The Field Street Monologues

http://www.lulu.com/shop/jules-garvey-welch/the-field-street-monologues/paperback/product-23218982.html
At last I have completed and published my new book ‘The Field Street Monologues’ about the residents of a Black Country street. Some of the characters are linked and some stand alone. If you fancy a read it can be purchased from the link above.

Here is the blurb…

“Take a walk with me down this ‘Black Country’ street, with its back to back houses and secret entries and let us peep through the curtains into the lives of its residents.
We will step backstage into the world of the theatre costume mistress, before taking a moment to visit the troubled mind of an ex-soldier battling with combat stress; stopping briefly to share the fears and excitement of a young man about to embark on a ‘dating in the dark’ experience and then hide in the shadows with a ‘Twitcher’ who has shifted his attentions onto darker subjects.”
This is a collection of twelve short monologues, ideal for performance by students and amateur groups. They also provide excellent opportunities for modern audition pieces.
‘Fred’ has been performed at the Boogaloo Theatre in Highgate and ‘Maud’, which was the winner of the ‘Writeidea’ short story competition 2016, has been performed at the Groundlings Theatre in Portsmouth.

The Kenneth Branagh Drama Award

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Sorry it’s been a while. So my news…

Back in November I entered a duologue for the  Kenneth Branagh Drama Award and was really chuffed to be short-listed in the top 30 of over 290 worldwide submissions. Unfortunately I didn’t win, but it has definitely given me the encouragement to persevere with this writing lark.

 

The BBC event ‘Stitchin Fiction’

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Sorry I haven’t posted this earlier, I’ve had a few deadlines which I’ve needed to meet. So…this event. It was brilliant!

I’ll talk you through the day.

When I arrived, I was greeted by a group of young and enthusiastic organisers who registered us and sorted out necessary paper work; agreeing to allow our plays to be filmed and shown. I was a little uneasy at first as most of the people in the room were young, straight out of Uni and bubbling with optimism.

I think as you get older, you can be guilty of hiding that exuberance under a cloak of composure and I’m conscious that this can look a bit smug and unapproachable – so I decided I would bounce off their energy with my own version, which may have made me look like I was auditioning for a ‘presenters’ job in children’s TV.

I was relieved when some older people arrived as it allowed me to calm myself a little.

The organisers explained that seven writers had been chosen for this event and that professional actors had been selected by the team, who they believed would best deliver the material. We were introduced to our cast and then given a director to work with, who would help to coordinate the play ready for performance.

It would be the first time that both the actors and director would see my writing. I sat quietly, feeling very nervous, whilst they read through my monologue, my anxiety fading slightly when they appeared to laugh at certain parts of the script.

I was asked questions about my character, how I saw him, mannerisms etc and the my actor ‘Mark’ performed the piece for the first time. I have to say I was mesmerised hearing my words being spoken by someone who brought them to life in a way that I could never have imagined.

The director made suggestions about phrasing, movement about the stage and emphasising different aspects of the monologue and then Mark went off to practice, whilst I sat and chatted with the director.

Later in the day, the audience was invited in and the performances began. I have to say, I was feeling very exposed and nervous waiting for my play to be performed but I needn’t have been. Mark completely blew me away by doing a fabulous performance, owning the stage and having the audience in stitches as he delivered the lines which I so hoped other people would find funny. I was in complete awe and had one of those moments of pride that I thought I would only feel at my own children’s achievements.

At the end I was congratulated on receiving an excellent audience response and told that my piece had been one of the first they had chosen because it had made them laugh so much.

The event has led to other projects which I have been beavering away at. I will keep you posted of their progress.

 

Stitchin’ Fiction

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Tomorrow is an exciting day. I have been invited to attend The BBC’s Writer’s Room, Stitching Fiction event, where one of my monologues has been chosen for performance. It is a one day event where writers actors and director’s come together to create short plays which will be performed to a live audience. The actors do not know which piece they will be given until the day of the performance.Watch this space for more details and photos…

Benita

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It’s been a while since I last posted but I have had lots of projects and deadlines and have only just surfaced for air.

Here is a short monologue, which I may use in the Field Street Monologues if people like it. I’d welcome your comments below.

Benita

‘Benita Geraldi Fernandez’, that’s what he said her name was – I thought that sounds a bit exotic for a woman who works on the trams, so I asked him where he’d met her. He said he was standing in the queue at Hussain’s kebab house on the high street and she fell into his falafel pitta.

I said, ‘was she drunk?’

He said ‘No, she was having trouble with her wedges.’

‘What were they too spicy?’ I said and he said no, she normally wears flats but her friends had encouraged her to try a heel.

I thought most woman had mastered a four inch by the time they were thirty, but I didn’t like to say – she was probably one of those frumpy sorts who go for a Doctor Martin and a man’s sock.

Back in my day, women knew how to dress like women. A nice two piece or a gathered skirt and cardi. I wouldn’t have been seen dead in a flat shoe.

