Thursday, November 18, 2010

She Was a Showgirl....

Downtown New York City in the 1950’s, some broad is sitting in some backstreet gin joint; with an air of mystery about her. She wore a yellow feather in her hair and a low cut dress, man it was right up to her… well, you get the picture anyway. Of course anyone could tell that she was a showgirl, the garish make up a dead giveaway. To most people this would sound like a tragic love story, to us hard New Yorkers it is more a way of life; having seen it all. But allow me to tell you of a time when good guys didn’t always win, bad guys got away with it; and the girl never got her happy ending…

Her name was Lola; she was a showgirl with yellow feathers in her hair, and her dress cut down to there. Her life was not an easy one, working 8 in the evening until 4 in the morning. The pay wasn’t that great, and believe me when I tell you she had a lot of crap to deal with. But then there was Tony, a young and handsome bar tender who took a shine to Lola the very first moment they met; it was clear for all to see that they were young and they had each other ~ well, who could ask for more.

Well, one night as Tony tended the bar and Lola dance this guy; Rico walked in. now Rico was bad news, local mobster and one guy you certainly did not want to get on the wrong side of. You could tell he was someone from the diamond ring he wore to the smartest of suits he also had on, this dude was somebody; and what he wanted he always got.

But Lola wanted Tony, and Tony wanted Lola; pity nobody told Rico that. He saw Lola dancing, and wanted her; calling her over after she had finished dancing. With Tony keeping a watchful eye over Lola, you’d think everything would end for the best ~ but of course that’s not how it happened. Rico went a bit too far, Tony sailed across the bar. Punches flew, chairs were smashed in two; the whole works came out that night. Sadly there was blood in a single gun shot, but no one ever knew just who shot who…

Well, as you can imagine all that music and passion; the finding and loosing her love, all did something to Lola. Affecting her deeply, scaring her for life. As I said before, good guys don’t always win, bad guys often get away with it; and the girl doesn’t always get her happy ever after…

But her name is Lola, she was a showgirl; but that was thirty years ago when they used to have a show. Now it’s a disco, but not for Lola. Still in that dress she used to wear, faded feathers in her hair. She’ll sit there so refined, drinking herself half blind. All she thinks about is loosing her youth and her Tony, but now she’s lost her mind too.

That’s the Copa for you, the Copacabana; don’t fall in love!

Beauty vs. Devastation...

This assignment was hard for me, I have seen many beautiful places; but thankfully no devastation. I have been to places that have also seen much devastation, France; New York to name but a few.

One place that has certainly ticked the beauty box is Montserrat in Spain, also known as the Serrated Mountain. It is a working monastery carved into the mountainside, and somewhere I visited many moons ago. Many will know that I am not religious in the slightest, but do love the often stunning buildings; be they Church or Cathedral.

And while this particular monastery is no different, it is the outside that I was more interested in. The surrounding areas had many walks, roads and paths carved into the rocks of the mountains so travellers could explore and experience what many a local had. It was also my plan, bored of the fact that my folks wanted to sit around and go shopping.

So off I went along this path no clue of where it would lead or even how long it would take, but of course as was my way I never follow the crowd. About two minutes from the start of my walk I became curious, looking around me there was nothing but rocks and hillsides around me. As I climb a hill to my right I have no idea what I will find over the top, I was expecting to see a sheer drop. What I got was the most peaceful and tranquil scene I have ever known.

Sitting upon the hillside looking out over sprawling mountains and nothingness, I felt a calmness wash over me. There was no sounds, no noises from where I had just come from; nothing. No cars going by, no screaming kids; just peace. And time, time to think... much too much time for me to think, but somewhere I would highly recommend people going at least once in their lives!

France is another place I have spent many a happy holiday, from the first time with my parents camping to the school trip when I was at middle school; all have been memorable for one reason or another. Personally one of my favourite places is Normandy, here you can find both beauty and devastation.

The coastal towns are just as quaint as you can imagine, and just as breezy! The countryside as green and lush as anything we have over here, the wildlife seems to be richer though! Once you go off the beaten track you find yourself almost in the middle of nowhere at most turns, but even nowhere looks hospitable!

But then when you think you have missed it, you begin to see the signs of devastation around you; a few bullet holes here or a pillbox there. Once you get further away from the beauty of the rolling green fields and inland jewels, you start to see the scars of war; once you reach many costal towns and villages you see the with increasing regularity.

There are monuments, museums and many stories to be heard. Some scream at you to be heard, others need seeking out; all as important as each other... as is the lessons it teaches us.

