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.

Henry Potstam’s Coat

Henry Potstam was a very pampered dog. He lived in a large house in a smart area of London. His owners didn’t have any children, Henry was their baby and they made no excuses for that.

Everyday their maid would take Henry Potstam for a walk. His master and mistress worked and so this broke up his day until they were at home. It allowed him to stretch his legs and catch up with any ‘messages’ left on lamp posts and walls by other dogs in the neighbourhood. Henry was a west highland white terrier, whose sense of smell was very keen. His almost black eyes were bright and alert and he enjoyed sniffing the trunks of any trees planted in the pavements en route to the park near his home.

Because Henry Potstam was a ‘gentleman’, he had a coat which he wore when he went out. His dog jacket was tartan, it slipped over his head, covered his back and fastened round his ribs but, most importantly, it had a pocket. Henry was such a pampered dog that he had an allowance. So the maid would put one penny of this into his jacket pocket every day before they set off on their walk.

London parks can be very beautiful, with paths through grassy spaces and avenues of trees. There are often benches dotted about and large beds of flowers known as herbaceous borders. In 1950s London, when this story takes place, parks also looked good because litter was confined to ornate wrought iron receptacles and an army of gardeners kept the bushes and flower beds maintained. 

The maid enjoyed her leisurely walk with Henry. As they left the house at the same time every day, they saw a lot of familiar faces. She stopped and talked briefly to a few friends but did not dawdle, as this was Henry’s walk and he was keen to get to the shop. 

A bell rang once the heavy door of the tobacconist shop opened. Henry and his walker were well known, they visited every day. Henry walked around the counter to get his usual fuss from Mr Crawford the owner. Having bent down to greet the dog and issue an ear rub, Mr Crawford would enquire whether the maid needed any shopping. In those days shops were not self service and to serve her, he would have lifted down jars to weigh out dry goods: toffees or sugar or whatever she needed. Once the maid had made her purchases Mr Crawford could turn his attention to his 4-legged customer.

“So Henry, is it the usual?” he would enquire.

Not needing an answer, he would bend down to remove the copper penny from Henry’s coat pocket to exchange it for a bar of chocolate. A penny bar of chocolate was small and fairly basic, “marching chocolate” it bore a historical picture of a soldier on it’s foil wrapper. In the 1950s nobody knew that chocolate was not suitable for dogs and this was Henry’s treat.

If the weather was fine, Henry and the maid would leave the shop so she could sit on a park bench to feed him his chocolate. If there was rain or snow, then Mr Crawford would unwrap the treat for Henry and he’d eat it in the shop, before walking happily back through the avenue of trees and along the pavements to his home.

This is a true story, perhaps the names have been changed to protect the innocent! My mother worked for Henry Potstam’s owner and this was one of my favourite of her annecdotes, as she relayed it to me.

Don’t Let Him in (5)

A chilling tale, told in installments

In synchronised silence, Alex and J moved swiftly through the swing doors, J pointed to Alex then at the office, then indicated his own chest he gestured towards the computer. Each set off on their separate missions.  J moved stealthily and clicked the computer mouse. When it brought on screen what the Librarian had last been looking at, he shook his head at her casualness in not locking the computer when she stepped away, while being hugely grateful that she hadn’t! An inventory page loaded, she was in the process of placing an order for more books – nothing very surprising there. What had she minimised in the toolbar? A database of student names & their library pass codes, a timetable of classes using the Library for study sessions and internet explorer. What had she been researching on the internet? Opening it, he felt a jolt of excitement: hypnotists! She‘d been researching hypnotism in its many forms.

Just then J heard the squeak of the back office door as it swung open. Immediately he ducked low and sidled away from the desk. He didn’t straighten up till he was safely between two bookshelves crammed with paperbacks and hardbacks, all neatly ordered by category. He could hear Alex talking, but in that low voice people use in libraries, so J had no idea what he was saying. 

When the Librarian moved in his direction, her sensible shoes made a faint squeak on the parquet floor. J grabbed a random book off the crowded shelf. He took it over to her, fishing his library card out of his inside blazer pocket as he walked.

The Librarian tapped a few keys and moved the mouse. The printer sprang to life and whirred until a piece of paper came out. As she turned away to grab it, Alex delivered J a subtle wink.

“Thank you Miss. I’m sure my Library card is somewhere at home, but you’ll save my bacon if I can get some study books out for tonight.”

“This is valid for one week.” She observed him sternly over her glasses. “If you haven’t found your card by then, you had better see me to arrange a replacement.”

Alex took the temporary pass. She turned her attention to J, who proffered his book. As she entered the reference code she looked at him rather strangely – he kept his face blank. Not until they were a way down the corridor did he look at the book’s title. He burst out laughing,  “Lacemaking Through the Ages”. No surprise she wondered why he needed that!

“What did you find out?” J asked Alex. 

They were walking briskly, urgently needing to retrieve books from their lockers for afternoon lessons.

“Not much really. Too many posters & flyers obstructing the glass panels.” He shook his head. “She did look furtive. I saw her putting a big jar of pills into her handbag. Which, by the way, also looks like something from a museum! What did you find?”

“We may be onto something – she’d been researching hypnotism on the internet. I’ll run the same search at home tonight and see if I can get a bit more info.” 

J could tell Alex was impressed, but before they could talk more the bell rang, summoning them back to class.

When he got home from school, J was greeted by his sister Lulu, excitedly flapping a pink postcard at him.

“What’ve you got there Lulu?”

“A party invitation. MY PARTYYYYY!” she squealed and twirled round making her checked summer dress flare out like a bell.

J took the invitation from her hand to read.

“So Lulu, karaoke AND a clown?”

“Yes J. And there will be balloons and dancing and a Disney Princess cake.”

“Wow! Lucky you. Will you give the invitations out to your friends at school tomorrow?”

“Mmm hmm.” She followed him out to the kitchen and watched him make a sandwich. 

“Can I have a milkshake please J?”

He reached up to get a glass, then filled it with milk and added spoonfuls of strawberry powder. As he stirred it he looked at his little sister, at her thick blonde plaits and grey blue eyes, noticing an air of sweet innocence. He handed her the glass and she padded off down the hall, silent in white cotton socks. Seconds later he heard the blurt of the television as his sister settled down to watch cartoons.

J made himself a drink and took his sandwich upstairs. