October 2020

After missing six months of meetings, we have, at last, managed to meet up in small groups. Consequently, the challenges are set and linked to the work we undertake in our small bubbles.

Margaret took us through the theme of “proverbs” and the challenge she set is as follows:

Choose one of the following to include in your writing. No longer than 300 words.

  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
  • A bad workman always blames his/her tools.
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Congratulations to Erica whose story “A Morning of Chaos” is joint winner with Helen’s “The Lesson”.


(Also expressed as ‘One bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’)

The origin of this proverb is uncertain, but it is one of the oldest and best known proverbs in the English language. 

Some believe its origins may lay in the sport of falconry, the bird in the hand being the raptor, and the birds in the bush being the prey.

Its first known publication was in 1670, in  ‘A Hand-book of Proverbs, by John Ray’.

However, one can find variations of the phrase long before that, including an English translation from the Latin Bible:

“A living dog is better than a dead lion.”   (Ecclesiastes IX)

Hugh Rhodes’ publication, ‘The boke of nurture or schoole of good maners’, circa 1530 mentions;

 “A byrd in hand is worth ten flye at large.”

John Heywood, yet another 16th century collector of proverbs, recorded this version in his 1546 book, ‘A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes (sic) in the Englishe tongue’:

“Better one byrde in hande, than ten in the wood.”

The proverb, mainly used as advice, means:-

  • “It’s better to have the certainty of a small thing, than the possibility of something greater, which may come to nothing.”
  • “a possession that is worthy”

Its use has changed over time.  It now appears to be commonly used in business, to add caution to proposed changes that have a degree of risk, such as takeovers, or switching employers.

Modern day evolution of the English language, means that the use of proverbs is diminishing, as the older generation dies out, and the younger generation use their preferred communication methods, such as ‘text speak’, emojis, and other fashionable forms of diminutive writing.

©Bob Reader October 2020 – 300 words

The Neighbour.

Lily peeped through her net curtains, she hated the loud noise coming from the Ducati next door. She knew her neighbour Andrew started his work shift early, however she was fed up of being woken at 5am most mornings. When his motorbike started, she could hear the noise of the exhaust above the rattle of the engine. He always left it running for ten minutes, then slammed the garage door, before he eventually set off.

This morning Lily couldn’t get back to sleep, she pulled on her red dressing gown and went downstairs. She sat on her favourite chair and thought of Andrew. What didn’t she like about him? She smiled, his long greasy brown hair, arms covered in tattoos, his casual dress, his gold earring and rings, and little consideration for his elderly neighbour. If it wasn’t the noise from his bike it was his stereo blaring out rock music. She would have to have a word with him, she kept avoiding the confrontation, the problem being she was scared of his response.

Lily sighed at the thought of another long lonely day ahead, she mustn’t feel sorry for herself. Her first consideration was porridge, covered in blueberries and prunes, followed by a slice of brown toast smothered in thick rich marmalade. Afterwards she wandered outside with her arms full of wet towels, she felt her legs slide then she fell heavily onto the wet grass.

“Help,” she murmured, her eyes closed.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been lying there, in the distance the familiar sound of the Ducati, Andrew whistling, then loud footsteps. She mustered her strength.

“Help, please help.”

A warm smile, kind words, help on the way.

“Thank you Andrew.”

She remembered her mothers wise words. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Erica McKinnon

299 words

The Fall

There’s a homeless man who camps out next to Boots with his fierce-looking mongrel. I try to look away when I go past. He’s so scruffy, with his greasy hair tied up in a ponytail, his camouflage jacket with the holes in, and a filthy duvet over his knees. They say you shouldn’t give them money in case they spend it on drugs. I’ve considered buying him a sandwich, but what if he objects and starts shouting abuse? I’ve seen him arguing with one of the shopkeepers, getting quite aggressive. And the dog growls if anyone goes too near

I hate these masks we’ve got to wear now. My glasses steam up and I can hardly see a thing. Coming out of Boots  a couple of weeks ago I tripped and fell, jarring my elbow and scattering my bags in all directions. No real harm done, but I felt stunned. When I looked up, I saw the homeless man holding out his hand to help me.

‘All steamed up, duck?’ he asked with a smile.

I hardly knew what to do, but I took his hand, trying not to flinch. As he hauled me up I realised he had quite a pleasant face. He retrieved my scattered shopping and gave it back to me.

‘Thank you. I’ll have to be more careful,’ I said. Then, rather tentatively, ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’

He grimaced. ‘Only if you’ve got a job and a flat going spare. But you could give me a bottle of that hand sanitiser you’ve got in your bag. Plenty of germs round here, I can tell you …’

I stop to talk to him every day now and it’s quite an education. You certainly can’t judge a book by its cover.


The Lesson

Margaret Cummings, Head of Science, was in a foul mood. Her one free period of the school day and she had been asked to cover a Year 7 English group; a class she did not know, an age group she avoided and, to top it all,  no work had been left.

When the bell went for the lesson changeover, she grabbed a book entitled, “101 Topics for Supply Lessons.” Her reputation alone caused the chattering to stop and the pupils settled quickly. She opened the book randomly at the English tasks and saw that there was a page on proverbs. “Perfect,” she thought.

Having given a brief introduction she said, “Right! I shall read out half a proverb and I want you to complete it. The first one: Look before you…..”

A hand went up, “Step into dog poo.”

She tried again, “Better safe than…..”

“Being caught by the Head.”

And again, “Good fences……..”

“Are great for kicking a ball against.”

By the time she had tried a few more the class was giggling, and she was finding it difficult to stop herself from laughing. Some of the answers were ingenious and highly imaginative. She was startled to find the hour was over and that she and the pupils had had so much fun.

As they trooped out for break one young boy came up to her. “Miss, we were all frightened of you before today but that was great.”

In complete harmony Margaret and the pupil both said, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’


266 words


Jan and Dave were on holiday in Hay-on-Wye and on that wet afternoon as they were browsing in one of the second-hand bookshops there, Jan glanced along a shelf and gasped as she spotted a hard bound book written by one of her favourite authors. If memory served her right it was his first novel. The cover on the spine looked old and dingy and when she pulled it out she noticed that the dust wrapper was a very dull colour, although not torn or brittle with age. There was a strange design on the front of it; a cover which wasn’t exactly eye-catching! Jan opened the book and noted that on the inside flap it was originally priced at twenty-five shillings. However the bookseller had now got it priced at fifteen pounds. What an incredible increase in just a few years she thought, but perhaps it might be quite valuable as it was his very first novel and he had written several more since then, all highly acclaimed, besides becoming well known as a radio presenter. Should she buy it? She’d never spent that much on a second hand book before. She turned over the front end sheet, examined the title page and suddenly noticed that she was looking at a signed first edition.  She couldn’t believe her eyes.

Many years later when dust wrappers on very many books had become brittle with age, torn or even discarded, this particular novel in its almost pristine condition and because of being very rare by now, had increased in value to such an extent that it had become one of Jan and Dave’s most valuable books in their now extensive library. ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover,’ Jan used to say laughingly to Dave at times whenever she pulled that book out to admire it once again.

Margaret R

The Bargain

The stranger came into the pub and spoke quietly to two men near the door. They shook their heads and he moved on to two girls, but they sent him away. Then he reached Jason. He leant close and whispered, “Interested in a smartphone?”

“Got one,” Jason replied.

“Not like this.” The man took it from his pocket. “The very latest, the iphone 12. Brand new. Over a thousand pounds in the shops. It’s yours for eight-fifty.”

“No thanks. I’m happy with the phone I’ve got.”

“Just look at it,” said the man, sitting down beside him. “Beautiful design, amazing screen, all the best apps. It’s a bargain!”  He pushed the phone into Jason’s hand.

“Very nice,” Jason admitted caressing it, but I can’t afford it at present.”

“Alright,” said the man. ”I can see you’re a smart lad, so just for you, eight hundred and it’s yours.”

Jason looked longingly at the sleek object, reluctant to pass it back. “I’d like to but I can’t afford it,” he said.

“Alright, my friend,” said the man. “Let’s agree on seven-fifty and I’ll throw in a free contactless charger. Now I can’t say fairer than that, can I?”

“I haven’t got that sort of money with me,” said Jason.

“No problem,” said the man. “Meet me here tomorrow with the cash and this little beauty will be yours.”

When they met next day, Jason was handed a plain paper bag.

“Don’t open it in here,” said the man. “I don’t want everyone to see it.” Jason peeped inside, saw a smart box with the Apple logo, and handed over the cash. Sitting in his car outside., he took the box from the bag and opened it. Inside was a piece of wood painted with the words, Never Judge a Book by its Cover.

Peter H

A Morning Of Chaos.

Pauline felt nervous, her husband Ian had earlier decided to mess with some floorboards in the hall. Apparently he could fix the constant creaking they made every time she walked over them. She thought Ian appeared enthusiastic and seemed to know what he was doing, so she left him alone and went to make a sponge cake for their tea.

She tried to keep calm, listening to the radio was a help. The hammering began, she clenched her teeth hoping the task wouldn’t take him long. Memories of past DIY jobs came to mind, she listened for his call.

“ Pauline I need your help, come quickly.”

She hurried into the hall, water was spurting everywhere, their new red carpet soaked.

Ian was sat on the wet floor, his arm was under the floorboards in amongst the joists.

“I’ve hit a nail into a water pipe, quick fetch me some Blu Tack, I’ve got my finger pressed onto the hole,” he sounded frantic.

“Blu Tack, then I’m phoning the plumber,” she shouted in despair.

Pauline noticed the water was travelling into the newly decorated living room. She felt like swearing, she was so cross with her husband. She threw the Blu Tack into the hall and picked up the phone to phone Carl the Plumber. She explained the situation to Carl, she could hear the chuckles in the background. Luckily he lived at the end of their road, he would be with them in five minutes.

She walked over to Ian who apologised, making all sorts of excuses. She paused before speaking to him.

“ Darling, a bad workman always blames his tools.”

Erica McKinnon

277 words.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.      

Don’t leave me Papa, me come, me come.”

Puzzled eyes begged Dan to lift his grandson from the car seat. It was more than he could do.

The searing hot pain took away his voice . Dan concentrated on heaving the door shut. Slumped against it now he could feel Tim beating on the window to be let out.   


An overdue haircut had been a simple thing to do. It was such a treat to make a spare minute for himself.  Dan was conscious that his business was consuming too much of his life. Today was special it was his 50th Birthday. A 5.00 a.m. start had allowed him to finish early. He’d rushed back sweaty and grimy.

Jane his wife had produced a huge cake. The high light for Tim was to blow out the candles with Papa. Suddenly Dan realised the state he was in.. Mud streaked his tee shirt and his jeans puddled on the dry patio. Apologising he organised the hair appointment.

Tim his shadow followed him to the car eager to go along.

“I won’t be long, he’ll be no trouble, let him come,” Dan’s persuasive tones won the day.


Dan clutched his phone dug out of his pocket. His tenuous voice stalled between the strengthening bouts of pain.

“I’m … at …     the…     Black …   Horse…   Pub,     Just  come.”

The street wasn’t busy. He inched his way to the pub forecourt. Tables and benches lured him on. Dan doubled up over the table unaware of the beer spillages and debris left behind.

Voices floated round him and moved away.

“Drunk at this time of the day, you can smell it from here!”

He couldn’t answer. Sprawled across the table Dan heard the voice before the blackness enveloped him.



“You know what” said Nicola” Things are not going to improve.We’ll be back in Lockdown. I need to get a Cut and Blow now before it’s too late. And I’ll do some baking for the freezer.”

Kayleigh, looking at her list of appointments ,groaned”  Oh no ,not Nicola!  And at 4.30 as well! I’ll be off my legs by then.” She reaches for her cigarettes    “She always brings her I Pad with a picture of a style I’ll never get with her hair”

At 4.15  Nicola checks her hair and makeup. Finds her Pinterest Hair Style suggestion on her smart phone.

In the Grateful Head Salon Kayleigh ran her shiny nails over her sharpened scissors and made sure everything was all set for the fussiest customer of the day.

“Everything sanitised.?”she called to the trainee who was still keen after 2 years of her slow but enthusiastic training to be a hairdresser,

In staggered Nicola flustered and floury after her day’s baking

.”Hi , Kayleigh, I’ve found this style on Pinterest. Here it is. I think it will be OK for  me, don’t you.?”

“Let’s see” says Kayleigh, unconsciously feeling for her cigarettes “A bit shorter on top? Lots of texture?”

“Shampoo, please, Aimee”

Aimee feathered her fingers over the warm jet of water and chatted  about   holidays,  inconvenient Covid and Conditioners. She looked forward to promotion to stylist Aimee and cutting and colouring.

“ I’ve forgotten to sterilise my scissors” shuddered Kayleigh. “Nicola will  sue if she catches COVID. “

She borrowed Leanne’s, all sterilised , oiled and ready for the next day.

Their eyes met over their masks in the mirror. “We’re going a little shorter on top now, aren’t we?”

Nicola watched and concentrated as Kayleigh started snipping.

Suddenly the scissors, assiduously oiled by a diligent Leanne ,slipped and a chunk of Nicola’s hair flew across the salon.

“I’ll sue!” screamed Nicola.

“Not my fault!” shouted Kayleigh” It was Leanne’s oily scissors.”


From richer to poorer

Amy sat miserably looking at the street.  It was a blistering hot August day and the pains she had experienced during the night were getting worse.

She had moved here with her husband Richard when he lost his job and they could no longer afford the mortgage.  Being pregnant hadn’t helped, she knew no-one and thought the people a bit rough, not her type at all. Richard left earlier to look for another job, reassuring her that everything would be ok.  Baby wasn’t due for another six weeks. The pains were probably due to wind.

The pains became stronger. Amy desperately tried to phone Richard but no answer.  Then it struck her, the baby was coming!  She had to do something quickly.  Just passing by was the woman she had seen before but who looked a bit rough to Amy but she had no choice.  Opening the window Amy yelled at her, “Please help me, my baby is coming!”  Within seconds the woman was in the house and by her side.  “I’m Rosie, keep calm, I’ll call an ambulance” Baby was on the way!  “Ang onter me luv an we’ll lay yer down.  When I tell yer, push!”  Rosie knew exactly what she was doing and within minutes Amy’s baby girl was born, just as the ambulance arrived.

Amy was ashamed.  She was so thankful to Rosie.  She had thought that Richard and herself were coming down in the world moving to this place, but Rosie had been wonderful.

Arriving home from hospital they were greeted by excited neighbours presenting them with flowers and wishing them well.  Rosie smiled as Amy hugged her.  “What yer named ‘er then luv?”  “Well, Rosie, of course,” replied Amy, “We are going to love bringing her up here!   



James and his wife Annabelle had a lovely four bedroomed house in the suburbs. They had lived there for twenty years years and had a spacious, well stocked garden and were blessed with good neighbours and a fine selection of well stocked shops including an excellent butchers, exquisite green fruit and a wonderful bakers producing fresh bread and pork pies to die for.

James was the sort of guy who loved to have an ongoing project and as retirement was fast approaching he brought up the subject of “home improvements”. Annabelle had secretly been apprehensive about James retiring so was delighted when he made the suggestion and was supportive of his actions although he had never attempted anything like this before and it was very different from his working career which had been in banking. He recruited the help of a local builder, Tony, who was happy that James did the labouring and so they set about a kitchen extension with plans to expand a plain, small room into a brand new nicely finished kitchen diner. This was planned to have an Apex window at the end and a four windowed skylight feature with automatically controlled window opening.

The work progressed satisfactorily and after about four months they had a grand opening with a special meal with “builder Tony” as the guest of honour.

Time passed and the kitchen was well used and enjoyed until one day James and Annabelle had a visit from the local City Planning Officer who, after various tests and measurements informed them that the extension was unsuitable and did not conform to modern requirements.

James was horrified that the project could backfire so much and Annabelle was devastated that all their thoughts, plans and hard work could now be at jeopardy. Why did they make this decision; there was nothing wrong with the old kitchen. What is “progress” in this modern world? Should we learn to be happy with what we have got or is the “bird in the bush” always going to be our God?

Pete Diggle           350 words

Here is an extra piece written by Bob where he takes a well known story and tells it from a different point of view.



‘We really must put this murdering, violent thug behind bars.  He’s killed seven of your soldiers this month, stolen food, gold and other valuables from my loyal subjects, and even made honourable Ladies and Gentlemen strip in Sherwood Forest, in order to take their exquisite clothes, and then he  leaves them there in the cold and wet to die from pneumonia, disease, or attack from wild animals.  That nice Robin Hood!’ said King John vexedly.  ‘Robbin’ dastard, more like! It’s about time you did something about this Nottinghamshire Nightmare Sheriff, or you won’t be Sheriff very long!’ the King continued.

The Sheriff of Nottingham bowed, and walked slowly backwards uttering ‘Majesty.’ repeatedly.

‘Don’t ‘Majesty’ me!’  said the king, ‘I want a firm foolproof plan to rid us all of this footpad and his vagabond band of so called merry men!  Present it to me after breakfast tomorrow!  Understand?  Merry men indeed! They might be a bit tipsy now, but they’ll soon be legless after they meet Tyramon the Terrible in the dungeon, and the bloodthirsty employees of his successful company, Truly, Terrifying Tortures on Demand Ltd!

King John was pleased with his witticism and allowed himself a long cackling giggle, during which green froth and yellow venom dribbled from his mouth.

The Sheriff looked up, and shuddered, and said, ‘Your wish is my command, Majesty.’, before he  left the room. 

As soon as the throne room doors had closed behind him, the Sheriff called for his aide.

“Magnus! Come here immediately!” he screamed.

Magnus quickly appeared, silkily sliding down the spiral stone staircase, and fell to the floor in front of the Sheriff.

“I hear you Master!” he said.

‘The war room! Now!’ shrieked the Sheriff, as he strode off with Magnus slithering beside  him.

King John had heard the Sheriff shout for Magnus, and took deep pleasure in the fear that he had instilled in his subordinates.  His cruel smile slowly appeared from beneath his beard.  He demanded vintage red wine, then sat back in his throne, and drank heartily, and he continued to drink, sleep and snore, all the way through to suppertime.

Meanwhile, the Sheriff and Magnus were having a conference in the war room.  By conference, I mean that Magnus was being told to come up with a foolproof plan without any input from the Sheriff whatsoever.

‘Come on!  What do I pay you for, you snivelling little toe-rag, sitting in your room doing god knows what, and then exhibiting complete incompetence when I want you to earn your pay?  A plan!  A foolproof plan! Come on, what is it?’ said the Sheriff.

‘Well we could…’ said Magnus in his lazy Midlands’ drawl, ‘burn down the whole of Sherwood Forest, then these outlaws would have nowhere to hide!’

‘Are you mad?’ said the Sheriff.  The forest stretches from Nottingham to Sheffield and beyond.  It is well over 100,00 acres!  That’s some fire you dolt-head!’

‘Well then,’ droned Magnus, ‘ maybe we could just burn the bit where they live?’

‘Are you serious?  We don’t know where they live!’ said the Sheriff angrily.  ‘They move around the forest setting up camps, then decamp to another site for a short while, before moving on yet again, and we can never keep up with them.  Do you have a brain, or are you Magnus the Mindless?’

‘Well, I don’t really know.’ said Magnus speaking slowly once more.

The Sheriff’s head fell forward, and his tears of frustration and rage started well before his head hit the table.

Magnus looked at him, but said nothing.  He loved winding the Sheriff up!

Suddenly, the Sheriff turned and glared at Magnus, in such a threatening manner, that Magnus Marshall the Mysterious Magician, thought it was time to leave, and simply melted into a pool of water, which drained itself away. 

The Sheriff looked on in astonishment. 

He’d never dreamed that Magnus might be a very competent magician, because he’d never bothered to take any interest in him.  He was simply an employee in his tower, there if needed.

Magnus had always purposely portrayed himself as somewhat of an idiot, in order to avoid any unwelcome requests from people who wanted him to perform spells that would gratify their own self interests, and Magnus felt that the Sheriff’s self interest in his own survival fitted this category. 

And because of the Sheriff’s aggressive manner,  Magnus had decided it was time for an exit, and so off he flowed.

The Sheriff was astonished, befuddled and bewildered. 

‘Come back!’ he screeched, but nothing happened.

The Sheriff thought for a moment and then decided that a change of tack might be productive.

“Please come back and help me!” he murmured pathetically, but again, nothing happened.

He started to panic, then lost control of his bowels, and crumpled up into a blubbering heap of disgust on the floor.  All he could think of was The Iron Maid Marion waiting in the torture chamber, spiny arms outstretched welcoming him to her bosom, and although he’d always fancied Maid Marion, it was the human one that he was attracted to, not this bloodthirsty, macabre maid!


It was dark when the Sheriff came round, and, once he’d got over the impact of his own stench, he realised that he only had until dawn, to come up with a plan, and it was already dark outside.

He sat, head in hands, without any idea as to what he could do.

‘Magnus,’ he whispered more in hope than belief,  ‘are you still there?’

‘I am Master.’ came the reply, yet the Sheriff could not tell where the voice had come from, because Magnus remained invisible.

‘Do you still need a plan Master?’ said Magnus, knowing full well that he did.

‘Of course I do you idiot…’ said the Sheriff aggressively, then remembered that this approach was unlikely to work, so he spoke more softly and sycophantically.

‘I do.’ he whimpered, ‘I am in a terrible situation.  I will die today if I don’t come up with a plan.’

There was a long silence.

‘Magnus?’ said the Sheriff, thinking he had gone again.

‘I’m here Master.’ said Magnus reassuringly.  ‘I need to think, and this time I’ll be serious, but I may be a while.’

‘Don’t be too long!’ said the Sheriff nervously, ‘Dawn is not far off!’


Magnus’s plan worked.  Posters were put up throughout the County, advertising an archery tournament in Nottingham, first prize – a 21 troy ounce bag of gold.  They were sure Robin Hood would not be able to resist taking part, and they were right.

Robin turned up in disguise, and was immediately shown into a high walled enclosure,  where all the other contestants were.

He did not like this at all, but, outnumbered by the armed and heavy set men of the Sheriff’s personal guard, his bow and arrows were easily taken from him, just as they had been taken from all the other competitors, as they had arrived.

The competition was scheduled to start at 2pm, but it never took place.

At 1.59pm the enclosure’s gates were firmly locked and barred, and Magnus Marshall, who, disguised as one of the contestants, and who stood right in the middle of the assembled archers, cast his spell.

Everybody but Magnus involuntarily adopted an archer’s pose, and then morphed into a bronze statue!  Magnus knew that one of these statues had to be Robin Hood, and he’d figured out which one it was.  He decided to place it somewhere outside of the castle walls, but nobody ever knew of its exact location.  And it has been there from that day to this.  

You may look for it, but in all probability, you won’t find it.

For it is only visible if there is a full moon on Robin Hood’s birthday, and you would have to know the exact date and the exact time of his birth, plus the exact location of the statue, if you were to have any chance of seeing it at all, during what would be only a thirty-second manifestation! 

All other discernable statues that you might come across, will have been sculpted in later years and are simply the romantic imaginings of artists from a different time.

Anyway, it is true to say that King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham had no more trouble when they went into, or even near to, Sherwood Forest. 

Yes, there were still bandits operating there, famous ones, such as the Coterel family, known as ‘La Compagnie Sauvage’, and Roger Godberg’s band, amongst others, but none of these gangs had any intention of ever being bronzed!

© Bob Reader October 2020   1459 word