Sally and I have just completed another 6-hour stint, working through the 256 submissions we received. We're having to be incredibly ruthless, saying no to some wonderful stories if there are several on a similar theme. For example, there were many which deal with the grim reality of the housing crisis, including street homelessness, elderly people going into care homes, refugees etc. We need to ensure a balance of subjects, tone and so on. Also, we're aware that there's a consensus that the next anthology should be shorter than the last one. It's really hard knowing how many good stories won't make it and how disappointed those authors will be.
A message from Sally: Sorry folks. This is a TOUGH selection process! But we are making progress and really thrilled with the sheer quality of so many stories. Thanks everyone for submitting. It's a privilege (if rather hard) to be faced with picking the cream of the crop.
Anyway, we have a core of an
amazing collection, with another group of stories that we would
like to put on the website - maybe one a week - but we're still
working through a long list and Sally is away for the next couple
of weeks. I'm afraid you're all going to have to carry on being
patient. Thanks for your support.
I did say somewhere that my previous railway blog would be the last, but having'finished' the thrid draft of my WIP I thought I'd catch my writing breath, as it were, with another one. Norton Fitzwarren was the most recent accident I've blogged about: this one is the earliest.
There are many paraphrases of Murphy's Law, but the one I think expresses it best goes 'If it's possible for something to go wrong, sooner or later it will go wrong.' The only trouble is, to take the appropriate precautions against things going wrong, you have first to be aware of the possibilities you're guarding against.
When we gasp in horror at the recklessness with which the railways were run in the early days, with an almost total lack of the safety precautions now considered essential, we should remember this. There were many dangers that simply never occurred to anyone until the accidents happened.
In the very early days the dangers (apart from boiler explosions, which, with the infant metallurgy of the times, were much commoner then than later) were minimal, because the first steam locomotives went little faster than walking pace, but by 1829 the 'Rocket' had got up to 30mph or so at the Rainhill trials. As the years went by and trains steadily got bigger and faster, the entire British railway network became an accident waiting to happen. It was only a matter of time before mishaps minor and not-so-minor would be put in the shade by an accident that would earn the name of disaster and shock the nation.
The London Brighton and South Coast Railway had the misfortune to host that accident, and with grim irony it happened at the one place on its system where a primitive effort at safety precautions was in force.
Like every other railway at the time, the LBSCR ran its trains on the time interval system: no train was supposed to pass any given point until a certain number of minutes had elapsed since the previous one. But the idea of a collision inside the one-and-a-half-mile length of Clayton Tunnel, where the Brighton to London main line passed under the South Downs, was so appalling that it was worked as a block section. In other words, no train was allowed to enter the tunnel until the last one had emerged from the other end.
This required co-operation between the signalmen at the north and south ends of the tunnel, and so a telegraph had been installed between the two boxes. It was a primitive device, only capable of sending pre-set messages, with a needle that moved to indicate which message had been sent. There were only three of them: 'Train in tunnel,' 'Tunnel clear,' and 'Is tunnel clear?'
There was a further precaution, a signal at each end that automatically returned to danger when the wheels of a passing train went over a treadle in the track. If it failed to do so, a bell rang in the signal-box.
Three telegraph messages and a pair of automatic signals: this appeared to be all that was necessary for safe operations. No doubt, no one had envisaged a scenario that would require more. That scenario occurred on Sunday 25 August 1861.
It's a busy morning at Brighton Station. Two extra trains have been scheduled to leave before the regular 8.30 express: an excursion from Portsmouth, due out at 8.05, and a Brighton to London excursion, due out at 8.15. Ten minutes and fifteen minutes. Nice safe intervals. Unfortunately, punctuality isn't the LBSCR's strong suit, and the Portsmouth train has taken its time getting from Portsmouth to Brighton. It's getting on for 8.30, and all three trains are still sitting in the station.
Assistant Stationmaster Legg is in a bit of a fluster. There's no point in sending out the 8.30 express on time, because it has a slower schedule and will hold up the two excursions. Anxious to avoid further delay, he dispatches the trains in an almighty hurry, in the order they're supposed to leave but not at the scheduled intervals. The Portsmouth excursion leaves at 8.28, the Brighton excursion at 8.31, and the express at 8.35. Three minutes and four minutes. Closer than the rules allow, dangerously close. And in the five miles or so of gentle uphill between Brighton Station and Clayton Tunnel there is every chance that at least two of them will close further on each other.
