FICTION FOCUS ON CHRISTMAS
THREE STORIES LIGHT AND DARK, SHORT AND LONG
They first saw the house in late summer, the neat suburban cul-de-sac ‘Little Glades’ may have seemed a cliché, but to Helen and Sam it was their dream home. They did not dwell on the large deposit and huge repayments; Helen pictured pushing a pram, chatting to neighbours and admiring the beautiful front gardens. Sam pictured mowing the long lawn and throwing sticks to a large dog in the park. They both dreamed of peace and quiet after years of renting the cramped flat above an all night shop at a busy junction.
Even with heavy curtains, lights of every colour flashed into their flat; the neon lights of Price Saver below the bedroom window, the endless amber, red, green of the traffic lights. On the other corners the glowing cross of the twenty four hour chemist and the pulsating purple night club sign. Even the tiny kitchen-diner at the back was never dark, security lights glared until dawn. Then there was the noise; sirens, squealing brakes, dogs barking; supplemented at dawn with the arrival of delivery lorries and rubbish trucks.
At Christmas they had rotated round the relatives, next Christmas they would be the hosts, but this Christmas they planned to spend alone, enjoying the peace and quiet of their new home - and it would be quiet, the asking price reflected the fact that there was nothing convenient nearby, no bus stop, shops, pubs, schools or railway line.
It was quiet on the morning of December 13th as they drew into ‘Little Glades’ with the small rented van. All day they tidied, arranged, explored, determined not to set foot out of their home till it was time to return the van later. The furthest they ventured was down the damp garden and through the little gate into the park. When it started getting dark they were busy in their new kitchen cooking together.
But something was not right.
‘I hope there’s not a fire,’ said Helen ‘I thought I saw a flashing blue light.’
Moving into the hall they saw colours moving on the ceiling, they didn’t need to open the front door to hear
‘So here it is Merry Christmas Everybody’s having fun…’
When they did open the door they did not recognise ‘Little Glades’ - they had been transported into a dystopian grotto. Neat semi-detached houses transformed into flashing cartoon parodies of their real selves. Monster inflatable snowmen swayed in front gardens, brightly lit sleighs and grotesque reindeer balanced on roofs and a sinister Father Christmas climbed up a lamp post.
An even more scary Father Christmas approached them, a mittened hand extended.
‘Gary, acca Santa, number six. We thought we’d leave you in peace to settle in and now… welcome to Glades Grotto on our opening night. Every night is party night till January the sixth. Every year we raise thousands for charity, visitors from miles around, hope you don’t want to get that van out till morning.
Linda hated Christmas, or rather the long run up to Christmas. It was busier but easier when the children were still at school; they knew exactly who would be there for Christmas every year; four children and four elderly relatives. Now, since the children were grown up and the elderly relatives no longer around, each year was different.
But this year would be the first Christmas she and Roger had spent by themselves. He was looking forward to spending Christmas Day and Boxing Day alone, relaxing; Linda was not. With the prospect of such a quiet Christmas there did not seem to be anything to get ready for, so she didn’t.
It was quite liberating, others talked of vast amounts spent, huge crowds fought through and piles of presents waiting to be wrapped. It only took Linda one afternoon to buy the requested gift vouchers and post them off. On the food front Christmas Eve would be no different from her Saturday morning shop at the local butchers and greengrocers.
But the day before Christmas Eve things started to unravel. She checked her e-mails in the morning and there was a long one from Sarah.
….remember the English guy I met at the backpackers’ hostel? (no she didn’t) Well, we’re an item now! Unfortunately, his visa has nearly run out so we are trying to get a flight home together…
In the afternoon John rang, he thought they might be lonely and had swapped shifts; he was getting a lift home on Christmas Eve.
In the evening Kate called; Gavin’s parents had found a last minute booking on the internet and were off to spend Christmas in the sun; she and Gavin should be down by tomorrow evening, picking up Paul on the way. Hadn’t Paul told them he’d broken up with his girlfriend on Tuesday?
Linda looked around the house; apart from the cards, there was no evidence of the festive season. Roger was completely calm, though disappointed he wouldn’t be having his quiet Christmas; he was already working out when they would go again.
‘They can take us as they find us, they know we weren’t expecting them.’
He reluctantly went up in the loft to bring down the decorations and lights, but Linda’s joy at having a proper Christmas was tempered by her panic at how much there was to get ready. She thought of the small joint of pork on order at the butchers and the miniature pudding in the cupboard.
‘No problem,’ reassured Roger ‘we’re finishing early tomorrow hopefully, in the morning you just have to make up the beds and make a shopping list; we’ll go and do a big shop when I get back.’
It took Linda a long time to get to sleep that night; when would Sarah arrive, what was the new guy like, would the weather be okay for Kate and Gavin’s trip down or would they be involved in a massive pile up on the Motorway, why hadn’t Paul told them of the break up?
The next morning Roger decided to take the bus to work as parking would be horrendous, but assured Linda he would be home by two o’clock. She rushed around with piles of bedding and towels, tidying, dusting, vacuuming; she was enjoying herself, but at one forty five the phone rang. It was Roger.
‘Sorry darling, I’m going to be late, all hell’s broken lose here, I could be very late, lucky I left the car at home, you go ahead and do the shopping without me.’
Terror gripped Linda, surely he wasn’t expecting her to drive to the shops?
‘But Roger I…’
‘Sorry dear, got to go, see you tonight.’
She looked out of the front window at the shiny red car leering smugly at her. Officially Linda drove; she had a licence gained at the second attempt, a spotless licence with no points. When was the last time she had actually driven? She had certainly never driven the new red monster Roger had bought when their other car packed up. Take it out during the day when it’s quiet, it’s lovely to drive he had said. How Linda envied those people who proudly stated I never learnt to drive or who remarked I don’t drive as if it was an incurable medical condition. Had she ever enjoyed driving? She couldn’t remember; parking, turning right, roundabouts had always presented problems. With the first baby she had ventured out with him safely strapped in the back seat, but he had started crying and she could not concentrate.
She realised she much preferred the healthy option of pushing the Silvercross pram; you could get loads of shopping in the tray underneath. They had never been able to afford two cars, so much of the time the car was not available for her to use. Roger enjoyed driving, on outings and holidays he naturally slipped into the driver’s seat.
As the children got older and had to be taken to things it was difficult to avoid; but they soon realised it was embarrassing being out with their mother. People would be tooting as she held everybody up, trying to get in or out of the multi storey car park or they would have to walk miles to avoid awkward parking places.
When they all learnt to drive confidently they gave her lifts; otherwise she was happy walking, cycling, going on the bus or accepting lifts Roger’s got the car, such a nuisance!
Now there was no getting out of it. She could never bring all that food home on her bike. Where had Roger put the car keys? Linda hunted all around the house then found them in the pocket of his spare coat. She knew you pressed the button to unlock the car; that was all she knew. Opening the front door she looked round to make sure nobody was watching, slipped into the car, then slipped out again to open the gates. The road was busy and the driveway sloped down steeply, another reason she was loath to use the car. Linda turned the key and the engine started, but her mind went blank till she remembered it was automatic and managed to get it into reverse. For the next ten minutes she blocked the pavement as she waited for a gap in the traffic.
When she finally lifted her foot off the brake pedal she rolled straight back into the opposite kerb. Somehow she got into forward gear and set off to the sound of angry beeping from the car she had just missed. She perched on the edge of the seat; it was set well back for Roger’s long legs.
Linda had forgotten the new roundabout and stopped to work out which exit she wanted, an impatient horn tooted behind her and she set off in panic, missing her exit and going round again. As she drove up the new dual carriageway she dared to feel a little confident. The brilliant lights of the supermarket loomed ahead, she was going to make it. But where was the entrance? Not over the footbridge or through the cycle underpass; all she could see were hedges and fences. After circumnavigating the whole superstore complex she hit upon a solution and followed the huge supermarket lorry.
Linda was pleased with herself as she drew into a nice quiet car park and found a large bay. She locked the car but as she walked away a loud rough voice yelled out and she realised he was addressing her.
‘Hey you stupid…’
Linda could hardly believe the words she was hearing. She turned to face a scowling driver climbing down the four steps from his cab.
‘Do you want me to crush your… red toy car, move it now.’
As she shakily got back into the car she stalled twice and finally backed out, cheered on by sneering trolley boys. The main car park was busy, yellow jacketed figures directed drivers into impossibly small spaces; she squeezed in, clipping the wing mirror of the next car. The only way to get out of this terrible place would be to shop slowly and leave after everyone else had gone.
Shopping slowly proved easy as it was so crowded; her trembling hands pushed the wonky trolley, the only one left. Little children cried, school children skidded down the aisles and arguing couples blocked the junctions. She was tempted to abandon the trolley, the shopping, the car and just walk home. When everyone turned up at the house she would announce that Christmas had been cancelled. This get out plan comforted her a great deal, gave her the confidence to try just one more aisle, then another; gradually the trolley filled up and it seemed a shame to abandon it. The long queue at the checkout reassured her; the car park should be empty by the time she got out and in the dark nobody would see her.
At last she was outside, but could not remember where she was parked. In the dark the red car was not so bright and shiny.
A security man came over ‘Can I be of assistance Madam?’
‘Well you won’t believe this, but I can’t remember where I put my car.’
‘I certainly would, it happens all the time,’ he replied kindly ‘now what is the registration number and make of the car?’
All hope disappeared; she couldn’t remember the number and didn’t know the make. Her brain had switched off when Roger had talked interminably about what car to get; all she had been interested in was how much it was going to cost.
‘Red you say Madam, how about that one over there?’
He gallantly steered the uncooperative trolley over to the car and she hoped he would not witness her attempts to drive off. Luckily his radio buzzed into life. She struggled to get all the shopping in the boot and wondered if the car would get back up the driveway, weighed down so. The cars either side had gone and she followed other vehicles to the exit.
Linda recognised the nice quiet little road at the exit, she cycled on it to avoid the main road; the circuitous route through the residential area would be safer. She noticed the dashboard for the first time, or more specifically the petrol gauge, it was nearly on empty. Had Roger mentioned filling the tank up? Yes. Would she pass a petrol station? Would she know how to use the petrol pump? No. There was only one thing to do; get home as quickly as possible before the petrol ran out. When she heard the police siren she pulled over carefully to let it pass and was surprised to see the police car stop in front of her.
‘Did you know this is a twenty mile an hour area Madam?’
As she looked into the face of the law in the light of the street lamp a wonderful thought occurred to her; if she got lots of points on her licence maybe they would take it away.
When she arrived home a car was blocking the driveway, but she didn’t care if she left the red monster on the main road. In the light of the street lamp she saw the boot of the strange car was open and beneath it Gavin, Kate and Paul were hauling out huge bags of shopping.
‘Hi Mum, we knew you wouldn’t have much in, so we did a big shop on the way.’
CHRISTMAS EVE IS ONE OF THE STORIES IN TIMES AND TIDES
When Ollie started at Mulburys’ work brightened up and so did the windows. He arrived just in time to create the Christmas window displays and he brought new ideas. #Every window tells a story# he would say to the other window dressers.
#Most of your window shoppers could never afford the dresses in the window or the houses the models appear to live in. But we’re going to make them feel they could one day... that’s the magic of Christmas#.
It seemed natural that Ollie and I would become close. Ollie knew how to treat a lady and my confidence grew as I worked with him. Nobody leaves Izzie in the corner, he would joke.
True to his word Ollie had created a story which started at the side of Mulburys’, opposite the tube station. An old man sat at his computer Skyping. On his mantelpiece were plenty of cards and photos; photos that matched the moving pictures on the computer screen; the next few windows took shoppers round the world and round Mulburys’ until they reached the main entrance. Scenes of the old man’s family getting ready for Christmas; a BBQ somewhere hot, a ski hut somewhere very cold, a cruise ship, every scene so realistic, but always with glamorous women dressed in Mulbury outfits, from bikinis to winter coats.
On the other side of the main entrance was the busy airport scene, followed by the airliner up in the clouds with Father Christmas waving as he passed by. The window on the corner showed a street scene, Christmas trees in windows and the old man taking his dog for a walk, looking longingly at the bright windows. How the children loved these scenes; to find out who was in the plane they were directed upstairs to the Christmas grotto. I was dressed as the glamorous elf welcoming children and adults to the final scene, bigger than any window could accommodate. The old man opens his front door and surprise, surprise all his family have arrived.
In the middle of December Ollie bought himself a shiny new red car and parked it at the front of Mulburys’ in the #ten minutes only pick up zone#. Just long enough for us to look admiringly from the window. There was much amused chatter about the new traffic zones; single occupant cars were banned from the city centre, everyone had to be seen to be car sharing.
‘No probs,’ said Ollie ‘I shall give Izzie a lift.’
I was as surprised as everyone else, or rather they were amused. Ollie knew what my circumstances were, but gave no hint that I had no home to have a lift to.
Like the gentleman he was, he helped me into the leather passenger seat.
‘Well darling Isabella, how jealous other drivers will be when they see my glamorous girlfriend.’
I couldn’t help smiling, I thought we were just good friends; any physical closeness had been within the confines of the store windows. How I enjoyed the drive, looking out at the Christmas lights, watching the busy pavements as shoppers and workers made their way home.
Ollie’s flat was not in a smart building, but as he helped me up the narrow staircase and opened his front door I was delighted to see the interior decor had the same style as Mulburys’.
‘I can tell from your enigmatic smile that you like it Isabella, but it hasn’t been a real home till now, with you here.’
He sat me down on the comfortable sofa.
‘Relax and watch television while I rustle up something to eat.’
And so my evenings were no longer lonely, Ollie and I had the same easy relationship we had at work, but I had to admit I preferred it when we were alone. At the weekend he had a few friends round, not from work, people I didn’t know. They seemed to enjoy their visit and laughed and talked a lot.
‘So this is the delectable Isabella, the mystery woman I saw you with at the traffic lights.’
‘Yes, the woman of my dreams.’
‘Has she got a sister?’
‘She has actually, but I’m not going to introduce her, she’s too good for you.’
After a few visits, I began to realise I was different, I thought I must have one of those syndromes, Asbergers or perhaps I was autistic. I couldn’t really join in the conversations, never quite understood what they were talking about, although it was obvious they were often talking about me.
Other times I felt totally ignored. Like when Joe from work dropped in looking rather wobbly, I thought he was never going to leave, I think Ollie was fed up, but too polite to say so. Joe went on and on about someone called Milly.
‘How am I going to get through Christmas, I was going to propose to her, now she’ll be in New York with Miles.’
‘You’re best off without her mate, she’s a bitch, we could all see that except you. I know it’s unbearable, I’ve been there, but it will get better. Reckon I’m the lucky one. Isabella would never look at another man and would never utter a word to hurt my feelings.’
I almost blushed at his words, but I wondered where it was that he had been and how did words hurt your feelings.
‘You don’t know how I feel Ollie, you have a wooden heart, just like your cold girlfriend there.’
I glared at the awful Joe, so different from the Joe we knew at work. I was not cold, never felt the cold; that’s why I was happy to wear the low cut sleeveless dresses Ollie loved to see me in.
Christmas Eve came and Ollie was going to a party.
‘Sorry to leave you by yourself Izzie, but I know you don’t enjoy parties. Come and sit by the window and look at the lights, have you seen the great big tree in the garden opposite? Tomorrow it will just be us, no work, we’ll watch sentimental Christmas telly together.’
A few merrymakers passed by and waved to me, I almost felt as if I was back in the shop window. When at last Ollie came home he was a bit wobbly, but his hands were as gentle as they were at work when he undressed me.
‘I bought you some new lingerie, well actually I pinched it from work. You and me go well together, two lonely souls. Won’t you tell me truly what you think, do you love me? If I wished hard enough, in ten minutes time at the stroke of midnight would you talk to me, would the blood run warm in your veins?’
I did not understand his words, but I was just glad to have Ollie home again, where he belonged, with me. But for some reason I wasn’t keeping him cheerful, there was water running down his cheeks, like the dreadful Joe had that time, but with Ollie I wanted to reach out and hold him, for a moment a strange feeling came over me, just below the neckline of the lovely red lacy garment. But as the clock on television started to strike twelve I felt cold for the first time.
Ollie turned away from me and covered his face, then turned back.
‘It didn’t work did it beautiful cold Isabella, this isn’t a fairy tale, you will never be a real woman. On Boxing Day I shall take you back to the shop window where you belong, in time for the sales.’
ByAnita Daweson 25 September 2018
Spaceships, encounters and strange goings-on, all so much more interesting than the film with the similar name and as I read this story, I couldn’t help wondering
how I would cope in similar circumstances.
Right back at the beginning of her marriage, Susan longed to be a mother, but it looked as though she was destined to be disappointed. Then something strange happened. She was taken to a spacecraft where the aliens promised her she would have the baby she longed for.
Emma, the baby who duly arrived soon after, was perfect in every way, as all babies are. But as the child grew up, she seemed extraordinarily perfect and the exact clone of her mother. She didn’t cry and was never ill.
Three healthy boys followed, gloriously ordinary boys. You could be forgiven for thinking the story ends there, but you would be wrong. All manner of strange things continue to happen to Susan and her family, until a simple blood test throws a bunch of spanners into the works, causing trouble and suspicion.
Can Susan keep the secret and her family safe and out of harm’s way?
The aliens visit more than once, but instead of helping, I thought they made matters worse. A complicated, well-written story, believable in spite of the unusual storyline. The characters are lovely, reacting the way you imagine ordinary people would if presented with these circumstances.
I loved the way they all tried to make the best out of a sometimes difficult situation, and I am glad there is to be a sequel so we can follow Emma’s baby as he grows up.
This story is a little long, but I wouldn’t suggest shortening it in any way for fear of ruining such a perfectly plotted story…
In the early years of the Twenty First Century, widow Susan Dexter has more to worry about than the recession. For thirty years she has
kept a secret; she is not sure if her daughter is human. New events lead her to other people who need to find the truth.
How do ordinary people cope with the extraordinary?
Mystery, music and medicine are at the heart of this family saga; sub plots are woven amongst several very different love stories, as the characters question what it is to be human and what is reality.
DOWNLOAD FOR ONLY 99 PENCE
Since Peter died Emma came round more often, though it was rare for both of us to have a weekday off. That day we were looking forward to enjoying the late September sunshine in my garden and she had news to tell me. Emma was arranging the loungers as I made the coffee.
Suddenly she cried out ‘What’s that in the sky Mum?’
I stepped out, followed her stunned gaze up to the clear sky and froze; I had always dreaded they would come back. Above us was a huge shimmering shape, elegant and beautiful.
A CHARACTER WHO WALKED UNINVITED INTO THE FIRST NOVEL NEEDED TO TELL HIS OWN STORY – THAT BECAME THREE AGES OF MAN.
ANNA ALSOP TAKES UP HER OWN STORY FROM THE DAY AFTER THE FIRST NOVEL ENDS IN LIVES OF ANNA ALSOP.
SCROLL DOWN FOR SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS AND
THE NOVEL QUARTER ACRE BLOCK
Anthologies, collections of various authors’ stories are an attractive prospect for many new or not so new, but still aspiring authors. The chance to have your writing in print, your story chosen by strangers is an affirmation and you have something to show your relatives. Your story will be surely be read by all the friends and relatives of each person who features in the anthology and perhaps one of them will be a publisher or even a film producer... The route to these exciting possibilities is often via a competition, you might also win some money and impress your family.
Back in 2009 I was browsing in Borders, a heavenly mix of music, books and magazines; lurking on a bottom shelf under writing and history magazines was a colourful monthly publication called First Edition. Get Yourself Published For Free it proclaimed. Of course that meant they would not be paying YOU for your stories, but that didn’t seem to matter and one of my stories, Reality, was accepted, my brief biography sent off and in due course my free November copy arrived in the post. I immediately rushed off to check the shelves of Borders and WH Smith to buy another copy to send to my mother. I then e-mailed friends and family who hunted in their local branches; I could say I was in print nationwide. Alas, that edition, only the ninth issue, was the last and by the end of that year Borders had suffered a similar demise in the UK. I wonder what happened to the second story I sent them?
The first time I won a prize was second place in Wrekin Writers’ competition, the cheque for £70 did impress Cyberspouse. The story, 'Darren’s Day Out’ was the first I wrote for the writers’ group I still belong to. The subject was The Door, I later added the second part.
Darren’s Day Out
Darren’s face was pressed against the bus window as they came to a halt. Today they were visiting a new place and he hoped it would be more exciting than their usual visits to “the shops”. Darren trailed behind his mother and the double buggy down a busy street. He could hear her talking to him but he wasn’t listening, the familiar words washed over him “Stay close blah blah don`t upset the blah blah or I’ll blah blah..." His heart sank as they entered a shop and were soon engulfed by racks of clothes taller than Darren.
Now his mother’s mobile rang and deftly she answered while putting the baby’s dummy back in, wiping his sister’s nose and rummaging through the clothes. Darren looked back at the doorway, sunshine and fresh air beckoned. His only thought had been to step outside for a few seconds and jump back in before he was missed. Just one, two, three steps and look around, peer through the archway, perhaps go through…..
He wanted to run into the empty space in front of him. A long path, wide grass, a huge grey building. He ran and ran then jumped down steps, turned a corner then stopped, astonished. In front of him was the largest door he had ever seen, dark and old. He felt scared-only a giant would have a door that huge. He turned to run away but was gently swept up by a little crowd of jolly looking grown ups and children. They had found a special small door cut in the big door. Perhaps the giant had been killed and it was now safe to go in.
Inside he gasped and blinked, a musty stillness wrapped around him and he gazed up and up. He knew this place had been here for ever. He stood motionless and watched the other people as they tiptoed around looking in awe. Everyone had come to see what the giant’s house looked like. Now they were gathering around a bearded man wearing strange long robes. As Darren peered through legs and bags and coats at him, he realised he must be a Wizard- he had made them safe from the giant. The Wizard was telling everyone a story and Darren strained to hear and understand the grown-up words “built by Norman”… Well that didn’t seem a very scary name for a giant thought Darren; maybe he was a friendly giant. Now the Wizard pointed to large black gates with a gold padlock. Perhaps the giant wasn’t dead, just captured. There was strange curly writing on the wall next to the gates and Darren couldn’t pick out any words he knew from his reading book. That must be the spell to keep Norman the giant safe.
The Wizard now pointed upwards and all eyes were raised to the most beautiful window Darren had ever seen. Deep blue and red lights were shining from it and there were lovely pictures of other Wizards and strange people. The little crowd moved on but Darren stood engrossed in the pictures until he felt his bones begin to rumble and heard a low noise getting louder. His heart was beating faster; was Norman the giant speaking? The other people didn’t seem surprised and smiled as the rumbling turned into music and Darren thought it was the best music he had ever heard and even louder than the stereo in his uncle’s car. The music filled all the great space of the Wizards Hall and he felt carried along with it.
Now he saw a wooden door creak open and out filed boys in white robes. The smallest wasn’t much taller than Darren and had glasses and red hair. As he passed by he dropped his book and Darren saw the open pages had strange lines and dots among the words. So they must be junior wizards carrying their Spell Books. As they arranged themselves on rows of wooden seats, another adult Wizard appeared and waved his wand! They began to sing their Spells and the ethereal sound sent pleasant shivers down Darren’s spine. Now he had forgotten the world outside and the Great Hall of the Wizards was everything and he couldn’t bear to leave it. A plan half formed in his mind and he went to the wooden door which stood ajar. Inside he could see more robes hanging up. All he had to do was go inside and put a robe on and he would become a boy wizard too.
Amanda was not enjoying her first day as a police constable. Chaos reigned in the interview room as she tried to comfort the young mother; the baby was crying and the toddler was racing round the room.
"I only turned my back for one second and there he was gone” wailed the mother.
Amanda tried to pat her shoulder, in between leaping up to stop the toddler putting her sticky fingers on tape recorders, files and sheaves of important paperwork. Amanda’s colleagues were out searching the city centre, while here at the police station, urgent calls were being made to useful networks such as “Shopwatch”. As the clock ticked and the hands moved round relentlessly there was still no news; Darren’s granny and aunt were on their way.
Suddenly the door swung open to reveal a relieved looking inspector.
“It looks like we have found him and he’s safe and well, in fact he has been thoroughly enjoying himself."
The young mother’s face lit up with relief then darkened in annoyance “Wait till I get hold of him, where is he anyway?”
“At the cathedral, seems he wanted to join the choir; do you often go to the cathedral?” asked the inspector.
“Cathedral! Why would I go to the Cathedral?” she replied.
“How was he found?” queried Amanda.
