A Reflection On Charles Street

Charles Street was in the poor area of town. However, that did not prevent the householders from having pride about where they lived. Most of the gardens were well laid out and tidy. The men who lived here were those who laboured with their bodies not with their minds. The garden was a restful place, a place of freshness and light away from the stale gloom of the factories.  It was also the ideal avenue for social contact, discussion and conversation, common subjects, safe subjects like the garden, weather, sport. Personal feelings were hemmed in, no venturing into anything emotional other than perhaps a shared word of condolence for the bereavement or poor luck of third party.

The street bustled with childhood, laughing, crying, shoving, racing, bloodied noses and knees. A safety net as adults quietly oversaw, protecting their own and others. The gentle intrusion, to caution any child was accepted to reinforce the unwritten laws of fairness and honesty upheld by most.

Cars were at a minimum and drivers were courteous to those in the street. Bert the milkman and his horse were always surrounded at holiday times by children bearing gifts of old bread. The best milkman ever. The best milkman with a weakness for the beer, lifted for being drunk in charge of a milk float. He was a likeable devil, loved by all, saved from sacking by his popularity. The dairy provided him with Job the horse and a cart to enable them to keep him on. The rumour was the manager had joked that the horse’s name reflected what they continually needed to have with Bert, but it was lost on him.

Sometimes on sunny evenings, dads would bring out a couple of galvanised dustbins that became wickets. We’d play evens against odds, house numbers. Nan Bartram would appear, a girth that allowed her to accommodate three or four pairs of young arms at once. Keen to sample the goodies stored in the pockets at the front of her floral tabard. The children attended to she’d rest against the Wright’s wall and with a nub of a chubby red marking pencil, old man Bartram was a carpenter, and some random shaped piece of cardboard would proceed to keep the score. I remember once it was a bit of a cornflake box.

Us, often gasping, panting children keen to impress with our skilful throwing and catching, speeding down the street after the elusive rubber ball. The glance to our own for that essential wink, nod or smile of approval and encouragement at our performance. That silent action that shouted inside you. You’re loved!  There was a prize, the victors were bought drinks by the losers, but all partook. The Four Bells outdoor would have an unexpected flurry of trade. Bumper jugs of mild and bitter for the adults and dandelion and burdock for the children.

I remember people shouting, adults and children, genuine joyful goodnights as we disappeared from the arena that was our street into our own worlds. Snuggling down in bed the light still defeating the curtains, feeling it was good to be a child in the world. Now I wonder was it really like that?

 

Don Russell    09/01/18

The Apprentice ( but not as you may know it)

First shift           

Location

Pipe Depot on nightshift.

Characters

Raymond well established pipe marker.

George the driver.

Rodney on his first night on the job.

They arrive at the floodlit  pipe depot in a Toyota van and all three get out.

“Rodney do you know anything about what goes on here?”  asked Raymond

“Well it’s where …. you keep the pipes.”

“That’s true Rodney, but that’s a very small part of it. We’ve got 25 men involved on each shift. We find and mark the pipes for the cranes to come and take to the fabrication shop.

“What do you see here Rodney?”

“Loads of pipes.”

“Rodney, if I said D12/5 to you would it mean anything?”

Rodney shrugs.

“Rodney, the whole pipe yard is marked in quadrants. A, B, C and D. “Raymond signals to the differing areas as he points out the quadrants. “Then rows, then places in the row. Do you understand what D 12/5 means now?

“Yes.” Rodney responds nodding confidently.

“As this is your first night we’ll start you of with three areas of the work.”

“I think your being a bit soft with him Raymond.” George interceded.

“Aye maybe so, let see how he gets on with the first three.”

“Are you okay with starting with three Rodney?”

Rodney nods totally lost.

Raymond continued, “we’ll start with accuracy then speed of operation followed by stage one of PST.”

“George have you got the measuring gear. “

George appeared with the tape measure, a white paint marker and a black rubber skirt about two feet in length with Velcro fastening at the waist.