There are no workers' hours regulations in this year of grace 1861, and Signalman Killick at Clayton Tunnel South is working a twenty-four hour shift. Normally he 'only' works eighteen hours, but on Sundays he works round the clock to get a full day off later in the week. When the passage of the first train, the Portsmouth excursion, fails to return his automatic signal to danger, he doesn't react as quickly as he might have if he were fresh. By the time he has sent 'Train in tunnel' to Signalman Brown at the north end and looked out of his window, the second train, the Brighton excursion, is already passing the signal, which he hasn't got round to restoring manually to danger. And there is already a train in the tunnel.
Killick rushes out of his box waving a red flag, but the Brighton excursion carries on steaming and vanishes into the tunnel. Killick has no means of telling Brown that there are two trains in the tunnel. He can only send again the message 'Train in tunnel,' which he does.
But what now? Though the second train was still steaming the last he saw of it, it's possible that the driver saw Killick's red flag but didn't have time to react before the train went into the tunnel. Killick doesn't know whether he saw it or not. And he can't ask Brown how many trains have come out of the other end. The only question available to him is 'Is tunnel clear?' He sends it.
At the north end of the tunnel Signalman Brown is puzzled. He has received in quick succession the messages 'Train in tunnel,' 'Train in tunnel' again, and 'Is tunnel clear?' What's going on? It doesn't occur to him that there are two trains in the tunnel at the same time. There's a signal, and Killick with his flags, at the other end to prevent that. Maybe the second 'Tunnel clear' message was a mistake.
So when, almost as soon as he has received that third message, a train comes out of the tunnel and steams past his box, he replies to Killick's enquiry with 'Tunnel clear.'
At that moment the third train, the 8.30 express, is passing the defective signal at the south end, which is still showing clear. Receiving Brown's message 'Tunnel clear,' Killick heaves a sigh of relief, puts away his red flag, and waves a white one, the accepted indication for 'All clear' (green being some way off in the future). It is a fatal mistake. The train Brown saw was the first one, the Portsmouth excursion. What has happened to the second one, the one Brown was unaware of because Killick couldn't tell him about it?
If Driver Scott on that second train, the Brighton excursion, carries on through the tunnel, all will still be well. Even if he does get even closer to the train in front, that can be sorted out further down the line. But he has seen that red flag, and he decides he'd better stop. With only handbrakes to slow it, the train has gone about half-a-mile into the tunnel before it comes to rest. And now Scott too makes a fatal mistake.
Scott has seen contrary indications, a clear signal and a red flag, as he approached the tunnel. Something's wrong, and he wants to know what it is. The safe and sensible thing to do would be to sit tight where he is and send his guard back along the track to have a word with the signalman and warn any oncoming train, but he wants to have that word himself. It's not as if another train will be allowed into the tunnel until his own has cleared it. He begins to reverse his train out of the tunnel.
On the third train Driver Gregory has seen nothing to suggest that anything is wrong, but he is keeping a sharp lookout nonetheless. He hasn't gone far into the tunnel before he sees lights ahead of him in the murk, where no lights should be. With a swiftness that will earn him a commendation at the enquiry, he throws his engine into reverse and screws down his tender handbrake, but the other train is too close and it's not enough. The results are perhaps best left to the imagination.
Twenty-three people died and no less than 176 were injured. The casualties would have been much worse but for two factors: Driver Gregory's quick reactions and the flimsy open-sided carriages of the excursion, which resulted in many people who might have been crushed in the wreckage being thrown out into the tunnel instead. Fortunately Gregory himself was only slightly injured, and his fireman escaped injury altogether.
Public opinion was profoundly shocked by the accident, and its occurrence on a Sunday inspired many a hell-fire sermon, but the fact that it occurred on the only block section of the line did little to advance the cause of safer signalling. Assistant Stationmaster Legg's actions in dispatching three trains at such brief intervals (and against the rules) were found to be reckless, and they were indeed the primary cause of the accident, by not giving Signalman Killick enough time between trains to react to the emergency facing him. Legg was charged with manslaughter, but the jury threw out the indictment.
Amazingly, Driver Scott got away with his undoubtedly reckless reversal of his train. John Chester Craven, the LBSCR's Locomotive Superintendent at the time, was a fearsome character (the late railway author Hamilton Ellis once wrote that 'there was many a dry eye in Brighton Works when he took his hat down from the peg for the last time'), but his harshness towards his subordinates was matched by his ferocity in defending his department against accusations from outside, and his forceful arguments carried the day.
Both Killick and Brown escaped serious censure. There had been simple misunderstandings caused by the inadequate equipment they had to work with, and furthermore Killick's being forced to work a twenty-four hour shift to get a day off was castigated as 'disgraceful.' Yes, even in 1861. The crowning irony was that if Killick hadn't waved that red flag the accident wouldn't have happened, but he could hardly be criticised for trying to stop a train from going where it wasn't supposed to go.
The Clayton Tunnel disaster has had an eerie resonance down the years since. The tunnel has a reputation of being haunted: at times, it is said, you may hear the cries and groans of the wounded echoing from the tunnel mouth. The cottage that perches on top of the elaborately castellated north portal (insisted upon by the owner of the land on which it was built) is also said to be haunted. And Charles Dickens' creepily atmospheric ghost story 'The Signalman,' still probably the most famous English story ever written about railways, was almost certainly inspired by the accident.
My mother worked at a supermarket in Walsall, Staffordshire as it was then, County of West Midlands as it is now. Both of my parents worked on Saturdays. My father’s place seemed to be on a permanent six day week – those were happier times. When I was very young I used to stay with my grandmother on Saturday, but as I got older my mother used to take me to work with her. I was allowed to help out at the back of the store, fetching stock etc. Again, happier times.
I also used to wander outside a bit. In the middle of the town there was, and still is, a statue of Sister Dora. I asked my grandmother who Sister Dora was. All she said was that she was a great lady, perhaps that’s all she knew.
So, who was Sister Dora? She was born Dorothy Wyndlow Pattison on 16 January 1832 at Hauxwell, North Yorkshire. The 11th child of a brood of twelve. Her childhood was, apparently, one of gentle neglect as was the way in Victorian times, happy enough as these things go. Back then children were not the centre of everything quite as now. Engaged twice both engagements were broken, I don’t know why but I assume that one way or another men disappointed her, at least as romantic prospects.
She left home to become a teacher in Buckinghamshire. Subsequently she joined the Christ Church Sisterhood, becoming a kind of Anglican nun (I don’t know how these things work) and came to Walsall to work at the tiny little hospital. She would have gone to the Crimea with Florence Nightingale’s lot, but circumstances, principally her father, prevented her.
She had found her place, it seems in Walsall. The rest of her life was spent there. With all Victorian industrial towns there was no shortage of accidents and injuries and at the heart of the Black Country Walsall was a prime example. In particular there was a steady stream of injured railwaymen, although no single major incident. When the pit flooded in Pelsall, a great mining disaster, she was there working tirelessly and was credited with saving the lives of some of the few survivors.
The railwaymen came to love her unreservedly, they always did better with her. They clubbed together, raising £50 to buy a pony and trap so that she could more easily get about the town to visit the sick and housebound.
She believed in nursing as the way to recovery and was as dedicated as they come. For a time Walsall boasted a better recovery rate than the big hospitals in London. Another disaster, a furnace explosion at an iron foundry produced several men “covered in molten metal”. The ward was so dreadful, with the stench of charred flesh and screams of pain that most of the staff couldn’t bear it. Except Sister Dora, who simply upped herself to 24/7. I don’t know if any of the injured survived, but she must have made their passing easier.
There’s no doubt that she was deeply religious and prayed a lot. But unlike some of that persuasion she didn’t leave it up to god. There’s a story of a young man, his arm crushed in some industrial incident. The doctor wanted to amputate yet she refused; physically blocking the doctor. She nursed that arm, changed the dressings and fought off the infection. The arm was not only saved, it worked again. Throughout his life he referred to it as “Sister’s Arm”.
Near to where my grandmother’s house was, there’s a street called Hospital Street. It was previously called Deadman’s Lane. It’s where Dora set up an isolation unit during a smallpox epidemic. She was the only one who willingly entered the place. In a year some 12,000 smallpox victims passed through. Yet she was never infected. The strain of this might be what triggered the breast cancer that eventually got her. I suspect the name change had something to do with her, but I don’t know that.
She planned and caused the building of the Walsall General hospital, later called The Sister Dora. It’s gone now, but my father had surgery for his stomach ulcer and celebrated the first of his heart attacks within those walls.
