I haven’t been able to write anything for a few weeks now due to illness but one morning, feeling rather better, I was suddenly motivated to write my previous post and, surprisingly, a short story for this morning’s writers’ club virtual meeting. The prompt was various objects chosen at random by members

Carol’s favourite coffee pot

Carol carefully lifted her favourite coffee pot from the cupboard and set it on the kitchen counter. It was her favourite for two reasons: it was a gift from Graeme; it was English bone china with a restrained but beautiful design with roses, which reminded her of childhood summer holidays with her grandmother, who always served coffee to ‘important’ visitors from a similar pot but that was Bavarian porcelain, also decorated with a restrained design of roses.

Why she chose to serve herself from her favourite coffee pot this morning she didn’t know. She always made coffee in a cafétiere then poured it directly from that when on her own. This time she must pour the coffee from the cafétiere into the pre-warmed coffee pot, then from that into a cup, also English bone china from the same set as the coffee pot.

Four minutes later the coffee in the cafétiere was brewed. Carol filled the coffee pot with hot water, waited a moment then poured out the water before carefully transferring coffee from cafétiere to coffee pot. 

It was now three months since Graeme told her he was leaving her after 7 years of marriage. He moved out the following day. She had not heard a word from him since then. Initial confusion was quickly followed by depression, which remained despite counselling and medical intervention. In fact it was now worse than it had ever been.

Carol lifted the coffee pot and began to pour coffee into the cup, her hand trembling as she did so. She didn’t remember her fingers opening but saw the coffee pot was on the tiled kitchen floor, in a dozen or more pieces though the lid had miraculously remained whole, all surrounded by a pool of freshly brewed coffee. 

Carol felt herself sinking to the floor till she lay, like an embryo, legs tucked up and her long hair trailing through the pool of coffee. Close to her eye she could make out a triangular shard of coffee pot. She picked it up and after a minute staring at it she plunged the sharpest point of the shard into her wrist.

She watched fascinated as the pool of blood grew larger, pushing aside the coffee, till all she could see was an ocean of red.

As her eyes closed she felt elation, picturing the evening on which Graeme had lovingly presented her with the coffee pot, carefully wrapped in paper decorated with dozens of tiny red hearts.

As the dream faded, she felt such happiness as she had not felt for the past three months.

She let herself slip gladly into the darkness.

The Library

They were surprised to find a library in the castle. They had almost not come in; the entry fee of 40RON (about £8) for the two of them would usually have put them off but it had begun to rain heavily and the car was quite a walk away so they made an exception even though it was near to closing time.

There did not seem to be the usual supervisor in each room and when Smaranda saw a lot of books on shelves in a distant darkened room she hurried towards them. Libraries, particularly old libraries, had a special fascination for her as a history teacher.

I don’t think you should go in there,” Michael, her English boyfriend, cautioned. “That red rope across the doorway obviously means we’re not supposed to go in there. Anyway, it’s too dark to see much.”

I’ve got that little torch on my keyring so I just want to see what books they’ve got. They all look super old. I’m going in.”

Michael reluctantly followed.

It doesn’t look as though any of the books have been moved for years,” said Smaranda. “I can hardly see any of the titles,” she added, wiping a finger along one row of volumes.

Hey, there’s one here called Wallachia,” she called. “Oh, another has the word Vrăjitoariei on the spine, and here’s one titled Strigoi.”

I don’t know any of those words,” answered Michael.

Oh, it’s really exciting. Wallachia is the southern region which joined with Transylvania and Moldavia to become Romania. Vrăjitoariei is witchcraft and strigoi are spirits which can transform themselves into horrible animals. I’ve never seen a Romanian book on witchcraft or strigoi before, though of course we studied the history of Wallachia at university so I’ve seen plenty of books on that.”

I’m surprised you haven’t heard of vrăjitoariei before; you’re always complaining about how superstitious we Romanians are. As for strigoi, I thought you knew Latin pretty well: striga – evil spirit. Pretty much the same in Romanian, strigă. Strigoi is plural though sometimes used as singular too.”

Smaranda pulled out the volume titled Vrăjitoariei and was enveloped in a cloud of dust. When she was able to catch her breath she opened the book at a random page and called out excitedly, “This chapter seems to be full of vrăji – spells – mostly to cure all manner of ailments.”

She continued to leaf through the pages. “Good heavens, there’s a spell here to stop Jews killing new-born babies! What’s that about?”

“I think you should put that book back right now and we should leave. We’re not supposed to be in here anyway.” Michael sounded worried.

Smaranda ignored him and continued to turn the pages. ”Oh, there’s a spell here to summon a strigă. It says it’s only to be used on the eve of St. Andrew’s day or the eve of St. George’s day. Isn’t that odd? It’s St. Andrew’s day tomorrow I think, thirtieth of the November, isn’t it?”

I don’t know, St. George’s day is in April but I can’t remember the day.”

Shame on you, he’s your patron saint! Anyway, I’m going to try this one, the spell I mean.”

I think you should just put the book back; anyway, you shouldn’t mess about with such things, though of course I don’t believe a word of it.”

Oh, it says the spell needs a fire so that’s no good.” Smaranda sounded crestfallen, then suddenly shouted excitedly, “You’ve got a lighter, maybe that will do. Let me have it please.” Michael reluctantly  handed it over.

I don’t know whether I can get this right. It’s very old Romanian language: it reminds me of trying to read Ion Creangă’s ‘Childhood Memories’ but it seems even older.

I gave up with that having not understood a thing,” Michael said sullenly; he was proud that he’d mastered reading and speaking modern Romanian, though he still had difficulty writing it.

Smaranda clicked the lighter and with the flame in front of her began to chant some words, reading from the book.

Michael understood not a word.

§

He saw it first.

A pale light behind Smaranda which began to swirl around, as though stirred by an invisible spoon, until it began to take on a recognisable form, vaguely human but as it became more recognisable, hideously distorted, limbs sticking out in unnatural directions and a face like a foam latex mask pulled in all directions around a mouth open in what seemed to be a scream, though inside just black, as though it had no end.

A wild eerie shriek behind her made Smaranda turn around, just in time to see the horrible form solidify into an owl. She had time to recognise a barn owl, often wrongly known as a screech owl because of its call, before the bird flew onto her shoulder.

No sooner had it landed than Smaranda shrieked loudly herself as she felt a sharp pain in her neck. The owl spread its wings and flew around and around her head, shrieking continuously till the shriek turned into a scream, familiar to many Romanians as the cry of the fattened pig as its throat is cut to kill it for winter meat.

At the same time the owl began to take the form of a much distorted pig then alternate between pig and owl, each transformation being more horrendous than the previous one.

Finally it was the owl which settled on Smaranda’s shoulder again, sunk its beak in the bloody gash it had made previously, its breast pulsating like a fast beating heart. Smaranda became ever more pale before dissolving into a vague distorted form resembling the strigă which Michael had first seen.

Michael tried to grab Smaranda’s hand to pull her from the room but there was nothing of substance to hold on to.

One of the strigoi began to fly faster and faster around Michael’s head, alternating between the vague distorted form of the strigă and a pig, which soon settled into the form of a boar which sank its fangs into Michael’s chest.

§

The police forensics team, called in the next morning, were baffled. The male, with two deep incisions near to the heart, had clearly died from them almost instantly but there was no weapon.

Even more baffling was the body of the young female. She had obviously died from exsanguination but there was not a sign of blood on the library floor.

A lighter lay near her right hand and a book near her left.

The policeman examining the body called out “This book is open, she seems to have been reading it. It’s open at a chapter titled Vrăji. Anyone know what that means?”

No one did.


This is the first time I’ve tried this. Usually in the writers’ club we each read our own contribution. So here is me reading the above story. I’ll get better!


I don’t usually pick up on the theme often given as a writing prompt at our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, preferring to write about whatever comes into my head. This time the given theme of ‘libraries’ appealed. It gave me an opportunity to explore Romanian legends less well known than Dracula and vampires, which are more modern anyway.

You can blame another blogger and a writers’ club member for the above story. Ailish, whose first novel I sort of reviewed here and here, planted witches in my head; Jo – whose stories I always enjoy when read in the club, surprisingly even the horror stories as it’s not a genre I usually enjoy – has somehow got me trying to write ‘horror’.

Notes:

In the past there have been trials of ‘witches’ in Romania, similar to those in Aberdeen described by Ailish Sinclair in her novel The Mermaid and the Bear. Gypsies and Jews seem to have been particularly targetted in Romania.

True screech owls are confined to the Americas. Barn owls, plentiful in Europe, make a screeching sound rather than the ‘tewit tewoo’ usually associated with owls.

I really like the ancient Romanian female names so chose one for this story. The founder and ‘leader’ of our writers’ club has another, Ruxandra, so I never shorten it to ‘Ruxi’ as most club members do. Another I like a lot is Ilinca.

