Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The bigger picture.

Tony was called up during the first days of World War 2 and sent to Norway. He was eighteen with prominent teeth and a concave chest. Apart from summer holidays at Broadstairs, he’d never been outside Rotherhithe before and the sea voyage, despite the U-boat threat, entranced him.

Not very long after they had landed, they sat Tony beside a fjord with a Carr’s anti-tank rifle and told him to cover their retreat. A column of Panzer tanks was imminent and it was his job to hold them up. He left with a very small quantity of chocolate, even less ammunition and an encouraging pat on his helmet.

He lay there in the glorious sunshine, his anti-tank rifled trained on a distant bend in the road around which the first Panzer tank would soon rumble, and thought how wonderful the morning was. The air was crystal clear, the waters glittered and a soft breeze rustled through the green, clean grass.

A roly-poly famer’s wife appeared round the distant bend in the road with a cow on a halter. Tony listened to the tinkling of its bell on the wind and averted his aim. He hoped she would be well clear before the Panzers arrived, and then tried not to think about the Panzers at all.

As the farmer’s wife and the cow made their way slowly towards him he could see she had an affable smile on her face, to match the morning. He wondered if he should say something as she passed. Something sociable, to dissipate the tension in him, the fear he couldn’t quite acknowledge

As she drew near he shouted over a polite if nervous, “Good morning!”

“Bollocks!” she called out genially. Then, having observed the necessary proprieties, she walked on, leaving Tony waiting for the Panzers.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Stereotypical drama.

When the bombardment finally stopped the mud still seemed to churn and shift. Corporal Alfie Parsons smiled grimly at this from the bottom of his dugout. He was probably the only man to suffer sea sickness ten or twenty miles inland. He certainly seemed to be the only man alive in his trench. He watched his hands stop shaking then after tidying up a dragging puttee he crawled out into the main alley to see if any of Ypres remained.

Cruelly, it was a beautiful sunny day. A light breeze played on the shattered mud-smeared world around him and plucked at the twisted limbs of the raggedy dead and the splintered wood and tangled wire of their failed defences.

He looked instinctively up at the outer wall, in case the Hun were about to fall upon him, and gasped aloud as a butterfly fluttered into land on top of a shrapnel pocked periscope. Its breathtaking beauty and open fragility stilled the earth beneath Corporal Alfie Parsons. Tears welled in his eyes as he reached out to cup the unattainable.

He felt it flutter and then settle in the doting prison of his fingers and drew it to his grimy face. To breath in its innocence before freeing it.

A sniper’s bullet entered his clavicle and ricocheted amongst his ribs. Corporal Alfie Parsons retched out gouts of blood and sank to his knees. The butterfly resettled on some nearby cable. The trench was retaken by evening.

(Arnhem, Naesby, Im Jim, Khe San,Waterloo, booby trap ulster, baggage train at Agincourt)

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Disasters narrowly averted

Click on picture to enlarge.

When Julian jumped in front of the train, he felt a great sense of release. He had considered his life at length. He’d run through his prospects, his relationship with other people at work, the dim light in which he was held by his family, the exaggerated absence of his sex life, his incompetence at any kind of social endeavour, sport, hobby or pastime. Above all, the boredom that ravaged him from the moment he got up to face the meaningless selection of a variety breakfast cereal.

Each day, from the moment he opened his eyes, his life went down hill, inevitably, interminably, irrevocably. It was beyond his understanding, and beyond his control.

Now, for once, he was going to take control of the one aspect of it that remained in his power. He was going to cease breathing. The rest could do as it liked.

He pondered the methods open to him. He’d heard alcohol and pills could be both agonising and unreliable. He was far too squeamish to try cutting anything, and he couldn’t afford to fly to some clinic in Switzerland, to say he was feeling terminal. Finally, he decided on a Central Line train coming into North Acton station. Access was easy. The platforms were low, so there wasn’t far to jump. And it would be quick.

He bought a ticket to Holborn, so as not to arouse suspicion, went down to the eastbound platform, waited for fifteen minutes and then, as the train arrived, he jumped.

The train stopped short. Everybody stared. Now he was in real trouble.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Thwarted dreams 2

Colin would sit in the back of the classroom and disembowel Mr Stewart. Mr Stewart would plead and whimper but to no avail until the lump of chalk bounced off Colin’s head returning him to the terror and humiliation of Mr Stewart’s maths class.

Mr Stewart frightened Colin into a maths qualification. Two years later, Colin left for University where he took a First in modern languages. He was haunted throughout by paralysing flashbacks of Mr Stewart ,the fear before his lessons, the rages during, the scornful disregard in the playground.

Colin knew he would only find peace if he returned and exorcised the monster. He had to reduce him to a cowering old man in front of his current charges, thus saving them and salving his own soul. After two years he got the pluck to do it.

The return was not what he’d envisaged. The school was somehow smaller. The staff room was shabby, the younger staff surly and the older staff sheepish, as if they didn’t want him to see them like this – not grown ups but abandoned in term time.

“Colin! You’ve come back to see us,” Mr Stewart rushed towards him joyfully

Colin rehearsed his cold eyed condemnation as Mr Steward hustled him to the staffroom kettle, elbowing a geographer aside. “I had to be so beastly to you, didn’t I?” He winced at the memory, “But every college wanted maths, didn’t they? Even for you poets.” He fixed Colin with a soft, indulgent smile, “And we had such hopes for you, you talented man.”

He patted Colin on the knee and sat down. “Please, tell an old crock all the wonderful things you’re going to do now.”

So Colin put down the disembowelling hook and started to outline his plans.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Thwarted dreams 1

Terry Bremner had always wanted to escape the family business, a butcher's shop, and because he had always been good with figures, he decided he could make a go of it as an accountant.

So he moved to a different town and worked for the Parks Department, and took evening classes in accountancy with people who - he was happy to note - came from all walks of life.

After two terms however, Terry's father died, and he had to return to the shop to oversee the funeral arrangements and put the Estate in order. There he found that the business was in such a mess and his mother in so distraught a condition that he was obliged to postpone his progress towards certification and turn himself to breathing new life into "Bremner's, The Family Butchers".

By the time the business was red-blooded and his mother laid to rest, Terry had quite forgotten how to do anything else. His time was more than taken up.

However he married reasonably well, had two children (girls), and drank rather more single malt whisky than his wife thought was good for him.