Thursday, 28 November 2013

Carry on the Potters (Part Two)

Never let it be said I don't respond to criticism! I am well rebuked, and here's part two...

Well, the balloon had to go up, and it did. First of July we went over and I never saw the like. Explosions going off everywhere, so you were ducking rocks and stones as much as bullets and bombs. I heard as how one of our mines went off with such a bang that the rocks landed in our lines and one poor lad lost a leg. Three days of that and we were mixed up so much we didn’t know which way we were facing.

I got a piece of shrapnel or rock or something – don’t know what – just under the rim of my tin hat. Everything went black and white and I wandered around a bit, bumping into people. Then I opened my eyes and it was dark. First off I thought I was blind, but then a flare went up and I knew I could see. My head was banging like the Shelton Bar, but I raised it and looked around. I was on my own, and I could see I was a good hundred yards from the nearest trenches. Trouble is, I didn’t know if they were ours or theirs. So I tossed a coin in my head and made for the one that was the shortest walk.

I say walk, but I went most of the way on hands and knees. Both sides kept sending up flares, and you showed up like a shilling on a sweep’s bum every time. 

Well, I’d gone a little way when I heard a voice say, “That you, Bob?”

I looked round and there was George, lying in a shell hole. “Hello mate,” says I, “What you doing here?”

“Oh, just taking the air, watching the moon, nothing much.” says George, which was swank because now I could see he was hurt bad.

“Let’s have a look at you,” says I.

Well, I could see straight away he’d copped more than just a Blighty one. The front of his battle dress was all bloody, but when I opened it he just sort of came to bits. He was looking at me the whole time and said, sort of hopeful, “Is it bad?”

“Not too bad,” I said and buttoned him up again. “Wait here and I’ll get a stretcher.”

I started for the trenches again, still not knowing if I was heading for home or Hell. That was when I saw something white waving about fifty yards ahead. Some silly beggar of a stretcher bearer was standing up, in full view, waving a piece of cloth on a stick. Well of course, I should have known it would be Jimmy. When I got there he was standing on the edge of a crater you could lose a bus in. All round the rim there were men lying, fanned out like the petals of a daisy.

“Glad to see you, Bob,” says Jimmy, pointing around, “There’s work for us here.”

I pointed back at No Man’s Land, “George is out there. Help me get him.”

Jimmy shook his head, “Jerry’s letting us off while we’re close to our own side. He won’t be so kind if he thinks we’re advancing.”

“But he’s hurt bad!” I said.

“So are these, and there’s a lot more of them.” He pulled my arm. “Come on, pal, these lads are potters too.”

He told me after that he’d been called to the crater by Major Wedgwood, who’d been cut to pieces by shrapnel. The last words he’d said to Jimmy were “Carry on, the Potters.” Well, we carried a few that night, back and forth from the crater to the trenches, and Jerry never fired a shot.

We never did find George. I saw his name in, let’s see, 1984 I think, when I visited the military cemetery at Bapaume. I’d found the Major’s grave soon enough, then saw a name as I turned away. There was George, further from Shelton than it’s possible for us to be.

And now we’ve got a new millennium coming and Jimmy’s gone the same way as George and the Major. It’s nearly time for me to go too, where my friends went, where Wedgwood went, where our pride went, and where I hope it can still be found.

Carry on the Potters.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Carry On the Potters (Part One)

This was a piece written for a Gladstone Pottery event. Please read in a Six Towns accent...
Major Wedgwood were a tall chap, fair haired, with a moustache you could hang clothes on.  “The Viking”, they called him, and I could see why, that day in factory when I first saw him.  He’d got us lined up in front of the new kiln and he gave us the big speech about being the finest company in the world, in the finest city in the world, because it had finest people in the world.  Pretty poor stuff you’d think, but we drank it up like it was Nestle’s Milk.  This was 1916 and I was only 14, but I was a big lad for my age and they’d set me on to shift barrows at Etruria.

The Major had come back from the War for a board meeting or some such, and then he’d asked to speak to the able-bodied men in the factory about joining his regiment.  They were the North Staffordshires, but he said we’d be joining a pals battalion, where we’d be with our best mates.  The Potters, they called themselves.  Jimmy Leather, an older lad who lived by us in Chatham Street,  said we should enlist because it was our duty and anyway it paid a sight more than wheeling clay.

