Sailing By

You may know that I’m involved in another blog, a writers blog with two friends; we share our own and other writers work. Today we share an absolutely brilliant story, called Sailing By. You may not know, however that Sailing By is the title of a piece of music; Wikipedia describes it: “Sailing By” is a short piece of light music composed by Ronald Binge in 1963, which is used before the late Shipping Forecast on BBC Radio 4. A slow waltz, the piece uses a repetitive ABABC structure and a distinctive rising and falling woodwind arpeggio…. played every night on BBC Radio 4 at around 00:45hrs before the late Shipping Forecast. Its tune is repetitive, assisting in its role of serving as a signal for sailors tuning in to be able to easily identify the radio station.

Here is a link to the story:

… which I am sure you will enjoy! If you listen to BBC radio, particularly the Today programme on Radio 4, you might find something extra amusing in it!

If you don’t know, the music, here we are:

Royalty – part 2

I shared the first part of a story with you yesterday; it was something I wrote for my writing group. The topic was ‘Royalty’ and I was really struggling to think of what to write when I remembered two characters I’d started writing about before, a lonely man, and a woman who is staying at her father-in-law’s house while he is in hospital. These two people meet in a pub, just by chance, sitting at the same table as a young couple.

If you want to read part 1, here is a link:

Royalty – part 2

“Are you in the quiz?” They all looked up at a small man in a yellow sweater with a golf club log who was standing with a sheaf of quiz sheets and a pint glass of pens.
… How did it happen? Who said what? Who tentatively suggested that maybe they might… should… could… Later no-one could remember, but they each handed over a pound, and were given a quiz sheet and a selection of pens and suddenly they were a team!
A quiz! She always went to the pub for quiz night at home, well, she used to… But a quiz!
There was a moment’s ridiculousness and confusion when they introduced themselves – she had thought the two young people were a couple, no, they weren’t, they had just got into conversation at the bar; they had thought she and the man beside her were married… no they weren’t, obviously!
“I’m Clare,” she said, and the man beside her was Gus, and the two separate young people were Elliot and Evie… four strangers who were suddenly a quiz team.
Before they could converse or say any more about themselves the quiz started, and they were plunged into understanding how it worked; it was a bingo quiz, and puzzling over the rather tricky and very random questions, Clare lost herself completely in the proceedings. Her three team mates were fun and funny, and as strangers they could relax and be themselves – whatever selves they chose to be.
The first round finished and the carbon copies of their answer sheets were collected… but there was a problem, they needed a team name. They looked blankly at each other… then Elliot said to the man collecting the answers, well, this was the Royal Inn, so they were the Royal team! It seemed a bit weak, but what the heck, what did it matter?
It was a natural time to get a drink… but… but… Gus stepped in; who would like a drink? He’d be pleased to buy a round… Pints of beer seemed to be the order, and while he was at the bar, the answers were read out, and they self-marked – the copies having been collected so no cheating.
Gus returned with beer to find his team in high spirits; he’d had to wait while the barrel was changed, and in that time, all the answers had been read out and believe it or believe it not, they had won! Clare, Elliot and Evie insisted Gus take the cost of the round from their winnings, and use another four pounds to buy the sheets for round two!
The questions were similarly random and tricky as the first round… and this time they were defeated… however, there was still enough of their winnings for four more pints. Clare sat back and glanced at her team mates; what did she know about them? Evie was a nurse and singer with a band, Elliot worked in an estate agent’s, Gus was not working at the moment, and she had told them she was here temporarily looking after her father-in-law’s house while he was in hospital and her husband in the States.
The quiz master came round with one final question for the beer round… Beer round? Yes, the winning team had a free round of drinks next week!
“How long is the Queen Mary, not the Queen Mary 2, but the original Queen Mary?”
It was simple for Gus… 1,019.5 feet…
“The winner of the beer round, with a bob on correct answer of 1,019.5 feet, is Royalty!” shouted the quiz master.
“Yes!! That’s us!!”
Somehow the Royal Team had become Royalty…
“Hey! We’ll have to come back next week to claim our free beer!” exclaimed Evie.
“Brilliant! I’ll be here! You, Gus? You Clare?” asked Elliot.
Clare smiled… If father-in-law was still in hospital, she would be here!
Gus picked up his glass. “Here’s to Royalty! See you next week, chums!”