That statue, apparently it was the first in Britain to be erected to a woman that was not in some way royally connected. Originally of marble, it was later replaced by the cast bronze that stands today.
The railwaymen. When she died, Christmas eve 1878, she was carried to her final resting place by 18 drivers, porters and guards all in uniform. Thousands lined the streets as her coffin passed. And they weren’t finished. A locomotive named Sister Dora (a Precedent Class 2-4-0, No 2158 – for the rail enthusiasts among us) ran between Derby and Walsall from 1895 until around 1906. Apparently the loco was scrapped in the 1920s. The driver's name was Charles Sayer and they say that he wouldn’t let anyone else near her, even to the extent of eating his lunch at the footplate rather than the mess at the Rycroft sheds. And again in 1988, over a hundred years after her death, they were at it again. A committee was formed to get a new loco named after her. This was successful and a class 31 diesel locomotive rolled around the country bearing her name for another while.
For me, the most remarkable thing is this. My mother died in the Manor hospital in Walsall. This is the newer hospital that replaced the Sister Dora. Even there, there is a unit named for her. The Manor did not have a good reputation and it was known as a place to die. Many people were happy when it was eventually demolished and rebuilt, taking away whatever incipient infection ailed the place.
But what I remember is waiting in the corridor for visiting. People were discussing how Sister Dora had watched over the old hospital and that things were never the same since they closed it. This was 2007, 129 years after Sister Dora died!
If that’s what immortality is, then fair enough.
(Excuse a second blog in quick succession, but, to my mind, this follows directly on.)
Born in the deep midwinter snows of 1947, 2017 therefore marks the passing of seven decades of being me and, hopefully, I have gained wisdom as I’ve aged through these years. Since the milestone birthday, early mornings have found me lying in a half-awake state reflecting on the past as I hastily push away any black thoughts of time passing too quickly; time running out. We can, after all, only live in the present and try to make the most of each day we are given. But I have enjoyed living in the past for a while and have felt a sense of warmth and gratitude for the love and friendship that have always been there for me.
In this world of rapid change, the global dark side is all too present still, with wars, atrocities and natural disasters. Each of us goes through our own challenging, stressful, sad or, perhaps, tragic times when it is not possible to appreciate the simple pleasures of life or remember the good times. However, on my trips down memory lane it was the simple pleasures which came to the fore with the bad times fading into the background. The perfume of a beautiful rose; the song of a blackbird or sunshine after a storm are cherished. The cry of a newborn; the laughter of children at play; a rainbow are all to be treasured.
Cat Stevens sang about remembering the days of the old schoolyard – “‘we used to laugh a lot; we had imaginings; we had simplicity”. I do remember and I also remember the trepidation of the first day at school and the distinctive smell of newly polished floors and chalk; trepidation which was soon replaced by a love of reading and writing which has remained with me throughout the decades.
Many other memories have come flooding back of the first ten years of childhood, when I grew from a shy little girl who was happy playing and imagining by herself in her father’s garden, to a confident ten year old with friends, ready to go forth into a more expansive future. There were the pre-school days when I followed in my father’s shadow as he worked in his garden learning from his actions and observing nature. There were, too, the weekly visits on the bus into town with my mother; the fascinating sights and sounds of the colourful market and the enchantment of the ephemeral balloon on a stick which was always my treat. During those years, a third sister was born and we were all gifted with the beginning of a life-long close relationship with one another. For our family holiday week each year we travelled with Mum and Dad by steam train to the seaside and no crowded airport and tightly packed aeroplane going to far-flung places can ever compete with the excitement and magical sounds, smells and sights of our train journeys. In those days when violent crime was not so widespread, we enjoyed freedom to play and explore our environment on our own. Parents were confidently able to give us ‘roots and wings’.
Tempus Fugit and, when I was eleven, we moved to another part of the country where I experienced the ups and downs of secondary education and the hormonal upheavals of puberty. Yet it is the good times with close friends which remain uppermost in my mind. The images are plainly recalled. We still had our freedoms and could indulge our dawning interest in the opposite sex, although the ‘Swinging Sixties’ were slow to reach our community! Aged seventeen, I met my future husband and began to enjoy shared life as a couple. Life remained uncomplicated and we embraced the simple pleasures of dancing, walks in the park or trips to the countryside and coast in his car.