Mind you I’m paying for it now. Mr Singh at the chiropodists asked if he could photograph my bunions for the ‘Best foot forward’ chiropody magazine, as they were the biggest he’d seen on a woman with a size three shoe.

I’ve got the article somewhere – it doesn’t mention my name for confidentiality reasons, but you can tell it’s my foot on-account-of the scar across my big toe where Sid severed it with an industrial lawn mower. Six hours I was in surgery – it was touch and go whether they’d be able to sew it back on, but Bird’s Eye came to the rescue with the frozen sprouts I’d bought for Sid’s tea.

There was a whole page on them, my bunions I mean, it turned out to be a meaty article on how women in The Black Country, generally have smaller feet than those in the neighbouring towns. Some historian had made a link between clogs and flooded factories, and the stunted foot growth of working Black Country women. It said apparently, it would take generations for the foot size to catch up to a national average.

Anyway, I’m getting distracted, it turned out Daniel had asked this Benita woman, round for tea. They’ve been going out a while now and he thought it was time he introduced her to the family.  I say family, there’s only me left now since Sid died, god rest his soul.

I bought a pack of Eccles and a tin of salmon cus I didn’t want her thinking I was common, and I gave the cushions a wash in that new fabric conditioner I got off the market – smells like Parma-violets. Lost on our Daniel though cus the first thing he asked as he walked into the hall was ‘Has the cat pissed on the carpet again?’

‘Language Daniel,’ I said, not in front of our guest.

‘Oh don’t worry about me Mrs Grainger,’ she said, ‘you hear all sorts on the trams.’

I’ve got to be honest, I thought it was Daniel speaking at first – she had a very deep voice, like Lauren Bacall. Raspy and heavy like a Woodbine smoker.

She kissed me on both cheeks and held on to my hands, ‘It’s so lovely to meet you at last,’ she said, ‘Daniel has told me so much about you.’

Daniel piped up,  ‘don’t worry mum, I didn’t mention the incident with the charity shop.’

Of course, that got her asking, ‘What incident?’ and Daniel went on to tell her – well I didn’t know where to put myself – the woman had only been in the house five minutes.

I wouldn’t mind but it was an easy mistake to make, I mean I’d never seen one before and how was I to know what it was, as it didn’t have a box.

Well, Benita had a belly laugh louder than a fog horn.

‘What and you told the old man it was for frothing his coffee?’ she asked, tears and mascara rolling down her cheeks.

‘Well it had different speeds,’ I said ‘so I imagined one might be for hot chocolate.’

‘Are you saying, you sold a vibrator to an old man to froth up his cocoa?’ she said.

‘Well it did the trick, it was only when his daughter came in the shop and made a complaint that I found out what it was really for.’

I’d noticed when Benita was laughing that her very short skirt had risen-up and she had a fair old set of muscles on those legs of hers; like those runners you see on the TV. She struggled to cross them though, which I put down to the size of the quadriceps.

I couldn’t stop looking at her face either. It can be quite unforgiving when you have dark hair. And the way the sun caught her chin made me think that she was no stranger to the hair removal cream. That said she had good solid bone structure and I could see why Daniel had been attracted to her.

I’m not going to lie, I was quite impressed at the speed in which she could woof down an Eccles – and with hardly any crumbs down her cleavage. And Daniel was having trouble keeping up with her when I brought out the salmon quarters. They were going down in one mouthful. Still, I thought, I like a girl with an appetite. Much better than those who pick at their food.

They must have been there about an hour or so when Daniel said he had something he wanted to talk to me about. I was already thinking marriage seemed a bit hasty, after all they’d only been going out a few months, but when they both looked so serious and he grabbed hold of her hand and placed it on his lap, I started to get a bit tetchy.

‘I’m not sure how you are going to react to this,’ he said.

I said, I’ve lived through the blitz and sixties ready meals, there’s not much that can faze me now.’

And that’s when he said it, I suppose I should have guessed by the big hands and deep voice, the shadowy skin and size eight feet.

Turns out…and I must say it came as a big shock…but it turns out………. she’s from Birmingham.

I can’t say I’m happy about it, we like to keep ourselves separate see. It might only be seven miles down the road, but it may as well be on the other side of the world when you take account of our differences.

I said, ‘I thought you were going to tell me that she used to be a man. I could live with that, I have been known to watch Channel 4 you know.’

Daniel smiled, ‘Well now you mention it mum.’

  

 

 

Mr Eberstark – Part 2

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When he heard her key turn in the lock the following morning, he was waiting in the lounge.

‘Only me Mr Eberstark, I’ll put your spray in the cupboard after I’ve wiped it.’

‘Don’t forget to rinse the change under the tap before you put it back in the bag,’

‘I won’t – I’ve been doing this long enough now to know the routine.’

Marion wiped down the spotless units and kitchen equipment. He liked to hear the cloth as she wrung it out in the sink – the heavy thud of the water as it touched the stainless steel. He enjoyed inhaling the smell of cleanliness – drinking in the sterilized air – it made him feel cleansed.  

‘I’ve been meaning to ask you, how long it is that you’ve been living here in England now, I’ve been in the village for the past thirty years and I know you’ve been here longer than me.’

He didn’t answer.

‘Can you hear me Erik? I said, when did you move here?’

‘I told you before, 1945.’ His voice was clipped.

‘Why was that then?’

He could tell she’d stopped working because the plastic covers on her shoes were no longer rustling on the Lino.

‘I’d rather not speak of it – it was a very difficult time.’

‘Didn’t you escape with a group of Jewish refugees?’

Erik could feel the collar on his shirt tighten – he loosened his tie.

Marion sprayed more bleach on the work surface. ‘But surely, when the war was over you had no need to leave.’

So many questions.

She popped her head around the door. ‘I said, surely after the war, you could have stayed – in Germany I mean.’

‘It wasn’t safe for me – for any of us – besides, there were too many painful memories – anyway haven’t you got work to do?’ Erik slowly pulled himself up from his chair and shuffled past her, forgetting to swap over his slippers.

‘I’m just interested love – have you never talked about it to anyone? How about the cleaners you had before me?’

He winced as an image seeped into his consciousness – he tried to shake it from his mind. The blood – it had taken him days to remove it all.’

‘I don’t mean to pry – just curious, that’s all.’

Erik knew there had been questions about him circulating the village from time to time -experience had told him to keep his head down and wait for them to pass.

‘It just makes you think, though doesn’t it? I expect it’s all that refugee stuff in Hungary that’s on the news – weren’t you in Hungary for a time?’

Ebersark felt a tightening in his gut – he opened his top button. ‘I think I need to go for my walk in the garden now.’ He tried to side-step her as she leaned against the door frame.

‘Our Jack said the Germans were luring the poor devils in to Germany to do away with them all – like they did during the war. Welcoming them into secure housing areas – offering them work and “special shower facilities”, if you know what I mean.’

Erik’s chest tightened. A wave of heavy disappointment washed over him and he flinched at the aching pain which seared down his arm. The doors opened to a box of emotions and the litter spilt and merged, until confusion blurred his vision.

He’d thought Marion was different from the others – passing pleasantries, but not wanting to pry. He felt cheated – she’d led him to believe she wasn’t like the rest.

Putting on his coat and scarf, he grabbed his stick from the umbrella stand, to steady himself and carefully stepped out through the back door.

When he was sure that Marion had gone upstairs, he opened the lock to his shed and took a cloth covered object from the drawer. It was just where he’d left it – his father had given it to him in 1939, just before he had been taken away. Lifting it to his nose he inhaled the linseed oil used to polish the wooden handle, and tilted the axe-blade until the sunlight refracted a beam onto the shed door.

It had felt daring, smuggling it into England, and yet concealing it had been easy. No one had questioned him. Stories of the plight of the Jews had filtered into the homes of every family, meaning the passage through the document stations had been simple and remarkably unscrutinised.

Sliding his coat from his shoulders, he took a long breath, before removing his shirt, tie and trousers; folding them carefully, he placed them onto a wooden chair. Reaching to the top shelf of a storage unit, he pulled down a large parcel wrapped with brown paper and tied with string.

Carefully opening the package, he removed its contents – a matching shirt and trousers made of course material. He ran his fingers over the embedded stains and holes; stroking them like they were made of the finest silk; tracing his thumb along the defined blue and grey stripes.

The feel of the fabric made him retch momentarily as it scratched against his chest, just as it had when he removed it from the wretched old man who had pleaded for his help, and with eyes tightly closed he fastened each familiar button and knotted the frayed cord on the trousers.

With the axe nested in the crook of his arm, he walked barefoot back into his kitchen – the smell of bleach burning his nostrils – he took a moment to enjoy its’ scent. 

Heavy footsteps on aging wood and the gentle hum of her singing from the bathroom above, located where she was. She would be on her knees, bending over the bath – her back turned away from the door. One swift blow to the back of the head would be all that was needed.

Lifting the wooden handle high, with an adrenalin filled strength of a much younger man, he swung the axe down. The crack of bone sliced through the sound of running water, as the tap filled the bath – her blood, like a crimson waterfall, diluting in the clear liquid.

 

 

Part One of Mr Eberstark…

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Doing this writing lark for a little while now, I have been reworking a few of my earlier stories. Here is Part One of a piece called :

Mr Eberstark                                               

‘I’m not sure Thanatophobia can be classed as a real phobia. I mean everyone fears death don’t they?’ Marion wiped down the work surface with a cloth.

Mr Eberstark glanced up from his newspaper, ‘Do they? I’m not sure that’s true.’

What did the doctor say?’

‘She said she was referring me for counselling.’

‘At your age? Seems a bit daft – but I’m sure she knows what she’s doing. You’re bound to think about it more though aren’t you. How old are you again Mr Eberstark?’

‘I’m ninety-one Marion.’ He straightened his tie and brushed a stray hair away from his forehead, ‘have you done behind the breadbin? You always forget to do there – that’s where they breed you know – it’s the heat from the washing machine.’

‘Four times this morning Erik, just as you told me.’

The knuckles on Marion’s hands were raw and cherry coloured. Erik watched her as she scratched them.

‘This is very strong bleach, it would really help if I could wear those gloves.’

‘No! You can’t. I’m allergic to the latex,’ he said.

‘But you don’t have to touch it. You could go in the other room.’

‘Everything will be contaminated Marion, I don’t know how you can even ask me.’

‘Well that’s me done Mr Eberstark. I’ll pick up some more antibacterial spray on my way in tomorrow. Shall I take some money out of the bag?’

‘Don’t forget to use the spoon,’ Erik said, stepping out of his kitchen slippers, into the pair he wore in the hallway.

‘Daft old Bugger,’ Marion said under her breath as he left the room.

She carefully unsealed the zip top of the money bag and flicked out two pound coins from the plastic, with the spoon. One rolled onto the work surface and she had to rescue it before he heard – she couldn’t face wiping it down again.

‘I’ve taken two pounds – I’ll bring your change round tomorrow.’

She wasn’t sure if he’d heard, she was just glad to be out of there.

As she closed the gate of number 53, a figure came up behind her.

‘Bloody hell Maureen, you nearly gave me a heart attack.’

‘What are you scratching at?’

‘It’s that silly old fool inside. I don’t know how many times I’ve scrubbed that bloody kitchen and bathroom and it’s spotless. I’ll be doing it again tomorrow – mind you, if he’s daft enough to keep paying me -you’d think at his age he would have passed caring.’

‘That’s Germans for you. Everything in its place, ship shape and Bristol fashion.’

‘OCD more like. You know he even changes his slippers when he goes from one room to the other. I mean, who else do you know who has a different pair of slippers for each room? The man’s obsessed.’

Maureen looked over her shoulder to make sure no one else was nearby. ‘You know why he’s like that don’t you?’

Marion fastened the buttons on her coat. ‘I’ve told you, he has OCD. That and he’s a bloody hypochondriac.’

‘No I mean why he’s so obsessed with cleanliness.’

Marion had her own ideas about this, but was always keen on a bit of village gossip. ‘Go on I’m all ears.’

‘Well I heard Old Joe Rogers from the Bird in Hand, saying that he used to work in one of those concentration camps during the war. In Hungary I think. Joe reckons he was one of the guards and that all the filth and crap and stuff, sent him a bit doolally.’

‘Nah that can’t be. They rounded them all up after the war. Most of them would be dead by now anyway.’

‘Not Erik. Joe said he claimed asylum by saying he was Jewish and he had some forged papers or something, which managed to help him get to England. I don’t know how true it is mind you.’

Inside number 53, Erik had changed into his lounge slippers and was sitting on his plastic covered sofa. His head felt heavy and he could feel it slumping back, so he arched his body forward so that his hair didn’t touch the back rest.

Sometimes, his back hurt and he imagined what it would be like to let himself lean backwards, but he knew if he did there would be consequences. There were always consequences. So he forced himself back upright whilst he listened to the evening news.

A news report from Hungary, showed hundreds of migrants trying to board trains to Germany – cramped bodies fighting each other to secure a space. Young men climbing over children and babies- old people needing help to board the trains.

He’d witnessed this before. He switched off his TV set and went to bed.

Erik often struggled with sleep. He was able to compartmentalise negative thoughts throughout the day, by keeping himself busy, but the nights had always been a challenge for him. He would often play through scenes from his past, straining his memory to recollect the conversations. His words. Their words. He needed to understand them.

More recent events were always overshadowed by those of his distant past – a past which both haunted and excited him in equal measure. Sometimes he merged the fantasy and fact, distorting the truth to suit his mood.

A Proper Black Country Christmas

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Every year he did it, Grandad, he stood up from the armchair in a cloud of Condor Ready-Rubbed tobacco smoke and saluted as our queen gave us her wise words for the year.

The Gorbachev red stain on his head, where the cheap red paper hat had soaked up his head sweat, just added to the occasion.

‘Sit down you daft bugger,’ my dad would shout, cracking nuts onto his BHS jumper, and supping on his Bank’s mild.

But it was as much a tradition, as turkey and pickled cabbage sandwiches and the Radio Times.

The front room was always an explosion of sound, with the telly blaring out – even when no one was watching it. To be honest, it was hard to watch Christmas TV at all, with six adults and three children squashed onto a three piece suite, two deck chairs and mum’s padded ottoman from the bedroom.

