Author Archives: Polly Cullen

About Polly Cullen

Polly Cullen is a pen-name I use for writing fiction. I have long held the dream to become a writer having grown up watching my mother both write and review books. My passion for words grew at school, but it is not until recently that I have given myself time to sit down and write, and now it seems I cant stop. I hope others will like the stories I create& the memories that I share.

Bonnie and the Chico (3)

A sci-fi children’s story about a girl living on a space station with an automated ‘nanny’ robot (written in 1974)

Guest Author Pamela Cleaver

Image of a cute robot from the stock pictures on Pixabay

Read Part 1 and Part 2 first, or dive in here.

Not long after the chico had to step in for her mother, and recount a bedtime story, Bonnie had her eleventh birthday which meant that she had to take her examinations which would decide her future career and what sort of training she should have. There were physical tests, oral tests and written tests and Bonnie was very nervous about what the outcome would be. The chico accompanied her to the education centre but was not allowed to go with her into to examination room and Bonnie had a chilly feeling when she knew that she would have to rely on herself alone. There would be no memory banks to help her this time.

The tests were gruelling and the papers hard. For once Bonnie gave every bit of her attention to her work and concentrated as never before to marshal the facts and express herself clearly. She did not want to leave her parents who surrounded her with love and understanding and go to live among strangers and above all, she did not want to leave her chico, who now seemed almost like another part of herself.

Her mother was waiting for her when she got home after the exams. “Do you think you did well, dear?”

“It’s hard to tell,” said Bonnie with a sigh, “but we shall know tomorrow when we hear the results.”

The chico was behaving strangely. He was rolling back and forth across the room on his castors, he was whirring and clicking as if he had got hiccups. Mrs Aldridge gave him a startled look. If he had been human, she would have said he was pacing up and down muttering to himself, the very picture of nervous anxiety – but she knew this could not be for robots have no emotions. She made a mental not to get a cybernetic expert to check him over.

Next day, Bonnie and Mrs Aldridge had an appointment at the education centre to see Bonnie’s teacher and hear the results of the exam. As her mother was coming too, Bonnie did not have to take the chico with her. When she told him to stay in her room and wait until she got back, she thought she heard a curious humming noise coming from the robot, almost like the buzzing of an angry insect.

At the education centre, Bonnie and Mrs Aldridge were greeted by a beaming teacher. “Well Bonnie,” she said, “you did better than I dared to hope. There is no question now of you having to go to earth to boarding school. Bonnie has been selected to be a story-teller Mrs Aldridge,” she explained to Bonnie’s mother. “We always knew that Bonnie had a vivid imagination but it was very undisciplined and unsuited to our times. Many of the stories that she has written in the past have been totally irrelevant to modern society, but in her exam she produced a piece of work that combined the old with the new, that interpreted old ideas in a new way.

“We anticipate that she will become the creator of talking books and video-tapes. Of course she will need special training but we can have the tapes of the course sent here and she can continue to work at home. What do you think of that Bonnie?”

Bonnie was dazed. She managed to say something appropriate and went off into a rosy dream of the future, scarcely hearing what her mother and teacher were saying as they discussed her future in greater detail.

On their way home, Mrs Aldridge asked Bonnie about the story that had so impressed the examiners.

“You see, Mum, I often used to write fairy tales for my homework,” she said, “sometimes ones you had told me and sometimes ones I made up myself. The teacher used to correct them severely. I was always being told that princes and dragons had no place in today’s world, so in my exam I was very careful. Do you remember the time you couldn’t get home and the chico told me a fairy tale? I explained how he had translated all the olden-day, fairy tale things into modern ones. Well, I wrote that story just as he told it to me.”

“But Bonnie, it was the chico’s story that got you through your exam not one of your own. What will you do when he is not there beside you to convert the stories?”

“Oh I can do it myself now,” said Bonnie confidently, “I see exactly how he did it. Anyway, there will be lots of time for you to tell him and me fairy tales and for him to retell them in his own way. That will give me plenty of ideas.”

When they got home, Bonnie rushed to her room to tell the chico what had happened, while Mrs Aldridge put through a video call to her husband to tell him the good news. While Bonnie told the chico everything that had happened, his circuits whirred and clicked smoothly and contentedly. When she had finished, Bonnie gave the chico a big hug round his metal chest, although she feared he would not know how to interpret it.

“Oh Chico,” she said, “I’m so happy. I shall be able to hear the stories the old way from Mummy and the new way from you and I shan’t have to leave you for ages. You will still be my very own, lovable Chico. I do love you Chico, although I don’t suppose your circuits will understand that.”

But they obviously did for the chico said in his metallic voice, “And we shall all live happily ever after!”

Bonnie and the chico (2)

A sci-fi children’s story written in 1974 about a girl living on a space station with an automated ‘nanny’ robot

Guest Author Pamela Cleaver

Image courtesy of Jhonatan_Perez on Pixabay

You can read part 1 here

Next morning, during the shower / dressing / breakfast routine, the chico continued to ask questions which Bonnie answered until all the unfamiliar terms in the fairy tale had been explained.

“Funny old chico,”Bonnie thought affectionately, “he doesn’t meed t know about fairy tales, but I suppose he can’t bear me to know something he doesn’t understand.” And then Bonnie forgot all about it as the days went by and she continued to do her lessons with the chico’s help, played games with him at the recreation centre, played rocket and freefall (a kind of snakes and ladders) or 3D-solitaire with him at home. She shared with him the bedtime stories Mrs Aldridge told about electronic gadgetry or old-fashioned wizardry. As time went by, Bonnie became fonder of her chico, she could not imagine how she had ever got along without him.

Once a month a big supply freighter was sent out from earth to bring the moon-colonists their supplies. It was a busy day for the adults on the moon when it arrived, they would go down to the unloading bay to collect their own personal freight containers which held their mail and anything they had ordered from earth over and above the standard issue of rations and clothing. The colonists liked to talk to the crew of the earth ship too, to hear all the latest news that was not important enough to appear in the telecast news bulletins, but that was nevertheless interesting.

