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Open Age Creative Writing Blog

The Bushranger by Colin Angwin

He settled comfortably into his capacious mahogany arm-chair.   He had always been generously proportioned, but in the years since I had seen him he seemed to have expanded in every sense.

 

“It is good to see you looking so well, Sir,” I said.

 

“As I have often told you, young David,” he replied, “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness.   Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.   In this bountiful Commonwealth of Australia we have been fortunate enough to arrive at the desirable equilibrium, and I might say at a rather higher annual level than twenty pounds.   But it is generous of you to take the time to see an old friend.   What brings you to Port Middlebay?”

 

“I have a commission to write about life in your adoptive country, and, apart from the pleasure of renewing our acquaintance and that of your wife; I thought you might have interesting experiences to recount.”

 

“Many, indeed, and some that would bring tears to your eyes, but I suppose your readers will be looking for excitement and adventure?”   I affirmed that this was so.

 

“Then let me recount the time when I met one of our most celebrated and dangerous bushrangers.   You are familiar with the term?”   I shook my head.   “It means a dangerous criminal, an outlaw.   I was still a magistrate at the time, though I have now retired, and I was visiting a colleague in Glenrowan.   He was just forewarning me about a police plan to ambush one of these rascals when we heard an alarming racket, the sound of gun-shots and extraordinary clanging sounds.   Peering out of the window, we saw the remarkable sight of several men clad in a kind of armour made out of I know not what off-cuts of metal and leather engaged in a gun battle with the police force.   The rascals were outnumbered and the armour was not very robust so in spite of its protection they were soon captured.

 

It was determined to send them for trial to Melbourne, but as a member of the magistracy I was allowed to visit them in gaol.   Their leader was a young man called Ned Kelly, an immense Irishman with an immense beard.   He talked with great candour and indeed, he caught my sympathy for, as you know, I too have been through many misfortunes and have frequently found myself apparently bereft of all help.   All I could find to say to him was “Something will turn up”, but having bid him farewell in his solitary cell I walked away profoundly troubled.

 

Something did indeed turn up.    That evening, walking in the woods, I came across the body of a man.   He was but a tramp, not local, and who knows of what he had died, but I thought he could be useful.   As it happened, I had been accompanied on my visit not only by my beloved wife but also by a couple of the many grandsons with whom we have been blessed.   They were eager for any adventure and later that night we were able to smuggle the body into the gaol.   I had taken the earlier precaution of sending a large bottle of whisky to the gaoler as a thank you for his courtesy, and he was soundly if somewhat noisily asleep.   The keys to the cells were hanging on a hook, so we released Kelly and replaced him with the dead tramp.   To add a touch of drama, we strung the corpse up as if he had hanged himself.   Kelly made off into the eucalyptus forest and we retired to bed.”

 

“What an astounding story,” I exclaimed.   “What happened when the deception was discovered?”

 

“Absolutely nothing,” he replied.   “To my great surprise, there was no uproar at all.   Later, there were press reports that Ned Kelly had been tried, found guilty and sentenced to death and then hanged at Melbourne gaol.   Perhaps they found the body, did not perceive the substitution and hurriedly buried it.   Perhaps, on the other hand, the police were simply unwilling to admit that he had escaped.   Either way, it appears that they together with the judicial authorities concocted these bogus reports.”

 

“It would seem so,” I agreed, and I wondered whether I should investigate further.   However, I said nothing if this to him.

 

He rose with some difficulty from his throne-like chair.   “It would give us great pleasure if you would dine with us this evening.   My wife would be enchanted to meet you again – she often enquires whether I have had any news of you.”

 

“Thank you, Mr. Micawber, it would be a great pleasure.    Incidentally, do you know what happened to this Ned Kelly after his escape?”

 

“Ah, that is another story.”

 

Another Well by Colin Angwin

A few years ago, some sparky copywriter came up with use of the word “silver” as a euphonious euphemism for “elderly”, which is itself a euphemism for “aged”.   The usage has become widespread and a week ago last Sunday I attended a session on Creative Writing given as part of a series of events for oldies grouped under the title of “Silver Sunday”.

 

The tutor, Robert, mentioned a piece by one of his students who came from Eastern Europe, I think, and who recalled that in her childhood she had had to break the ice on the well in order to draw water.   Others from warmer climates had indeed had to use wells for water supplies, but not through the ice.

 

This reminded me of a well I came across as a child.   I must have been about 7 or 8 and I was with my parents in some remote part of India.   One day, as I wandered about the countryside, I saw a magnificent well-head.   It consisted of a huge horizontal wheel linked by a system of large cogs to an equally huge vertical wheel.   This type of irrigation apparatus was and probably still is widespread in Asia and the Middle East and I imagine it has been for centuries.

 

My eye was caught by the third component of the structure, a rope festooned with earthenware pots at regular intervals and looped loosely round the vertical wheel so that part of it trailed down into the well beneath.   An ox was lashed to the horizontal wheel and rotated it by plodding round in a never-ending circle.   This made the vertical wheel rotate in its turn, so that the pots came up out of the well filled with water which, as they passed the apex of their circuit, was tipped into a channel leading to the fields to be irrigated.

 

I picked up a stone and threw it at one of the pots which shattered satisfyingly, shedding its contents onto the dry earth.   I repeated the act with another stone, another pot.   My memory is that I hit a pot with every stone I threw, but my later experience on the cricket field showed that my hand and eye coordination is very shaky so that is unlikely.   It is, however, true that by the time I had finished my little game every pot was broken, and I headed for home well pleased with myself.

 

I dawdled on the way, so that the owner of the well got there well before me and was pouring out the story to my father, who took decisive action.   He paid the man for the damage done, more than generously I have no doubt, and he took a slipper to me, also quite generously.   This is the only beating that I remember his giving me.   I also remember his clear explanation of what the beating was for.   It was not for breaking the pots.   It was for not considering the effects of my action on the farmer, whose whole livelihood depended on the irrigation system I had destroyed.

 

Looking back on the episode many decades later, I also draw two other possibly unfashionable conclusions.   First, corporal punishment can be good – this slippering certainly impressed the desired lesson on me and did not in the least diminish my love and respect for my father.   Secondly, you could be one of the colonial rulers and still behave thoughtfully and fairly to the ruled.

 

Upstairs Dave by Ines Metcalfe

Upstairs Dave

 

Once upon a time – so the story goes – there lived an old man all alone, cold and miserable, in a deep forest. Actually Dave lived in a well-heated flat at the top floor of a large apartment building. Since his wife’s death his daughter visited once every two weeks, filled his fridge with very healthy food and took his washing. Slightly wheezing he spent his days shuffling from bed to chair, to kitchen, to window. Any more exertion caused a nasty bout of coughing. Emphysema, the doctor had called it and given medication. Radio and television he used sparingly but he enjoyed the view from his windows. Tops of cars driving in and out of parking spaces, heads and shoulders of people entering or leaving the front gate, children flailing their arms while speeding on skate boards. From his bedroom window he could see a cluster of trees, a well-fenced pond and a mostly empty playground.  Above – clouds, lots of them, always changing shapes and so near that he felt like reaching out to touch them.

 

There was a small balcony, bordered by a waist-high concrete wall. Before his wife had placed too many plant pots one could have put a chair out in the sun. Dave spent careful time tending the plants through the seasons, in his wife’s memory. Sometimes he had the extra job of cleaning fine dust from all balcony surfaces which had blown in when the wind was in that direction, from the crematorium at the cemetery behind the trees. Then Dave’s wheezing had become a real bother. The bird table, protruding over the balcony’s ledge, which he had installed ages ago at his wife’s wish, brought some diversion. He loved to watch the busy little visitors from the sky.

 

One day Dave noticed more activity on the balcony. Two birds were constructing a nest in the big bush in the corner where the branches had grown well above the concrete wall. Not many weeks later one bird was patiently sitting in the nest, looking at Dave without apparent fear. Eventually, as expected, small cheeps could be heard from three yellow wide open beaks. Fascinated he spent hours watching how the parents flew in and out with titbits of food for these three ever-hungry little ones. They grew larger, shaking their shiny feathers as their home became decidedly crowded. Now they were more daring, scrambling towards the rim of the nest, with flapping wings. Until the inevitable had to happen. Dave watched, agitated and helpless, how one of the fledglings balanced on the nest’s rim, lost his foothold and tumbled down into the abyss, out of sight.

 

Strangled wheezes emerged from Dave’s chest. He had to sit down. What could be done to save this innocent creature from the dangers of solid ground? He must rescue it. Years had past since he had left his flat as the endless flight of stairs was like a prison gate. Could there be a way out? Perhaps he could divide the trip somehow? There were landings on each floor where one could rest. A chair was needed. Of course that folding canvas chair from ancient fishing trips might be useful. Through tight lips a little smile appeared. “ I could do that” he loudly told himself. The light weight canvas chair was found and dusted. Shoes became more of a problem since Dave’s feet had swollen considerably over the last few years. Never mind; he would keep his slippers on. Nothing could stop him now.

 

Shouldering his chair he walked through the door and slowly, step by step, made his way down. It was surprisingly easy. Having managed three floors his heart was racing and he unfolded his chair for a rest. Not bad. Not bad at all. He continued his journey till he arrived at ground floor. Such a heavy front door! It felt like moving the boulder from the grave of Christ. Unsteady steps took him along the foot path around the building, anxiously keeping his glance on the ground for the little bird. Looking up to find the location of his balcony he felt dizzy and had to steady himself on the trunk of a nearby tree. Against the overwhelming height of the building the clouds looked quite small from his new position.

 

Dave could not find the little bird. Slumped on his chair he contemplated the situation. “What are you doing here grandpa? Lost something?” A young woman with a boy in school uniform asked. “You lost what? A bird?? Well well. I suppose he fell into this tree and his mum is looking after him now. Or else the cat got him. – Shall I walk you back into the house? It’s getting a bit chilly.” At the entrance the woman and child skipped up the stairs till a door clanked shut.

 

Dave now readied himself to climb a mountain. Firmly gripping the railing he mounted the first stair with one foot, then let the other follow. How many times would he have to repeat this? The first landing came into sight and soon Dave flopped into his chair, with trembling legs. What did it matter how long the climb would take? After all, no one was waiting for him at home.

 

Little by little Dave conquered each floor. People would overtake him with hardly a glance, others managed a greeting. On level three a stout woman panted up the stairs, carrying two bags of shopping. An orange tabard flashed under her flapping fleece jacket. “These stairs will kill me! It looks as if you have sussed it out. A chair. Good idea. Do you have far to go?”  Her door clanged shut, only to be opened again shortly afterwards. ”Good, you are still here. I thought you might like a cup of tea.” She handed him one of two mugs. Together they slurped. He really had needed that drink. Dave learnt that her name was Moira and that she worked at the local grocers. “I would love to retire soon. All that standing makes my feet swell.” She looked at Dave’s feet. “I wish they would allow me to wear slippers like you.”  When she collected Dave’s empty mug she added: ”If you ever want anything from the shop, just let me know.”

 

Refreshed Dave continued his ascent. Only two more flights to take. Nearing the summit his steps became more determined, till finally he reached his door, panting, flushed, elated. The flat appeared different; smaller, brighter. On the balcony he found the nest empty. His little protégées had flown.

 

The next day felt different. Dave’s mood was almost festive. These birds had shown him the way into a new life, full of possibilities. He decided to make his way downstairs from time to time, especially as a wooden bench near the building’s entrance had not escaped his attention yesterday where the sunshine might be just right. These journeys were now carefully planned and prepared. Dave put on a clean shirt with his best herringbone jumper, he neatly combed his thinning hair and completed the outfit by folding a new white handkerchief into his pocket, from a box of long-forgotten Christmas presents. Only the old slippers had to remain on his feet.

 

As time passed Dave had become a well-known feature in the apartment bloc. His wife had always said that he was a good listener. Garry on the ground floor had invited him to watch the football one evening and his wife Susan had also made him very welcome. With their two children of school age the flat was decidedly crowded, which reminded Dave briefly of the birds nest on his balcony.

 

Whenever Moira on level three was at home, she appeared promptly on the landing to ask Dave in, for a cup of tea and ginger cake. There were always problems with her daughter. “The school has telephoned to tell me that Vicky is playing truant again” she burst out. “It’s easy for them to say that I should exert better control when I am out working and she just disappears for hours.” Moira points at a heap of hair-and make up things on the table. “Where does she get the money to buy all that stuff? – certainly not from me!” Tears gather in her eyes. “What ever can I do? You should hear her language towards me!” Wistfully she added: “It’s not easy to be a single mother. A man’s firm hand is what she needs.”

 

One evening Dave dozed on his well-worn sofa to the sound of his radio, when the door bell rang. A most unwelcome sound since Dave considered the privacy of his own flat out of bounds for neighbours. Only at the second, more insistent, ring he heaved himself up grudgingly. Moira of course. Shaking, she pushed her bulk through the door, her eyes red from crying. “Now it’s happened, what I have always feared. The police has brought Vicky home. She was caught shoplifting at New Look. For once Vicky looked frightened. Thank god it was just a caution, but what might happen next?” She walked to the window. “The police car is gone now, but everybody must have seen it. The shame!” Dave stood in front of her, his lean body bent forward, like a question mark. “A cup of tea?” that always seemed to help. When they had both emptied their cups and Moira had dried her tears she was reluctantly ready to face her own home and Vicky.

 

The seasons passed while Dave watched the life from his chair on the landings. The orchestra of sounds echoing up and down the stairwell amused him: the percussion of footfalls from heavy boots, tapping children’s steps, the staccato of stilettos, clapping flip flops. Then intermittently the cymbals from bunches of keys and the boom of closing doors. Voices – harsh, soft, loud, faint – Dave now recognized most of them.

 

On level four, just below his flat, a group of students had moved in and there was music spilling out at the most unexpected hours. The sound of a saxophone, endlessly rehearsing the same piece over and over again, added to Dave’s sound collection. Did he play in a band? Moira hated the noise, but Dave absorbed it all. The role as passive, friendly observer suited him well and he in turn seemed to do some good just by listening.

 

One recent afternoon when the autumn sun had warmed him on the bench outdoors,  he lazily watched the group of boys with their skateboards on the road. Of course it was the youngest who again fell over. This time it seemed worse than usual and he painfully limped to Dave’s bench, with blood trickling down his leg from the knee. Dave knew him. It was Garry and Susan’s boy Steve, perhaps ten years old. Since both of his parents would be out at work, Dave did his best to console him. He bandaged the wound with his white handkerchief and talked to the boy, till he became calmer.  “The gang,” Steve motioned to the group of skateboarders, “they say that you are an old geezer and…and that you have one foot in the grave.” Dave permitted himself a thin smile. “Well, as you can see I have both feet firmly on the ground.”  As if to confirm this he glanced down to his slippered feet. “You know, Steve, I was just like you when I was your age. Skateboards were not invented then but I was an excellent swimmer. I won prizes with my school team.”  “You won prizes?” Steve glanced at him doubtfully. “Yes, honest, and I used to look just like you then.”  Uncomfortably Steve shifted a little further away from Dave. “And you know, Steve, you may not believe this now, one day you will also become an old man and then you will look just like me.” In horror Steve searched Dave’s face, with its deep wrinkles, a mole on his cheek, a tooth gap just visible behind flabby lips. “No, never!” Steve’s injured leg jerked as if he wanted to kick Dave. Then he hurried off to find the comfort of his friends and settled on the kerb near them.

 

From his favourite bench a few days later Dave noticed a different atmosphere. The skateboarders raced up dangerously close to him, laughing and making rude noises with swimming movements of their arms. “Hey granddad, show us your medals! Want a go on a skateboard?” A conker hit his back, then another one and a few more. Confused and frightened he lifted his hands to his face, wheezing heavily. He scrambled up from the bench and shuffled towards the entrance of his building.

 

In the hallway a fierce bout of coughing overtook him. He felt his foot slip. Was it a marble? A conker? Wet mud? He lost balance and crashed to the stone floor, hitting his head against the edge of the first stair. Susan found him there, unconscious, with blood streaming from his head.

 

At the hospital Dave never regained consciousness. His funeral at the cemetery behind the trees was well attended. Dave’s daughter was surprised how many people from his apartment bloc had made time to shed a tear for “Upstairs Dave” who would be missed. “If only he had stayed in his flat my father would be happily alive now” his daughter said. Not everybody agreed.

 

 

 

 

 

Awakening by Sylvestina Simmons

Imagine your life like a blank piece of paper

Look at it! Admire it! you don’t have to decide now

What you’re going to do or what to make of it

Lets discuss it! Lets see! Lets talk about it a bit…

I’ve had my heart rip to shreds by wolves in sheep

clothing knowing only revenge coupled by hatred

I’ve had both hands amputated up to my elbows

unable to give a hug a gentle touch

I’ve had both legs removed underneath me

So low I could only see the bottom

I’m Sighing for regard and some attention

I reach out with my voice I allow the tears

to roll down eventually forming an ocean

I swam through the vast and angry waters

at last reaching the edge of the planet I held on

never letting go.

The sun is shinning there’s a brightness I hadn’t

seen before trees are looking greener flowers are

even quicker to grow

My eyes are opened I’m out of Troubled waters

I’m alive! I keep moving! I keep going!

Not looking back not dwelling on the past

It’s time for a new beginning.

© Sylvestina Simmons

Age by Kate Simpson

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Thank you to Open Age member Kate Simpson for sharing her wonderful, lively piece of writing about ageing…

How do you count age? Is it by years, memories or months. I personally measure it by moments.

These can be happy, sad, angry, vengeful, laughable or just plain mad. If I were to choose I would measure my life in mad moments.

Mad conjures up so many things that have happened in my life. From being in an asylum to laughing myself almost to death. It also encompasses my youth when craziness was almost a necessity, clubbing wearing unsuitable clothes, listening to unsuitable music and reading unsuitable literature ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ for example.

Moments cannot be measured by time. We have brief moments, long moments, and wishful moments.

As I grow older my wishful moments become a bucket list of what I can and want to do in the here and now. I fully intend to grow old disgracefully. In the meantime of course I feel I’m still 21

To hell with my aches and pains. My wheelchair and the host of medical equipment in my home. I’ve had moments when my electric hoist has been fun to swing on (the carers horror adding to my glee!)

My wheelchair used as a racer (with the help of my friends). I’ve been to Ibiza, USA and fully intend to travel more.

I shall listen to unsuitable music, wear unsuitable clothes, and read what I want to. I can act like a child, a teenager or adult. I don’t care and will be deaf to the frowns and murmurings of others.

My own deafness is incredibly useful. Without my hearing aids I sleep peacefully at night. If I get bored of conversation out they come.

I have already crossed two things off my Bucket List. Swimming with Dolphins and meeting Mickey Mouse. I also met Pooh Bear and Tigger and thoroughly enjoyed it with childish glee. Some friends could not understand this second item on my list.

No 3? I have several ideas but at my age I have plenty of time. Don’t I?

Age is therefore to each and own. Never judge a book by its cover. Underneath we may be surprised. The child may have the wisdom of an adult. The teenager may be ‘right not wrong’ and behind the wrinkles a lifetime of laughter. I find it sad when people resort to the surgeons knife to restore or maintain their beauty. They live behind a literal mask imprisoned a slave to vanity.

I have had the privilege of being at the bedside of many in their dying moments. I have watched as their pain becomes peace. And how then their face loses its lines and natural beauty is restored.

They say ‘Age is a Many Splendid Thing’ and in my measured moments I smile and agree.

© Kate Simpson

23 Essential Writing Quotes from Ernest Hemingway

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Got the dreaded writer’s block again? Worry not! Get over to The Write Practice and read these 23 essential writing quotes from Hemingway  they should help get your creative juices flowing back through your pen….

Photo Prompt Tuesdays: Photo 1

We stumbled upon this brilliant Photo Prompt by Where Is Crystel to get your creative ideas flowing! So why not get scribbling and post your story, poem etc. to Where is Crystel’s blog page!

whereiscrystel

largeThe saying goes that a picture is worth 1000 words.

Every Tuesday, I will be posting one photo to use as a prompt for a short story, poem, maybe even an entire novel. The choice is yours and the possibilities are endless, look at the photo prompt above and write what comes to mind. Be sure to follow for a new photo prompt every Tuesday!

If you write something be sure to share it with me!

All photos used will be placed in a gallery on the Photo Prompt Tuesdays page under the Writing tab.

Happy writing lovelies!

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Fashion for the People: a history of clothing at Marks & Spencer

Recently at Chelsea library they had a wonderful talk about Marks & Spencer (or M&S, Marks & Sparks as it is also known!)

Do you have a story to tell us about Marks & Spencer? The best thing you bought there? or a memorable trip there with somebody special perhaps? We would love to hear your stories!

RBKC Libraries blog

Reference librarians Karen and Gillian write:

Recently, Rachel Worth, Professor of Dress and Fashion at Arts University Bournemouth, delivered a presentation on the history of Marks & Spencer at Chelsea Library. This post is based on what we learnt about the high street giant from Rachel’s fascinating and insightful lecture.

From very humble beginnings in a Penny Bazaar stall at Leeds Kirkgate Market in 1884, Michael Marks and – from  a partnership that began in 1894 – Thomas Spencer together built a company that would become Britain’ s biggest clothing retailer.

From the archives From the archives

Today, Marks & Spencer is a company synonymous with quality, reliability and customer care, but do we associate it with fashion?

Well – yes! Marks & Spencer was at the forefront of bringing accessible and fashionable clothing to the masses, at the same time being a pioneer in using new textiles, displays techniques and marketing methods – including the use of “supermodels”…

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Six Unusual Writing Studios

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How wonderful and inspiring to see how other writers work and are inspired by these Six Unusual Writing Studios. we stumbled upon at Something to Write Home About – Jean Fischer’s brilliant blog.

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