Royalty – part 1

As well as leading two creative writing groups, I am also in a writing group; there are seven of us and we meet roughly once a month and read something we have written on a topic chosen the last time we met. Today our topic was ‘Royalty’… and I confess I was absolutely stuck… I just could not think of anything to write at all…

… and then I had a thought about something I had written a while ago, well two somethings actually. One something I think I have shared here, about a man called Gus who was wandering aimless and rather lonely in a marsh area beside the sea… he finishes his walk and on the way home drifts into a pub. The other was about a woman who was staying in her father-in-law’s house and visiting him every day in hospital; he was very ill, very, very ill, but his son, her husband was away in America. She was for the moment not working so she had come to stay in the old man’s house and visit him. These two characters, Gus and the woman came together in my mind, and this is what happened:

Royalty – part 1

She realised as she got to the bar that the last time she’d been here was with Philip… There were two pubs in the village, and since she’d been down here on her own, staying in her father-in-law’s house so she could visit him in hospital, she’d only been to the other pub, the Schooner. She’d been for lunch… a couple of times… she’d been for dinner before visiting in the evening, a couple of times… but she hadn’t been here, to the Royal Hotel.
The other pub, The Schooner was convenient, but somehow impersonal… the staff were polite and efficient, but somehow…
Why hadn’t she come here, to the Royal? It was a typical village pub, and had a more homely, friendly feel; she glanced at the menu while waiting for the Canadian boy serving behind the bar to return with her change and thought it sounded altogether more interesting… Maybe tomorrow she’d come here for lunch…
It was busy but there was a space on the bench seat by the window. There was a group of women sitting at the next table so she took her change and went and sat down beside them… Maybe she could get talking to them, maybe she could have a conversation… she was starved of contact, and although she didn’t mind being on her own, it suddenly seemed a welcome proposition to actually converse with someone. Her father-in-law was declining day by day; anything he did say was so random and unintelligible that trying to make a conversation was like trying to catch soap bubbles blown by a child.
She sat down and glanced at the four women but they were there in an intense conversation. A jacket lay on the seat beside her and probably belonging to the people on the table to her right, two middle-aged couples. She caught a burst of conversation from them, the woman with the dark perm talking to the woman with shoulder length blond hair, was complaining about students in her son’s hall of residence all being ‘foreign’ and how the places ‘stank of curry’… Hmmm… maybe this pub wasn’t so congenial place after all.
A man was approaching with a pint of beer, preoccupied and patently thinking of something else and he squeezed between the table and the next one with the two couples before realising she was sitting there.
“Oh! Is this your seat! I’m sorry, I didn’t realise, I thought it was free!” she exclaimed.
“No, no, that’s fine! Sorry, I just left my jacket…”
He was interrupted by a young couple who asked him if the two chairs at the table were free. Yes, yes, they were he replied, still standing between the two tables.
“I’m just on my own, this seat is free,” she said, indicating the place beside her, realising that the jacket must be his.
There was a bit of a kerfuffle while the young couple, who had thought she and the pint of beer man were a couple, took off coats, organised phones, put drinks on the table… and the man, after asking again if it was ok for him to sit beside her, did just that, and sat beside her.
She would knock back her beer and go; having wanted company she now felt awkward with the bloke beside her and the young couple across the table. They too had subsided into silence, concentrating on their phones. The young woman looked like a student, fashionable, long dark hair and a serious face, the lad looked rougher, awkward almost, compared to his lovely girlfriend.
She would finish her beer…
“Are you in the quiz?” They all looked up at a small man in a yellow sweater with a golf club log who was standing with a sheaf of quiz sheets and a pint glass of pens.
… How did it happen? Who said what? Who tentatively suggested that maybe they might… should… could… Later no-one could remember, but they each handed over a pound, and were given a quiz sheet and a selection of pens and suddenly they were a team!

If you want to know what I had written about Gus previously, here is a link:

The shepherd boy’s grave

I wrote this for my writing group; I had set them the task of looking at the endings of a variety of novels, poems, stories etc, and then using the ending as an inspiration to work towards – not to end with the particular situation or lines, but just as a stimulus… I thought since I had set them such a tricky task, I ought to have a go. I had the last stanza of a poem by Martín Espada, ‘Ezequiel’, and here is what i wrote:

“Oh look, look at this!”
Russell walked on a few paces and then stopped with exaggerated weariness and turned and plodded back to her. Why was he being like this? What was wrong? When she’d asked, he’d said in an offhand way ‘nothing, why should there be?’ … which meant something was wrong.
She was looking at a small limestone block with a grey metal plate attached.
In loving memory of Ezekiel, our son, cruelly torn from our embrace; “I will also bring upon you a sword which will execute vengeance” Lev 26:23
“Who was he?” she asked.
“Some kid, mucking about with his mates…” Russell stared at it and his face, which had once been so easy to read, every expression familiar and understood, was closed, his thoughts private and far away.
“Did you know him?” Ronnie asked trying to make conversation… her words felt dry and forced on her tongue, words which used to come so easily and flow without thought.
“Not particularly…” and he turned and continued his tramp up the hill.
How can you not particularly know someone? It was so hot on this bare hillside, she wanted to sit down and admire the view or sit down and talk, talk about things… But she roused herself to follow him, with a big sigh and a sense of foreboding.  This was, if not the end, the beginning of the end…
“Hello, there! Wonderful day, isn’t it!”
She turned back and a man with a walking pole was climbing steadily towards her up the slope.
“Perfect,” she answered, not sure whether to slow to converse, or hurry on to catch up with Russell.
“I see you were looking at Zeek’s place,” he said coming up to her. Before she could make any comment he went on, “Is that Russ walking on ahead? Russell Broome?”
“I’m John, Russ and I were at school together, way back in prehistoric times.”
He glanced up the path and lifted his pole in salute; Russell, further up the dusty, chalky trail was looking down at them. He didn’t wave back but turned and continued to tramp up the track, quickly as if he was in a hurry.
How awkward.
“I was looking at this… this memorial but actually I was pausing to catch my breath.” Ronnie hoped the man, John would continue his walk but he stood, looking down at the memorial.
“Zeek was helping his dad with the sheep, he came up here and it’s thought he met rustlers, he was shot and the sheep were taken.”
Ronnie looked around; she’d heard the sound of sheep but there was no sign of any.
“How old was he?”
How tragic… a seventeen year-old shot and killed on this peaceful hillside. She asked the man if he’d known the boy, yes, her replied, they’d been at school together.
She wanted to say – the three of them, Russell, this John and Zeek, they’d been friends… but she didn’t and after a moment of silence, he said cheerio and began to follow the path.
“Oh, another thing, if you’re interested in history – it was in all the papers at the time when Zeek died here, that this was already known as the shepherd boy’s grave – some lad way back in ancient history was killed here too… people used to leave flowers…”
“How interesting,” and she was annoyed at repeating his word.
“There used to be a white wooden cross here, just a small one, I’m never sure whether I actually remember it or just think I do! Cheerio!” and he turned and continued his walk.
She was hot and fed up, Russell had disappeared completely behind a rocky outcrop and she sat down on a big stone, more of a boulder with a smooth indentation as if many people had sat here over the years.
In the sheltered side of the stone was a burst of yellow and she’d thought it might be some rubbish, a plastic bag perhaps, but it was a clump of yellow flowers with black centres… black-eyed Susans maybe? But up here on this hillside?
She stood up and looked up the pathway. She could see Russell half a mile ahead now, stumping along, head down, not admiring the view or looking where he was going. The other man, John was not far behind and she watched as he caught up with Russell and passed him.
There may have been an exchange of words, she couldn’t tell, the man had slowed but didn’t stop, and soon was striding away. Russel walked a few more paces then turned and looked round, presumably to check where she was. He was looking back along the path, then glanced down the hill and saw her.
She waved. He flailed his arms to beckon her, come on, hurry up, what the hell are you doing down there, he was clearly saying.
“Hello! Stopped for breath?” this time it was a friendly couple of middle-aged ladies, in khaki shorts, big boots, and woolly socks. “Shepherd boy’s grave!”
Ronnie took a deep breath and walked on with them, their friendly, hearty chat, raising her spirits.

Ezequiel, you are buried in the valley of dry bone,
There is thirst in the wood of your white cross
Heat in the tyre planted with sunflowers by your grave,
Prophecy in the bones. When your voice booms
Over the desert, all the bones will rise knocking,
Skulls snapping hard onto spines, sinews roping around shoulders,
Flesh swelling like bread on sinew, and the four winds
Gusting breath into the lungs of the dead. Ezequiel,
You will walk again with your grandfather of the .22 rifle.
You will walk again with your goats.


Although this was supposed to be a contained short story, as I wrote it other ideas came into my mind, and it maybe that it will become part of something much longer – not necessarily the beginning, although I think I want to start with the memorial on the hillside. It isn’t a mistake that there are two different stories about Zeek – one that he was mucking about with friends, the other that he was shot by sheep rustlers… and the mystery of why, if Russell had known him, did he bring Ronnie up the hill past the memorial… hmmm, lots of thoughts for me!


Another episode from the old umbrella factory

I wrote a true story the other day, heavily disguised, so the actual people involved remain private; it was about a person who I know very well who I called Blaine, and in a fictitious location, The Easthope and Area Local History Museum, I transposed another real person as a fictional curator who I called Darius. I’ve changed everything about the people in my true story – I might even have changed genders! You won’t recognise these people, even if you knew them, but the facts of the story are absolutely true. My friend was telling me about another episode.

Georgie, an old friend of Blaine’s who didn’t visit Easthope very often called to say she was in town, looking at an exhibition at the museum on rope and rope-making, and could they meet for coffee… and maybe some cake!
It seemed an excellent idea, and with a little quiver of anticipation, in case Darius was working, Blaine agreed to meet her. Blaine thought she was a little early, as she strolled in; she had walked as it was a pleasant day and she thought she needed the exercise. However Georgie was already there, and to Blaine’s surprise and delight another friend was with her, Paddy, who she hadn’t seen for a very long time.
Paddy and Georgie were sitting at a table in the main café part of the museum – it was all open plan so visitors were walking all around; they had got a chair for her and it was facing them, and facing the window looking out into the little courtyard. In a way, Blaine was glad she had her back to the counter, and to the museum desk and little shop.
Blaine was so pleased to be with her two old friends and they chatted and laughed, and caught up with each other’s news, and with the latest on families and other friends. There were tables on either side of them, rather close in fact, but it didn’t matter, there was nothing private or confidential in what they were saying.
“I say young man,” said a rather sever looking woman on the ext table, her glasses perched on the end of her nose.
Someone came and stood beside Blaine to talk to the woman who was complaining about her coffee being too strong, and it was Darius.
He talked about the coffee, served from the café and took her cup away to get her tea instead.
“let’s go and look at the rope-making exhibition!” exclaimed Blaine and jumped up and got he coat and bag.
Her friends had finished their drinks and were ready to move to the upstairs gallery where ropes, rope makers and rope making were on display, and feeling embarrassed herself, Blaine hurried across the stairs before Darius could return with the tea.

I have used The Easthope and Area Local History Museum as a setting for my truly fictional story about Malcolm the curator – he really is an invention!

A dazzling smile

This a true story which I heard from someone I know very well; I have changed all the details and concealed and changed the identities and locations of all; only the actual story line is as it was. I have called the main character Blaine, who, if you have read it, you might remember was the sister of someone in my novel ‘Farhom’. I’m imagining that Blaine is the person in my true story

The Easthope and Area Local History Museum was located in what had been the old umbrella factory; part of the building housed the museum, and was attached to community areas, a café, meeting rooms, and storage for all the items not on display. There was a suite of rooms housing records and archives, which anyone and any group could access – completing all the correct paperwork and through the proper channels of course! Another part of the building was undergoing development as a town art gallery, but funding was slow in coming through so the completion date was repeatedly delayed. There was also a proposal that the library should move from its cramped Victorian building at the other end of town and be accommodated at the other end; this would allow for all the modern facilities libraries now accommodated such as computers.

Blaine had first come to the museum when it opened with her husband Tom; he was very interested in rope making and knots for some reason, and the first exhibition had been about the local fishing industry over the last couple of hundred years. Because it was a special event in the ‘new’ museum, there were refreshments, and talks, and competitions and activities for children. Tom had wandered off and Blaine for some reason stopped to listen to a brief talk about bricks; the main brick producing area had been the local big town of Castair, but Easthope had also had brick kilns.

Blaine found that she was more interested in the man giving the talk than the bricks he was talking about. he was a lot younger than her, maybe fortyish, but she thought he was stunningly good-looking. Someone spoke her name and touched her arm and it was her friend, Penelope.

“Surely you’re not interested in bricks?” Penny whispered.

“No,” Blaine whispered back, “But I’m enjoying the view!” Penny looked mystified. “The guy who’s talking!”

The brief talk finished and the two women wandered away looking for their husbands. Blaine would have stopped to ask pointless questions about bricks just to chat to the handsome curator but it seemed silly. Penny hadn’t even noticed him, and when Blaine pointed to him, now moving chairs about for another longer talk in another area, Penny seemed perplexed at her interest; he looked quite ordinary to her.