Managed to scribble this short story for today’s meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe. The theme given to us was ‘radiation’; that’s the title of my story.

Working cover; photo of girl in mini dress holding a ‘Save the mini’ campaign poster

Photo: Daily Mirror

I say “managed” as I’m endeavouring to spend what writing time I have on completing the novella/novel in progress, subtitled ‘A tale of unlikely love in 1960s-1970s London‘ which was put on the back burner at least a year ago. Now I’ve set myself a target of at least half an hour a day working on it and have managed that for, so far, over a week. I intend to post something here sometime soon on this unusual, for me, way of getting me writing something. As I’ve often said, I usually write only when the muse prompts me.


Short story

Radiation

It all began well, except no breakfast allowed.

Later, I should have been forewarned as it took five attempts to get in a canula for a dose of vitamin k.

Screen please.” A kind of click somewhere beyond the glass screen between surgeon (and me) and the two young ladies who had been introduced as the radiology team. There were another four young women grouped around the operating table on which I was laying, on my stomach, head back, uncomfortable with a tube fed down my throat.

Interesting that the radiology team had to be protected from the radiation but not the six people on this side of the screen, I thought. Of course I couldn’t be, being the subject of the surgery.

Screen please”. Another click. I realised that it was the surgeon speaking, though I could see him only with difficulty, lowering my eyes as far as I could.

I saw the surgeon feeding something down the tube in my mouth, but also the nurse next to him holding something else.

Screen please.” Another click. I realised what was happening; the radiation was turned on for only a short time when the surgeon needed to see what was happening at the end of the tube down in my stomach.

Screen please.” Click. Then “One centimetre please.” The second instruction seemed to be directed at the nurse who I now saw was moving a black and white striped ‘cord’. “Ah, they must be centimetre markings,” I deduced.

Screen please.” Click.

The feeling in my throat was getting more and more uncomfortable. I expected to feel nothing as a result of a foul tasting spray into my throat before the procedure began. The pre-op letter had not prepared me for this. The spray had me gagging though, as I had been told not to eat for at least six hours before, I was not actually sick.

Screen please.” Click.

It was becoming more and more difficult to remain still. I had an almost irresistable urge to pull the tube from my mouth. Fortunately, my position on the table would have made it extremely difficult for me to do it. “This is far worse than open surgery with a general anaesthetic,” I thought.

Screen please”. No click? Then a rushing sound, getting louder and louder followed by a loud bang and the sound of breaking glass.

A scream, cut off sharply as shards of glass began to radiate above me from a point somewhere behind me. The surgeon grabbed at his chest as a red stain spread over his green surgical overalls then he collapsed to the floor.

A second shard hit the assisting nurse in the throat. A stream of red covered my face as I forced my arms upwards to grab the end of the tube coming out of my mouth and pulled, ignoring the pain as the long tube was withdrawn.

The other three, observers including a student nurse, fared better than the surgeon and his assistant; the radiating shards hitting them being small they were just covered with tiny cuts.

I woke up in recovery, two days later I understood.

Why am I here,” I asked.

I had been subjected to a high dose of radiation, they told me, as had been the five staff who survived. The surgeon did not.

Nor did the assisting nurse.

Months later, I’m still enjoying the lingering sweet salty taste of her in my mouth.

Trying to keep up the momentum for new grumpytyke posts in 2020, I decided to add a short story dashed off over my morning tea yesterday, for yesterday’s meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the  Wharfe. I didn’t give it a title as I couldn’t think of a good one which didn’t give too much away.


Short story

Seeing a chateau in the Loire valley for sale for less than £300,000 we just had to buy it.

With four towers, one on each corner, surrounded by a moat and set in about 8 acres of land, somewhat overgrown, it was a magnificent sight. We expected a lot of work to make it habitable. That was not why I ran from it, alone, one night, screaming, never to return.

It was a few weeks after we acquired it that we ventured to the top of one of the towers. The steps of each tower were in a bad state and our priority was to make some of the ground floor rooms fit for living. At last that was done and Peter, my husband, set about making the steps in one of the towers safe to climb. 

One evening, after dinner at which I ate locally collected mushrooms in cream laced with very strong garlic I had brought from Romania, Peter returned to the tower saying he had only two or three steps still to do. He avoids garlic, disliking it intensely, so I had to make a separate dish for him; it was no problem as I just put the crushed garlic in mine at the last minute, so it wasn’t cooked.

Picture of a chateau at night

Credit to ‘Escape to the chateau’

After about half an hour Peter emerged, covered in dust and cobwebs, from the door leading to one of the towers saying, excitedly, “You must come and see the view from the top of the stairs. The nearby river is glistening in the light of a full moon, as is our moat; each of the distant surrounding farmhouses is bathed in a warm light, very romantic, and the sky is full of stars. Come on.”

The torch Peter held illuminated the spiral steps to the next turn as we slowly climbed the four floors of the main part of the house then one more to what seemed to be the top of the tower. A single window, wooden frame rotten and no glass, framed a view just as Peter had described. I was speechless. We stood in silence for what must have been at least five minutes. “So beautiful,” I whispered at last. I felt Peter squeezing my hand. No words from him were necessary.

“Are we actually at the top?” I asked, gesturing to a dusty door at the final step. “I think so,” Peter answered,” but I haven’t yet tried to open the door.”

“Let’s see if we can open it,” I pleaded, “it seems a pity to climb all the way up here without knowing what’s behind that door. Maybe the view is even better”.

Peter picked up the iron spike with which he had been prising muck off the steps, inserted it between door and jamb, then put his shoulder against the door expecting a lot of resistance but it flew open with such ease that Peter had difficulty keeping on his feet. Total blackness. No sign of light from a window like at the top of the steps, but as Peter began to turn the torch to shine through the door there was a loud rushing sound, like an extemely strong wind, and dozens of small dark  shapes emerged from the door, causing Peter to fall against me, before the black shapes disappeared out of the window. I screamed.

“Just bats,” said Peter. “They’re probably protected; we’ll have to get someone in to advise us before we do anything to what seems to be another room. Let’s go in, shall we, to see just what we have here?”

Nervously I nodded, holding his hand tightly, as we entered the dark space in front of us, making out beams and the underside of slates making the conical top of the tower.  Everywhere was festooned with spider webs, thickened by layers of dust. “Let’s go,” I said. “I’m sure it’s better to come up here in daylight.”

Before Peter could answer there was an unearthly shriek from somewhere in the room, followed by a sound like flapping of enormous wings. The torch fell to the floor, its light going out as Peter screamed, more of an uncanny gurgle through which I could just make out “Get out, get out for God’s sake”.

I fell down the first few steps, past the window, and turned to see Peter on his back half way through the door, his head flopping loosely over the first step, blood spouting out of two punctures in his throat. I crawled up to him putting my hands to his throat trying to staunch the two fountains of blood. I frantically tried to rip off a sleeve of my dress but as I did so I saw Peter’s face by the moonlight coming through the window distorting, becoming more and more terrifying as two fangs grew longer from where his canine teeth had been. Ignoring them, I decided I must try mouth to mouth resuscitation but as I lowered my mouth to his an horrific scream came out of his mouth, he rose up throwing me aside, seemed to grow black bat-like wings and flew out of the window.

I half ran, half tumbled, down the tower steps, wrenched open the door of the chateau, ran over the causeway crossing the moat and ran the kilometer or so over fields to the nearest farmhouse. There I lay on the step, covered in blood, banging on the door till it was opened by my horrified neighbours. The police arrived a short time after that.

They found Peter at the base of the tower, half in half out of the moat with two deep punctures in his throat, made they said by the spike Peter had been using. 

I said I never returned to the chateau. I cannot. Most of the time I’m shut in my room in a secure women’s hospital for the criminally insane.

Ben Nevis, Britain's "highest hill"Those of you who have followed me for some time (11th anniversary for grumptyke the other day) will know for my attempts at poetry and short stories I like to write short, often very short, and in a form for which there are strict rules.

Something I have never tried before is a pantoum, based on the Malay literary form of pantun, which has a rhyming structure and in each quatrain repeats lines from the previous quatrain.

Wanting to write something in praise of my friend Ruxandra’s (and founder/leader of our writers’ club Writing on the Wharfe) amazing hike of 120 miles in 3 days in the Scottish Highlands, in aid of a young persons’ mental health charity – Young Minds Trust – I chose to scribble a pantoum over my pre club meeting lunch.

Here it is:

Homage

She climbed Britain’s highest hill
In a trek of some 120 miles
Covering Scottish Highlands with only will
Yet her reports were filled with smiles

In a walk of some 120 miles
Some of us might give up before the end
Yet her reports were filled with smiles
Not a glum face wherever she might wend

Some of us might give up before the end
To return to the start by bus or train
Not a glum face wherever she might wend
But a walk for troubled youngsters has much to gain

To return to the start by bus or train
Never entered her crazy Romanian head
Not a glum face wherever she might wend
But I bet she welcomed at last the stay in bed

Struggles with longer writing

My battle to finish the one ‘long’ piece of fiction, working title Miranda, I’ve attempted continues. Starting as a 300 word short story, it’s now become a novella at about 30,000 words but my ambition is to grow it into a novel. The subtitle – ‘A tale of unlikely love in 60s-70s London‘ – tells me there’s enough material in my head from that exciting time, my time, in our capital to merit it. Dragging distant memories to the fore and turning it to fiction, easy for the first few chapters, is proving more difficult as  the journey through subsequent chapters continues. It is, after all, a period of my life between 47 and 52 years ago but draws somewhat on my experience a few years further back than that.

A screen shot of a preview screen showing the menu structure of my reorganised blog.

I still use the editor with which I began 11 years ago; in my opinion few, if any, of WordPress’s changes have been an improvement, rather the reverse. I disliked the ‘app’ from the start and I haven’t changed my mind.

Recently I decided to restructure this blog, in particular to highlight things which interest me more than when I began to post on it seven years ago (though it was created four years before that!). I didn’t want to change the overall look of it, with which I’ve always been happy; in particular, I now want it to be principally a ‘library’ of my fictional prose and ‘poetry’, grouped under menu headings. So I’ve changed the tag line in the header a little too to reflect that.

What has amazed me during this exercise is not only the number of short stories and ‘poems’ I have written but the different genres I have tackled. My first attempt at a short story was almost seven years ago; the ‘poems’ began about a month after that, prompted by a haiku from a blogger ‘five reflections‘, who I believe posts no more.

However, the greatest influence has been our local writers’ club, Writing of the Wharfe, formed by our lovely Romanian ‘leader’ Ruxandra Moore. I was a founder member.

A change of emphasis only

I continue to ignore the desperate attempts by WordPress to change my way of editing: “There’s an easier way to edit posts …”, it insists at the top of every editing screen. Not for me there’s not!.

Although I’m changing the emphasis, I do not want it to be a blog only as somewhere to publish my fictional writings, as many writers’ blogs are. I still want grumpytyke to feel free to have a grump about something from time to time and, when appropriate, give some background to the ‘creative writing’.

Until now all my so-called ‘creative writing’ appearing on this blog has been within a post giving some background, eg, this piece was what I wrote to read at a meeting of my local writers’ club, that piece was what I presented at the Ilkley Literature Festival, this work was inspired by something written (link) by this blogger, etc. So I wanted to separate the story or ‘poem’ from the post originally including it. Eventually there will be a link to the original post including it. I did this with my ‘haiku’ (I don’t now believe they are haiku – just 5-7-5  verses) and ‘tanka’ some time ago, collecting them together on a single page.

A work in progress

It’s a work in progress at the moment. It’s not too difficult to extract pieces from a post, put them on a page and put them under the appropriate menu or sub-menu heading, though I’m no IT expert so it’s far from perfect. Another problem is that I have quite a bit of writing which has never appeared on this blog.

’Poetry’ not Poetry

You may notice that I usually put inverted commas round the words ‘poem’ or ‘poetry’ when referring to my own creations. After reading and listening to poetry for more than seven decades I’m still not sure what poetry is so I am reluctant to call any little piece of mine a poem. Of course I have to tag them as such.

One of my favourite poets, David Machin, a member of our writers’ club, insists on calling his creations ‘verse’,  not poetry. Another, Matt Abbott told me during an hour spent with him on a barge on the Leeds-Liverpool canal, “If it makes the audience cry it is poetry” (see my ‘poem’ A Lesson in Restriction). The poetry of another, Iulia Halatz, which I ‘lost’, I’ve just unearthed hiding in an interesting writers’ collective, Sudden Denouement

An added difficulty is that for the past few months I’ve produced so-called ‘creative writing’ only with a fountain pen. So, unless I’ve typed it up to put in a post, it has now to be typed up to add to this archive.

A novella/novel in progress

Finally, I wanted this library to include pieces I’m working on so I have a sub-heading ‘Writing in Progress’. At the moment this is mainly chapters of a novella?/novel? I pick up from time to time (it began as a 5,000 word short story; now it’s reached about 30,000 words). Even this list gives something away: I don’t write by starting at the beginning and proceeding to the end. Nor do I ‘work’ at it; I write only when I feel the urge to write and may pick up a story, or ‘poem’, at any point. (Recently I read a blogging ‘guru’ saying that writing was hard work and there was no such thing as an innate ability to write. That may be so for him but in my view it is nonsense, even arrogant, to apply it to all writers.)

The work in progress is password protected.

For me, the only art form to compete with writing is music but as I do not create music I do not have a menu heading for that, any more than for my reading, though I may occasionally have posts about either. I’ll rely on the search facility to find those.

Food and Romania

I used to blog a lot about cooking/food and Romania so I decided to leave a menu heading for each of those categories, to display posts which fall into that category. At some point I’ll sort those out too.

As I said above, this reorganisation is a work in progress. If a particular story or ‘poem’ is clicked, you should be taken to that story or poem. If you click on a menu heading or sub-heading it should take you to all the posts in that category, as usual, but it doesn’t always do that. I’m working on it!

I’ve never aimed to post every day so none of my blogs were intended to be a daily journal of my life. In fact, reading other bloggers and perhaps (usually) commenting on them was always more important to me.

Maintaining three WordPress blogs

The little Sony delivers amazing quality for its size, acquired mainly for ‘blipfoto’, with one of my favourite classic camera marques but with the tools of my first love, pen and paper for writing

The little Sony delivers amazing quality for its size, acquired mainly for ‘blipfoto’, with one of my favourite classic camera marques but with the tools of my first love

For those of you who do not know, at one time I maintained three personal blogs: this one, one for my interest in photography (particularly about classic cameras and film photography) and an ‘alternative’ site for the village in which I live.

Having decided some time ago not to maintain posting on the village blog and circumstances dictating rare posting on the photography blog, coupled with missing some bloggers I used to enjoy a lot, today I decided to see what the situation with the bloggers I ‘follow’ is.

Missing ‘followed’ bloggers

49 have not posted for 2 years or more. I wonder what happened to them. There was not a final post saying “I’m stopping posting on the blog, because ….”, as far as I know, not one; of course I did do a ‘final’ post on the village site announcing my intention to stop posting and giving the reasons.

So most of those I followed who have not posted for two years I have now  ‘unfollowed’ but a few I particularly liked I’ve continued to follow in the hope they may reappear.

For myself, my first love being writing, I’ll continue to post on this blog, which is more suitable for longer posts, including those about my short stories or ‘poems’.

But, more suitable for a photo with a short text, or even no text, blipfoto has a wonderful supportive community and having met a challenge from a blogger friend, to reach 300 ‘blips’ by Christmas Day, I’m going to make a big effort to ‘blip’ more frequently – my target is at least once a week.

And, I might just try to post now and then on my photo blog – grumpytykepix – particularly as I’ll now allow more digital pix among any on film which I’m now able to do.

 

As I’ve said before, I no longer consider the 5-7-5 ‘verses’ I write to be haiku but I think it’s as much a haiku as any in English I’ve seen on internet. It was written for a special friend, not a blogger.

Winter in her eyes
Its beauty shatters her gaze
In love yet again

The short story was written very quickly, maybe 1/2 hour, for the first 2019 meeting of our writers’ clubWriting on the Wharfe. It is completely unedited, just as it came pouring out of my fountain pen, with which I now write everything, only typing up later for internet. 

Short story

The New Year has never begun well for me, not for as far back as I can remember.

But, downing the glass of bubbly as Big Ben’s hand moved steadily past twelve, I really thought this year would be different. 

I’d arrived at the party late, too late for the hosts Kath and Mike to introduce me to everybody in their crowded sitting room, probably 30 people in all. I didn’t mind; I’m not at all good with people I don’t know.

But then, bubbles exploding on my tongue as the sixth chime struck, I saw her. Or rather, her eyes pulled at mine. Embarrassed, I tried to look away from that frank, open look inviting entrance to an enchanted world behind those wide, soft, brown circular doors. I could not.

I made the effort to slowly widen my field of view, noting that the eyes were not much less than six feet from the floor though, glancing lower, I saw that her feet were almost completely flat on the ground, no tall heels to add to her height.

Avoiding her eyes, I slowly allowed mine to travel up her perfectly sculptured ankles and calves, pausing a moment at the hem of her dress just a couple of inches above her knees.

Continuing upwards, the lightly pleated, gossamer skirt, which would sway provocatively when she walked, did not hide her softly curvaceous form, a hint of the mount of Venus, a comfortable inviting cushion above it suggesting a love for her food. 

I paused a moment, imagining my head resting just where the long bare fingers of her right hand now rested, the fingers ending in perfectly manicured nails with a hint of shine from the uncoloured varnish.

A quick glance to her left revealed index and second finger gracefully retaining the stem of the almost empty champagne glass.

“Damn!” Her third finger was hidden.

My secret, so I thought, journey upwards dipped into a gentle waist then hardly changed direction to cross the valley between her pubescent breasts, girl-like though her whole demeanour suggested an age well into her twenties, maybe even thirties.

Finally I summoned courage to look for those eyes again. They were still looking directly into mine; was that a smile in them? It was certainly not mockery, which I half expected to see. 

It was only ten paces to arrive directly in front of her, looking a little upwards into those eyes. 

Hello. May I get you another drink,” I heard myself saying.

That would be nice of you.” Still her eyes never left mine.

As I reached for her glass I felt a presence at my side. With difficulty I pulled my eyes away from hers to see a man a couple of inches taller than her, handsome, confident, superbly attired.

He smiled, a genuine warm, friendly smile.

Thank you for looking after my wife; I had to make an urgent call,” I heard over my thumping chest.

Damn again! Another New Year beginning disappointingly,” I thought.

Latvia's flag

Latvia’s flag

Today is Latvia’s ‘Independence Day’. In fact the country is celebrating its 100th birthday today. Two years ago I would not have known that, nor would it have had any importance to me. Now, thanks to the wonder of blogging, I know far more about this small (certainly in terms of current population) country and take an interest in its culture, history and language. Admittedly that’s down to one blogger, Ilze, with whom I’ve developed a particularly close blogging relationship.

Many years ago I did visit Riga briefly, on the way to Helsinki and St Petersburg (it was then called Leningrad), though which way round I don’t remember but probably Finland first as that was work, USSR as it was then was just an interest in the city, as it was for Latvia’s capital. In those days, running my own business with overseas clients, I often used a client visit as an excuse to make an itinerary to take in other places of interest.

Would Riga now be ‘disappointing’?

I would probably be disappointed now by Riga – I suspect that though the architecture would be the same, as in Sibiu in Romania, the culture which attracted me has probably been overwhelmed by commerce – tourist cafes and restaurants, etc. I’m not a city person but nevertheless I would like to see the city again now that I know much more about the country.

Latvians are rightly proud of their independence; they fought hard for it in every sense of the word. Again, thanks to blogging I know not only much of the overall story but even some individual, personal stories.

The general story you can find elsewhere on internet, so I will not repeat it here, but personal insights are thanks to my special blogger friend, which I will not repeat here either. What I will do is pick out some unusual facts which have intrigued me.

Aerial photo of the beach at Salacgrīva

The beach at Salacgrīva

Seven things you may not know

  • Latvia is believed to be now the country with the tallest women, though I believe there are individual women who are taller elsewhere. Although I am well past doing anything about that now it is interesting because I have always found tall women attractive, as anyone reading my short story ‘The Girl in Block 18’ might have concluded.
  • Latvia is a leader in terms of internet connectivity.
  • It is also a leader in use of open source software. Perhaps that is more linked to freedom than saving money. Internet was, of course, intended to be free to all but has been largely taken over by commercial or governmental interests. I use a lot of open source software and had I not been introduced to PCs with an Apple computer (Europa II) long ago (actually 44 years ago) I would probably be using Linux today.
  • I knew of course Latvia had a coastline but I didn’t know it had a beautiful seaside, golden sands stretching from sand dunes to an inviting sea. So, if I ever manage to visit the country a stop in Salacgrīva, the home town of my ‘special’ blogging friend, will be a must.
  • Latvian food is mostly extraordinarily simple but delicious, from what I’ve learned from following blogged recipes from my good Latvian friend.
  • The country in which you will find the most Latvians who have left their own country is right here, the UK. You are all very welcome.
  • Latvia should be referred to as a ‘northern’ country, not an ‘east European’ country. If you know the history you will know why Latvians dislike being referred to as ‘east Europeans’. That’s not just because it is geographically incorrect.

So, on this day especially I wish my good blogger friend Ilze and her family, along with all Latvians everywhere, a great celebration and a bright future.

Again you might blame my writers’ club colleague, Jo Campbell, for this story.

But not completely. The 17/18 years old students (at Liceul Tehnologic ‘Nicolae Nanu’, Broșteni, Neamț, Romania) of my former Romanian student, Paula, now herself a teacher of English, so liked my ‘dark’ 5th November story, which was prompted by Jo, I promised to write another for them. Unusually, I have written to the theme given for readings at today’s meeting of our club, Writing on the Wharfe.


Not in my diary

She had been meticulous as far as her diary was concerned. By ‘diary’ I mean journal, not a place to note appointments, meetings or other dates and times to be remembered.

The journal was completed over morning tea each day, relating the most important, to her, happenings of the previous day.

She had noted, on the page for 30th April, ‘St Walburger, witches’ sabbath!’. Born close to the Brocken in Germany, she had always observed this feast.

But, and it’s a big but, Richard, the name of the love of her life she has declared, has never appeared in the journal. ‘My love’, yes; ‘he’ or ‘him’, perhaps; but never the name – Richard.

Photo of the Cow&Calf

The Cow&Calf

It began one day when, as the sun was setting, she and Richard visited the famous Cow and Calf rocks on Ilkley Moor, in Yorkshire.

Not satisfied with standing on the larger ‘cow’ and admiring the superb view over the town of Ilkley and the Wharfe Valley, they descended with a mixture of runs and jumps to the ‘calf’ below. Giggling, they scrambled to the top of the smaller rock and lay out in the fading sun.

Let’s leave our names on the calf,” Richard suggested, “with today’s date. It’s a special day.”

I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. Isn’t it better to leave the rocks as nature intended?” Heidi was a keen environmentalist.

One more won’t make much difference; there are so many on all the rocks,” Richard answered as he began to scratch the rock with a knife he always carried.

3, 0, A, P, R, 2, 0, 1, 5,  H, E, I, D, I,  A, N, D,  R, I, C, H, A, R … 

he hesitated as the knife met some resistance from an inclusion harder than the surrounding rock. Exasperated, he put his whole weight behind the blade, lost his balance and tumbled down to the ground.

Eventually the air ambulance arrived – two broken legs, a broken collar bone and a dislocated neck kept him in hospital for several weeks.

The following 30th of April, 2016, early evening, found the couple wandering through the New Forest hand-in-hand in the twilight. As trees began to assume fantastic shapes in the fading light, an impressive oak, its trunk of a girth which the two lovers could not encircle with their outstretched arms, made them stop and rest, backs against the rough but somehow comfortable majesty supporting the now leafy branches above.

I’m going to carve our names here so this tree will remember us,” Richard announced.

If you do, it will remember us with pain. Don’t do it, please.”

Oh, you’re too superstitious. Trees don’t feel and anyway it can’t do any harm to one so enormous!,” Richard retorted, the irritation clear in his voice as he took the knife from his pocket and began:

3, 0, A, P, R, 2, 0, 1, 6,  H, E, I, D, I,  A, N, D,  R, I, C, H, A, R …

a large gasp broke the concentrated silence as the knife slipped to make a deep gash in his left wrist.

Blood, so much blood, fountained from the cut, obliterating the carved letters before covering Heidi’s breast. Quick thinking, she ripped off her blood-soaked shirt and applied a tourniquet.

Nevertheless, Richard lapsed into unconsciousness and the paramedics, who arrived quickly following Heidi’s desperate phone call, told her he was lucky to be alive and would not be were it not for her prompt action.

One year later, 30th April 2017, found the couple on the Brocken, following a visit to Heidi’s parents. 

They didn’t take the steam train up to the highest peak in the Harz mountains but decided to walk, though there were vestiges of snow on the peak.

About half way up they left the road, found a clearing among the pines and sat to eat their picnic. Richard lit the tiny light-weight gas stove and poured bottled water into the small pan they had brought to make a warming tea.

Etching, St Walburger’s Night, Johann Heinrich Ramberg, 1829

Etching, St Walburger’s Night, Johann Heinrich Ramberg, 1829

This is a magical place my love; I’m so glad you brought me here.” Richard wasn’t usually so easily impressed.

You just be careful; it is a magical place but it’s witches’ magic, not fairies’ magic,” Heidi warned him.

Oh you and your superstitions. I don’t believe a word of it. Anyway, it’s beautiful. I’m going to carve our names in the dry turf here,” he finished, pulling out his knife.

Please don’t. Just leave it as nature intended,” Heidi pleaded.

But Richard had already completed her name and the first six letters of his own. Turning quickly, his elbow caught the little stove and it was on its side, setting the dry turf alight.

A forest ranger found them in a tight embrace. 

In his police report he wrote: “I don’t understand how the fire burned in a perfect circle with them at the centre, or how such a small fire could completely carbonise the two corpses. Even stranger in a way was that there was a diary lying there next to them, completely untouched by the fire. The last entry was for 30th April; it just read “This is not in my diary!”

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