The next decade, my twenties, saw my first ever holiday abroad and my first aeroplane journey giving me a sense of real adventure, unlike the jaded resignation I feel about air travel nowadays. This decade also brought many significant changes, not least marriage and our first tour on the island of Cyprus. They were heady times full of youthful laughter and a zest for life. They were full of hope and anticipation. Being caught up in the Cyprus Troubles of 1974 could not diminish the deep joy of becoming a mother. Watching our son exploring his world with freshness and wonder enabled the reliving of our own childhoods. It was good to enjoy again with him the fun of collecting beautiful shells, frolicking in the sea or running carefree in wild meadows.
Later decades brought me a different type of satisfaction as I furthered my education and retrained and I began writing in earnest. Empty nest syndrome descended; further bereavements and illness were experienced, but comfort was found as we gardened, created meals in the kitchen, spent quiet times with friends and family or holidayed as a couple once more. There was pride and joy to be found in our son’s achievements and his gift of choral singing.
The seventh decade all too soon arrived, but it also brought the welcome arrival of grandsons. As they go about their explorations and learning, we, too, are able to view the world again with fresh eyes. Once more I can enjoy a writerly delight in making up simple stories and silly rhymes.
Who knows what this eighth decade might bring for me, but, whatever, I hope not to lose childlike awe and appreciation of the simple pleasures of life. After all, the name Jill apparently means ‘Forever Young’.
This is for Dave and Daedalus who have both seen the film of ‘Rosencrantz &Guildenstern Are Dead’ . It is an attempt to persuade Dave that the film and play are more substantial than Marmite. I watched the film again, a few nights ago. it does seem rather different in construction to the play. There was a revival of the stage play about four years ago but I cannot remember the event in much detail. I might well have got things completely wrong. If you intend to see the live feed of the play, then this might be a spoiler. I think, if you do not know Hamlet, or go to the theatre, the film might not make a lot of sense. But the jury is out on this.
There are Stoppardian plots in the film ‘Shakespeare in Love‘ I do not think Stoppard wrote this film. According to the wiki, he is co-author with someone else. I saw a stage version a few years ago which was written by somebody completely different.
The film of ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’ begins with two characters crossing a mountain path in a desolate, rocky landscape. One character tosses a coin which continually lands upon its head.. They enter a forest and it quickly emerges that they suffer from an identity crisis. All they know about themselves is that they have been invited to a court. All the information they have been given, is a few phrases from Shakespeare - the words on the page. This is all we know too. They are minor characters with very few lines. As the film progresses - and they are given a few more lines - they have more to work upon. They view the play from the wings, from behind curtains, and hear whispers etc. The film is rather sinister compared with the play. Stoppard uses this to comic, and sad effect. At their first meeting with Claudius and the court, the couple seguey from normal speak to Shakespeare speak. But the court soon vanishes and they are left to their philosophical musings. They have not much to do in the wings. Guildenstern does grasp Newtonian physics and, in a scene with a coffin, Stoppard might have gone further and investigated quantum theory, but I am not sure about this, I cannot remember, but I do not recall this being in the play.
But, back to the forest. A traveling troupe of players in some sort of gipsy caravan join the trail and now Stoppard - who wrote and directed the film himself - performs a series of conjuring tricks. The film is like one of those Russian dolls, which when opened, reveals smaller and smaller dolls inside. These dolls/plays are variations of both Hamlet and the sub plot -the play within the play. I do not recall that the stage play allows for this, At one point the hapless couple enter the play though falling down a trapdoor and emerge, as it were, on the main stage though a hatch, which Claudius promptly slams shut on their faces. At the end of the film the gipsy wagon closes itself on the play. The wagon then continues on its way down the trail. In my opinion it is a pity that Stoppard had not directed more films.
Of course, the play I saw four years ago might be different to the play I saw in 1975, and different to the play now in performance at the Old Vic. This may seem a bit odd, but I saw a recent production of Hedder Gabbler which had a very tenuous link with Ibsen. The play had characters with the same names as in the Ibsen play, and there was a remarkable similarity in the plot. But this was about all. As the play was a live feed, the director was interviewed during the interval, and he confessed that he wanted the play to be as far removed from Ibsen as it was possible to be. He certainly achieved his object. I booked to see a Moliere play tonight and, sadly, glanced, at a review this morning, which was a mistake. It is a Blackadder version of Moliere. But I will still go. (I usually do not read reviews at all, and go to previews because the seats can be less expensive) All the bad reviews mean is that I might have got a better stall seat later in the run, as less people will want to see it. (I’ve got a stall seat with a slightly restricted view.)
The orange monstrosity went up in a day. When I looked out my bedroom window in the morning, my view was the same as the past twenty years: neighbor’s gardens, some trees, and a patchwork of roofs, mostly small houses interspaced by the odd apartment building, none more than 5 stories high. The rounded, silver roof to the left covered the apartment of an acquaintance, Anna, whose three children are the ages of mine. The terracotta tiles facing Anna’s roof grace Sylvie and Fred’s house, a couple with whom we often share vacations. Each roof I see has a story tied to it, some real, some that I’ve projected over the years. The cute little yellow house with the green trimming and orange roses must belong to a little old lady, whom I call Françoise. In all, a comforting, familiar view.
And then came the crane.
Its arrival was inevitable. An old garage and derelict building had been torn down and huge panels announcing the arrival of the BEST of apartment buildings had started popping up all over town. A temporary sales office had risen overnight next to the gymnasium. An ugly little thing, plastered with pictures of the building to come. Yet nothing prepared me for the emotional shock when I looked out the window before going to bed, and seeing The Crane, towering over my rooftops, on Anna and Sylvie’s street. Close enough to fall on any of our houses. Surely a public menace.
Oh how I hated that crane. My morning view was no longer filled with peace, but anger, not just at the crane but at everything it symbolized. Rampant construction. The destruction of small, personally-owned houses to benefit large corporations and banks. The torn down garage and small apartment building hadn’t been aesthetic – far from it - but they’d had their individual histories and a few interesting architectural details. A faceless building with its cold, contemporary façade would be going up in their stead.
The morning after the crane arrived I dropped my son off at school and, instead of walking straight home, I looped around to the crane’s street to see it close up. From the sidewalk it was scant yards away and I stopped, head tilted, neck creaking, to watch the orange arm swing back in forth in front in the grey Parisian sky.
The crane’s presence went beyond its towering column. At night, depending on how it had been parked, its warning lights would blink bright white and red, flashing into the bedroom until the curtains were drawn. In the morning, the lights were replaced by a loud horn, indicating to everyone within a thousand square miles that it was ready to tackle a new day of craning.
The morning crane horn quietly slipped into my daily ritual as it sounded at eight a.m., when I had to be showered and dressed and ready to bring the little one to school. Thanks to the horn, I no longer had to keep an eye on the clock, as some perfect stranger was reminding me, day in, day out, that I had to hurry up. I began winning the morning “getting ready before the horn” race more often, as I wanted to take the time to watch the crane operator walk up the stories and stories of ladders leading up to the cab hanging off the crane’s upper arm. He never walked up all at once but took his time, stopping at various platforms to take in the construction site and the view ,which must have included the sun rising over the Seine, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre and La Défense. Not bad at all.
I began to appreciate this operator, this man who took time to watch the world. After a few months, when he paused on a platform and looked in my direction, I chanced a wave from the bathroom window. He waved back. And thus started the daily wave.
I continued my morning walk in front of the construction site, and noted that the crane was key to everything that was done. It lifted tubs of dirt from the excavations and brought concrete for the foundations. As the building inched upwards it carried metal and beams and windows, lifting and turning and setting things down. Rain or shine. The horn wasn’t just used in the morning, but during the day, as a means of communication to the rest of the team. I assumed the tiny little bursts were an “all is well”, but now and then I’d hear long blows which could only be warnings followed by shouting and activity as the workers fixed whatever the problem was.
Six months passed and spring arrived. I spent more time in the garden, tending to whatever my daughter’s chickens hadn’t eaten or torn up, the crane a constant presence. One day the cabin was facing the house, and I waved from the ground. The crane gave me a tiny horn blow in return. Over the spring and summer my first reflex upon entering or leaving the house was to look up at the crane, finding reassurance in the operator’s presence in the sky. Far from being spied open, I felt a magnanimous presence, and his frequent, friendly honks reminded me that he was looking over me. Fall came around. The building’s concrete structure was finished and the crane’s loads shifted to insulation, drywall and crates of tiles.
On a grey October day I dropped off my son at school and, as usual, went to check out the construction site only to be blocked by a huge truck with flashing lights. The street was closed and I back-tracked and buried myself in work for a few hours before leaving for a business meeting. I stepped into the garden and stopped up short. The crane had been decapitated. Gone was the long orange arm that swung around, gone was the cabin, gone were the blinking lights, gone the horn. And gone the operator. All that remained was the main column and by the time I returned from my meeting even that had vanished. The giant truck had left and the street was open to circulation. My crane had disappeared.
The following morning I looked out of the bathroom window and saw only the new, huge building with its empty windows. My pre-crane life started again, without the horn to race against, without a small figure to wave to. It took a few weeks for my morning emptiness to dissipate, but it finally did. It was just a crane, after all.
I’ve grown fond of my morning walk and still pass by the construction site every morning. The building’s been painted and the protective plastic sheeting removed from the windows. It won’t be long now before rental trucks arrive, spilling out families and furniture. They’ll be starting new chapters in their lives while, elsewhere, other cranes rise.
Baz's competition about openings is well worth a go. It's being taken seriously, which is as it should be. So, off you go and post your opening.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I felt it might be time for a bit of the ridiculous. We have done this before, although not for a while, unless I missed it. Think up a single opening line that is guaranteed to make the reader read on. And, although it isn't an absolute requirement (no-one can control where a blog goes), points will be awarded for the preposterous. This is purely for the fun of it.
As this is a single line thing, if it gets any interest your opening line is almost certain to appear on the front page in full unconcealed glory. Can I therefore ask, nay beg, that profanity is moderated or ****ed if you must have it.
My own, to kick off:
"They called him Bog Brush because his backside was so big that no-one could work out how he wiped it"
Writing, Sea Caves and Cyclamen
In the Spring of 1973, wild cyclamen carpeted the hills at Amathus, Cyprus, a place associated with Richard the Lionheart and his Queen Berengaria. Under blue skies and with the soft rhythms of the Mediterranean as a backdrop, it was a delight to wander amongst the tiny flowers and archaeological remains. I included this experience in an article submitted for my first writing course more years ago than I care to remember. We had just returned then from living for a second time on the island and its beauties were still fresh in my mind.
I was a mere twenty-five in 1972 when we first landed in Cyprus for a three year tour, with my husband working alongside the military. We looked forward to experiencing another culture and way of life and for almost two years, the lovely island of Cyprus, known as The Island of Love because it is the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite, did not disappoint.
The Troubles of 1974, during which our son was born prematurely, resulted in evacuation back to England along with hundreds of other service families and our personal store of memories. We had made both Greek and Turkish Cypriot friends and also felt a great affinity with the island. For us the Turkish Invasion was a trauma, but it was a tragic time for so many Cypriots with the loss of their homes and family members in the fighting.
We returned to a now sadly divided island in 1977 for another three year tour, accumulating more friends, experiences and memories during this time and I shed tears in the taxi on the way to catch our flight back to England. We were not to revisit Cyprus again, for a holiday, until our son went off to university and we carried on holidaying there for several years,, each time feeling as though we had returned to our second homeland and each time exploring the coast and mountains to the full. On every visit we noticed more development - so called progress – but the countryside remained largely unchanged and just as beautiful, with cyclamen and other wild flowers still there to be enjoyed and appreciated.
After a break of eleven years, we flew off to Cyprus at the end of last month for a special holiday to celebrate my seventieth birthday, visiting old haunts and also mountain villages we had not found previously. We met up with old friends and reminisced over a meze in a traditional family-owned taverna. Age has changed us physically; we have all mellowed, but are in essence the same people and greeted one another as though it was only yesterday. There has, of course, been a great deal more change and development in the resorts and towns since our last holiday there, but the countryside and mountains continue to be a delight to visit, with roads vastly improved in the interim. Amathus is now an official neat archaeological site for tourists and I spotted no cyclamen, but the countryside generally was lush this Spring with masses of fields filled with bright and cheerful yellow wild flowers.
One morning we visited a spot overlooking sea caves and I stood reflecting on how Cyprus is an important and integral part of our life history and how it and our experiences seem to have influenced much of my writing over the years. In particular, my ‘opus’ in which Lucy’s secret hideaway is a sea cave and the location from where she is able to enter a parallel world – an island on which she eventually finds her birth mother.
Having not written for a long time, nor carried on with the process of submission, I felt compelled to write this blog this morning. Maybe our return to the island which I feel is such a part of me, combined with the start of my next decade have shifted something inside? Maybe by reconnecting with the rich Cyprus soil and my younger self I have recaptured the writer within I have always felt myself to be? Time marches on and time will tell.