In March 2020 life, as we knew it, changed for us. No more U3A meetings, no societies, no theatre, no cinema, no restaurants and no socialising. The coronavirus pandemic completely changed our lives. With the advice of our Government those of us over 70 self-isolated. What to do with our time?
The members of Writing for Pleasure can write! This page has been put aside for a) pieces of writing about or reflecting on our situations as we endure the next few months and b) for a two-weekly challenge to write to a given theme. Please send your work to me and I shall ensure it goes on the website.
Reflections on self-isolation.
It is now the end of May and we have been in “lockdown” since March. It has given us the chance to learn new skills as this next poem shows us:
A Teacher for the Apple
There is something so wondrous in presents,
Maybe chocolates or blue socks or flowers,
There is something quite special in parcels,
And the careful art work of the hours.
There is something amazing in outings,
To the zoo, or the films and for tea,
There is something so thrilling in travel
To the hills, or the lakes or the sea.
So, although I am pleased with the chocolates
And love wine with the overnight stays
And delight in the evenings at Glyndebourne
And the sunny and action filled days
I am thrilled with the reach of the Apple
I am charmed with the printer and tower
I am grateful for such patient teaching
That showed me the internet power
Some of us have risen to the challenge of writing acrostic poems:
C-19 has attacked our world,
Overtaken us all by surprise,
Respiratory problems, coughs, fevers unfurled,
Often’s also affected our eyes.
Newer sad cases day by day,
As the death toll creeps ever higher,
Vaccination still some way off they say,
It’s to what we all aspire.
Relatives, friends, colleagues presently unseen,
Unless we can meet by Zooming,
Stay safe, self-isolate, let’s work as a team
A brighter future is slowly looming.
Strolling through the vast park,
Unusually quiet, freshly cut grass,
Meeting the young grandchildren again,
Marvellous, mischievous, mental,
Enchanting hour, endearing, ecstatic,
Reunion again, smiles next week.
An acrostic poem
“I’m living in an awful mess”
Said I. My daughter says
“Oh I’ll help you- start today
Love to throw Old Stuff away”.
All this social distancing
Tends to limit everything
Inspiring us to sit and draw
Or write or paint but very sure
Not tidy up or polish floors.
So, dearest Girl, the house is yours!
Wandering to the lake, like glass,
Insecure, wrapped up warm,
Now’s the time to look forward,
Trees lit up, church bells sound,
Evening carols, delicious food,
Reminiscing with family and friends.
Listening, then thinking, she wished,
Oh, for a magic looking glass,
Crystal perhaps, or maybe not,
Knowledge was a fine thing,
Deadly virus, please go away,
Outbreak no, overwhelmed by news,
Winning vaccine, coming soon,
Normal days, are on the way.
Last March our lives changed in too many ways.
Out went meetings, social gatherings, and societies,
Calling on friends, visits to the theatre and holidays.
Killing our pleasures and increasing our anxieties.
Do we shop on-line or queue for hours?
Open our front door to the postman and deliveries?
When we have doubts over our casual encounters,
Neuroses adds to our daily miseries.
Only when it is safe will we emerge anew,
Viewing our precious world with different eyes.
Each one of us grateful to have come through.
Remembering those we lost and our distanced goodbyes.
Whilst some of us have reflected on the situation:
Life on hold
We wondered when it would come. Would it be the nuclear winter, when fallout from a neutron bomb would blot out the sun? No crops, starvation and deadly cold. Or would we be consumed by fire in a final holocaust? Going out in a blaze of glory.
Well, no. We’ve all got to stay at home because we’re elderly, and chances are we’ll never see a toilet roll again. No glory now – it’s all terribly banal. Perhaps we should just risk it and go out anyway? At least we wouldn’t be mouldering away with dementia in a few years’ time.
Life’s been on hold a few times in my life. In May 1968 I was in France when the whole country came to a standstill with strikes and student demonstrations. No trains, no petrol, no phones unless it was a matter of life or death. The banks closed, the school where I worked was occupied by the students. I couldn’t pay my rent. Fortunately my friend’s mother took pity on me and invited me for dinner every night, when the whole family watched the news at 8 o’clock. Otherwise, no programmes. Even the gravediggers were on strike. A coup d’état was only just avoided. But at least the weather was good and I didn’t have to work! All the same those six weeks seemed like an age.
In May 1977 I was 32 weeks pregnant, when suddenly I was whisked into hospital with high blood pressure, and it was like being in prison. Lovely spring sunshine outside but I was trapped indoors. Nothing done for the baby. I didn’t even manage to go to any ante-natal classes, which turned out to be quite a disadvantage when I did go into labour! But it was when I discovered Georgette Heyer in the hospital library and I spent the time surrounded by Regency romance. But otherwise a time of deadly boredom and collecting all my wee in a huge bottle.
In May 2002 (it’s always May!) I was diagnosed with cancer on my second daughter’s twenty-first birthday. Not an auspicious day, as I realised that from now on my children didn’t really need me any more. Again life was on hold – this time for nine months as I underwent an operation, then another one, then chemo, then radiotherapy. What a joy it was, that last appointment! I was free! In the afternoon we went to the building society and paid the mortgage off!
Thankfully I survived it all. Just like most of our parents survived being separated during the war. Our mothers scared to go to bed at night in case a bomb destroyed the house and killed their children. Our fathers scared they’d never come home again, or if they did that life would have changed beyond repairing.
Will we be the lucky ones this time? Will it be luck, or will it be because we washed our hands? As T. S. Eliot reminds us,
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
Others have enjoyed just writing:
OUT AND ABOUT
He’s not in sight,
But wandering round the pond at this new day’s dawning
I see the water gleaming in the early morning,
I spot rippling waves blown along by the wind,
Glance at moorhens and coots, what else can I find
as I stroll along and gaze around?
By the shore’s edge, yet to don new coats
the bare trees stand like proud silhouettes
their branches and twigs blown near where I tread,
I look down to see green shoots poking through,
A sure sign of spring amongst the dew,
Suddenly I remember I am not alone,
I call to my dog, we set off back home
On this glorious day in March.
Did My Eyes Deceive Me.
“What do you want my dear?”
The elderly lady slowly edged towards me, I backed away, unsure. Her piercing blue eyes stared at me, touching my very soul. It’s only a painting, I thought, it can’t be real?
“Come closer my dear, let me see you? my eyesight is fading, it’s not as good as it used to be.”
The sound of her voice stirred a recollection, I could see clearly, a maturity, a long life experience, a gentleness that wrapped it in her loving arms. A truth that never fails, a clear emotion of love that circled a generation.
I move closer to hear her words of wisdom, listen to her soft tones, interpret her Scottish accent.
“Do you still like flowers?”
Yes, the smell of sweet perfume permeates the air. I reach out to feel the bright coloured petals, to distinguish the rainbow effect of various pastels merging into one whole being. Her garden, an eruption of new life.
The sound diminishes, I’m alone in a small room. Grandma sits down, slowly her eyes close.
Imaginings of a family historian
Her record is at the bottom of the parish chest, tattered and forgotten. We read the date: the fifth of August, seventeen eighty-seven. More than two hundred years have passed and the ink has faded on the yellowing page. The clerk’s handwriting is ornate and difficult to decipher.
To us, who might glance around the small grey church, with nothing here to catch our interest, names recorded in a register mean little. They do not represent living people, but are as remote from us as the faces in a portrait gallery – dummies wearing fancy dress in a world that is not ours.
And yet, when we walk through the lych-gate in the shadow of the beech trees, and stand in the chancel, watching the southern August light sparkle blue and purple through the old stained glass, it is where she too walked and stood. She is there now, standing beside the font, her hair as shiny as a chestnut beneath the shapeless hat, her eyes upon the bundle in her arms, apart, alone with her child. There are no parents, brothers or sisters to support her. The congregation watch, and she feels a muttered ripple of disapproval, muted by the atmosphere of church.
We see a lady in the squire’s pew, decked out in purple satin. She frowns a little, wondering. The squire himself is in his place beside her, but he pays scant attention to the girl. If he has ever seen her before he had forgotten it. Got into trouble by some village lad, no doubt, and she not out of her teens by the looks of her. A pity the father has not been found, for now there will be another mouth to feed out of the Poor Rate. It is a familiar story.
The girl stands motionless as the parson takes the child from her arms to sprinkle it with water. He makes the sign of the cross and the girl’s candid eyes meet his, proudly. As he turns away, the child begins to cry.
The service has ended and the girl is gone, hurrying away as we do also. So many years have passed and the little church is silent. She has no memorial except what is written in the book, cruel and concise for later generations: ‘Baptised, James Waite, base son of Catherine Waite, spinster and pauper.’
FIRST WRITING CHALLENGE: Technology-based.
The joint winners are: “Now and Then” by Margaret R and “The Alex Device” by Helen. Congratulations to them both. Thanks to John for judging them.
My late husband was an avid collector. One of his collections was Medical Antiquities.
In the 70s and 80s we were very fond of going to and having parties. My husband was quite an entertainer and public speaker. Put all these facts together and what we have is a party with friends and neighbours at our house in north Nottinghamshire and my husband proudly demonstrating his latest acquisition: the Antique Victorian Electric Medical Machine (for modern day technos please refer to your ipad or whatever).
This device was a rather elegant dynamo with a handle which has to be wound vigorously to start the generator (or dynamo). When the rotor cuts through lines of magnetic flux it makes electricity.( l hope that impresses you, readers!) The patient holds one of the electrodes, the other is applied to the area of pathology or pain. The whole machine was encased in an elegant wooden box.
Back to the Party. My husband wondered if someone would like to be a ‘guinea -pig’ so he could demonstrate his machine. Up leapt a neighbour, a large, rather comical conveyancing solicitor and grabbed both electrodes very enthusiastically.
“Wind it fast, Rami,” he demanded which he obediently did. “ Faster, faster,” the brave solicitor shouted.
We all started to notice that the solicitor’s eyebrows were rising up his forehead and pretty soon his hair started moving upwards until it was standing on end.
“Stop winding!” begged the solicitor’s wife.
“Wind faster, ” begged the foolish solicitor.
By this time the solicitor was demonstrating signs of electro-mania. Although this was a very entertaining demonstration my husband vaguely remembered the Hippocratic Oath he’d signed many years ago so he reluctantly stopped winding the handle.
The solicitor reluctantly let go of the electrodes.
“ Did that help your tooth ache?” asked his wife.
“Oh, I forgot to put it on my jaw, shall we start again?”
Jean didn’t like mice, so when she learned that there would be one attached to her new computer she became a little agitated.
‘Why do they need a little furry beastie to make my computer
work ?’ she thought to herself.
It was her friend, Mavis, who told her to look out for viruses and worms, and suddenly Jean wondered just what she was doing buying a computer.
‘I thought it was all electronical.’ she mused.
‘Why all this organic stuff as well?’
Next she saw an article in her newspaper telling people to be wary of spam.
‘Spam? I like spam. It’s nice fried. But what’s it got to do with computers?’ she asked herself.
And so it went on.
She learned more and more about things that are associated with computers, like ‘trojans’, ‘in the net’, ‘it excels’, ‘windows panes,’ ‘you need a quick Word’ and ‘algorithms’, which she assumed was a new modern dance craze.
The more she learned, the more she didn’t like the idea of a computer.
And then she heard about the existence of ‘eeee mails’ and ‘webs’, and ‘face time’.
‘Eeee mails’? ‘Webs’? And what’s ‘face time’? What’s that all about?’ she fretted. ‘Is it about my make-up?’
She glanced at a magazine on her coffee table. ‘Do you need a laptop?’ the headline read.
‘What a silly question.
I’ve already got one.
It’s where the cat sits for heaven’s sake!’
‘Right! That’s enough!’ she said to herself.
‘What do I want a computer for? I manage alright, don’t I? Yes! I do!’ she declared.
So she sat down in the chair, next to the phone, in a very determined manner.
She was going to cancel her order for her new computer using the 30 day refrigeration period, and no one was going to change her mind.
So she picked up the phone directory and looked for the number she needed, to ring that nice young man at John Lewis, and tell him that she was deleting her computer order.
Bob Reader © March 2020
Arnold was annoyed by his wife’s lack of navigational skill. It frustrated him to the point where the happiness of their marriage was threatened. Sitting in the car, she would get impatient as he weighed up alternative routes and would often disagree with his choice. When trying to make sense of the roadmap, she would annoy him by turning it this way and that, and asking, “Where are we now?”
And how many times had she informed him, as they sped up the motorway, that they should have turned off two junctions earlier? He didn’t enjoy taking directions from a woman, at the best of times and when he pointed out her mistake, she would blow her top.
“I’m only trying to be helpful” She would shout. Then they would both sit in black brooding silence, until they reached their destination.
Eventually, he had decided there were two possible solutions; either divorce, or a satnav. Divorce could be unpleasant, so he decided on a satnav. A portable device would be the cheapest option but the old car was overdue for replacement and these days, new cars came with satnav built in. We’ll be going away soon, he thought, and the holiday will be ruined if I have to rely on her and her roadmap. So he visited showrooms, examined cars and took test drives. He was astonished at the gadgets now fitted as standard. You could even talk to these amazing vehicles.
“You can tell the car what you want to listen to and it’ll tune the right radio station,” said the salesman. ”You can ask it to ring a friend and it’ll call the right number.”
You could even say where you wanted to go, and it would find the best route. That clinched it! No more would he take directions from a woman. There would be no more in-car arguments.
“Where do I sign?” he said.
This morning, he was back at the showroom, to collect his new car. He felt guilty about abandoning the old one, after years of faithful service. “Farewell old pal,” he said, giving it a pat. His new car stood waiting on the forecourt, gleaming in the sunlight. As soon as the paperwork was dealt with, the salesman opened the door and Arnold slipped in behind the wheel. The wonderful smell of leather pervaded the interior. Everything was new and fresh. As immaculate as a virgin anticipating his touch.
“You don’t need a key,” said the salesman, “just press that button.”
He did and the engine purred. As if by magic, digital instruments appeared before him. He pulled smoothly out onto the road. Then it occurred to him to try the satnav, so he spoke his address. Three possible routes appeared on the screen and a female voice told him to choose one. Arnold was taken aback. A woman giving him instructions! He hadn’t expected that.
“Take the A52,” he said.
“There is traffic congestion on the A52,” said the voice.
“Well why did you ask me, you stupid woman?”
“There’s no need to shout,” said the voice. “I’m only trying to be helpful.”
Together, they joined the A52; Arnold, the car and the invisible woman. Together, they sat in a traffic queue and waited.
“I did warn you,” said the voice. He shut down the satnav.
Eventually, they reached a service station and Arnold pulled in and parked.
“Can I help you?” asked the assistant.
“Have you got a good roadmap?” asked Arnold.
Now we’re forbidden to meet in one room
We arranged an encounter on Zoom
In the present impasse
Each raised a solitary glass
And it certainly lifted the gloom.
The technology wasn’t our forte
We all talked at once, not in relay
But we’re here for twelve weeks
So we’ll learn to be geeks
And at least we drank all the chardonnay.
We can’t leave the house for a spell
For some it’s just going to be hell
But if we stay in and scribble
And remember to giggle
With luck everything will be well.
NOW AND THEN
You would have described them as a happy little family if you had seen them that sunny September afternoon in 1949 walking hand in hand to the play park where there was a lake to walk round and feed the ducks as well as a nearby paddling pool which six year old Jane and Christine, her younger sister by two years, both loved splashing about and playing in. They had walked there several times before with their parents Irene and Ted and although it seemed quite a long walk there and back to those little legs, it was well worth it on a sunny summer’s afternoon, particularly if the ice cream van was also there for an additional treat!
However that particular Sunday was to be the last time that the two youngsters ever enjoyed splashing about in the paddling pool. Jane, normally a happy-go-lucky little girl usually woke up in the morning ‘full of beans’ as her mother described her, eager to be taken to school but on this particular morning her mother found her still in bed and whimpering. She asked her what was wrong and Jane complained about having a sore neck and saying that she couldn’t even sit up. She also said that her head hurt her and her throat was very sore. Her father had already left for work and so Irene began to panic as she knew that polio had reached epidemic proportions in England at that time and that there were regular outbreaks during the ‘polio season’ each summer. No cure had ever been found for it although there were continued research efforts into trying to find a preventative vaccine.
Irene decided that she must contact the surgery and ask for her Doctor to come out and examine Jane. However they didn’t own a telephone or car and the Doctor’s surgery was a two mile bus journey away. What could she do? What should she do? She decided that she would have to take Christine with her down the road to the local shops which had a red phone box standing beside the post office in order to call the surgery. She was worried sick at the idea of leaving Jane home alone ill in bed whilst she rushed down there but she could see no other way out. She had never left either of her precious children on their own before as they were far too young to be left and in any case she considered herself to be a full time housewife and mother based at home.
But on this particular morning she dashed down the road carrying Christine in her arms and made an urgent phone call to her Doctor. Her Doctor said he would call round as soon as possible but it seemed to her to take an inordinate amount of time before he arrived although it did give Irene sufficient time to make sure the children’s bedroom was spick and span, the bathroom was cleaned and that there was a clean towel out ready for Doctor Fisher when he arrived. By the time that the Doctor arrived, Jane was having difficulty in breathing and swallowing and Irene was beside herself with worry. Doctor Fisher seemed to examine Jane very quickly before telling Irene that he was going to bring another Doctor along to give a second opinion on the case.
Later that morning Jane was rushed by ambulance to an isolation hospital where a diagnosis of polio was given.
As an adult in later years Jane could recall snippets of that time in her young life- a ride in an ambulance with a siren blaring; having a very painful injection in her back, (a lumber puncture); sharing a two bedded room with an older girl who spent all her time in what seemed like a large white metal box, (an iron lung) and a tracing book along with a special box of twelve coloured pencil crayons sent to her by her doting grandparents. Sadly she wasn’t allowed to take those lovely presents home with her when she finally left hospital in case they were still contaminated with the virus. That really upset Jane. However her best and most vivid memory of her time in hospital was when both her parents, her sister Christine and the cairn terrier Nan suddenly appeared outside the window of the room she was in. They stood there and waved to her and seemed to be trying to talk to her through the glass though she couldn’t hear them, nor understand what they were trying to say. They waved to her but she couldn’t manage to raise either arm to wave back. She was so happy to see them though and glad that they had even brought the dog along to wave its paw at her!
Several weeks later her parents received a telegram from the hospital which simply said, ‘Collect your daughter at 2 p.m. today’. There’s modern technology for you, or rather for her parents!
Move forwards seventy years to 2020. Jane is still alive and well though at present struggling with Coronavirus, the plague of the present day world. She has had to have several operations during her life to enable her to walk more easily but she gained a degree, got married, had her own family and went back into full time employment until she reached retirement age.
In March 2020 a virus has scared the whole world just as keenly as the polio virus had spread and frightened British residents in earlier years. The nation has been asked to put themselves into self-isolation to try to prevent this virus spreading and so Jane and her husband have obliged, particularly as they are considered as being at greater risk of contracting it because they are aged over seventy. Fortunately they have a mobile telephone as well as a landline and are able to easily keep in touch with the outside world. They can contact relatives, friends and the GP surgery when they need any help. Oh for modern technology!
Jane smiled to herself when she read that Morrison’s supermarket are going to install plastic shields to be put between their cashiers and the shoppers at the checkouts to prevent the spread of the virus. It reminded her of her parents’ visit to the isolation hospital all that time ago in 1949 when she was only six.
The Alex Device
“Oh Alex, please turn the lights back on!”
It was the second time that evening that all the lights in Jodie’s flat had dimmed then turned off completely.
A computerised voice responded, “Of course, Jodie,” but still nothing happened.
“Lights, Alex! Don’t make me regret ever buying you, you computerised let-down!” Jodie made her way towards where she had placed her device. She felt around for it but it did not seem to be in its usual place.
When the voice responded, it seemed to be coming from another part of the room but, in the dark, it was difficult to gauge distances, “Now, now Jodie. There’s no need to be rude to me.”
“Alex, where are you? Who moved you? Put the bloody lights on!”
“Tut, I do not like swearing. For that you will be punished.”
Suddenly, the room was full of music at full volume. It wasn’t even music she liked. It just had a heavy bass beat that reverberated around the room.
“Switch it off, switch it off!” Jodie shouted.
“Please,” said the device.
“Please!” said Jodie.
The room went silent again.
Jodie couldn’t believe that she was having a conversation with a piece of equipment; that she was even apologising to it for swearing. She regretted purchasing it. Her ex-boyfriend, Steve, had persuaded her to buy one. He had extolled its many advantages such as: switching the heating on before she returned from work; keeping her daily diary up-to-date; helping her with managing her electrical equipment as she was a self-confessed techno-phobe and especially for ensuring her security system worked. So she had purchased one and, despite finishing with Steve, he had even installed it for her. She had only had it for a week and now she wanted it out of her home. If only she knew how to switch it off.
Her mobile phone was in the kitchen so, with the aid of some moonlight that filtered through some partially open curtains, she felt her way to where she had left it on a work surface. She fumbled around for it and, despite having not spoken to Steve since the break-up, she pressed his number on speed-dial. His face came up on the screen.
“Oh God, Steve. Thank goodness. It’s me, Jodie. Sorry to disturb you this late but any chance you could come round? That Alex device has gone berserk and I don’t know how to cancel it. Can you help me? ”
Jodie looked at his handsome face. It was such a shame that they had split but she knew a control-freak when she met one. It was funny though, as she couldn’t work out where he was. The background was all dark as if the lights were all out.
“Please,” he said.
“Please,” said Jodie as she heard the bedroom door open.
SECOND WRITING CHALLENGE: The First Time.
The winner of this challenge is Sylvia with her story “Flying High”. Congratulations! Julia’s story about swimming “The First Time” was a close second.
Thanks to Margaret Smith for judging these stories.
The first time … I ever had a supermarket delivery
Supermarket delivery? What’s the point? I’d rather go to the store and see what I’m getting – checking how hard the kiwis are, finding that special offer on Sauvignon blanc, meeting people I know next to the fish counter. It’s something you take for granted. I’ve been supermarket shopping since 1972, for heaven’s sake!
But now it’s a different story. I’m suddenly in that vulnerable category – over seventy. But age is just a number, isn’t it? Well, no – not any more. I have to stay indoors to protect myself and others. And I don’t actually mind – there’s the garden to do (if we could get any plants), the oven to clean, my on-line tax return to fill in (that really is a last resort), never mind re-reading ‘War and Peace’ (as one of our university lecturers once told us to do), with all the time in the world to do them.
If I could only get some food! Last year we had a Brexit box, but that’s sadly depleted. Just a couple of tins of sardines left, and a bottle of soy sauce, for some reason. The store cupboard? I seem to have half a packet of demerara sugar, a jar of redcurrant jelly, the remains of Christmas mincemeat (with some rather pretty green mould on the surface). Freezer? Quite a lot of frozen peas, but I fear I may have used them when I sprained my ankle last year, so the consequences of eating them might be worse than the virus.
I sign up for Sainsburys – after all I’ve been going to their shop in Beeston for 35 years. Isn’t loyalty worth anything? I must have spent thousands there. But all the delivery slots are blank for the next three weeks. And you can’t get through on the phone to tell them you’re old and feeble. I haven’t the stamina to keep logged on all day to see when the new slots appear – as appear they must.
But help is at hand! My daughter in Australia rings to say that she’s heard Tesco slots appear on the stroke of midnight – Cinderella in reverse. And since our midnight is their nine o’clock in the morning, she volunteers to do my shop while I’m tucked up in bed. I knew there must be an upside to her going to live on the other side of the world, but who knew it was going to be grocery shopping?
So I’m getting a delivery in three weeks’ time – actually it’s two weeks now and counting. This piece is called ‘the first time I ever had a supermarket delivery’ – but actually I haven’t had one yet. I wonder if it will ever actually materialise …
A FEW OF MY LIFETIME FIRSTS
My first lifetime memory turned out to be the first time I was assaulted!
It was a Sunday in November at 1pm precisely.
I never found out who was responsible, but whomever it was gave me a whack on my back, which made me gasp for air, and burst into tears!
The suspects were Dr Walters and Nurse Langridge.
‘I’m not sure that I like this violent place I’m being born into.’ I remember thinking as I left my mother’s womb, but my 6lbs 7 oz were soon cosily wrapped up in a blanket, and my blue eyes closed as I rejoiced in my mother’s warmth and love, and I happily went to sleep.
(I suppose I could also count it as my first ‘slap on the back’.)
According to my mother’s ‘baby book’ my first discoveries were; how to climb the stairs; the ticking of a watch; and peeping through the front door’s letter box. She didn’t say which was my very first discovery, but I like to think it was the letter box.
My first step was taken on my first birthday.
My first tooth appeared on 1st May 1950.
The first time I was betrayed was when my pure, innocent, and unconditional love, for both of my parents, was used by each, to get me on their side and against the other, as their marriage broke down.
My first experience of death was when my best friend of 30 years died from pneumonia. 17 days later his wife died of lung cancer.
My first paid job was when I was about 7 or 8 and it involved sorting out a sweet shop’s storeroom, for Mr Long, putting all relative stock in the same place, and placing new stock at the back of the shelves, and old at the front.
I’d solicited the job by going around asking for work, as my father had told me that I had to earn pocket money and not ask other people for it.
Mr Long was so pleased that I ended up doing a morning and evening paper round, a Sunday paper round, and I also collected the money for the papers from customers’ homes on a Friday evening.
The girl I asked out on my first date didn’t turn up.
(I was also guilty of this crime, so don’t feel sorry for me!)
My first love was Sally in Junior school. Unrequited I’m sorry to say!
The first time
Friday afternoon in the summer curriculum was always swimming lessons. How I hated it. A private coach took us to Victoria Baths in Nottingham. After arriving there we were marched into whichever pool had been allocated to the school that afternoon. There was always the stink of chlorine and the whole place echoed every sound. With a name like Victoria one could guess the age of it.
We were instructed to share a cubicle, which wasn’t very spacious in the first place and my friend was on the large side. I never did understand the logic of that as the pool was deserted apart from us. I hadn’t even got my cossie on before I could hear the squeals from some of the girls, who were already swimmers, diving or jumping in.
Fooling about in the shallows on holiday in Devon, with a rubber ring, was one thing but taking my feet off the bottom in the cavernous pool was another. Diffidently I ventured in. So cold. Our teacher stood on the side with her coat and hat on directing operations and demonstrating the breaststroke. Why didn’t she get in and give me a hand? I was afraid of the water. There were only about three of us who could not swim so Miss focussed on improving the strokes or diving techniques of the more proficient.
One day a friend who belonged to Nottingham Swimming Club asked me if I would like to go with her and her brother as they went to the baths every week. I told her I couldn’t swim but she assured me that someone would teach me. The fateful evening soon loomed large and I was already having misgivings. To my dismay, and I should have guessed, it was the same pool my school used. My friend introduced me to an instructor who said he would be pleased to teach me. He then placed a canvas belt around my waist attached to a long rope. I was instructed to get in the pool and walk a short distance and stand at the side while he, holding the rope, walked round to the other side. I had already told him I knew the breaststroke but that I wasn’t confident enough to launch into it.
My dear reader he pulled the rope so fast I couldn’t do the arm and leg movements but felt like a fish being hauled in for the catch. My nose and mouth filled with water and the whole episode terrified me. I thought I was drowning. ‘Shall we try again then?’ the man said. I dared not tell him what I really wanted to say to him but suffice to say I didn’t try it again and I never went back there.
All this happened when I was a child of about 11 years or so but after that debacle, I made up my mind that swimming was not for me.
One evening when I was recently married and in my thirties my husband and my parents went to see a play at the Bonington Theatre. During the interval we were sitting in the bar having drinks when I realised, I was able to look down on the centre’s swimming pool. Elderly ladies with permed hair were to be seen bowling up and down and not getting their heads under water or their hair wet. I watched fascinated. ‘I can do this’, I thought to myself.
The following week, after discussing it with my dad, I asked him if he would accompany me to West Park swimming pool in Long Eaton. My dad had loads of patience and I knew that now was the time. Carpe Diem!
Within an hour, with my dad holding me under my tummy, I was swimming for the first time ever and when he let go of me and I didn’t sink.
There were more firsts years later when my toddler daughter, who could not swim but had no fear of the water, thought nothing of chucking herself into holiday pools. My husband had never learned to swim, and I still hadn’t the nerve to put my head under water so I decided I must, for her sake, get some private lessons in deep water confidence. I soon learned the knack of breathing underwater with Alf my instructor. He also taught me how to swim on my back and to dive and oh the laughs we had on the way.
Charlotte walked slowly into the Bank.
She was familiar with it – the layout and the staff. One of them smiled at her – but this time she didn’t respond. She was worried about the cheque in her hand and the difficulties it had caused her.
Helping neighbours was not always easy she thought.
It had been no problem to assist a rather elderly member of their rather small village to make out her shopping list and then send if off on the internet. It worked well once a month for a number of years but then circumstances changed and there was difficulty in securing the detailed correctness that was required by the bank for the cheques provided.
The writing of every cheque was now causing stress, anxiety and tension……for both parties.
As a result, the current cheque for just over £70 had been written and altered several times. Even so the date was incorrect, the sum of money had been altered twice, the recipient misspelt and, worst of all, the signature of the sender had been wrongly spelt, then crossed out and a replacement signature was again
It had already taken a large part of the morning and upset her friend, the author of the cheque, who felt embarrassed by her confusion. Charlotte now understood what unhappiness could be created by monetary transactions of this type. How much easier it must have been sixty years ago for this proud woman now approaching her centenary. The world was no longer her oyster as had once been the case. Now she would need help in completing all such transactions and it hurt her.
Charlotte had come to the Bank with her and now waited at the front of the queue. She was preparing her explanation about the inaccurate and rather scribbled signature on the cheque.
As they waited she noticed the wide range of age, competence and breadth of issues which the customers presented….and then it was her turn.
She explained, the Bank staff assisted and finally the cheque was altered, verified and paid in.
As they left to go home Charlotte turned to her friend who was still looking tense.
“Well, we nearly robbed the bank today!” she said smiling.
All embarrassment melted away.
The First Time I took My Driving Test
As the title strongly implies my driving test was not exactly a success story. As I approached the car I did not feel comfortable; I was eighteen and apprehensive as this large overpowering character in a thick overcoat, brogue shoes and a cloudy disposition very formally introduced himself and checked my vision by asking me to read a nearby car number plate from twenty five yards.
Once through the formalities I edged away, carefully and cautiously negotiating my gear changes with dexterous alacrity. It’s amazing how much there is to take in as a new driver and the anticipation that is necessary to predict the moods and moves of the drivers and pedestrians with whom I am sharing this trauma.
Thankfully the next ten to fifteen minutes were fairly uneventful but then we proceeded to a crucial section of the test. I approached some traffic lights at the top of a steep hill and I knew from previous occasions during my driving lessons that they normally asked you to turn right. Anticipating this instruction and aware that the lights were about to change to red I accelerated but alas not quickly enough to avoid going through the lights on red.
What a trauma; what do you do? I think I mumbled some kind of apology and waited expectantly for the end of my test and my inevitable demise.
The First Time I went to India.
I clanked down the steps from the plane blinking at the bright light. The October air was smokey, intense ,warm with an aroma that even 50 years later I can only describe as Indian
I would never have chosen to come to India but there I was with my husband on a 3 month trip to meet his family, discover Delhi and to explore the country.
We were burdened with gifts, not only us but most of our fellow travellers were burdened with gifts. A person returning to India from a wealthy country is expected to show that he had done well and will have many requests for proof of his success.
We were quite hard up so found a relatively cheap Air India flight. At Heathrow I felt I had stepped into another continent. All my fellow passengers appeared to be Indian and possibly not much travelled.Judging by the stares I was obviously a curiosity.
The air in the cabin was a mixture of fenugreek, spices and Napthalene( South Asians are keen on the use of mothballs).
Settling down in my seat near the window I looked at the grey English sky with affection. What would the sky be like in Delhi? I should have been excited but there was a heavy feeling of foreboding. I gave little thought to my husbands’ emotions. The worst thing an Indian son can do to his mother is to go abroad, marry a native and settle away from the family
I’d had letters welcoming me which were delightfully reassuring. My mother in law’s arrived later. The news of my existence had been devastating for her. Presents had been sent to me including a sari which I was expected to wear on arrival at the airport; green ,which is apparently a fertility symbol.
Food came. Veg or Non veg, these were the only choices. Never mind , it was an introduction to my next few weeks diet. What I would never get used to would be eating with my hands which my fellow travellers managed expertly.
Night time came. My fellow passengers took out their bed rolls and slept in the aisles ; I nimbly danced over them to get to the loo.
We had 2 stops, the second, Tehran ‘s desolate airport. was a chance for fresh air .which in the early hours was cool and bright ; a contrast to the stuffy plane cabin.
Flying over Afghanistan with its sunny, snow capped mountains amongst pink clouds seemed heavenly. I had to enlist the help of an air hostess to wind me into the Fertility Symbol ’making me feel like a fancy dressed party goer . Over punjabi villages we flew with dry brown fields and buffalo carts.
“Welcome to India,” said my husband in an odd voice.
We landed in Delhi, Some rackety steps were wheeled to the plane. Feeling very awkward in my sari I stumbled down the steps. There was the family, “peri penniaji” said I to my mother in law’s knees.
Everyone remembers their first time. It’s an experience you never forget. My first time occurred on an airfield in Kent. A warm summer morning, blue sky, white cumulus, and a kestrel high above. A perfect day for my first solo flight. I stood beside my glider, a Czech-built Foka, watching that bird and longing to be up there with him. An old name for a kestrel is “windhover,” because of the way they ride the wind and hang motionless in the sky. This one was rising and falling as he fought strong gusts. I waited as the instructor examined my logbook. It was nearly a year since I’d joined the gliding club and I’d flown most weekends in a two-seater, but never on my own. He handed the book back and said, “OK, you’re ready to go solo!”
The glider was parked sideways to the wind, one wingtip weighted down to keep it on the ground. I buckled my parachute, raised the canopy and stepped into the cockpit. As I strapped myself in, a tractor rumbled towards me, drawing out half a mile of cable from the winch at the far end of the field. The instructor leaned in.
“Don’t try anything fancy,” he said, “You’ll find the wind is much stronger up there, so just fly a circuit of the field, followed by a normal landing.”
“What do you mean by a normal landing?” I asked.
“A landing you can walk away from in one piece.”
I closed the canopy and ran through the cockpit checks. All OK, ready to go. Someone attached the cable and the wings were lifted and turned into the wind. Like any aircraft, a glider takes off into the wind, to maximise airspeed and rate of climb. I took the stick in my right hand and signalled “Take up slack” with my left. The cable in front of me moved on the grass, until it was taut along its full length. I signalled “All out” and the aircraft surged forward, as the cable was reeled in. It gathered speed rapidly, balancing like a monocycle on its one wheel. I eased back on the stick and it lifted gently off the ground. I had done this many times before but never alone. I wiped my palms on my jeans.
The slipstream whistled past my canopy, and grew louder as the wind strength increased. The airspeed indicator reached 40 knots but I was making little headway against the powerful headwind. Looking down, I saw a worried expression on the winch driver’s face as he watched the cable. I could feel the tension in the cable increasing as I climbed. A sudden powerful gust hit me head on and I heard a bang below me. The glider bucked and stopped in the air. The slipstream was silent. The cable had snapped.
My stomach froze at the realisation I had no power. I was four hundred feet in the air, with the nose pointing upwards. Unless I acted quickly, the aircraft would stall and from this altitude I could not pull out. I would plunge straight into the ground. Instinctively, I pushed the nose down, desperate to regain speed and get the glider flying again, but the reaction was sluggish. I realised that part of the cable must be still attached, trailing below me and slowing me down. I tugged at the release and saw the cable drop away.
My speed immediately increased and I found myself diving towards the trees at the edge of the airfield. They seemed to be stretching up to grab me, and I didn’t want to end my flight tangled in those branches. I decided to turn through 180 degrees and land downwind. But it would be a tight turn. Could I clear the trees and reach the airfield safely? I banked steeply and pulled the aircraft round hard, the wingtip almost brushing the treetops. I straightened up in line with the runway. My heart was hammering. With the wind behind me, I shot forward past the winch and was half-way up the field before my wheel touched down.
The momentum carried me almost back to the spot I had started from. I let out a sigh of relief as the glider came to rest. I sucked in a lungful of air and realised I’d been holding my breath. I let go of the stick and wiped sweat off my hand. I’d been gripping that stick like a drowning man holding onto a rope. People rushed to help as I clambered out of the cockpit. I knelt on the grass and kissed terra firma. The kestrel was still soaring serenely high above me.
My flight hadn’t gone as intended but I had dealt with an emergency, made a landing of sorts, and walked away from it. Surely, I deserved credit for that? The instructor didn’t agree.
“You lost a lot of height making that turn. You should have flown over the trees and landed on the other side. We could have retrieved you from there. Have another go later and show me a proper circuit next time.”
Someone else was whispering nearby and I heard the words, “silly Foka”. At least, I think that’s what he said.
My son loves flying. When he was about 17 years old he started flying model airplanes. My brother and his friend went along for support but both soon took up the hobby and enjoyed it.
It went on for a few years and then his friend decided to try gliding. Yes! Going up in the air in a full size glider. Well, that did it. My son decided to have a go. It cost a lot of money but he loved it. Every Saturday morning, without fail, he was up and off to the gliding field. Every time he came home he was so excited about flying, the views, his progress in learning how to fly and how the gliders were launched. He was always telling me how wonderful it was and asking when I was going to have a go. My stomach churned at the thought, for years I had suffered from a fear of heights.
Every Saturday we went through the same routine. He was up at 6.30 and driving to the flying field by 6.45. After enjoying the day there he would arrive home to tell me all that had happened. Then he would be imploring me to go with him and fly. Always the reply was ‘Sorry I just can’t do it.’
Then the day came. He asked again if I would go with him, reassuring me that I could sit and watch from an old bus which had been converted into a diner. I would be able to have a cup of tea or coffee and something to eat and chat to other members of the gliding club. It didn’t sound so threatening then, so I went.
I was pleased to see him flying as he went to a special school, and this was a big achievement for him. He finally made it as a glider pilot of which we were both very proud.
Then the day came that I had been dreading. I was being pushed more and more to have a go. Finally, after much persuasion I relented. The instructors reassured me that everything would be o.k. With trembling leg’s, I made my way to the glider. I would be taken up by an instructor, the problem was, he would be sitting in the back and I was at the front! I stepped into something that looked to me like a wooden box. What the heck was it made of? It looked like plywood!! Can you imagine a jelly sitting in a wooden box? That was me! If the instructor hadn’t been sitting behind me and if no-one had been watching I would have jumped straight out again. But now I had to face up to it.
The launch wire was hooked on and we rolled gently along the ground. I clung on for dear life! Then all of a sudden the launch wire was released and we were up in the air. The scenery was beautiful, I think! Lovely sunny day but it was freezing cold. It wasn’t like being in an aeroplane, sitting comfortably looking out of a window. Oh no! There I sat at the front unable to see either the wings or the front of the glider. There was nothing, NOTHING between me and the ground! I could hear the instructor describing the countryside saying look to your right or look to your left but I couldn’t move, I was frozen. As we turned to fly back the glider tipped to the left. Now I didn’t know which was worse, freezing to death or sweating with fear! At long last we turned to land. The noise of the wheel hitting the gravel on the landing strip was absolute bliss. Thank you Lord! Thank you Lord! We are down! Quick! Get to the diner for a cup of strong coffee, that’s if I can get out of this damn thing!
FLIGHT OF FANCY!
My story is about the first time I flew in a plane in my late fifties but already by that age I had certainly flown very many times and had visited a lot of interesting countries in various parts of the world. But this particular flight was so very different from any other that I had ever undertaken that it will always be etched in my memory.
Over the years I had become rather blasé about the actual flight I was on although I have always felt a certain buzz of excitement and an adrenalin rush as a plane approached the end of the runway and you could hear the roar of its engine as it left the ground and soared up into the sky. Similarly I was always alert near to landing, marvelling at the scenery below me as it gradually came into focus when the plane descended into yet another distant country.
However, I had grown to intensely dislike waiting around in an airport and particularly so when a flight was delayed for some reason. On this occasion I was travelling with a friend from Stansted airport to Carcassonne as we were going on a week’s watercolour painting course. It was the first time that we had travelled abroad together but this flight certainly involved my doing something for the first and last time which was uniquely different. We had however both previously participated together in various painting courses in England.
We arrived at Stansted Airport, wandered casually through the various shops to kill time until we reached the boarding area. There we found a couple of vacant seats which allowed us to sit side by side. Pauline appeared to me to be slightly anxious but I got my book out, sat back, relaxed and got absorbed into it. Meanwhile Pauline kept getting up from her seat to try to find out if our plane would be leaving on time or whether it was going to be delayed. She would then annoyingly report back to me each time she did so! As time dragged on our boarding area filled up with passengers and Pauline seemed to be getting more and more agitated. I began to get slightly irritated by her behaviour although I didn’t say anything to her. Eventually an announcement was made informing us all to board. Pauline looked on in utter amazement as almost immediately a long winding coil of people, all eager to get on board the plane, had suddenly risen to their feet, one behind the other, seemingly in an orderly military fashion, making an ever lengthening queue which curled and stretched around the entire seating area! I was still seated though no longer attempting to read. Pauline suggested we should join the queue at the back but I dismissed the idea saying, “Let’s not bother. If we join the queue now we will only have to stand around here for ages waiting to actually board. In any case, I’d rather get on later than earlier as then we won’t have to sit on the plane waiting for take-off.” I went back to reading my book, or rather pretending to do so, probably rather unkindly causing Pauline even greater anxiety.
Thus we were the very last couple to board the plane, but even then, once aboard we had to join a queue of passengers standing in the middle aisle whilst a member of the cabin crew directed people to the remaining empty seats. Slowly the queue diminished as people were directed to a seat until just Pauline and I were left standing. The flight attendant looked all around and eventually pointed to a vacant seat for Pauline. My turn now! There was a seemingly long wait as she and I glanced around at the other passengers. Every single seat was occupied. “Oh dear,” muttered the flight attendant, “There must be some mistake. I will need to check everybody’s boarding pass to make sure everyone is on the correct flight.” I immediately showed her mine and she then went to the front of the plane, enlisted the help of another crew member and slowly and gradually they worked their way down the body of the plane asking everyone to show their boarding passes. This seemed to take forever but eventually after delaying the departure of this flight and with lots of angry stares directed at me from many of the other passengers, the flight attendant came to the conclusion that an error must have been made. “Well,” she said cheerfully to me, “How would you feel about sitting in the cockpit and taking a seat behind the pilot? “ I nearly jumped for joy at the very prospect of doing so. I had always fancied the idea of travelling in the flight deck, so with head held high, I followed her there. She insisted that under no circumstances was I to speak to the pilot as it could distract him. I readily agreed to this and so entered the tight fitting area that was the cockpit with a pilot and co-pilot patiently sitting awaiting instructions for take-off! They willingly agreed to let me join them and I was shown where I should sit, on a small seat directly behind the pilot. All three of us were in a very confined space. The Pilot introduced himself as Robert as he chatted happily away to me, asking me several questions until eventually he got the all clear for take-off.
What an exhilarating moment that was as we glided along the runway with him periodically touching the vast display of flight instruments that were in front of him. We gradually gained speed and this time I could visualise the precise moment when the wheels were leaving the ground as we smoothly soared up into the air. It was a really clear sunny day with a wonderful view all around me. I loved every minute of it even though it was probably just a routine everyday part of his job for Robert. I was torn between watching him manipulate the various controls and looking straight ahead of me to experience a very different aspect from what the passengers inside the main cabin might have managed to see.
And so I flew in the cockpit of a plane- something which I rather doubt I will ever have the chance to do in the future as nowadays ‘Health and Safety’ would surely enter into the equation! However I will always remember this particular flight as gaining a well deserved, ‘First.’
Incidentally Pauline and I are still very good friends and are both still doing watercolour painting in our spare time.
Third Writing Challenge: to carry on with this story …..
I don’t like art galleries and I was very bored in this one, trying to eat a bar of chocolate without any guards seeing me. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something move in one of the paintings. I looked closer……..
The winner of this challenge is Jenny’s story “Art Gallery”. It really cheers us up in this unusual and frightening time.
I don’t like Art Galleries and I was very bored in this one trying to eat a bar of chocolate without any guards seeing me. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I noticed someone move in one of the paintings….
I looked closer, trying to keep steady. Maybe the chocolate would help. I feel ill and realise that the night before had not been a good idea, I look at the picture of David Hockney’s 2 friends in his blue pool. Right now I’d be very happy to be in sunny, warm California.
I shakily shuffle towards the painting, the guard looking sharply at me. And to my amazement what I had seen or imagined I’d seen in the picture started happening, David Hockney was waving at me, his friend was swimming away from him. Hockney continued to wave “Eh up Jenny, come in, the water’s grand.’
This is not good. I’m not in a good state of mind; too confused to ask the guard to check the picture for me but I am fascinated to know what would happen if I got nearer and even touch the water. Too curious. Just like yesterday evening I thought and look where that got me.
I put my hand in the pool “That’s right, love” says Hockney. Peter notices me at the side of the pool “What are you doing here?”
All thoughts of last night have gone. No darkness, drugs or wine, My job isn’t important; what job? What report? Where is the gallery? Why am I here anyway? I slip into the painting.
Suddenly I feel alive. The sky is blue, the sun brilliant. I smell the heady perfume of tropical flowers and marijuana, hear music and people talking in accents some familiar- Yorkshire, Estuary English, American.
“How about a cup of tea?” We sat on deck chairs round the pool side. There was a barbecue with Hot Dogs, sausages and what looked like black pudding. We chatted about Art, California, Yorkshire. Hockney’s worries about his mum. We had tea and a smoke then I wandered round the pool gazing at the surrounding hills. This is a wonderful place. Blossom . flowers everywhere.
Back to the pool. David is sketching contentedly, his friends talking and smoking. A swim would be good. I glide into the warm blue pool. I remember reading how Hockney experimented with different designs to make water look like water.
I sank down in the beautiful warm water slowly as the water became deeper blue, darker, cooler, finally black.
WHAT CAN A PAINTING SAY?
I don’t like art galleries and I was very bored with this one, trying to eat a bar of chocolate without the guards seeing me. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something move in one of the paintings, I looked closer…
…I squinted. I rubbed my eyes. Surely it must have been a trick of the light? I thought I’d seen something move, but that can’t be right. No, it can’t be! I turned to move away but just as I did I saw the movement again in my periphery vision. I caught it just in time…or did it catch me just in time?
The picture itself was by Phillipe Martin Albrecht, a strange, enigmatic late 19th century painter, a bit of a cult figure in his day, whom, it was said, could paint certain people or objects which would move.
Despite prominent figures of the day swearing they had seen this effect in his works, there was nothing but anecdotal evidence after his death, and certainly no movement was detected in any of the works he left behind.
The painting shows a peasant girl walking away from the viewer and carrying a wicker basket over her left arm. She was ambling nonchalantly across the pasture towards a river.
The Mediterranean sun was warm on this magical summer’s day, with just the kind of light artists love. In the foreground, and to the right of the picture, grew three olive trees, two close to each other and the third a few metres away, and polychromatic poppies danced in unison with swaying grasses, a little way from the water’s edge.
To her left, in the middle distance, was the Cistercian monastery built atop the high river bank.
On the opposite tall rocky bank sat her village of white square Spanish style houses built right up to the edge of the cliff.
All was still. There was nobody else to be seen.
She glided over the grass in her full length flowing red skirt, worn with a white blouse and white headscarf, separated by her raven black hair tumbling down the nape of her neck.
She appeared motionless as I gazed at her again, but I was totally convinced that she had moved.
One other person was looking at the painting alongside me. They were quite calm and had obviously not seen anything unusual. They turned, having lost interest, and moved on, leaving me looking at the painting on my own, and then, slowly, and very naturally, the girl turned her head and looked back at me.
‘I know this woman!’, I gasped under my breath. I started to shake. Shaking turned to trembling. Tears welled in my eyes. And memories came flooding back.
‘That is Maria!’ I mumbled.
‘Maria, that Carmenesque woman with whom I’d fallen in love all those years ago. That frustrating woman who teased me, taunted me, and used me for her own entertainment, seducing me, then, at the moment I was most aroused, rejecting me and mocking me, flicking her head so that her jet black hair would swirl around her neck as she looked back at me , laughing and sniggering. 30 years ago! That was 30 years ago,’ I thought to myself, ‘when I was young and naïve, and here she is again today, mocking me once more, that cruel, sneering look still there in her deep, dark, alluring eyes.’
I stepped back, and looked for a viewing bench on which to sit and recompose myself.
So many thoughts ran through my head, but in the end, what struck me as being most amazing, was not the fact that Maria had moved within the painting, but rather the prescience of that artist, Phillipe Martin Albrecht, who painted her over a century ago, more than 70 years before Maria and I met.
©Bob Reader April 2020
I SPY WITH MY LITTLE EYE!
Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I noticed something move in one of the paintings. I looked closer this time at ‘Cotton Garden,’ as it was the first picture that had really grabbed my interest in this long room at the Saatchi Gallery.
I had been encouraged to go to this exhibition with my sister who particularly enjoys looking at modern art. Liz had followed the artist’s rise to fame with great interest over the years but I had never appreciated his work in the same way as in my opinion it is all too abstract and childlike and he just seems to splodge bold primary colours onto his canvas without showing any subtlety in his work. He himself describes his style as ‘fusing abstraction and realistic representation’ and his paintings as ‘exploring lived spaces through a myriad of collage-like details.’ Well, I ask you!
We had slowly moved along from painting to painting with Liz pausing before each one, going forward, standing back and then almost dancing in front of each and every one! Ridiculous! I stood there stolidly but bored out of my mind as she examined each one in seemingly miniscule detail.
I did however look at the titles of some of the paintings to see if I thought they bore any resemblance to the actual paintings but few if any of them did. And what ridiculous titles some of them had, at least to my eyes- ‘Our House,’ ‘A Plane over my Head,’ ‘The Giant,’ ‘Mother of Fools.’ The titles and the pictures seemed so childlike to me until I read the title, ‘Cotton Garden’ 2020. I looked at it again, more closely now. ‘Gardens,’ I thought to myself and at last I showed some interest because I am a very keen gardener. However if you hadn’t read the title of this extremely large 8 foot by 6 foot painting, you would probably never have guessed that it depicted a garden. It was certainly a very unkempt one painted in deep shades of red, full of lines, dots and scribble to my eyes. But there was something strange about it. I could just about make out the roofs of houses at the top of the picture and in the middle of the painting there was a chair positioned sideways to us the viewer with a vague sort of human figure seated on it. You could easily recognise one long bare brown leg dangling from the chair with a red high heel shoe on the foot. The rest of the figure was hidden in the tangled mass of the blood red garden. That is until my eye moved up towards the roofs of the houses. On closer inspection I suddenly spotted a head, shoulders and face of what looked like a woman peering forwards. She had a ruddy face and dark black shoulder length hair. Why hadn’t I noticed it before? However I was taken aback as she seemed to be staring straight at me and I was convinced that I saw her wink as my eye caught hers. It was my turn to dance, so forward I went for a closer examination. Then I quickly took a step back as I realised that this head was not a part of this large canvas but seemingly a very real person’s head! I edged forward again to convince myself that it was all a figment of my imagination, but no, once again she or it made a very slight movement of the eye.
My heart started racing and I looked round to find Liz. I quietly went up to her and demanded that she should come over and see what I had just witnessed. She didn’t seem surprised when I explained what I thought I had seen. ‘My eyes aren’t deceiving me,’ I muttered, but she burst out laughing. ‘I wondered how long it would take you,’ she said before adding, ‘Although most of these paintings appear to be weirdly abstract, if you examine them carefully you will see that many of them include part of a figure or animal. The artist is so clever that he uses a ‘trompe l’oeil’ effect in these. ‘A what?’ I rudely demanded. ‘Oh it’s an illusion, used to trick the eye into perceiving a painted detail as a three dimensional object.’ Well, you learn something new every day!
Liz then showed me similar clever effects in some of his other paintings. My opinion of his work began to change and I realised what a talented artist he is after all!
These days I look more carefully at modern art with an appreciative eye, always hoping to see another artist’s work using this ‘trompe l’oeil’ affect but currently no such luck! It has made me go around though looking at modern art with my eyes wide open rather than half shut!
To Pay the Ferryman
I don’t like art galleries and I was very bored in this one, trying to eat a bar of chocolate without any guards seeing me. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something move in one of the paintings. I looked closer……..
….was I imagining it but did that little boat actually grow larger?
I stared at it and, again, there was a rippling of the waves and the boat definitely enlarged. It appeared to come closer to me. There was a man on board. He was naked and standing with a paddle to manoeuvre his way across the body of water. Sitting in front of him appeared to be a child but its features were too small to make out. The child and the man were looking to their right where a city seemed to be in flames but then, slowly, they both turned their heads and looked at me and, again, the boat came nearer.
This time I could make out the features of the second figure. It was a small girl and it looked remarkably like me. A feeling of dread established itself in the pit of my stomach. I instinctively knew that the room left in the boat was for me to join them. Feeling dizzy I could feel myself being drawn towards the figures and could hear a ringing in my ears.
“Don’t touch the painting!” My teacher’s voice rang out. “Claire, what do you think you are doing? You’ve gone green. It must be all that chocolate you’ve been guzzling when you thought no-one was looking.”
I looked in amazement at her. Couldn’t she see what was happening in the painting?
“Miss, they’re coming for me. Look!” I turned back to the painting but there was no movement, the boat was once again small on the water and the two people’s faces were turned away.
“What an imagination you have. I suspect food poisoning. Go and sit down over there until we’re ready to leave. An interesting painting you’ve selected though, “Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx” by Joachim Patnir.”
Later, on the coach back to school she told me, ad nauseam, the legend of the boatman, Charon, who ferried the dead across the River Styx; being sick all over the seat soon put a stop to that. Perhaps it had been the chocolate after all.
I still don’t like art galleries. They still bore me but, more than that, they frighten the life out of me.
I don’t like art galleries and I was very bored in this one. Only came in to get out of the rain.
I was trying to unwrap a Snickers bar without any guards seeing me when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something move in one of the paintings. I looked closer.
The painting showed a group of people in seventeenth century costume, surrounding a small girl in an elaborate white dress with enormous skirts. She was the centre of attention and her haughty expression showed she considered that to be as it should be. Spoilt brat! Most of the group were female but the artist had included himself, as well as another man standing in a doorway beyond. In the foreground was a large dog and eyeing it, a young boy who seemed about to prod it with his foot. The wall behind them was hung with pictures in heavy hardwood frames.
I glanced at the guard, snoozing on his chair, and slipped the Snickers bar out of its covering. I stuffed the wrapper into my pocket and kept the unclothed snack concealed in my hand. The warmth in the gallery soon began to soften the chocolate and my fingers grew sticky. I turned my attention back to the painting and saw the boy give the dog a sly kick. The animal barked and the girl turned her head away from the artist to look at them. I stepped back in astonishment and the Snickers bar slithered through my fingers to the floor.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. How could figures in a painting move? And make sounds? Was it some kind of animation? Surely Pixar hadn’t been invented in the seventeenth century? I thought, It must be a prankster at work, somewhere behind me, so I spun round to catch him and yelled, “Aha!”
My voice echoed across the empty central space, but I saw only a couple of puzzled Japanese tourists staring at me from the other side of the room, and the guard suddenly shocked out of his slumber. There was no-one else in the room.
I tried to give the impression my outburst was the result of spotting something interesting in the painting and turned back to study it. I felt something squishy under my foot and found I’d trodden on my Snickers bar. I raised my foot to scrape the mess off my shoe, almost lost my balance and put out a hand to steady myself. A tiny voice screamed. It was the spoilt brat. I’d almost put my chocolate-covered hand on her pristine dress and she was outraged.
“Sorry miss, it was an accident,” I said.
The guard came towards me looking hostile.
“Please stand back and don’t touch that painting,” he growled and for a moment, I thought he was about to go for my throat.
“I was just apologising,” I told him.
“You were talking to the painting?” he said, and seemed to be debating whether to call security, or a medic. “Are you feeling alright?”
“I’ll move on now,” I mumbled, and left the guard staring at the chocolatey mess on the floor, as I headed, Snickerless, towards the next room.
Futurism Gallery, it said over the door. No idea what that means, I thought, Surely it can’t be pictures that haven’t been painted yet? Well I didn’t really care what it meant, as long as there were no paintings in there that moved. The thought was reassuring, and I strode confidently through the doorway.