Another place I enjoy going, (or places) are the Italian Lakes; a country that holds a special place in my hear for various reason. Of course they lakes are stunningly beautiful, they also have links to the war and Il’ Duce; but by far these lakes hold a place in my heart because of the links to my own family name... no matter what anyone says, my fathers side of the family came from Italy and that’s the end of it.

I think I have always had a love of the place and its culture before I became interested in where I came from and the history of my family, like I always say; you cannot know where you are going until you know where you have been! But in truth nothing could have prepared me for the feelings that hit me as I climbed in the boat that was to take me to Venice for the first time, I had heard the stories, but none of them mattered; I was about to see Venice in my line of vision...

And there before me was that most famous skyline ~ this would not be the last time I thought those words; but more on that later! The dome of St. Mark’s, the tower of the Campanile; the Doge’s Palace ~ all there in front of me. And as the trip we had planned continued, we travelled down the Grand Canal; passing under the famous Rialto Bridge... which should never be walked over in crocks or slippy-bottomed shoes!

The highlight for me was getting lost, which may surprise you; but totally something I would recommend. Usually getting lost would be trouble some and problematic, but then usually you would not get to see a hidden gem of Venice; even if only in my eyes! As we came across this tiny Church which was nothing like the splendour of St. Mark’s, but just as beautiful; for inside was a fresco of the Last Supper that captivated me... of course it helped that I had been reading The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown earlier!

But I think the one place that has captivated me the most is of course New York City, without doubt one of the most amazing Cities in the world; it is always going to be a place you will never forget once you go there... no matter how hard you try, it will always be in your soul.

A City of extremes, where you can see such devastation at the site of Ground Zero to the surprising tranquillity of the top of the Empire State Building; a place to forget and remember. To see the names and faces of many of the fallen gave me goose bumps, to know of the stories; to know that my Aunt had a building closer than anyone of us would like to Ground Zero will haunt me forever.

But then to know of the beauty that surrounds you as you watch the sun going down over the Manhattan skyline, one of the most famous ones in the world; is breathtaking. Nothing could have prepared me for the silence and bright twinkling lights around me, the words “wow!” leaving my lips many times that trip...

Big City Lights Don't Bother Me...

“Spare some change guv’?” He hoarsely asked, not really looking up as the sea of faceless corporate suites passed by; oblivious to him and his plight. No one saw or cared, this dirty dishevelled man could have been a father, a husband, a brother, or a son; but none of them cared. He was someone though, he had been someone. A father and husband, a brother and son. None of those faceless suites saw that, none of them cared about where he had come from or how he ended up to be here; sleeping rough on the mean streets of London.

The City light shone brightly and these streets were paved with gold, or so they say. All he saw now was what it had taken from him, what it had turned him into. Those big City lights that once held promise and hope, now held fear and uncertainty; it was most defiantly not a happy place for him.

“Here...” Said the deep but kind voice from above, as he felt the bag land into his lap.
“Thank you.” He replied, puzzled and perplexed not just by the bag; but who had thrown it.
“No problem, I was like you...” The stranger answered, turning to leave; hoping his gift would help. Inside the bag were four, maybe five bundles of tightly bound £20 notes. Coming from a banking background, he knew exactly how much was in the bundles; fifty grand easily.

As his mind did the mental arithmetic’s, he knew someone was looking down on him; but of course after all he had been through he could not understand.
“Hey, wait...” He called after the stranger, who smiled before turning around. For the first time both were able to study the other, taking in all that they saw.

Tony saw a lot of himself in the person sat before him, Ray saw the man he used to be before the crash hit. Ray was dirty and grubby; being homeless did that for a person. His clothes were close to hanging off him, and his shoes had worn right down to nothing; it was true he was not a nice sight anymore. Tony on the other hand was dressed immaculately in his 3-piece suit, umbrella and briefcase only adding to the image of a banker or lawyer; Ray thought.

Tony was clean-shaven and smartly turned out, the dark navy pinstripes a clear sign that this was a man with somewhere to go; indeed he was someone. Ray on the other hand, had nowhere to go and no real reason anymore to be someone. But still Tony knew that this man could be someone once more, after all; that was how he had been.

“I don’t know what to say...” Ray began, stuttering and stammering slightly.
“I used to be a banker before the crisis hit, lost everything thanks to it...” Ray went on; aware he could never repay Tony’s kindness.
“Don’t worry about it, now you can be something again...” Tony smiled, nodding his head before turning to leave.
“Give her a call, she’ll be worried...” He added, smiling at the fact he knew this time would be different.

