Three word sentences.


They say that three-word sentences are unforgettable, we hear them all the time on adverts and in politics—I have some that I will never forget.

 I love you. Please help me. The Liverpool pathway.

A few years ago, I lay in my bed waiting for the Goblin Teasmade to start its ritual. First a click and then a soft grumble, slowly getting angrier before it can take no more and noisily rids itself of the boiling water. The buzzer buzzes. Lights come on. Tea is made.

In June 2008, we would both lie here listening to this performance.

Three months later, September the thirteenth, is our Golden anniversary. I listen alone.

Back in June, we wake up to the ritual of our little Goblin friend, we have a nice cup of tea, and then a different ritual begins.

First the toilet. Then the shower. Hair is brushed. Face is creamed.

Now the painful bit. Legs are creamed. Compression stockings and creamed legs don’t go together. Teeth are gritted.

The room is now brightly lit with the June sunshine. This is the moment that I notice the purple blotches on her legs. She looks down with a weary look that says.  What now?.

I see her face is tanned, that’s odd, we have to avoid sunshine—so the drug people tell us.

It is Sunday. We have to call the duty doctor, a young man with a kindly face. He is gentle as he touches the blotches. His smile fades.

“We need to do some tests which have to done in hospital, I’ll arrange an ambulance for you both”.

This is nothing for us to be alarmed at, a trip to the hospital is a regular thing.

We see a familiar face. The tea lady. A student nurse. Our specialist doctor.

The bell rings. I leave her in good hands, she smiles and say’s.

“I love you”

This is not a thing we normally say to each other with words. We just know.

  I visit every day; we are always first through the door as it opens to the visitors. On Wednesday the eighth of June we walk in to see Ann sitting up in her chair. She is looking, but not seeing. She whispers a whisper we can hardly hear.

“Please help me”.

 The doctor is waiting nearby. He asks me and my son Jamie to join him in an office. He has the results of some tests, he apologises. There is something in his voice that was never there before.

The drugs he has prescribed that have worked so well in controlling the pain for the last forty years have a sting in their tail. The liver has finally given in to the onslaught. Now all the other organs are falling like dominoes.

A nurse comes to the office and whispers to the doctor, I hear him ask.

“Is it fresh”.

She nods and leaves the room.

Another doctor joins us and gives us the devastating news, there is just a few hours left. We hear for the first time, another three words, that I will never forget. The Liverpool Pathway.

The Liverpool Pathway is a way of making an extremely painful death seem like going to sleep peacefully.

Our other son Iain has just gone back to Manchester thinking all is under control. Amanda his wife, tells him the news. He has to make the most agonising journey back to London hoping it is not too late.

We all sit silently around the bed, watching the life drain from our lovely mother and wife.

I love you. Please help me. The Liverpool Pathway.

Three unforgettable three-word sentences.

Freebooter Noir.

A story for my memoir.

It’s a lovely afternoon in the summer of 1946. I am a 14-year-old boy hoping to get a job as a carpenter’s mate.  I walk along the sandy track that leads to Thomas’s Boatyard in Shepperton. I stop to look at this tumbledown wooden building, my heart skips a beat, how could anything be made in such a place. Walking round the building to the river as it sweeps around Halliford bend, I see the skeletal remains of an old sailing boat that had been washed up on to the bank.  It is the first time I have felt a thrill at the sight of anything other than a living thing. It was the beauty of the remaining timbers and planks, muscular yet full of grace.  I stopped and imagined how it would have looked years ago. So started my love affair with boats and the best job I would ever have in my life. I was later told it was a Victorian boat, and famous for being one of the fastest sailing boats on the Thames called a ‘Thames Rater’. 

Mr Gibbs the boatbuilder, seemed totally disinterested in the interview, he just said.

‘Your pay is sixpence an hour, five and a half days a week. Can you start tomorrow?’

So started my love affair with boats and the best job I would ever have.

 The urge to write about my feelings at that time was very strong. I knew that if I didn’t write it down while the feelings of a young boy were so fresh, they would be forgotten.

I did attempt to write about it, but I was semi-literate, I even had a name for my story. ‘The boat boy’. Of course, it could never come to anything. I did manage some drawings of the boats but now even they are lost.

Memory is amazing, after all these years I can remember enough to write a story of my days working in my perfect job. I will call it; ‘The boat boy’

Leaving school at 14, I was given a job in a local factory. It lasted just three days, until my fingers met the unguarded spinning blade of a circular saw. The saw won and I lost—the top of a finger. A few days later, my next job, also in a factory was a near disaster. The bandage on my damaged finger unwound and wrapped itself around the rotating chuck of a powerful drill. Luckily the bandage was very loose and came off before I would have been drawn into the drill, probably saving my life. My mother found me a job where there was no machinery, it meant a bus journey from Chertsey to Shepperton, but worth the fourpence a day bus fare.     

My new job was with Kenneth M Gibbs, as a general dogsbody, making the tea, sweeping up and helping the amazingly skilled boatbuilders, I was never allowed to use any of their tools or to work on the valuable timber the boats were made of. They did allow me to sand down the hulls ready for painting and then apply the paint. I was very proud of the finish I could achieve with an ordinary paint brush.

One boat I fell in love with was called ‘Freebooter’, I was there for most of the time it was being built. In the harsh winter of 1946/7, I would hold a candelabra of four candles up for the men during the many blackouts. Another job I loved was steaming the timbers. These were one-inch square strips of birch that were steamed to make them bend easily. They were placed in a long box on trestles with four or five ordinary kettles on paraffin primus stoves. I had to keep the kettles full of water, and the stoves alight all day long, a lovely warm job on the coldest of days.

Thomas’s Boatyard was an old wooden building on stilts. The river would flood most years, but the workshops were safely above any water.

Freebooter was almost finished when in March of 1947 there was a sudden thaw and lots of rain, the Thames flooded and was so high the water came into the workshop that was six feet off the ground. Mr Gibbs took advantage of this and pushed Freebooter out onto the flood. Unfortunately, the bolt holes for the keel had not been sealed, and Freebooter sank below the flood before anyone could find and plug the holes.

After the flood had subsided the caulking and sealing of the planks of Freebooters hull were pushed out and I had the job of doing it all again. !947 was a very hot year, I spent most of the summer working outside repainting it, I loved it.

 Then the bus fare went up to sixpence a day, Mr Gibbs couldn’t afford to pay me any thing more and I had to leave.

After I left, I heard that in 1950 the Grand National was won by a horse called Freebooter. Mr Gibbs and his workers won quite a bit of money; I think it may have saved the firm from closing. Freebooter was renamed Freebooter Noir and is now sailing around Cyprus in the Mediterranean! 

Chertsey Tales, Chapter Four. Money.

Chertsey Tales, Chapter four, Money.

As I have been writing Iris’s story for her, I realise how lucky we were to be living on a few streets that many people thought to be on ‘the wrong side of the tracks.’ How wrong they were. Our neighbours were amazing, they were people who had next to nothing themselves but still, they came forward to help us in any way they could. Iris starts again telling her story in her own words. Borrowing a phrase, I’ve heard from someone; ‘These were ordinary people doing extraordinary things.’

‘There was Mrs Mant, who lived near Pipp’s, she brought in a few shillings that she and her neighbours had collected. She was a wonderful woman, mum didn’t know her all that well, but she kept it coming for a few weeks. This was also done by some people from the other side of town, who didn’t know us at all. The workers at Charlies factory collected money every week and together with the help from neighbours we managed to get by. 

 ‘I think most of the people around Chertsey had known what it was like to be hard up. Everyone was just getting back to normal after the depression. Perhaps it was the thought of a young woman trying to look after six little kids that touched their hearts.

 ‘Miss Chase, the part owner of ‘Chase of Chertsey’. A factory a few hundred yards away in ‘The Grange’. Kept our larder stocked for nearly a year. She gave us children rides in her Rolls Royce shooting-brake. She was a very nice lady and probably thought of us as ‘The Deserving Poor.

‘After a few days we were visited by a couple of ladies who organised a sort of poor aid.  This was paid for by the local shops, Doctors and businesses, and the church.

‘Money was meted out by these ladies; they were well-meaning women doing what they thought was best for our family. But before anything from the poor aid was passed on, there was a sort of unofficial means test. The ladies would have to see if there was anything a family like ours would not really need and could be turned into cash for us.

‘They quickly picked out the items they thought were a luxury. They ransacked the place—there is no other word for it. Dad was from a reasonably well-off family. We had some nice bits and pieces, which had been passed down to him. Plus, some furniture he had made himself. He was also a clock repairer in his spare time and had collected some nice clocks.’

Iris paused for a minute, probably thinking of our mum having to watch all the nicest things we owned being sorted out and taken away to be sold at auction, it’s still making her so angry.

‘All that was left of anything nice was a glazed china cabinet, a medicine chest, and a dresser, these were all made by our dad. ‘Even the clocks were taken and sold. Mum insisted on keeping the big picture and dad’s new lathe.  Everything else was sold to anyone who wanted it for a few shillings. The money this raised was pitiful, it hardly lasted a few weeks. The only ‘finances’ we had was the money collected for mum, but this was all counted.

‘Mrs Salmon was in the kitchen when the man from the council called, we were listening to him talking to mum. He was saying some of us might have to be taken into care. This meant we would have to be split up. The girls going to one home and the boys to another. Me and Deirdre started crying, and I think the man was also very upset. When Mrs. Salmon heard all this, she was so angry. She went straight down to the council offices and created such a scene. That’s when she was told about a fostering scheme—it’s all she needed; she already had a plan.

‘You and Don were already living with her during the day; Bernard could stay with Mrs. Edwards; Deirdre and I stayed with mum, and Christine was looked after by our next-door neighbour Mrs. Lee. The man at the council said it couldn’t happen like this, it had to be done officially.

‘Mrs. Salmon’s visit to the council worked though. The man came back the next day with an official and a nurse. She gave us all a look over and said we were a healthy family. Although the official still insisted the fostering plan couldn’t happen in such a haphazard way. 

‘Mrs. Salmon was very persuasive, and so they allowed her to put her plan in place. Anything would be better than splitting us up. He said that he would arrange all the paperwork, and the people who would be looking after us would be given a small payment to cover their expenses. 

‘Mrs. Snelgrove, who owned The Golden Grove Pub, was very good to us, she let mum work in the pub all day—some cleaning and a bit of cooking. This allowed us to go to her pub when we came home from school.

‘There were a couple of young men in Chertsey, who had a bit of a reputation. Mum called them ‘Those Rascals’. Eric Turner, lived in Barker Road and Alan Knight, his mate, lived next to Pipp’s shop. They took it upon themselves to help mum, I thought they were great, a bit like Robin Hood. I couldn’t understand why mum called them rascals. They would set snares up St Anne’s Hill and sold the rabbits they caught for a sixpence each. They also sold the large mushrooms they collected from the fields early in the morning. They regularly gave us a free rabbit, but mum still called them ‘Those Rascals’.’

‘The following few weeks, things were working out, but it was not all plain sailing. Deirdre was very badly affected and was having nightmares. At one time mum had to take her to the doctors, she was completely inconsolable

‘Deirdre was named after the heroine in the Irish play they had just seen at the Addlestone Co-op hall. ‘Deirdre of the Sorrows’. and she turned out to be just like the young woman in the play, tall and slim with the palest of skin and jet-black hair. I have always been surprised that they chose Deirdre for her name, they were both superstitious and interested in all sorts of mythology. They must have known as well as being the name of a beautiful woman, it also means sorrow. The name of play should have told them this.

 Deirdre would carry the sorrow of losing her dad for the rest of her life. After many years of reliving that terrible day, she could stand it no longer, and took her own life—just like the heroine in the play’

1200 words.

Chapter five, Grandad Weguelin. 

Chapter Three, Stepgate’s School.

In the playground a teacher rings her bell, playtime is over, the children troop back to their classrooms. The school nurse is waiting for Deirdre and Iris in the big girl’s part of the school. Nurse Ayres has a kind face, but she is smiling a sad smile, her arm goes round Iris, pulling her close to her, and then she takes both the girls to her clinic. Deirdre, the sensitive one, feels that same unease well up inside her, she feels sick, she knows something bad has happened.

The clinic has a strong smell of Dettol, sitting in the corner is Bernard, he is holding a bowl on his lap, he looks very pale. Miss Payne, his teacher is beside him holding his hand.  Miss Slaughter the headmistress, comes into the clinic with Chrissie. She sees the fear in Deirdre’s eyes, how is she going to tell her what has happened, something that she can’t believe herself. Bernard’s sickness is a blessing in disguise.

‘Your brother has been very sick, and we must take you all home in case you have the ‘flu again, and we don’t want that to spread around the school. Miss Payne will sit Bernard on her bicycle, and we will all walk home together.’ 

 The children leave the school walking hand in hand; the two teachers are talking quietly. Deirdre is trying to hear what is being said, she can tell by the sadness in their voices that something is wrong. They are too far behind to know what they are saying. As they pass Tommy Garretts shop, she hears something that she can’t understand. Miss Payne is very upset, and she says sobbing loudly. 

 ‘Poor Mrs. Weguelin what a terrible thing to have happened, he was such a young man’. 

It’s all that Deirdre needs to hear, the noise of the children screaming, running down the road, is heard before they are seen. Followed by Miss Slaughter who is finding it impossible to keep up. Miss Payne stops to put Bernard back on the saddle, he’s been sick again.

 As they turned the corner near Mrs. Parker’s house, they see the crowd of people, some of them are holding their hands out to stop the children from stumbling. They push through the crowd and up the steps.  

As if to keep time with the drama of the moment. St Peter’s church bells ring eleven o’clock. It’s five hours since Ethel wiped the mist from the window and waved goodbye to her darling husband. The fears she had earlier were for her children—never for her fit and healthy husband. Influenza can strike down the strongest.

 Miss Slaughter, a strict—some would say a hard—woman is trying not to cry. To see six young children climbing over their distraught mother is too much for her. How could she have been able to tell these children they would never see their father again. Sergeant Reynolds goes to the front door, standing on the steps he reads from his notebook.

‘This morning our dear friend, Charlie…’

He pauses—for a long moment. Mrs. Salmon steps up and takes the notebook from his trembling hand and finishes reading the policemen’s note.

‘Mr. Charles Luz Weguelin, from this address, was in a fatal accident this morning. The cause of his passing is unknown.’

A low murmur and then sobbing from the crowd, all holding each other for support. How could such a thing happen to such a young family? They had thought it would be just an accident. They slowly walk away in little groups. How wicked life can be. The doctor leaves after making sure there was someone to look after the family.

There was Mrs. Phillips, she was a St John’s Ambulance Nurse, and of course Mrs. Salmon. The washing is finished and hung out to dry. Another pot of tea is made, and some biscuits are found for the children. Everyone is weeping except for mum; she is just sitting in the chair watching everything going on around her. The pills that the doctor had given her must be very strong.

Charlie’s father, who works in the drawing office starts work later than the other workmen. He would have no idea of what has happened. It will be a difficult thing for someone to tell him of the accident. He is taken to the hospital in the company car with Mr Titler, the Chairman, only to be told his son had died.

 The sad news had already gone around the workshops. Taffy and Mr Sewell had stayed with Charlie until the ambulance came to take him to hospital. In the canteen they are telling everyone how it happened, the men are listening quietly. Taffy is having a hard time reliving the last few minutes of his friend’s life. 

‘We were only halfway up Woburn Hill when Charlie said he was out of breath. We got off our bikes and walked over the top while the others raced off. Charlie seemed alright as we coasted down the other side of the hill. He was just behind me as we went over the little hump-backed bridge, and we were talking as normal. Then I heard his bike hitting the railings and crashing into the road. I stopped and looked back; he was just laying still on the ground. I went over to help him up, but he was completely knocked out. I couldn’t make him move.

 ‘I ran to the Main gate to get some help, just as the works Nurse arrived. We ran back and saw people trying to bring him round. The nurse took his pulse, but I could see she knew it was serious and needed a doctor. Some of us stayed with him until he was taken away in the ambulance. Then we all walked into work, everyone was very quiet, we knew it was bad, and later in the morning we heard the news.’

The men in the canteen sat at the tables quietly talking about Charlie and saying what a nice man he was. There is a sick club most men belong to. But it had already been used up with so many claiming it with the ‘flu. They said they will have a collection on Friday when they are paid.

  1100 words

Chapter four. Money.

Chertsey Tales, chapter two.

Chapter two, half past nine, A doctor calls.

It’s been a hard two weeks for Ethel, she was the last of the family to fall ill. She’s still not better and this is the first time she has been able to relax. It will take a day or two to catch up with life. First things first though, at least the washing is on its way, and it’s a good drying day. She smiles, listening to the boys, one speaks well, the younger one makes all the normal sounds and but it’s not quite right, only his brother seems to know what he is trying to say. They will soon finish their toast and the quiet of the morning will be over. 

Her thoughts are broken by a sharp tap on the kitchen window, it makes her jump. Rosy Salmon holds up a cake; she’s coming round for a cup of tea. They have been friends for nearly six years, they moved into their newly built council homes on the same day, taking turns to make a pot of tea most mornings, and to catch up on the latest gossip. 

Rosy is a jolly lady, her name suits her so well, her cheeks are always flushed with the effort of just being a bit on the big side. Ethel opens the kitchen door ready for her friend to come in. Pulling herself through the door and into the kitchen, Rosy drops into the old armchair with a sigh. A puff of dust flying from the cushions joins the smoke and steam caught in the sunlight. 

‘Oh dear oh dear, is it me or is it a bit warmer today, anyway, here’s a nice seedy cake for you Effie, I know it’s one of your favourites.’

Rosy always has the latest Chertsey news, recently it seems to be about someone dying from the ‘flu—Today is no different. Rosy lowers her voice. 

‘There’s been another poor soul taken, an old lady from Ruxbury Hill. No one knew she was ill, and she lay there helpless for days. It wouldn’t happen around here, would it Effie? We know everything that goes on.’ 

She laughs at what she has just said, but it is so true. Rosy is one of those people who knows everyone. Drinking her tea, she twists the cup around so that the tea leaves can be read—something she does with every cup of tea she drinks—for once she doesn’t say what can be seen in the scattering of tea leaves in the bottom. Looking up, she realises her friend is a bit quiet, and searches for something to say.

‘Do you know Effie? I have never seen how you spell you name.’

Ethel is relieved for the change of subject.

‘It’s a German name, and is really Luz Weguelin, spelt just as it’s pronounced, some people do have trouble with it. So, I just say its Waglin, most people know us as the Waglins’ anyway.

Rosy laughs.

 ‘I don’t know about it being from Germany Effie, it sounds more like Chinese to me.’ 

The laughing stops as they hear a bicycle clattering against the garden fence, Ethel is at first startled, and then she says. 

‘That sounds like Charlie, oh I hope they haven’t closed the factory again, I don’t know what we will do if they have.’

 Putting the kettle back on the hob, she goes to open the back door, then she hears a gentle knock on the front door. Rosy leans back in her chair to see who it is.

‘He’s at the front door, Effie.’

 For once, Rosie’s cheeks lose their flush. Instead of Charlie standing there, it is a policeman. It was a few years ago during the war that the same man, then a young Constable, had knocked on her front door and handed her the dreaded yellow envelope—it always held bad news for a soldier’s family. Inside was a telegram saying her husband was missing some-where on the Western front. 

A car draws up to the gate, it’s Doctor Ward.  A policeman and a doctor calling at the same time means only one thing—an accident. Rosy looks again at the tea leaves in her cup, it’s usually bad luck for someone. Today, she hopes it’s not this house. 

Mrs. Phillips from across the road is standing at her gate slowly drying her hands on her apron, she tries to work out what is going on. She had seen the two men arriving while she was hanging out the washing.  

She is joined by Mrs. Hyde, they look at each other, tears welling up in their eyes. First a policeman now the doctor, what could be happening? More friends gather around Ethel’s gate, all with the same questions. What has happened? Who could it be? Please—not one of the children.

In the scullery, Ethel picks up the baby on her way to the way to the front of the house. What awaits her at the front door will not be her sheepish looking husband.

 ‘What are you doing coming to the front… ?’ 

Her voice fades as the door opens. Standing there is not Charlie but the family doctor. The words she is about to say are lost, she sees the policeman standing to one side. They look at each other for what seems to be an age. The doctor takes the child from her, and they step in-doors, still without saying a word. Rosy stands up for her friend to take her seat. Little Donald climbs onto his mother’s lap, it’s as if he senses something is wrong. The doctor looks down at this young woman with her little boy, who he had delivered a few years ago. He is trying to find the words he needs to say. 

Scarcely breathing, Rosy puts her hand on her friend’s shoulder. Hoping against hope she will not hear what she fears the doctor will say. It is Ethel who is the first to speak, she whispers the quietist whisper.

‘Is it Bernard?’

Doctor Ward knows Ethel very well, she is one of the unofficial midwives in this part of Chertsey. He has delivered all of her children except the last one who he personally took to Woking to be born. He’s finding it hard to gather the words that he must say.

‘Ethel. there’s been an accident.’

She looks at him, trying to make sense of his words and at the same time not wanting to hear them. The doctor takes some pills from his bag. He knows there is no medicine that will dull the pain of what he is about to tell this young woman—just thirty-five years old and with six young children.

Rosy waits—for once with nothing to say. She knows this is very bad, and now the tears are falling.  The words he has to say finally come to the doctor; he holds both her hands.

 ‘Ethel, your children are safely at school. It’s Charlie, I’m afraid I have to tell you he has been in an accident, and I’m so sorry to say he did not survive. Charlie would not have suffered in any way my dear, it would have been very sudden.’

Ethel is sitting still, not believing what has just been said. It must be a mistake. 

1250 words.

Chapter Three, Money


Chertsey Tales.

                     At last, I have started the final draft of my story before I make into a book.

                                                          Chertsey Tales.

The stories of my childhood are only possible because I was ‘the runt of the litter’. This had its advantages; I was never far from my mother and saw everything happening first hand—I soaked it up like a sponge. But there was something that happened before I was old enough to know. My sister Iris gave me the story just before she died about 10 years ago.

                                                     Chapter one. April 1934.

Iris takes a sip of her sherry and looks over at me nervously. She hasn’t talked about this for years. 

  ‘You know Alan, it’s always a surprise to me, how much I can remember. You know, the little things that you would normally forget. That morning we were having our breakfast and dad was getting ready to go to work.  Deirdre jabbed me with her elbow and nodded towards dad. He had buttoned his shirt up all wrong and now he had one button over, we giggled as he tried to find the missing buttonhole, then we told him his shirt was hanging out—we tease each other all the time in our house. I remember him saying how he was also teased by those rotten devils at work.’

Iris paused as she remembered that day, I sensed a sadness in her voice as she tried to carry on.  She was over 90 years old, and the memories were too much for her, she was very tearful, but I managed to get the sad details of what happened. 

Today, with what I remember of those childhood years of just listening to the goings on in our house, I can more or less piece together her story. The main details are all here, but some of the story is obviously fictional, but it is how I remember the way our neighbours helped us for years after. I continue my sister’s story as I think she would have told it. 

The ‘rotten devils’ are the men in the factory, they imitate his posh way of speaking—his early years of private education have left their mark. The sharp ‘ding-a ling’ of a bicycle bell gives him a start. Outside, are those very devils sitting on their bikes, ready for the three-mile ride to the Airscrew. The sing-song voice of Taffy Rees joins the ‘ding-a ling’ of the bell, his years of singing in a Male Voice Choir in the Welsh valleys have also left their mark

‘Come on Charlie, it’s gettin’ late, we’ll hafta’ get a move on.’

Ethel shakes head. 

 ‘Let them to go Charlie, you’ve got plenty of time before the hooter goes.’

‘Hang on Taffy, I’m nearly ready.’

Without another word she shoves the scarf around his chest deliberately—to show him what she thinks of his reply. The trouble is though, being just a few minutes late, the factory gates would be closed, and he would lose another morning’s wage. He needs to earn some money. Their savings, such as they were, have almost gone, no money, no food. 

Deirdre, the eldest child at thirteen is a sensitive girl, she notices her mother’s concern and sees her father still fumbling with his buttons. There’s another shout from outside. A quick kiss for Ethel and a wave to the children.  Deirdre gives him a sweet smile as he leaves for work. Her gaze lingers on the closing door—she feels uneasy. Ethel wipes the misty window and watches the bikes disappear around the top of Pyrcroft  Road. The sound of their voices fade and are replaced with the chatter of studded boots on the tarmac, other men are hurrying past on their way to work.

 The factory hooter is calling the men to work. Ethel turns to look at the clock, Charlie will be there soon but then she feels a shiver as she sees his lunch bag on the dresser. The sandwiches are put on the marble slab in the larder. He will be back at midday; she will see his sheepish grin as he passes the kitchen window, he’s done this before.  

St Peters church bell rings, it’s half past eight the four eldest children are quickly dressed, and out through that same front door. The two boys are now making a racket banging their spoons on the plates like drums. The younger one, at just over two, hardly says a word. His was a difficult birth and the only one of the children who had to be born in a hospital. There was a fear his hearing may have been damaged, and this could be why he is so late in everything, only Donald can understand his special language.

The sharp sound of the school bell rings out. It’s nine o’clock already, the children will be filing into school. There’s a softer sound, the mournful sound of the funeral bell. First just a muffled drone then a full tone, probably another ‘flu victim. She pauses, thinking of the poor young boy from just around the corner in Cowley Avenue. Those poor parents, he was their only child—this ‘flu has no conscience. Another shiver, more intense this time, as she thinks how easily it could have been this family. She hesitantly does the sign of the cross—not a thing she has ever done before, both she and Charlie have always been free of any religion, she thinks out aloud.

‘Should I have let Bernard go to school? He so wanted to see his friend’s, but he was still a bit pale, and so was Chrissy, I really should have kept them home’. 

These thoughts won’t go away, but Monday is washday, there’s lots to occupy her mind with a family of eight. Water is tipped into the copper, a handful of soda, a quick stir with the wooden copper stick. It’s bleached white with the years of boiling soapy water, as is the heavy pine lid she puts on top. Into the firebox goes ‘The Daily Herald’ and some sticks of wood, but not before the headlines do what headlines are designed to do; they catch her eye. ‘More ‘flu deaths in London’. 

Putting a match to the paper she watches the headlines burn away. If only it was as easy to stop this horrible disease. The fire is soon crackling and sparking, just right for some toast on a long fork, the dry wood burns so brightly that it soon scorches the bread. Donald is at the scullery door, his face lit up by the flaming wood, his bright eyes dancing in time with the crackling sparks. He has smelled the toast and is waiting patiently, for a few moments the boys will be happy, having something so nice to eat is one way of keeping them quiet.

Sitting in the armchair Ethel watches the steam and smoke from the copper as it drifts across the scullery, caught by the sun shining through the window. With the fresh smell of sunlight soap, washday is like a new beginning. She gives a deep sigh of relief, at last we are back to normal, now we can get on with everything. 

1200 words.

                           Chapter two, a doctor call’s.

The last week of 1939. The secret life of children.

Sub for 26th.

The last week of 1939.  The secret life of children.

‘Christmas is coming the geese are getting fat please put a penny in the old man’s hat.’

My name is Alan, I don’t know all the words, so I just shout the ones I know. The Hill is very good for echoes. Kingy Edwards and my brother Donald sang some rude words, it’s so funny to hear them come back so clearly.

Now there’s a man’s voice, it’s very gruff, like he’s got a sore throat.


We all run down the hill and then watch as a big tree leans over. It doesn’t seem to want to fall; it just groans as if it’s crying in pain. We cheer as it comes crashing down and bounces in a cloud of dust and leaves. I don’t know why I am cheering, I’m sad to see trees being chopped down.

This part of the hill is called Chestnut wood, A few weeks ago, we were chestnutting here. I like the smell when you scrape away the dry leaves with a stick looking for those shiny brown nuts. The squirrels have kindly opened the chestnuts for us, saving our hands from the prickles. Now the man says the country needs lots of wood for the war effort. The big trees are first to go, all that’s left are a few little ones and the big bushes.

   Today, I am with my brother; we are wooding, ready for Christmas. The big chips from the fallen trees are everywhere but just like the big trees they will soon be gone. Now I can see the railings of The Old Coach Road up the top of the hill and the steps that go up from the main road. Don says the steps are tree trunks and were laid by the monks who used to live here years ago, they’re almost worn away. 

A man is sitting on his bike leaning on the rails, he’s been watching the tree coming down, he gives a little wave. I hear Kingy say something to my brother, and they start shouting at the man, telling him to bugger off. Their voices echo all around the hill, the man goes away, the boys are laughing, I think they’re being nasty to the poor man, he’s only being friendly.

Our old pram is full of firewood, but it’s downhill to our house and we are nearly there, when Kingy stops us, a policeman is coming out of our house, we wait till he goes away.

Kingy’s takes his share of the wood home, and we go indoors. Mum is sitting at the table with my sister Chrissy, she’s been crying. 

‘Put the kettle on Alan love, let’s have a nice cup of tea, I need to tell you something.’ 

A cup of tea seems to be the answer to everything to my mum. Chrissy starts crying again. Mum carries on.

‘A man was being very rude to your sister and her friends, and we had to tell the policeman what had happened. So, if a man that you don’t know offers you a sweet or something, you mustn’t take it, but not all men are nasty like the one Chrissy saw up the hill.’

 Don looks over to me shaking his head and putting his finger to his lips.

I’m only little, I don’t know what’s going on. Later, Don tells me everything, he whispers behind his hand.

‘If you tell anyone about that man up the hill, we won’t be allowed to go up there again. You have to be careful what you say, otherwise you’ll spoil everything.’ 

 There are so many things I have to be careful of now, at school I am told of all the things I mustn’t do. Next, I bet they will stop the game that is going round at school, saying it is too rude. It is a bit rude, but it is funny. The game is seeing a grown-up as an animal, we all do it. 

With our teachers lined up in front of us in the morning, it’s like Noah’s Ark. Miss James with her nice round face and big eyes looks just like one of Mr. Stanford’s lovely cows. Mr Jackson with his long neck and long eye lashes has to be a Giraffe. The teachers must wonder what is so funny when we get a fit of the giggles. 

Although I’m only seven, one of my jobs is shopping. Mum is very friendly with Mr Denyer, we shop there because everything is freshly prepared, but it takes so long to do the little bit of shopping on the list that I give him.

 As soon as I step down into the shop the smell of the horrible looking cheeses makes me hold my nose. I wonder who thought it was a good idea to eat such a smelly thing, just suppose if it tasted horrible. The funny looking sausages hanging up are another thing I would never eat; I have only just got used to that stuff called Spam

 Mr Denyer takes down a big piece of ham that is hanging from a beam, he sees me and says.

‘Hello young smiler, how’s your mummy?’ 

He always calls me smiler and sometimes tickles my ear.  I join the queue of ladies; they don’t sound very happy. We watch him cutting the ham on a big red and silver thing, he turns the handle and there’s a swishing sound and a thin slice of ham falls in a little pile. He gives me some little scraps on a piece of white paper, they smell lovely, a bit like smoke.

 I remember what mum said, but he is not one of the nasty men, so I eat the ham, it’s lovely. 

Mr Denyer is a short tubby man, he is wearing a black overall that is all dusty, it nearly touches the floor, on top of this is a white apron, it’s got some dirty marks on it where he wipes his hands. He waddles around the counter, and I see the animal he reminds me of. Poor Mr. Denyer, he really does look just like a penguin. 

He starts to do some of his freshly prepared stuff. He takes some butter from a wooden urn. Then he knocks it about between two wooden bats until it looks like a pack of butter. It can be bought ready wrapped in Mr. Izzi’s shop. That’s Denyer’s for you, everything is freshly prepared.

Doing the shopping in Denyer’s, and seeing a man who looks like a penguin, slapping a lump of butter about between two bats is something well worth waiting for. He proudly holds the pack of butter up for all to see.

‘Now then ladies this is the last time I’ll be able to do this for you, after Christmas, butter will be on the ration.’

 He takes a matchbox from his pocket.

‘This is the size of two ounces of butter—your ration for a whole week.’

The ladies start moaning again but I don’t care, I never liked butter.

When I get home the policeman is talking to mum again, I stay in the scullery in case I give the game away.

 Giving the game away was a mortal sin for children. My childhood best friend kept a secret for more than 80 years. I met him again in 2020. For the first time, he told me about the abuse he suffered, It only stopped when the man had to join the army—in the last weeks of 1939. 

The secret lives of children indeed!?

Love is a many splendoured thing.

My mother was very fond of sayings, she would manage to find one to suit every situation, sometimes a completely inappropriate one. I often heard her swap them with her friends, it was almost like a competition to see who could undermine the others ‘pearl of wisdom’, or maybe just to reinforce it. One of her favourites was ‘Charity begins at home’. This would be challenged by ‘The kindness of strangers’.

 Whole conversations would sometimes consist of one ‘saying’ after another, it could go on for ages.

This reminds me of a time in 1953. I have been home for a month after serving my time in Egypt. My lovely tan has faded, and my sun-bleached hair has gone all mousey, and with it, any chance of attracting another girlfriend.

It was June the 13th when I arrived home, I had been away for nearly three years. Coming home to Chertsey I found that I was the new boy on the block, The girls who once would never give me a second look were now very friendly. One was probably the most popular girl in town. 

Considering I grew up with four sisters, I have never been good with girls, I never know what to say. I was besotted by the beauty of this girl and overwhelmed by the fact that she wanted to go out with me. Of course, it didn’t last and now I’m just another lonely boy on the block. 

Here I am, sitting in the kitchen on a Saturday morning, looking a bit dejected, Mrs Salmon has dropped in for a cup of tea, she looks over.

‘Alan, you should be out there Sowing your wild oats.’

Mum joined in and said.

‘Yes, Alan, The early bird always gets the worm.’

Mrs Salmon, Shy man never gets fair lady.’

Mum, As long as you look before you leap.’

Mrs S. He who hesitates is lost.’

It went like this for ages, there was hardly a word of normal conversation.

Luckily Mr Norman, our ‘Tally man’ had ducked under the kitchen window to avoid being seen, and suddenly appeared at the back door hoping for some money, under his arm was his latest catalogue.

Mrs Salmon said. ‘There’s the answer, Alan, why don’t you see if Mr Norman can get you one of those lovely Blazer’s that we see all the time, you know with the silver buttons.’

My mother, bless her, said.

‘The trouble with you Alan, is that you are quite a funny shape. You’re flat chested, round shouldered and your arms are too long. Look at that coat you’re wearing, why on earth did you buy a cabbage green sports jacket, it evens smells like cabbages.’

Mr. Norman, said. “Yes, you do have very long arms, you would make a very good goal-keeper’.

Then turning to my mother—as if I wasn’t in the room. 

‘We can do a made-to-measure blazer, for just a few more shillings a week. You don’t happen to have a tape measure, do you?’

I looked in the drawer where everything was put, just in case we ever needed it. But no tape measure, just an old carpenter’s folding ruler. But undeterred, Mrs. Salmon grabbed it and a ball of string. 

‘We can do the measurements with these.’

And without further ado, she wrapped the string around my chest, then laid it on the ruler, and started to read out my measurement’s.

‘Chest 37 inches, waist 27, hips 36,’

The sleeves were more trouble, so she just added an inch to be on the safe side.

My opinion never seemed to be of any interest to anyone, it seemed to me that.

 ‘Children should be seen and not heard’—although I was 22! 

Three weeks later, Mr Norman arrived with my new blazer. Navy blue Barathea Whipcord, the latest fashion. Astonishingly it fitted perfectly.

My mother, for a moment was lost for words, but then said.

‘Alan, clothes really do maketh the man’.

Mrs Salmon added.

‘Handsome is as handsome does.’

Mr Norman, catching the moment said.

‘A bird in the hand is better than a bird in the bush.’ 

This got a rather frosty look from Mrs Salmon. Even I found that one a bit odd.

At that moment, my brother came in and said.

‘How did you get such a good fit without a proper tape measure?’

My mother just gave one of her special smiles as if one of her five horse each way accumulators had come up at Ascot and said.

‘How long is a piece of string?’

Iris’s funeral part two,

A few weeks ago, I posted a story about my sister Iris’ funeral and going to the wrong crematorium, It was a quite challenging day really, but this is only half the story. A lot of people would have been upset with such a thing like this. I suppose Wendy could see the funny side of it because she had never met Iris. So, here is the rest of the sorry tale.

We drive to the proper crematorium, and Wendy is in jolly mood, but I’m afraid this jollity was to be short lived, although we arrived at the next crem without any problem we had to park our car in the overflow carpark. Wendy has a sore hip, and it was a bit of a walk to the chapel. 

Just as we reached the entrance, all the family started coming out, we were just too late for the funeral. I tried not to look at Wendy, but I could strongly feel her look of disbelief.

At least she did meet a few of my family and she told them of my silly mistake, they didn’t seem at all surprised.

My niece Roz said.

‘It’s a family trait, and as we are having the wake only a few miles away in Cullompton, it would easier if you follow me.

We sat in our car until she drove past. She drove quite slowly so that we would not lose contact, I said to Wendy.

‘I don’t think she trusts me not to get lost but I’m glad she is taking us, it’s a bit of a journey’.

Roz is a nurse, and when she drove into the car park of a medical centre I followed and parked next to her. 

Wendy gave a big sigh of relief.

‘So far so good at last we have got somewhere without any problem.’  She said.

Then, to spoil the joy of the moment, instead of my lovely niece emerging from the little red car, it was this little old lady, she gave us such a withering look.

We started our journey back home, Wendy was very quiet, with just the occasional silent glance in my direction but as we approached Chichester she started laughing again, she said.

‘I can’t wait to tell everyone how we drove for more eight hours all the way down to Exeter and back again. To a funeral that we missed, and never even having a ham sandwich in a wake that we never found. Then we even got lost following some poor old lady in the depths of Devon. Alan, when we were married just a few months ago you never told me told me it would be as exciting as this.

I’m so glad that Wendy saw the funny side of it all.

Welcome to the chaos of

Like all blogs, the latest entry is at the top of list, this can be a little confusing at first if it is a continuing story. So, I have numbered some of them as ‘part one’ and so on. It will also be seen that some stories are virtually identical, these are rewrites which I will edit into one story. I am in the process of taking bits of these stories and making them into a proper book, which I will eventually publish. I have started this with my first story. ‘Iris tells me her story’.