“Rodney this measuring skirt is yours. We must measure the diameter of so many of these pipes that we’ve found it quicker to measure up from your feet onto the skirt. That way we can use the skirt as a measure as you stand at the pipe end instead of having to continually get the tape out. You need to have the skirt resting on your hips each time you wear it so that the measurements stay accurate. Just put it on and we’ll get you marked up. “

“You’ll be alright as long as you don’t lose weight.” George joked, winking at Raymond. “Remember when Eck Dougall had the cancer it kept falling down.”

“Don’t look so shocked Rodney boy. He recovered,” Raymond reassured.

The skirt sat mid-calf.

They spent a bit of time finding a flat piece of earth for Rodney to stand on then measured eighteen inches which hit just above the bottom of the skirt then in three-inch intervals up to 30 inches just below the waist marking each point with a line of white paint.

“Looks good “complimented Raymond, what do you think George.

George turns and sticks his head back into the cabin of the van trying to supress his laughter.

“Rodney there are five sizes of pipe in the yard there. I want you to use the measuring skirt and find one of each going from smallest diameter to largest. Sorry Rodney, I should have checked do you know what diameter means.”

“I’m not stupid you know, I’ve got a maths O grade “he replied sternly.

Raymond bit his bottom lip.

Rodney returns.

“Spot on, correct on everyone, 100% on accuracy,” beamed Raymond.

Rodney allowed himself   a smile at his success.

“But what’s he like with speed?” George interrupted, slightly crushing the glory of the moment.

“Calm down George, give the lad a chance, let him enjoy his bit of success.”

“Ignore him Rodney, “he continued, “I want you to find the six pipes listed on this paper. At the end of each correct pipe there will be a small card. When you’ve found all six bring them back to me. “

“You forgot the challenge,” interrupted George again.

“Oh, aye the challenge. You may not be interested Rodney but the quickest anyone has done this is three minutes forty seconds. How old are you again?”

“Seventeen.”

“Do you do any sports?”

“Football”

“He may have a chance, young, fit, what do you think George?”

“I think he could and I could use the stopwatch on the phone.”

“What do think Rodney?”

“Aye I’ll go for it! “he announces cockily.

Rodney runs fiercely but is restricted to short tight steps by the measuring skirt.

 He is unaware of the tears rolling down George and Raymond’s cheeks at the sight.

“Three minutes forty-five seconds, close. Thinking on it you’d have done better without the measuring skirt.”

“Aye probably would have beaten it then,” Rodney concurs, puffed and sweating.

“I reckon you were right Raymond,” George interjected,” three areas will be enough for one night.”

“Aye you’re right George we’ll finish with PST then we can go back to the rest of the men.”

George and Raymond glanced at each other awaiting the inevitable.

“So, what’s PST?”

“No worries Rodney. It’s Pipe Safety Training. Sometimes you go up and check for quality inspection stamps inside the pipes. Most pipes are stamped on the outside.  It’s only Japanese steel that tends to have them at the mid-point inside the pipe and that’s only the thirty inchers, easy for a slim lad like yourself to scramble up. It’s rare we have stuff from the Japs.  Just the same it’s also good to know what to do if you have problems when you’re inside. A second man always stands at the pipe end.

I’ll wait at the pipe end, here take this torch, the pin hammer and a magnifying glass. George will knock on the outside of the pipe, so you know roughly where halfway is. There is no stamp in the pipe so don’t worry about that. It’s more for you to familiarise yourself with being up a pipe. Have you got a watch?”

Rodney nodded apprehensively.

“After five minutes pretend it is an emergency, turn of the torch, start banging the hammer on the side of the pipe and repeatedly shout SOS as loud as you can as you make your way back to the pipe end”

After a while the echoed SOS’s accompanied by hammering moved towards the pipe exit. As he reached the end he was dazzled by many Toyota headlights. All the pipe markers on shift stood in a group, Raymond at the fore holding a piece of paper.

“Rodney, this certificate is to confirm you’ve passed your induction.”

There was a burst of laughter and round of applause.

Rodney didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but felt okay being here.

