephone-ringing sound and is fast to respond to my requests.

A few days later the three year old microwave in our kitchen gives up the ghost. Nobody, we find,  repairs microwaves. I go to the appliance store, peruse the display, take my phone, ring Husband, send him a photo of one. He rings me with the results of reviews. I’ve surprised myself by behaving like the rest of society.

 

 

January Gardens

So since the end of January hove into view and the tumult of rain ebbed to mizzle I’ve begun making small tours of the garden to see what has survived, what has disappeared and what has reached up to the surface of the soil to make a cautious start into growth.

In the depths of this winter I’ve taken to curling up by the fire and dipping into my new gardening book-‘Down to Earth’ by Monty Don, which makes me feel both woefully inadequate and also inspired to try new ideas and plants in our modest piece of land.

In addition to all these garden ponderings we’ve made a visit to wonderful Mottisfont House, near Romsey in Hampshire, where, even in the depths of winter the gardens are spectacular.

Swathes of delicate snowdrops are draped around trees and along the banks of The Test river and in the wonderful winter garden the bare coloured branches of shrubs are just beautiful. On our own plot the 300 snowdrop plants I spent several hours planting last year have rewarded me with 5 lonely flowers. Heaven only knows what became of the other 295-but squirrels may be the culprits [about which, more later].

Vibrant drifts of cyclamen have been planted around the bases of shrubs and trees.

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At least these hardy, winter flowers have taken hold in our garden, having been transferred from winter pots onto the dastardly, dry shade bank.

Mottisfont’s walled gardens [three of them] are vast and while bare at this time of year are still a pleasure to stroll around. Then there is a circle of trees with an interesting sound installation.

Inside the old house the top two floors are hosting a cartoon exhibition, with original gems from the likes of Ronald Searle, Thelwell and Heath Robinson. All the exhibits are for sale, and while I’d really like a Heath Robinson they are pricey.

In the second hand bookshop, next to the ‘Stables’ café there are two shelves of gardening books, which are tempting, until I remember that, as with everything else, Plants, theory and advice goes out of date. It used to be the thing to dig over your flower and vegetable beds to keep the soil weed and clump free. Nowadays we are to leave it to the worms to sort out. But having toured Mottisfont’s gardens I realise I should be mulching as if my life depended on it.

As for squirrels-they are out of favour here at the Schloss, having eaten their way through our roof lead until the rain has poured through. They must now be trapped and decanted to new territories and the repairs must be done. Such is life. No such difficulties at Mottisfont…

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A Reading Life

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I’ve been interested in the readings of ‘Why Women Read Fiction’ by Helen Taylor, being read on BBC’s Radio 4. A recent episode explored women’s favourite childhood novels, giving clues as to why the books instilled a lifelong passion for fiction reading.

Children’s books are glorious. I have a collection of my own [the only paper books I tend to want, these days]. Some of the precious treasures on my shelves, tucked away in the bedroom reserved for small grandchildren are saved from my childhood, notably a beautiful copy of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ with stunning colour plate illustrations I saved up my pocket money to buy, the leather-bound copy of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ that I discovered nestling on the end of my bed one Christmas morning and the romantic ‘The Glass Slipper’ by Eleanor Farjeon that I read and re-read with all the others. I also have an age-spotted copy of ‘Struwwelpeter’, a book of rhyming cautionary tales I found in a second hand bookshop and had to buy because it had held a horrific fascination for me when I attended my first school at 4 years old and I spotted it on the shelves in our small, village classroom.

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I have described before how I became fixated on some books after hearing them read on the radio [The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was one]. As a child, along with my two brothers we read weekly comics and were familiar with the characters in ‘Beano’, ‘Dandy’ etc. We couldn’t imagine a weekend without Dennis the Menace or Minnie the Minx.

Offspring 1 and 2 loved books, although Offspring 2 [female] was the more voracious, famously in our family history for being fleeced by Offspring 1 [male] 20 pence each time she wished to borrow a book from his shelves. I was never sure whether to be horrified at the cavalier treatment of his younger sister or impressed by his early entrepreneurial skills…

Research shows that women read far more fiction than men and that the fiction that this minority of men do read is mainly by male writers. Do those men who dislike fiction feel it to be less valuable in some way? Or is it less manly to waste time in such a frivolous pastime as fiction? Myself I believe there is as much to be learned from reading [good] fiction as anything else.

I know for sure there are men’s book clubs out there, although few and far between. My own book club is all female. When we meet up [large enough in number for it to be tricky to get a word in!] it must seem daunting to other users of the hotel bar we inhabit. Our chatter is animated, enthusiastic, argumentative, often rowdy in the way that all female groups can be. The discussion ranges from what we’ve read to politics, relationships, childhood, environment, psychology and everything in between but is never dull. There is no ‘ban’ on male members, but I wonder how the dynamic would change if there were some?

In the meantime I have a good book to get on with. It’s ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens [soon to be released as a movie].

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Stepping into the Adult World

‘The proportion of teenagers working in Saturday jobs has almost halved in the past 20 years as staffing tills, stacking shelves and delivering newspapers have gone out of fashion and people have turned online to earn cash.’ [Guardian newspaper 04/01/2020]

I must have been around ten years of age when I first went out to earn some money for myself. We lived in rural Norfolk, in East Anglia, where agriculture was all there was; vast, flat fields of crops without breaks for trees or hills. A landscape such as this shapes the lives and personalities of those who inhabit it. I’d cycle to a field where a harvest was taking place, grab a sack and pick beans, peas or potatoes, getting paid by the sack. There were no qualms about employment rules-anyone could do it. I’d cycle home clutching my half-crown [25 pence in today’s money] and feel elated.

Later, our family having relocated to Kent, I was able to get a Saturday job as a shop assistant in a toy store where a school friend worked. There were three or four of we schoolgirls helping out in the tiny shop, which was crammed from floor to ceiling with every kind of toy and had an old-fashioned counter and till. Pre-decimalisation meant that money was still pounds, shillings and pence, calculations being totted up on a paper pad with a pencil. When a customer came in to buy about 100 tiny items the store owner, Mr Cue [not the jocular character you might associate with owning a toy shop] hovered nervously over my lengthy addition of £SD like a broody hen.

It was all going swimmingly, not least due to the fact that we earned several shillings more than the Woolworths girls and that during the lunch hour when the store was shut, Susan Fort and I frittered away our time on the shop floor winding up the clockwork toys and setting them off. Sadly, Susan and I were bad news for our employer, falling about giggling and gesturing at each behind the customers’ backs, resulting in our combined sacking. It was a lesson learned.

Offspring 1 and 2 both acquired weekend jobs in supermarkets once I’d established that the weekly allowance pot was finite. Any initial reluctance was soon quashed by the euphoria of receipt of wages-a feeling I’d experienced as a 10 year old in the fields of the fenlands. By this time both had gone along with their educational establishments’ lip service to employment in the for of ‘work experience’, an initiative as far removed from the realities of real work as watching ‘The Apprentice’ on TV.

So what do today’s teenagers do for an income? Wealthy parents presumably subsidise them-since all appear to own any number of devices and pairs of trainers. And of course, the range of opportunities for casual work is not what it was, with High Street shops disappearing almost in front of our eyes and newspapers on the wane. Who has a newspaper delivered these days? Some, according to the Guardian article are enterprising enough to make money from the internet, which is impressive.

But going out to do part-time work was a great experience, I think, for young people and a right of passage into the adult world.