Robbie and Scamp...

He could not explain it but he wanted to cry, his tears already close to falling.

“Come on Scamp, lets go...” He said to the little scruffy ball of fluff, the beige hairy mongrel looked up to his young master; cocking his head slightly as if he understood every word little Robert said.

Sniffing hard and wiping his eyes coarsely, Robert took his woolly black scarf and placed it around his neck as he took one last look around the room he was standing in.

Normally he would be rushing through the kitchen on his way to his room after school of out the backdoor to go play with Scamp or his friends, but not today; today was different.

For the most part he was like most normal eight year olds, but he had seen more than any young kid should see; many times his only escape was his imagination and Scamp his faithful companion.

The room was warm, he knew it was going to be cold outside; he could not help but wish he had eaten earlier. Looking around the room, Robert took more notice than ever of the room he had always seemed to take for granted.

The cabinets and cupboards were all pine; the white goods were just that, white. No black, silver or red refrigerators here. The net curtains were whiter than white, a clear sign that his Mother was always house proud. The kitchen table with its beautiful clean cloth was unusually round, the chairs sturdy enough to climb upon; smiling Robert remembered the many times he had tested that theory.

Sighing deeply Robert knew that life was full of “ifs” and “buts,” there was nothing more that he could do. Filling his knapsack with as much food as he could for himself and Scamp, Robert took one last look as he pulled on his thick scruffy old grey duffle coat; taking Scamps lead he placed it around his faithful companions neck.

As they both left, Robert could not help but allow his tears to fall; sobbing uncontrollably until they had to stop. He had no idea where they were until he heard the hum of the motorcars passing by; looking out over the dual carriageway, both must have looked a right state. It had started to rain heavily as soon as they had both left home, and it did not look like it was about to give up either.

“They never cared about us Scamp; it was for the best we left...” Robert said, hoping to convince Scamp; but knowing it was himself he needed to convince. Tears still threatened to fall, both had left the only home either had every known; goodness only knows who would have them now.

Now completely drenched though to the bone, both stood looking hopelessly out towards the dual carriageway.
“Well, we are on our own now Scamp...” Robert said, trying to make matters sound more positive than they were.

As the car drew up, Robert’s mind was filled with the stark warnings from his dear Mother; gripping the lead tightly in his little cold hand as the window was wound down.

“Get in the car wee Robbie...” The kindly female voice said, unlocking the passenger side door.
“You pair will catch your death of cold...” She continued, looking first to one and then the other.
“Aww Mum...” Robert began to protest, but Scamp just jumped into the passenger seat first before jumping onto the back seat.

Sighing deeply Robert followed suit, unable to express his relief but knowing it was part of the recovery.

The Clock...

“Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock...” That is all he heard, that was all that went through his mind as he sat waiting.

For such an active man this waiting was agony, by nature he had always had an active life. He was so full of life, something that would often resemble Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.

But here he sat in the Doctors waiting room, worrying about the news he was dreading. He had already convinced himself that it was bad, already resigned himself to the fact this fabulous journey of his was about to be over. He felt like this was his judgement day, he had been far too lucky in not only his career; but also his life.

At nearly 50 years old his footballing career should have been over by the age of 35, 37 at the latest. But he of course had been overly lucky, one of the greats they say; but right now he felt anything but great. He felt old, and past it. Worried that his playing days would be over, but also worried that he would never find anything else to fill his time.

His mind was racing, had been since he walked into the waiting room. Everything in his life came to this moment, to this time; it was make or break...

“Mr. Matthews?” The Doctor called, not really looking up; but clearly aware of whose notes he had in front of him. Sighing deeply, Stanley got up slowly; trying to not show signs of age and headed into the Doctors room.

“Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock...”

Doris and Iris...

Doris and Iris must have been coming to this same spot for the past thirty years. Neither had known each other before, but both had much in common; although neither would find out until much later. Both had spent many a day seeing the other grow and develop.

“Of course it was all different in our day...” Iris said, looking at the punch of pink roses in their soft green tissue paper.
“I know dear, the youngsters would have had more respect...” Doris replied thoughtfully, trying to hide the smirk on her lips from forming.

“In our day kids would have got married before they had children...” Doris continued, not realising the irony in her words.
“I know, Fred used to say much the same thing...” Iris added, pausing so that Doris could finally grasp what she had said.

As the cogs whirred and it all finally fell into place, Doris could not help but blush as she thought of all the years; fifty to be exact; that she had spent with Fred.
“Ahh, who would have thought it hey...” Doris finally felt able to say, allowing a small smile to escape as they both studied the headstone in front of them.