The inspector laughed “The choir school only just rang, they didn’t realise they had an extra boy till they had nearly finished tea. He’s running around in the quad with the other boys now, but one of the masters is keeping a close eye on him; we have a car waiting so you can take Darren’s family there right now."
At the choir school, while Mr Jenkins waited with Matron for Darren’s family to arrive, he told her his idea; “It could work, he seems a very bright boy and it would fit in well with our Inclusiveness Policy, it would certainly help get that government grant”.
A police car pulled up and Mr Jenkins was soon ushering Darren’s mother through the archway and the gate marked “private”. Reluctantly Darren tore himself away from the other boys and raced over to his mother,
“Mum, Mum I had a great time, we had a party, can I stay here, can I have a Nordition?”
‘Dorset Voices’ was compiled by Poundbury Voices and published by Roving Press. Writers were invited to submit short stories, articles and poems; photographers were invited to submit black and white pictures. My story ‘Four Days In June’ was accepted and the book was launched at Bournemouth Library.
My favourite covers are ‘An Eclectic Mix’. I have stories in volumes one and two, published by AudioArcadia.com 2015
This year my story ‘Thanephant an Elephantasy’ was included in 'Shoal', published by Thanet Writers and launched at Turner Contemporary Gallery, Margate.
You can also read Darren’s Day Out, Four Days In June and stories from Eclectic Mix in my third collection Times and Tides
TWO MORE SHORT STORIES TO READ
OR SCROLL DOWN TO READ THE BACKGROUND STORY TO MY NOVEL QUARTER ACRE BLOCK
The editor was deciding which story to run with on the front page. His young assistant Lisa usually had strong opinions on what would attract readers.
'This young man has been missing for three days; lives at home, steady job, good character. He had an argument with his girlfriend, drove off and hasn’t been seen since.'
Lisa frowned 'I still think we should stick with the murdered stallion.'
'He wasn’t murdered, it was a hit and run accident' the editor smiled. 'You’ve been reading too many of Mr. Oak’s letters. There’s another one today, shall I include it in the letters page or do you think the readers are sick of him?'
'Yes link it with your leading item. He has got a point.'
'Banning cars from the New Forest, penalising families because of a few idiots? Mind you, it would stir things up a bit; we haven’t got any good stories this week. Sam’s been out to interview the verderer who found the dead stallion. Hmm, main headline Cars To Be Banned From New Forest, then much smaller Should cars be banned from the New Forest?’
'Me and Gavin are going to the forest tomorrow; a nice picnic by ourselves, then we’re going to his boss’s home for drinks and a dinner party. He’s got a posh house hidden in the middle of the forest; I hope Gav manages to find it.'
What Lisa didn’t tell her boss was that tomorrow she was going to give Gavin the news.
The picnic was lovely; the early spring sun was warm enough for them to sit on a blanket. Lisa was banking on Gavin being pleased, now he had his promotion. She was pleased and surprised with his response.
'That’s wonderful, let’s get married.'
Gavin had realised that he wanted to be a father and he wanted to marry Lisa. He had been reluctant to ask before; the thought of wedding fairs, months of planning and dressing up had appalled him. Now they had the ideal excuse for a small, quiet wedding very soon.
'Let’s get married here, in the forest, a sort of hippy wedding.'
She laughed. 'Why not, but don’t tell anyone this evening, we’ll have to tell our parents first.'
They enjoyed the evening and their shared secret; even looking benevolently on the boss’s ghastly children.
As they drove home, Gavin teased her. 'You’ll get a crick in your neck, you don’t have to keep looking at the speedometer.'
'We have to be careful in the dark; we might not see a pony till it’s too late. I wish you’d let me drive.'
'I’ve only had a couple of pints, you should take it easy now you’re pregnant.'
'We should have stuck to the A 35, it’s creepy out here.'
'You’re safe with me; this is the real forest, not the picnic ground with educational boards and ice cream vans.'
'Did you hear the news this morning? They’ve found that bloke’s car in the forest.'
'The one who went missing; I told the editor it wasn’t much of a story, now it seems it is. There was no sign of him.'
'Maybe he wanted to run away.'
'You could be right; the car was well hidden in the trees, off a remote track. Unless he was kidnapped and they didn’t want his car found.'
'Who found it?'
'That’s the creepy thing, it might not have been found for years; some botanist was looking for rare plants.' Lisa looked at the speedometer; the speed had crept up while they had been chatting. 'Gavin, I thought you were going to be more responsible now you’re going to be…'
Her sentence remained unfinished as they felt a bump and Gavin rammed the brakes on.
'We’ve hit a pony' cried Lisa.
'It’s probably a fallen tree trunk, stay in the car while I look.'
Lisa jumped out of the car and they stood either side of the body, a pair of glazed eyes stared up at them.
'Oh it’s a doe, she’s pregnant. You’ve killed her Gavin.'
'It was an accident; animals should be asleep at night, not darting out into the road.'
'We’re not on the road.'
Gavin followed her gaze; if they hadn’t run into the deer they would have crashed into a large old oak tree.
He was puzzled. 'I’m a careful driver, I had a clear, straight road in front of me, it was narrow, but I had plenty of room.' He went to fetch the torch from the car, then took Lisa’s shaking hand and led her round to the boot. He shone the torch the way they had just come, a tarmac road. 'I’m sorry about the deer Lisa, but she saved us; this must be a dead end road.'
'Let’s go now,' she shivered 'we don’t know the number to ring the verderer, we can ring the police when we get home. We’ll go back the way we came and try and find the A 35.'
'Or we could just ring nobody' said Gavin hopefully.
They both jumped as there was a clumping noise; a large branch had landed on the roof.
'Another lucky escape; that could have fallen on us while we were driving. I’ll pull it off and we’ll go, hope it hasn’t damaged my paintwork.'
As Gavin tried in vain to pull at the heavy limb, Lisa spoke shakily.
'It’s not fallen, it’s still attached to the tree. We must be on a slope, the car’s rolled into the tree.'
Gavin shone his torch and saw the driver’s door was jammed against the trunk.
'I’ll get in your door and climb over. I’m going to put it in reverse.' As he tried to start the engine he felt a heavy thump on the bonnet. 'Quick, get in so we’re ready to go, hopefully that branch will slide off the bonnet. Lisa, this is no time for tree hugging…'
On Monday morning the editor had too much to put on his front page and Lisa wasn’t there to help him. He had just spoken to her hysterical mother on the phone. Lisa was missing and her boyfriend had been found wandering in the New Forest by the search party looking for the missing man. Gavin had been in shock and incoherent so the police arrested him. Everyone knew they had both been to the forest and everyone knew Gavin was the last person to see her.
The Old Forest is one of the stories in the Dark and Milk collection.
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24 May 2016
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Janet Gogerty...What a super writer of short stories. I have read
many of her stories and this collection hits the mark yet again. As a writer myself I marvel at how many she has penned and never once covering the same ground twice. That is no mean feat. There are
twenty seven gems in this collection and they really are a diverse assortment of tales. Amongst my favourites are:
Janus - A frightening look at how genetic tinkering can lead to horrifying results.
Bones on the Beach - A news reporter finally solves the mysterious disappearance of Miss Tyler's lost love.
You have One Friend - You may want to keep an eye on your Teddy Bear and for goodness sake don't leave him unattended near your computer.
I have rated this Collection Five Stars. Well worth purchasing and losing yourself in Miss Gogerty's imagination.
The smell of roast pork tantalised his nostrils and made his mouth water. It was a long time since he had eaten his sandwiches and his circular route through the New Forest should have brought him back to Hinton Admiral Station by now. But there had been no sign of a railway line, let alone a station; no sign of a road, let alone the comforting sight of a gravel car park with notice boards.
He followed the scent trail, picturing a cosy pub, a hidden gem he could boast about to friends at work. Day One of training for Hampshire Tough Man had not gone well, but perhaps something of the day could be salvaged. Tough Man hopeful had left his smart phone and wallet at home as part of the exercise; he was carrying only a small amount of cash so he would not be tempted into a pub or restaurant. He regretted that decision, but hoped his coins would stretch to a cup of coffee, a packet of crisps and a helpful barman to give him directions.
The trail led him down a sandy slope into the trees, muddy hoof prints by a tiny stream made it an unlikely path to a pub and deterred him from his survival plan of drinking natural water. But hope was revived suddenly with the scent of wood smoke mingling with the roasting meat. The sun emerged from the clouds, sending rays piercing through the new green leaves and revealing coils of white smoke. Two more steps and he was in a small clearing, yards away from a squat building receding into the trees on the other side of the glade. Strangely coloured stones jumbled into walls were propped up by a wooden door and overhung by brightly coloured straw thatch. Tough Man was surprised there was no sign, then realised with a jolt that in such an isolated spot it must be someone’s home. They would be unlikely to welcome visitors, but a line of washing, above a small stretch of grass at the side of the cottage, reassured him that this was a family dwelling and he would not have to contend with some suspicious old man.
As he approached, a sweet smell, a blend of pick-a-mix and Lush, overpowered the scent of wood smoke. Stooping to the crooked door he spotted something metallic in the overgrown grass and picked up a mobile phone. He now had a good excuse to knock. The rapper, blackened metal in a shape that reminded him of a hand or claw, produced a muffled tap. As he waited, a flutter of white at the edge of his vision made him look down again. A piece of paper lay on the damp grass, he looked up to see a small square latticed window ajar. He picked up the paper and looked at two scrawled words Help Me.
He knocked at the door urgently now, picturing a young mother taken ill, her children helpless. He almost fell in the door when it was wrenched open and was surprised to come face to face with a smiling old lady, dressed strangely, not in denim like his Gran.
‘Sorry to bother you, only I found your phone and then this note; is someone ill?’
The phone and paper were in the old lady’s hands before he could blink.
‘So kind of you to bother, I must have dropped my phone.’
‘…and the note?’
She ignored his question and beckoned him into a little parlour with a roaring fire, welcome in the chilly spring afternoon.
‘You’ll have a drink of something warm?’
‘Oh yes, a cup of coffee if it’s no trouble, then if you can point me in the right direction I’ll be on my way… uhm, is that your family calling, grandchild?’
He thought he heard the ceiling creak, though it was hardly credible that there could be an upstairs in such a low house. When the old lady suddenly picked up a red hot poker from the fire, he started back in fright, but she merely plunged it into a pewter tankard.
‘Mulled mead, just what you need’ she smiled.
He sipped tentatively; it was a comforting warmth and did not burn his lips.
‘Delicious thank you; I know it sounds ridiculous, but I have no idea where I am. Are we near Hinton Admiral?’
‘Who’s he?’ the woman looked genuinely puzzled.
He shivered as he felt the first panic rising. How could he have got so lost?
‘Perhaps your husband could give me directions.’
‘My late husband never gave nobody nothing.’
‘How far are we from the A35?’
‘Why don’t you just enjoy your drink and stop gabbing.’
‘I should go now, smells as if your dinner is nearly ready’ he stood up shakily, his only desire now was to get out of the cottage and follow the setting sun till he reached civilisation.
‘You’ll stay for dinner.’
‘No…’ he stumbled against the wall, which felt alarmingly soft, but when he pushed at the door it wouldn’t budge. The old woman had her back turned, stoking the fire as if he had accepted the invitation to stay.
Now the air felt sweet and cloying, his head muzzy. He saw another door ajar and slipped through into a kitchen long and low. Heavy copper pans hung on racks and the heat was overwhelming from an old blackened range. The smell of roast pork was strong, the range with its heavy doors was big enough to roast a whole pig, but he had lost his appetite. The door closed behind him with a muffled thud and he looked around in vain for a window or outer door. He tried to think rationally, but he knew something was not right, everything was wrong. For a moment he thought the whimpering was coming from his own lips, then he saw a small cage beyond the heavy oak table. He crept round towards the dark corner, cautious in case it was an aggressive dog. Suddenly a hand thrust out between the bars.
ROAST PORK IS ONE OF THE STORIES IN THE TIMES AND TIDES COLLECTION
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20 September 2017
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Yet another delightful collection of short stories from the irrepressible Janet Gogerty. This time twenty five
stories on almost every subject imaginable.
The variety of themes are astounding and I will only mention a few in this review.
The opening story, Blind Date tells of just that, a blind date between Michael and Jessica accompanied by Michael's guide dog Bella. Not a dog to tangle with.
I loved 'Solar Power' with its idea of a solar powered hat for elderly Daphne. It certainly put a spring in her step. I chuckled over Ms Gogerty's comment of 'Burger Syndrome Spectrum thingy.'
'Up, up and away' was an eye opening story involving a hot air balloon disaster - the method of dealing with the rogue balloon was quite shocking. 'Making an Entrance' Wow! Never upset a fellow thespian.
'Restoration Project' had a very spooky ending...I loved it.
The last story, 'Christmas Eve' has all the elements of just how traumatic Christmas can be especially when guests descend with little warning.
Click the link to open the book.
In the nineteen sixties many ‘ten pound pommies’ had never left England before and most expected never to return or see loved ones again. George Palmer saw Australia as a land of opportunities for his four children, his wife longed for warmth and space and their daughter’s ambition was to swim in the sea and own a dog. For migrant children it was a big adventure, for fathers the daunting challenge of finding work and providing for their family, but for the wives the loneliness of settling in a strange place.
Prologue December 1963
As autumn brought dark evenings and the walls of their terraced house closed in, George began visiting Australia House in his lunch hour. The winter of ‘63 had been the last straw. George and Helen wanted to emigrate to Australia. They did not expect to make their fortune, but reasoned they would rather live on a tight budget somewhere warm. During the summer of 1963 they had faltered; to move to the other side of the world and never return seemed unthinkable; but late one December evening, alone in their small dining room, George and Helen whispered and pored over brochures and forms.
‘One thing’s for sure,’ said Helen ‘we’ve grown out of this house.’
Her third pregnancy had been a surprise and the arrival of twins a shock; owning their own house had been a dream come true until then.
‘When they built these little houses in the thirties, people were thrilled to have an inside bathroom’ laughed George.
‘...and a garden’ added Helen.
‘Everyone lives in detached houses in Australia, with a laundry as well. By next Christmas we could be in a new house on a quarter acre block of land. Jennifer could have all those pets she wants and I could have my workshop.’
‘Oh George, I don’t think I could bear it if they turned us down.’
‘They won’t, it’s an enormous country with hardly anybody in it; why else would they be paying our fares? Ten pounds to fly across the world.’
‘Or voyage across the oceans.’
‘Six weeks at sea with our lot, no thanks. Besides, I’ve looked into it; if we opt to fly, we should get our passage much quicker.’ He gathered the attractive brochures into one pile and the forms into another. ‘If we post these off, we’re going to go, no turning back. But we can not tell anyone yet, not your mother, or your sister or Joyce and certainly not the children; it wouldn’t be fair to get their hopes up until we’re absolutely certain.’
She kissed his cheek and handed him the pen.
Quarter Acre Block is based on our family’s experiences, but is not autobiographical. Readers ask which parts are real? I needed my mother’s help to get the adult point of view, but the Palmer family are not my family. I wanted the story to be realistic, so the Palmers follow the same journey as we did. The ‘six week holiday of a lifetime’ sounded fun and I was envious of those who had come by ship, crossed the equator and met King Neptune, but the Palmer family had to fly.
I knew no one who had been in the migrant camps: I don’t think my father would have persuaded Mum to go at all if she had to face the prospect of a camp! Dad knew ‘someone from the office’ who had migrated and they sponsored us. The chap met us at the airport, put us in a caravan well gone midnight and returned at nine am to take us down to Scarborough Beach. His family had taken to beach life and were living ‘the dream’. My younger brother and sister were terrified of the waves and I clung to a plastic surfboard, too embarrassed to tell their children I couldn’t swim. After that experience the only beach my parents wanted to sit on was Crawley Beach by the Swan River. It was very pleasant and I taught myself to swim there. I have always loved the water, but my parents hardly ever ventured in.
You can read a little of what my life was like in the six months leading up to our departure in my Tidalscribe blog
- Quarter Acre Blog.
17 October 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book was written by my friend at writing class. I absolutely loved its clear and incisive descriptions of life for the Poms who decided to make new lives in Australia. She has written several more books and collections of short stories and I would recommend them to anyone.
I did have an excellent teacher for my two months of primary school at the end of the Australian school year. With a totally different curriculum, he encouraged me to get good results in the tests so I could start high school a year early. We moved to our new house and suburb before Christmas, in time to meet some local children before I started at my new high school. A large school, much as I describe in the novel.
By Jayne Lucas on 16 March 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The characters were three dimension and ‘real’ and I felt part of the family. It kept my interest all the way through and I was disappointed for it to end – will there be a sequel? I found myself wanting to know how the story developed and what happened to the characters. I shall be looking for other books by the same author.
By Mr M G Stratford on 29 November 2013
A fascinating insight into the cultural changes and challenges experienced by a family emigrating from the UK to Australia in the 1960s.
By Jane Deans on 5 December 2012
Quarter Acre Block is the story of an ordinary,
middle class English family of the sixties' experiences as they make the momentous decision to emigrate to Australia to obtain a better standard of living. Told mainly through the eyes of the young
daughter, Jennifer it is both heartwarming and evocative of the era. Anyone old enough to have been subjected to the delights of Spam, The Beatles, Tupperware parties,Sunday church and transistor
radios will appreciate the detail.
As they grapple with the difficulties that face them in their newly adopted country the family encounter many new characters and experiences. Dad, George must find employment, they need somewhere to live and Mum, Helen has to adjust to life as a housewife and mother in an environment that is totally alien.
The story is told in an anecdotal style and charts the family's progress during their first year.
This book is a gentle read, with no major shocks or thrills, but nevertheless enjoyable.
By Rea on 22 July 2016
Quarter Acre Block from Janet Gogerty is a
fascinating peek into a year in the life of a "ten pound pom". Following the decimation of World War II and as an encouragement for immigrants to come and repopulate Australia, many British families
were offered the opportunity to emigrate to Australia, for just ten pounds fare.
Quarter Acre Block follows the first year of the Palmers' new life in Perth, Australia. I found the story very interesting and was able to identify with so many of the issues facing this young family; loneliness, homesickness, finding employment and just making new connections on the other side of the world.
This was a really good story, well written and easy to read. Although it is a novel, there is clearly some autobiographical influence from the author in this story. If you like stories about real people facing real problems, you'll love this book. I can definitely recommend it.
