Today was the fortnightly meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe. As usual, two weeks ago we were set a theme to which to write something: gardens/gardening or the like.

I chose to write a short story in a genre I have not tackled before. I called it:

The gardener

His speciality was potatoes. Every day he was out there, first digging deep trenches which he half filled with horse manure brought in enormous black plastic bags on his wheelbarrow. Then he shovelled the soil he had removed on top, forming long straight rows from within a foot of the back of his house to the end of his garden. It was not unusual for him to be out there digging and shovelling long after dark. Later, I understand when depended on what varieties of potatoes he was planting, he dibbed holes in those long rows, dropped in a potato then shovelled a little soil on top.

Our garden was mostly lawn but I sometimes had a brief chat with him over the fence when I was cutting it. Joe wasn’t very talkative, but not unfriendly. I did ask him about the potatoes. He told me he grew so many to get some superb ones for the village show. Evidently his potatoes always won their class.

Once or twice he gave me some unusual ones, pink and odd shapes, but really tasty.

His wife Rose was not happy about it. We often heard them arguing on the other side of the garden fence which divided our two properties. “Why can’t we have some flowers like next door?” she’d ask, “just a few outside the house.”

I’m not good with flowers,” was his surly reply.

Over the two years we had been there the arguments had become more and more acrimonious. Rose had a habit of extending her finger, emphasising each complaining sentence with a jab in Joe’s chest. The arguments became so loud that we could hear them when they continued in the house. Then they stopped. “She’s left me for a bloke who grows championship dahlias,” he told me in one of our chats over the fence. I wasn‘t surprised, she’d surely had enough of potatoes.

He must have been taken into hospital when we were out as the first I knew of it was when I saw a woman I’d never seen before looking down the potato rows. A new girlfriend I thought. “Do you like potatoes?” I asked as a way of making her acquaintance. “Not especially and I prefer to buy them at the supermarket. I suppose they’ll rot now Joe’s not around.”

What, has he left too?” I asked.

Oh, you didn’t know? He had a heart attack last week and died in hospital. I’m his sister and am just here to clear things up. Look, if you want some potatoes just come and dig some up. Take as many as you like. The side gate’s open and there’s a garden fork outside the back door which I suppose Joe used.”

I don’t mind a bit of digging and the thought of those tasty little pink potatoes had me round there the next fine day with a large bag. Sure enough, the first fork lifted a clod filled with those ugly but tasty little morsels – fur apples I think they are called.

Seeing one, long and slender covered in soil left behind I bent down to pick it up. It didn’t come up easy. There must be a big bunch of them down there I said to myself, giving it another pull. It still wouldn’t come free. Grasping it tightly between thumb and first finger of both hands and giving a mighty wrench at last it was free, with something between a squelch and a dull crack.

The detached finger, a bloody bone projecting from the rotting flesh, was silent now, but just as angry as it pointed at my small haul of potatoes.

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A photo of the repro Dansette in the shop window

The ‘Dansette’ in the shop window

I set out this morning with the intention of resuming work on my ‘long short story’, yesterday having been taken up largely by ‘chores’. On the two or three hundred paces from where I can park the car to my ‘early morning’ haunt, Wetherspoon, I pass a few shops and was stopped by a ‘Dansette’ in the window of one of them, straight – it seemed – from the era of my story.

USBs and flip flops (bistable switches)

Of course it was not (though you can still buy the genuine article in Leeds market – I’ve often been tempted), the disguise pulled off by “allows you to record all your vinyl to a USB stick”. A USB stick has typically millions of little electronic switches, flip flops we used to call them; I remember being proud of making just one, the size of my little finger nail, at the request of my then director of research who asked for it to be “as small as you can possibly make it”. That was less than ten years before the time of my story, when I did own a model of this portable record player.

Picture of an original Dansette

The real thing

The Dansette features in my story; in some ways it is a principal character.

Now if the offer recently from my dear friend Iulia (teacher of English, poet, writer and blogger in Bucharest) to read a draft of my story when I’ve knocked it more into shape were not enough motivation to work on it (it is), then that ‘Dansette’ should set me off.

Photo of the largest pot of Marmite available - 500gOne of those tiresome days today. After answering a few emails in Wetherspoon and commiserating with my blogger friend in Latvia, Ilze, who was also having a ‘bad’ day, I began to look for the missing parts of my ‘long short story’ on the iPad.