For a long moment both women paused to take in their surroundings, sitting on the same well-worn wooden park bench neither woman felt the need for any more words. The sun was beginning to peak through the dark clouds that had been present for the best part of the morning, it may have been spring but it certainly did not feel like it; more like winter.

The grass was covered in a fine film of dew, giving their surroundings a somewhat fitting look. The grave both women sat by was clearly well cared for, both Doris and Iris had spent days clearing and cleaning the plain looking marble. As was their way, both Doris and Iris had their own thoughts and memories of Fred; both kept their thoughts to themselves – it was like their own little ritual that neither wanted to break.

Both women sighed deeply, realising that this could very well be their last day here. Of course, neither would admit it to themselves let alone each other.
“Until next time Fred...” Iris began, as she slowly got to her feet; after all these years the aches and pains caught up with her some days.
“Bye Fred, until next week...” Doris said as she too slowly rose, her own arthritis was getting worse; she did not know how much longer she could manage this trip.

“Until next week Doris...”
“See you next week Iris...”

The Letter I Can Never Send...

I must admit to feeling a little torn with regard to recent events revolving around both the Cobblers and Saints. I make no secret of the fact I am a Cobblers fan, I also support the Saints success too. It is also true that I am a Liberal Democrate supporter, and would like to think I can class both Councillor Paul Varnsverry & Tony Clarke as friends.

Which is why I feel like banging their heads together (not to mention the clubs involved) over all this negativity and "fighting talk" that seems to be plaguing not only the local paper but also everywhere else from council meetings to the pub! It does make it awfully hard to choose where to sit when everyone seems at odds with each other!!

It just seems so farcical when you think about it, this council are trying (rightly or wrongly) to save this town from a slow and painful death, both sporting clubs are trying to improve their grounds and in turn bring more people to that area - and probably the town too...

However, neither club have (to my knowledge) put in planning applications. Fair enough you would think, but then seemingly that is the council’s fault. It also seems to be the council’s fault that neither club have been "allowed" a free run on planning and being allowed to do what they want, damn the town; it doesn't matter if it suffers - as long as we have the planning permission we want.

Then it is also the council’s fault that there are rules and laws both clubs and their supporters/spokesmen have to abide by, but it is the councils fault again - when will the council learn that this isn't good enough?

Of course I am aware that our council have not always got everything right, I am sure many will (with hindsight) agree with me; but it really does seem like a case of "you're damned if you do, and damned if you don't..."

I know that both clubs want to develop their grounds, and both deserve to be allowed to do so. I know that all members of the council want this, but; not at the expense of our town being destroyed even more.

I have heard many supporters of both clubs using Milton Keynes as an example, many times I have heard Councillor Clarke bemoan that it's been done there so why not here. And I agree with him, but I also now understand why it cannot be that way here...

The simple fact of the matter is that as a town we are just nowhere near thriving enough, we are so far behind MK that planning permissions there will have far less problems being accepted. Now I am nowhere near technical enough to understand what all these laws and rules mean, but in layman’s terms (and as I can understand it) it means that because we are not a vibrant successful town; any planning for out of town expansion will be “called in.” (Ask Councillor Clarke what that means)

And should either club decide to just go and do it anyway, and then the government will get involved and more than likely turn the plans down. Now I am sure that neither club want this; nor do their supports and nor do the council. Councillor Clarke knows (or should know) that this is what will happen, and as much as I respect him as a Councillor and like him as a man; I do have to question his judgment. Of course I would never judge his passion and desire for not only this town but also helping both clubs develop their grounds and the area surrounding them, his passion is renown in this town.

Maybe allowing Tesco’s to move into the old Woolworth store on Abington Street is not the right decision, maybe allowing an Asda supermarket to build on the outskirts of town is also wrong; maybe none of this will matter, maybe in a few years people will (with a change of administration) be flooding back to the town. Or maybe (as I fear) things will only get worse and more people will want to leave, regardless it is sometimes a matter of “trial and error” especially when running a council.

I guess the old saying is true; you can please some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time…

Friday, November 12, 2010

Just Like That...

His cold piercing blue eyes are what I first noticed; as soon as the lift doors closed I felt the chill in the air. For some unknown reason I could just tell that something was wrong, it was as if his most famous (or should that be infamous?) character was coming to life right in front of me. He was no longer Sir Anthony Hopkins, he was Hannibal Lecter; and he was in the same lift as me… and we were alone!
As soon as I felt the lift jolt and judder to a sudden stop, the lump formed in the back of my throat. Turning towards me there is a look of emotionless coldness in his eyes as he slowly stalked towards me, I felt the chill running down my spine. Here was one of the scariest men you could ever wish to meet, and he was stood in front of me; looking about as intimidating as he was making me feel.
I cannot help be intimidated not just by his presence but also the fact that I was in a broken down stationary lift with a man that could, quite literally eat me alive! The fear and panic had already set in by the time he had moved closer still, leaning upon the side of the lift; trapping me in the corner. Swallowing hard trying to rid myself of the lump in my throat, I can already feel myself shrinking into myself; I can just tell that the end is neigh for me. Sensing this, his years of acting and life told him as much; this was the moment everything changed.
His cold eyes quickly became the softest bright blue eyes, and there was this shyness that I was not expecting too. His smile is light and I can see the softness shine through, as I smile back I cannot help but feel this girly flutter deep inside of me. Moving slightly he leans closer still to me, the words not needed yet. Even though we had not spoken yet, neither of us felt the need to; the atmosphere between us seemed to be relaxed and comfortable. The mood was light; the feeling around us seemed to just feel right, surely this was one of them moments?
You know the ones, those moments that you read about in books and saw in movies. The moments where the handsome hero sweeps his leading lady off of her feet and they ride off into the sunset, of course this was not going to be the case for me; it never was! But there was something about this moment, something that I just could not explain or put my finger upon.
Within an instant his hands assumed the position, his shoulders slightly hunched upwards. Before I had the chance to say anything or even question him, he spoke.
“On the other hand…” He began, his soft Welsh accent showing through as he did the voice I could easily place.
“I have different fingers…” He continued, holding his hand up, chuckling in the same way as the man who was clearly his idol would have done. Looking up through his eyelashes with his blue eyes, the smile in them obvious.
As he laughed the same laugh his idol would, it not only made me smile and chuckle too; but also broke the ice between us. Which of course helped the fact that we were trapped in this lift together, as the comfortable silence was threatening to return he continued with the jokes.
“Here’s a little trick I picked up…” He said as he held out his hands, as if he was about to actually show me a trick.
“Dunno who dropped it though!” His words resonating throughout the lift, the laughter quickly following. As he moved even closer still, he was within touching distance; his arm softly but barely brushing against my own.
At that the lift shuddered to and jolted back to life, he looked me deep in the eyes; as if he was searching my soul for a sign. Before he had the chance to say anything, as the lift began to move I smile and reply;
“Just like that…”

They Shall Never Grow Old... We Will Remember Them.

The cold biting wind swirled around my face, it was little surprise as this time of year was always cold; but each year seemed to be getting colder and colder. Having said that, it was clearly nothing in comparison to what those brave men and women went through; they clearly had it tough.

Each year was the same every since I first joined St. John, each year I would gladly; willingly give up one of my Sunday mornings in early November to pay my respect, my homage to the fallen. And I was not the only "young 'un" who did this, many of my friends and colleagues felt the same; this was not just part of "our duty..." we believed this was our way to show the proper respect and thanks to those heroes.

Of course mixed in with us "young 'uns" was the smattering of our older members many of whom had been directly involved with WWII, but then with such an major moment in time and history it was hard to find someone that had NOT been affected by such a cataclysmic event. Yes it was true, even the Great War to end all wars did not stop this from happening again.

My Mum always said that we never learned from our past mistakes, and she was right; it was history repeating itself. All those lives lost in the first world war taught us nothing, we went and did it again; and again; and again... Would we ever learn?

But our brave fighting men and women will tell you that it is their job and they are there to serve, to protect our lands. And while it is true, it still should not detract from the fact all those souls were lost. No matter how much I tried I could not get away from the fact, young men (and women) were dying for me and my freedom.

Men younger than me, men that had lied about their ages to willingly join up and volunteer to serve their Country. The courage and sacrifice those brave heroes showed should never be forgotten, each and every one of us owe those men (and women) such a huge debt of gratitude. When asked why I bother standing in the freezing cold on a Sunday in November, I simply reply:

For our today, they gave their tomorrow.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Legacy of St. John.

Claire had only joined because she had to. The school Judo club had wanted someone first aid trained, and she'd volunteered because, well, volunteering for things - showing willing - was about all she did well. From first aid training she'd been suckered into joining the organisation proper. The St. John Ambulance Service.

And now she spent her weekends sitting around in a draughty tent on the outskirts of
Parkinson's Field, kept company by an assorted group of middle aged, knitwear-loving bores, while the rest of her class enjoyed the amusements of the fairground parked on the grass. It would be doing the group that she spent these dull days with an enormous kindness to call them 'has-beens', which would at least imply that they, at some indefinable point in time, actually were.

It seemed to her, drinking heavily stewed tea out of a chipped teddy-bear mug, that the other first aiders sprang into being fully formed and greying. It was even quite possible that they were created already wearing those home-knitted jumpers with the dropped stitching and the lopsided snowmen.

So it came as a surprise to her when one day
Judy, the divisions leader declared Holy War against the Mussulman.

Claire wasn't sure about this. She had turned up, bright and early on Saturday morning, her fluorescent jacket on, and her first aid kit bag. And there, standing in the Parish Hall were the other members of the Service, getting changed.

Off came the lumpen knitted jumpers and on went finely woven chainmail.
Judy had somehow managed to procure a set of full plate armour, and was standing in a padded surcoat and greaves, staring warily at an over-sized codpiece.

“What...?” was all
Claire managed as she walked through the door.

“Oh, hello dear,” said
Mrs. Aintree, struggling into a leather jerkin. There was a small, handbag-sized spiky mace hanging from her belt. Clare stared.

“Well don't just stand there, come on in,”
Mrs Aintree continued, finally managing to get one arm into a sleeve. “Oh, you don't have armour? That's all right, I'm sure Gordon said he had a few spare pieces somewhere, something child-sized.”

“Armour, why would I want arm--,” her brain registered the rest of the sentence, “what do you mean 'child sized'?”

“Well dear, you're lucky,” said
Mrs Aintree kindly, “it's not like you're going to have bind anything down to fit.” She stared pointedly at Claire's chest.

“I...” she felt herself redden.

“Oh, don't take it like that dear. You have lovely hair. Men like nice hair.”

“What the hell is going on?” She shouted.

There was a general clearing of throats and adjusting of hair in the room.
Judy was the first to speak, “We're getting changed, Claire.”

“Like, for what? Are we doing a re-enactment or something?”

The other members of the service shared a look between them.

“Something like that dear.”
Judy fastidiously dropped the codpiece on the table next to her, clanged her way over the Claire and put a motherly arm around the girl's shoulders.

“Perhaps you and I should have a talk.”


“So,” she paused for a moment, her mind racing, “so you're going to...?”

“Retake the castle.”

“Retake the castle. Right.”

Sideton Castle has never fallen to enemy hands. Not since it was first built in 1103. It withstood the Anarchy, it didn't surrender to that frightful little oik Cromwell, and it has never flown an enemy flag.”

Claire prompted.

“But now, the Mussulman has taken it.”

“The Mussulman?”

“The Mohametans.”

“Moha--” her brain raced. “The Muslims?”

“Exactly, girl.”

“You aren't talking about
Mr. Sayeed, are you?”

“Yes, I am,”
Judy said sternly. She peered over the top of her half moon glasses in disapproval.

“But he just runs the gift shop! He works for English Heritage!”

“Oh, you may say that, girl, but you can't trust them. They'll be nice as you like, and next thing you know, he's a Saracen in disguise and he's chopped off the head of the Grand Master of the Order.”

“What Order?”

“Ah...” said
Judy, a smile twitching at her lips.


Ten minutes later and
Claire was running full speed towards the castle. A few arrows thudded half-heartedly into the cobbles beside her and shattered. She rounded the corner of Market Street, and charged up the approach to the castle, panting as she climbed the mote. She leapt the turnstiles without breaking stride and felt a hand grab her shoulder.

“Hey! You can't do that.”

She grabbed the wrist, jigged sideward’s slightly and bent forward, carrying the arm and whatever it was attached to over her hip and depositing it on the floor in front.

“Sorry, Les. Emergency.”

She tore through the courtyard and entered the gift shop.
Hassan Sayeed was standing behind the counter, carefully talking an American tourist through the different types of coats of arms displayed in the castle, and helpfully pointing them out on an embroidered dishcloth, very reasonably priced, only £5.99.

As always, the shop smelled strangely herbal. If she hadn't have known better, she'd have said it smelled like that time when Cindy stole an eighth of hash off her brother and burnt it over a Bunsen burner in science class and they'd all had to lie down.

Mr. Sayeed!” she panted.

He waved a hand at her to be quiet, and went back to trying to explain blazonry to the tourist.

“And this is a
bend sinister. People often think it means illegitimacy, or” he leaned in consiprationally, “that the holder was a bastard. This isn't actually true...”

Mr. Sayeed!”

Again the hand waving and the renewed concentration on the tea-cloth. She was about to get rude, to push the American out of the way, when the tourist himself decided that enough was enough and life was perfectly acceptable with an embroidered dishcloth.
Mr. Sayeed looked on forlornly as the man left.

Mr. Sayeed

“What is it,” he screwed up his eyes in concentration, “
Claire? You're Claire, right, you go to school with Asad, don't you?”

“Yes,” she said, and steadied herself for what was coming next. Ridicule. Disbelief. “
Mr Sayeed, there's an army, an army that think they're the Knights Hospitaller’s reborn coming to kill you.” She braced herself for laughter. None came.
Mr Sayeed stood staring. Not at her, she realised, but over her shoulder. She turned round and saw the St. Johns Ambulance Service arrayed across the courtyard of the Castle, swords drawn, hammers at the ready.
Mr Sayeed nodded absently, and came out around the counter, pausing conscientiously to shut down the cash register. He waddled over to one wall where a display case of medieval swords stood, carefully unlocked it and drew out two long curved swords. He stepped through the doorway with them held at his side.

“There is no place for you in this castle, heathen,” came a call from the ranks of armoured soldiers.

“Leave this place.”

“Not on your life. We withstood your lot during the Siege of Rhodes. Now it's payback.”

“So be it.”
Mr Sayeed cycled the two swords, which, now she came to think of it looked a lot like scimitars. They twinkled and spun through arcane and blurred arcs around his body like liquid death They left after images in the air like ice patterns on a window.

Then the fight commenced.
Claire stood aghast as Mr Sayeed and the Hospitaller’s closed on one another, hacking and punching, slicing and dodging. She covered her eyes and stood to one side.

A minute or two later the clangs died away.

“A truce. For the wounded.”

She opened her eyes on to a scene of carnage. Several of the older Ambulance Service were down, groaning on the floor.

“You girl, see to the wounded!”
Judy's imperious voice commanded.

She ran to the nearest one, a dull old chap named
Harry and stared in horror.

“I can't deal with this, I know first aid. This man needs...he needs a miracle worker.”

“Do what you're trained for, girl.”

“I know how to calm someone down who's hyperventilating. You put their head between their knees and tell them to breathe deeply. I can't do that here. I mean,” she said, her voice getting hysterical, “his head's here, yes, but his legs are...” she gestured vaguely to the other side of the courtyard. “I mean, if someone wants to fetch his legs for me, maybe I could...” she began to babble.

No one was paying attention to her. The Knights were regrouping, and
Mr Sayeed was squatting down, wheezing over his somewhat portly stomach. He was prodding reluctantly at a gash in his arm.

“Now, heathen, now we have you.”

“No, Crusader. You don't.”

Shouts came from behind, near to the main gate. A group were running up the mote towards the castle. From this distance,
Claire could just about make out Mr. Abbas and Mr. Mahmood, who were the local solicitor and the greengrocer respectively. They were armed.

“Quick, bar the gates. Shut the portcullis. Something!”

“Can't ma'am, there aren't any gates. They took them out after the fire in '76, and the portcullis is just for show.”

The other group had reached the courtyard by now, and sidled up next to a wheezing
Mr. Sayeed.

“Leave,” Sayeed suggested.

“Never. If this has to be the Siege of Rhodes again, then so be it.”

“Oh, for the love of...”
Claire shouted, and stopped, when she realised all eyes were on her. No choice now. She ploughed on. “What the hell are you fighting about? I know for a fact you, Mrs. Aintree aren't even Christian. You're a Buddhist since you converted for your latest husband.” Mrs. Aintree bridled. “You, Judy haven't been to church in six years, and haven't set foot in the castle in ten. I know, my dad's the bloody vicar.”

“Now, just wait a minute.”

Mr Sayeed, I know for a fact, were born in Sideton General Hospital. I don't think they breed Saracens there. And you, Mr Abbas, were given the keys to the city last year, and an ornamental cabbage, to show appreciation for your pro bono work for the community. What the hell are you fighting over?”

There was a mumbled response from her left, muffled slightly further by a steel visor.


mumble...mumble...Hospitaller’s Knights of St. John.

From her right came a similar mumble.

mumble...mumble...Hashshashin.Mr Sayeed reluctantly took a hand out of his pocket and proffered a pipe that had a sticky brown resin in the bowl.

“...give me strength,” she muttered. “Look, you're not Knights Hospitaller’s, and you're not Hashshashin.” She paused, seeing mouths open all around the courtyard, aching to disagree. “All right, even if you are, there are more important things to worry about than each other. Look, twenty miles west of here,
Ashton Castle is staging a renaissance fair. They're recreating the battle of siege of Sideton? You remember, the civil war, where we were on opposite sides? They're doing that now.”

There was an angry murmur from the assembled crowd. Crusaders or Saracens, no one liked Ashtoners.

Ashton Castle!” Someone shouted. There was a ragged cheer and a general raising of weapons.

“No,” said
Claire. “I don't mean... No! I just mean that there are a lot of battles in history, and you can't go recreating them, or continuing them down the generations, because if you do...”

Ashton!” Shouted Mr Arif, the hairdresser, waving a breadknife over his head.

Ashton! Those bastards will pay!”

As the assembled group scurried out of the courtyard in search of a minibus,
Claire wondered if there wasn't something about the town that sent people a little mad.

The Knight's Pledge.

He lays down his sword
At the foot of his King
And says “I am yours
To command anything.”

“I give you my life
I will serve evermore
My loyalty is to you
King of all, my Lord.”

“Send me into battle
And I will surely go
Lead me into darkness
I will defeat my foe.”

“Wherever you lead me
Whenever you call me
I will abide by your command
I will answer to you only.”

He kneels before his King
Surrendering all strife
The pledge of his service
The pledge of his life

The King rises from the throne
And smiles at his loyal knight,
“Heed the command I give to you:
Go forth and be a light!”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Only a Kid....

“It doesn’t have to be from your childhood…” Jade said, “It’s still a toughie…” I thought to myself.

I either find I have too many memories or not enough.

And let’s face it, not all of them are good ones! This course is indeed great therapy for me, but is in danger of becoming an “emotional trip.” The last thing I want is to bring everyone else down with my “black cloud” moments, I am always too aware that I do that now.

Anyways, back to the plot; my childhood was alright I guess… apart from the being forced to eat brussles thingy. My school days were not the best in the world; but I guess bullying does that for you really.

My teen age years were spent in and out of jobs, and it is fair to say I was not a “normal young ‘un” was an understatement. No late nights out getting drunk and unruly, no trouble brought to my families door. No police phone calls asking for bail or help, no getting stoned out of my brain for me; no string of little kids following me around and calling me Mummy… yes people I was indeed that good girl.

Though I can assure you all I was not perfect, but then that would not surprise you really.

I have been the cause of most of my parents grey hairs, and probably the cause of their bad health too… well; so they tell me anyway.

How on earth I managed to stay alive, let alone safe is beyond me. I was (and always have been) a friendly person, I would (and still do) talk to anyone. So how I managed to not be abducted is a miracle, though some days I know my folks wish I had been ~ I am a nightmare!

I was not really bad, more a pain in the butt. I have one of those “can drop it” natures; I just have to have the last word in an argument. Though I rarely argue with friends, it is always my folks; I know that bothers them a lot.

Anyways, my 20’s were spent much the same as my teens, though now I began to go out more; maybe I am getting my life the wrong way round?

The more others in the group talked, the more I was able to remember bits about my childhood and growing up… things I had forgotten, maybe that is a sign I am getting old?

I remember fondly the little blue and white trike that stayed at my Granddad’s in Earl Street, he lived just down the road from the shoe factory that is now the Charles Bradlaugh pub. I was always told to never go father than the factory and the corner of Robert Street, and as a good girl I never did.

Taking a slight tangent here, I can remember that every time I walked past the factory I would shout “hello” through the open window; always being greeted by a hearty “hello” back. It was always the same bloke that shouted back; or seemed to be anyways. It also seemed a different age when people would not ignore their neighbours, when there was a sense of community and people were not afraid of speaking to youngsters.

I heard Richard speak of television programmes, some even I had heard of; but it also allowed me to remember those classics (well they were to me) that I loved and enjoyed.

Oh the times I sat with Mum during lunch watching Bagpuss, Dangermouse, (a favourite of Mum’s) Count Duckula, (Mum does a cracking impression of Nanny) Button Moon, and many others… Of course we cannot let this go without mentioning Newsround or indeed Blue Peter; how I wish I had a Blue Peter badge, almost worth trading in my Service Medal from St. John for one of them!

As I think about it now, there are so many memories that it would take me forever to write them all down.

But maybe that is the point in a way isn’t it? A reminder of days gone by, when everything just seemed easier and better. Mind you though, it may have something to do with the fact I was only a kid.