Competition Winners

Marjorie Green Fiction Competition – 2021

Congratulations to Bec Tonks who won this year’s fiction competition, on the theme ‘Once Upon a Time…a fairy tale for grown ups’.

Bec was awarded the Marjorie Green trophy for her fantastic story entitled, ‘The Tomlin Brothers’, a tale about a local detective called Jax and her cat, Mr Frizzle. Bec’s poignant story can be viewed below:

Well done to Bec and to all entrants for their wonderful stories.

Bec Tonks receiving the Marjorie Green fiction trophy at WWC’s Christmas Social event in December 2021

The Tomlin Brothers – by Bec Tonks

In the beginning, dark and cold. Noise so loud and everywhere despair. Then silence, so quiet his ears hurt. Make it stop, get out. Go up, throw down… closing in, closed.

There it was again, the rustling from above, preventing Jax from sleep. She knew as soon as the clock rotated to midnight it would start. Mr Frizzle had told her so. Mr Frizzle was Jax’s cat, not by choice but it had transpired they were meant to be in each other’s world. She had found him as a fluff ball behind the bins and didn’t have it in her heart to leave him at the rescue centre. Even more surprising was that this little fur ball had a voice and would converse with her. Jax didn’t tell anyone this. As the local detective, the last thing she needed was a question mark over her sanity.

With unease, Jax pulled her weary bones from the warmth of her bed and threw on her puffer coat. The seasons were amidst hand over with the little heat left from summer carrying a chill and a promise of colder autumn days ahead. Climbing out the window and onto the terrace balcony, she could hear the sound that had disturbed her. Mr Frizzle hopped past her leg making Jax jump.

“Easy boy! Remember, I’ve not got your nine lives”.

“Neither did he…” responded Mr Frizzle.

Jax followed the little cat’s hop up the roof ladder with her eyes. On the peak of the apartment block appeared to be a young man. Not so young as to still be a boy but there was a youthfulness to the slump of his body. He was like a soul hard done to. The more alarming thing, however, was that this person was made of a mist that had an aura that glowed like a sorrowful rope around him. To anyone else this would have been an unbelievable and frightful sight but to a detective used to a talking cat, not so much. Also, Jax’s time on the force had meant she was practically unshockable.

Jax began to climb the roof ladder. The young man watched as she got closer. She wasn’t sure what she was doing or even if she was fully awake but as she was now out of bed, there didn’t seem like an alternative. Mr Frizzle reached the top of the roof first. Jax figured if her cat was happy to go near then she should too.

“Who are you and what are you doing up here?” she asked.

“My name is Tom and I’m protecting you from the Darkness,” said the man.

Mr Frizzle, now positioned between Jax and Tom looked down to the streets below and asked what was meant by Darkness?

The Darkness was what Tom feared the most and it was this that drew him back to the rooftop every midnight to keep watch. He told them that he watched it swirl through the streets below every night and worried if he did not keep watch it would creep back up to the apartment. The Darkness was an evil that couldn’t always be seen. “It creeps around and crawls its way into a soul,” said Tom. Jax was silent as she absorbed all she had heard. Mr Frizzle hopped on to her lap. “He’s going now” he purred. Like a leaf in an autumn breeze, Tom slowly dispersed and blew away.

Dressed, booted, and heading to the station, it had barely been an hour since Jax’s rooftop ghostly exchange, and she couldn’t shift the feeling of a crime that needed solving. Who was Tom, was he even real and what was the Darkness? Whatever the answer to these questions, Jax knew she needed to get her sleep back and wouldn’t get that until she tackled this head on. Opening her laptop, she pulled up the residency log for her apartment block and search for ‘Tom’. Jax was about to give up when she noticed a joint tenancy agreement in her neighbouring flat to a Mr Freddy and Mr William Tomlin, brothers. There was no further detail, but she knew in her gut that this was connected to her ghost.

