I hope you are okay and enjoy reading this edition which contains the three winning short stories from my recent competition – the three winners were: Sally Kidd, Cathy Bryant and Donna Taylor. Because of the inclusion of the three winning stories this edition is larger than a usual edition – I hope you don’t mind this. Anyone can contribute to this magazine and items should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org thanks, Dean.
MY NOT VERY SERIOUS STAR SIGNS
Scorpio 24 Oct – 22 Nov
An old man you may know is obsessed with having a fire in his garden every night but don’t try and stop him as he has little else to focus on. Don’t carry out the crime, however small, you were thinking of committing.
Sagittarius 23 Nov – 21 Dec
This month you will have to tighten your belt, so start by questioning if you should really be paying the prices some cafes charge for coffee – especially when some coffee producers are paid so little. An old woman may surprise you with her flexibility.
Capricorn 22 Dec – 20 Jan
It is time to be cruel to be kind by rejecting the advances of a friend with whom you want to be just friends. A geek you despise may prove to have a good heart and help you out in an unexpected way.
Aquarius 21 Jan – 19 Feb
Physical gratification may be offered to you on a plate this month, but you must weigh up if the price you will pay will be too high. You will come into some money in the near future so use it wisely.
Pisces 20 Feb – 20 Mar
An intellectual friend will unwittingly show you how we all need each other when he asks you for some help with some simple D.I.Y.. A wedding invitation is just around the corner so you may have some unexpected fun choosing an outfit to wear for the occasion.
Aries 21 Mar – 20 Apr
Someone with a stick may treat you out-of-the-blue. You may be tired of capitalism but there is little you can do about it as it reflects the human condition. You may find a dwarf very attractive this month, so don’t be afraid to let them know how you feel.
Taurus 21 Apr – 21 May
Don’t be too hard on someone who seems lazy as they may be doing their best and may perceive hard work in a completely different way to you. If you’re male dye your hair if you want to as women do it without a second thought.
Gemini 22 May – 21 Jun
A yoga teacher may reveal that she wants to teach you more than yoga! An unexpected bill may leave you short of money, but don’t worry as a windfall will offset this shortfall.
Cancer 22 Jun – 23 Jul
A man who wore a dickie bow in life, may come back to haunt you later this month, but don’t be afraid as he is just a lonely soul looking for some company. A good time to have your eyes tested.
Leo 24 Jul – 23 Aug
Someone with extreme right-wing leanings may openly reveal the extent of their greed this month, but try and hate their greed and not them. It is a good time to change your perfume or after-shave if you have your eye on someone of the opposite sex.
Virgo 24 Aug – 23 Sep
A bored, married woman may try to pressurise you to have an affair with her, but politely refuse, as your own married life isn’t that bad is it? A letter from an old friend may cheer you up and make you laugh until you wet yourself.
Libra 24 Sep – 23 Oct
Don’t be offended if some close friends choose to have a quiet wedding without you – remember we all want to do things in our own way. A mysterious phone call from an admirer will start your pulse racing.
“Sally is a lifelong word addict and avid reader. She has always written in a wide variety of formats, and this is her first competition win for a short story. She is writing a historical novel based the extraordinary life of a young woman from the 1800’s. She is also studying English Literature with Creative Writing at degree level with the Open University. When not hunched over a hot keyboard she enjoys long walks in the country with her husband and their dog.”
A GIFTBy Sally KiddThe sound of the waves clawed at her mind. The cold, grey sea stretched out in front of her. Four miles out the pointed hills of the Isle of Wight poked at the grey sky. Another typical day at the seaside.Standing in her costume on the edge of the shore she contemplated her options. Should she leave her clothes here, a.l.a Reginald Perrin? Should she actually swim out into the seaweed cluttered brine and hope to find the end there? She shivered. Even in late August it could still be cold by the Solent, and today there was a bit of a breeze to make it cooler.Perhaps that would make it quicker, the cold. They said that dying from cold wasn’t actually all that unpleasant. But how did ‘they’ know that she wondered. Had ‘they’ ever tried it? And if ‘they’ had, who had reported back to say it wasn’t so bad? And compared to what? Maybe compared to drowning. She shivered again, but this time it was nothing to do with the cold. She crouched down, as easily as her old knees would let her and sat hugging them on the shore, as if contemplating the view to the Island.
Who would miss her? The others at the club would probably wonder where the lady who brought the milk in occasionally had gone. They’d have to work out a new rota. The children, all now grown up (the noun hardly fitted them any more) would be sad for a bit, but maybe also relieved. To be free of the worry of care homes and expensive bills for when she had finally lost her marbles. Her friends had mostly gone on this adventure before her. Shelley succumbing to cancer, Louise to ‘flu (of all things) and Bea had just seemed to give up after Sid had gone.