My friends used to say, your family are like the ‘Waltons’ all sitting round for meals and chatting away to each other. I never saw it like that though. I used to find the whole thing stressful. Frightened to get up from the table in case someone ‘nicked your seat or worst still your roast potatoes – and my nan always saw it as an opportunity to ask awkward questions about boys and try to embarrass me.

Christmas day, like every other day was like open house. Throughout the year everyone who walked through our front door left with a belly full of toasted cheese or a bacon sandwich and Christmas was no different. Dad’s friends would pop in for a drink when they’d had enough of their own families and nine times out of ten an impromptu jamming session would take place, usually accompanied by Grandad on the spoons, after a little too much Advocaat.

I’d be wedged into a corner with my sister, trying to stop the dog eating the counters from the Connect Four, whilst mum dished out endless plates of sausage rolls and Cadbury’s Christmas collection biscuits.

After a few too many sherries my nan would start her Marion Harris set and start belting out songs from the 30’s, tying the curtain ties around her head and using the draft excluder as a boa, whilst my brother videoed it all on a huge recorder designed for the shoulders of Jeff Cape, not those of a pubescent teenager with a hand as steady as a loose rivet.

I used to dream of the family Christmases, you saw on the Marks and Spencer adverts. Twinkly lights and a dining table with matching chairs, tasteful decorations and the gentle hum of Nat King Cole singing about his chestnuts in the background. That and the after dinner get together when families had eaten just enough to allow them to play party games – instead of my open zipped slouched family who’d overindulged to the point of ‘Gaviscon’ and would only consider games which involved sitting down.

At eight o’clock we would all congregate to watch Morecambe and Wise or the Two Ronnie’s Christmas specials and mum would bring round more food and we would all laugh so much. I’m not sure I got all the jokes and sketches, but I just joined in with the raucous laughing because I gained great warmth from being part of it.

In my early twenties, I had a few Marks and Spencer Christmases and took photos of the beautifully decorated Christmas table for two and the tasteful and lavish staircase in the hall way with its handmade garland weaving through the wrought iron balustrades.

I’m glad I photographed these Christmases, because my memory of them is poor. I can’t remember the food which is so beautifully laid out on the plate, or the smell of the Christmas cake sitting on the ornate and expensive Wedgewood cake stand, nor can I recall the sound of laughter as we watched the afternoon Christmas TV.

Those Christmases, which were filled with expense and tastefulness, turned out to be the very kind I disliked most of all.

So this year, I will be wiping down the garden chairs from the shed, buying new batteries for the Karaoke mike and purchasing a large box of Cadbury Christmas biscuits from Asda. I will be wearing a dress with an elasticated waistline and if I’ve had enough sherry, may embarrass my own children by playing a version of ‘Santa baby’ on the saxophone, with my husband accompanying me on tin whistle. But one thing is for sure, I will be making the kind of Christmas, I want my children to remember.

Practice makes progress…

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One of the most important lessons I’ve learned since starting to write is that its like every other skill, you only get better at it if you practice. In the same way that a musician practices their instrument, regular writing is important to keep the river of ideas and creativity flowing.

At our writing group recently we had to complete a task where we were given a minute to write down as many words as we could about a given subject title. For this exercise the title was ‘Autumn’ –  it was fascinating how many people thought outside the box and made unusual links to this word. These kinds of activities are really useful when practicing the art of writing. it is surprising how many ideas were generated from just this short activity.

In my teaching job I have always kept a folder of picture settings and characters which I’ve given to children who couldn’t conjure up an image of a place or person for their stories. In the same way, having a mini brain storm of a character, their likes dislikes, occupation, fears, favourite food etc, can help you to make your character real and plausible. As readers, we will only read a book if we care about the character, so creating a great character is essential for a good story.

Here is a story I wrote a while back, it’s quite different from the comedic monologues I’m currently working on. I’d be interested to hear what people think.

The Bell Tower                                             

‘It’s terminal,’ the doctor said, ‘I’m really sorry Mr Harris.’

‘But it can’t be, I’m only twenty two. I feel fine. The tablets, they’ve really helped, I think you’ve got it wrong.’

‘There’s no mistake. I’m really sorry. I know it’s a lot to take in. Look have some time to get your thoughts together, then we can put you in touch with some people who can offer you some support.’

Steven didn’t wait to find out what was coming next. He grabbed his coat off the seat and ran out of the surgery, into the rain.

Outside the world looked normal, people were busily going about their business. Car headlamps shone, creating distorted patterns in the puddles and reflecting dark shadows. There was a hustle and bustle to the town – its sounds and smells – they were what he was used to.

Sitting down on a bench along the pathway through the park, he began to sob. Shallow sobs to begin with which he stifled in his coat collar, then longer painful moans, wrenching his shoulders and tightening his stomach into knots.

He felt the hand at first, as it was placed onto his arm. It startled him and he looked up.

‘Are you ok mate?’

As Steven turned, he saw a man about the same age as him standing by his side. He had dark, almost black hair and had a scarf wrapped loosely around his neck.

‘I hope you don’t mind me stopping – It’s just you looked like you might need a bit of help.’

Steven turned his face away from him, wiping his tears with his sleeve and pulling his collar higher. ‘I’m fine, it’s nothing mate, honest. Don’t trouble yourself.’

The man turned as if to walk away but then stopped.

‘I’m sorry. I can’t just go. Please, let me just park myself here next to you. You don’t need to speak to me, but I’m here if you want to.’

‘Look, I was just having a moment. I’ll be alright in a minute.’

‘No probs. I could do with a sit down anyway.’ He sat down on the bench, pulling his jacket tighter around his waist, ‘I’m Dave by the way.’

Steven didn’t speak, he pulled a used tissue from his pocket and tried to blow his nose.

‘Girl trouble?’ Dave asked, ‘There’s usually a girl involved in it somewhere along the line.’

‘Nah, nothing like that,’

Steven had to catch his breath as he spoke. A warm tingling sensation, danced on the bridge of his nose. ‘I’ve just had some bad news that’s all.’

‘Ah, sorry to hear that.’

Steven tilted his head slightly in Dave’s direction, ‘I’ve got cancer. No let me rephrase that, I’ve got terminal cancer, in my pancreas and liver.’

Steven waited for a response. ‘I’ve got just weeks apparently. Well I suppose they can pump me full of drugs to stretch it out a bit longer, but I’m not gunna spend endless days in the hospital and slowly deteriorate surrounded by old people and distraught relatives.’

‘What have your family said?’

‘My mum was with me when they told me. I just left her there. I picked up my stuff and ran. She’s probably worried sick.’

‘So what happens now?’ Dave was leaning forward on the bench, his hands clasped between his knees.

‘I go home and face her. I’m not sure I can bare it though. It’s always been just me and her. I’m not sure what she’ll do without me.’

There was a silence, a muffled silence which numbed the sounds of the afternoon. Then piercing the chilling air, came the rings of the cathedral bells.

‘They haven’t rung for years, they must be repairing the bell tower,’ Steven said, ‘do you know, I’ve always wanted to climb up there. I remember as a kid, I’d sit on the grass and work out how I could sneak up to the top.’

‘Let’s do it then,’ said Dave getting to his feet. ‘Come on, let’s see if we can sneak in.’

‘What? They won’t let us in. The cathedral’s been derelict for as long as I can remember.’

‘Who said anything about asking them? Come on. Think of it as a tick off your bucket list.’

Steven felt a rush of adrenalin at the prospect of their adventure. So what if he did get caught, they were hardly going to condemn a dying man now were they?

‘Let’s go in around the back. I think there’s a door covered by brambles, we can soon shift those. I remember seeing it when I was a kid. Here hang on a minute, I’ve got an idea.’

Behind a hedge at the edge of the park, there was a large wooden shed used by the park keeper. At the rear, there was a stack of pallets leaning against the outer park wall.

‘Here, help me to grab one of these.’

‘Are you mad?’ Steven asked as they lifted the damp wooded frame.

‘Ay, it has been said once or twice.’

Dave smiled as they made their way over to the cathedral door.

‘Lay it over the brambles and push it down hard with your feet.’

The brambles, bent and slumped towards the ground as they stood on top of the pallet, then Dave kicked hard at the small door. It flung open with little force so they climbed in, pulling it shut behind them.

They found themselves in the nave, where there were pillars of ribbed stone, holding up complex beams. A kaleidoscope of colour shone onto the red tiled floors as the light seeped through the translucent glass. Images of dated nobility and religious figures, brought to life with sun lit movement and shadow.

‘These must be the stairs up to the tower.’

Dave led him up the spiral steps, dusty and stained by the feet of time.

As they ascended along the helix passageway, Steven caressed the uneven stone of the walls. They felt damp and cold, but he enjoyed their texture and strength. A shaft of light, small but sufficient, guided them to the opening at the top of the wooden treads.

Dave pushed open another door, this one grained, with a circular iron handle.

Steven felt the dense flax of the bell ropes, each one still secured by its copper hook. He marvelled at the mosaic patterns, which could just be made out under the heavy dust of neglect.

A few final steps, transported them into the tower, where the city’s cast iron bell was located.

He let his fingers trace its grooves and indentations, enjoying the contrast of pattern and smooth metal.

From the bell tower, he had a panoramic view of the whole of the city. There was no better view of his homeland and to think, he may never has witnessed its beauty.

‘It’s stunning.’

Steven’s breath had calmed to a shallow rhythm as he devoured the natural undulation of the landscape and the angular, abstract roofs of buildings.

‘As good as you expected?’

Dave had moved to his side and placed a reassuring hand on his arm.

‘It’s better, much better. Thank you.’

They both stood in silence, their bodies facing out, toward the changing landscape.

Steven turned and watched, as his friend absorbed every contour of the city.

‘Who are you? I want to know something about the man who risks getting into so much trouble for me.’