On returning home after a heavy twelve-hour shift, Jax found the landlady Rosemary sweeping the stairs.

“Ah, here she is, the star of our block! You lock away anymore scum today, Miss?”

“Not today, Rose, all’s quiet out there on the streets for a change!” replied Jax. “Actually, I’ve been wondering about my neighbours on the top floor, you know much about ‘em?”

Rosemary looking a bit confused, informed Jax that the apartment was now empty. It had been since the awful sadness regarding the Tomlin brothers.

“Sad, sad business broke me heart that did” whispered Rosemary.

It turned out that the brothers had been caught in a tragic road accident which had killed Freddy. William had never got over it.

That night Jax didn’t go to sleep. “Tom’s back” announced Mr Frizzle as he jumped onto her bed. Moments later the mumbling began again. He was waiting on the roof.

The sky was bright with what felt like a hundred blinking eyes. Without a cloud above, the air was fresh and felt vast. Below them there was the low humming of late-night travellers going about their own business in the more hushed manner associated with the middle of the night. This is where Tom’s eyes were fixed, looking down as if counting ants in an urban garden.

Jax and Mr Frizzle moved closer and settled down on the roof edge. Mr Frizzle spoke first, “is the Darkness back again?”. Tom simply nodded. He appeared tired and his sadness heavier. They sat in silence for what felt like a lifetime until Mr Frizzle began to hum an old nursery rhyme. This got Tom’s attention. “My brother used to love that tune. When he was little, he would fall to sleep as I sang to him. We shared a bedroom, and he was often scared of the dark”. A fleeting lightness filled Tom’s face as he spoke, but it soon disappeared as he came back to the present.

The talking cat moved closer to the ghost. “This is Mr Frizzle” stated Jax in an attempt to fill the silence that now hung over them. Tom’s expression immediately changed.

“Mr Frizzle? My brother’s nickname was Freddy Frizzle on account of his curly hair” announced Tom.

Jax was taken aback. She was sure that the ghost before her was Freddy Tomlin, the younger brother that had died in the tragic road collision. It had never occurred to her that this soul in front of her would be William Tomlin ‘Tom’. It was then the realisation hit and she knew what was meant by the Darkness. Jax recalled in her mind the station therapist saying, “acceptance of trauma is the path to recovery”. With a steady tone, she began to enquire about the ghost’s brother Freddy.

As the older brother, Tom felt he had failed his younger sibling by being the one to survive the accident and he felt terribly guilty and alone. His emotions then turned to fear as the Darkness crept in. He remembered climbing on the roof to escape the evil that taunted him and since then he kept finding himself in the same place at the stroke of midnight.

With this Mr Frizzle drew nearer and spoke in a manner that Jax had not heard from the little cat before.

“You may have felt alone Tom, but I never truly left you. You are my brother and my best friend, and I very much hoped I would be able to save you. On leaving my body, my soul could not leave without making sure you were well. This furry shell that I found behind the bins gave me a chance to be near you when Jax took me in.”

Jax’s heart swelled as she realised why this little cat could talk and why it had stayed near to her from that day. She worried now that Mr Frizzle, Freddy was too late, but Tom was smiling. The gloom that had clung to the soul on the roof seemed to be less heavy. The mood had shifted and the lights in the sky became large and bright. Jax knew then that there was no crime here to be solved but more a loneliness to be filled and forgiveness to be found. Forgiveness not to others but to oneself. This love was pure and peaceful.

Mr Frizzle stood up, “come on William, it is time we both joined the Twinkle, Twinkle Stars”.

Jax watched as the star dust swirled before her and lifted to the night sky before the air settled and the chill didn’t feel quite so fresh. The little cat next to her hopped into her lap and the only dilemma she now had was to find it a new name.

Fiction and Non-fiction Competitions – 2020

Congratulations to our members, Alan Cash and Gary Smith, who are the most recent winners of our fiction and non-fiction competitions.

Alan was the winner of the fiction competition in December 2020, which invited short stories on the theme of ‘Spirit’. Alan’s story, entitled ‘Airs Above the Ground’, is a chilling ghost story set on a lonely hill above Glenforsa on the isle of Mull. After calling out mountain rescue following a mysterious discovery, Douglas and his dog, Jeff, encounter some eerie goings on. An excellent piece and a worthy winner. Alan was awarded the ‘Marjorie Green fiction competition trophy’.

Gary was the winner of this year’s non-fiction competition on the theme of ‘Food’. Gary’s amusing and entertaining piece, entitled ‘Rise of the Veggies’, charts the steady rise of vegetarianism; from the limited options available when he was growing up in the 80s and 90s, to friends’ strange questions and eating out in restaurants, to the variety of veggie food on offer today. Gary was awarded the trophy during our September 2021 meeting, by fellow committee member, Alison Reed. Well done Gary and to all entrants for their wonderful articles.

Gary, receiving his trophy in September 2021 for his competition win

‘An Unusual Visitor’ fiction competition winner – Gary Smith (December 2019)

Congratulations to Gary Smith for winning WWC’s annual fiction competition (theme: An Unusual Visitor), for his psychological horror short story, ‘Off the Page’.  Gary was awarded the ‘Marjorie Green fiction competition’ trophy at WWC’s meeting on 12 December 2019 by committee member, Marrilynne Snowden (photo below).  Well done to all entrants for their wonderful stories!

received_3369994229740083

A few examples of our competition winners!

Fiction Competition

WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAIL…  BY STUART WILLIAMS

This is the winning entry in the 2013 Marjorie Green (fiction) competition.  The theme was “Where’s There’s a Will…”

It had been a tiring trip on the coach from London.  Having been jammed into a window seat next to a large woman with an apparently inexhaustible supply of pies for more than a hundred miles, by the time I was finally able to stretch my legs in Stratford-upon-Avon I was not a happy bunny.  Still, there was the weekend to look forward to before beginning my first duty at Rother Street Police Station on Monday.

A Detective Sergeant in the ‘Met, I’d been offered a transfer from the Yard to Stratford by a bright spark in the management who’d heard I was a “Shakespeare nut”.  I wasn’t sure whether my colleagues were glad to see the back of me or not, but the calls of “Bugger off, Inspector Morse!” as I had left the station for the last time convinced me it was the right move.

I was staying at the White Swan, a fine old inn the Bard himself had probably frequented.  After a meal and a good night’s sleep, I was up with the lark the next morning.  I had a ticket for the evening performance of Macbeth by the RSC, but there was plenty of time to sightsee before then, so I decided to take a boat trip along the Avon to blow the cobwebs away.

Wandering through the quaint streets of Stratford, I eventually arrived at the river, and spied an elegant old steam launch tied up at a jetty.  Handing over a fiver, I stepped aboard and headed up to the prow, sitting close to the pennant.  It fluttered in the breeze as we pulled away, engine chugging, and headed downstream.  The sun was shining, and all was right with the world.

Being early, there were not many passengers aboard the Viola, and while keeping my own peace I couldn’t help overhearing something of the excited conversation going on behind me.  It was tricky to pick out words occasionally as the cheery old steamer was doing plenty of muttering of its own, but I could make out a family of (inevitably!) Americans, who were pointing breathlessly at this and that along the bank.  As we passed the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the youngest lady in the colonial party practically had an orgasm.  From what I could make out, she was a theatre student back home in Boston.  So she was on a pilgrimage of sorts.  I expected I might see the family later, when I visited Will’s grave at the church of Holy Trinity, a short riverside walk from the theatre.

I leaned forward over the prow as the tower of Holy Trinity appeared through the trees to starboard, musing that the Bard himself would almost certainly have rowed these very waters, and might even have used some Elizabethan equivalent of the old chain ferry which was just pulling up on the opposite bank as we passed by.  Closing my eyes I dreamed, for a moment, of that Stratford of old.