Thinking of Sid brought her own husband to mind. He’d been a good man, and a good father. She’d cared for him in his final illness, tried to keep him going but he’d smoked like a chimney for sixty five years. She had always known it would get him in the end.
She drew a towel she’d brought around her shoulders to keep off the chill, late summer breeze. She had no idea why she had brought the towel, for if her plan went ahead she would have no need to dry herself off after a swim. She heaved a heavy sigh and looked again at the familiar outline of the Island. All her life it had been there. Immovable. Reliable. Even now when she went to the seaside anywhere but her native Hampshire her eyes went out four miles and stopped, expecting the Island to be there. It was always a shock to notice that you couldn’t see it from Norfolk or France.
The voice startled her, and she turned to see a young man in a jacket standing next to her. He had a pleasant face, but also the air of a ‘hippy’ as her husband would have called him. Long hair curling down over the shabby collar of his worn jacket. His brown eyes were warm though and she categorised him as a teacher, he had that air.
“Hello.” She responded politely, then turned back to her contemplation of the Solent. To her surprise he sat down next to her.
“Wonderful isn’t it?” he asked, staring out into the greyness with her.
This statement caught her unawares and she turned to look at the young man. He continued to stare out to sea. She noticed that he had a few grey hairs around his temples and some fine lines around his eyes, so perhaps he wasn’t as young as she had at first thought. She turned back to the sea and found Osborne House on the Island. “Thinking of going for a dip?” the man asked, nodding at her towel and costume.
“Perhaps.” she agreed.
“Bit cold I’d have thought”
“My old infant school mistress swam every day of her life, including Christmas Day from this very spot.” she replied, hoping to both reprimand and silence him in the same sentence.
He shifted on the spot, making the pebbles crunch. “Really?”
“Yes, we were tougher back then” she said, pleased with the surprised tone in his voice “she lived until she was ninety.”
“Wow. How did she die?”
Nobody had ever asked this question before when she had told the story, and it rather caught her by surprise. It forced the honest answer from her.
“Pneumonia.” she said flatly.
The younger man made no response, but the fine lines around his eyes deepened as he tried to suppress the smile that the answer, not needed for years, had caused.
When he spoke the mirth was hidden, but warmed his voice. “Oh, how sad.” he said.
For a moment she was irrationally cross with him. Yes, it was sad. But then, perhaps for the first time in her life she realised the irony. Smothering her own new amusement in the tale she nodded and agreed “Yes, it was. But she’d had a good life.”
“Oh look!” The man grasped her arm and pointed to where the clouds were thinning across the Island. Shafts of sunlight pierced them turning the greyness of the day to the brilliant colours of amethysts and emeralds. Lighting the green, lushness of the Island and shining the grey of the Solent away. Both of them smiled together. “Oh, I’m sorry” he said and released her arm “but I’ve only come down here from the City a couple of months ago and every time I visit this spot I see something new.”
“Really?” she asked, staring at the all too familiar view. She couldn’t imagine anything new.
“Oh yes,” he enthused “it’s all so beautiful!” He turned for the first time and looked at her “haven’t you noticed, there’s always a different light, always a different sea and in every wood, always a different green?” He paused, seemingly overwhelmed and embarrassed by it.
She smiled at him encouragingly “You must be a very good teacher to your students.” she said.
“Your students” she repeated, a touch impatiently, “You must enthuse them with your subject. What is it that you teach?”
He shook his head and looked puzzled “But I don’t teach. As I said I’ve just come down from the City, I was a banker ….” his voice faded uncertainly.
“Oh, you were involved in all of this banking crisis nonsense?” she prompted.
Again the uncertain shake of the head. “No, before that. In fact I sort of saw it coming, and the stress of it all brought on a bit of a breakdown. I’m here on Doctor’s orders.” His voice grew stronger and firmer “And I have to say it’s been a tonic.”
“Good. You certainly look in the pink as my Mother used to say. When do you go back?”
“Oh, I’m not going back, just the thought of it…” he shuddered and a shadow as clear and as brief as one cast by a cloud over on the Island crossed his face. “No, I’ve got to find myself another way of earning a living.”
He checked his watch. “Look the time’s getting on and I’ve delayed you long enough, are you going for your swim because if you are I think you need to go now.”
She turned and looked back at the Island, alight in the late evening sun. “No” she said “I think you’re right. It’s a bit late now.” She held out her hand to him and he helped her up. “Do me a favour?” she asked, squinting at him as the low evening sun tilted its farewell.
“Try teaching. You’re a natural.”
“How do you know? Were you a teacher?”
She smiled at the thought; her famous impatience with children would have been a severe handicap. “No, I know because you’ve taught me something in the short time we’ve been sat here.”
“Yes. You’ve taught me there is always something new and wonderful here, however familiar the view. Always something worth waiting to see. That” she prodded him with her finger on the shoulder “is a gift. Don’t waste it.”
LET’S NOW TALK TO CHEF PAUL HANNAM
Paul, can you tell me a bit about yourself? Yes. I’m Head Chef at The Moorings in Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire. I’ve been a chef for most of my life – all of my life really.
So you’ve only ever been a chef? Most of the time I’ve been a chef but I have also owned my own bars and restaurants.
Where were they? In Manchester, Todmorden and Hebden Bridge.
Where were you brought up as you’re half-Maltese aren’t you? My dad was Maltese and my mother was English. I was born in England (my mother didn’t want to have me in Malta as the hospitals at that time weren’t very good) but as soon as I was about three weeks old we went back to Malta and I lived there until I was sixteen.
Why did you leave Malta? My mum and dad got divorced and my mum moved back to England. Initially, I stopped in Malta with my dad but I used to visit my mum who had a pub at that time – she used to serve food there and I used to help her in the kitchen with the cooking.
Did that experience influence your choice of profession? Yes.
Where did you train to be a chef? When I was sixteen my dad had bars and restaurants in Malta – so I was always in the trade. Then my dad asked me what I wanted to do and I said that I wanted to be a chef, so he arranged for me to go to Rome to start my apprenticeship.
Was it with somebody your dad knew? Yes, it was with a friend of the family.
How long did your apprenticeship last? Four years.
Was college work involved in your training? No! It was all hands-on at the time.
Did you learn to cook all types of food? Mainly Italian to start with and then we went on to do Mediterranean cuisine and other world foods. The first year of my apprenticeship I literally just shadowed the Head Chef around the kitchen. The second year he put me on to starters and pizzas – so making pizzas was the first job I learnt to do. In the third year, the Head Chef put me on to making dishes with himself – because of shadowing him, I knew how to cook sauces, chicken dishes and pastas; at the time all the pastas were made fresh so the first job in the morning, was to make all the pastas. I was running the kitchen in my fourth year and was made Senior Sous Chef.
What did you do after you’d completed your apprenticeship? They asked me to stay on but me and an Italian colleague called Marco decided we wanted a bit of a break – we had been working from 9 am to 11 pm six days a week and fancied travelling around Europe.
Where did you go? We went to the airport and took the first available flight which was to Portugal. We spent the first night in a hostel and then on the second day, we decided to look for work so we asked in restaurants which were very busy during the summer season – as good chefs it was quite easy to find work. We then rented an apartment and stayed in Portugal for three or four months. After that, we went to the airport and again took the first available flight which was to Poland. We repeated this for a year and lived and worked around Europe in: Spain, France and Germany.
After this years’ break my father got a message to me that he’d bought a wine bar/bistro in Manchester which me and Marco ended up running.
How long did you do that for? For about three years and we bought the business and then also opened up another wine bar/bistro called Hobnobs. We were quite successful but then we got a very good offer from a large company and sold our two businesses to them. Then Marco decided he wanted to go back home to Sicily.
Where did you go next? To a place called Sour hall which was a pub and country restaurant near Todmorden.
Did you buy the business? Yes, I bought it for £75,000 and that’s where I met the mother of my two children.
What are your children called and how old are they now? I have a girl called Amy who is 19 and a son called Sam who is 22.
What happened to this business? Again we did well and got a good offer to sell it which is what we did. I then spent a couple of years as a Relief Bar Manager covering for holidays although I made sure I kept in touch with the food trade. After this I ran and owned The Sportsman’s Arms near Hebden Bridge.
How did you end up at The Moorings in Sowerby Bridge? I had just finished another job and got a call from the manager at the time who offered me the position of Head Chef.
When someone places a food order, does one chef do all of the order? Mainly, I split the kitchen at The Moorings into three sections: starters, middle and mains.
What does ‘middle’ mean? It’s a chef who can help the Starter chef and the Mains chef if they are really busy – like a floating chef. The chefs at The Moorings can do all sections.
How many chefs are there at The Moorings? There’s me, Naomi, Gail and an apprentice called Aura who is serving a three year apprenticeship here.
Are chefs well-paid? Yes.
What do you think of vegetarianism? I find cooking for vegetarians a lot harder than cooking for meat eaters because you have got to try and individually flair each dish – you’re more limited so you’ve got to have plenty of ideas!
If anyone is interested In visiting The Moorings, how can they contact you: They can telephone: 01422 833940 or email: email@example.com
THE SLEEP UNDER THE STARS EVENT FROM SMARTMOVE
The week started well, the weather slightly windy was mild and dry for November. However, as the week went on it got colder and wetter. Come the day; Friday 13th November (luckily I’m not superstitious!) I woke up to a cold, windy and rainy day.
It was only 8:30am; some 12 hours before I was due to report for Sleep under the Stars event. An event organised to raise awareness of homelessness and fundraise for SmartMove; a local charity. However, I was already thinking whose idea was this! Then my thoughts turned to gratitude. I thanked God for everything I have. As I was travelling from Bradford to Halifax; this included a car that was keeping me dry, warm and transporting me a significant distance with little effort on my part.
I’m blessed with six sisters. As the day went on a number of them found out about the sleep out. I got a number of messages concerned about my safety and health. The key message; “make sure mum and dad don’t find out”. They won’t sleep a wink with worry.
These messages turned my thoughts to my son and daughter and the parents of the homeless. All the hopes and aspirations I have for them. Those sleeping out day after day; the hopes and aspirations their parents must have had for them.
As the day progressed we had rain, hail, a spattering of snow and lots of wind.
Come 8pm I was getting ready for the sleep out. What did I wear – lots! I went for thin clothes but lots of layers:
- 3 pairs of socks.
- 2 pairs of thermal pants and a pair of jeans.
- A thermal top, two full sleeved t-shirts and a jumper.
- A waterproof and fleece lined jacket.
- A pair of gloves and a hat.
I also took with me waterproof padding to go under my sleeping bag and two sleeping bags.
I arrived at the Halifax Football stadium; the Shay. I was surprised to see over 60 people had turned out for the Sleep under the Stars event.
We were allowed to sleep under the covered part of the seating. I found somewhere quiet and dry to bed down for the night. I found it difficult to sleep due to:
- The noise of people talking.
- All the layers of clothes kept me warm but made me feel constrained and claustrophobic.
- Layers of clothes also impaired my flexibility and movement.
I did fall asleep but was woken a number of times:
- Feeling cold; despite wearing so many layers and using two sleeping bags.
- I restricted fluids all afternoon so I wouldn’t need to go to the toilet. I think feeling cold increased visits to the toilet
Eventually, at 6:45am we decided to pack up and go home.
Reflections on the night:
- At around 2am I awoke feeling cold and needing to go to the toilet. To my surprise I found someone else sleeping a couple of feet away from me. Someone sleeping rough must sleep with one eye open for their safety and to safeguard their belongings. How do you live with no privacy or personal space?
- I visited the toilet twice during the night. How easy is it to find a toilet when sleeping rough and keeping clean?
- Despite wearing so many layers, sleeping in two sleeping bags and the temperature being above freezing I still woke up a number of times feeling cold. How do those who are not as well prepared and cannot find shelter cope in below freezing temperatures?
- I was surprised by the level of noise during the night. The noise of people talking but also passing traffic and clatter of night workers doing their jobs. It must be impossible to get real rest when sleeping rough.
If you would like to know more about Smartmove, please click on the following link:
HOW TO DEAL WITH BUREAUCRACY
Written by Cathy Bryant
I was sitting in the library reading a favourite horror story (‘Vivia’ by Tanith Lee) when I felt something cool brush against my leg. It is a tribute to my love of libraries that I didn’t scream. Instead I made a small, respectable noise like a muffled cough, and looked down to confront the terrifying spectre.
It was a white cat, mostly moggy but with a hint of Persian and the insouciance of a god, weaving its way through chair legs and rubbing them with its cheek glands in the wonderfully civilised dance of feline ownership.
I observed the standard ‘O let me love you, Great One’ rituals: I slow-blinked, made gentle kissy noises, held out a hand and talked nonsense. The cat condescended to let me stroke it and rub its chin for a while, and then padded off unhurriedly about its business, like a man with a semi-regular arrangement to meet an old friend at a café.
I had taken refuge in the cool peace of the library as I had an unexpected hour to kill. My bus had approached, and I stuck out my arm and made eye contact with the driver – only for the vehicle to sail past the stop, leaving me and a mild old man in a haze of exhaust fumes and resentment.
“What the hell? It’s like we don’t exist,” I said. “But I know he saw me.”
“It’s efficiency,” said the old man, which was so exactly the opposite of the truth that I was rendered speechless. My expression was probably eloquent, though.
“Efficiency checks,” he explained. “It’s Time this month. My nephew’s lad is on the buses, so he knows. They measure time from stop to stop. If that driver had picked us up then he’d have got behind, and been marked down as inefficient.”
“That’s ludicrous.” My voice had reappeared.
“Aye, but soon they’ll be checking Passengers. It’s lovely then. They wait for you at the stop if you’re a bit late and running for it, and they help with bags and kids. They have to get the numbers, when they’re doing Passengers. That’s next month. Makes the buses very late, mind.”
“But the whole point of buses is to pick up passengers and transport them, on time,” I said feebly. “It makes no sense to check time one month and passengers the next when they’ll do totally different things, and not just get on with their jobs.”
“It’s regulations, isn’t it? You’ve got to feel sorry for them,” said the old man, shaking his head pityingly. “They’ve got forms to fill in. Forms.”
I checked the complaints form on the bus company website via my phone. It was a mile long and I just couldn’t face it. Instead of waiting another hour for the next bus, thinking about efficiency, regulations and forms, I decided to head to the library and read something vivid. Which is how I met the cat.
When the next bus was almost due, I replaced my book in the right place, and gathered up the eight I was withdrawing.
“Your cat is magnificent,” I said to the librarian when she had scanned my books and handed them to me.
“Cat? There’s no cat here,” she said, beaming.
“We couldn’t possibly have a cat here,” explained her gentle, twenty-something assistant, on whom I had a slight and hopeless crush. “It would pose a fire hazard, as well as contravening all sorts of health and safety regulations.”
He was smiling broadly too, and I couldn’t help joining in; for as they spoke, both of them were stroking the cat, which was sitting on the desk purring loudly, clearly quite at home, looking very satisfied with life in general and itself in particular.
WHY I NEVER MARRIED
Written by Brenda Condoll
Why I never married is because I wanted to educate myself to a certain level, be in employment and get some money behind me – not be like my mother who had nine girls. I had eight half-sisters and I had to work to help my mum – for a while I also worked part-time selling skin care cosmetics to help myself out but it proved too much for me and I had to reluctantly concentrate on my job and my studies.
Though my mum never did help me, I am grateful she sent for me to come to England as things were getting worse by the day in Nevis and I seized this opportunity so that I was able to send money back to my grandmother, who had brought me up and worked so hard for me and my sisters back home.
I did ask my mother why she kept on having children when she came to England and why she didn’t ask the doctors to help her stop doing so. She had four children in England but unfortunately one of them died from meningitis.
All I can say is that I did my best to help out and God will bless me for doing this.
By Brenda Condoll
December, February and parts of March are the coldest months
When we have rain and snow, hailstones
Sometimes it is foggy and sometimes it is very cloudy, wet and cold.
We have to put on the heating to keep warm and wear lots of warm clothing –
Hot cups of tea, soup and food help us out through the winter months.
When we do our washing we have to dry them indoors unless it is windy and
There is some winter sun when we can dry them naturally.
The children like playing in the falling snow, making snowmen or sledging –
They like having fun in the winter months.
A CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT A WILLIAMS
Robert, I understand you’ve had an interesting life, can you tell me a bit about it? My father was in the Royal Navy so I was born in Wales where he was serving and I spent three years in St. David’s. After that my father retired from the navy and went to work for a pub business – so my formative years were spent in a pub environment until I was about thirteen – a pub is not a great environment for a child to be brought up in.
I did really well at school up until about sixteen and people thought I was going to go to Oxford or Cambridge University – but I found alcohol and drugs and chose that option instead!
Do you regret that? I don’t regret anything
But you did end up going to university? Yes I went there as a mature student when I was twenty-five. Prior to that I travelled around Asia for a few years.
What did you study at uni? I studied Science and Technology Policy and Development Studies – neither of which have any application to anything I do at the moment.
Did you enjoy uni? There was a lot of drinking involved. It was enjoyable. Then in 1995, whilst at University, my first child was born with my partner Sarah – I had a fractious relationship with her. However, we managed to have three children together. Over that period, I was doing various jobs until I found a job with an IT support company based in London which I came to originally through doing some auditing of IT equipment.
Were you with your partner at this time? Yes – on and off.
What were you doing with the IT Company? I started off in a junior position even though I was in my mid-thirties, but the company recognised that I had an aptitude for the work and promoted me. I was there for four or five years doing: network installation, security and consultancy. I was project manager at the point that I had to leave. When I was about 40 I stopped all the drinking and drugs and coffee – almost everything and started running; doing charity runs like The Great Manchester Run and The Great North Run. Overall I was usually placed a little better than the average runner!
In around 2006 – 2007 the relationship I had with Sarah got to a bad point although we did manage to have two other children in between. I heard about Sarah moving up north to Hebden Bridge. I negotiated with the company I was working for to find a way that I could also move to Hebden Bridge to be nearer to my children. A year or so after moving up North I started to discover Tai Chi and meditation. I sat a ten day Vipassana Course in 2008.
Have you got Buddhist leanings? To a certain extent – the morality of Buddhism holds more appeal than any other religion but I don’t really feel that religion has a place in society any more. A massive turning point for me was in 2008 when Sarah, my occasional partner and mother of my children, suddenly and tragically died. As a result my whole life changed.
I continued working for the IT Company for a couple of months after Sarah’s death.
Is it true you brought up your three kids on your own from then onwards? Yes and it was a steep learning curve in parenting for me.
How did this affect your work? Me and the company parted ways in the January after Sarah’s death, she died in October 2008 – I didn’t really have the time to focus on work, what with having three grieving children and also grieving to a certain extent myself. The aftermath of Sarah’s death was a mess in part because she did not have a Will, so my Top Tip for everyone is make a Will if you do not wish to leave those you care about in even more distress when you depart. My children became my main focus.
And have you been short of money? Yes there has not been not much of it around, although I have a feeling that will change in 2016. I’ve no regrets although, like every parent, there are some things that I could have done differently.
How old are you children? My daughter Martha is twelve, Lachlan is fourteen and Finnbah is twenty.
What are you doing with your life now? I work part-time in a toy shop called Silly Billy’s in Hebden Bridge. I’m also developing a business in Social Media Marketing and Search Engine Optimisation for individuals and organisations that are creating positive change. This is building up gradually.
Are you still running? No, not for a couple of years but I’m trying to lose weight. I think there are two big challenges in my life: money and food.
How would you describe the spiritual path you are on now? In one word: Interesting. I’m doing various things like Access Consciousness and Meditation – I’m a Bars and Reiki practitioner and can do other energy healing practises.
BACK TO LIFE
Written by Donna Taylor
Back to life is a story that takes you on a journey into the afterlife where you get to meet with the Creator himself, and discover if five simple questions and a worrying vision of the earth’s future have the power to give you a second chance:
So there you are, at the end of your life, wondering how the final curtain descended so quickly. After all, it only seems like yesterday when the rigours of life were easily tamed and you felt the invincibility of youth. There’s no point dwelling on what went wrong and all that you’ve left behind. No, all you need to do now is allow yourself to enjoy the feeling of lightness as you float freely without the encumbrance of your tired and sick body.
It is disconcerting at first is it not? Like a learner driver, you haven’t quite got the hang of the forward and downward movements. And when you pick up speed you find it hard to stop and find yourself cascading through walls, plummeting through ceilings and passing through the living. The latter you find a most interesting experience, like passing through a dry waterfall. You also note that some of the living react with a shiver. Some even look around. But a few have no reaction at all. You wonder if these would be the people who can’t remember their dreams and miss the rainbow that everyone else has just caught a glimpse of.
You have fun with light switches, trying to muster form long enough to be able to apply pressure. But it takes a colossal amount of energy and after the initial novelty has worn off you decide that there are probably better ways to spend your time. Like being around the people you loved, and the people you didn’t. But then that is draining too: all the tears, all the sorrow, all the regrets. It’s as painful for you as it is for them; to be in the company of your distraught partner or child and not be able to touch them and let them know you’re still here. This, you decide, is the cruellest of separations, so eventually you decide to move on.
No sooner have you had this thought then a beam of light appears. Well, more of a pinprick, way off in the distance, but it’s bright enough – like a single star in the night sky – to catch your eye. You are drawn towards it and it to you. The star grows quickly and becomes a Being – a luminous enchanting creature – part human, part angelic – with waist length bright white hair, eyes the colour of lavender and a smile that feels like home. The Being – you can’t ascertain whether it’s male or female – holds out its arms to you and you find yourself gliding along a tunnel of light. This you had heard about more than once during your time on earth. You’re not sure what to expect next but you’re kind of hoping, thinking, that it might be Heaven’s Gate. You wonder if you’ll be asked a few simple questions: Did you ever kill anyone? No.
Did you lie? Occasionally. Steal? No, well, not unless you count the stapler from work. Were you faithful? Mostly. Very well, you may pass.
You wonder, if like exams, standards have slipped based on your slightly shoddy answers.
You do indeed find yourself at some sort of gate, although it’s more of a door, and it doesn’t shimmer with gold or have cherubs dancing round it. The luminous Being gives a little bow and recedes into the dark distance, until the little pinprick of light is no more. You stand at the somewhat disappointing door which looks like the one you had in your cellar: peeling paint in the corners and a loose doorknob. You’re not sure if you should enter, but after what seems an eternity you decide that there’s no point hanging around and give a little knock. Silence. You push open the door. There, in the centre of a completely white room, seated behind a desk, sits a youngish figure. You recognise him instantly as your son. You feel a bit wobbly – you left your son and the rest of your family on earth. Your son calmly explains that he is not actually your son but that it’s customary in these circumstances for the Almighty to take the form of someone that the soul finds reassuring. Ah, you sigh, well that makes sense, you suppose, if a little strange. You ask if you can hug this God/son being to which the answer is yes. You embrace your Godly son for quite some time as the tears roll down your face. After another lapse of time you pull back and your God/son asks you to sit down. He then takes a piece of paper and says he needs to ask you five questions which will determine the next stage. You nod, feeling slightly confident having recently rehearsed for this moment.
God/son speaks: ‘Did you make the most of your life?’
Seeing that you’re not sure how to answer this, God/son rephrases the question.
‘Did you make the most of your gifts and talents that I gave you?’
You think about the things people told you you were good at and the things you loved doing, but for which over time, you found increasing numbers of reasons to avoid doing. You shake your head.
‘Did you enjoy yourself?’
Your brow furrows. Enjoy? Well, you guess you had fun in your younger days, but then work, family and other stuff took over.
God/son reads your expression and asks the third question: ‘Who did you not get to be, or what did you not get to do or have, during your time on earth?
You don’t need to think about that as your eyes well up.
God/son asks the 4th question. ‘Did you march to the drumbeat of your own heart, even if it meant upsetting others?’
Ah, the old ‘to thine own self be true,’ commandment. If it was a commandment, you’re not sure. You wish you’d have taken a bit more interest in the scriptures. Or gone for some counselling, read a few more books, had an astrology profile done..anything really. God/son waits for your answer. You think of the time you walked out of a painful relationship and the time you jacked in the job that bored the pants off you. You wonder if this is what the question means.
God/son is onto the last question: ‘Did you spend enough time with the people closest to you?’
You have to admit shamefully, that you did not. In your defence you say that there were always things that needed doing: work – for all the stuff that needed paying for, jobs to do, places to go, people to see.
God/son nods, with what you’re convinced is a look of disappointment. You feel a flicker of anger. This isn’t your son. He would never sit in judgement of you like this, and you tell him so. At your admonishment, the Being begins to morph into a variety of guises: a hermit, a beautiful goddess, an old man with a white beard, a Buddhist monk, Christ. The Almighty finally settles on a figure resembling the Dalai Llama dressed in a simple white gown.
‘This is the image closest to your perception of me, is it not?’
You nod, but add that you haven’t really given it a lot of thought.
God smiles and says He knows. You spent a total of 27 days contemplating the mysteries of life, including death and what comes after. He adds that you spent a total of 10.8 years watching TV. That, he tells you, is slightly less than the average. You spent 4.5 years texting and messing about with your I pad. He tells you that you spent 23.7 years in a job; 13.3 years of which you thought were so-so, 4.6 years which you rather enjoyed and 5.8 years that you hated. You spent a total of 2.7 years wondering if the person you spent most of your life with was the one for you. God notices that your mind is reeling, and so He stops and puts the sheet of paper down – which you notice is blank. You find your eyes darting to the wall in front of you as it lights up with what appears to be the story of your life. It begins with you as a baby, which you find fascinating since you could remember nothing of that time. And it’s lovely to see yourself all pink and round-eyed, so curious at the world. Progressing to toddler years, you let out a shriek as you recognise a long forgotten scene: you on your tricycle, being steered by your father in the local park. Your young excitement and exuberance for life is palpable. And then there’s another scene that’s jogged your memory: falling out of a tree, twisting your ankle and grazing your knee.
Your childhood home is all there in detail: the flock wallpaper, the burgundy Axminster carpet, the leather sofas, the clunky wooden TV. It rolls on by, this film of your life. All the bits you remember: eating the white chocolate mice on your way home from school. And the bits you had no memory of, like your older brother creeping into your bed and whispering in your ear that you must not tell. You gasp at this buried event, though you quickly register why you’ve always had an uneasy relationship with him, even as adults. You see your parents arguing and hear your mum threatening to leave if your father doesn’t quit drinking. You see your family sat around the table at your Gran’s where you sometimes went for tea on Saturdays.
Your life moves quickly on, the big events registering as turning points – the bits that made you what you were. Your family dynamics. Your graduation. Then the choice between the conventional job and following a deeper desire. Then later, marriage and children. The film of your life ends before your death. You’re relieved; you don’t really want to relive that experience.
Then another film begins. This one appears to be the life story of the earth. It begins without any life forms: just the oceans, sky and dusty ground. Then the first flower appears. You are blown away by the simple beauty; its delicate form, richness of colour and silent tenacity. The night sky in fast motion is a delight: the stars racing across the blackness leaving their silvery signature in arcs and dives. The moon rising and falling; a glorious pearl disc, roller-coasting through the dark heavens. The sounds of the night: owls, bats and cicadas. Then the sun appears over the horizon, dazzling with its golden lust for life, and the day creatures take over.
Then the first human – where did it come from? You want to rewind, thinking you missed something. It’s all going so quickly, but the story of life on earth is now up to Christ on the cross. You see the Bible and pieces of text being removed and rewritten. You see men fighting, women being raped and villages being torched. Coming closer to modern day you see bombs being dropped, forests the size of football stadiums being felled and shopping centres springing up in their place. You see mountain-high piles of old computers, televisions, fridges and laptops sitting like spent ogres on the surface of the planet. Although it’s moving so fast now you notice that some of the birds and creatures you saw earlier are no longer here. You see money changing hands, deals being done and Indian children foraging for food in rubbish dumps. You see elephants being slain for their tusks and baby seals being clubbed, for what, you’re not sure.
It’s a whirlwind, this life on earth but finally it seems to be slowing and you’re looking at a crossroads. One path leads to a vision of life nearer the beginning of the film: a peaceful earth with communities of people living and working together. The second road looks like something out of Revelations: floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, disasters, chaos, more concrete, more drilling, people rushing here and there with expressions bordering on madness, technological devices glued to the side of their heads. You see these same people dying from stress, toxicity and disappointment. The film ends. God looks at you, wondering.
‘What can I do?’ you ask.
God tells you that you have a choice. You can go back. You’re not actually dead – just hovering between states. Yes, your spirit has left your body, but your physical heart is still beating – just.
You nod. With just that thought, that decision, you are back in your body, lying in a hospital bed. Or it could be a hospice, you’re not sure. No it’s a hospice, definitely a hospice, because there are flowers on the windowsill. Hospitals don’t allow flowers – risk of infection. You gaze at the bouquet for what is possibly a long time. Then you begin to move. First a hand. Then your feet. You feel a bolt of energy surge through your body as you force yourself upright. You look out of the window. The sun is coming up. You know what you must do.
Do any of your readers share my view that too many cafes have become too expensive? I have stopped buying coffees for myself in cafes as I just don’t think they are worth the money – especially if you take it black. Surely it’s better to buy cheaper drinks in a café and make your own ‘proper’ coffee when you get home?
Peter Dawson, Leeds.
I live in England and would like to say that it’s ridiculous that rich people get the Winter Fuel Allowance and can use the buses free after 9 30am. Something needs to be done but how can we cheaply and fairly means-test older people so such waste is avoided?
Sarah White, Todmorden.
It’s a shame that too many people are now afraid to cycle on our dangerous British roads – but riding on the pavement is clearly not the answer as this is dangerous for pedestrians. I agree with people who say that the answer is to tax cyclists and use the money raised to build more cycling lanes.
Editor’s Final Word: Thank you for reading this edition of From The Horse’s Mouth and I hope you got something out of doing so. Remember anyone can contribute to this magazine by sending your contribution to: firstname.lastname@example.org and if you have time, it would be good if you could enter my current competition which is on my homepage at: www.deancharltonmag.com Dean.
Calderdale Rising crowdfund on the up and up!
A collective crowdfunding campaign, called Calderdale Rising, which was only launched on Friday 15th January 2015, is trending as the most popular campaign on Crowdfunder.co.uk, which currently hosts over 1,000 other live projects, and has already raised almost £110,000.
Led by Business for Calderdale and supported by other business groups in the area, it was created to help support around 100 businesses across Calderdale that were heavily affected by the 2015 Boxing Day floods. The businesses taking part in the scheme, range from high street shops to professional services and companies in the industrial sector, many of which are still unable to open. The vast majority of these businesses are small, independent and family owned, and many have had to make redundancies whilst they rebuild their premises and purchase new equipment and stock.
Crowdfunding initiatives differ from traditional charity fundraising, as they allow people to not only donate, but also to buy rewards, which may be products or ‘money can’t buy’ experiences. For example, the most popular reward on the page is the Hebden VIP Card, which at £25 to purchase then provides a range of discounts in a number of shops in the town, which is one of the most unique shopping destinations in the country. 74 of these cards have already been sold.
Bridestones Brewery, whose bar and micro-brewery “drink?” was badly hit in the floods, have also offered 3 ‘Beer Lovers Ultimate Gift’ which costs £500 each and allows the purchaser to create, produce and name one of their new ‘Flood Range’ of real ales, alongside the Head Brewer. One of these has already been sold, so there are only 2 remaining.
Plus for visitors to the area, the ‘Grand Day Out’ offered by The Bicycle Den, who also provide details of the iconic routes of the Tour de France for the riders to follow, with a bit of help to power up those hills with electric bikes, is available for £65 (or £50 for the first 10 purchases). And Hebden Bridge Cruises is selling its Cream Tea afternoon cruises for £20 through the site.
The money raised by the scheme will be shared between all the businesses taking part in the campaign, and with a range of rewards for all pockets, the organisers hope that is will raise a substantial amount of money to help these businesses recover a little more quickly.
For more information, or to donate, please visit: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/calderdalerising