Lightly Done April 2021

Welcome to the home of my dreams

THERE is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day; 
And when we are certain of sorrow in store, 
Why do we always arrange for more? 
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware 
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear 


I came across this warning by Rudyard Kipling before I counted my age in double figures but the pack and follow life of marriage to a man in the Royal Navy can be very lonely. The idea of a pet becoming a friend sounded ridiculous but at the age of eighteen I had a lot to learn. By the time I was nineteen I was sharing my life with a Siamese cat who accompanied me everywhere wrapped around my neck like a scarf.  Whether shopping, travelling on buses and trains or attending all the many social events he was there with me.  On-board drinks or dinner parties were the only exceptions. Through the long lonely nights when the submarine was at sea Shashlik, his name taken from a then popular recipe book ‘Definitely Different’  was my only companion.  Children came on the scene as children do and a series of Siamese joined the team as we moved around the world. After twenty nine I lost count of the number of times we moved house, our life lived up to the common claim among naval families of “pack and follow’. The peripatetic dynamics of our household continues to change until at last we settled down in a home of our own. As the children moved beyond the nursery stage they wanted a bit of independence until there was only one small girl left at home. She needed a companion if she was to go beyond the garden gate without a grown-up escort. Ruby a whippet, collie cross was in need of a home just when our daughter needed her, she was an archetypal sheep dog and treated the entire family as her flock and the youngest member as her personal responsibility.
 
We didn’t go looking for greyhounds, they just walked into our life. It all began in 1971 when I was travelling from York to St Pancras in an overcrowded train. The guard noticed me trudging wearily backwards and forwards as I searched for a seat but the train was crammed and eventually he invited me to share his van.  The other passenger with him was a large and very beautiful greyhound who raised his head to greet me with gentle politeness.  For the rest of the journey I listened to a very angry man describing how greyhounds were regularly dumped in his van to travel across country to make money for their owners.  At the age of five they were considered to be ‘past their sell by date’ for racing and were disposed of by any convenient means. At the time it was common practice for them to be turned lose on a highway, dumped in a pond with a brick attached to a line around their neck or just simply shot.
That day I promised myself that one day I would make a home for a retired greyhound. Pet is such a patronising word that I have struck it out of my dictionary. The greyhounds that have accompanied me through life for over forty years have become companions, part of the family.  Muffin was about a year old when he was found painfully thin and searching for food as a street market was closing and rescued by a dog warden. He has been my shadow for the past fourteen years.

            
 Greyhounds are creatures of speed, grace and agility who for thousands of years have been cherished and bred as hunting dogs in the court of kings. Their portraits are painted on the walls of the pharaohs so we know that they have been part of the lives of humanity for at least four thousand years.  Their mummified remains have been found buried in Egyptian tombs so that they could accompany their masters to the hunting grounds of the after-life.  In Homer’s epic the Odyssey , only the old greyhound Argus who had been patiently waiting for Odysseus since his departure years before, recognises the hero when he returns home.  If you open your home and your heart to a greyhound you will be repaid with love and loyalty overflowing.  

I wrote this Epitaph for Freya who, over forty years ago, was the first greyhound to come into my life.  
 
 Shall I forget –
Forget your silhouette
In the broken shade beneath the towering beech?
Shall I forget your cold wet nose
Your trusting gaze depending on mankind to set you free
I know not where.
 
I loved you and I laid you down
Curling you nose to tail the way you used to lie,
Your joyful speed now a cold stillness under two spits of earth.
I must pick up my burdens and walk on
But, maybe as the evening shadows lengthen I shall see 
Beside my own upon the wayside grass 
Another shadow thin and elegant, no longer old and weary 
Following me home.
  


The Greyhound Trilogy is almost complete and should be published in early summer. Loneliness is a Killer concerns a widow living in Dorset, a widower in Liverpool and a boy neglected by his stepfather who has been kidnapped by a gang of drug dealers. The plot which includes greyhounds who play a vital part, is built around an Internet dating site. This eventually thwarts the inevitable problems and challenging plans of well meaning relations and enables a credible romantic resolution.

Lightly Done March 2021

Human beings are social animals, Lock Downs have been very hard for us all, but for people who live alone it has been especially hard. It was ironic that when the first lock down began I had just begun ‘Loneliness is a Killer,’ the last of my Greyhound Trilogy. In theory lockdown should have enforcied an ideal writer’s life style, long days with out interuptions or welcome time spent with friends but no; when the short permitted walk and essential domestic tasks were complete the emptiness of a locked down day stretched out like an endless desert and I found that creating the first draft and journeying into my other world required maximum self discipline. Thanks to the editorial enouragement of Judy Manville and the patience of my long suffering husband Barry Loneliness is all but ready for Indi-publishing in early summer. Thank goodness we live in a time where we have Face Time, Face Book and telephones to carry us through the loneliness of lockdown

The phone is always on and once lockdown is over the door will always be open for anyone who wants to talk. The kettle is ready on the side of the Aga for tea or coffee and a bottle of wine near at hand. I recieved a timely message this morning ‘Support each other’. Lockdowns have turned us into reclusive moles but there is always time and a welcome for anyone who is lonely.

Last year I saw from my kitchen window a seagull chick fall from the nest on a chimney pot and slither down the roof to the gutter below.  He was followed by his hysterical mother issuing instructions which her chick was too young to follow. He must have been her only chick for she fed and cared for him for a couple of days until he was ready to fledge from his position in the gutter. I saw him once more in the garden of a neighbouring pub, his mother was teaching him how to persuade the customers that they should share their chips with him.  He was an able pupil.  

The Fledgling
They told me that I have to live before I come to die
They told me that I have to fall before I learn to fly

They told me that the path is long and I must learn the way
To live and love and sing life’s song before the end of day

Magellan’s Straits and Hudson’s Bay, I’ve sailed and seen they all
I’ve plumbed the depths and scaled the heights, I’ve heard the bell bird’s call

I’ve sung my way around the world and laughed to hide my tears
As one by one those that I’ve loved are overcome by years.

I’ve lived and loved and run the course, the end is now in sight
I’ve fallen but I’m fully fledged and ready to take flight.
CH 2020

Lightly Done November 2020

Life should be an adventure!

The news is full of threats, doom and gloom. Knife crime in a church in Nice and three people killed, one decapitated. Rising Covid death rates accompanied by more communities going into lockdown, rising unemployment, no income so empty store cupboards and the real threat of children going hungry during the half term holiday. And at last a ray of sunlight. Rashid, a young football player with a real heart and a determination to take action has forced our government to take another look at their plans, so proving that it only takes one young man with imagination and determination to turn the tide. Communities have begun to come together to provide food for children on half term holiday and ‘government’ who are only people who believe they have power have been forced to think again. I still treasure the words of Lord Palmerston ‘The people have the right to be well governed.’

It is easy to fall into a trap of despair like a rabbit I found when I was a teenager, cowering and shivering in long grass having run into a snare. All it could do was to keep still and wait to be found. If it tried to escape the snare tightened round its neck, death and a very painful one, was certain either from the human who had set the snare or from passing dogs. Fortunately that day I was walking without a dog dog. That evening was seventy years ago but the memory is as clear as if it was yesterday. I knelt in the wet grass, slipped my finger between the wire and the furry neck, loosened the snare and having taken it off, buried it in a nearby ditch. For a few moments of disbelief the rabbit remained stillbefore running off to safety. And I, what have I gained from telling my tale of the trapped rabbit? I’ve woken from despair with new ideas to be released from memories into the realm of stories yet to be told.

Tribute to a distilled Spirit

A novel, like an evening with a friend,
Accompanied by tankards of good beer
Allows usto develop themes and share
Love, laughter, jealousy or fear
And contemplate a carefully crafted end.
A glass of wine, a connoiseur's delight
Will be remembered for bouquet and taste
And for the dinner that it graced
Never a drop allowed to go to waste
A story shorted than a summer's night.
But for a poem I would chose
A glass of single malt to be my muse.
CH 2018


Lightly Done October 2020

Reflections on Lockdown October 2020

Everything in my diary cancelled, in theory all day, every day apart from domestic chores from 16th March under lockdown I was free to do as I pleased within my own front door.  I should have been glorying in uninterrupted writing time but for the first few weeks every time I retreated to The Shed and sat down in front of my computer my mind became as dry and unproductive as a desert.  I’ve heard too many stories of problems concerning mental health and depression while we were all locked in.  I have been one of the lucky ones, a hundred yards from our front door is a small store where the first hour of every day is reserved for vulnerable people so every day I can be sure of smiling faces and a taste of local news.  People need people.

I came to creative writing through the Open University but it wasn’t until 2013 that my first novel aimed at the teenage reader was published by Monkey Business, an imprint of Grey House in the Woods thanks to Graeme K. Talboys.  

I have been impressed and encouraged by the generosity of established writers, such as Randy Ingermanson, Anne R. Allen, Joanna Penn, Icy Sedgewick and Gary Rodgers, whose newsletters and blogs light the way ahead for me in this new uncharted creative world. When I began I was already 77 but was encouraged by the knowledge that Mary Wesley didn’t write her first adult novel till she was 71. 

Now in my middle eighties and facing another birthday this month I am far from ready to retire.  I have just completed three novels, two published and one should be out before the end of the year. Although their plots and characters are unrelated they have become a trilogy because greyhounds have walked into each one to take up important roles just as greyhounds have walked into my own life for the past fifty years.  All my novels are written to challenge the expectations imposed by society on older people.  My purpose is to prove that life can and should be an adventure regardless of age.

Hanging on my bedroom wall is a finaly stitched sampler titled Modesty dated 1783 by a girl called Charlotte Thirtle – the last verse has been one of the two driving forces in my life –

Quickly lay hold of time while in your power

Be careful well to husband every hour.

Despair of nothing which you would attain:

Unwearied diligence your point will gain.


Lightly Done August 2020

Lock down should have been a perfect opportunity for writing but my creative urge switched off only to awaken when we were released into the new normal. The third of The Greyhound Trilogy should be complete before the end of the year and the second ‘Dragonfly’ will be published before the end of August. No day is long enough to allow for all I need to write! I didn’t go looking for greyhounds, they just walked into my life. It all began in 1971 when I was traveling from York to St Pancras on an over-crowded train. The Guard noticed me trudging wearily backwards and forwards past his van as I searched for a seat. The train was crammed and the Guard eventually invited me to share his van.  The other passenger with him was a large and very beautiful golden greyhound who raised his head to greet me with gentle politeness.  For the rest of the journey I listened to a very angry man describing how greyhounds were regularly dumped in his van  to travel across the country and make money for their owners. At the age of five, they were considered ‘past their sell by date’ and many disposed of by any convenient means. It has been common practice for them to be  turned loose on a highway, dumped in a pond with a brick tied around their neck or just simply shot.  That day I promised myself that one day I would make a home for a retired greyhound.  Since then a series of greyhounds have come through our front door and made their homes with us, each one has become more than a family pet, every one has become a close friend and part of our lives.  I completed my first novel Phoenix House in 2006 more or less in control of the plot although the characters often made decisions for me, telling me how the story should develop. As I began to plan the next three novels, Willoughby’s Will, Dragonfly, and Loneliness is a Killer,  uninvited greyhounds began to quietly walk into my imagination and into the plots and The Greyhound Trilogy became a reality. These are not books about greyhounds, they are books in which greyhounds play a part just as they do in my daily life. I hope you enjoy their company as much as I do. This morning the postman delivered a box filled with copies of Willoughby’s Will, the first volume of The Greyhound Trilogy. Dragonfly is with my editor Judy Manville, and Loneliness is a Killer is now at the planning stage on my desk. No other canine is as closely associated with speed, grace and agility. For thousands of years they have been cherished and bred as hunting dogs and loyal companions in the courts of kings, their portraits are painted on the walls of the pharaohs so we know for certain that they have been part of the lives of humanity for at least four thousand years. Their mummified remains have been found buried in Egyptian tombs so that they could accompany their masters to the hunting grounds in the after life. In Homer’s epic the Odyssey only the old greyhound Argus who has been patiently waiting for Odysseus since his departure many years before, and recognises the hero when he returns home. If you open your home and your heart to them in return they will pay you with love and loyalty overflowing.

Lightly Done – November 2019

The Greyhound Trilogy

I didn’t go looking for greyhounds, they just walked into my life. It all began in 1971 when I was traveling from York to St Pancras on an over-crowded train. The Guard noticed me trudging wearily backwards and forwards past his van as I searched for a seat. The train was crammed and the Guard eventually invited me to share his van.  The other passenger with him was a large and very beautiful golden greyhound who raised his head to greet me with gentle politeness.  For the rest of the journey I listened to a very angry man describing how greyhounds were regularly dumped in his van  to travel across the country and make money for their owners. At the age of five, they were considered ‘past their sell by date’ and many disposed of by any convenient means. It has been common practice for them to be  turned loose on a highway, dumped in a pond with a brick tied around their neck or just simply shot.  That day I promised myself that one day I would make a home for a retired greyhound.  Since then a series of greyhounds have come through our front door and made their homes with us, each one has become more than a family pet, every one has become a close friend and part of our lives.  I completed my first novel Phoenix House in 2006 more or less in control of the plot although the characters often made decisions for me, telling me how the story should develop. As I began to plan the next three novels, Willoughby’s Will, Dragonfly, and Loneliness is a Killer,  uninvited greyhounds began to quietly walk into my imagination and into the plots and The Greyhound Trilogy became a reality. These are not books about greyhounds, they are books in which greyhounds play a part just as they do in my daily life. I hope you enjoy their company as much as I do. This morning the postman delivered a box filled with copies of Willoughby’s Will, the first volume of The Greyhound Trilogy. Dragonfly is with my editor Judy Manville, and Loneliness is a Killer is now at the planning stage on my desk. No other canine is as closely associated with speed, grace and agility. For thousands of years they have been cherished and bred as hunting dogs and loyal companions in the courts of kings, their portraits are painted on the walls of the pharaohs so we know for certain that they have been part of the lives of humanity for at least four thousand years. Their mummified remains have been found buried in Egyptian tombs so that they could accompany their masters to the hunting grounds in the after life. In Homer’s epic the Odyssey only the old greyhound Argus who has been patiently waiting for Odysseus since his departure many years before, and recognises the hero when he returns home. If you open your home and your heart to them in return they will pay you with love and loyalty overflowing.

Lightly Done – September 2019 – The Importance of Recollection by Tom Hayhoe


BBC Radio 4 marked the August bank holiday by filling its schedule with 11 episodes of Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu / In search of Lost Time.  The idea of “lost” or “forgotten” time is sad and should be unnecessary. There is value in capture and recording the essence of what becomes memory before it becomes remote and can no longer be recalled.  It is of value for those who have lived through those times, and it also of value for those with whom it can be shared.  We are the sum of our memories, whatever of our memories that we can share with others lives on beyond us.  What we know of the past, particularly captured in what those who have gone before us have set down, helps make sense of the present.

That’s enough of these weighty thoughts!  I relish having heard my father’s accounts of naval service in the Mediterranean as a midshipman just after the end of the Second World War, including a visit in the training cruiser into the Black Sea and his accompanying a young Russian officer on what was probably a completely illicit trip in a launch around the Soviet fleet moored in Sebastapol.  I recall his accounts of a contrasting time in the depths of the Cold War, commanding a submarine spying on Soviet fleet movements, anxious that at any moment that they might have to come the surface in a hurry if they sailed into one of the pockets of nearly fresh water in the Baltic that couldn’t support a submerged submarine.   And then there are my own direct memories of my father’s submarine service: the distinctive smell of diesel and sweat in his kit bag on returning from sea; visits as a small boy to the wardroom of his submarine and those of other submarines visiting Portland while I was growing up; and finally, almost certainly as illicitly as his trip round Sebastopol harbour, being taken on an exercise on the submarine he commanded, including looking out through the periscope while the submarine was under water, and a torpedo being fired.

I regret having never sustained keeping a diary, although I did try a couple of times.  I also regret not having been more consistent about capturing experiences on camera.  However, I doubt whether the current appetite for the selfie really addresses the purpose of recollection either, since it feels narcissistic and I fear that so much is about pretending to be happy, impressing a network of friends and acquaintances on social media and seeing “fifteen minutes of fame” in an age that values faux celebrity.  I sometimes tell myself, and have on occasioned counselled my daughter, to “bottle” the experience (in the sense of preserving in a bottle).  But this on its own is not enough.  You may need something to prompt the recall of what you have “bottled”, and this is where the diary entry or the photograph may come in. My memories of a magical trip, three days hiking unsupported through the backcountry of Yosemite National Park in California, with my daughter when she was sixteen, are supported by a handful of photographs that bring back the atmosphere, the incidents along the way, and her excitement at what felt like, literally, being on the top of the world as we looked out across the Sierra Nevada, and her apprehension beforehand at the prospect of camping in an environment we shared with black bears that might steal our food.

Sometimes other triggers are sufficient to help us recall the past.  I experienced something akin to Proust’s smell of the madeleines almost twenty years ago, albeit in reverse.  I was planning a tour of New Zealand, where my family lived briefly in the early 1960s.  As I started to plot our route, memories started flooding back of places that I had visited as a six year old.  Most spookily, as the geysers of Rotorua found their way into the itinerary, I was spontaneously overwhelmed by the distinctive sulphurous odour that hangs over the town, with the memory triggering a sensory response that felt completely real.  Buildings and places can do it for me too.  Hearing music can also transport me back to moments in the past, and how I felt at the time.  Late summer, and the annual broadcast of the last test match of the summer from Oval (incidentally, I am shocked that next summer’s test matches will open rather than conclude with the Oval test) transport me back to the last days of the school holidays in the summer of 1968, an eventful August during which the radio waves were also full of news of the invasion of Czechoslovakia. 

Anyway, it all adds up to the importance of not losing our own past, and also the pasts of others. There is purpose in recording material to trigger memory, and it is fundamentally enriching and essential to fulfilling the human condition.  As TS Eliot wrote in East Coker, itself a wonderful evocation of atmosphere that can still be recognised almost eighty years on from when it was written (go to the poem to see how talks about country lane in the evening, or what happens in an Underground train if it stops between stations):

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older

The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated

Of dead and living. Not the intense moment 

Isolated, with no before and after,

But a lifetime burning in every moment

And not the lifetime of one man only

But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.

There is a time for the evening under starlight,

A time for the evening under lamplight

(The evening with the photograph album).

Lightly Done – August 2019

The Bouncing Bomb

Some reports claim that July 2019 was the hottest since records began.  My childhood memories tell me that during world War II July was a month of very long hot days, days of hay making and double summer time.  The grownups forgot about putting us to bed, getting the hay in was all important, children were released from school for harvesting crops, health and safety had not been invented.  If a job needed to be done, you did it.

To escape from the world of grownups my favourite place was still under the table where, without interruption, I could enjoy my new found skill of silent reading. Above my head the wireless would be talking to itself.  It was powered by an accumulator, a square glass jar filled with some sort of acid which had to be topped up every week or so to keep it going. Ever since the battle of Torbruk and the sinking of the Ladybird I had come to think of the man on the wireless as my personal friend.

The most important moment of the day was one o’clock when the grownups would gather round in silence to listen to the news.  The same silence was required on the special occasions when Winston Churchill was talking,  I can still recall the sound of his voice. It was as important to me that the wireless was kept going as it was to the grown up world around me.  At the age of six when the accumulator  needed attention I was considered quite old enough to take it down to the village on my way to school and leave it to be ‘topped up’ and collected on my way home in the evening.

 Watching the television reports of the threatening collapse of Whaley Dam brought an early image of cars fleeing from the flood waters following the collapse of the Möhna Dam in my six year old mind from May 1943.  

RAF 617 Squadron was formed under the command of Wing Commandeer Guy Gibson at Scampton in Lincolnshire with airmen from Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Americans serving in Commonealth air forces.  I knew that he had been born in India which gave me, at the age of six, a  feeling of connectedness with him for I too had been born overseas.  This bouncing bomb was unlike any other, it had been designed on a principle that any child familiar with the sea shore could understand.  Instead of being dropped and going straight to the bottom it would bounce like a pduckie stone skimmed from a beach across the water.  The principle was tested along the Fleet, that stretch of water that lies between Chesil Beach and the main land giving it special meaning for a Portland child.  The BBC Home service report explained there were three dams in the Ruhr Valley and the aim was to bring chaos to the heartland of German industry. The bomb dropped by Guy Gibson fell short, the second attacking aircraft was shot down. Wing Commander Gibson then flew along the dam to draw German fire enabling the bomb dropped by the third aircraft to break it the dam under water.  The pilot was interviewed and described how 1,300 people were killed in the resulting flooding, mostly civilians and prisoners of war.  As I listened the pilot told us how he saw the stream of cars driven by people trying to escape, the headlights were white at first, then as the flood water became deeper they lost their shine and became mustard coloured, then purple and finally the lights went out.  The fear of rising flood water has been with me for seventy six years. 

These childhood memories are stories waiting to be told.  If you are beginning the journey of creative writing you will find that journals and old letters are of immense value.  (Don’t ever throw anything away!) Always keep a note book with you, even beside your bed.   I have a friend who writes all her best poems at 2am, they arrive in finished form just as she wakes up. It is never too late to begin! In the next two weeks Wiloughby’s Will – the first of the Greyhound Trilogy – will join Phoenix House and Moss From a Rolling Stone In the collection of my work available from Amazon.  

We thank God for our heritage
And the heroes of the past
For Admirals and for Captains
And the boys who climbed the mast
May we who in their memory
Are gathered here today
Show forth our gratude to them
In all we do and say.
Let us give thanks for food and wine
And ask God’s blessing as we dine.

I wrote this grace for the first Guest Night Dinner I attended at RNH Haslar as Lay Chaplain in 1990.

Lightly Done July 2019 – Never say Never

Summer is here at last, the sky is a clear blue without a cloud in sight, the garden cries out for weeding or a pair of secateurs to dead head the roses. Better still there’s that sun bed under the apple tree and the temptation of a stolen hour to dream.

Last month I posed the question – what keeps you going, inspiration or imagination? Every writer knows those two feelings, the first and best, a sense of excitement when an inspiring experience takes over followed by a longing for the opportunity to find a corner to write uninterrupted confident that words will flow freely onto the page driven by the force of imagination. The second, the dreaded writers block when only the drive of a dead-line will get you to your desk.

Where do you go to refuel when your mind feels dry and empty, when you feel you are not up to the task in hand, when you want to give up? I go back to a time when I was very small, to the days when I would hide under a table and listen to the grown-up world going on around me, careless of what they did or said, unaware that I was there. Sometimes the room would be empty and the wireless which sat on the table above me would be talking to itself. 26 February 1941 was one of those days.

HMS Ladybird

During the war years the BBC news at one o’clock was all important to the grown-ups, something I usually found inexplicably boring but for some reason that day even though it was lunch-time there were no grown-uos about when I realised that the man on the wirelesswas talking about HMS Ladybird, my ship. Of course she wasn’t really my ship but I had been born in Hankow on the banks of the Yangtze when my father was first lieutenant of the Ladybird, the only member of the ship’s company whose wife had been able to join him in China so, soon after I was born I was adopted by every member of the crew as their baby. The ship’s bell was used for my baptism and my name was inscribed on the inside. My mother got me and my amah back to England in the last passenger ship to leave Shanghai as the Japanese forces came over the northern border, and I grew up in England thinking of Ladybird as my ship. The day of that broadcast I was only five but I listened so closely that the report has been my driving force to this day.

Ladybird, an Insect Class gunboat was built in 1916 and deployed in the China fleet. She came under fire from Japanese artillery near Wuhu, was hit by six shells but not badly damaged and so was able to join her sister ship Bee in picking up survivors after the sinking of USS Panay. In 1939 she was fitted with more modern guns from the decommissioned battleship HMS Agincourt and sent to Singapore where she and five others of her class were stripped down and towed to the Mediterranean. On the journey she was damaged again and from then on was limited to no more than 7 knots as her hull had become misaligned. First of all she was sent to defend Port Said but in December she was sent to bombard the port of Bardia. In February she landed a Royal Marine unit during Operation Abstention and was hit by an arial bomb but was still able to carry on until, acting in support of the Tobruk Garrison, she was involved in shelling the Gaza airfield and ferrying in supplies. This time she was badly damaged by dive bombers and set on fire. The end was in sight. She settled on an even keel in 10feet (3.0m) of water.

By this time I was listening more closely to the report than to any story designed for a child. This was my ship, she was a real personality, she was brave, she was sunk but she was a survivor. Her 3inch (76mm) gun was still above water and continued the fight as an anti-air craft gun. As an adult I learnt to recognise the bravery of her crew but for me and for all involved with her, her crew and their families, the ship herself had a real personality. For seventy seven years the story of that little gunboat HMS Ladybird sunk at the battle of Torbruk but still fighting has been my inspiration. You may be at the bottom but you never give in!

The gun that continued to be fired after the ship was sunk

June 2019 – Lightly Done

Inspiration or imagination?

Which is the most important? Every month a group of writers meet in our house to exchange news and ideas. As a parting challenge someone will suggest a word or phrase to be used in a poem or short story. The single word ‘Tissue’ left me high and dry right up to the last few days when I was tidying a drawer and found a forgotten piece of blue tissue paper wrapped around my father’s medals. The following piece of flash fiction was the result

Mum brought us up on her own. . . she said men were, and always would be a waste of space.  ‘Don’t you believe anything they tell you,’ she would say.  ‘They’ll pay you compliments as long as it suits them, but when you need them you’ll find their priorities are all wrong.  Got to look after my mates, or some such nonsense and off they go.’

     My dad was in the navy, a stoker, mum said.  Good looking guy to judge by the photo she kept beside her bed, taken on their wedding day.  She held a bunch of flowers in front of her, to hide me and my sister was all she would say. She said we turned up three months later but by then the war had started and my dad had gone.  He never came back.  

     We lived on benefits and hand-me-downs from cousins and stuff from jumble sales and mum took in ironing until we were old enough to go to school.  If we asked why we didn’t have a dad like the other kids, she would get angry and talk about the swindle of sex and wrong priorities.  ‘You’ll find out one day.  Just don’t trust them, if they are in the navy you will always be second best.’

     Mum loved pretty things and as soon as we were old enough to be left alone at home she got a job in a local dress shop.  ‘I can’t afford beautiful clothes but this way at least I can enjoy them,’ she would say as she wrapped up delicate lace underwear for some man hoping to woo a fair maiden with a seductive gift.

     Mum died in the hospice last week.  Me and my sister, we clubbed together and bought her a beautiful lace nightgown to wear in her coffin, it seemed only right.  Yesterday we began to clear out her flat.  I’m glad the two of us were together when we discovered what our mum kept hidden under the lining paper in her bottom drawer. Folded between the pages of a local newspaper was a letter from the Commanding Officer of HMS Repulse offering sympathy and congratulating our mum for the selfless bravery of her husband and inviting her to receive his posthumous award, the Victoria Cross. Our dad had died a hero saving the lives of his mates.  Wrapped in blue tissue paper was proof of his priorities.    

Which is the most important to a writer, inspiration or imagination? I would say both. On those days when both are lacking what is the solution – do you despair and give up? What keeps you going?