Saturday, 23 February 2013

Battle of Lake Batteau

Charlie jumped off the bus and wandered through the park gates. It was a gorgeous spring morning. The sky was ice blue and the temperature was just as icy but Charlie loved mornings like these. So fresh and sharp, you really woke up and looked at the world around you. Charlie walked along the tree lined avenue that was the main pathway through the park. As he was halfway along a squirrel shot out, stopped dead in front of him and started nibbling on some minute crumb lying on the tarmac. Charlie stood as still as he could to watch the little fella, but within seconds the squirrel was off scavenging through the rest of the park.
Charlie turned the corner and was stopped dead in his tracks. The door to his hut was open. Not again, he thought. On cold nights kids or sometimes the homeless looking for warmth and a dry place to sleep would break into his hut.  He was doubly annoyed because the previous night had been dry and the temperature had been mild for the time of year, also he had fitted a new padlock at his own expense just the week before. The hut was like the sentry huts the guards stand beside at Buckingham Palace, just large enough for a chair, a kettle and a calor gaz ring. Charlie’s job was to sit in the hut collecting the money for the boating lake and the putting green. He was also there just in case of emergencies. He ran up to check on the hut and make sure his few meagre possessions were still there. The hut wouldn’t be needed after next week as the council had decided to close the boating lake and the putting green and replace them with a state of the art play area, but Charlie still wanted his things to be okay. The council had sorted him out with another job but he didn’t have money lying around. Once he got to the hut he saw there was nothing to worry about, everything was still in its place except the padlock which had been cut through with what must have been bolt cutters. That was unusual, thought Charlie, as kids and the homeless tended to just loosen the catch the padlock was attached to, the screws holding it into the wood were old and rusted. The padlock was just a deterrent once you looked at the hut it was easy to find a way in without having to cut through it.
Satisfied that nothing was missing Charlie grabbed his kettle and wandered over to the public toilets to get some water. As he was coming back he noticed that one of the boats was in the middle of the lake. Bother, he would need to row out and get that back before the day could start. He stood looking at the boat, something wasn’t quite right but what was it? Charlie got back to the hut and took his glasses out of the top pocket of his coat. That was better. He looked over at the boat and couldn’t believe his eyes. A large man wearing a big overcoat, a furry dear-stalker hat and holding a walking stick was sitting in the boat. He had a blanket across his legs so he had been there a while and had intended to be. Charlie went back into the hut to get the megaphone he used for calling in any overdue boats. The megaphone was missing, what was going on?
‘Hello, hello. You there in the boat, can you hear me?’ Charlie called through cupped hands.
The figure moved and the boat rocked precariously. As the boat steadied the figure waved at Charlie in a friendly manner.
‘Are you stranded? Do you need some assistance?’ Charlie called, not sure how the man had got out into the middle of the lake but convinced he needed to be fetched back in.
The man raised Charlie’s megaphone and called back, ‘No Thank you Charlie, I’m staging a sit in so you can just carry on as normal and don’t worry about me.’
‘Is that Mr Coulson?’ Charlie shouted. He recognised the man as one of the residents of the local care home. On sunny days some of the residents would come down and sit by the boating lake feeding the ducks. The more able ones often had a game on the putting green.
‘Sure is Charlie. The rest of the gang will be down later. I’m the forward guard. You carry on as normal don’t worry about me.’
Charlie suddenly realised the other boats were missing. The boating lake was not that big, so there were only six boats but the other five were not moared by the hut as they should have been.
‘Have you seen the other boats Mr Coulson?’
‘Yes they’re quite safe.’
‘But Mr Coulson what if someone wants a boat? I could get into trouble if they’re missing.’
‘They’re not missing Charlie, I have borrowed them. You ‘phone your supervisor and tell him what’s going on if you like. I know you have to do your job. But just don’t come out here trying to get me back in. I would hate to have to hurt you,’ Mr Coulson waved what Charlie had previous assumed to be a walking stick. He now saw it was an air rifle.
‘Now Mr Coulson, there’s no need to do anything rash.’ Charlie was worried that the old man might hurt someone.
Charlie rushed back into his hut and grabbed his mobile phone. He wasn’t paid enough to sort this out, time to call his supervisor.
‘Hi Charlie, can we have six for the putting green please?’ Charlie turned around having just finished explaining the situation to his boss.
‘Hello there Mrs Olson, Beautiful day today.’ Charlie smiled at Mrs Olson, a resident from the same care home as Mr Coulson.
‘It certainly is. Lucky for us, I would have hated for the boys to be out on that lake if the weather had been bad.’
‘The boys? Do you mean Mr Coulson?’
‘Oh it’s not just Eric; they’re all out there now.’
‘Excuse me please Mrs Olson I need to see what’s going on.’
‘Not until you give me the clubs and balls for the putting green please,’ Mrs Olson was not going to move until he did as she asked and he didn’t want to have to push a little old lady out of the way, so he took her money and handed her the only six clubs and balls in his hut.
Charlie emerged from the hut to see all six of the boats now in the middle of the lake. He turned around and saw Mrs Olson handing out golf clubs and balls to five other women from the care home.
‘Mrs Olson what’s going on?’ Charlie was very confused as the park seemed to have more people in that ever before and it wasn’t even 9am.
‘Don’t worry Charlie. Have you called your boss?’
Charlie nodded, ‘He says he’ll be here later but he didn’t seem overly concerned.’
‘Well he might be a bit more concerned when the television people get here.’
Charlie visibly paled and shaking his head went back into the safety of his hut.
Counsellor John Jackson had won his seat as head of the council by shaking a lot of hands and kissing a lot of babies. He always wished he had chosen politics earlier in life, head of the council was as high as he was going to get now. However he enjoyed the local celebrity status that it gave him and his wife enjoyed being the centre of attention at the tennis club. He was just sitting down to his first cup of coffee of the day and was listening to the local radio when the news report came on.
‘Redfern Park is this morning experiencing something of a resurgence as the crowds gather to witness the local care home residents stage a sit in.’ The radio announcer reported.
John Jackson nearly spat his coffee across the kitchen table. He put down his newspaper and turned up the radio as the announcer continued.
‘The local care home residents, represented by Mr Eric Coulson and Mrs Mavis Olson, say that the closure of the boating lake and putting green at Redfern Park to make way for a new children’s playground will affect their quality of life. They state that the current council is only concerned with the youngsters in this community and that the elder generation was not thought of when this decision was made. We will be down at the park throughout the show and I am hoping to be able to row out and talk to Mr Coulson personally. To all my listeners out there, why don’t you pop down to the park and lend these members of our community your support?’
Within two minutes John Jackson had got hold of the Head of Parks. Apparently he had spoken to the Park Keeper first thing but hadn’t though that one old chap in a boat was anything to worry about.
John Jackson pulled into the car park of Redfern Park and couldn’t believe his eyes. The park was as full as on an August Bank Holiday Monday. There were three ice cream vans with large queues and a huge number of families wandering around the boating lake. There was a camera crew on the putting green interviewing Mrs Olson and the other ladies and a man with a microphone was being rowed back to the edge of the boating lake by a teenage boy. John Jackson started heading for the Park Keeper’s hut when he was spotted.
‘Mr Jackson, Mr Jackson. Can you spare us a minute please Mr Jackson?’
John Jackson turned to see the man with the microphone in the boat desperately scrabbling to get out and chase him down. The camera crew heard the shouting and spotted him. Excusing themselves from the ladies on the putting green they joined the pursuit.
‘Mr Jackson can you tell us how you feel about the sit in that these elderly residents have staged?’ the man from the boat asked. He turned out to be the local radio presenter John had been listening to earlier.
‘All I can say is that the planning of the new playground went through the proper procedures and these people should have opposed it then,’ John Jackson said.
‘Was this the only site suggested for the new playground,’ the television interviewer interjected.
‘As there was no opposition there was no need to view other areas. I think you’ll find that this area is very rarely used.’
‘But will it not be very expensive to fill in the lake? What about the wildlife that depends upon this water and its surrounding foliage?’ The television interviewer was a member of the green party and was really starting to get into his stride.
Just then the teenage boy that had earlier been rowing people out to interview Mr Coulson pushed through the crowd.
‘Excuse me Mr Johnson but granddad; I mean Mr Coulson, wondered if you would like to talk to him about the decision.’
Jack Johnson was about to insist that the old man rowed in to him but his politician’s instincts told him that that would not go down well with the surrounding media. ‘Of course. Will you row me out?’
It took Mr Coulson’s grandson a little longer to row out this time as he had Mr Johnson and the two presenters in his little boat. It had been agreed that the camera man and all his equipment couldn’t fit in so he had stayed behind to film as much as he could from the shore and the sound track would be over laid later. When they eventually got level with Mr Coulson’s boat Jack Johnson smiled and stood to shake his hand. Unfortunately this unbalanced the boat and Jack Johnson had to sit down quickly to avoid a dunking.
‘Now Mr Coulson, we all know that this has gone through the proper procedures and I am afraid there is nothing that can be done about it now,’ Jack Johnson gave his best politician’s smile.
‘I don’t think it has Mr Johnson. For a start you only priced up this venue and the consultation period was only three weeks and it has to be at least twenty eight days.’
‘We at the council decided there was no need to spend tax payers’ money surveying lots of sites when this was the most obvious. We have to ensure that we don’t waste money you know. There is a desperate need for a playground in this area. Would you deny the children?’ Jack Johnson knew that the old folks would lose their sympathy vote if it looked like there were stopping children getting what they deserved.
‘What about the tennis courts at the back of the park? They’re only ever used during Wimbledon fortnight, when everyone gets the bug, and the rest of the year they are empty. That would save you the extra cost of filling in the lake and everyone would be happy.’
‘Ah, but the council has promised to give the local school access to the tennis courts. We can’t go back on our word you know.’
‘Well give the school access to the tennis club. It is next door to the school and your wife’s a member so I am sure she can talk them into it. Or is that the problem? The tennis club don’t want school children running around do they?’
Jack Johnson’s face fell; he knew he had been caught out. ‘Well I shall take your concerns to the council but I can’t promise anything.’
Jack Johnson opened the morning paper and for the second time in as many days nearly spat his coffee across the kitchen table.
Three days after the sit in, the television and radio crews were back at the boating lake.
‘So how does it feel to have won your fight Mr Coulson?’ The interviewer asked.
‘It is a shame it had to come to a head as it did, but I am glad that the council saw sense in the end.’ Mr Coulson smiled.
‘Mr Johnson, how do you feel about this whole issue?’
‘I feel that the result has been the best for everyone. I don’t condone this kind of action and would suggest that Mr Coulson and his friends should have brought their concerns to me first, rather than taking such drastic action. At least everything has been resolved and the boating lake has been saved.’
‘Will the design of the playground be affected by these changes?’
‘Not at all. We are currently in discussion with a number of contractors and we expect to award the contract by the end of the week. Hopefully this will only put the project back a couple of weeks. We are still aiming to complete in time for the summer holidays.’
‘And how is your wife taking the news that they local children will be playing tennis at her tennis club?’
‘My wife is a huge advocate of youth tennis and she is very keen to help the sport grow and develop young talent.’ He expected that was what she would have said had she been taking to him. However the diamond bracelet brought from the winning contractors fee he had received the day before would help salve her disappointment.
‘Well thank you both, Mr Coulson and Mr Johnson, and here’s to many happy years of the young and old enjoying Redfern Park.’

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Diary of an Aspiring Writer – My First Rejection

I am starting to get more confident in my writing and the feedback I have received all seems very positive so I decided to submit something for publication. How, where and what were the problems that faced me next.

The in-laws bought me The Writers and Artists Yearbook for Christmas and I decided to trawl through that first. It’s great for telling you which magazines are out there, but as to who accepts what and how to go about submitting, there is not really that much advice. I have built up a number of followers on twitter who are writers and so I sent out a tweet asking how to go about writing a submission letter for a short story. Within the hour I had a link to a blog post from @davisac1 which gave me the set out of an enquiry letter and details of things I should include in the main document. These included my address and real name, which I never realised had to be on each document, as I have only entered competitions before and with those you only put your name on the title page and make sure it is nowhere else in the document. Also included in the blog were details of magazines that would accept flash fiction (stories of less than one thousand words) and who you should email your submissions to. These were mainly horror or suspense stories with a twist and I had a piece of flash fiction which I thought would fit the bill. The biggest problem I have is that as I have committed to release a story each week on my blog I am not building up a group of stories that can be submitted to magazines. However I decided to give it a go with a story I had written based upon a prompt from a flash fiction group I am a member of.

Firstly I had to make sure that I wouldn’t be let down by my spelling or my grammar. So I read the story through three times and then sent it off to my mum. She came back and had managed to spot another couple of mistakes. This definitely highlights the value of getting someone else to read my work as I was convinced I had checked it well and still I had missed some things.

So the story was polished and I picked a publication. I looked at a number of publications and the one I chose fitted all the criteria and had a turnaround time of only three weeks. Some publications can hold your work for six months before they even reject it and as this was my first attempt I really wanted feedback quickly. In a weird way I was not expecting to be accepted so I wanted the rejection to come back as soon as possible so that I could learn from it.

As predicted two weeks later I received my rejection email. You know what? It wasn’t the end of the world. It was short and sweet but it didn’t say “please never submit anything else to this publication”, it didn’t say “don’t quit the day job”. What it did say was that for that publication flash fiction had to be extra special and unfortunately mine wasn’t. However as I said in my first post, it took me a long time to become a really good accountant, so I am not going to become a really good writer overnight.

So I think we should perhaps rename this entry to ‘My first submission’. It took time to get to this point and the feedback and support I have received from total strangers, through my blog, twitter, The Telegraph Creative Writing group, to name but a few has been invaluable. All I need now is to build up my portfolio and keep trying to improve and grow based upon this feedback. I will then look to submit more stories until one day I can write a post called ‘My First Acceptance’.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Liquorice Allsorts

Mrs Wreatham sat in front of the bank of video monitors and again marvelled at the bizarre trusting nature of the youth of today. All you hear on the news are stories of children being snatched but she had done it so easily. They didn’t suspect a little old lady with a bag of liquorice allsorts. They all thought she was batty but if they took a sweet they knew she would go away. She knew some of them just threw the sweets away when her back was turned, and from her monitors she could see at least one of them had fed the sweets to the dog, but some of them ate the sweets. She currently had five active projects and that was enough for now. She checked her subjects and could see that Cally was horse riding tomorrow. Mrs Wreatham used to be an excellent rider in her youth but that was a long time ago now.


Cally arrived at the stables bright and early.

‘Cally you’re not due for another hour,’ called Mrs Smithson from the farmhouse.

‘I thought I could perhaps help you get ready. If that’s okay?’ Cally smiled.

‘I never turn down help but it might be a bit messy.’

‘That’s fine, anything I can do.’

Mrs Smithson put Cally to work. Cally started by topping up the horses’ water, fetched the saddles and even started mucking out whilst she was waiting for the rest of the group to turn up.

‘Thanks for all your help today Cally,’ Mrs Smithson smiled. ‘You can come again. The rest of the group are here now so you best get out to the yard and saddle up.’

The rest of the group of teenage girls were standing around waiting to be told what to do.

‘What happened to you Cally? You look like you slept in a stable.’ Jessica Smyth shouted at her. The rest of the girls laughed, glad to see that Cally would be the brunt of today’s snide remarks rather than any of them.

‘I’ve been helping out.’ Cally called back.

‘This is something the home makes us do Cally. It’s mandatory to turn us into better people. You’re not supposed to be helpful. Idiot.’ Jessica was obviously not looking forward to the day and had decided to take her nervousness out on someone. Cally would do.

‘Right girls,’ bellowed Mrs Smithson as she marched across the yard. ‘Everyone mount up, the stable hands will help you.’

Jessica was the last to mount and the problems she was having were definitely not softening her mood. Finally they set off at a steady pace across the field. Jessica was right at the back but Cally was riding like she was a natural. Cally held back and fell into step with Jessica.

‘You just need to relax a little,’ Cally offered Jessica a little advice. ‘He knows you’re tense and that’s why he’s not responding.’

‘Yeh like I’m going to listen to someone who smells of horse shit and whose done nothing but suck up all day,’ Jessica glowered at Cally, obviously not happy at being the only one who couldn’t ride.      

Just then a shot rang out in the nearby field. Both Cally and Jessica’s horses reared up and whilst Cally managed to calm her’s down Jessica started shouting and flailing her arms about. Before anyone could do anything Jessica and her horse had shot off back down the field. Being at the back only Cally had seen what was going on so she swung her horse round and set off after Jessica. Chasing after Jessica, Cally smoothed out on her horse’s back and just let him go. The wind rushing through her hair was the most exhilarating feeling ever. Faster, faster, faster. Cally finally managed to catch up with Jessica and grabbed her reigns, pulling both horses to a stop just before the fence at the bottom of the field.

As Cally was getting her breath back Mrs Smithson rode up. ‘Cally that was a brilliant piece of riding, well done. Jessica you’re lucky Cally was there to stop you.’

‘Lucky, it was her who freaked the horse in the first place.’ Jessica looked shaken but she still wasn’t going to waste an opportunity to get Cally into trouble.

‘I heard the gunshot Jessica and I think it’s very unfair of you to try to get Cally into trouble like that. You can both head back to the stable and get those horses settled down.’


The next morning over breakfast the girls were still talking about how Cally had saved Jessica when Cally walked in. They all burst into a round of applause.

‘What was that for?’ Cally asked confused and still sleepy.

‘Saving Jessica’s life yesterday,’ Marissa answered.

‘What do you mean? I didn’t save Jessica’s life.’

‘Come on the way you stopped that horse, she would have fallen if you hadn’t got there and stopped it before that fence.’

‘Oh it was nothing.’ Cally decided she would take the glory even though she had no idea what they were talking about. She hadn’t even been riding the day before. Come to think of it she couldn’t remember doing anything the day before.


Mrs Wreatham sat down with her cup of coffee and reviewed the monitors. What should she do tomorrow? She felt an itch under her armpit and slid her free hand up her sleeve to see what was causing it. She slowly pulled out a long piece of straw, similar to that used in stables for bedding.


Sunday, 3 February 2013

A not so peaceful Sunday

Geoff was sitting in his garden enjoying his pipe and watching St. Swithen’s play St. Stephen’s in the local village cricket grudge match when it happened. Everything had been going so well. He had kept her hidden; feed her each day, giving her just enough nourishment. Once she was ready they would all see him for the genius he was. Not small potatoes like they all thought. This year was going to be his year, the year he revealed his true colours.
St. Stephen’s were 194 for 9 in the last over chasing 199. Big Jimmy Smithers was up to bat and Arthur Jones ran in, determined to shatter middle peg. Jimmy read the flight of the ball all the way and promptly set it sailing straight over the bowlers head. St. Stephen’s were cheering so loudly they never heard the smash, but Geoff did. He jumped up and ran to the side of the little cottage. The window pane was smashed. He ran forward towards his makeshift greenhouse.
He was found the next morning by the postman. Dead on the floor, heart attack. He was lying next to this little ram shackled green house and in it a huge marrow. A huge marrow with a cricket ball embedded in its middle.


Saturday, 2 February 2013

The School Trip

The dinosaur’s tail swung through the air missing my head by only an inch. It was a diplodocus so no real threat but frightening all the same. School trips had never been this dangerous when I was at school, but that had been before time travel. All I had ever got to see were the bones of long dead dinosaurs in the Natural History Museum.

Travelling around in time did lead to some health and safety issues. There was always one adult to each child and couples were leashed together by a bungee cord which could only be unlocked by the headmaster’s key once we returned to school. The bungee cord meant that the child could wander off but not so far as to ever be in any real danger before the retraction button or elasticity pulled them back.

Problem was Henri, my allocated child, had slipped his shackles and raced off to examine a rather dangerous and foreboding looking cave whilst I had been having a cheeky cigarette behind a boulder. Cigarettes had been banned thirty years ago but I had managed to smuggle some back during the English Literature field trip back to the 1960’s. Henri on the other hand had obviously picked up a few tips from his class trip to see Harry Houdini the week before. The first I knew about his escape was when I was smacked in the side of the head by a funny looking bird that had taken Henri’s place on the other end of the bungee cord. It had tried to fly away and been pulled back a little too sharply. Once I realised what had happened I shot out from behind the boulder to see Henri disappearing into a cave. I was just about to shout out to him when I heard the loudest chewing noise ever. I looked over to the right of the cave to see a T-Rex enjoying his lunch. I needed to get to Henri but alive would be preferable.

I slowly crept along, using trees and bushes as cover and was about three quarters of the way across the divide when the bird attached to me started to sing and fly around the T-Rex’s head. The huge creature dropped the carcass from his mouth and started to bat away at the small bird. Whilst the T-Rex was distracted I decided to make a run for it. I was nearly at the mouth of the cave when suddenly I was pulled off my feet and I started to get dragged backwards. I was being dragged along on my stomach when Henri appeared at the mouth of the cave.

‘Henri, help me.’ I called, panicking, not realising what was causing me to be dragged along.

‘He’s got the cord Miss Simpson. Hang on.’ Henri rushed back into the cave.

Where had he gone? I needed his help and I needed it now. Time travel doesn’t automatically guarantee your safety. It didn’t look as if I was going to make it back from this trip. I twisted round and could see the bird had flown around the T-Rex and the gigantic dinosaur was holding of the cord. He was trying to pull the bird in but was pulling me in instead. He grabbed for the bird and released the cord. I quickly scrabbled backwards towards the mouth of the cave, managing to put a couple of feet more between me and certain doom when the cord tightened again.

‘It’s alright Miss Simpson. I’m here now,’ Henri appeared and rushed to where the cord was locked around my waist. With a few twists and turns or a strange device he had the lock undone and he dragged me into the cave.

‘Thank you so much Henri, but you shouldn’t have been able to undo those locks.’

‘Good job I can isn’t it?’

I was about to scold him over the fact his running off had been the cause of all of this when the alarm on both our watches went off.

I grabbed hold of Henri’s hand ready for transportation.

 ‘Probably just a malfunctioning lock. Good job we stuck together without it,’ I smiled.

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