By Jane Krabbeler on July 13, 2016
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Quarter Acre Block
BY: Janet Gogerty
Reviewed By: Long Island Dreams Book Reviews
Star rating: 4 out of 5 stars
George and Helen Palmer are loving and caring parents who desire to give their four children every advantage that life has to offer. When the opportunity arises to emigrate to Australia from their native England, the Palmer family seizes the opportunity.
Quarter Acre Block follows the Palmers as they embark on the journey of a lifetime. You will cry as they say goodbye to all their family and friends and travel around the world to their new home.
The author spins this tale in such a way that you will completely identify with the Palmer family as they begin to adapt to their new environment. You will feel their apprehension through out all their firsts, from taking the bus to the shops, starting a new job and attending a new school.
I have no doubt you will feel their joy as they see the beach for the first time, learn to swim, make new friends, buy a new home and so much more.
You will feel Helen Palmers loneliness as she struggles to adjust to her new life away from her extended family and all that she has known. I have to say Helen Palmer jumped off the page at me. I wanted to wrap her in a warm embrace and reassure her that she George and the children would triumph in their new home.
Quarter Acre Block is a heart warming story of love and perseverance. I found myself laughing, crying and cheering for this family. This is a four star page turning hit, that you definitely won’t want to miss.
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READ EXCERPTS; the story of the Palmers' new life is told from both mother and daughter's point of view.
That evening she was allowed to stay up later, till the twins were safely asleep. The television was switched off and she and Simon were told to sit in the front room to hear important news.
‘Australia,’ exclaimed Simon ‘why didn’t you tell me?’
‘We are telling you now’ grinned his father. ‘We haven’t even told your grandparents yet, no point in getting everyone excited or upset till we know for sure.
‘I’m excited,’ said Jennifer ‘going on an aeroplane to a hot country; I could learn to swim and we could have a dog.’
‘I’m sure you can, when we’re settled’ smiled her mother.
‘Or a horse… like those children on television.’
‘What about my friends?’ complained Simon.
‘They can come on holiday to see you’ said Jennifer.
‘It’s a bit further than the Isle of Wight’ he sneered.
‘You’ll make new friends son’ his father reassured him. ‘Besides, the way things are going, you won’t be the only boy at your school emigrating.’
She and Simon were sworn to secrecy; the twins must not know yet, they were sure to tell. No one must know, just in case; in case of what Jennifer wasn’t sure. Perched on top of the concrete coal bunker, nibbling her Easter egg in the watery spring sunshine, she hugged the secret to her eleven year old self.
A short bus ride took the family to the house that George had grown up in; the road was identical to the one they lived in now, the terraced houses exactly the same layout. Privet hedges and creosoted fences were a feature of nearly every garden in the street; George and Helen stood at his mother’s neatly painted narrow front gate and knew they were making the right decision.
He climbed up into the small loft at his mother’s request; no one had been up there since his father died. Peter and Tony delved into the box he brought down.
‘I should have passed it on to you ages ago, for your boys’ said his mother.
Inside were books and toys he remembered, but had no idea his mother had kept.
‘Sort out which ones were Dennis’ then take the rest, they should go with you, don’t forget the past.’
He opened a book and showed Helen the fly leaf.
To George on your tenth birthday, 1935, with love from Mother and Father.
‘How long ago that was, they were happy days weren’t they Mum?’
‘Yes indeed they were; your father and I were so proud to have our own house and be bringing up two fine sons.’
12 October 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
What an insight into taking the plunge to live in Australia. This is a well written story with believable characters and real experiences of living over the other side of the world. I shall look forward to reading more of this author’s books as she certainly kept me turning the pages. Mark Laming
Dad’s family followed us all out. First his brother and family who went on to have an Australian baby, then my grandparents and my aunt. But it was many years before one of my mother’s sisters came out on holiday. Dad insisted we would never go back, which is the best way to settle in. If migrants did not stay for two years they had to pay their outward fare back to the Australian government, some migrants took that as trying it for two years, while others treated it as a two year holiday, yet others planned to try Sydney if they didn’t like Perth. Most migrants assumed they were there for good and could not afford any other option. There were some who were winging poms and others who went to the other extreme, dismissing Britain as 'finished', as if to justify their decision.
My relatives are spread far and wide with a variety of careers and lifestyles; some own land, have camped around Australia, gone scuba diving and done other very Australian things. There have been plenty of ups and downs like any family. I imagine that at least some of George Palmer’s family went on to live up to his hopes for them.
If you have any questions about the book or Australia you are welcome to e-mail me at email@example.com
REAL LIFE - THE DARK SIDE
But there is always a dark side; the Vietnam war was raging, Simon Palmer would have been eligible for conscription by ballot when he was twenty, the voting age was twenty one. ‘All The Way with LBJ’ - Australia would not let down the USA after their help in the Second World War. The boys in my class at college were very happy when conscription was abolished just before their twentieth birthdays.
There were other hazards for migrants. Some new migrants did drown in the Indian Ocean. Everyone got their driver’s licence at seventeen and old bangers were cheap for teenage boys to buy and bomb around in. One of the English boys in my class was killed in a car accident; unlike the modern way of counselling, special assemblies and flowers at the gate, no official mention was made at school of his demise!
REAL LIFE –DARK HISTORIES
In 1964 we knew little about the Aboriginals, I guess we assumed they were living happily in their natural habitat out in ‘the bush’. Mixed race aboriginal children were taken from their families and put in orphanages. Whatever we came to know later on, there is no escaping the fact we were living in someone else’s country.
Nor did we know about the British children shipped out as ‘orphans’ and left in the ‘care’ of such as the Christian Brothers in boys’ homes out in the countryside. The dark side of migration for sure.
But human beings have always moved around, exploring and colonising. In the sixties Perth was full of English, Italian and Greek migrants and many others from Europe. The Mediterranean people were hard workers, better used to the heat no doubt and were brilliant at market gardening and corner shops. But that did not mean the British were lazy, in the work place and the arts they were at the forefront, taking the initiative. Asian students appeared, but were expected to go home after their studies at university! Fortunately Britain joining the Common Market was a sharp reminder that Australia needed to make friends and trade nearer home. Modern Perth has grown out of recognition in size and character.
TURN TO CHAPTER ONE TO READ ABOUT MY OTHER BOOKS
THE WEBSITE OF AUTHOR JANET GOGERTY