We are now into our third month of lockdown in 2021, although, an end is in sight. We have decided to have monthly ‘website tasks’ rather than ‘challenges’ ; so there will not be ‘winners’ as such. Everyone who takes part is a ‘winner’. If a lack of competition sees a decrease in submissions then we can always reassess the situation.
What happened to February? In February, Julia took us through television jingles – thank you Julia and Zoom! It was great fun but, as it was mostly short and based on sound, there was little that was possible to place on the website.
In March there were two tasks to prove that a writer does not always have to write about what they know. The first task was to write about a pet but one you have never owned. Our members were encouraged to let their imaginations fly away with them.
The second task was to write about a story set in a place you have never visited. This was to encourage research into far away countries in order to make the setting convincing. We all now have added to our own personal bucket lists; hopefully, we shall be able to visit these parts of the world when everything has returned to normal.
What people have achieved follows. They are all highly imaginative.
THE FRATERNIZATION OF TWO SPECIES
We first met whilst I was digging the garden. I bent down to gather up some weeds and when I stood up he was sitting on the handle of my spade.
‘I usually see Pat digging this plot!’ he twittered.
I stopped and looked at him quizzically.
‘I’m trying to get back into her good books.’ I found myself saying.
Robin cocked his head.
‘Ah, I understand!’ he chuckled, ‘I have to do the same thing from time to time!’
We immediately became firm friends.
After that he visited us daily, and Pat and I fed him on insects and fruit.
We had no idea where his home was, but after that first year he chose to move it into our garden, and consequently we watched the creation and development of a new family for Robin every year.
Every year it was only Robin that had no fear of my family. He had no compunction in approaching any one of us and was inevitably kissed, stroked and given titbits.
Our reciprocal love grew.
He became very fond of playing ‘chase’ with our very young, shrieking and excitable grandchildren, and he loved to come to the hand to see what kind of morsel awaited him. He would always chirp a ‘thank you’ before he flew off.
All of us became very close friends, and we could never think of Robin as a pet because he always came to see us of his own free will.
It was on a beautiful May morning that it happened. Pat had gone into the garden and I was eating my breakfast in the kitchen, thinking that it must be at least four years since Robin and I had first met, when all of a sudden Pat let out an horrific scream.
I rushed outside to see what had happened, and it was then that I realised that Robin would speak to us no more.
He lay motionless, on the patio, next to our chairs.
It was as if he’d come to see us before he died, but we weren’t there, and that broke our hearts.
As there was nothing else we could do, I decided to make him a little wooden coffin, and we placed him in a special spot where he could rest in peace for evermore, and yet still be near to us.
© Bob Reader February 2021
A Summer Holiday
Angela sat in the taxi, staring out of the window. She felt a tap on her shoulder, and turned quickly to smile at her pen friend. Joyce had long dark brown hair and dark brown eyes, whereas she was fair and pale. They were both eighteen, and had been writing regularly to each other for five years.
‘Hi Angela, I’m so pleased you’ve come to stay with us. We have about a twenty five minute drive to Silema.’
Angela took her cardigan off and placed her sunhat on the top of her bag. They continued chatting as they continued their journey.
‘Joyce, I’ve remembered to alter my watch an hour forward,’ said Angela.
‘Are you hungry, I expect you are? Mum’s gone to Tower supermarket on the high street to buy us something nice for our lunch.’
‘Don’t mention food, I’m starving,’ laughed Angela.
Angela was soon mesmerised by the views. She knew Sliema was a coastal resort town on the North East coast of the shimmering Mediterranean island. Her grandfather had visited many years ago when it had been a quiet fishing village, with elegant Victorian houses.
‘We can go swimming in the sea later, the beach is rocky, although you will soon get used to that. The Sliema Promenade is attractive, we can go for a walk, or hop onto a ferry to cross over the harbour,’ Joyce added.
Before very long the taxi was travelling down narrow side streets with quaint houses and captivating balconies.
‘The wooden balconies are beautiful Joyce. Aren’t they colourful?’
‘We refer to them as Maltese balconies in English, but in Maltese they are called gallarija, which translates as gallery. You’ll see our red door and balcony very soon. Look at that beautiful church, over there.
‘I can see we’re going to be busy sight seeing, and I love shopping don’t you?’ said Angela.
‘Yes, we’ll go to Bisazza Street for a day of shopping and lunch. Look we’ve arrived, this is our house, grab your bag.’
Angela followed Joyce through the red front door. She felt happy, even the sun was shining. It had been pouring with rain when she had left her home in Birmingham.
‘Angela, let me introduce you to my Mother and my brother Paul’
Angela looked up, she suddenly felt very warm and reached out for a chair. She tried to avoid eye contact with Paul and concentrated on talking to Angela’s Mother. She was aware of Paul staring at her. This could be a very interesting holiday.
My New Pet
William was sat on the cold concrete path, counting out his assortment of pebbles. His task was to build a house for his new pet. He spent an hour carefully constructing the walls, then began to spread a mixture of soil, wet grass, leaves and strips of newspaper onto the base. He was happy, the house was nearly complete. One thing was missing, a pet.
‘William, what are you doing? you’re very quiet,’ said his Mother.
‘I’ve built a house, but I need a pet,’ he sighed.
‘Let’s look together, we’ll soon find you a friend in the garden,’ she smiled.
William picked up his small spade and began to dig a hole in the border of soft soil.
‘Can you see the wiggly worm, it looks slimy,’ he shouted.
He watched his Mother bend down to pick it up, placing the worm in the palm of her hand.
‘Put out your hand, I’ll pass it to you. The worm feels cold and wet.’
‘What’s its name?’
His mother thought quickly, ‘Harry,’ she said.
William began to cry, as he watched his Mother put Harry onto a pile of leaves.
‘William, what’s the matter, why are you crying? Look he’s moving, Harry likes his new home.’
‘I’ll take care of Harry, but I don’t like worms very much, they’re too slimy,’ he wailed.
A HOLIDAY TO REMEMBER
St Basil’s Cathedral took my breath away as soon as I saw it.
I was overcome with wonder and awe at this magnificent edifice that stood before me.
I’d come to Russia because I wanted to see this country, experience its flora and fauna; observe its various ethnic groups; see the modern ‘westernised’ Russia; and try to figure out if today’s government is that much different to the communist regimes that had preceded it.
My gut feeling was that it was not.
Anyway, here I was looking with reverential respect at St Basil’s Cathedral, when I heard a commotion.
I turned to see a Range Rover screeching at speed around Red Square, skilfully weaving in and out of any people or obstacles. Its progress was accompanied with some sharp resonating sounds, like firecrackers, and it took me a while to realise that this noise was gunfire.
That was the exact moment that I cried out and fell to the ground.
Blood oozed down the inside of my jeans, and an excruciating pain welled up in my left leg.
Nobody came near me. It seems that all the people who had been close to me whilst I was looking at the Cathedral, had understood what was happening much more quickly than I, and had taken cover wherever they could, many having left Red Square altogether.
I heard the Range Rover’s tyres screech again and I lifted my head to see what was happening. It was heading straight towards me, and it passed so close to my prostrate body that it ran over my outstretched hand.
Then it disappeared down a side street, and within no time the Square was full of police and soldiers.
Medics spotted me immediately and injected me with a pain killing drug. I became delirious and passed out.
When I regained consciousness, I was in a hospital bed and the bullet that had hit my thigh was gone.
My leg was going to heal, I was told, but then the doctor broke the news about my hand. He was candid and cold. He told me, with no empathy, nor sympathy, that all of the fingers on my left hand had been crushed, and that they had all been amputated. Then he smiled, and told me that he had saved my thumb, which, although I didn’t understand it at the time, would turn out to be a blessing.
My next visitor was a representative of the British Embassy, who told me that they were going to transfer me to a London hospital as soon as a flight with the appropriate medical care could be arranged, and within three days I was indeed recovering in Guy’s Hospital, where I stayed for a further two weeks.
As I lay in bed I spent a lot of time reflecting on why I had been removed from Russia so quickly, seemingly with the blessing of both governments, but I never came up with any plausible reason, and neither was any explanation ever forthcoming.
After I was discharged my treatment continued at home, and as an outpatient. Physiotherapy, trauma counselling, trials with a prosthetic hand, and other basic healthcare was the treatment I was given.
I never received a prosthetic hand, but intuitively I found that I could do many things by just using the stumps of my fingers and my thumb. Now the importance of saving that thumb and the beaming smile of the russian doctor made so much sense!
Gradually I re-integrated myself into ‘normal’ society, but I became very bored with repeatedly telling my story to almost everybody I met.
All I’d done was to go to visit a country I’d always wanted to see, and, within a matter of moments, I’d witnessed both its beauty and its horror.
Since then I’ve not been so keen on foreign holidays, and whenever I see a holiday advertisement telling me that I can have the holiday of a lifetime, my response is always;
‘No thanks! I’ve already had one!’
© Bob Reader February 2021
MY NEW PET
The cat brought it in. Dropped it on the kitchen floor, hoping it would scamper off. Wanted to enjoy chasing it and tormenting it. He’s cruel, that ginger cat.
But the little creature didn’t run away. It turned to face the cat and puffed itself up. It grew to double the size of the cat, bared its teeth and snarled. The cat looked as though he’d had an electric shock. He went rigid and all his hair stood on end. Then he turned and fled. The creature started to follow but was too big to get through the cat flap. It looked at me and grinned. I’m sure it would have given a ‘thumbs-up,’ if only it had thumbs.
It walked around, inspecting each room, and decided to settle on the sofa. I searched the web trying to identify it but couldn’t find anything like it. When I looked back, I found it had shrunk to its original size. It looked sweet and cuddly lying there.
After a little nap, it went back to the kitchen and stood in front of the fridge. I got the impression it was hungry, so I offered it some cat food but it turned its nose up at that. It scampered away and climbed out through the cat flap. Half an hour later, it returned licking its lips. Must have found something to eat.
It seems to have moved in with me permanently now and I like having it around. I still haven’t discovered what it lives on. It goes out when it’s hungry and comes back satisfied. The cat hasn’t returned yet, but I did find a pile of ginger fur in the garden. Oh well, at least I’ve got a nice new pet.
My children loved to visit our elderly neighbour Bill because he told them such wondrous tales of his time as a Sea Captain although the biggest attraction was that he owned a very friendly and talkative six year old parrot called Polly.
Polly was nearly always sitting on Bill’s shoulder or arm and by now the bird knew us well enough to sometimes fly over and perch on our shoulders. Bill had trained Polly to talk and he had a wide, recognisable vocabulary.
So it was with great sadness when visiting Bill one day that he told us that he had to go into hospital for a major operation. In front of the children he asked me if we could possibly have Polly for a few weeks. Of course you can imagine the children’s reaction and so Polly came to stay with us on a temporary basis.
We all soon realised that this African Grey was a very affectionate, intelligent and sociable bird. He would bob his head and jingle all his toys if he was still in his cage and give himself a shake, calling out, ‘That’s better!’ He would even sometimes gently groom the children’s hair or bow his own head to be scratched. He was easy to feed as he would eat many of our raw fruits and vegetables but peanuts in their shells were his firm favourite.
I visited Bill in hospital several times but sadly he died whilst in there but not before asking me if we would adopt Polly. What could I say? The children had become so attached to him and even I used to enjoy his company. He made us all smile and lifted our spirits as he frequently greeted us with, ” Must wash my hands and put my mask on!”
We walk round the supermarket. No one stares any more.
He has a lead which he tolerates. I know he would much rather go off on his own but he does feel the need to advise me on my shopping choices.
We go home, me on his back holding on to his collar tightly as he can often fly over roof tops just for fun.
We have good times , Gerald and me. We see family , friends and neighbours, visit gardens and stately homes if the weather is fine. If not, he is happy to stay at home. I’m knitting him a scarf and he is learning to read.
When he first came as a very young dragon he had a lot of attention. All the neighbours came to see him. The local Art Group sketched him, the photographic group visited ,the children’s choir sang to him .Gerald loved it all, particularly if they brought him presents like food. He was very partial to smoked salmon. In fact, he was fond of most fish.
Gerald and I learnt how to talk to each other, more a meeting of minds , you could say. Gerald knew, because I told him, that I would never drive on Motorways because of ,what he said was Freeway Phobia. After much persuasion I eventually climbed on his back, held on to his collar and we soared above the 8 lanes of the M1, the tail backs , the crashes and high speed police pursuits Exhilarating?.Maybe..
Gerald is getting nicely domesticated. He is learning how to cook . Fish can be grilled , steamed or sizzled without the need for any cooking apparatus. He is a pleasant companion, sleeps in the garden or the sunroom if it’s cold outside.
We have trips abroad ,even flying over the sea at times.
Gerald has a conundrum. Sometimes he dreams of flying the 10,000 miles to China to visit relatives. Then again , the thought of curling up in the sunroom under a blanket after a supper of sea bass in a lightly cooked lemon sauce is quite appealing….
We arrived in Tokyo at five a.m. excited but sleep deprived. We had arranged to be taken by taxi to our hotel in the city and as we left the arrivals hall with our suitcases a gentleman was holding a placard with our names on it. Within minutes we were on our way, with the cases in the boot. The only problem was that the driver did not follow the signs for the city.
After ten to fifteen minutes of very busy and congested roads we took an exit which led us to a quiet, fairly isolated lake. He told us we owed him the equivalent of £400 for the short trip. We were not in a strong position, isolated in a foreign country with a driver who spoke only limited English. As far as we knew he was unarmed but with our luggage locked in the boot we felt scared and very vulnerable.
Japan conjures up images of oriental splendour, full of intriguing people and fascinating cultures, waiting to capture the spirit and imagination of visitors in a web of abstract, unorthodox customs and offering a complete contrast to our staid and conservative British culture. The last thing on our mind was being kidnapped by a taxi driver and being stuck in the middle of nowhere with a demand for £400 and our luggage locked in the boot.
After some thought and not appearing to have too many options we agreed to meet his demands but asked that he take half the money now and the other half when we arrived at the hotel. He accepted this proposal and duly took us to the hotel where we spent an excellent two weeks and were able to enjoy the delights of Japan’s rich culture.
Despite our welcoming experience, we enjoyed the delights and cultures of this amazing country quickly discovering the joys of radiant blossom trees, hot springs, fabulous food and trendy teenage fashion.
Monica wondered why she had come. The hot sun on the limestone arch of the tomb was dazzling, making her fumble for her sunglasses.
Josh and his colleague from the University of Athens had already disappeared into the crypt, leaving her surplus to requirements. That’s what it was like being the wife of an archaeologist, even on holiday.
She should have stayed at the villa relaxing, watching the little white yachts bobbing on the harbour, wandering through the narrow streets in search of a taverna. Souvlaki or those aromatic stuffed tomatoes, washed down with retsina.
Well she had no intention of hanging around here for hours. She set off down the track again in search of some shade, breathing in the scent of wild thyme. The village of Pyli was nearby and she might be able to find a coffee. Taking out her phone, she tried to find her location on Google Earth but strangely the area had been pixelated out.
A man, dishevelled with a dark beard, was running from the shelter of the cypress trees right across her path, but when he saw Monica he seemed to panic and tripped on a tree root. The contents of his plastic bag went flying. They stared at each other and Monica saw with horror that he looked scared stiff.
She lifted her hand. ‘It’s all right. I’m sorry I startled you.’
She thought he might not understand English, but he did.
‘I go, I go. You not see me, OK?’ He tried to retrieve the contents of his bag which consisted of apricots and cherries, which she guessed he had pilfered from a neighbouring orchard.
‘Aren’t you well? What’s the matter?’
‘I live camp. Don’t tell, Miss, I go back now.’
‘I don’t understand. What camp?’
‘Refugee. Come from Syria, many countries.’
Monica was shocked. That was why Google Earth had blanked it out. The island was only about 25 kilometres from Turkey and every day refugees were risking their lives to escape to Europe, only to be virtually imprisoned in a camp, here in this idyllic setting. Ugliness alongside so much beauty.
‘It horrible,’ the man said. ‘My wife ill. Baby coming. Only one doctor. Bad food.’
So he had been stealing fruit to take back for his family. It took Monica only a split second to make up her mind.
‘I’m a midwife,’ she said. ‘Will you show me?’
Later she texted Josh. ‘Go back on your own. Something came up.’
I’d come to visit my aunt in Liverpool but before I drove back to Beeston I took a walk near the docks.
At first I thought it was a seal, but no surely not this far up The Mersey. The creature seemed to be struggling with the current and paddled furiously towards the bank. I ran to see where it had gone and was amazed to hear it cry out ‘Help me, help me!’
Was I dreaming? Again it called and its head kept going under the water. I reached down and grabbed its neck. Not furry as I expected but rather scaly. The animal lay exhausted on the steps. I watched and waited but then it stood on its four legs and appraised me.
‘Thank you for helping me. I am Pietr, a rybchykin from Russia. I stowed away on a refrigerated fishing vessel sailing out of Mermansk. The ship sailed before I could get off.’
‘Er, hello. Actually, you’re an animal so how is it possible for you to speak and in English too?’
‘It’s not unusual. My ancestors learned English from the crews of the Arctic Convoys during WW2.’
I still thought I must be dreaming but Pietr was becoming impatient.
‘If you don’t mind I have had a long journey and I am tired and hungry so take me home and feed me.’
So that is how I found myself the owner of a most unusual pet. Pietr lived in our swimming pool and we bought him a dog kennel to sleep in. I had a regular order with the local fishmonger. Goodness knows what he thought! Our rybchykin loved singing and chasing a ball with our spaniel. The family adored him but I am not sure about the neighbours, especially Fred who used to have Koi carp until one day they all vanished.
One summer morning Pietr was gone. We were distraught but were afraid to advertise our loss in case folk thought we were odd. However, a week later a sighting was reported of a strange creature heading out of the Humber estuary. Pietr was on his way home.