‘I’ve told you, I’m Dave. Nothing to tell really.’

‘What brought you to the park today? What do you do?’

‘Nothing now.’ He shuffled along the narrow ridge around the bell. ‘I was in the navy. My last posting was on a ship in the North Atlantic. Just off the Falklands. I was only there for a short while though. We ran into a bit of trouble and well, I’m here now.’

‘And have you any family?’

‘I had a girlfriend just before I set sail. We’d only been seeing each other for a couple of months before I got my posting. She was pregnant. I was over the moon. I asked her to marry me but she said we’d talk about it after my tour. I never saw her again.’

‘Did she have the baby?’

‘Yeah but I never got to see him.’

‘It must feel weird, knowing you have a son out there. Knowing that there will be something left behind when you have gone.’

Dave didn’t answer.

‘We should head back I suppose.’

The air had become chilled and the adrenalin which helped him climb the stairs had gone leaving him tired and drained of energy.

As he descended the last few stairs, he felt a sharp pain grip his stomach and he cried out. His knees buckled beneath him and he found himself splayed at the bottom of the stairwell. A hazy blur of distant voices and muffled sounds dipped in and out of his consciousness.

When his eyes finally managed to adjust to the faces surrounding him, he was able to see the golden hair of his mother, sitting by his bedside. A tangle of tubes and wires fed in and out of the machines and an orchestra of artificial sound beat his life’s rhythm.

‘Mum?’ he asked, his voice weak and dry.

‘I’m here.’ Her face looked older and her eyes were red and puffy.

‘How did I get here?’

‘You passed out love.’

‘Am I ok?’

She smiled at him through tears which she couldn’t disguise.

Slowly turning his head to the side, he focused on an image which he recognised.

‘Hello Dave. Did you bring me here?’

One of the nurses put her hand on his mother’s shoulder.

‘It’s the medication love, it can sometimes make the patient delirious.’

‘Mum, this is Dave. He came with me. He helped me get up the tower.’ Steven’s voice had become raspy and shallow.

His mum turned her face away, taking in a gasp of air and squeezing Steven’s hand tightly.

Dave stepped forward so that the light from the sun shone behind him.

‘This is my mum Dave.’

‘Shush son, you just lay still now.’ His mum’s shoulders were bent over; her chin slumped against her chest.

‘She can’t see me Steven. Your mum doesn’t know I’m here.’

‘What are you talking about? She must be able to see you.’

Steven’s mum stroked her son’s hand, unable to hold back the tears any longer.

Dave smiled, ‘She hasn’t changed a bit you know. Your mum, she’s still as beautiful as I remember. Those blue grey eyes and golden hair.’

‘What?’ Steven tried to lift his head to make sense of what was being said.

A tight spasm gripped his stomach and a chorus of monotonous sound resonated around the room. He felt his mother loosen her grip and found himself surrounded by unfamiliar faces. Touching him, lifting his arms, lowering his head.

Dave seemed to be leaning over their shoulders. ‘Don’t be frightened son, It’s almost time.’

A warm light feeling engulfed him as the faces slowly moved away. He could feel the touch of his mother again as she stroked his skin; her head lay peacefully on his chest and he could sense her tears.

Then the same hand which had comforted him at the park, was again placed on his arm.

‘Let’s walk this together son.’

The serenity which surrounded him reassured him as he rose from the bed. With his father by his side, he paused momentarily, inhaling the scent of his mother and kissing her head lightly.’

 

 

 

The Flat On The High Street

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A few months ago I was lucky to be involved in a project called ‘Portsmouth Plugged In’, which was a collaboration of writers and film makers who created monologues about Portsmouth. I decided to raise awareness of many of the elderly residents who found themselves housebound due to illness or disability but set this in a light-hearted monologue. I hope you like it.

The Flat on the High Street

The flat next door is empty again. Apparently the new neighbours are called Ahmed or some such. From Syria so Wan-Kee-Jon, our Korean postman told me. He said, ‘Don’t worry Mrs Andrews, they’re a lovely couple, they’ve lived in this area for a while. She’s something to do with pharmacy and he works at B and Q, in the warehouse.’

    ‘That’s nice,’ I said, ‘I like a man in a uniform.’

    The flat’s been empty for a while now – since that young couple who shared jogging bottoms moved out. Left overnight they did, didn’t even say goodbye. I think one of them must have been a diabetic as Maud from 4b said there were needles everywhere. And they never returned my heat lamp. The one the occupational therapist lent me for my lumbago. She said she had some plant she wanted to speed along a bit ready for her mother’s birthday. Lovely girl, very thoughtful. Bit dark under the eyes.

   Wan-Kee always stops for a chat. He’s a bit of a gossip but he wears nice aftershave. He asked me if my Daniel had been to visit.

   I said, ‘It just so happens that he’s coming later today.’

    ‘That’ll be nice for you,’ he said, ‘it’s been a while.’

I told him, Daniel’s a busy man – big in lead piping – hardly has a minute to spare.

He was trying to look over my shoulder at the Lemon Drizzle cake on the table. I said, ‘You can take your eyes off that, I’ve bought it in specially.’ It was always Daniel’s favourite as a child.

It’s busy on the high street today. I would be out there myself if it wasn’t for these legs. Doctor Graham said he’d pop over later to have a look at them, weeping like angels they are, despite the dressings. Nice man. Always has nicely polished shoes.

   He said ‘Cynthia.’

   I said, ‘Mrs Andrews to you.’

   He said, ‘Mrs Andrews, you need to rest them and keep them elevated. Stick a bit of daytime TV on and make the most of it.’

   I told him, I only watch the news and wildlife programmes.

    ‘Me too Mrs Andrews,’ he said, ‘but a bit of Coronation street never hurt anyone.’ 

    ‘Coronation street? I don’t think so,’ I told him, ‘I used to go to school with Ken Barlow. Bit of a show off by all accounts, like the sound of his own voice.’

    ‘That’s actors for you,’ he said.

    I said, ‘If you use the term loosely!’

    Daniel always hated Coronation street – he said the theme tune reminded him of his dad coming back from work smelling of Swarfega.

                                   

   Ooh here she comes, the new girl from downstairs, wearing next to nothing. In my day we left a bit to the imagination. Three children, all from different dad’s so Maud tells me. The youngest came round the other day asking if I wanted my front door cleaned as she was saving up for bedding for her pet mouse. I told her I used to have a pet mouse as a child, I called him Mickey. She said hers was called “Chantelle Louise”.

I said ‘I don’t think it will catch on.’

    Her older sister pops in sometimes after school to eat all my custard creams and leave felt pen on my tablecloth. Last week, she asked me to help her with a poster advertisement she needed to do for her homework. It was all about a new chocolate she’d invented.

    I told her, I said ‘Harper-Storm, you need more persuasive verbs and maybe a question to draw in your audience, like the ones they use in the TV ads.’

    She got one of my permanent markers from the kitchen drawer and wrote, ‘Do you like Coc-o-lot?’ along the top.

I was thinking, not since the cold war, but I added the missing ‘h’ and ‘e’ so she didn’t get in trouble with her teacher and then helped her to colour it in.

                                             

I’d better give the kitchen surface a bit of a wipe. Daniel can’t abide crumbs and clutter.

Did you hear we’d had a new death? So far this month we’ve had Mrs Bottomly, Barry from the flats and now old George Fielding. He used to be our beat bobby, only eighty-six he was. They found him in Morrisons with his wife’s dress on, trying to climb in with the frozen broccoli. Poor old fella. The other week he was standing in the middle of town claiming the traffic was sending him subliminal messages to kill himself. I think they were going to section him, but he died before they had chance.

    His poor daughter had to clear out his bungalow and kept finding jiffy bags full of soiled underpants, in hidden places.

‘Dementia, it just keeps on giving,’ she told Maud.

                                    

I see the newsagents ‘For Sale’ sign is up at last. Harry had been there for years. He had a smashing head of hair. Always wore a vest – and he could play the trumpet. He used to be in one of those brass bands that march up and down Dudley Street. Some daft name like the Latch and Colander shapers brass ensemble or some such. I’ve always liked a brass band. There’s nothing like the puffed out cheeks of a horn blower with fleckles of spittle on his impeccably ironed shirt, and the subtle waft of mothballs mixed with carbolic, as he belts out Onward Christian Soldiers.

  His wife’s still alive though, she was from up north somewhere. They met whilst he was doing his National service, so Wan-Kee told me. I can picture him now, staring into her eyes whilst her whippet nibbles on his Battenburg; dancing the night away at the “Hocklesworth Ferret and Pigeon Fanciers” annual dinner and dance. I never liked Northerners.  

    Daniel’s girlfriend is a northerner. It must be nearly six years they’ve been going out now. He said he’d bring her down when they’re free. Be nice to meet her.

                                         

    I see they’ve started knocking down the old picture house, putting up some more flats. Nigel next door told me they were going to be social housing. He was thinking of applying for one himself. He did tell me who the building company was but I was distracted by his rather short shorts. He was sitting on my padded velour recliner with his legs akimbo, complaining about the rod drilling and whistling builders. There was a strange netting protruding from his inner thigh, which looked like a couple of satsumas about to commit armed robbery. I thought I should mention it but then his mobile went off and he made a quick exit. I gave the chair a once-over with a J-cloth, just in case.

                                  

 Simon’s just phoned. Somethings come up and he can’t make it after all.

I told you he was a busy man – I wouldn’t want to get in the way of him making his millions.

He said, ‘I’ve sent you a bunch of flowers and I promise I’ll ring when I next have a window.’

I said, ‘don’t you be worrying yourself, I’ve got a lot on today anyway what with one thing and another.’

Better put the cake away. Might even save a piece for Wan-Kee.