Suddenly there was one almighty thump and the scream of tortured bronze against iron.  We’d caught the ferry chain in the prop.  I didn’t notice much of this, however, as I lurched over the side, banging my head on the gunwale, and plunged into the murky waters beneath…

…I floated, as if in a dream, I know not for how long, then gradually rose towards the light until, gasping, I broke the surface.  The Viola’s  ‘captain’ was leaning over the side with a boat hook, and dragged me back aboard, full of apology, asking whether I was alright (I was shaken and soggy, but no matter, I’d been in worse scrapes than that).  After a moment spent checking the prop, we headed back to the jetty, and I squelched my way down to the road, where I caught a taxi back to the inn and a welcoming hot bath.

I changed, then fell asleep in an armchair reading Macbeth.  When I awoke, there was plenty of time before I needed to get to the theatre, so I had an early dinner and decided to take a leisurely walk along the riverside to Holy Trinity, for a look round the churchyard.  By the time I was within sight of the church, however, the sky was beginning to cloud over, obscuring the rising Moon, and dusk began to slowly fall, like a stage curtain.

Since I was nearly there I decided to continue, despite the gathering gloom, and soak in the atmosphere.  I picked my way carefully through the gravestones, shadows growing swiftly all about  me.  A furtive owl hooted, making me start for a moment.

As I reached the church doors, they appeared to be closed.  The lights were off as far as I could see, which was disappointing, but then a flicker came and went through one of the high, stained-glass windows, breaking the beam of what I presumed to be a torch into a myriad of multi-coloured shards.

My natural copper’s suspicion piqued, I found the vestry entrance and could see the heavy oak door had been forced – no mean feat.  It was slightly ajar, and beyond I could see more flickers of light slashing to and fro through the gloom.  Faintly at first, then growing louder as I approached, there came the clang of iron and the harsh crack of splintering stone.

Wishing I had my police radio on me, I slowly pushed the door further open, slipping quietly into the darkened room.  Outlined from time to time in the torchlight, I could just glimpse movement within the chancel and beyond.  Shadowy figures were busily banging and scraping at the stones before the altar.  I crept quietly out into the chancel.

“Hold on there – Police!” I shouted.  Suddenly, Moon or no, I saw stars, as the shadows exploded behind me and a black-clad figure leaped out, catching me one hell of a wallop to the back of the head with an iron bar.  All hell broke loose and as I fell forward, through the veil of pain I dimly glimpsed flashes of red light, smelled the stench of burning sulphur and heard plaintive wails of despair.  Darkness reached out to take me in its arms…

After what seemed an eternity, my vision cleared and bright shafts of light in serried rows, flaring down from the great arched windows above, came slowly into focus.  The ancient flagstones were hard and ice-cold against my back and, struggling to rise, I could see that the chancel was now lit by myriad guttering candles.  There was no sign of the burglars at first glance, but the effects of their depredations were clearly illumined by the now ascendant Moon – William Shakespeare’s slab had been upturned, his dusty bones revealed within the dark pit beneath.  A substantial crowbar lay next to a pickaxe amongst scattered fragments of stone.

One end of that crowbar was also spattered with blood – mine, I presumed.

Strangest of all were three sooty outlines, drawn shadow-like upon the chilly flagstones of the chancel.  They were in the exact same spot as those dark figures I had glimpsed earlier, and a distinct whiff of brimstone yet lingered in the air.

“Ill met by Moonlight, eh?”

The boldly-spoken yet oddly quiet words seeped into my ears.  A tintinnabulation of whispered laughter reverberated, or rather did not, as if from places beyond.

“He’s no Oberon, Master!”

“No, nor yet a Romeo – though he might make a passable Dogberry!”

[Laughter again, one deep bass voice above the rest.]

I could hear it clearly, though there was no echo; strange for a church.

There was a shimmer; the candles flared up, renewed.  A cold wind that was not wind sliced through me, and a motley yet translucent crew materialised, all dressed in Elizabethan costume.  Most were clearly Shakespearian characters, all but one who was, even more obviously, yet unbelievably, the great man himself…

“May I present myself, young sir.  I hight one Will Shakespeare, you may I think have heard o’ me?”

Shivering, quivering, I could not help but glance toward the words engraved upon the Bard’s tombstone:

“Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare,

To digg the dust encloased heare;

Bleste be the man that spares thes stones,

And curst be he that moves my bones.”

“Worry not, that curse be not for you, good Constable  – not you who risked all to defend my poor old remains.  ‘Twas for those three miscreants, now gone down to Hell.  As for thee, thou art truly welcome, and invited any time to meet most cordially amongst our company.  ‘Dost know aught of my plays?”

“Angels and ministers of grace defend us!” I cried, falling back in a dead faint and, before colliding with the old, cold stones of Holy Trinity, I heard yet more fairy laughter, the cat-calls of long-dead thespians and one last Parthian shot from the Bard himself:

“I see that you do.  Well met, friend.  ‘Good night sweet prince: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!’ ”

Non-Fiction Competition

WINNER OF THE 2014 NON-FICTION COMPETITION – ‘DEAR BILL’ BY JAMES JOSIAH

Dear Bill,

It has been twenty years since you left us, your voice still resonates and your words are still relevant, some sadly more than ever.  The world is falling apart, we are still fighting over oil, creationism is a bigger problem than ever, TV is getting dumber, celebrities are deemed more important than ever but are also somehow less talented. There is a new banal genre called “reality” TV where vacuous people pretend to live scripted lives and are globally celebrated. They are literally famous just for being famous and this fantasy lifestyle is being sold to us as if it is something to aspire towards. Kids don’t want to the president, or a fireman, a doctor they just want to be famous when they grow up.

We’re in a hell of a mess sir but it’s not all bad news, America has its first coloured President and that has gone down exactly as you can imagine with the less educated parts of the country. Donald Trump publically demanded that he present his birth certificate to prove he was entitled to lead your once great nation. The old adage of “anyone can grow up to be president” is apparently only true if you’re a whiter than white male. Slowly but surely America is legalising marijuana as the powers that be finally realise the true value of tax revenue that can be clawed back and the lack of dangers you preached about for all those years. Somewhat disappointingly alcohol is still legal and the number one drug of choice, after crack of course.

George Bush Junior somehow wrangled his way to power and after a terrorist outrage against America that silenced the world he took us into the war his daddy couldn’t quite finish. Saddam has been hanged and his death broadcast across the globe, the oil secured, hundreds of thousands of civilians are dead, a country is left in chaos and misery and yet we still claim it as a victory. We also invaded Afghanistan looking for the man America armed to fight the Russians and then were surprised when he turned on his attention on them. He is dead as well now of course, executed by Special Forces in a totally different country to the one we have spent a decade blowing the crap out of looking for him in.

Your beloved America has upgraded itself from the bullies of the world to the world police force. No country is safe from her intervention but she is as blind to her own faults as ever. As a result patriotism is at a fervent new high but so are suspicion and ignorance.

There is a new breed of violence where school children slay each other with automatic weapons and we are told the obvious solution is we need more guns. The NRA and gun activists want armed teachers in the classrooms claiming living in this climate of fear would make children safer. It is beyond parody; those who make a stand against this insanity are accused of being un-American and have the second amendment thrust in their face. We foreigners who watch on incredulously as citizens claim to need sniper rifles and machine guns for home protection are told that we don’t understand. Strictly speaking they aren’t wrong, we don’t, just not for the reasons they think.

Music is still in the same sorry state it was when you left us. Billy-Ray has not only managed to breed but his foul spawn is a global superstar. She is as equally talentless as her father, a pantomime puppet character courting outrage to sell the overtly sexualised songs grown men wrote for her. The only real difference now is we all revel in the well-publicised downfall of these plastic pop idols. Rehab is used as a promotional tool and a means to avoid jail. The sponsorship deals are bigger and badder than ever as well. A few years ago one of the biggest perpetrators of banality who once bizarrely claimed to have brought sexy back released a McDonald’s jingle as a single, and people bought it, they actually went out and shelled out their hard earned cash for what was nothing more than an advertisement.

Everything is commercialised these days, advertisements are viewed as events that generate more hype than the programmes they interrupt. The general public are docile lab rats being told what to watch, what to listen to, what to wear, who and what to vote for. Democracy is dead. This is the age of the talent show, this is a world where David Hasselhoff is viewed as talented enough to have an opinion on others skills. This is a world where the mediocre rules, where originality is shunned and cover versions of cover versions are held in high regard.

No one has stepped into your shoes, no one is brave enough. Dennis is an actor now, George died after doing a residency in Vegas and voicing cartoons leaving his once impeccable legacy sullied. Comedy is big business now and has suffered as a result, there is no edge anymore, no scathing social commentary, everything is clean and network friendly. Anyone who dares break these rules are shunned, and torn to shreds in the media. Comedians are held accountable for what they say on stage, a joke is no longer a joke. Offence is used as a weapon to stifle freedom of speech. People who cite you as an influence readily appear on panel shows, throwing out cheap gags and mugging for the camera. The worst offenders do voiceovers for mobile phone companies and supermarkets or worse still supermarkets that sell mobile phones.

We are beyond satire; we miss you and we need you more than ever.

RED BRICKS AND CANDLEWAX BY RONNIE CARLETON

This is the entry that won the non-fiction competition for 2012-13.  The theme of  ‘My Early School Days’ brought a record number of  entries to the competition, especially as there was an added incentive of all entries being published in a book in time for Christmas!

 

Red Bricks and Candlewax

If the Germans had not bombed Belfast that April in 1940 I would not have been here and not born in 1941 during a full moon on the wrong side of the blanket, with a runaway protestant father and a mother who did not want me. But I was, on a Sunday, full moon and starting to snow then dumped on my grandmother in Willowfield.

My grandmother, became my mother, if you get my drift and after five lovely childhood years living in Cockleshell Cottage on the coast, the war ended and we moved back to Belfast.

The house was in Willowfield Drive, red bricked, grey slate and upstairs as well as downstairs and my room in the attic that had a skylight in the roof.

In front of the house was a large tree that the Germans did not get and in front of that, twenty feet away, was a large, red bricked two storey building that was to be my school.

To the left of the school was the police barracks and to the right of it the Convent and from the convent to the end of the street was what was called no man’s land. It was hostile territory and all Protestant. No Catholic, Jew or anything else went to that end of the street, day or night, if you kicked with the other foot and Catholic dogs and cats were not stupid like children. They stayed at their end otherwise they might not come back.

I went into that school, a walk from the front door of my house in one minute, three days after the Americans murdered the people in two cities in Japan and sang about it.

I was put at a wooden desk, with an inkwell and a pen in it, a new writing book, a holy book and with ten other children and a school teacher who was a dry stick of a woman, thin, wore glasses and had lips like the slit belly of a herring.

Miss M did not like me or me her because on the first day she announced to the class, and named me as the ‘bastard son of a Catholic woman who was ruined by a Protestant man and both had left me’.

All the children’s eyes and heads turned towards me and she ranted on about sin and sinners and that young boys should stay well away from such because it was a mortal sin. Then she glared at me and asked, “Master C will tell the class who the Holy Ghost is.”

I stood up not only puzzled but lost in what she wanted me to say. I knew from tales around the fire in Cockleshell Cottage what a ghost was so I shrugged and muttered, “God’s ghost?”