Well, you can imaging the kerfuffle when I got home and said that me and Jimmy Leather were joining up.  Mom was having none of it, and said she’d write to Mr Wedgwood and tell him I was under-age, so I let on to give up on the idea.  After a bit of argument, you understand, or she’d have copped on I was up to something.

Well, me and Jimmy had a word with the charge-hand next morning and he said we could go down to the recruiting room as had been set up in the offices.  I’d never been in there before and it was a bit frightening, all polish-smelling and clattery, what with typewriters and comptometer machines rattling and people walking about with bits of paper.  We’s shown into a room with a dozen or so other blokes stood around, and when it’s my turn I find myself talking to this sergeant who gives me a look and asks me how old I am.
“Seventeen,” I says.

He gives me another look, up and down, sort of slow, and he sees I’m probably taller than him – he were only a little chap – and he nods and asks me to sign a paper.  He claps his hands once and rubs them together and says, “Alright, duck, you belong to the Prince of Wales now.  Go through that door and they’ll have a good look at you.”  That were it.  I was a soldier.

Course, it didn’t turn out quite how we’d expected.  There were a fair few Etruria lads, but I got to know a chap called George who worked with his dad in a factory making tiles for the London Tube.  We all got on and were good pals through training.  Jimmy and me were set up as stretcher bearers, but we still saw a bit of old George, who was going to be a rifleman.
So that was how we found ourselves in France, near a place called La Boiselle, not that I could ever say it proper.  It wasn’t as bad as you might think; it was warm anyway –bloody hot some days, and that’s swearing.  But you’d go to the rear every few days, away from the whizz-bangs, and you could have some decent scoff and a shower and they’d take your battle dress away and get rid of most of your visitors.

And laugh?  Seemed like we never stopped.  Jimmy was a dab hand with the trumpet – in fact he was one of our bandsmen – and he’d play anything you wanted, and if we were having a bit of a sing he’d be there with the harmony, dead on.  Then George would make some crack about us being too close to Ivor Novello for his comfort and we’d all break up laughing again.  Four weeks and I never so much as saw a German, though we could hear them sometimes in their trenches, calling out, singing and laughing as well.  Made me feel funny that did, to hear them carrying on like they was the same as us.
To be continued...

Time Flies

Very little time available these days for keeping this blog up to date. I am blogging with reasonable regularity though on the Classic Air Force website. They've also let me loose as editor of Meteor Magazine, so at least I get to write about - and occasionally mess with - with old aeroplanes! 

I've written a few short stories recently though, so maybe it's time to post one or two of those up here...

Friday, 23 August 2013

Growing Economies Look Like This

Oh that was another thing I should have mentioned...

I spent a week in India courtesy of my great client, Mana Energy.  They'd asked me to put together and present the case for saving costs and the environment by reducing the fuel consumption of large diesels.  And if that sounds rather dreary and worthy, think again.  My host for the week was Uday Bawa, Mana Energy's CEO, and you couldn't wish for better, more entertaining company.

We spent most of the time in Srinagar, where I was to address the Indian Minister of Transport and the heads of the State Transport Companies.  Rather than put up in an aseptic, air-conditioned hotel we took exclusive ownership of a 100-foot houseboat and commuted to and from work each day on board a beautifully painted shikara.  You could very easily get used to this.

I'd been repeatedly warned about Delhi Belhi and Indian driving so was prepared for the worst.  A week later, uninjured and still able to fart without peril I revised my views.  This place is bloody superb.  It's possibly the best place in the world for a vegetarian, so every mealtime was a short trip to paradise.  Even the dinner served on the brand new Air India Dreamliner that took me there was outstanding.

But let's deal with the driving.  OK, so a two-lane road will have at least five lanes of cars on it, every motorcycle will have at least three people on it, and every lorry (which move in hordes at night) will have at least no lights on it whatsoever.  But strangely enough, it all works like a Swiss watch.  Nobody collides, nobody even brakes sharply, and nobody gets upset or aggressive.  Ever.  Drive around Paris and you never see a car with a straight panel.  Drive around Delhi or Srinagar and you never see a dent.  Work it out.

But what was most humbling was the respect and deference I encountered from business people who, demonstrably, leave us for dead when it comes to knowing how to run an economy.  Faced with so much warmth and humility it would have been easy for me to underestimate them.  That would have been an unforgiveable mistake.