After that, Blaine visited the museum as often as she could without it being ridiculous, and felt silly and school-girlish in her secret crush on the man who worked there. He was married, she learned somehow, married to the deputy of the local junior school where many, many years ago, Blaine’s two daughters had gone. He had three children, quite young, and his name was Darius.

Blaine’s book club started to meet in one of the alcoves of the museum café – the museum encouraged groups to come and use their space. Sometimes Darius would be working, but often not; Penny had once made some comment about him to the others, calling him Blaine’s ‘eye-candy’ – a term which she hated, and which made her feel ridiculous.

One afternoon, having spent all morning decorating the lounge, Blaine went out for a walk and fresh air. it began to rain and the nearest place was the museum so she hurried over and went to have a coffee and a piece of the café’s renowned lemon drizzle cake.

It was very busy, but she sat, a book on her table, reading as she always did when she was somewhere alone. A couple came, shared her table, then left, but it was still raining and Blaine didn’t fancy going back to the decorating.

She sensed someone near her, and there, clearing the coffee cups from her table was Darius.

“Hi!” she said, spontaneously.

He greeted her and grinned, a dazzling smile…

If you haven’t read Farholm, here is a link:

The Curator of the Umbrella Factory Museum

Meeting other writers, and working with others is a most stimulating, interesting and useful process, and I’ve joined a course which is taking place at the American Museum Bath – “Using objects from the Museum’s collection as prompts, Alex and Jude will inspire you with their creative writing exercises and help you find your writing voice. Sessions are fun, informal, and will explore character development, point of view, and plot, among other subjects. The sessions are suitable for complete beginners or for writers who would like an inspirational boost.”

This is what I wrote during the first session:

The Curator of the Umbrella Factory Museum

I knew that Malcolm worked in the local history museum; it’s on the road leading out of Easthope, but tucked away round the back in a nineteenth century building which was part of the old umbrella factory.

He was one of my house-k=mates in the shared Edwardian villa at the other end of our little town, and I probably wouldn’t have got to know him if our rooms weren’t opposite each other across the small landing on the top floor.

he didn’t come downstairs very often, never chilled in the lounge part of the open-plan area on the ground floor, but would come down to cook his meals. The rest of us would cook for ourselves, share a meal, or get a take-away… Malcolm never did. He was invited to join us and responded pleasantly but always cooked his simple meals and took them upstairs back to his room.

By the time I rented my room,the others were so used to him that there was no gossip or char and though he sort of fascinated me because he was my nearest neighbour, I didn’t really ask about him. I guess Malcolm was in his thirties, or maybe forties, brown hair cut in a normal but vaguely old-fashioned way, I don’t know if women would think he was good-looking, he just looked normal to me.

One evening as I was trying to concentrate on the massive tome which was all I needed to learn for my next exam to be a financial advisor… so dull, so dull, there was a knock on my door.

Most people in the house would knock and stick their head round the door if it was open, as it usually was, but Malcolm knocked. I rolled off my bed and opened th already ajar door.

“Hello David, sorry to disturb you, but something has slipped down the back of my wardrobe and I can’t shift it.”

“No worries, Malcolm, I’ll see if I can help.”

II must say I was intrigued to see the inside of Malcolm’s room; he had stepped back as i opened my door and he didn’t so much as glance over my shoulder into my room. My room is pretty much as you’d expect – untidy, clothes in heaps, books in piles, an array of dirty mugs along the window sills, an Irish flag hanging off the side of the wardrobe, and photos of my family and girlfriend on the small chest of drawers.

Malcolm had closed his door behind him and now keyed in the code on the number pad. His room was the same as mine, but the other way round, a sort of mirror image but it hardly looked as if anyone lived there. Apart from a couple of books on the chest of drawers there was absolutely nothing personal on display. The bed was pristine, a plain brown duvet cover, beige pillowslips… it was almost shocking in its emptiness, and the friendly witter I was about to utter died on my lips.

I knew Malcolm had lived here for a couple of years – I’d been here just over a year and he’d been established for longer than that.

“Er… David…”

I’d been staring around – staring at nothing actually because there was nothing to see. It looked like an empty room.

I apologised and went to help him manoeuvre the wardrobe.

My featured picture is not of an umbrella factory, it is of the Underfall yard in Bristol

Here is a link to my books on Amazon: