Challenge – closing date 5th August:
Flash/Micro Fiction. Using no more than 100 words, write about a conflict experienced by your character and how s/he resolves it.
Congratulations to Bob whose piece, “No Other Option” was declared the best.
An Anagram of Desperation.
What steps lead a man to his own gallows?
Grief: the death of a beloved brother. Divorce: the loss of an adored wife, his home, and his son. Drink: sacked from work. Rejection: thrown out by an alcoholic girlfriend. Shame: systematically robbed his pensioner father of his money.
These led to a coastal path where a dog walker found him. An anagram of “Desperation”: a rope ends it.
72 words including title.
Health and safety gone mad! He rolls up on my building site, in his hard hat and says, “All workers must now wear protective footwear, and hi-vis vests.” by order of the Pharaoh. Bloody ridiculous! I’ve got a pyramid to build. Where am I going to get enough gear for a thousand Hebrew slaves? Not to mention a canteen, toilets, and first aid facilities. Well, I’ll teach him! See this rope? It’s holding that huge stone block in place. If I release it, his hard hat won’t help him. It’ll be a flat hat and he’ll be even flatter. Here goes!
Should I, Shouldn’t I?
Do I choose to venture, is it safe? I dream of a new destination, idyllic scenery. Long walks in bright sunshine. The sound of the waves, sand tickling my toes. I’m in two minds, should I go shopping followed by a lovely cream tea? I yearn the closeness of family, the warmth of friendly words.
Dare I go? I will. Maybe.
Danny’s wife had accused him of having an affair.
He wasn’t. He denied it.
She didn’t believe him.
That gave Danny a dilemma.
How could he prove a negative?
How does one prove one cannot swim? Drown?
He was stumped.
She was convinced she was right.
He knew she was wrong, but he couldn’t prove it.
So what should he do?
What could he do?
That night, in the spare room, he worked out his options.
There was just one. Keep loving his wife as he always had done, until she knew he’d always been faithful.
©Bob Reader July 2020 – 98 words
Another course of chemo? More nausea? More pain? Dead to the world for days?
Is it all worth it, I wonder?
Would stopping chemo mean a better quality of life?
How would I like my loved ones to remember me in my final hours? I’ll tell you! Me smiling at them with so much love in my eyes!
Not as an ‘oven ready’ cadaver!
It’s a simple decision really.
I know that my end is near and I want to love as I leave.
© Bob Reader July 2020 86 words
NO OTHER OPTION
I feel the cold steel of the pistol’s barrel touch my temple.
My finger caresses the trigger.
I think of the sorrow which has brought me to this moment, and how it is of no importance now.
But wait! Why am I thinking? Why am I hesitating?
The gun is in my hand. It is loaded. It is ready to fire.
I remind myself that I’ve rationalised this so many times, and in so many ways, and every time I come to the same conclusion!
I pull the trigger.
© Bob Reader July 2020 – 92 words
Three year old Samantha stares at the sweet on the table.
It’s her favourite, but it’s not hers.
She looks around.
Only she and temptation are in the room.
‘Take it!’ she says to herself.
‘No, don’t!’ answers her conscience.
She looks at her shoes, then back at the sweet.
She puts her hands in her pockets, and screws up her face.
Her right foot scuffs the floor.
She wants it.
Then, losing control, she removes a fluffy unwrapped sweet from her pocket, and swaps it for the pristine sweet on the table, and quickly exits the room.
© Bob Reader July 2020 100 words
Love in Lockdown
There were no men. In the 2020 lockdown, where could she find them? Bars were closed as were nightclubs, cinemas, theatres, even swimming pools. No place to casually encounter a good-looking guy and begin an affair. So, what could she do?
Inspiration struck and she penned a personal message for her local newspaper.
“Wanted: man, between age of 30 – 40. Covid-19 free. Likes: wearing face masks; staying in to watch repeats on TV; cooking own food. Long-term relationship required. Box 123.
She sat back and waited…and waited…and waited.
91 words including title
Should I wear a mask during this pandemic?
I weigh up the pros and cons and decide that I should.
I put my mask on and look in the mirror.
I’m quite surprised by how much I look like the Lone Ranger.
Oh well! Never mind. I’m off to the shops now!
© Bob Reader July 2020 54 words
LONG LOST LOVE
During Lockdown she’d cleared the loft. Up there she’d found over three hundred of his letters. She sobbed as she re-read them, now some fifty years later. What should she do with them? Keep them, bin them or try to contact him? After years of marriage she was definitely ready for a change.
In a flash she decided on the third course of action. It was now very late, but she would try to get in touch with him tomorrow.
He was clearing out their loft whilst stuck indoors during Lockdown. Sifting through a pile of papers, some dating back at least fifty years, he came across two letters hidden amongst them. He read them and was reminded of his early twenties when madly in love with her. How could anyone have loved him so much? But that of course was before all those adulterous relationships he’d had in later life.
She was on his mind all that day so he decided he’d try to contact her the following morning.
Death by chocolate
‘Have a biscuit!’
‘No thanks. Just black tea.’
‘Really? That won’t keep the wolf from the door.’
People get offended if you refuse their food. Do they imagine I dislike chocolate digestives? If I put all the biscuits I’ve ever eaten in a line they’d stretch to the moon. That’s why I weigh 13 stone and rising.
‘Go on, just one. Where’s the harm?’
The plate is a few inches from my face. It’s hard, but I summon all my will-power and look her straight in the eye.
‘I might die,’ I say.
A hundred words, or less, you say,
I have to tell my tale,
But I can talk and talk all day,
As you know very well!
A character with a conflict,
Which they must resolve,
Provokes me to depict,
How this yarn unfolds.
I opened up my sock drawer
Just as the day was dawning,
When a spider from El Salvador,
Put a stop to all my yawning!
Should I kill?
Or just let live?
What is my will?
I grab a slipper,
And wallop it hard,
It should have been quicker.
And not off guard.
©Bob Reader 2020 – 100 words
And there it was —gone; concealed in the folds of a curtain; lost in the bottom of a rucksack; evaporated like a fizzy drink. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder; precious visions are lost forever. Timeless emotions haunting us in a disturbed night’s sleep and all resolved by—–an alarm clock.
Awoke this morning
Need it? Yes!
Up and ready.
Breakfast, fruit, nothing else
9am 1 Biscuit
10am – tummy rumble – 2 chocolate biscuits
1.00pm Hurray, time for lunch! Still on diet-
1 lettuce leaf, 1 radish, 2 slices of cucumber
And one Ryvita. Yes!
1.30pm Looking at biscuits, resist
2.00pm Looking at sweets, resist slightly
2.30pm Thinking about going to the shop
2.35pm Gone to shop
2.40pm Home again with chocolate
2.45pm Resist eating chocolate (feel good)
3.15pm Cup of tea-2 biscuits (no chocolate)
3.30pm 2 Tea biscuits + 1 piece of cheese
4.00pm Have a nap, dream about food
4.45pm Hurray! Nearly tea time
5.00pm What do weightwatchers eat?
Found a Pizza, that should do so long as I don’t eat it all.
Well Done! 1 piece left for tomorrow.
6.00pm Think I’ll go to bed early tonight.
6.15pm One piece of that chocolate bar won’t matter
6.30pm Good film tonight, think there is ice-cream in the ‘fridge
7.30pm Settle down to watch Coro
7.45pm Advert break – Bring in the biscuits
8.00pm Film starting – Need some ice-cream
8.30pm Think I’ll eat the rest of the pizza
9.00pm Finish off the bar of chocolate
9.30pm Good film. Supper then to bed
10.00pm Did try with my diet. Must have lost a bit of weight.
10.03pm Stand on scales (naked)
Ahh well, there’s always tomorrow!
Challenge – closing date 19th August.
2020 is a year when holidays were cancelled. For this challenge, write about a place you have visited bringing out the sights, the sounds, the smells of your experience.
Congratulations to Frances and Helen whose pieces about Cordoba and Marrakesh are joint winners of this challenge. Bob’s piece was a great runner-up.
A DAY AT THE SEASIDE
The herring gull swoops, and grabs the boy’s burger,
The lad cries out, bellowing blue murder,
But before he has finished another gull swoops,
And takes all his chips in another foul scoop!
On the beach a girl digs, reaching Australia,
“Are you there yet?” her mum says to Cecilia,
“I am!!” shouts Cecilia from the massive black hole,
“It’s gorgeous down here, I might take a stroll.”
A bus with no roof is about to depart, to show off the seaside’s delights,
Headphones utter fact after fact, and tell one where to alight,
To arrive at the Fair, or reach the Grand Pier,
Where one always can find a superb atmosphere.
We all love to crunch – and munch – a fish and chip lunch by the sea,
Toffee apples, candy floss, such convenient indelicacies
But my parents always only want “A really nice cup of tea”,
So we all troop off to a cafe, to have tea, and a welcome wee.
Hunky guys and bathing belles, strut all over the beach,
Entertainment for middle aged folk, whose toes are now out of reach,
And the little children run around, screaming and having fun,
While the spotty teenagers, here with bad grace, are sulking and looking glum.
And the day races by, and it’s time to go home, and the children protest in vain,
“We’ve got to go now.” says Grampy, “or we’ll miss the very last train!”
“But, but, ” say all of the children, “we came by car, Grampa!”
“Oh yes,” says the old man laughing, “we came in the Jaguar!”
Dad drives, while everyone sleeps, on the not too long journey home,
And when they arrive, all rush inside, leaving dad to unload on his own,
’twas a beautiful trip for both young and for old – one happy ‘day out’ by the sea,
And even sulky Suzie, had a sexy snog with Lee.
© Bob Reader – August 2020
Poems appear popular for this challenge. Bob’s witty memories are followed by two acrostic poems by Erica. Ed.
Envisage the rugged vast landscape,
Meander at a varied pace, walk down winding lanes,
Blend in with the crowds, soak up the sun,
Look, experience the wonders of history,
Enjoy precious time with family,
Touch golden grains of fine sand,
Onwards, to our next destination,
Next year to return, more memories to make.
Amble through rows, in the quaint book shop,
Look, marvel, a cascading water fountain,
Next, view pink cherry blossom, sweet perfume,
Walk, talk, take time to explore,
In step with the children, admire a tree house,
Castle to view, broomsticks to fly,
Keep cool, refreshing creamy ice cream.
After the bustle of tourists in the Mezquita it’s a relief to turn into a deserted side-street. Leaving the coolness of the Patio of the Oranges, we are dazzled by the intense heat, which hits us as though going into an oven. The white walls of the houses shimmer in the midday sun.
The entrance to the tiny restaurant is half-hidden by a profusion of fiery geraniums, but once inside it’s shady, and we’re met by the sound of running water from a fountain surrounded by ferns and miniature palm-trees, against a wall tiled in patterns of blue and terracotta.
The proprietor beckons us to follow him into the main bar, where whole hams and links of sausages hang down from the wooden beams. We are invited to sit at a small table, where we sip chilled manzanilla sherry, crisp on the tongue, while we choose our tapas. From the kitchen come the heady smells of delights to come. It’s quiet here, except for low voices from a neighbouring table and the bubbling fountain.
The cold almond soup is served with sweet white grapes. The waiter recommends boquerones, which turn out to be white anchovies with olive oil, garlic and lemon. Serrano ham, carved straight from the bone, is served with figs and the freshest of bread rolls. Greedily we go on to a dish of spinach and chickpeas, and finish off with a thimbleful of strong hot coffee.
By the time we can tear ourselves away it is siesta time for the locals and all the little shops in the old town are closed. We return to our hotel where we doze on the terrace in the shade of a bougainvillea. Later, we indulge in raspberry ice-cream accompanied by champagne, and later still, when the tourist buses have all departed, we take a stroll over the Roman bridge, with its view of distant hills.
One more wonderful day!
A Morning in Marrakesh
“Oh, look,” said my husband, “Jean-Paul Gautier!”
At the time we were strolling through the souk in Marrakesh. I looked at the nearest stalls and could see wonderful displays of expensive European perfumes; the distinctive white box of Chanel No. 5 randomly stacked next to golden bottles of Givenchy. Was that really a collection of Gautier’s daring pink women with silver corsets? Fancy my husband spotting those!
The previous evening our taxi driver had brought us from the airport to a shabby road in the heart of the old city. He had pointed to a dilapidated door as our destination address, not an auspicious start. Once we gingerly went inside, we were transported to a small oasis of bliss. Water trickled past us and petals, strewn across the ground threw up a heady perfume. That morning, in our American run riad, we had had breakfast in a shady, open courtyard with a clear fountain which attracted local sparrows to splash in its cooling water. Our meal of pastries, dripping in honey, freshly picked fruit and a local, plain yoghurt in a glass and raffia jar (good for settling the stomach) had been sensually consumed before we took ourselves for a local stroll. We had an hour or two to revisit the wonderful market, explored several years earlier, before our transport took us to our holiday hotel in the Atlas Mountains.
The souk provided us with visual delights as well as some protection from the increasingly hot sun. Whether it was the ancient, tiny streets or the canvas overhangs, it was cool amongst the many stalls. Around us the locals haggled for colourful and exotic looking vegetables and their totally incomprehensible language sounded mysterious and exciting. One stall was a riot of bright red, orange, and yellow powders. Their intense colours clashed and blended together creating a painter’s palette. Another stall was selling sacks full of spices and their delicate aromas tickled our noses. A smiling woman in a hijab was selling sugary concoctions, their lurid pinks and green suggestive of extreme sweetness. Then there was the scarf stall selling all shapes, sizes and colours; brightly painted terracotta plates and wobbly stacks of bright blue coffee bowls overflowed into the walkway and were reflected in the mirrors of the next booth. Another stall contained glass bottles of local oils smelling of the roses to be found in bloom in Morocco. Indeed, pink petals, being scooped into plastic bags, were bought by matrons to perfume local houses. Gucci handbags, Ray-ban sunglasses, Nike trainers and Fred Perry shirts all vied for space next to the boxes of perfume – all counterfeit and all being sold at rock-bottom prices.
Was I impressed by my husband’s comment about Jean-Paul Gautier? Quite frankly I dismissed it thinking that I would not waste our money on fake goods but, suddenly, there, standing in front of us was the impressive figure of the designer himself surrounded by equally imposing bodyguards. It seems the whole world can be found in the souk of Marrakesh.
We arrived at our destination, then meandered along the tarmac paths, accompanied by a welcome cool breeze and the swaying unusual shaped trees. Troldhaugen was the home of Nina and Edvard Grieg for twenty two years, and is now a living museum. It comprises of an exhibition centre with a shop, cafe, concert hall, a composers cabin and Grieg’s villa dating from 1885.
As we approached the villa, we noticed it was a small intimate wooden cream building, with shades of pastel green. The rooms were small, fully furnished, with his Steinway grand piano stood proud in the centre of his living room. Various art works adorned the walls, along with photographs showing many years of the family’s life.
Eventually we wandered out of the back door into his vast garden.We strolled to the shore of the tranquil lake, I stood and stared at the calm grey water. The sweet smells from various blossoms circulated in the air. We sat on a bench enjoying the peaceful
setting, both quiet and relaxing.
At lunchtime we sat in the spacious concert hall, eagerly awaiting the piano concert. Grieg composed many of his famous works in a small garden hut, which we could see through the panoramic window in front of us. The audience sat silent, the young woman bowed then sat gracefully in front of the grand piano. There was not a whisper, she began to play, the enchanting, enticing music, the famous Piano Concerto in A minor op.16 which Grieg completed in 1868. The talent flowed through her finger tips. I sat transfixed as the sound of music filled the hall, lost deep in thought. It was a shame it had to come to an end.
Afterwards as we sat sipping coffee, I reflected on my piano skills, if only I could play the piano so well.
AMBROSIA AND NECTAR IN AN ELYSIAN FIELD
The mountain air is cool, pure, and refreshing, and the sun is pleasantly warm.
My wife and I are lying in the alpine meadow-grass, watching the insects prospect for nectar as they chase the see-sawing, and yo-yoing blooms.
Flowers, like the rampion, with its long, slender, blue fingered petals; the deep yellow rosettes of the arnicas; and the clustered heads of white yarrow, frolic like floral friends at a tea dance, playing the swaying, ‘peek-a-boo game’ as they pirouette, inspired by the movement and music of the breeze.
It’s time for lunch, so we unpack the hamper, put together by the hostess of our guest-house, which is located on the lower slopes of this very mountain.
She has packed black bread, fresh white semmel rolls, ham, salami, smoked cheese, breaded chicken, gherkins, a green dressed salad, and a potato salad. She has also thoughtfully packed a choice of desserts;- two small portions of apfel strudel, and four ‘topfen dumplings’, gorgeous small, sweet, round pastries, with puréed plum fillings, and there’s a tub of clotted cream to go with them!
And to drink there’s a chilled bottle of Grüner Veltliner.
We spread her white hand-stitched tablecloth out on to the grass, and its needle-worked flowers start to soak up the rays of the sun in imitation of their biological cousins.
We savour every delicious mouthful of this picnic, and the experience is lifted by the inclusion of fine cutlery, bone china plates decorated with images of mountain meadow flowers, and the crystal glassware. No plastic here to mock the mountains!
After lunch we settle back for a light snooze, and are woken by a distinct drop in temperature. Frau Schmidt had warned us there might be a storm. “Remember, mountains make rain!” she said smiling sweetly. So we gather up our things and take the path back down to the guest house, arriving just as the thunder starts.
What a storm this is! Sheet lightening and forked lightening illuminate snowy peaks otherwise concealed by the glowering gloom of this new angry sky.
We watch the storm unfold from the safety of our room, trepidatiously fascinated by its magnificent light show, and awestruck by its ostentatious display of power!
This is the last day of our holiday here in the Alps. Tomorrow we will be heading for the airport, travelling along the busy autobahn, re-encountering all the familiar pandemonia of modern life, whilst that delightful day in our Elysian Field starts to gently dissolve into our past, and into our psyches.
©Bob Reader August 2020 – 427 words
ON THE NORFOLK COAST
Strolling along the cliff top on Sunday morning, you hear the thunder of breakers, crashing on the beach below, followed the rumble and rattle of shingle dragged out by the receding waves. Ahead of you, the soaring tower of a fine medieval church, dominates the landscape and, you hear church bells ringing out over the fields. You make your way towards it and find a quaint village of the sort that decorates greetings cards. Crooked streets lined with crooked cottages lead to a small square, with people sitting outside an old pub, where glasses clink and voices chatter. It’s an idyllic scene that has changed little over the centuries but how much longer will it survive? Even the church bells cannot drown out the aggressive roar of the breakers battering the foot of the cliff. Down below, white waves crash and flecked foam flies, as the sea eats away at the land. Several neighbouring villages have disappeared completely, devoured by the waves, and now this ancient place is under threat. Built more than a mile from the shore, it now stands precariously on the cliff edge. Some houses have collapsed, as the ground subsided beneath them, while others stand empty and deserted. Farms have been abandoned and their fields are overgrown with weeds. Sea defences were built, first of wood, then steel, then massive concrete, but all have been breached and still the water advances, the land retreats. Many more homes will soon vanish, many more people will leave, as disaster creeps closer. How long will it be until all that remains of this village is rubble on the seabed and flotsam washed up by the tide? The only sound to be heard, will be the incessant pounding of the invincible waves.
Oh I do like to be beside the…. Well you know the rest!
Paignton, often considered the poor relation of Torquay, was the favoured fortnight’s holiday destination for me and my parents in the late 50s early 60s.
My first journey there was by steam train from Nottingham. A great hulking monster puffing out smoke and making a strange hissing noise. Quite an adventure for me, both the method of travel and the destination. I vaguely remember falling asleep on one side of the carriage, the arm rests having been pulled back and when I awoke we were in Devon. Stepping from the train the smell was different. It was the smell of the sea!
It was the only time we went on holiday on the train because by the following year my parents had purchased a Ford Prefect, VAL 414. I will always remember Val. She took us on so many journeys, and I cried when we had to part with her.
Our holiday hotel for a few years was The Bramcote Hotel, situated in the middle of a row of Victorian houses and guest houses. In fact ours was really a guest house or B and B but the owner liked to sound posh. All three of us slept in one room with a washbasin but the loo and bathroom were shared by others on our floor. The loo was a windowless room and the wooden lavatory seat was often still warm if one followed the previous occupant. On one holiday my mother was annoyed about a man who always spent ages in the loo and left behind a dreadful smell. She started taking her Youth Dew perfume in with her!
We always had a room facing the sea and one of the delights was to step out onto the balcony in the morning and gaze at the view. Not just the sea and the beach but to watch the little kiosks being opened up to sell drinks, sandwiches, donuts, sea food, buckets and spades and blow up lilos and beach balls. There was always the sound of the gulls squawking and flying low whenever food was in sight.
Our days were spent either on the beach, walking, or visiting some of the neighbouring attractions. The zoo was always on the list and I remember the orangutan that like Murray Mints. As with all zoos there was the ever-present pong of poo.
A little shop we passed regularly proudly proclaimed ‘Devon Violets from Paignton Harbour.’ However, if one bought the scent as a reminder of Paignton Harbour one would not wish to be present at low tide. For some reason there was an all-pervading stink of rotten eggs. The sulphurous smell disappeared at high tide and local kids swam in the harbour but I would not have been keen.
Ring donuts freshly made from a kiosk were often an afternoon treat. We would sit on the sea wall watching crabs trying to evade capture by youngsters while we savoured the flavour, soft doughy texture and the crunchy sugar of the donuts. I can taste them now.
On the far side of the harbour were steps leading to Fairy Cove. I am not sure why it had that name, but one morning Janet, the daughter of the hotelier and about my age, invited me to go there with her to fetch bait for fishing. Off we went, passing the fish processing shed with its distinctive aroma, past the aquarium, where I had seen the most beautiful sea anemones and tropical fish and finally down the steps to the cove.
What I hadn’t realised was that Janet, far more agile than me, would be leaping over huge rocks to prize off limpets with a penknife before the tide came rushing in. I struggled to get a foothold on seaweed covered rocks, grazed my knees and decided to call it a day before I seriously injured myself. Janet was out of sight, but I shouted my goodbyes and gingerly made my way back.
Mum loved collecting seashells and there were some particularly pretty, pastel coloured ones to be found on the beach. One evening when my parents were in the hotel lounge and I was supposed to be asleep I noticed the shells my mother had washed and left to dry on some newspaper. She had said she would varnish them for a project she had in mind. Thinking I would save her the bother I picked up her clear nail varnish that she had conveniently left on the dressing table and proceeded to varnish the shells. Boy, was I in trouble!
Before mum even saw what I had done she was affronted by the pear drop like smell of the varnish as she opened the bedroom door. Dad tried to appease her by saying I was only trying to help but she was having none of it. I was given a ticking off and was told it was the wrong type of varnish anyway, but how would I know? Anyway the whole lot was thrown onto the balcony and the windows were left wide open all night to get rid of the smell. The shells were binned the next morning. One of the not so happy memories.
Some evenings were spent taking after dinner walks along the prom or watching one of the variety shows. These were held in a huge tent on the front and I well remember the awful metal and canvas chairs and the draught coming in from outside. We always took jackets or cardigans. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the acts from the comedian, singers, dancers and magician.
Mum liked a game of Bingo so she would take herself off to a hall on the high street while Dad and I amused ourselves with the slot machines or played football on the green. Mum usually had won enough coupons by the end of the holiday to exchange them for a tea service or some other item she fancied.
Paignton is no longer the resort I remember from my childhood; much has changed but I still have my happy memories of those Halcyon days.
©Julia Powell August 2020
My Welsh Holidays
Most Summers I’d go with my friend and her family to their house in Wales. A very Welsh family they were; although they lived in England, their hearts were in Wales so for a few weeks for a few years we were engulfed in a different culture and a different family life.
This was Welsh Wales in the 1960s. The house was called Deuddeg and we were staying in what I rapidly learnt was Cei Newydd Ceredigian.
This was a busy family. Mr and Mrs Davies, their three children and me, and sometimes one of my sisters would arrive and take over the house where two elderly relatives of the family were hitherto peacefully living; one a dear vague old lady and the other a rather fierce old man; whose relations they were I was never quite sure.
Numbers in the household fluctuated almost daily as other friends and relatives came to stay.
Where we all slept was sometimes a surprise. We’d often wake up to find an extra aunt had joined us during the night. This was a noisy busy family. Mrs Davies used to cook, we’d all help with chopping, slicing and peeling. What we ate I really can’t remember, it was such a long time ago but I do remember the mackerel, butter and Welsh Batches, vegetables and for some reason potato scallops. After we’d eaten there would be lengthy discussions on often heavy political topics. This was uncomfortable for me; at home we never argued with my father.
We learnt bits of Welsh. We’d say “Bore da”, “Nors da” to anyone whenever possible, “dioch yn fawr” whenever necessary and “ach -y-fi” as an expression of distaste with as much fervour as possible. My mother on our return would call us “More Welsh than the Welsh”
We’d play cards but never on Sunday. Sunday was Tabernacl and on our return from my first visit the old relative thundered at me, “What was the text girl?” I hadn’t a clue, subsequently had to make notes. At the end of the Summer season however, the services reverted to Welsh so I was quite lost.
Down the hill we would go to Maurice William’s shop full of wondrous smells. Cheeses I’d never dreamed of and hams which hung from the ceiling. A lovely atmosphere of food. Nearby was the bakers where we’d get batches for lunch, tea or whenever and bara brith. We did have wonderful bread, golden butter and jam.
My friend and I, being avid readers used to go to the library most days. Her brother introduced me to Ray Bradbury; I loved his books and his writing. I learnt to love T.S. Elliot and I fell a little bit in love with my friend’s brother until the year he brought his girlfriend along.
They had a little boat with a sail called “Y-phatit” (phonetic) I thought sailing was quite a stressful occupation. Most of the places to sit were wrong. Once right, you had to rapidly move. The sailors all became very fraught, distressed and anxious.
These were days full of memories for me. Apart from the sailing days, times were slow, sunny with lots of talk, games, rambles. A feeling of being with an easy going amiable family, lots going on. A reflection of our gentle amble through life at that time.
The Pandemic has affected all our views on holidays but thankfully glamping remains a healthy option. Vacant fields in the verdant Norfolk countryside with tents generously spaced and comfortably equipped provides an idyllic setting. The savoury smells from the camp fire, dark moonless nights punctuated by the doleful hooting of the owl conspire to calm the emotions and satisfy our senses in these difficult times.
We are blessed in sharing the experience with our two daughters and four grandchildren, varying in age from eleven to sixteen and the joy of sharing this in Nature’s back garden was a fullsome and rewarding joy with a communal camp fire providing fun and laughter as well as satisfying sustenance.
The camp site was immediately next door to Bewiderwood, an extravaganza of outdoor activities with its Bizarre Bazaar, Muddle Maze and Long Lagoon providing exercise and entertainment for children of all ages to make their own magical memories.
Amazingly and very fortunately we had good weather with five days of glorious sunshine and no rain pattering on the canvas. With bike rides, a boat trip on the Broads and wonderful walks providing the exercise and ensuring a hearty appetite for the camp fire delights it all added up to a memorable few days and fitting antidote to the Pandemic persisting outside.
HOLIDAY OF A LIFETIME
The friendly and welcoming greeting that we four sixty-seven year old women got when we arrived late afternoon at our first hostel in Tokyo will always stay in my mind. We were immediately encouraged by the Japanese warden there to join in a demonstration of how to make and later eat Sushi Rolls. As we did so we got into conversation with other fellow travellers from all over the world.
We stayed in three different hostels during our fortnight in Japan and each time the four of us shared one tiny dormitory room to sleep in. The rooms were never any bigger than the two bunk beds that they filled with just a narrow passage way between the bunks! As we each had brought with us a very large suitcase for our travels we certainly had to quite literally think outside the box!
We had deliberately gone there in springtime to be there for the cherry blossom festival season which is celebrated by locals and visitors alike. The avenues of trees were magnificent, displaying all shades cream to cerise pink as their blossom filled branches frequently bowed towards the ground. Many of the trees were illuminated in the evenings with beautiful Chinese lanterns interlaced into their branches so we very much enjoyed strolling out in an evening and glancing up to admire the sheer beauty of these very special trees.
We visited several very ornate Temples all within the grounds of immaculately kept parks. The parks always incorporated symbolic elements such as water, gravel, stones, plants, trees, fish bridges moss, plants and flowers, all of them bearing important significance to Japanese people. The Temples were usually red or orange, standing proudly in the manicured grounds In Japan red is a symbol of fire and the sun and they are generally this colour as it is considered to be the colour of life to ward off danger and bad luck. We even visited the Golden Pavilion Temple in Kyoto early one evening in order to catch the reflection from its gold leaf coating in the massive pond below. What a sight that was!
Within the grounds of several of the parks that we visited we often witnessed preparations for outdoor wedding celebrations to be held that day. We would see friends of the bride-to-be helping to drape and arrange a heavy white kimono over and around her as well as a very bulky white headdress, always doing so whilst standing outdoors on the grass prior to parading in strict formation to the Temple for the wedding ceremony. The bridegroom generally wore black and white striped pleated trousers and a traditional formal black jacket. Both of them would have white socks and square toed sandals on their feet. At an appointed time the bride, groom and invited guests formed a slow procession to the Temple. Some of the female guests, particularly the older women, wore colourful embroidered kimonos that they had sometimes sewn themselves whereas other younger women generally wore modern outfits. There were always two female attendants walking at the front, both dressed mainly in white. They lived at the Temple and were wedding escorts. Someone would always hold up a very large and beautiful red umbrella over the bride and groom as they slowly headed towards the Temple. After the ceremony people moved to a seated outdoor area in the grounds for many group photographs to be taken. This was always a very lengthy process as outfits were adjusted and people were expected to remain silent and serious. Nobody smiled. The men had to sit with both hands together in their laps with their fingers folded into their hands so that only their knuckles showed. Women held one hand across the other on their laps.
We always carried a map with us as we tried to find our way around. We would no sooner all be studying it than someone would stop walking and ask us where we were trying to get to in Japanese or often with very little knowledge of English. They always did their best to help us and one morning a woman on her way to work, turned around and insisted on taking us to our destination which was at least two miles away from where we were standing.
I could recount many examples of the friendliness and kindness shown to us by the Japanese but two incidents stands out in my memory. One morning we sat in a cafe near to a very elderly Japanese woman and her adult daughter. They were eager to talk to us although the mother spoke no English at all. With gesticulations we admired the delicate beaded necklace around the mother’s neck, only to learn that she had made it herself. Before we left the cafe the two women insisted on having each of our addresses written down- in very strange hieroglyphics to them I am sure, as the mother said she was going to make and send us each a hand-made necklace. We duly each received one a couple of months later.
Another morning we were walking up a narrow lane and we paused to admire a miniscule garden outside someone’s property. We noted that there were several of the symbolic elements important to Japanese people within it, stones, water, sand and flowers. A man appeared from the house and started to talk to us in English about his tiny garden. He then invited us indoors to see his workshop. We learnt that he was a very famous weaver, principally weaving braids for brides’ wedding outfits to go round their kimonos. He showed us several different looms and demonstrated his skill by weaving on them. It was a lovely and unexpected experience for us all with absolutely no pressure from him to purchase anything!
And so to food! We were in Japan on quite a tight budget as everything over there seemed very expensive to us. So we usually ate out at street food stalls and soon learned how tasty, colourful and relatively cheap Bento boxes could be, each with a variety of tastes, textures and food groups. Popular items within these compartmentalised boxes would be fish or meat, pickled, raw or cooked vegetables such as salad, bean sprouts, edamame (a type of soft soya bean) and either rice or noodles. We really enjoyed our bento boxes and no two were ever the same. We sometimes watched food being prepared outdoors in the food stalls and once we each ate a plate of finely cooked shredded cabbage which was placed on a pancake with a boiled egg in the centre on top. It doesn’t sound at all appealing to the taste buds but with the herbs and seasonings that were put onto it before we were each handed one over, the taste was amazing although trying to eat it with chopsticks was no easy matter!
We took the bullet train to Kyoto and had wonderfully clear views of snow covered Mount Fiji en route there. The bullet train arrived at our platform exactly on time and we had to stand on a marked line on the platform which indicated the exact spot where our pre-booked carriage would stop- and it did! But before we were allowed to get on it, a woman in a pink uniform stepped on board with a long handled brush and duster to very quickly clean ours and other carriages. The cleanliness, not only of the trains and underground stations but also of the streets was noticeable; no litter, no chewing gum, no drinking allowed in the streets and smoking only permitted in certain limited areas.
At the end of our holiday we had the luxury of staying for two nights in a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese Inn. There were tatami mats on the two bedroom floors with cushions to sit on at a very low table. Futons were hidden away in a cupboard and we were encouraged to wear Yukata, a type of cotton dressing gown all the time we were indoors there. Yukatas symbolise relaxation and leisure time. At mealtimes we sat on cushions on the floor of the dining room in front of a large but very low table, with our legs just fitting underneath it. Getting up afterwards was no easy matter! We each had our meal carefully set out in front of us in individual pretty ceramic containers. It was a beautiful colourful feast to the eyes and a chance to taste some most unusual foods, all exquisitely presented.
All good things must come to an end and although our holiday had to do so, the wonderful memories and photographs that I have of my time in Japan have stayed with me perhaps more than any other foreign holiday I have been on. It was indeed THE holiday of a lifetime.
A Weekend in Magaluf
Friday, 5.15 am, East Midlands Airport, assembled the girls, some older, not wiser, sporting matching t shirts alerting strangers to their mission, some with titles. 12 O clock Tina’s Hen Party, Mother of the Bride, (me). The bar was crowded with young people ordering pints of lager or cider. I had a coffee. A late night and early rise was not recommended. I managed ten minutes on the flight which I advise you all now, do not ever fly Ryanair to Palma on any given Friday in the Summer. As soon as we were airborne it turned into a party. The crew didn’t stand a chance of maintaining peace or decorum. As an Army wife I have seen it all was not as shocked as some other unfortunate passengers.
Our minibus dropped us outside a strange looking building. If this was a hotel then I was a member of Little Mix. Hayley, Bridesmaid 3, did a season here, working in the bar or was that working the bar? Have you met Hayley?
We threw our cases on the bed and raced downstairs where most of the 22 were already imbibing. Out came blow up man, quickly named James after the groom. It took four of us to fully inflate him. The sun shone and we made our way to the beach taking turns in carrying James, his inflated phallus poking passers by. I recall visiting this area when it was little more than a fishing village. No high rise hotels, bars and clubs, and not the outrageous temple of debauchery it is now infamous for. However, the beach and coastline were still stunning and our lunch turned boozily raucous lasting until the early hours of Saturday. We climbed wearily to our beds, mine being the sofa, allowing my offspring the comfort of a proper bed. Magaluf Rocks is a hostel that never sleeps, just as one is dropping off, there is a shout from across the complex of Tony, Jacks, Hey or Ho or ….. who the hell cares, it was another great sleepless night.
Saturday was spent sleeping on the beach, swimming in the ocean and generally relaxing. Myself and older contingents wandered off for food in the centre of town and an opportunity to catch up with Jeff Stelling on Sky Sports. The weather had turned and suddenly it was torrential, monsoon like rain. The temperature dropped. This situation called for more wine, more wine eventually calls for a loo break whereby I missed the spectacle of a naked man surfing down the now flooded main road.
There was time if not silence to catch up on a few hours sleep before the Hen Night begun. Our fancy dress theme was Sailors. I had secured a modest outfit in keeping with my age and figure, as for the others I could not possibly comment.
A fun filled night was had by all. My 12 Oclock Tina surpassed herself by staying out until 5. We encountered so many groups of revellers, most in fancy dress. My favourite was a gang of Essex lads who were dressed as famous dead people. Osama Bin Laden took a particular shine to my youngest daughter and I warned her he was a wrong un! I noticed that one of the group was not drinking and it turned out that she made an announcement shortly afterwards, that she was pregnant. Great, I thought uncharitably, she is Bridesmaid 2, I will have to pay for a bigger dress.
A few of us broke off from the main group who favoured R and B music and we ended up in a great place, our kind of music, where scantily clad girls poured liquor down your throat, face and body. A bit like a downmarket Coyote Ugly, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and thought, you need to sleep woman.
The streets were alive with loud music, shouting, laughter and bright lights. Clinking of glasses, smells of vomit, sweat and fried onions. We stopped for a nightcap opposite a lap dance club which provided the last of the evenings entertainment as we watched a very drunk Brit being thrown out by beefy looking Russian for not paying his bill. The drunk rolled down the steep pavement, searching his pockets as he did so. I managed to move our seats just in time as we would have rolled with him. We had another nightcap, as you do, and the guy returned for more. The Russian was having none of it and he thumped him hard in the stomach. We both looked away, no way that we were we going to intervene but thankfully he managed to walk unsteadily away and he was not seen again. We finished our drinks and called it a night. I didn’t sleep until all the chickens were accounted for, and then it was light outside and morning dawned.
Sunday, although exhausted, we managed a trip into Palma where the sensible (over 40) ladies enjoyed being tourists having a beautiful lunch, touring the cathedral and harbour area, where as a young girl I saw close up, Juan Carlos and his family. The rest of the party slept until it was time to leave, Party t shirts were not enough to revive the merriment of the last 48 hours and it was a very subdued flight home.