There's a genuine national fondness for Britain here.  It's vital that we continue to work to deserve it.

No Substitute for Paper

Just back from a highly therapeutic trip to Scotland I realise I've left the blog alone again.  Dammit!

So what's been happening?  Well I guess one significant milestone was The Larks going on sale as a physical book.  It's there now on Amazon and shortly - I hope - in more adventurous book stores.

There's something very special about clutching your very own collation of macerated trees.  You can buy your very own piece of printed forest on  I'm assured it's all sustainable, honest!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Babbling on Paul Oldfield's Nite Klub

I'll be rabbiting on on a radio interview with Paul Oldfield between 8 and 10 tonight on 87.7FM or online at  I'll get to work on the speech impediment - BASTARD! - when I've fixed my Tourettes.  ARSE!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Tornerai - Part Four

The concluding episode in a gentle little story based on a recollection of my mother's of an encounter with a stranger in 1941.

Here are the previous episodes:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

“Good grief, Beaky, where did you find this one?”

A large man in officer’s uniform had appeared next to Tony.

“Oh, hello, Skipper.  This is Josie.  Josie, this is my skipper.”

“Hello Josie,” said the skipper, shaking hands, “Call me Christopher.  What on earth are you doing with Beaky here?”

He was tall and broad-shouldered, with white, even teeth, a blue chin and the self-confidence of a successful ladies’ man.  Half of Josie found him repulsive.  The other half…

“We’re very good friends, Tony and I.  I’m here to see him off,” said the repulsed half.

“Tony’s good friends with everyone.”  He turned to Tony.  “And I’m sure he won’t mind if his good friend Christopher dances with his good friend Josie.”

Tony clearly did mind.  “No, of course not.”

As Hunt led her to the floor the band changed songs, leafing through music sheets as the clarinet began a familiar, slow introduction.  She looked helplessly around Hunt’s shoulder and smiled at Tony who shrugged and smiled back.  He mouthed the words to the song: “J’Attendrai”.

The dance closed at seven o’clock and somehow Josie found herself agreeing to a lift home in Christopher’s car.  She seized a moment to speak apologetically to Tony.

“I’m sorry to run off like this, Tony, but it’d take me ages on the tram.  Thank you, I’ve had a lovely day.  I’ve really enjoyed spending it with you.”

“No, of course, that’s absolutely fine.  Good of the skipper to offer.  Listen, do you think I could have your address?  I was hoping you’d let me write to you.”

“Yes, I’d like that.  Have you got a pencil and paper?”

She wrote her name and address inside the cover of the notebook he produced from his breast pocket.  She looked up, the pencil poised.  “How do you spell the Italian for that song?”

He spelt it for her and she wrote “Tornerai” in a heart under the address.  “There, now you know you’ll return.  And the lads in the mess will be jealous because you’ve got a girl back home.”

“Have I?”  He held out his hand to shake hers.  “That’s wonderful.  Goodbye Josie, thank you for making it a special day.”

“Goodbye.  I hope I’ll see you again.”  She hurriedly kissed his cheek, turned and climbed into the officer’s car.

There was no letter on Monday or Tuesday, but Josie felt nothing but slight disappointment; after all, even if he’d written as soon as he arrived, it was unlikely to arrive sooner.  And he was just a briefly-known, chance acquaintance anyway.  But by Friday she admitted to herself that she was scanning the doormat each morning with more expectancy.  But there was no letter.

It arrived on Saturday.  She saw the RAF crest on the flap and paused, uncertain who the writer might be; guilty that there should be doubt.

Dear Miss Sharples,

It is with the most profound regret that I must inform you of the loss of Flight Sergeant Anthony Fielding.  I must ask you to excuse my ignorance of your relationship to Anthony.  However, your name and address were found in his personal effects and so I felt it my duty to inform you of his death.
Flight Sergeant Fielding was killed in action on the Monday following his arrival here at the base.  He was a brave and popular young man who will be sadly missed.

With my deepest condolences,

Yours truly,

Alexr. E. Calthorpe, Sqdn Ldr

It's a Living...

Bristol Scout at Shuttleworth. This is Colin's first mount in The Larks
Had a great meeting with Una Watts at Shuttleworth on Friday - what a lovely lady.  Then a quiet browse around the collection, berating myself for leaving my camera at home.  Good job we have these telephone things nowadays.