The iPad wasn’t very well charged so with it about to give up, unable to search for the missing parts of the story any more, I moved to the library, where I can charge it. Then I found that I had not put the charger in my bag this morning. I couldn’t believe it. No more searching of the iPad possible.

Password protected – password forgotten

I then remembered that I had put some of the story on password protected pages on this blog. Maybe the missing parts were there. There followed a lot of problems logging into one of the library computers (haven’t done it for years) but when I finally succeeded the network was very slow. Then I found that the password to access the pages wasn’t what I thought.  Eventually I worked out I could change them from password protected to privately published so finally I was able to access them, only to find they didn’t contain the latest version when I left the story way back in June, I think.

Very frustrating. I needed to do a little shopping but having done that there was no more time to go somewhere more interesting and having fired myself up to continue the story I’m not motivated to do something else.

Then I realised that I had forgotten the main thing I went to the shop for – avocado for this evening. Fortunately I got a big pot of Marmite (I’m a lover, Petronela is a hater) so I consoled myself by putting an extraordinary amount of it on my slice of bread for lunch.

Now I’m back home so on the old MacBook while the iPad charges. A pot of tea (Yorkshire tea of course) drunk I feel fine 🙂 .

Way back at the beginning of September our writers’ club was, as usual, given a theme to write on: ‘After four failed marriages, the world’s tallest woman …”; there was more which I won’t bother you with. The theme didn’t do anything for me so I didn’t write anything. Yesterday I had an urge to write a short story about a tall lady. It’s raw, pretty much unedited.

___________ § __________

The Girl in Block 18

Elenor, aloof yet smiling as I passed her small office at one end of the lab. I fell in love with her almost from the minute I first set foot in that section.

It was the section to which I had been posted after completing the obligatory three months training in each of the sections devoted to mechanical, electrical and glassblowing work. The first section in which I would be doing real work; its staff worked on developing applications for semiconductors, particularly radar. Even without Elenor I would have been excited by that posting.

Elenor’s office, the section secretary’s office, had windows giving a view down the lab and thus giving me a view of her tapping away on her typewriter whenever I diverted my gaze from the oscilloscope, the Avo multimeter or the soldering iron. I frequently burnt my fingers.

Her slender figure curved over the typewriter, she being four or five inches taller than my not inconsiderable five feet eleven and a half inches. She was also two years older than my seventeen years, a fact elicited from the all-male team around me. I also learned she was “cold”, having refused all invitations to have a date from each of the several quite attractive young males – mid twenties to mid thirties – in the department, all graduate physicists.

She was, I was assured, “odd” as she had never had a boyfriend, as far as anyone knew.

Several times a day she would walk down the lab to deliver some document to one of the staff members and I was quite unable to prevent my eyes following her, there and back. As she passed me, before I could lower my eyes in confusion, she would look directly into them and smile.

It was perhaps in my third week in the section I was asked to deliver a bundle of papers to her. The words tumbled out, partly gibberish as I said something about the documents then, to my amazement, I looked directly into her eyes and heard myself saying “You’re very beautiful.”

She said nothing but, as I rushed out, I just caught her smile.

It took me a week to summon courage to enter her office again, a week in which she walked past me several times a day as usual, never saying a word but always meeting my gaze with a smile.

Meanwhile I had asked some ‘disinterested’ questions of the colleagues around me and discovered she was passionate about ballet.

I became more courageous, entering that office at least a couple times a week over the coming weeks. Early on I broached the subject of ballet, saying I’d heard that she liked it and telling her of my visits to all the best known classical ballets with my grandmother. She told me she had had ballet lessons for years with the aspiration to become a ballerina; then she was told she had become too tall and, disappointed, stopped the lessons.

I was due to be in that section for six months before moving to another. For four months I cut out smoking, ate little, economised on everything possible and put as much of my weekly wage as I could in a money box.

Four months later, with what I thought was sufficient in the money box, I entered that office and, visibly trembling, I asked her if she would like go to Covent Garden with me. I was truly amazed when she immediately said she would love to.

I was awkward on the tedious train journey to London, never having been in her company for more than a few minutes. In the opera house I felt more at home though I’d never been in it before. I almost forgot about Elenor once Swan Lake got underway, until I felt her hand find mine. Her passion for the dancing and the music was transmitted by frequent tightenings of her grip. We chatted animatedly during the interval, or was it intervals, and I easily took her hand after each act. She never withdrew it.

I remember little about the meal we had in a good French restaurant close by, other than we chatted easily about almost anything; none of the awkwardness of the train trip down.

The last train back was almost deserted and we were alone in the compartment. Within minutes she was asleep with her head on my shoulder. She woke just once on the two hour journey, when I gently kissed her on the forehead. She opened her eyes, smiled, kissed me gently but firmly on the lips and was immediately asleep again until we reached our destination.

I walked her home; this time the kiss was an affectionate one on the cheek, again the smile.

Monday came and the walks up and down, my eyes following her, resumed, with occasional short visits to her office in which sometimes we had a brief chat. Always the smile.

The following week, six months up, I was assigned to another section, maybe fifteen minutes walk to Block 18 where Elenor had her office, through the jumble of huts making up the central research laboratories of one of Britain’s largest engineering companies. I never made the walk.

Sixty years later, I often think about what might have followed had I done so.

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Petronela the chicken

Petronela. An extraordinary attire but I don’t like that look in her eye!

Sunday 15 October

An extraordinarily warm mid October day prompted a complete mind shift from yesterday. Then a spot of baking pushed out any stage nerves before ‘performing’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival ‘Fringe’ (in fact I arrogantly don’t have any – I never have been frightened of making a fool of myself and it gets worse with age – readers of this blog may well have deduced that 😜).

Favourite short walk

Today walking with Petronela on our favourite short local walk, intent on having a chat with another Petronela – a chicken, one of those who lays our eggs. I really wanted to get a picture of Petronela holding her namesake but we couldn’t find her (the chicken). Every one of the ladies has a name and Sue, who with Simon provides a home for these ladies who lay our “very free range eggs”, knows each one of them by name. I had to settle for the dog for my photo.

She was here earlier,” said Sue, “she was eating like a pig.” Looking at the Petronela who can polish off a plate of spaghetti bolognaise in little more time than it takes me to grate some Parmesan on mine, I held my tongue. Who cares? They both remain beautiful, as you can see. The picture of chicken Petronela is one taken on an earlier visit (by Petronela –  confusing isn’t it?).

A large group of walkers arrived just before us which prevented Sue helping us locate Petronela. Clearly most of them had not been there before so seeing the discomfort of one, as a very free range lady tried to nick his slice of Sue’s exceedingly good homemade cake, made my day.

Charity

Sue and Simon are an extraordinary, lovely couple. They sell the eggs, with an ‘honour’ system of payment, and serve homemade cakes and drinks to passing walkers if they are home, but all the proceeds go to a charity supporting teenagers with cancer. Once a year they have a charity day to support one local young person disadvantaged in some way. P and I have a money box into which change of 10p and under goes throughout the year to hand over on that day.

When I despair of the world in which we now live I think of Sue and Simon and how lucky we are to have that walk to chat with them.

My haiku which have been posted on this blog over the past five years or more have been collected together, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. They will be put on a page under the ‘haiku’ tab; until now that has had all the posts put in the ‘haiku’ category, which may not all have contained one, just ‘talked’ about them. It will hopefully make more sense. I’ll also put tanka there, few.

Five pictures of grumpytyke stages

Seven pictures of grumpytyke stagesFive pictures of grumpytyke stages

The first haiku below is not mine; it is probably my favourite, the one which first prompted me to try my hand at writing them. It was on a blog called ‘five reflections’; as far as I know it no longer exists. All I can do now is thank the author for many hours of pleasure he began, both reading others and attempting my own.
The pictures are a bit of fun with the 5-7-5 sequence which I posted soon after seeing that first haiku.
Each haiku has under it the title of the post and the date it appeared on my blog. The title is a link which will take you to the post. Very rarely do I post just a haiku; usually there’s some background. Some might not make much sense without it (eg ‘picture haiku), which probably means they are not very good haiku.
If you feel like wandering through them sometime I’d love to know which you like most (if you like any!) and why.


from the old locked box
photographs you left behind
my eyes become yours

Haiku – my eyes become yours
June 23, 2012

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from one year to three
from Shipley to Banbury
skiffle liberates

Picture haiku
June 23, 2012

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how does someone blind
who cannot see the sky’s blue
create this art work?

Inspiration from blogs and blindness – creativity in food, photography, haiku and writing

July 5, 2012

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take inspiration.
visit the God particle
on a pedal bike

The God particle and inspiration for a would-be creative writer
July 7, 2012

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celestial ships
from another universe
fantasy Yorkshire sky

Sky picture haiku
July 8, 2012

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my long fallen friend
hacked down from your majesty
rest awhile with me

Trees – picture haiku
July 9, 2012

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one destination
straight … curious meander
we wonder … and wait

Picture haiku – life
July 12, 2012

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imagine … differ
climb out of the commonplace
halt … think free … proceed

Haiku – three word prompt – no picture
July 15, 2012

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soul guide … hand taken
serene work on graceful curves
symbol stories writ

Picture haiku – an egg from Bucovina
July 20, 2012

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Earth to earth … to dust
twist … scream … turn … yet now return
games in the graveyard

grass is greener where?
bare footed … treading careless

leaving litter here

A pair felt in a graveyard
July 29, 2012

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biscuits cut from sky
baking in the summer sun
heaven gives …  look up

Picture haiku – sky biscuits in Iasi, Romania
August 3, 2012

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chirruping crickets
all else mute they look to dawn
winter waits … restore

Haiku – no picture this time

August 9, 2012

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a deep thought minute
click to click is time enough
the wind raged … sea calmed

Picture haiku: time cures all
November 29, 2012

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madness frozen out
bones interred together … warmed
peace … buds in waiting

Picture haiku – Daily Prompt: Through the Window
January 29, 2013

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witches tread with care
beware our bouquet … spiky
healthy human food

Picture haiku – Washburn valley, Olympus OM4
June 5, 2013

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green satiated
winter songsters’ sanguine store
shiver prophesy

Picture haiku: rowan
October 20, 2013

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This post does not include a haiku but charts my journey since I began to try to write them

Haiku – a journey through seventeen syllables
October 28, 2013

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white snow dying … grey
children’s faces sad … silent
birds sing … dreams of spring

haiku: snow
January 22, 2015

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office rules to rest
laid among timed paper clips
writing in my head

haiku – writer’s retirement
February 6, 2015

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time travel … from chat
to chat in another time
anaesthesia

anaesthesia – haiku. Hernia repair
May 30, 2015

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leaves in still puddles
reflections of lost summer
rusted … yet to fall

Five reflections plus one
February 12, 2017

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distant memory
fighting to recall your face
dementia kills me

sublime poetry
in lyrics of a sad song
speaking to my soul

appegios sooth
minor chords provoke … sometimes
love flows in … and out

The thrill of seeing your writing in print
June 20, 2017

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autumn comes tardy
nature’s paintbox still half closed
birds gorge on berries

A special day doing nothing special. A haiku
October 6, 2017

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tanka

snowflakes in the rain
diluting their cold beauty
we wait for snowballs
like waiting for love letters
in a disrupted affair

Performing again! A tanka and a short story
November 19, 2016

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river’s melody
embraced by guardian hills
a chaffinch sings
the mad bull sinks into us
relishing the peace he brings

A trip to the English Lakes
April 21, 2017

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i saw you lovely
looking in a cracked mirror
quicksilver faded
too late I crossed the fractures
to reflect with you what might

Five reflections plus one
February 12, 2017

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I’m not going to tell you a story here, just hopefully to wet your appetite for a post soon after the 14th October. That’s the day on which the writers’ club of which I am a member, Writing on the Wharfe, will be doing its stuff at the prestigious Ilkley Literature Festival ‘Fringe’, having been invited back after its successful debut last year.

I’m working on my first ever ‘fairy story’ for the event. Because our club has grown since last year we each have only a short ‘slot’. That’s OK for my usual haiku and short short stories but having decided on one longer fairy story I’ve been working out how to present my story in the allotted time. I’ve decided to omit the centre section, just reading the opening and the ‘denouement’, with a brief explanation at the start.

Poster for our ‘fringe’event

Motivation

I’ve been motivated to write a fairy story by two delightful young ladies who generally come to our public events. So, in fact, I’m endeavouring to write two stories, the second for presentation at a later Christmas ‘show’ in Ilkley library, again a repeat of last year, but we’re hoping to take this ‘on tour’ to at least the library in the village in which I live. That one I’d hope to post here on the day after the Ilkley library ‘show’.

Talent

Part of a display Kelly currently has in the Keighley library Showing some of her illustration style

Part of a display Kelly currently has in the Keighley library

We have a tremendous range of local talent in our club, covering many different genres, some members having been published. We also have our wonderful singer/songwriter, Emma Nabarro-Steel, who published her debut (almost) album last year. Her CD is often in my player. Another member, Kelly McCarthy-Wright, not only writes stories but is a superb illustrator, her style including illustrations ideal for children’s books.

So, look out for my first fairy story (complete version) on or about 15th October and the second early to mid December. I’ll be truly interested in your feedback on each.