Usually the whole operation ran smoothly and efficiently and took up no more than a few hours, but on one occasion there was a hitch in the docking procedure which took far longer than usual and Mrs Aldridge found herself still at the unloading bay at the time she was due at Bonnie’s bedside to tell her a story. She called her up on the vision-phone.

“I am terribly sorry darling, but I can’t get home in time to tell you a story tonight; be a good girl and settle down on your own. Perhaps you could play a video tape just this once?”

Bonnie could see from her mother’s image on the screen that she was upset.

“Don’t worry, she said, “I’ll get Chico to tell me a story – he’s listened to all of yours.”

Mrs Aldridge’s frown cleared. “What a good idea! Alright darling, you do that. I’ll look in on you when I get home. See you in the morning, love.” Bonnie said goodnight and the screen went blank.

Bonnie got herself ready for bed and climbed in under the covers. “Chico,” she said, “please tell me a story – one of the ones you’ve heard Mum tell.”

The chico settled himself beside the bed, whirred and clicked a little as he scanned his memory banks and then began to speak in his metallic voice. “Once upon a time, the son of the moonbase director …”

Bonnie interrupted. “That’s not one of Mum’s stories. There isn’t one about the son of a moonbase director.”

“Yes there is,” contradicted the chico. “This is a story about a prince. You told me that a prince was the son of the most important man in the community: the most important man here is the moonbase director so therefore, the prince must be his son. Please do not interrupt, you will disrupt my circuits.”

Bonnie saw at once what had happened – all the fairy story words the chico had learned had been explained to him by Bonnie, and he had substituted words that he understood and was used to. Robots are very logical, they have no imagination and can only interpret the information in their memory banks in the terms they have been programmed to use. Bonnie apologised gravely and promised not to interrupt again.

“Once,” said the chico beginning again, “the son of the moon-base director decided it was time that he made his way in the community so he set out in search of an adventure. He climbed into his speedy white moon-buggy and followed the track that led north, for he had heard that the daughter of a neighbouring planet director was being held prisoner by a wicked genetic engineer.”

“I see,” said Bonnie hugging herself gleefully, “the prince on his dashing white charger rode out to rescue a princess who was imprisoned by an evil enchanter.”

“That is just what I have said,” said the chico severely, “please do not interrupt. When the moonbase director’s son, whose name was Gid, arrived at the dome of the genetic engineer, he could not at first get in for the entire complex was surrounded by an impenetrable force field.”

“The castle was surrounded by a huge, thick thorn hedge,” muttered Bonnie to herself, but so quietly that the chico did not hear.

“Using his government issue laser gun, Gid short-circuited the force field and drove his moon buggy through. There was a small viewing aperture high in the dome,” went on the chico, “and through it he could see the poor prisoner. She had long gold-coloured hair wound in spring coils and scanners the colour of copper sulphate crystals and he thought her very beautiful.

“Then Gid stopped, for placed in front of the entry airlock of the dome was a huge flame thrower with fire streaming from its nozzle, its scanners casting about from side to side. Gid paused and wondered how he was going to bypass this terrible hazard.”

Oh good, a dragon!” thought Bonnie. 

“Now Gid remembered,” said the chico, “that once he had done a good turn for a female biologist who had rewarded him with a secret formula to render him non-visible to human eyes and non-detectable to electric scanners. A friendly pharmacist had made up the formula for him and he always carried it with him in a small capsule in case of need. Now he saw a use for it and, taking it from the pocket of his life support suit, he carefully poured it over himself. As soon as the solution had penetrated the fabric of his suit, he crept towards the flame-thrower. Its huge scanners cast from side to side, but Gid was undetectable. Taking care to keep out of reach of the scorching flames, he made his way round and behind it to the airlock that gave entrance to the dome.”

Having told, in his own fashion, how Gid used the magic potion given to him by a witch and made up by an apothecary to become invisible and thus bypassed the dragon guarding the doorway of the enchanter’s castle, the chico continued his story, telling how Gid (now visible again) came face to face with a miniature robot (a dwarf) who was guarding the prisoner’s room and immobilised it by removing its activating device (used a spell to turn it into stone), broke the circuits on the door (picked the lock) and rescued the planet director’s daughter.

Once they were outside the dome they met a huge bulldozer whose horrid habit it was to scoop children up and crush them to dust (a child-eating ogre who ground children’s bones to make his bread). But Gid put it out of action with his trusty laser beam (ran him through with his sword) and, disconnecting the flame-thrower’s fuel source (killing the dragon), he escaped with the girl in the moon buggy. When they got back to base, both directors were overjoyed to see their children again and promised that when they were married, they should have a planet of their own to direct (the kings promised them a kingdom of their own) and they all lived happily ever after.

When the chico came to the end of this highly original fairy tale, Bonnie thanked him, told him it was lovely and settled down happily to sleep.

When her mother came to see her next morning, Bonnie said. “Oh Mum, you should have heard the chico’s story, it was marvellous. He told me one of your fairy tales but he converted all the magic ideas into modern things. I liked your version better, but his was fun.”

To be continued …

Bonnie and the Chico

A children’s story in the sci-fi genre written by my mother in 1974. Technological developments have overtaken some of its ‘futuristic’ content, but it still works on most levels

Guest Author Pamela Cleaver

Image of a blue robot with features which might appeal to a child
Image courtesy of Jhonatan_Perez on Pixabay

In the year 2084, the scientists put their heads together and invented something for which all children everywhere were very grateful. What they invented was a special robot programmed to be a child’s companion who would play games with him, help him with his projects, tidy up his toys and keep him out of danger.

The robots were known as chicos because they were children’s companions and the inventors took the first three letters of ‘children’ and the first two letters of ‘companion’ to give them their name. The world government approved the invention and had it put into instant production. Eventually there would be a chico for every child, but it was decreed that the first batch should be sent to children whose parents were stationed in isolated, off-earth outposts.

Bonnie Aldridge was very excited when her chico arrived. She was a quiet little girl, inclined to be dreamy, who did not make friends easily. She lived with her parents who were technicians at one of the experimental depots on the moon. Although there were other children among the families who lived under the big dome where earth conditions were simulated, there was no-one just her age and she was often lonely and bored. She spent a lot of time with her mother because her father was a member of the team who were conducting mineral surveys and was consequently away from home for weeks at a time.

But the arrival of the chico changed Bonnie’s life and her mother’s too. When Mrs Aldridge saw how happy and safe Bonnie was with her electronic playmate, she felt able to take up full-time work at the research laboratory.

Bonnie took to the chico at once. Of course it did not look like a person exactly – it’s head was dome-shaped but it had scanners instead of eyes, auditory sensors instead of ears and a broadcasting unit instead of a mouth. Its body was square and solid and made of metal which contained many intricate computer components. Its arms were strong and jointed, but instead of hands it had lifting and holding appliances. Its legs were rigid and it moved on castors. The chico was the same height as Bonnie and in spite of its metal and perspex exterior, it looked very endearing to a child’s eyes; if it had been made of soft material, you might even have said it was cuddly.

Bonnie found that, unlike the children she had played with before, the chico was never bored with what she wanted to do, it never argued or sulked and it never spoke unless it was spoken to. Also, it remembered things that Bonnie forgot, it did a great many of her chores for her and was always ready to help.

To begin with, Bonnie thought of the choco as ‘it’ but as she got to know the robot, as they talked to each other, the chico came to assume a personality for Bonnie and she thought of him as someone called Choco who was ‘he’ not ‘it’.

In the mornings when the pillow alarm woke Bonnie, the choco (who always switched himself off for the night when Bonnie fell asleep) was automatically activated.

“Time to get up, Bonnie,” the chico’s metallic voice would announce.

When Bonnie went into the shower to be sprayed, soaped, rinsed and warm-air-dried, the chico waited outside then handed her her clothes for the day. When Bonnie went through to the kitchen to dial her breakfast, the chico would come too; not to eat, of course, but in case Bonnie wanted a little companionable conversation. After breakfast, Bonnie and the chico would visit Mrs Aldridge in her room to get their instructions for the day before she left for the lab.

Bonnie and the chico would then go back to Bonnie’s room where, sitting at her television console, Bonnie would tune into the school channel for her day’s work. While Bonnie listened and tried to absorb her lessons, the chico stationed himself beside her and listened too, his circuits clicking and whirring as he stored the information. Later, after they had spent the afternoon at the recreation centre together with other children and their chicos, it would be homework time and if Bonnie had forgotten anything, the chico’s infallible memory banks would help her out.

It was very important that Bonnie should do well at her school-work because in the twenty-first century, nothing was ever allowed to go to waste, whether it was raw material or something that had been used but could be recycled, living space or human potential. The authorities tested each child early in its life and demanded that it should achieve the goals of which it was capable. If Bonnie’s work fell below the standard required, she knew she would be sent to earth to a school where the supervision ws close and the conditions strict. Bonnie was too dreamy and too careless to get the necessary high marks all the time and she had already been warned that, unless she improved, she would be sent to a boarding school on earth.

When her homework was done, Bonnie rolled up the sheets of written work, put them in a message shuttle and dropped it into the flow chute to travel along to the central computer where it would be rerouted to her teacher. The teacher corrected the exercise and by morning, it had travelled back the same way to the Aldridge home. Often Bonnie’s work would be covered with red ink marks with comments at the bottom like ‘you have not made it clear what you mean’ or ‘do this again more carefully’ or ‘you have allowed your imagination to run away with you – stick to the facts.’

Her work began to improve after Chico’s arrival, but her teacher still considered that she used her imagination too much. Besides being a dreamy person, Bonnie’s imagination was fed by the bedtime stories her mother told her. Mrs Aldridge knew it was old-fashioned – most mothers used video tapes or talking books instead, but because she was out all day at work, she felt that a shared story hour brought them closer together. It was traditional in their family too – Bonnie’s granny had been a great teller of tales.

Mostly Mrs Aldrige told Bonnie stories about journeys into space, adventures among aliens on far-off planets or tales of engineering projects which were the kind of stories the children of the twenty-first century liked best. But sometimes she told stories about the olden days on earth, when strange people called cowboys rode animals called horses or about pirates, who were ruthless men who sailed the oceans in search of treasure – not the modern robbers of space. Occasionally she told Bonnie even stranger tales handed down through the family called fairy stories.

She had to explain many strange ideas to Bonnie so she could understand them. She told her about princes and princesses, witches and ogres, giants and dragons and about magic; those things were totally alien to a little girl who had grown up on the moon in the twenty-first century. Very few children knew about them as fairy tales were quite out of fashion, but Bonnie loved them and it was because she sometimes used ideas from them in her school-work that her teacher found it unacceptable.

The chico always listened to the stories too. As Bonnie lay warm and content in her bed, listening to her mother’s soothing voice, the chico would glide about the room on silent casters, tidying away the things Bonnie had used during the day and getting clothes out for the next day. As the chico listened, his circuits would whirr as he absorbed and stored the information.

One day, soon after the chico’s arrival, Mrs Aldridge was telling Bonnie a fairy tale and the chico’s circuits whirred and clicked as he listened. Chirr-clk, chirrr-clk went the wheels, dials and tapes inside his metal body. Robots are not programmed to have feelings, but his circuits were unable to process the data, so many words Mrs Aldridge was using were completely unfamiliar and had no meaning for him.

“This does not compute,” he spoke quietly in his synthesised voice, but nevertheless his memory banks stored the story.

After Mrs Aldridge had kissed Bonnie goodnight and left her, the chico took the unusual step of speaking without first being spoken to.

“Bonnie,” he began, “that story did not compute. I have insufficient data.”

Bonnie was feeling drowsy but she was a polite child so she answered. “What do you want to know, Chico?”

“What is a prince?”

“He is the son of a king – that means the most important man in the community.”

Chico’s circuits whirred and clicked. “Thank you. What is a dragon?”

“A very large monster that breathes fire.”

Chirrr-clk  “Thank you. What is a charger?”

“A horse, a horse is a creature that takes the prince very fast wherever he wants to go.”

More whirring and clicking. “And what is a dwarf?”

Bonnie’s voice became slower. She was getting very sleepy. “A very small – magic – person …” and before she could finish her sentence, she was asleep.

The chico, because that was the way he was programmed, turned himself off and would not be re-activated until Bonne woke again.

To be continued …

In Praise of Audible

Image free from Pixabay

How to read when you don’t have time to sit down with a book

I can’t believe how quickly I converted to loving audible! I adore reading and quite often I’m reading more than 1 book at a time nowadays

* one for research purposes for my writing

* one for my book club

* one for lunchtime at work & bedtime

  • now one for when I’m walking the dog / doing chores around the house!

The ability to “read” while my hands are doing other things like gardening or chopping vegetables, or when I am walking one of our dogs is a marvellous thing and has quite boosted my motivation to do boring things like clearing the attic and painting.

Podcasts are free with my monthly audible subscription and these can be informative, funny, thought provoking. They keep me company and they expand my mind – I enjoy having new facts to throw into the conversation and (hopefully) to impress my kids with!

I’m taken back to the days when my I’d lie in bed in the room I shared with my younger brother. We’d be in our PJs waiting for our father to get home from work. We’d hear him come upstairs, still in his suit and tie but with his jacket off so we could see his coloured braces. He’d sit down on one of our beds and pick up the book he’d read from the night before, and continue with the story.

We’d be spellbound as the story unfolded – dragons, princes, giants and tailors who could fly or fight or outwit monsters with many heads or poisoned tongues. My brother liked stories of Gumdrop, a car with a personality and I giggled at a wolf who could never catch a break with Polly or her younger sister.

Now accomplished actors read the stories aloud, their expression so skilful it’s like listening to a play. Sometimes I am listening to a play, with different voices for each part and sound effects, while some writers have chosen to narrate their novels themselves.

For the price of 2 fancy coffees a month, I am transported by my choice of 1 book and unlimited exclusive podcasts. I can listen to the stories as many times as I want, once they are downloaded and I can file them on my phone by categories I define, I can gift them to a friend or delete them if I don’t want them anymore.

By using the sleep function (a timer on my phone) I can even recreate the feeling of being read to as I fall asleep. Happy days!

Current Recommendations:

The Devil & the Dark Water : Stuart Turton [Crime/Mystery/Historical]

The Midnight Library : Matt Haig [Philosophical / Adventure]

What Alice Forgot : Liane Moriarty [Chick Lit / Mystery]

Sharp Objects : Gillian Flynn [Crime / psychological thriller]

The Girl who Fell from the Sky : Simon Mawer [WWII Spy / Adventure]

Crush It Like Cleopatra ~ Podcast [Humour / History / Life]

My Father the Spy ~ Podcast [Stuart Copeland’s Recollections / History / Humour/ Spy]

Hell Cats ~ Dramatisation of the True Story of Women Pirates Anne Bonny & Mary Read [LGBTQ+ / History / Adventure]

But Baby Look At You Now!

When people ask me to tell them something about me that nobody knows – well that’s a tough one – but something hardly anybody knows about me is that I used to be a model. Not a catwalk model (I’m only 5’4″) but a baby model. We lived in London when I was a baby and my siblings were a little older than me, so during the day when they were at school, my mother had time to focus on me. She says people constantly stopped her when I was out in my pram to remark on my looks – I know, I know, people say that platitude a lot, but I guess my mother thought it rang true.

I was an even tempered child, not shy with strangers and not too quick to cry. With white blonde hair and blue eyes, I guess I had the look they wanted as they filmed me for baby food commercials, soaps and bubble bath. My mother was not filmed with me, they would use a model for the parent. My mother would stand just out of shot so that I could see her; you’ll notice that babies in adverts look over the shoulder of the person holding them.

Recently, clearing my parents’ house, I found this typed schedule to which my mother and the film company worked.

6.30 Baby wakes up, is changed and goes back to cot to play for a bit

7.00 Is dressed and goes into playpen

7.45 Has breakfast with parents

8.15 Put down in pram for sleep, while Mother prepares food and kit for modelling session

10.15 Is dressed to go out, is put in pram and pushed to studios

10.45 Arrives at studios for modelling session. Studio staff carry pram up to quiet room where Baby can rest later on. Baby is dressed in clothes provided by studio, introduced to model mother and trained nurse who is there to see baby is well looked after and not overtired. The director looks Baby over, approves and …

11.00 Modelling session begins. This is a baby food ad. for television and they want shots of Baby playing happily with mother. After a few takes, the lights are turned off and Baby is given a rest and cools off.

More pictures are taken and Director is satisfied. Then he wants shots of Baby eating. The complete range of baby food is there and we choose her favourite for her filmed meal. This goes well because the baby likes the food, it is her proper lunch time and she is given every consideration.

12.30 The nurse and I decide she has had enough and tell the Director, who immediately says she should go and rest. He asks me what time she will be ready for further session, I suggest 2.15. He says “Right, but if she sleeps on it doesn’t matter, don’t wake her up specially, we wont shoot any more until she is ready.”

Baby is changed, put to rest in quiet, well-ventilated room and I go down to studio to have my lunch, which is provided.

2.15 Baby wakes up completely refreshed and happy. I take her back to studio where a few more scenes are taken. As soon as Director has enough film, we are told we can go. Again the studio staff are very helpful carrying down the pram.

I’ve unfortunately never seen any of the adverts in which I featured, they probably don’t exist any more, but it’s a fun fact about me that I can throw into the conversation occasionally.

The Mermaid’s Pearls – A Fairytale

Photo courtesy of Mysticartdesign on Pixabay

by Guest Author Pamela Cleaver

Once upon a time, there was a greedy fisherman called Joel. Everyone thought he was poor because he never seemed to spend any money. His wife, Mara, went about in a ragged dress and his son, Peter, ran barefoot. The fisherman worked hard catching fish to sell, but instead of using his money to buy Mara a new dress or shoes for Peter, he put his gold and silver into leather bags and hid them under the floorboards.

Besides being greedy, Joel was bad-tempered. He spoke crossly to Mara although she kept the house neat and always had hot food waiting when he came home with his catch. He was always scolding Peter although the boy did everything he could to help his father.

One day, Joel and Peter were out at sea, casting the net and drawing it in then tipping the fish into the boat. That day they had done well, the bottom of the boat was a mass of wriggling, shimmering silver fish. Greedy Joel rubbed his hands.

“This is a fine catch,” he said to Peter. “It’ll earn me a tidy sum.” He looked up at the sun. “Just time for one more cast,” he said.

Out went the net into the calm sea, the centre sinking while floats kept the edges bobbing on the surface. Joel waited a while, then began to haul it in.

“Lend a hand, lazy boy!” he shouted at Peter. “The net’s really heavy. There must be hundreds of fish in it.”

Joel was pleased and hauled away with a will, his muscles bulging. Peter pulled too, adding his small strength to Joel’s. Their arms were getting tired, but still they pulled , Peter wanting to please his father and Joel thinking greedily of the money he would put under the floor when he sold his record catch.

What a surprise they had! They hadn’t caught hundreds of silver fish, but one enormous fish with green scales. They were even more surprised as they wrestled with the slippery tail to discover that the front half was like the body of a human woman.

“It’s a mermaid!” cried Joel, “I’ve heard tell of such creatures but I thought they were nought but fishermen’s yarns.”

When the mermaid was freed from the net, she sat with her green scaly tail resting on the pile of silver fish. Her skin was pale green, her long golden hair hung down to her waist and her eyes were as blue as the summer sea. Her hands, tipped with mother-of-pearl fingernails, were clasped together in anguish. There was a pleading look in her sea-blue eyes and tears rolled down her cheeks.

“She wants me to put her back in the sea,” Joel whispered to Peter, “but I won’t!” He spoke to the mermaid. “You want to go back? Nothing doing, my pretty. You’re going to make my fortune.” He grinned nastily and, taking a piece of rope from his pocket, he tied her hands together so she couldn’t get away.

Peter felt sorry for her, but he dared not argue with his father.

All the way home, Joel ignored the mermaid’s sobbing, his head filled with schemes for getting rich. Peter was thinking too, but he was trying to find a way to help her.

Although their cottage was near the quay, it was too far for Joel to carry her, so he sent Peter to fetch a wheelbarrow.

“She’s so beautiful,” Peter said as he helped his father lift her, “but she looks so sad. Couldn’t we let her go?”

“Stupid boy!” Joel said crossly. “Certainly not! She’s going to make me rich.”

“How?” Peter wanted to know.

“I shall sell her to a showman from a fair. People will pay to see a mermaid because they are very rare.”

“Please put her back in the sea.” Peter pleaded, but he got his ears boxed.

“Keep quiet and do as you’re told! Let’s get her indoors before anyone sees her. I shall go and see the showman tomorrow.”

It was obvious the mermaid understood what they said, for when Joel mentioned the showman and people paying to look at her, she burst into a wild storm of weeping. Peter quite expected her to get her ears boxed too.

Mara was astonished when she saw what Joel had brought home.

“Poor thing!” she said indignantly. “It’s a shame to bring a sea creature onto land. Why don’t you put her back where she belongs? What do you want with her?”

“You mind your own business,” Joel said sharply. “Put her in the scullery and don’t untie her.”

That night they their supper in uncomfortable silence. The poor mermaid’s weeping put Peter and Mara off their food but Joel did not seem to care and ate a hearty meal. Then, while Mara and Peter washed the dishes, Joel snored in front of the fire.

Peter tip-toed out to the scullery and offered the mermaid some food. She shook her head but smiled gratefully.

“Don’t worry,” Peter whispered, “I’ll find a way to get you back to sea, even if my Dad beats me for it.”

Mara crept out to offer the mermaid a shawl to keep her warm. She shook her head, but smiled her thanks.

That night Peter hardly slept, worrying about the mermaid, but Joel slept like a log and dreamed of bags of gold.

In the morning, Joel put on his best suit. He gave Mara and Peter strict instructions to keep the mermaid safe, and set off whistling a jaunty tune, his hat on the side of his head.

As soon as Joel was out of sight, Peter ran to fetch the wheelbarrow and with Mara’s help, lifted the mermaid into it. Mara and Peter were determined that she should go back to the sea, no matter what Joel said, no matter how angry it made him.

Carefully Peter wheeled her down to the shore and gently helped her into the water.

“Goodbye, lovely mermaid,” he said. “Take care never to get caught in my Dad’s net again.” He thought ruefully about how angry Joel would be when he found his prize catch had gone, but he thought it was worth it when he saw the joy in the mermaid’s eyes as she felt the water lapping round her.

With a flash of her green tail and a wave of her pear-tipped hand, she dived under the water and disappeared.

Peter sat on the shore and sighed, never expecting to see her again. But a few minutes later, she bobbed up and swam towards him. She beckoned and Peter waded out, waist deep in the water, to meet her. Smiling, she handed him a bag made from thick, ribbon seaweed.

“For me?” he asked. She nodded.

He looked into the bag. Inside were ten, beautiful, gleaming pearls. He stared in amazement, then he understood. She wanted him to give them to Joel so that he wouldn’t be angry. Peter looked up to say ‘thank you’ but the mermaid had gone.

Joel came home that evening in a terrible rage. The showman would not agree to pay him as much money as he wanted. When Peter told him he had put the mermaid back, Joel’s face went scarlet and he opened his mouth to shout. But when Peter handed over the reward, Joel’s anger died. The pearls were worth six times what the showman had offered.

Joel smiled at Peter and patted him on the head. He went straight upstairs to put the jewels under the floorboards. He brought down six silver coins which he gave to Peter.

“Here,” he said, “you’ve done well.”

Peter could hardly believe his luck. Never before had his father given him money to spend. Next morning Peter ran to the market. He bought his mother a dress of soft grey wool, to match her eyes and bought himself a pair of sturdy shoes with shin buckles. There was even a penny left over so he bought himself a stick of candy.

It was just as well Peter spent the money quickly. A week later, when greedy Joel went to gloat over his treasure, he found the gleaming pearls has changed into dull grey pebbles. His fury was terrible to see, and Peter and Mara hid until he got over it.

After that, no-one ever dared mention the word ‘mermaid’ in Joel’s hearing.

Related posts: A True Romantic (about the author)

Teeny Tiny Tyke / The Deadly Game (more by the author)

Don’t Mess with this Mermaid (a book review)

A Problem with Virtual Friendships

What to do when you don’t hear from a ‘virtual’ friend

We are more than a year into the pandemic that is Covid19, and sentenced to being housebound for months, many of us socialised virtually. Talking to friends through DM chats or using our screens and smart speakers to both see and hear friends and family from whom we were socially distanced filled a gap.

But what to do if you ONLY know your friend through social media and they go quiet, what do you do to find out how they are, if they are have caught the virus or become unwell in another way?

Some people do not use their real names on social media – Penguin44 or Book_crazy (fake examples). How do you check on them when all you have is their pseudonym, and your regular conversations with the person suddenly stop: everything goes quiet?

This has happened to me 3 times since the pandemic and it’s pretty worrying. Each time it happened, I tried every avenue through which I had ever communicated with my virutal friend (e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp). When I received no response I had to cast my net wider still – begging information from others who might know the missing person as well as or better than me. I shrugged on my Miss Marple cardi and twinned it with some creepy stalker tendencies and pumped their other friends and social media home pages for information.

The first friend who went silent, I’ll call Buzz. When I tracked him down it turned out that he had indeed contracted Covid19 – someone in his family worked in a hospital. Eventually Buzz felt well enough to answer e-mails and replied to me that he was recovering – which was a huge relief, although the poor guy seems to be suffering long covid, because he’s still not up to full energy.

Going AWOL at the same time as Buzz was another good friend I’ll call Meredith. I didn’t push quite so hard with e-mails to Meredith, because she had previously told me that social media sometimes overwhelmed her and so her response was to leave it alone for a while. Eventually I heard, through a mutual friend, that Meredith was fine. I assume she has cut a lot of her previous ties with virtual friends to maintain good mental health. It’s a shame to lose contact with her, but she must do what is best for her survival.

A more recent concern has been my transatlantic friend Hal, who I value greatly. One minute he was posting pictures and cheeky tweets, next minute silence. It was so out of character for Hal that others he knew slid into my DMs to ask if I knew where he had gone and was he ok?

I know Hal’s real name so I had the advantage of using 2 different e-mails to try contacting him, but the silence went on a long time. I looked back to when we had last spoken: I had been suggesting a writing prompt to him and he said “maybe later, I’m very busy at the moment.”

I wanted the reason for Hal’s silence to be that he was too busy to speak to me, or that he was visiting family without such good internet connection as when he was at home. I invented innocuous reasons why he’d gone incommunicado.

Unfortunately I discovered that Hal had been taken seriously ill. He’d been admitted to hospital and was surrounded by family but they were keeping things private. As he began to recover I assumed he was not yet well enough to use a tablet or other technology to chat with friends. I know I struggle to remember all my different logins and passwords, so I cant think how I’d manage if my health took such a sideswipe. That’s when I began to send him get well cards & cheery letters, thinking perhaps someone could read them to him, and they might boost his morale.

Despite the dire news, I gleaned small comfort from having the facts about why he was off line. Thank goodness I knew someone who had been trusted with his mobile phone number so they were up-dated and could pass messages to Hal’s friends.

Now from his FB account, I can see he is making gradual, but steady progress. He is working towards regaining the range of movement he lost. Hal sent me a message of emojis in the other day. A tiny thing like that made my heart soar.

My friends are very important to me, especially the close ones in whom I confide and who know about my writing and my pen name. I like to support and cheerlead them and believe that they, likewise, have my back.

Lets continue to be kind to one another, keep in touch and hopefully, now that the vaccines are rolling out to all age groups, we can look forward to seeing those friends (if they live within reach) in person very soon!

You’re my best friend

Lean on Me

Mr Postman

A True Romantic

Pamela

Memories of My Mother

It is a fact of life that we will encounter death. Before our own time is up, we have to deal with losing people around us and it is a bitter pill to swallow. The loss of someone who you have loved, who’s been an positive influence and a cornerstone in your life is particularly hard, but your happy memories will buoy you up. Cling onto those memories, look back on good times and funny things they did or wise advice they gave to help move forward, gradually you’ll pull yourself out of the quagmire that is grief. You won’t forget and the gap that signifies their absence doesn’t close, but it becomes easier to bear.

At this moment in time, the house where my mother and father lived for the last phase of their lives, is up for sale. My siblings and I have taken away what is precious to us, pictures and papers and furniture to hold their memories safe. It has been hard to dismantle their happy home and consign it to boxes, especially as the Covid lockdowns have meant that we could not always be together during the process, but when we could the oral history was rich. We talked about incidents from our shared past and enjoyed looking back at our younger selves and the care and love our parents bestowed on us.

In the deep-clean of possessions that’s been forced on us, things have come to light which were forgotten or perhaps not even known by us. Some unpleasant, but many were good. I have now taken custody of my father’s scrapbooks and my mother’s diaries and photo album – their rich history will be safely stored.

I came across this message and an account in my mother’s words, shared with Jennifer Crusie‘s “Cherries” – a group of romantic writers – about how my parents met. I want to others to read it, because it holds so much positivity – we can all benefit from that.

— * — * —

Hey, all you youngsters of 50 and 60, I’m here to tell you that in your seventies, love and romance don’t stop – at least they haven’t stopped yet for me. (This was shared with the goup only a couple of weeks before she died).

— * — * —

Ok, this was back in the 50s, I was invited to a 21st birthday party, ball gowns and black tie. I wasn’t keen to go. In those days I was very shy and thought I wouldn’t know anyone. My mother urged me to go. I put on my favourite ball gown and the zip up the back broke.

“There you are, I can’t go,” I said to my mother.

She went to my cupboard and got out another dress, threw it over my head and zipped it up quite viciously.

“Yes, you can. You are to GO! If you hate it after half an hour, ring me and I’ll come and fetch you.” So I went. And stayed.

When I got there, this handsome guy was surrounded by a bevvy of giggling girls who obviously fancied him like mad. I did too, but I wasn’t going to let him see it. I asked someone who he was and was told he was the most fun guy in the room. I was determined not to be impressed.

When he asked me to dance, I said, “I hear you’re great fun, so scintillate.” Wind taken out of his sails. He grinned ruefully, and we kept on dancing.

Later in the evening he asked if he could take me home. Damn, I thought, I had already agreed to let someone else take me home so I turned him down. I was really disappointed because I would have liked to have gone with him. But as it turned out it was a good move. He had an old fashioned sense of honour and respected the fact that I wouldn’t go back on my word.

We started going out together and he was everything I ever wanted in a man. We married when I was 22 and he was 23 and have been together through thick and thin ever since.

— * — * —

My mother was evacuated from London to Exmoor to avoid the bombing in WWII. She was lucky enough to go with my grandmother and they lived on a dairy farm. Once my father retired my parents chose to settle in a very rural part of Norfolk and, with us four children grown up and making families of our own, she had more time to pursue her writing. This poem she wrote in 1993 celebrates the joy she found in this simpler life. We read it at her funeral in 2005.

I am a Country Child Again

Here in a rustic house I live

The summit of my dearest hopes.

Years did I dwell ‘mongst brick and stone

My children’s welfare my concern

But now they’ve gone – I am released,

I’m free to live howe’er I wish.

The country’s mine as ‘twas in youth;

The green grass gilded by the sun,

The fresh air free from toxic fumes.

My nostrils now nose sweeter scents –

New mown grass and fresh baked bread

Birdsong’s my blessing all day long.

The rain is gentle on my face,

When cold winds blow I do not care.

And though I’m wrinkled now and old

I’ve vigour as I had when young –

I am a country child again.

The evening air is soft and sweet

And still now after daytime blow.

I walk in fields thickset with grass

Waist high, seeds ripened by the sun.

We’ll make it hay ‘ere cuckoos leave.

Then sheep will come and gently graze

Reminding me of times gone by –

I am a country child again.

As each day ends I thank the Lord

That I, unworthy, have such joy.

The house I live in, thatched and pink

Is what I dreamed of while I lived

The rat-race life from morn to night.

From those to whom the Lord gives much

Much is required, the Bible says.

What will be required of me?

And can I pay the needed price?

I doubt it but I still enjoy

I am a country child again.

Pamela in her Riding Clothes

Teeny Tiny Tyke ~ A Fairytale

Image by LLorensen on Pixabay

Guest Author Pamela Cleaver

Lucy and her family lived on a farm. One market day, Lucy was in town to sell their eggs. Once she’d sold them, she tied up the money carefully in the corner of her handkerchief. She was on her way home when she overheard two farmers talking near the butter-cross. One of them was holding, in the crook of his arm, a very small grey dog, with tightly curled hair. It’s eyes had a knowing twinkle, but one was bigger than the other. In spite of this, Lucy liked the puppy right away.

“I dunno what to do with this wretched little tyke,” the farmer said to his friend. “He’s the last one in the litter and much smaller than the six others. I sold them as easy as kiss-me-hand.”

His friend laughed. “He’s too small for herding sheep or guarding the house, he’s too ugly for anyone to want him as a pet. You’ll have a job getting rid of him.”

“Well I don’t want to keep him,” said the first farmer. “I’d give him away, but I doubt anyone would want him.”

Lucy could hardly believe her ears. “Please mister,” she said shyly, “if you don’t want him, can I have him?”

“You want him?” The farmer was surprised. “Right then Missy, the little tyke’s yours. Take him and good riddance.”

Lucy thanked him. She tucked the little grey dog under her arm and ran all the way home in case the farmer changed his mind.

“Mum, Mum!” she cried, bursting in through the kitchen door. “See what I’ve got – a teeny, tiny dog called Tyke.”

Lucy’s mother looked doubtful. “He’s so small Lucy, and his eyes are crooked. What good’ll he be? How will he earn his keep?  he’s too small for herding or guarding the house.”

“Please let me keep him,” Lucy pleaded. “I’ll work twice as hard to make up for him.”

“We’ll see,” said her mother. “I can’t worry about dogs now. The witch has put a spell on the well. I can’t get any water for cooking and the boys can’t get water for the stock to drink.”

Their farm was in a valley, on the hill above lived a horrible witch. Although Lucy’s family were poor, they were happy. This made the witch sick with envy.

Tyke had been sniffing around the kitchen. When he heard about the witch, he sidled up to Lucy and whispered, “I can deal with the witch.” But Lucy was too busy helping her mother to listen.

Lucy’s father stamped angrily into the kitchen. “That cursed witch put a spell on the gate. It won’t let me through to pen the sheep and it’ll be dusk soon.”

Tyke stepped forward, and spoke a little louder this time. “I can deal with the gate,” he said, but no one took any notice.

Lucy’s big brother Tom came into the kitchen, his cheeks flushed with frustration. “The cows won’t give milk, they’re too thirsty. Old witch has put a spell on the well.”

Tyke swaggered forward. “I can deal with the well,” he boasted, but everyone was too busy to listen.

Lucy’s little brother Peter came in looking sad. “Not one egg in the henhouse,” he showed his empty basket. “They’re so thirsty there’s no cackle from the hens nor a crow from the cock.”

“I can deal with the well,” shouted Tyke, having climbed on a chair. “Leave it to me.”

All the family turned to stare at the teeny, tiny dog.

“You!” they cried. “You’re a scruffy grey ball of fur, what can you do? You’re too small to fight and you’re not clever enough to deal with the witch’s spells. Get out! Get away from here.”

The teeny, tiny dog’s boasting had amazed and angered everyone except Lucy. She picked him up and looked into his mis-matched eyes. 

“Could you, Tyke? Would you?”

“I could and I will,” he said firmly.

“All right,” said Lucy, “prove it.” She opened the door and let him out. Tyke ran to the gate.

“You can’t go through, the bewitched gate said importantly. “No one belonging to this farm can pass through.”

Tyke threw back his scruffy grey head and laughed, his little pink tongue hanging out. “But I don’t belong here, they told me to get out.”

“Then I’ll have to let you pass,” squeaked the gate grudgingly.

Tyke scuttled through, ran up the hill, rounded up the sheep and penned them in the fold. Next, he ran to the well.

“No water, no water!” cried the well. “No water for anyone belonging to this farm.”

“That’s all right then, because I don’t belong here,” said teeny, tiny Tyke. Then he hauled up the water bucket with the rope held between his teeny, tiny teeth.

Big brother Tom took water to the cows, little Peter carried a bucketful to the hens and Lucy took water to her mother so she could cook. In no time there was milk and eggs on the kitchen table and a stew bubbling on the stove.

Lucy picked Tyke up and gave him a hug. “Isn’t he clever?” she said to her mother. “Now he can stay, can’t he?”

Just then they heard the gate calling. “Look out, here comes the witch!”

Lucy was still hugging Tyke when her father, Tom and Peter ran in.

“Put me down, I have work to do,” said Tyke. “I’ll deal with the witch.”

“You!” said Lucy’s father scornfully, “you couldn’t outwit her – not in a million years.” But Lucy believed in Tyke and let him out.

The witch was so angry, she was spitting. Her temper had changed from sour jealousy to burning fury. Her broomstick knew better than to dawdle when she was in this kind of meed, it had brought her down so fast that the earth scorched where she landed. She began to walk around the farmhouse waving her arms and chanting a spell to keep everyone inside until she released them. 

“And that’ll be never!” she cackled at her own cunning plan.

“That’s where you’re wrong!” said teeny, tiny Tyke. “I’ve followed behind you every step of the way, brushing your footprints out with my teeny, tiny tail. I’ve broken the spell.”

The witch’s face went rigid with fear. “You’ve ruined it, you horrid little grey mutt,” she cried. “Shoo, scat!”

“No – you go or I’ll bite you and drain all your power.” He began to run after the witch, snapping his teeny, tiny teeth.

The witch was furious, but she knew she was beaten. Muttering and grumbling, she leapt back on her broomstick and flew away.

“And that’s the last time she will trouble you,” said teeny, tiny Tyke.

“Well done, you clever dog, come indoors,” said Lucy.

“You said I don’t belong,” said teeny tiny Tyke.

“We want you to live with us,” said little Peter.

“But I’m ugly and scruffy, said teeny, tiny Tyke.

“A stout heart’s worth more than a pretty face,” said Lucy’s mother, “come, sit by the hearth.”

“But I’m too small to be any use,” said teeny, tiny Tyke.

“Good things come in small parcels,” said Lucy’s father. “You proved that.”

“I need a friend,” said Lucy, “please stay Tyke.”

“Oh, very well,” said the little dog, “I’ll stay for Lucy’s sake, and in case the witch tries to come back.”

But she never did. Teeny, tiny Tyke lived on the farm and made himself useful.  He was Lucy’s best friend. He followed like a shadow when she was at home, he walked her to school and was always waiting when she came out. At night he slept curled up at the foot of her bed. He and Lucy were very content.

“This is the life for me,” said teeny, tiny Tyke. 

Don’t Mess with this Mermaid

BookReview : To Kill a Kindom by Alexandra Christo

I’m a fan of YA novels, I enjoy the fresher viewpoint and the additional turmoils that are experienced by a younger, less experienced protagonist.

This novel is based on a traditional fairytale but it takes a different direction from the outset. Mermaids are portrayed as calculating and vicious, to build their power they benefit from stealing human hearts. Using their mesmerising siren song, they lure their prey.

The Sea Queen is feared and revered by her subjects, choosing to channel her toughest challenges and most cruel punishments at her daughter, Princess Lira. When she transforms Lira to human form, robbing her of the ability to sing, Lira questions whether her agenda is to make her daughter the most feared Siren or to prevent her from becoming a rival?

Prince Elian is highly reluctant to shoulder his royal duties, preferring his life on the ocean with a motley crew whose loyalty is balanced by its ferocity. Despite being heir to the throne of the most powerful kingdom, he’s in his element hunting sirens, and despite the danger he uses his blue blood as bait.

This book’s plot is thick with political intrigue and danger, a challenging quest for an item which might only exist as legend. The Prince must barter and bargain; deciding who to trust will not be easy when most creatures he encounters have their own agenda.

Lira, in the hated body of a human, has much to learn about our values of loyalty and love. If she intends to be returned to her original form, she has a task she must complete before the winter solstice, which involves an impossible choice for which the clock is ticking.

I listened to this book on Audible, a 2-voice narration of the male and female protagonists really brought the story alive. I’ve downloaded another by this author, because I particularly enjoyed their treatment of the original folk tale.