On days like this I'm forced to admit that my job really doesn't suck that badly.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Tornerai Part Three

In typical Blog fashion, the episodes for this gentle little story are in reverse order.  Here are the links for the previous pieces:

Nameless dance music wafted from the radio and Josie swayed slightly in time as the waitress took their orders.  Apart from the two of them, the restaurant was deserted.
“You certainly like your music.  Do you like dancing?” he asked.

“Love it.  Why do you ask?”

“Oh, no reason.”  He polished his knife on his napkin, clearly embarrassed.  “You move like a dancer, that’s all.”

“Do you think so?” She was pleased.  “I’ve actually won a couple of trophies.”

“I’m not surprised.  You must dance a lot then.”

“Not now.  My dance partner got called up.  It’s not the same, dancing with the other girls.”

“But you must get lots of invitations.”  He flushed again.

She looked at him for a moment.  “You’re not very good at this chat thing, are you?”

He returned to polishing his knife, his head down.  “I suppose not.  I’m really not trying to chat you, though.  I mean, someone like you wouldn’t…” He stammered to a halt.

“Wouldn’t what?  Look at someone like you?”  He looked up, surprised by her frankness.  

She smiled, softening her voice.  “If I go to a dance on my own I can guarantee I’ll get propositioned by some reserved-occupation lounge lizard with a sharp suit and bad breath.  Believe me, you’re a breath of fresh air.”

His flush deepened still further.  “Oh!  Well, thank you!  In that case, I wondered…”

He was interrupted by the arrival of the soup.  As the waitress placed the bowls in front of them, the music changed again.  The slow opening tones resolved into the voice from the Milk Bar singing “J’Attendrai”.

“It’s that song again.  What was it you called it?” she asked.

“Oh, ‘Tornerai’.  It’s Italian for ‘You Will Return’”

“Sing the Italian words for me.”

“No, I can’t.”

“I thought you said you’d learned them.”

“I have.  I meant I can’t sing.”

“You did in the Milk Bar.”  She grinned over her soup spoon, teasing him.

“Oh, well, not really.  I, er…” His colour was deepening again.

“You know, I’ve never seen anyone blush as easy as you do,” she laughed.  “OK, tell me what you wondered, then.”

“What I wondered?”

“Just before the soup arrived.  You said, ‘I wonder…’”

“Oh, that.” He was quiet for several seconds.  “It’s just that… well, I know we said just lunch, but…”

“But…?” she prompted.

“But there’s a farewell tea dance at the Training School.  Would you like to come?”

“We did say just lunch, didn’t we?”

He sagged.  “Yes, we did.”

“But you hadn’t mentioned a tea dance then.  Eat up, I want to go dancing in my new frock.”

The severe formality of the Castle Bromwich Training School was softened by tri-coloured bunting and a banner wishing Good Luck to 44 Squadron.  A six-piece band played subdued dance standards from a small stage.  Josie slipped into the Ladies as they arrived, emerging triumphantly in the new dress, her hair combed and shining coppery in the harsh lights. 

Tony met her at the door.  “Wow! You look, um… nice.”  He held out a glass of pinkish liquid.  “It’s only fruit cup, I’m afraid.”

“You’re such a silver-tongued flatterer,” she laughed, taking the glass and sipping.  “Flipping heck!  Fruit cup? Are you sure?”

He tested his own drink.  “Ah.  I think someone’s accidentally spilt gin into the bowl.”

“I think everyone in the room has.”  She drank experimentally, trying not to grimace at the unaccustomed bitterness.

The conclusion will be up in a few days' time

Dammit Dammit Dammit

My apologies to anyone who downloaded the first Kindle version of The Larks. For reasons best known to Amazon it formatted perfectly for the print edition, but then their own translation system - from their own print file - decided to eradicate 70% of the hyphens, ditch 20% of the italics and make up its line-break rules as it went along.

It's all fixed now, and includes a foreword by my brother Martin.

As an apology, it's available free in the Amazon Kindle store on Wednesday 24th April. UK readers can get it on  If you're downloading from outside the UK you'll need to search for Jem Shaw on your local Amazon Kindle store.

WhisperSync Auto Book Update

If you've turned on this new feature in your Manage Kindle area on Amazon then in theory your copy of The Larks should automatically update itself.  Mine hasn't so I have a suspicion that it doesn't work.  Hopefully it'll be mended soon though, so it should work eventually...

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Tornerai - Part Two

Let's pick up on Josie's progress with the RAF Flight Engineer. This story is based on a real-life encounter, recounted to me by my mother. So don't expect burning Messerschmitts and loud rat-a-tat-tats.

“You live far?” she asked.

“No.  Just up by Pype Hayes Park.  I ship out with the squadron tonight.”

“I’d have thought you’d have wanted to be at home then, this being your last day.”

He smiled.  “That’s the reason I’m here actually.  My Mum gets a bit emotional and it was just too damp at home.  She thinks I’m bound to be killed, which cheers a chap up no end.”

Josie inspected her cup, unsure how to respond.  The music from the loudspeaker changed and she brightened.  “Oh, I love this one!” She sang softly along to the singer’s thin soprano, “J'attendrai le jour et la nuit, J’attendrai, dah de dah de dah.”

“Yes, my mama used to sing it around the house.  It’s called ‘Tornerai’”.

“No, it’s called ‘J’attendrai’:  I will wait.  She’s French.”

“It’s in French, but she’s Italian.  So is the song, actually.  It’s called ‘Tornerai’: You will return.”  He sang a fragment, “Tornerai da me perché l'unico sogno sei del mio cuor.”

Josie was impressed despite herself.  “You speak Italian?”

“No.” He laughed.  “But when your mother’s Italian you pick up the sounds.  I’ve no idea what it means.”
“Italian? But isn’t she…?”

“The enemy?  No, she’s nobody’s enemy, my Mum.  She met my Dad at the end of the last war and came back to England with him.”

They listened in silence to the song.  The rain had stopped and Josie began to think of leaving.  Tony put down his cup.  “Look, I know this was supposed to be just a chat, but…”

Josie was faintly disappointed; he was a little boring, but he’d seemed so genuine.  “But…?”

“But could I buy you lunch?  I really couldn’t stand to be back in the house, with all the tears and wailing.  We could go to the Stockland.”

“That’s miles away.  We’ll get soaked.”

“It’s not, and it’s stopped now anyway.  We can walk it in ten minutes or so.  Please: my treat; us aircrew get paid fortunes.”

She thought for a moment.  It wasn’t uncommon for her to stay out until early evening on Saturdays, and with these summer nights it wasn’t dark enough for the bombers until well after nine.  And she didn’t get to eat in a restaurant that often.  And he was quite nice-looking in his RAF uniform…

“OK, but I’ll have to go home after.”

They bumped shoulders several times as they walked down to Five Ways and Josie eventually threaded her arm through his to make it easier to move through the Saturday shoppers.  She noticed his slight smile and suspected a faint blush on his cheeks.  There was something old-fashioned about him; she noticed how he took care to switch to the outside when they crossed into Reservoir Road.

“What’s in the shopping bag?  Anything nice?” he asked as they passed the hospital, where a great, wrinkled silver barrage balloon rippled between a cluster of olive-dun trailers behind the spiked railings.

“I loathe those things,” she said.  “They look sort of slimy, like a giant slug or something.”  She looked back at him.  “The bag?  Oh, yes,  I’ve bought a new frock.  Been saving up.”

“Really?  You must show me when we get to the restaurant.”

She laughed.  “And why would a chap want to look at a frock?”

He laughed with her.  “Well, for a start I can imagine you wearing it.  You know how you see those tickets in drapers’ windows?  They’ll have a dress and a sign by it saying ‘Lovely on’.  Well I bet your new frock will look lovely on.”

“So you’re interested in dresses and you look in drapers’ windows?”

They were both laughing now.  “Yes, it’s part of our training.  If we’re captured we have to operate undercover as a rather ‘so’ spy.”

She looked at him quizzically.  “Really?”

“Of course not really.  My mother used to drag me round the dress shops.  You notice things.”

“What’s she like, your Mum?”

“Very Italian.  Always dressed in black, never stops cooking or talking, and she wails at 100 decibels when it’s time for her son to go to war.”

The Stockland Inn was an imposing stone-faced building with tall gables.  To those from the city it was a large Ansell’s pub, but to a seventeen-year-old girl, the youngest daughter of a Birmingham gunsmith, it was the Ritz.  She stayed shyly behind Tony, despite his courteous attempts to have her precede him, as the black-uniformed waitress led them to a table.  Music played softly from somewhere, though she could see neither a band nor a wireless set.

The menu was a typewritten sheet in a shiny, padded folder.  Tony opened it and presented it to her, flicking back the gold tassel with a flourish.  “Would Madam care to make her choice?”

Josie accepted it regally, “Thank you, young man, allow me to peruse,” she replied in the tones of the draper’s shop lady.

Little perusal was necessary; the choice consisted of tomato or potato soup to begin, with either fish or meat of the day, with seasonal vegetables, to follow.  Dessert was apple pie or cheese.  Her eyes widened: three courses.  On a Saturday.

Continued in Part Three

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Tornerai - Part One

This is based on a story told by my mother of her recollections of World War II. By her own admission, she loved the war, liberating as it did a whole generation of young women from the strait-laced restrictions of a society that had moved on very little from Victorian values.

She loved music and dancing, and one song had a secret meaning for her; one that she shared many years later.  It was called J'Attendrai.

The inside of Gray’s, the posh draper’s shop just up from the funeral directors, smelt of dark cloth and shiny buttons.  Two women at the counter looked up at the sound of the bell and Josie fought the impulse to reach up, tip-toed, to still its jangling.  She approached a rack of dresses, trying to keep her heels from clacking on the shiny parquet.  The women resumed their low-toned conversation with the regal dowager who reigned from behind the counter.

Josie took down a dress from the rack, pretending to admire it and replacing it when she realised she was examining a lurid crimson tartan that, combined with her rolls of red hair, would almost certainly break black-out regulations.

The bell tinkled again as the women left the shop.  The tartan outrage had somehow locked hangers with the next dress on the rack and Josie struggled to restore the regimental line that existed before she broke up the ranks.

“Good morning, Madam.  May I help you?”

The traitorous dress slid to the floor with a clack of metal buttons as Josie turned.

“Oh, I’m sorry,”  she gasped, stooping to recover the bright tangle.

“Not at all Madam.  Would Madam care to try it on?”

“Um… No, thank you.  Er, actually there’s a dress in the window I’d like to buy.  The one for 31/6d.”

The shop mistress took the tartan creation from Josie’s hands, frowning at it through half-spectacles with a gaze to strike fear into any speck of dust that might entertain clinging to it.

“Of course.  And no doubt Madam will wish to try the fit of that one?”

“Oh.”  The possibility that the dress might not fit had somehow escaped Josie’s planning and determined saving.  “Yes, please.”

She stood, feeling alone and adrift in the centre of the shop as the woman threaded through the mannequins to retrieve the dress from the window.  She’d saved everything for weeks, sure every day that it would disappear before she’d amassed the great wealth of its purchase price.  Last night, Dad had returned from work in good spirits and presented her with a ten shilling note, bringing her within reach of her dream.

Now, without doubt, she would discover that it was the wrong size.

The woman returned with the dress and held it up in front of Josie, maintaining a respectful 18-inch gap that made judging its suitability impossible.  “It’s rather lovely, isn’t it?  Quite striking with Madam’s hair.”

Josie detected the slight taint of Birmingham behind the shop woman’s clipped accents and relaxed just a little.  She put down her shopping bag and followed the woman to the fitting rooms, pulling the dark blue velvet curtain across behind her.

It fitted perfectly.  She admired her reflection; the skirt was the dark green of a mallard’s head, flaring in an immaculate “A” from the tiny pinched waist.  The bodice, cut high and with puffed shoulders, was buff, with a floral pattern that matched the skirt.  Perfect. She surreptitiously inspected her ration book; just sixteen coupons left.  This would leave five; enough to last the rest of the year, given plenty of sewing and mending.

Walking back along the High Street she slid a hand under the flap of her shopping basket, feeling the tissue crackle expensively.  Then a sudden rain made her bolt for the Milk Bar, tumbling through the door, almost colliding with a small man leading an even smaller dog that yapped at her disapprovingly.  She bought tea and a slice of yellow cake, seating herself on a brown leatherette stool at the window bar.  The wireless twittered from a loudspeaker above her head.  Outside, people hurried along the streaming street, huddled under umbrellas and newspapers.

The rain showed no sign of abating and, the tea drunk and the cake consumed, Josie began to contemplate a saturated dash to the tram stop.  She checked her purse: just enough for the ride home.

“Excuse me.”

She turned.  A young man in RAF uniform was standing behind her, holding two steaming cups.  He smiled nervously. 

“Hello.  I’m terribly sorry, but would you mind if I bought you a cup of tea?”

He looked impossibly young, his uniform stiff and new.  He was of medium height, slightly built and dark, almost swarthy.  His features were pleasant enough despite a prominent nose that, while not actually excessive in size, commanded attention in the way that it shadowed the unfortunate moustache he’d tried to cultivate.

“It looks as if you already have.”

He blinked at the two cups.  “Oh.  Well, yes, I suppose I have.  Look, I’m really very sorry, I’m not trying to… you know, give you the chat or anything, but could I just talk to you for a few minutes?”

She looked outside.  The rain poured steadily; her cup and purse were empty…  “OK, just a chat, then.”

He sat on the next stool.  “My name’s Tony.  Thanks ever so much.  Do you want sugar?”

“Two, please.”

He spooned sugar into her cup, sifting the white from the brownish clumps in the pale-green bowl on the counter.  “You didn’t say your name.”

“I know.”  She smiled and stirred her tea.  “Oh alright then, it’s Josie.  You’re a pilot, then?”

“Nothing that grand.  Flight engineer.”

“What?  Like a mechanic?”

“No.  I sit behind the pilot and work the engines.  I’m on Lancasters.”  He hesitated.  “Well, I will be after tonight.  I’ve just finished the maker’s course at Castle Brom.”

...To be continued in Next Post >>

Monday, 15 April 2013

The Girl With the Collecting Tin

OK, let's get started.  This one's based on two characters from The Larks, though the names have been changed to protect the equally fictitious. It's a little story about government budgets...

It’s warm by the living-room range.  It’s been an odd sort of evening: Hattie went to answer the door and returned with a girl holding a collecting tin.  The girl looked a bit lost; I mean, there she is, confronted with me, sitting in this chair among my cushions, with a big blanket pin holding up the leg of my trousers.  Not her fault; she meant well.

I felt a bit uncomfortable myself.  Hattie had been getting me to try the wooden leg again.  It hurt like buggery, so I gave up as usual, but it was still propped up by the hearth.  Somehow I didn’t want the girl with the collecting tin to see it, all straps and laces, with the padding showing at the top like soiled underwear.  She was flustered and said she was sorry, but… and then she didn’t seem to be able to think what she was sorry for.  Sorry that I left so much of me behind in Ypres I suppose.

Hattie offered her a cup of tea and fussed with the kettle while the girl with the collecting tin perched on the edge of the sofa.  She said that she was collecting for some charity or other to help people like me. 

“Who?” I said, “Methodists?”  Hattie shushed me quick enough.  Apparently I put people on edge.  That must be difficult for them.

“No,” said the girl with the collecting tin, “People with…”  and she pointed vaguely towards the empty trouser leg.

“Oh, blanket pins,” says I,  That’s good, they’re a terrible price.”

“Gerald, that’s enough.”  Hattie was pouring boiling water into that cottage-shaped teapot.  She smiled at the girl with the collecting tin.  “I’m sorry, he gets a bit touchy sometimes.”

It’s warm by the living-room range.  I’ll think about getting over to the camp bed under the window in a bit.  The girl left with a few coppers in her collecting tin and then Hattie went to bed in a huff.  Couldn’t understand me, she said.  All I did was ask the girl why she had to go from house to house, begging for money for injured servicemen, when the government should be stumping up.  She said they couldn’t afford it.

And I said that they always seemed to be able to afford a bloody war.

What's the Story?

It all started when I posted a Facebook link to announce the availability of my first novel. The Larks has had a protracted birth, taking 18 months to emerge, weighing in at 97,000 words , into a world that's changed depressingly little in the 97 years since the events it describes were today's news.

A good FB friend pointed me to a story she'd written on her blog to cheer up a friend of hers.  You can read it here.  It gave me a good laugh, but also gave me the idea of using this blog to post up some of my less protracted ramblings.  So, Caroline/Sabrina (you know which one you really are!), anything that happens from here is your fault...