Don Russell

Hint fiction

Hint Fiction Don Russell  10/11/17

Hint Fiction is a story of 25 words or fewer which suggests a larger more complex story

Summer

John pulled his aged haversack from the trunk. The sun blessed his back as he locked up. The road was calling to scratch his feet.

Nature                                                                                     

The hurricane snarled and roared above as we cowered powerless. The wall ripped like newspaper. Wind pushing our breath back into our lungs.

Soldier’s Return

The cottage remained, holding my history. My father stood, his pipes shrilled the glen as they welcomed my tired body home. We shared tears.

Late Delivery

The postman’s shadow brushed passed the window. The letterbox clicked. I recognised the writing. Birthday was yesterday. But I knew he wouldn’t forget.

Second Coming

It’s getting messy down below. I think I may need to leave Dad up here alone looking after the office for a while again.

 

European Union

The rising morning sun was sneaking between the gaps of the medieval houses as I walked the narrow pathways of the Tuscan hill town. I had wandered from the busy the Plaizza Della Cisterna. I came upon a small courtyard, it felt private, silent, peaceful. I felt intrusive. The high buildings surrounding protected it .Even the sun was limited to shards piercing between the houses settling only on the stone monument at the centre. Planned like that or nature’s decision?

The monument was squared by double tiered wide shallow steps, grey, hard, but warming by the mid morning. I rested comfortably on them. My back was against the wall of the flower bed that rose from them. Ferocity did not engage so early even in summer. The heat was still just soothing. Large shrubs filled the flower bed, ivy bordering and stretching   over the base of the fountain that sat at the centre of the monument. Its gentle flow whispered into the old stone basin. I was drawn to be at one with nature and reached to touch. My fingers, surprised, enjoyed the clean coldness, my sleeve held the relaxing fragrance of lavender as my hand returning had caused my arm to brush against the shrubs. Contentment, being at peace with the world.

The sense of quiet was suddenly broken, sparrows chatter addressed the courtyard, dashing, shaking, flecking sunned sparkles of water as they bathed in the coolness. Their voices joined by the sound of innocence. The pleading call of an unseen child, high and pure, full of urgency shrilled.

“Nonna!“

“ Nonna!”

The large shrubs allowed privacy despite the proximity of the voice. I peered between them. Standing, a bent desert spoon in one hand and a worm in the other, a small girl kicking her sandaled foot against the wall awaiting acknowledgement. There was Nonna, or grandad sitting passively, lost momentarily sucking on the last of his cigarette, gently exhaling, the smoke playing around his nostrils.

He turned to respond to the her, she gazed upwards attentive understanding his response in a language which I did not. Together they moved along the wall to the corner where I had first seen her. Nonna was holding the worm now, she was busy digging unsuccessfully into the soil. They swapped and after a few spoonfuls and a nod of readiness she placed the worm into the soil and taking the spoon back from her Nonna carefully covered it.

Nonna bent forward, his rough cotton shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows its whiteness exaggerating the deep tan of his sinewed lower arms as he lifted her to him. He dusted her fringe to the side and gently kissed her fore head and she snuggled into his loose neck.

Turning he was surprised, briefly, by my presence.

“Nonna, “I ventured placing a hand on my chest.

He looked down at his gift, his reply a knowing smile.

Don Russell

 

Chillin’

Nancy wiped John’s paws after their early morning walk. She’d decided when the time was right she would have a dog and if she did it would be called John. It had been cold this morning, an early snap of winter in late autumn. She pulled the heavy oak door closed enjoying the safe thud as it met the frame and the warmth of her kitchen soothed. A bonus from putting a couple of the gas rings on before going out. It was something she’d done from around this time last year. It reminded her it was now over a year since she’d moved to the old cottage.

Nancy opened the broom cupboard, home for her wellingtons, John was trying to push his head between her feet. It was also where she kept his food. She gently nudged the jumping spaniel aside with her thigh as she gathered his bowl and breakfast. The sight of breakfast increased his excitement as he followed her across the kitchen. Her feet were toasty, the woollen socked moccasin things Martha her friend from the bank had brought her back from Canada were perfect. She was even able to wear them with her wellingtons.

She could hear the fire she’d set and lit before going out crackling healthily next door. John had gulped his breakfast as usual and she knew he would be settling down, exercised and fed to enjoy snoozing on the warm spacious hearth.

She spied through, sure enough he was already stretching out. She loved watching contentment. Her thoughts were interrupted by the whistling kettle. She’d come across it at a car boot sale and felt it fitted well with the style of the old cottage. That was the same day that she’d bought the two flat irons which were now bookends for best of her collection of the early cookery books that she’d amassed as a hobby during her working life in the bank. A Mrs Beeton’s first edition held pride of place.

The toaster pinged, she wasn’t the soggy buttered type, she liked a bit of crispness so ignored it for the present. She emptied the boiling water from the kettle into the stainless-steel teapot. Breakfast was generally the only time of day she veered towards the tradition of enjoying her tea poured from a pot apart from when she had guests. She’d bought the stainless-steel set, a tray, tea pot, milk jug, sugar dish at yet another car boot sale. She didn’t take sugar so the dish was kept for the few visitors she had who did. She’d used the milk jug initially but had discarded it when she’d began a new procedure with the morning tea. The tea pot could provide enough for three mugs so she added milk directly to the pot after she’d brewed the tea and wrapped the pot in a tea cosy. The tray was still used to bring her drink and toast through to the living room.

John whimpered. Dreaming? She smiled as she placed her toast and mug of tea on the table by her chair. The pot of tea sat a safe distance from the fire ready for the job of replenishing. The eight forty train rolled by. The train she used to take to work, the train that she’d first noticed the signal man’s cottage from, little realising it would become hers.

They’d been whispered caring concerns back at the bank. She’d heard them. How would Nancy cope without her work? It was her life. No partner to share her time with. She’d be lost. They’d been unaware of the sleepless nights as she’d struggled with increasing complexities of the job nor the huge weight her decision to retire had lifted off her shoulders.

The rural life suited. She settled into her “old comfy”. A floppy crinkled brown soft leather armchair, the type she’d enjoyed using in a local coffee shop. This had not been bought at a car boot, it had been in the house when she arrived.

Crunching into her toast she congratulated herself on the tang of her home made raspberry jam. John lifted a lazy eyelid, she saw it, it always reminded of John Wayne and cowboys sleeping with one eye open for some unknown reason. She knew, he knew it was getting close to crust time. She dropped them on the hearth near enough to enable him to slightly stretch his neck and reach without having to move the remainder of his resting body.

She picked up the tea cosied pot and refilled her mug, it still steamed, lovely. Placing it on the table she slipped her hand down and removed her paperback from the side of the cushion. Nestling in she began to read oblivious to the silent falling of the first snow of the season outside. The ten forty whistled in passing waking her. The fire was a little low but the room was warm, John was still dreaming on the hearth. She added a couple of blocks carefully so as not to disturb his slumber.

She checked the teapot, it was drinkable, passable. She remembered she wanted to make scones today, Martha was coming for tea on her way home from work. That would be a late afternoon job. She picked up her book which had landed on the floor and tucked her feet comfily under herself on the chair. She wondered how long until she’d doze off again. Bliss.

Family Matter

Me and Grandad

Dear Mam

I thought it might be useful to report back on my first day with Grandad. There are no areas of major concerns, however as this is how I am going to spend my Thursdays for the next three years I felt we should work within a spirit of transparency from the beginning. I believe it will be an essential ingredient in the success of my relationship with him.

Last Thursday our first day together has raised a few matters which should be addressed if we are going to follow our plan of transparency.

The messy bit to begin perhaps. Nappies, currently they are being applied back to front which is having a bit of an impact on leakage levels. Needs direction from you. There was also an exuberance to change me immediately after my lunch at twelve. If he had left me until twelve thirty it could have saved a second nappy change at twenty past twelve. This not a complaint on my part just a suggestion to consider that could ease his day.

Lunch, he appears to have well sussed. I had intended a bit of spoon grabbing, hand waving and keeping my mouth closed. I became so involved with the spoon becoming an aeroplane flying in food I forgot about any of these obstructions to cause complications at meal times. Lunch was a lot of fun. I was slightly confused however why he opened his mouth in unison with me each time the aeroplane flew in with my food. It was also quite a disconcerting view for me when I was trying to eat.

We went out in the car. Strapping me in was no problem, knowledge of the mechanics of getting the seat safely in the car were unnecessary as Dad fortunately fitted it before he arrived. The journey to the supermarket was dire, musically. Old Macdonald, Hickory Dickory, All the Kings Men, not for me Grandad, in car entertainment should be bit of Rag and Bone man, Sheeran or Shania Twain. Music choice needs dealing with.

Pushchair. Opening was a difficult process, kicking the wheels and, I think I heard swearing under his breath, did little to progress the process. There was a blushed relief at being caught putting the put boot in,so to speak , by a passing shopper who sensitively recognised his predicament and helped him. Manoeuvrability skills were never in question, his one hand driving whilst carrying a shopping basket was sublime. I quite enjoyed the outing. Plenty of comments on “what a happy boy” or “he’s got such a lovely smile”. One soul was forward enough to stroke my cheek in passing. I didn’t really mind as she also had a lovely smile.

Mam I know there were concerns about Grandad, how he forgets or loses his glasses, wallet, phone and car keys. Well he never lost any of these during our first day together. He has also promised me he will never drive away and leave me alone in the Asda car park ever again.

From your loving son

Alfie Butler (aged 10 months)

Darkness and Light

Sometimes it comes insidiously, a quiet mist which moving from a cloud to a shroud, encompasses me, swallowing my emotions, removing my pain and my pleasure, my sadness and my joy. There is almost a reward, the sense of self-pity, a temptation to swim in the pool of despair.

At first it is a little innocuous itch which comes and goes, but growing it becomes the black dog snapping at your heels. Less easy to ignore and requiring a great deal of effort to shake off. It drags you into tiredness, a worry about where it has come from, what route it is going to take this time? Will I survive? I have been here before. I am already beginning to plan strategies to change the direction.

I have found the initial step in the journey back is the acceptance that it is fighting to take me over again. Sometimes it’s okay to wallow a little in it, lull it into sense of winning. I feed myself in sad pieces for the cello that bring me to tears, uncontrollable tears that allow my otherwise flat self to have an emotion of some sort. A starting point.

A hint of recovery.  The return of the sudden fleeting warmth in a thought quickly lost like the sun disappearing behind the clouds. But cloudiness will become less, the coldness is defeated sporadically by those little moments of warmth that increase until they again take the upper hand.

My mind is moving worlds. It is not now the feel of the cold wind and the sound of lashing of rain on the window. It is the feel of the warm room, cosy in the chair protected from the fearfulness of outside. Harshness, soothed by the soaring of a bird, the gentle billowing of the breeze, the beauty and innocence of my grandchild, the unworried way he appears to handle his young life. This is the positivity. I realise having been at the bottom and that I am climbing again.

My energies return, I am getting stronger. I have reached the spring of my recovery, but it is not yet summer and the first edges of spring are closer to winter.  I am careful. I can be weakened and recognition can be tougher than denial. But it is recognition that has given me strength, a label, a path to follow to get out. The power to recover and the knowledge of having that power.

The power to survive!

 

Don Russell

Sunday Morning Reflection

 

There was a loud scraping on the pavement and a continuous tuneless whistle. I glanced to the bedside. Six thirty. The morning was bright through the thin floral curtains. Other mornings the disturbance would have been swallowed by the busyness of the day. Today it echoed in the emptiness of the street.

The bedcovers moved gently as Tina slept on. Sometimes she looked ugly, especially if she was lying on her back, open mouthed and snoring. This morning, breathing peacefully, hair sprawled, her mouth twitched a smile, possibly in some dream she would never remember. She looked beautiful.

I slipped on my dressing gown and quietly left the bedroom.

The rear gardens in Bartholomew Street reflected an era where scarcity of space to build was not an issue. Eighteen Ninety-Five in Roman numerals etched in the stone above our front door confirmed it. The four letter boxes also confirmed that like most houses in the street it had been converted into flats.

The bedroom lay to the front of the house so shared an outlook with the living room. Both received the sun early. Being on the first floor we tended not to close the window fully nor the curtains at all so the armchair was beginning to benefit from the morning’s warmth as I relaxed into it with a coffee.

I watched and listened in my silence to the sound and sights of his actions. What is it about our nature that attracts us to watch the workings of others?

Voyeurism?

The scraping was the result of moving numerous empty plastic milk crates topside down to construct a temporary extension to the shop front. Being situated on a corner allowed him to use a substantial area. The owner of the tuneless whistle wore a flat cap and a brown work coat that always made me think of Arkwright in “Open All Hours”. He was of similar build.

He worked steadily, completing the framework and disappearing into the shop returning with a large wooden board which appeared, to the untrained eye, too big to exit the door, but experience conquered. I smiled remembering the skill of the removers getting our sofa up the stairs. Further boards covered the rest of the extension. Finally, he dressed it all with rolls of artificial grass a Subbuteo aficionados dream.

Stopping for a rest, hands on hips he shared an exchange with two lycra clad women, directing his glance to their path as they ran around the corner into Bartholomew Street. He lifted his cap wiped his brow and disappeared back into the shop.

He returned a large brown bag, Wilja’s emblazoned across the middle, hoisted on his shoulder. The top must have burst, and with his body blocking the view potatoes suddenly appeared to be escaping from beneath the hem of his work coat  and bouncing erratically towards the kerb.

Tina voiced her loneliness from the bedroom. Tempted but declining, I returned to my coffee,the man, his unruly potatoes and the comfort of the sun.

 

 

Thoughts From A House Move

This morning, I was aware, in the quietness of a waking day that I was rousing the old wood in the cottage, and of its lazy creaking responding to my steps, welcoming strange feet. I wondered if the old new house we had left was as welcoming to its tenants.

The location of unfamiliar light switches to be learnt. Fumbling in the dark to find the toilet short lived by the miracle of memory.

A co-existence with nature the early morning birdsong accompanies the rhythmic rainfall on the conservatory roof. A relationship the old new place never allowed.

As I sit, the mountains that may have needed to be climbed yesterday seemed a non event, in fact they never appeared but we were protected. The precious magnificence of the preparing mind having already built unused foundations to cope if needed. We feed the dreams of a thousand situations. If we could but feed only these that really happen how much easier it would be.

The theatre of life moves on. A new act in the production, characters scarcely known to us dip in doing huge things in our lives and we trust them with the preciousness as they carry the table unaware of what’s behind the cup stains upon it.  The removers removed themselves. We gave them thanks. Our roles in each other’s play short by necessity. Closing the door on them leaving the crossroad of our time together begins to distance.

Loved faces joined later. Those who also understood the meanings of cup stains, and the rest of the plot. Safe, we’d gathered and shared fish and chips and heavily buttered thick sliced bread. But this was not until their work was done and they knew they had made us comfortable for the night.

So what of the days ahead, what love of life will be found here?  What has been carried from whence we came to be used in the new old place.  Our minds, our faith have moved with us as an ever present. But childlike we meet the unexplored, leading us to new things and mixing them with our experience and wisdom gives them our shape. The aroma of salt and vinegar and the red sauce stain remain reminding me again of last night’s communion at the breakfast bar. We have already produced an event to begin our history in this place. The first “do you remember when” moment?

The days of comparison will disappear. There will come with time, a moment of grounding, the concrete realisation we are not going back. The acceptance that there is loss of what we had be it bad or good, it is still loss. Our world will never seem quite the same again.

Don Russell

I Give You

 

I give you your stimulation,

But not my mind.

 

I give you your meal,

But not my labour.

 

I give you your wants,

But not my love.

 

I give you your way,

But not my truth.

 

I give you your importance,

But not my agreement.

 

I give you your visions,

But not my visions.

 

I give you your memories,

But not my dreams.

 

I give you your keys,

But not to my door.

 

Don Russell