She was fast and the long bamboo cane caught me across the nose and I fell over and then to get the point across, she caned me three times across bare legs and stood back while the class laughed. I cried of course, wet my pants and could not work out what I did wrong. My first day at school and education was a brutal disaster.

Within two months I was not taught maths or writing, but after morning religious instruction of the third kind for an hour with a large tallow candle lit on Miss M’s desk, I was dismissed from her class. On instructions from the Head Teacher I was put to work. Now in those days in winter there was a school boiler room and it had to be fed coke or coal so that was one of my jobs in the cellar, then I had to take milk crates around the class rooms and place the small bottles of milk on the hot pipes for the students to have during their lunch break. All lunches were eaten in the large school yard, a dividing tall wall between the girls part of the school and the boys side.

Bread, of course, formed most of the lunches and the crusts were thrown on the ground which when everyone went back to class I had to pick up and put in two white buckets and take to the Convent next door for their hens.

The first time I did see a nun was Sister M and she hit me a clip in the ear because I stopped to talk to one of her pupils, a girl my own age called Laura. No matter what happened, no six year old boy was getting near her small flock of virgins who she had earmarked as the future brides of Christ.

My grandmother was of course a devout Catholic and when I tried to tell her what happened for some reason she did not want to know. I cannot remember her ever giving me a hug though she was good to me in other ways but Church, the Pope and all the saints, not forgetting Old Nick, the Devil was her real world.

As the years passed, I had religious instruction of the who and the why of how to be a good Catholic, moved through classes as I aged and the only teacher, A young Miss K who taught art and music showed any interest in me. She was more than beautiful and she had black silken hair, brown eyes and I could smell fresh soap on her skin as she leaned over to show me how to mix colours. That happened only once a week and the rest of the time I did school work of a different kind.

The Head master had a special strap, not a cane and it had a thin sheet of lead inside the leather and he used it on me twice and hard. The first time was when I took the small gold coloured bell from the church altar and ran around Willowfield ringing it and bumped into the parish priest who grabbed the bell, made the sign of the cross then grabbed me and dragged me across the road and into the school and before the Head. The second time I was beaten with the leather strap was because I refused to go to the church with the rest of the school and he beat me in the school yard with all the pupils lined up. Six whacks on each hand and two across the back and they left me there and went to church.

The day I left that school I was fourteen years old, the same day I left religion for good and was handed a blue school card to state that I had reached seventh standard in education. I could not write, read, spell or do even simple maths. My first job was nearly over before it got started as a message boy for a chemist called Harry C and who was Jewish. He sent me out to deliver medicines to people around the Ormau Road and an hour later pulled up in his Riley car, came up to me and shouted then slapped me hard saying ill people needed the medicine.

I rubbed my face and took a deep breath, “I can’t read Mr. C.”

He looked at me shocked, then, “Right. Leave the bike there, grab the basket and get in the car and I will drive you around and show you the landmarks to look for.”

Land marks were easy for me because I had watched enough cowboy films to know that any good scout worth his salt always went by land marks. To my shock and horror he then drove me down to the Belfast Technical Collage, enrolled me for maths, English and writing as well as a science subject and told the woman he wanted a weekly report sent to him on my progress. His wife bought me books and she also give me my first book on British Birds which I still have today.

I wanted to learn and I did, slowly at first, and then it took off and when I went into the Royal Marines I carried on studying no matter where I was until I left, went back to the College after my service in the Navy and took science subjects.

With that, and the help of a Jewish chemist I got my first real job in pathology of the Queen’s University Department in the Royal Victoria Hospital, more exams, more doors opened and ended up doing an anthropology degree and was teaching in Ireland and in the Midlands along with my writing.

My grandmother always said I was special and had a sixth sense and I guess she was right. The day I left Harry C’s shop he handed me a compass and a map of the world and told me not to think about it, but to do it.

As I write this and smile, I’m looking at the small gold altar bell.

Fifty+ years in Walsall and counting!

%d bloggers like this: