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This was quite a challenge in and of itself!

The prompts were interesting, but the entries were few. One reviewer agreed to review the entries and fell sick. Eventually the lovely Joy Lennick came to our rescue and all our entrants have received her feedback and are very grateful for it. Thank you Joy…

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Joy Lennick

“Born in Essex at an early age…evacuated three times during World War 11. Separation from  parents (to Wales) was softened by reading Hans Christian Anderson and The Brothers Grimm stories, etc., by candle-light. The reading bug encouraged writing…Happily married 64 years; three great sons. Retired to Spain 17 years.
Writing-wise: I’m an eclectic writer – keep a diary and have written many poems and short stories (several published in various anthologies); ran a poetry group in the UK and had ‘Celtic Cameos and other poems’ published. Won the lst International Short Story Competition in 2005 in Torrevieja, Spain. (My first two factual books were published by Kogan Page Ltd., of London in 1984/5) There was a wide gap while husband and I ran a few businesses and brought up the lads. Had ‘My Gentle War’ – a memoir – published by WordPlay Publishing; re-published by QGS Publishing last year. Wrote ‘Hurricane Halsey’ from the log books of an epileptic seaman adventurer; then ‘The Catalyst’ – my only novel – based on an actual terrorist train bombing in  London in 2005. Last year, I adapted a book for a friend: written by his grandfather Frederick Knight.’From the Prairie to Passchendaele.’ One of 12 children, born in the late 1800’s he migrated from Kent, UK to Canada, aged 17, became a farmer, before the First World War claimed him. He was nearly killed and lost his right arm. He retrained and prospered; returning to the UK. Suffering from Parkinson’s disease, aged 83, he typed the m/s of his book with a head device. A brave man indeed! Last year I also edited and typed my husband’s memoir ‘A Life Worth Living’ and am about to have ‘The Moon is Wearing a Tutu’ published by QGS Publishing. It’s a modest, (hopefully) humorous collection of silly poems, limericks and jokes (many by my husband) perfect (?!) as Christmas stocking fillers…..I Chair the writing group ‘Writers’ Ink.’
Books available from Amazon, Kindle and CreateSpace and a few lesser known sites. My website address is: https://www.joylennick.wordpress.com/
Her books include:The Catalyst  and My Gentle War, among others tha can be found on her website.
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The prompts:
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Prompt 1 – Where do you live in this picture, and why don’t you want to live on the other side of the water?

Prompt 2 – Write a story about a place where the landscape changes daily.

Prompt 3 – “It’s what I do in the middle of the night.”

In Wonderland

by Shalini Vaghjee

Prompt 2 – Write a story about a place where the landscape changes daily.

The big day finally arrived, that day which all little girls dream of: when their charming prince will take them to their dream world. Finally, after a few days of great celebrations, we were married. And as the culture or law or ritual would want it, I had to leave my parents house to start a new life in my husband’s mansion which was quite far in the countryside. As we drove, I felt apprehensive; I don’t know if I was ready for this new life. I felt homesick. How will I cope in this strange house, with strange people? My heart pounded as these thoughts rushed through my brain.

I was lost in my mind when the driver stopped the car and said: “here you are! Enjoy your new place and your new life” I lifted my eyes and to my utter surprise, in front of us was a rather old wooden house which I often dreamt as a child, or maybe I had seen in movies. I hurried outside to breathe in the summer air and the sound of birds as well as the tinkling of wind chimes nearly took my breath away. I felt a new gush of excitement rushing through my veins. It was nearly dawn and we unpacked only a few important stuffs. We were so exhausted after many days of wedding arrangements and celebrations that we were off to bed. But now with mixed feelings…

After only a few minutes, which actually were a few hours, I woke up by the sound of water dripping. Oh, another broken tap, I thought! And then I realized, oh this is a new house, so I need to look for the taps. I started my search: on the first floor bathroom and sink: no broken tap. Then I came downstairs: in the kitchen, bathroom and every possible corner, I looked for the sound of water dripping. In vain, I went outside. Using a torch to see where the soil would be wet, I searched and searched. Now, that was a huge garden… And suddenly, I heard the sound becoming louder and louder… Got it! I thought… And I moved in that direction. But the sound seemed further away… I stopped and looked up. The view was breathtaking… The full moon was glowing with its millions rays, illuminating the whole garden and there the sound was… A white waterfall! I was stunned… I don’t know how long I stood there but I finally went into my room… And opening the curtains, I was delighted that my room faced this awesome view and as I watched it again, I dozed off…

As I woke up the next morning, I smiled at the magnificent view of the night’s eve and wished for a bright sunrise near the waterfall. To my amusement, in front of my eyes, extended an array of lush green trees – ebony, bamboo and even fruit trees like mango and litchi. It was a leafy paradise.  My ears perked up at the whistling sound of the bamboo leaves. These trees lined the banks of a magnificent river whose water sparkled with the first rays of sunshine. Then, suddenly the sky was overcast, and at times it drizzled making the paths muddy. A large crowd had gathered under an old banyan tree, and a few people were singing. These occasional drizzles created puddles of water in places… I tried to listen to what they were singing… It was such a sweet melodious music and I dozed off with this divine music…

Waking up, I tried to listen again to that music… But to my surprise, I found a huge white canvas as if waiting for the artist’s colors. I felt a sudden chill inside my bones and this is when I realized that huge snowy mountains were erected in front of my window… A gentle hush cloaked the land and the empty skies were silent. I turned around and saw the fire glazing in my room. As my body shivered, the radiant light of the fire warmed me up. It was a ghostly cold night and I did not want it anymore. By now, I knew that the moment I close my eyes, I will be further surprised.

Why not? My prince charming had brought me to an enchanting world. He knew that was what I always wanted. I was thrilled about it now. And to my delight, there lay in front of my eyes the most stunning view I could ever imagine.  A strange and densely forested form of volcanic mountains over which run clear streams of sweet water was surrounded by dazzling white sand beaches, a spectacular coral reef and sparkling turquoise water. The coral reef enclosed a turquoise lagoon which was busy with people snorkeling and enjoying other water sports. On the white sand beaches, palm and fir trees stood majestically. Throughout the island were sugar-cane fields with their silvery-purple plumed tops waving in the balmy tropical breeze.  Deep blue skies and clean, fresh air were the crowning glories of this little spot of heaven. I opened my lungs and relished such pure fresh air… I knew that I needed it most…

The next morning I woke up with a bright sunrise revealing an intriguing area of sand dunes comprising sand of seven distinct colors (approximately red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow). It looked ancient, as if, over the years, rains had carved beautiful patterns into the hillside, creating an effect of earthen meringue. At first I noticed shadows on the hills, creating the illusion of different colors, but soon I realized that the colors were real and the shadows were the illusion. I ran my fingers through the colorful sand, trying to mix them. To my amazement, the colors separated from each other as each tried to desperately retain their stubborn personality. These rolling dunes of multi-colored lunar-like landscape were definitely spectacular. As I relished such beauty, I dozed off.

What happened next was even more exhilarating. The sound of waves and water breaking at a coral reef woke me up. I looked out just to be amazed to find myself in the middle of the sea. Oh yes, it was like a chalet in the water. I opened the door and went in the balcony. The bright sun was shining happily and I watched the waves and even saw a few moorish idol swimming just next to me. These beautiful fish with a distinct zebra stripes, yellow fins and tail are believed to bring happiness and I knew that they had come for me… I let myself float away as our house danced on the waves. It was splendid…

That night revealed the most spectacular array of stars in the sky. No telescope was needed and yet, the dark night sky was completely illuminated and bright.

I did not know where we reached but the next thing I saw was a large spread of sand dunes, a few brown shrubs and some camels. We were in a desert and I could feel the wave of scorching heat striking and burning my skin at the same time. I read about deserts at school and today I was experiencing the torrid heat which nomads had lived through. How did they survive? I wondered…. Suddenly I saw myself on the back of a camel and we were riding towards a group of other camels. From the top, I felt my body was roasting but the patience and endurance of the camels overwhelmed me. How could these animals be living in such harsh conditions? No complaining, no irritation, and very patiently they moved. I hugged the camel and whispered in his ears: you are awesome! I even saw a grin on his face…

As I was enjoying the ride, I felt happy to be in this wonderland and I could not wait to witness the next mysterious yet magical landscape. I was finally in my enchanting world, the place called home, the best place ever.

— End–

Nim

by Noor Nass

Prompt 2: Write a story about a place where the landscape changes daily.

She turned her back from the big window at floor sixth. The glass was stained with blue segment. It was XXXX meter high from ground level. She made the penetrated sunset noon from the glass window reflect the last rays of the day. She remained at the floor in an office made from marble fitting. The room had a white ceiling with downlights made by yellow Philips electricity. The dim surrounding reflected from the ground office on floor sixth by the light exposure. It felt like a library after sunset that had so much stories that was archived for each white-collar officer with secrets. Some of these officers would hide it away from the new intern. Including, hiding it from previous secretaries without the Boss. Nim was not that tall, medium height for her country men and women. With long shoulder black hair and yogurt skin. She thought to herself that she has been lost in wonderland for too long. The days would turn into nights and the nights would turn into days. The days would overlap and begin to remind her of what she missed in him. Dust has been what she ate without his presence or even a hint of his shadow. The logic would not come through; the phone calls she conducted for her meetings with her other coworkers would not make sense. A friend of her boss would come talking to her about the accounts that she was always so good at it and so fast with identifying and following up with him. But not this time and not after he left. Elle was very tall came from Persian English descended. He would talk and talk and she tried to hold what he said to her but nothing would come through. She was more in love with Elle’s wife that was from Levant origin. Being in love with him to see love then opening her mouth to something else then love was love by itself. Perhaps that would reflect of Williams sudden take off without goodbye, she thought to herself. For even a phone call he wouldn’t break his finger for NIm – to his very own personalized Coordinator. Could it be? coming to it. Nim stood in that office that afternoon reoccurring all the events and all the conversations. She thought of crossing the bridge for answers to the other side of the second building. She paused for a while wondering to herself that she should cross it or wait for escort to grab her. It was few days before waiting stopped sounding like the word waiting. Perhaps even feeling the weight of the weight but more like a transformation to the things undone. She couldn’t stand doing nothing she was being transferred into this helpless creature that would sound like a zombie more than a woman that was taken. Now, William was tall and slender in physique had no mustache and was white in skin that was well groomed. Her Boss Catherine was a red head with green eyes also very tall but filled with joy. She grabbed the phone after few weeks from the enlightenment that hit her tiny officer Nim in denial. She requested Nim to escort the secretary to her office. Nim spoke to Catherine about the technological advancement that was responded back for the new communication arrangements, the dig of the past. She was transferred with shouts of being a victim but not a lover as she had to travel back with the new arrangements and ignore the fact that she was left at the altar. Who wants to live like a victim Nim wondered that’s not a way of life she would respond with a shout back to Catherine. That’s not my life or my wife, or even a husband. That was not the years that Nim sacrificed in lucid dreams only to be understood by the fact that William can awake it and take off with it. At that instance Catherine wouldn’t handle it anymore. The shouts, the screams of a big brother figure in demand. She needed her to make the decision herself but not before she met RSO. Now RSO was not like any regional security office that placed the lock on the door and cameras near the car park. Instead they wanted that human security of what would happen if they handed Nim weaponry devices for her protection. Catherine thought it was too much for a girl of banking background creating financial analysis for the bilateral relationships in the gulf. But it was necessary to break things down then mend it, if it prevails. She met Sonia. Sonia was about the size of Nim but triple the apetite with daily workouts. She was introduced by Catherine and Michael. Michael looked Roman and not Irish double the size of Sonia but very blonde with white ways. He told her to sit down and get comfortable. Michael walked in the room after four to five minutes of silence after putting Nim on alone in the room. Nim looked at the pitch-black room then she opened her eyes wide and descended to the life of her sinful nature. It seemed to her that room had a jacket suit hanged on the hanger. Black mug with writings on it on the table something even for the usual daily shifts from a sports athlete for security concerns on the premises. to Sonia’s suit for his now and then meetings for briefing on negotiations. Yet he still did not enter the room. Instead, she kept her waiting in thought after the pattern shifted from William to Catherine to Michael. Michael with Sonia entered on Jewish grounded notion, the other one entered with Roman grounded notion. It seems to me that I gave myself to the pathos and ethos and …. of Segments Freud mind set when she saw this. She was shamed and had to hide it with all the wrong things. I had Sonia mesmerized with the fact that Nim was shy from it. Perhaps, that they were in her face about it but very in acceptance. Then she descended more to a world that Michael made at the Base. But without the wife or the trifle. She became white in the face, memorized in love and respected for it. Sonia began with logical questions according to the mass problems. She was helpful in breaking it down to direct contact, then allowing a pause to rejuvenate. The psychological assessment did not halleluiah with the expected results. Neither, did it complements the future, since it was lacking evidence. Including, the science in it. Sonia said nothing but vibrated the prerequisite for some day of tentacles. Nim had no one to testify for her in the name Christ, but only in the name of history that was abandoned. Which, did not shout her name or had a spoken of destiny. Instead of feeling sorry to herself, Catherine thought to Nim. Catherine advice was that Nim should focus on the present that was filled with un-tensed events. But to Nim it seemed like she entered the past to recall the objects capturing each notion to where it belongs from England to the Netherlands. Hoping that her mobster thief would let go. How gorgeous William was but what a mobster by all means that killed the ambiance to the attention of the team’s future. She was a Banker by every dimeter she walked on. It did not compliment Nim at all, because they all left. Sobbing with disgrace after being left at the alter like a runaway bride she couldn’t handle the truth that he couldn’t handle the ducks. if only there was a bridge for Nim and William that the mess of the mass would be the perfection of a respected, white revolution. Sonia could not say more or agree to disagree or agree to agree to disagree. Instead she thought that Nim forgot what was given, before William took off without a word. Sonia though that her very own security presence should be an archive enough to tap into the questions that she dared not to dip in. They were very close to each other to the extinct of sniffing cheese and having meals together. that is what Sonia and Michael really thought. But that was not all of her they added as they shared notes together. When Michael added to the lot of assessment about her network and encounters she mentioned one that got close to her by the name of Shani. Michael asked her what was the nature of the relationship. She remained silent for a while and told him that she can only recall his Evernote applications on PC and cellule. Since it diminished the past and played with Nim in the present. They spoke about all kind of matters of woman empowerment and dignified respect not to mention the financial risks. Michael had enough. Sonia did not disagree. The situation was the ending for the interview in the room. Michael concluded in his assessment that the end of the middle east partnership initiative should take immediate effect and close the books. Psychologically Nim was sent on a thread if not less than a thread back to creation. As she got out of the room for the termination to take immediate effect she went back to search for evidence. She existed the secured door and went outside the room into the square waiting room outside. She walked back to the other side of the building into the office room, she passed the tables of the staff to each of their own world with their own rule. Non of it spoke of William except for his business deals that perished when he left. Nim decided to take things into her hands, touch it, smell it, and sense it. Just to restore what was left of the sliced organ that they call a heart. After searching the office upside down trying to communicate with whatever smelled like him on the table, on the chair, the pens that were not there, the papers that were gone and the phone that began looking like plastic. Nothing would make sense. She went to the very end of the office hallway walking between the diced walls into the slaves’ worship zone. And the explanation would be the non-logical socio desire of nonsense. Whenever Nim would ask, she would get a respond of a gossiped goose instead of the top of the pops magazine for political acceptance. She thought to herself it was a chaotic act, anyways. Nothing would prevail. She asked Sonia and Michael in the small office restaurant at level Seven on a bowel of salad and night of heavy duty weight lifting. obviously of security concerns to terminate the presence of her contract until things clear out. She was unable to identify the presence of William. Let alone surf above her sinful nature to a righteous concern, she was in pain and she had to see why. It was not the wise decision neither was it her but from the language used on her she thought it was enough to complete her Bachelors education with proper social recognition based on personal views. Her conclusion was this that life took its toll of six years in disgrace but she lived it up to the best. Nim was the lonesome knight in denial, a dark ranger for the stand of the sword in a rock without her prince. Dust to dust for life did not blossom with flowers in spring, the days turned to weeks the weeks turned to months the months turned to years and the years forgot it was years and the season turned into quarters and the quarters forgot the days and the days forgot the day. When day turned to the night the night forgot it was late. After all is said the tiger eye watches the red sunrise as Nim said her goodbyes “Farwell her lover, Farwell her friend, you have been the one for her. She was filled in Williams presence, however empty handed but alive in his hands.” Nothing will quench that thirst, and nothing will quench it, either. She left the building pretending he was on foreign grounds.

— End–

“It’s what I do in the middle of the night.”

By Preeti Rana

Between dusk and dawn. It is what I do then.

I can’t return to the day. It held back when the light started to fail. So, I am alone here, in the middle of the night. The darkness is still and unmoving. I have instinct and a fickle moon for direction.

Direction.

Stopping at the textured silhouette of a tree I remember my brother saying all directions were the same. Measured only by association, he had explained.

The Person-I-Love, misquoting Lewis Carroll, had been cruel about my directionless life. If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.

There isn’t really

Anywhere to return

Or somewhere to go still

But nothing here stays

That was all me, to myself.

The day gone, the night stalling, I am restless. It’s a night the rain left soggy. We aren’t meant to be still, he had continued. My brother. He held a ringside view of the cosmos from his café window. At 600 kms per second, nothing is still. I remember him chuckling, looking at the lake he loved. I loved him. He extended my poetry. Drew fine silk from it. Weaved it into code and quantum physics. We say the same thing in different ways he would say in his review. His face creasing into fine lines and a smile. Then the rumble of laughter that shook his shoulders and his chin would lower deeper into the smile. I knew him by heart He did more to my feverish, impatient scribbling than anyone. He placed it in the position of a distant, mysterious star. I was fine with that.

Distance.

I liked distance. Kept it. With everyone. Even reason. Yet here I am in the middle of covering distance. I will consume it till I stand toe to toe. With the Person-I-Love. I seem to have lost the moon. And track of time.

Time.

Time is such a concept. One of our finest notions. So fantastically layered it has become the spine of our existence.

A lifetime without him-the Person-I-Love seems equal to the two years with him. never lived before meeting him. Not this way.

He had made me weary. I changed in a multitude of ways. They seeped into my

being. I see how pain stains. I remember storming into the café and thrusting my latest under my brother’s nose. I was hurting afresh then. And my brother was trying to save me.

Reaching Before time Sometimes I wait For reason To catch up Join my flight It does on occasion Rotates my view Shows me falling From its virtuous height I fly still

in a wondrous Y Pitying Reason’s plight

He had looked up. His full smile meeting my crooked one. My eyes had filled. It happens to the best of us when facing understanding. I had needed to sit down. And some Coffee, please.

Dad died a year after I fell in love. It was unexpected. Not dad dying but the falling. I was in the middle of it. Dad died like a beached whale. I saw life ebb from his eyes. When they flickered towards me, his eyes would glow, telling. No one has ever looked at me like that. Except my brother.

That’s where my father was when I last saw him. At the edge of something. In the middle of something. That’s where we are at death.

I was sent off on an errand. To the next city. Across a sea. He and my brother had conspired. I never saw him without his body that betrayed him.

He left me in the middle. With very little left. Or right. Dad took my childhood with him. It was in his safekeep. It had roots that nourished me.

The second year of loving was all about death. Death of illusions, of myself as I knew myself to be, of love itself. I didn’t meet my brother. He would stop the dying. wanted to die. Rid myself of all these perishable facets to my thinking. I wanted them to die.

But it was my brother who died. He tried to reach me. Then he let me be. Found someone else sitting at his window when I returned. A family of three. The anthology of poems dedicated to him was picked up and kept on the chef’s shelf as I walked away.

I needed the Person-I-love. He too had left without saying goodbye. It felt like I didn’t exist anymore. I loved him beyond reason. I need to reach there.

Love

My brother and I often spoke about it. I said love was a flow of a river. He said it should be placid, deep as an underwater-spring lake. With bulrushes and ducks. He said flow is directional, one way. Yes It was, I argued. What is returned in the name of love is gratitude at best. Love began from snow-capped mountain peaks. Without reason. But it had to be about free will.

Free will

He was always reading or with his audio books. The first volume of Pullman’s His Dark Material lay open at our last conversation. He took off his earphones to listen to me. The sun had tinted the sky pink outside his window. My brother looked a beautiful autumn. He was wearing his old brown sweater with the intricate pattern knitted by his love. He wore it on days he found tough.

I had turned our conversation to his book. It would become about me soon enough. He said it described a world he could visualise.

“Then it’s like yours. You only visualise what you know.” That was me, probing. He said yes. His way was always of gentle agreement. Even when he disagreed.

“That’s proof isn’t it.” I had leaned forward, eagerly. “That we know more than we know. And it’s really about catching up. Not gaining ground. That’s why we can never choose any other way.”

“Our free will is the constant. It releases variables. Every choice, every part played is to the rhythm of our heart. Like the Mandelbrot set!”

Bingo! he had smiled his smile. He taught me what little I knew about fractals.

Every change is a choice he said. Then muttered something to himself. “What was that?” I asked as I gathered my bag, phone, my scattered thoughts and pages. “We can always choose again.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant. As I stared he said, “make that my epitaph, willya.” I never fully understood. He had held my hand in a tight grip, “Let me pass away without significance.”

Significance

I am walking again. It’s the middle of the night. Two men had left me. One chose death and the other a life without me. I haven’t stopped walking since I left the cafe. I have reached his street, The Person-I -Love. His house resembles him in its

silence. All the curtains are drawn. There is a yellow glow in the new room

upstairs. I never visited. He had kept me firmly on my side of the story. I am a doorbell away from ruining the quiet of the house. His family would see anew in the shadow I would cast when the door opens. From across the street under the flickering lamppost I watch his window. I am tired.

My father taps me on my shoulder. Reminds me to submit my work on time. It’s due next week. My brother tells me to choose again. Love. I will cross the street. Destroy him. And then destroy myself.

Time. I will move on. two years can be pressed between pages of my memory. I will live for more.

Distance.

I will cross the street. To the bus stop. The early bus will be here in a while. Take me back to the café. In time for the funeral. I will read out a new poem . In the middle of the night, I choose again.

Death

I am often by the lake. Your café window still holds the bulrushes and ducks. And my reflections. The flow of living and loving settles as always at our table, into a calm. On nocturnal walks to the pond’s edge, some days, I see the bed of stars. So clear and still is the water. There are corals too I imagine, of our pain, fed by sunshine.

Carrying our worlds within worlds within worlds, brother, I continue to write for you.

Telling stories that a moment holds even as we live all those moments for a story.

–End–

 

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Our reviewer for the challenge was Paul Newton-Palmer who is in the final agonising all-consuming throes of publishing his first book. Paul has an MA in Creative Writing from the University Chichester, UK. He is also an accomplished short story writer and has a high interest in poetry, although, he stresses, he is primarily a novelist. His first crime thriller will be released shortly.

The challenge for April/May was open, that means it could be about anything in any genre and style. The only constraint was to start the story with the letter ‘D’. We had five delightful entries that our reviewer Paul, said he found a pleasure to read. He has provided detailed and insightful commentary to each of the writers, that I think they have found both useful and encouraging.

I shall place a photograph of Paul as soon as I receive one.

Here, without further ado are the stories in the order I received them:

I Spy with My Little Eye Something Beginning with D

By Glen Stansfield

“Dragons’ eggs?”

“Yes, in a cave.”

“There’s no such things as dragons,” Danny said.

“Is too, and I found their eggs – in the sand.”

“How big are they then?”

“Not that big, but I know they’re dragons’ eggs, ‘cos, – ‘cos they’re all knobbly.” Brian was confused. He thought Danny would be excited by his news.

“They’re probably seagull eggs.”

Sometimes, Danny didn’t know why he bothered with Brian. He was only eight, Danny was ten and so much wiser, almost grown up, or so he thought.

“Bet you’ve not even found a cave.”

“Did so too. At the far end of the beach.”

When the war ended, two year old Danny met his father for the first time. Brian hadn’t quite been born; the product of a forty-eight hour leave pass, eight and a half months earlier. Living next door in their two-up, two-down terraced houses, it was inevitable the pair would grow up together. They spent hours kicking a football around the streets, or playing cricket with an old bat and a ragged tennis ball. And despite the numerous warnings from their parents, they would sometimes play on one of the bomb-sites still littering that part of Coventry.

“Show me.”

“Now? We can’t go to the beach on our own Danny. We’ll get into trouble.”

“I suppose, but when we go this afternoon you’d better show me that cave, or else.”

Their fathers worked together before the war, employed as handymen in the nearby Alvis factory. After demobilisation they started a business in the building trade. Plenty of that to be done in post-war Britain, especially in a heavily bombed city like theirs.

They did well for themselves, and after so many years of hard work, arranged to take their families on a well-deserved holiday. Two weeks on the south coast of England, in the county of Dorset.

“I still say you’re making it up,” said Danny.

Brian responded the way little boys do when doubted. He thrust his hands in his pockets, pouted his lips, looked at the ground and scuffed the toe of one shoe on the floor. A little boy in a sulk can be difficult to deal with, for a minute or two. Then they forget all about it and move onto something new.

Brian tapped Danny on the shoulder and shouted “You’re it!” starting yet another game of tag. Brian set off along the boarding house corridor, squealing in delight with Danny in pursuit.

ooOoo

Even though on holiday together, the two families agreed from the outset they would not spend all their time in each other’s company. After all, the two men worked alongside each other, and their wives, being next door neighbours, spent a lot of time together. A little time apart would do them no harm. And that is how Brian had found himself wandering the beach without Danny.

The previous afternoon, his parents decided to spend a bit of time in the sun, while Danny’s parents took him on the bus to Weymouth to do some souvenir shopping.

Brian didn’t like sitting still in the sun. He soon got restless and wandered off along the beach.

“Don’t go out of sight,” his Mother called.

“I won’t.”

He went further than he intended. At the end of the beach, he clambered over the rocks beneath the cliff face and that’s where he came across the entrance to the cave.

A hundred and fifty feet high, and jutting out some fifty feet, a rocky outcrop protruded from the rest of the cliff, as if trying to reach the sea. It formed a natural barrier between the beach and the continuing shoreline. From a distance it looked to be a part of the rock face. It was only when you got close you realised it was there.

In the corner, between the promontory and the cliff was a dark hole, visible only when you had passed by and looked back towards the town. A sandy patch stretched from the sea and extended into the cave as if someone had cleared a path.

Like all young boys, Brian had a fascination for things he knew might be dangerous, so he slowly made his way towards the void. He was aware things were different here. The sea was quieter somehow. He was becoming uncomfortable, but his curiosity got the better of him.

Cautiously, he went inside, hesitating at each step. He had no intention of going too far. It wasn’t a shallow cave. A dark, gaping hole, both beckoning and intimidating at the same time. He would go inside for a few steps, no more. As he did so, he tripped over something sticking up out of the sandy floor. Two egg shaped objects, partially buried, knobbly and green, and very strange. Brian bent down to take get a better view.

The squawk of a gull echoed in the cave, startling Brian, and he fled before he had chance to examine what he was now sure were dragons’ eggs. They were smaller than he expected, maybe this was a small dragon. He wasn’t going to look again. The noise had spooked him. He wouldn’t go back in there until Danny came with him, and wouldn’t he be surprised when he saw the eggs. Brian couldn’t wait.

He scrambled back across the rocks and back onto the beach. His Mother was looking for him and he waved, she beckoned for him to come back.

“What did I tell you?”

“I only went on the rocks, Mum. I could still see you.”

“Well I couldn’t see you, so you can stay here now.”

“But, Mum…”

“Brian, don’t argue with your Mother,” came a voice from under the newspaper. And with that Brian sat down and began digging a hole with his spade.

ooOoo

In the afternoon both families gathered up the beach mats, buckets and spades, and all the other paraphernalia that makes for a pleasant afternoon in the sun, and set off for the beach. Pleasant for the adults that is. A bucket and spade was all the average child needed as long as there was an ice-cream van nearby.

After half an hour, Brian could take no more.

“Can me and Danny go beachcombing?” he asked.

“You better not disappear like yesterday.”

Brian knew better than argue. That would be the quickest way to get the answer ‘no’.

“We won’t. Promise.”

Despite Danny’s thoughts about him being young and inexperienced, Brian wasn’t stupid. If he and Danny made a bee-line for the cave, his Mother would suspect something. So with all the wiles an eight-year old can muster he grabbed Danny by the arm.

“Come on, let’s go down there.” He pointed with his free hand towards a patch of dried out seaweed, a hundred yards away on the tide-line.

“I thought we were…”

Danny got no more of the sentence out as Brian stamped on his foot and nodded his head towards the four adults lying on the beach mats.

“Ouch.”

Though not happy about the method of silencing him, he knew Brian was right. Maybe he was a bit more grown up than he thought.

After ten minutes of rummaging in the sand-fly-ridden seaweed, the pair checked on the nearby adult supervision. No signs of life, other than the occasional wave of a hand to ward off a particularly persistent fly.

They worked their way along the tide-line towards the cliffs and soon reached the promontory. Every few steps they paused to check on the adults.

Danny knew you couldn’t rely on adults, they were always doing the unexpected. This time they didn’t spoil things. They wouldn’t be long at the cave. Just enough time to prove Brian wrong about the eggs.

“Brian! These aren’t eggs you idiot, they’re hand-grenades.”

After gently removing the sand from around the two green orbs, Danny had his suspicions confirmed when he saw the release mechanism. He had seen hand-grenades in pictures his dad brought back from the war in North Africa.

“They must have been left over from the war. My Dad says they did exercises all along the coast. He says they practised for D-Day somewhere around here.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. We need to get out of here and tell someone. We could be blowed up.”

“I was sure they were dragons’ eggs,” said a disappointed Brian.

“I told you. There’s no such thing.”

Something moved inside the cave. They both froze. Something being dragged across the sand.

“Don’t be too sure about that,” said a deep, resounding voice from inside the cave. It resonated and echoed, in their bodies as well as their ears.

The boys were motionless, their eyes wide and their mouths open.

A light flickered, seemingly floating in the air. A flame, building in brightness until they could see it reflecting off the gold and blue iridescent skin of what was unmistakably a magnificent specimen of a dragon.

— The End —

Dear Vikki 

Seumas Gallacher

It was more than fifty years ago now, but it’s as clear in my mind as if it were yesterday.

At fourteen, most of my non-school hours meant kicking a football with my pals on the spare ground close to our home in the Glasgow slums. An open piece of grass where piled jackets served as goalposts, was bounded by tenement buildings. On weekends, the noise of up to twenty or more of we lads reverberated for hours. Somehow, we never felt tired. One of the buildings which housed exclusively older, retired folks overlooked our makeshift pitch. Singletons all, either spinsters or widowed individuals, well beyond even the age that I’m now skirting with, they lived in a comfortable, protected environment.

One day I heard a call from the third-floor balcony of the unit facing where we played. A petite, white-haired lady waved to me, and beckoned me to come up. It was the first time I met her. Miss Kerr. Even at this distance of time, I know she must have been approaching her eighties. I had to pass by the caretaker’s office and get permission to go upstairs.

“Aye, up you go, son. That’ll be Miss Kerr, wanting you to go do a few errands for her,” he said. The wooden strip on his door bore the name, J. Cassidy. Mister Cassidy fitted in perfectly with the age group of his charges. A big, broad-shouldered ex-docker, he and I would have many conversations in the ensuing months. His well-worn hands could convert to massive fists if ever needed, but the gentle giant in him showed his caring skills.

The elevator to the third floor opened onto the corridor running the length of the place. At the end, the diminutive Miss Kerr already stood with her door open.

“Hello, Miss Kerr? Mister Cassidy told me your name.”

“Come in, come in,” she said. Her tiny hand motioned me inside. The winter sunlight glared in to brighten a small, one-roomed area. A neat table set near the window gave her panoramic access to the goings-on up and down the street, including our football patch. In the corner near the window, a gas stove fitted against the wall, partnered with a low bank of shelves.

“You’ll have some tea?” she asked, pointing at the shelves. It was more a command than a question. “There’s some fresh brewed there. If you’ll just take out a couple of cups and saucers. And in that wee tin on the top, you’ll get us some biscuits.”

I put the cups on the table and my elderly hostess brought over the teapot.

“My back’s killing me,” she said. Her slow gait looked painful. “I’m waiting for a hip replacement, but the time they take here is so long, I’ll be pushing up the daisies before they get round to me.”

I sat on the chair opposite her sentry-watch position.

“What’s your name, son?”

“Jimmy.”

“Good. Jimmy. I had a brother called Jimmy, but he died during the war.”

I realised she meant the First World War. While she talked, my eyes took in the rest of the apartment. The worn bits of carpet stretched to the inside of the unit, all the way to her bed tucked against the far wall. A chest of drawers and a white cupboard completed the furnishing.

I took a sip of the tea. Then something caught my eye. A small movement on top of the bed. A teddy bear? No. Teddy bears don’t move on their own. A small terrier dog lay, wrapped in a piece of blanket. Miss Kerr saw my surprise.

“That’s my dear wee Vikki,” she said. “She’s not very well. That’s why I asked you to come up.”

My face must have displayed my puzzlement.

“I need you to help me to take Vikki on the bus to the Vet.”

Then the penny dropped with me. The Veterinarian for the district held surgery in a mobile unit parked in the shopping area about ten minutes down the road from where we lived.

“Aye. No problem, Miss Kerr. “So, what’s wrong with your doggie?”

“Just a wee cold. The Vet’ll fix her fine. They did the last time.”

We had nearly finished the tea.

“Shall we go now?” she said.

“Sure.”

Vikki made a quiet moaning sound as I picked her up from the bed, but made no resistance to being carried in the blanket. Miss Kerr busied herself in readiness to go out. A grey coat, which had seen better years, would have fitted a small schoolgirl. Dark blue shoes, which my mother would have described as ‘sensible’, showed the scuffing that no amount of polish could hide. A maroon beret protected her head from what was, despite the sun, a biting, cold, morning wind.

A lick of pale, pink lipstick and she was ready.

The bus conductor nodded to Miss Kerr as we boarded. No need for her to show her pensioner’s free pass. She made to pay for me, sitting beside her, cradling Vikki. The conductor smiled and refused her pennies.

Similar courtesy appeared at the Vet’s office, where the surgeon’s assistant clearly knew Miss Kerr.

“Doctor won’t be long, Miss Kerr. Is this your grandson?”

“No, just a young friend from near where I live,” she said, with a smile. I felt strangely pleased to be thought her relative. A few minutes later the assistant ushered us through to the Vet’s area. Doctor Beattie was a middle-aged lady, with a terrific smile.

“Hello, Miss Kerr. What’s wrong with your wee dog, then? Let’s have a look.”

I handed her pet over as gently as I could. The dog barely moved. I noted the change of expression on Doctor Beattie’s face. Something was badly amiss.

“Hmm. Vikki is very sick, Miss Kerr, Do you want to leave her with us?”

“How long until she gets well?” asked my new surrogate grandma.

The Vet spoke as gently as she could. “I don’t think she has much longer to go. We can take care of her, if you want?”

Miss Kerr’s demeanour changed instantly. Her voice hardened. “No. I’ll take her back home. She’ll be okay with me.”

She was firm in the way older people convey when they want to do things their way. Stubborn, resolved, determined.

Doctor Beattie knew it was pointless to try further persuasion. She administered an injection to alleviate the dog’s symptoms. No payment was asked.

We retraced the bus journey back to Miss Kerr’s apartment. She didn’t speak at all, and I didn’t attempt any conversation.

When the owner and her dog were settled back in safely, I sought out Mister Cassidy.

“Hello, son. How did it go?”

“To tell you the truth, Mister Cassidy, her wee dog’s dying, almost gone already according to the Vet, but I don’t think she’s able to accept that. It’s not good.”

“Okay. I’ll keep a close watch on her. Thanks, lad.”

Two days later, Miss Kerr appeared again on her balcony and waved for me to go up. I knocked on Mister Cassidy’s door and he signalled to go ahead. When I entered the apartment, a foul smell caught my nose.

“Jimmy, I need you to go and get some medicine for Vikki,” said Miss Kerr.

I went to the bed where the dog lay. The eyes were staring, lifeless, probably dead since the day we brought her home from the Vet. The smell was from the decomposition already setting in. Miss Kerr had obviously been sleeping on the same bed as her pet.

“Miss Kerr, Vikki’s dead,” I said. “We need to take her out of here.”

Her chin pushed out, lips a straight line. The edge returned to her voice. “No she’s not, Jimmy. She still hears me when I speak to her. Look at her ears moving when I talk. Now will you go to the Vet and ask for some medicine?”

“Okay. Okay,” I said. I left her and went to seek out Mister Cassidy.

I told him what I’d seen and the rancid smell in the unit. Good man that he was, he immediately made a phone call. Twenty minutes later, people arrived from the local animal shelter. The lead officer was excellent in the way he appeased Miss Kerr. He explained they were taking Vikki to the hospital to get her well. In the meantime, Mister Cassidy and I took our charge to lunch. The fumigation team moved in while we were away from the place. Of course, Vikki was never coming back. Miss Kerr had lost the most important companion in her life. During lunch with us, she was even more subdued than usual, the reality probably settling in slowly.

A week or so passed in which I wasn’t able to visit. Eventually, I went to see how she was faring. Mister Cassidy wasn’t in his office, and I went straight up to her apartment. My knocking went unanswered. I went downstairs again and found the caretaker back in his usual place.

I started to tell him there was no reply to my knocking at her door.

“Sit down, son.” His voice wavered. He shook his head. “Very sad news, I’m afraid. Miss Kerr passed away two days ago.”

As the years drift by, I think of her often. A lady I met and knew only for a matter of days, but that brief encounter has remained with me. My new grandma for a week. In the intervening years, I‘ve owned many dogs. Always a terrier, and always called Vikki.

— The End —

Note: There are two point I need to make as a preamble: One there was some confusion in the writer’s mind between the piece we were to share at the last Workshop and the Challenge that was to start with the letter ‘D’. So this entry is a short one. The second is that the entrant wishes to remain anonymous.

On Grief

By Anonymous

Darkness started to envelop the beautiful red and yellow sunset just moments earlier. The surreal sky with its vivid colours suited the dream-like state everyone was in. Shocked, in disbelief, in denial, in a dream. Yes, let’s pretend none of this was real. It’s easier not to feel anything at this moment. Ouch, the cigarette I forgot about, burnt my hand; forcing reality upon me. I stubbed it out and lit another one, immune again, inhaling deeply. I hadn’t smoked in a while but it came back to me like second nature. I took a long drag from the cigarette and stared at the house. The air was humid and all I could hear was the buzzing of a lamp by the pool and the distant sound of people at the house. I stared hard at the lit up pool, at the house, at the people. I still felt numb. Someone had seen me despite my efforts to keep my distance. They started walking towards me and I stubbed out the cigarette. I stank of smoke but who gave a shit, what did I care about my reputation at this point? When she came close I saw it was a close family friend, she gave me a long huge hug, my head nestling into her black abaya. I teared; it hurt to cry at this point. ‘I’m so sorry’ she said and I nodded in acceptance but words couldn’t come out of my mouth. She turned and walked towards the house I couldn’t stay in. I felt sick, I wish this wasn’t real. At this point I felt as if nothing mattered, anything material was worthless. How could he die so suddenly? There was so much I didn’t tell him, so much I didn’t know about him. This wasn’t fair; he was too young to go. I was angry, fuming mad now. How could you do this to me, to us, I asked silently staring at the black sky.

— The End —

Dear Life

by Muneera Fakhro

Dear Life,

You have been so unfair to me, by bringing me to this life,

I grew up in an agonisingly cruel environment, but had been fighting with all my might,

I was poor, weak and fragile, barely scraping through you and finding something to eat.

I was young, I had big dreams to realize, and bigger obstacles to beat,

just to be recognised, despite those who bullied, beat, and cursed at me, saying I will not make it far,

that only made me fight, against words, diseases, time and went through further distances than soldiers in war.

 

I grew older, I had seen many things, experienced many other,

But then I saw … great injustice in you, towards those who believed in you,

I saw your reality, and how -to you- they were not much of a bother,

You are just a rollercoaster of ups and downs that somehow all, including me, are so into.

I had seen how you manipulated us, dividing us into different societies

that would cast some outside if they did not fit into certain categories.

 

I had had enough of your games, fortunately it was just a phase,

For I had gone away, never to return to this place, I had simply left this maze…

 

Dear Mom and Dad,

You brought me life, my question is why?

You barely got along, or had enough to get by.

I was one of 5, so that makes it five mistakes,

neither of you ever liked kids, how long did it take

for you to lose your patience? And to start beating us

for the very first time?

 

We were always disrespectful, in your mind,

and did not deserve yours, you thought, but oh were you so blind

of what we did for you, we slept on time and studied hard.

Amongst them, I was the hardest worker, sometimes going overboard.

However, to you, I had been and always would be the biggest mistake, the ignorant retard.

 

Truth be told, you were the ignorant fools,

too negligent to take responsibility of your mistakes!

No longer would I go by your rules,

and for that I would do whatever it takes.

I had decided, what needs to be done is for

me to quit it all, and change the five into four…

 

Dear Friends,

I had lived my whole life alone, detached and friendless,

up until a while back, you came along and changed it all from a curse to bliss.

I had dealt with it all, for twenty years long…so empty.

But when you came you shared, bore and chased that pain away, and I thank you plenty.

You broke the shell that I had always lived in, and shattered the chains that pinned me down in my place,

You showed me how life is like, and taught me how to communicate face to face.

 

When I started talking, it was hard to hear what I say, all that came out was a mumble.

I tried speaking louder, but then I stuttered. It was not too easy to come out of my bubble.

I would always get misunderstood, though you were more understanding,

until they showed up, and changed you with whatever they would bring.

I would not blame you, since we live in a life ruled by materials.

Despite that, throwing me aside like we never been, was worse than any betrayal.

 

Now I am alone once again, with no more paths to take and follow.

There is nothing more for me to do after I have become so hollow…

 

…Boss,

You were the head manager of a respectable company,

the reason it flourished actually.

I was told I will be in good hands,

and be in charge of the marketing brands.

You were fair with all the costumers, and attended to all their needs,

and towards enemies and competitors you never pay no heed.

 

However…

To colleagues in this office, you were such a flirt.

to that, I had not been alert.

You gave special attention to the ladies,

in no time would you forget all about your mateys.

When there were eyes on you, somehow I became the one to blame.

I have lost my rank, and for that, my resentment and fury turned to a blazing flame.

 

Before I leave this world I left a little gift for you, a ‘flaming touch’ to your house décor

I could do the same for your car, but your salary will not handle any more.

I could leave this life with no regrets,

since I had faced the only one I was up against…

 

To my unrequited love,

You were my college buddy, my closest buddy,

we shared our notes, food and money.

We would meet on every break, and talk about random things,

you had kind eyes and make a cute giggle at every topic I would bring.

Whether we talked or sat still in silence, it would be enjoyable.

All the moments that we shared will always be memorable.

 

Your hair up in a bun, never took off your glasses.

Had a fair skin, usually seemed deep in thought.

You would dress nicely, and wear accessories that matches,

often sitting there, eating the snack you have bought.

After we met, that bench became our usual place.

We joked, laughed, cursed and gave each other praise.

 

I had the deepest of love for you, yet you never felt the same,

it drove us apart and turned my life into such a waste…

 

This would be the end of this maze…

 

Lastly…

 

Dear God,

Why did you create a life that is so unfair?

One which gives us hopes and dreams only to be shattered away,

no matter how long, how much we say the same prayer.

It will only give so little thought before throwing them, and us, away.

Why did you grant couples who can’t raise children with kids of their own?

They will grow to be nothing but trash to be thrown.

 

Why create people to be easily swayed by a materialistic life?

You gave everyone a rateable value which is worse than handing each a knife.

Also giving high ranks to people with the worst of traits

who would take advantage of others when they are in for questions and debates.

And what good would love someone so bad do if they do not love you back?

I could not have described it better when saying one would become a punching sack.

 

All these questions I have come to ask of you,

In a little while I will be hearing your answers right in front of you…

— The End —

 

 Drowning in the Gulf

by Gordon Simmonds

This is part of a story whose full title is Flying in the Gulf (or something similar), which is a follow-on of another real life tale I called Cruising the Gulf.

Somewhere between the clay pigeon shooting and the bungee jumping, a visitor to the Chatsworth Country Show may notice a big sign promoting helicopter rides. For a small fortune, you too can experience a ten minute tour of Chatsworth House from the air. Wow! This is a true story about how the largesse of the off-shore oil industry allows its employees so much more than this, and not only is it free, but they will pay you to enjoy the delights of travelling by chopper.

Of necessity, this story doesn’t start in the Gulf, but in that great city of culture and opulence, Kingston upon Hull. More commonly known in the local dialect as ‘ull, (pronounced ull) it is famous for its fish docks and, er…fish.

To qualify for free helicopter flights, you become subject to the oil industry Health & Safety regime, which means that if you die on the job, they can wash their hands of any culpability. So your first requirement is to prove yourself fit enough to cope with the demands of North Sea travel – this means a trip to the local quack. You know the score; read this chart, pee into this, and as us gentlemen know, cough – while doc stares at your dangly bits. Then, with a clean bill of health, you can move on to the next stage of the process, which is survival training.

As the name suggests, you are taught to survive most benign incidents. As for the catastrophic ones, I’m reminded of the old parachuting joke.

A young soldier is to make his first parachute jump. He is instructed to release his main chute after he exits the aircraft. If that fails, he is to release his reserve chute. If that also fails, he is to shout GEROMINO!

So he jumps out of the aircraft and releases his main ‘chute – it doesn’t work.

He releases his reserve ‘chute – that doesn’t work either.

Then as he hurtles toward the ground he passes his instructor in mid air and shouts over “What was the name of that bloody indiannnnnnnnn?”

The first part of the course is a cruise around Hull docks, otherwise known as escape capsule awareness. You are directed to a site deep inside the dock complex, and you know you are close because forty or fifty feet in the air is a bright orange boat. Your first thought is “that’s a long way up,” but some time later, you are assured that they won’t be dropping you from such a height because a quick change into bright orange overalls and you are invited to embark on a boat/capsule they launched earlier.

It’s not really a boat, (which is why they call it a capsule). True it is boat shaped and floats, but with a roof the same size as the hull, a hatch in the side to get in and out, and a glass bubble at the top which allows the ‘driver’ to see where he’s going. It’s probably 20 foot long, and boasts a capacity of 50 people and you can’t help thinking that they must be very thin people, because the ten or twelve people on the course seem to fill it to capacity. Put another way, it is tight enough to hope that your neighbour hasn’t had a strong curry the night before.

The instructor runs you through the procedure for lowering the boat from a 40 foot platform and releasing it from the cables that lowered it. He omits to mention how to start the engine, at which point you might ask “How do you start the engine?”

He might reply that “The coxswain will do that for you.”

Which begs the question ”What if the coxswain isn’t here?”

That elicits a funny look which says, “If there is an incident and the coxswain doesn’t make it, you won’t be here to worry about it.” He stops short of mentioning Geromino.

The instructor then twiddles a few knobs, starts the engine and takes us all for a tour of the dock. Half an hour later you’re back on dry land and ready for the next part of the course. So you jump in the car and make your way to the headquarters of the training company where you are told that the next lesson is first aid. You arrive at a classroom and are confronted by a body on the floor – but don’t panic, it’s only a plastic dummy. What follows is like a scene from Casualty. You shout “Can I have some help in here?” check to see if the dummy is dead yet, punch the poor guy in the ribs and start pumping his chest to the tune of “Nelly the elephant packed her trunk and said goodbye to the circus.” Of course, your efforts are all in vain, but if you get it more or less right, you pass that session and it’s now lunch time.

A bite to eat and it’s on to fire fighting for dummies. You get to dress up like a fire-man – great if that’s a childhood ambition – not so great if it’s a hot day and you’re kitted out in fire-proof overalls, steel capped wellies, gloves and helmet. They tell you all about fire extinguishers and how to use them, and then they light a few fires. First there’s the chip-pan fire – throw a blanket over it without getting yourself charred in the process. Then there is the oil spill where they light up a big tray of fuel, maybe one or two metres square, and invite each of you to put it out with an extinguisher. Now I don’t use the word ‘dummies’ lightly – because there’s always someone who will insist on chasing the last remnant of flame around the tray until the extinguisher runs out, whereupon the whole lot starts up again. Mark him down as someone to avoid in an emergency.

Next is the smoke chamber, where they dress you up like Darth Vader, with breathing apparatus, and send you into a series of shipping containers which are blacked out and dark, very dark, and full of smoke. They want to teach you to find you way out of a building with zero visibility. Your team forms up in a line. The lead guy is meant to run one hand up and down the wall looking for an exit; his other hand moves up and down in front of him to detect forward obstructions, while his feet shuffle along looking for holes and hazards. The rest of the team place one hand on the wall and the other on the guy in front – a bit like a conga line without the party. It’s not that difficult, so a minute or so after entering, the lead man finds the exit door, and you’re back in the light. On the other hand, if your lead man is one of the dummies mentioned above, be prepared to shuffle round and round until they send in a search party.

If you manage to escape, there endeth the lessons for day one. A quick change and an early drive home.

Next morning you are introduced to the pool where you will carry out the underwater escape. The pool is no bigger than a typical municipal swimming pool, but the water level is maybe four or five feet from the top, and the water is much deeper. Suspended above the pool is a big red fibre-glass helicopter-looking contraption – but that comes later.

You’re invited to select a survival suit from a rack of what looks like yellow space suits. You’re then fitted out with a life-jacket and another bag like thing that they call a re-breather. Suitably attired, the first lesson takes place in a life raft which has been inflated in the corner of the building, where you are told how it works – it will inflate automatically on contact with the water – if not, it can be deployed manually – if that fails, shout GEROMINO! They didn’t actually say that last bit, but it does cross your mind.

At this point I must digress to explain something that us North Sea Tigers don’t necessarily mention to our spouses. Helicopters can move in every direction, up, down, left, right, forward and back, but what many people don’t realise is that if the engines fail, they can glide, just like a fixed wing aircraft – the only problem is that the glide path is straight down.

In ideal circumstances, the engine dies, nothing falls off and the chopper auto-gyrates to land gently on the surface of a calm sea. The helicopter floats inflate automatically, as does the life raft, you open the cabin door and everybody steps out without getting their feet wet. A rescue boat arrives within a few minutes and its back to base and home in time for tea.

A more likely scenario is that; assuming the rotor blades remain intact and the gearbox is sound, the chopper auto-gyrates and hits the sea like a sack of potatoes. Since calm seas in the North Sea are rare, it’s more likely that the immediate danger is that the still spinning rotor blades will hit a wave and disintegrate, sending shards of carbon fibre flying through the air. Survive that and the next probability is that the engine, which is mounted above the cabin, make the chopper top heavy and the next wave will cause the whole thing to roll. You then have to fight to get out of the upside-down doors and windows to reach the surface where the life raft may, or may not, have inflated. If you are stuck in the water, even at summer temperatures, hypothermia will set in within minutes rather than hours. But what’s that compared to spending 60 or 70 quid at the Chatsworth Show?

Catastrophic failure is where one or both of the rotors fall apart or stop turning. There is only one course of action if this should ever happen – shout GERMINO!!

You are told how to operate the life-jacket and instructed in how to use the re-breather. This is a bag about the size of a large envelope that you wear round the neck with a diver’s mouthpiece. You take a deep breath, blow into the bag and this stores enough oxygen to let you breath normally for about half a minute. So it’s into the pool for the first practical exercise.

At one end of the pool is a platform about a metre wide complete with hand rails and about four feet below the surface of the water. You are required to inflate the re-breather and swim underwater for the seven or eight metres width of the pool. The survival suit is what divers call a wet-suit; which means that it is meant to fill with water, but initially is full of air which tries to make you float. So you have to use the handrail to keep yourself under while breathing from the bag. If you are too slow, you notice the gradual loss of oxygen, but normally, it is easy enough to get across without coming up for air. You must now drag yourself up the ladder at the far end. I use the word ‘drag’ because now, you are carrying an extra half ton of water in the suit. If you get through that, you’ve passed another test.

(NOTE: This was a much longer piece, but as there was a natural break here, Gordon said he was okay if the rest of the story wasn’t included and so I too am ending this here.)

— The End —

October 2018
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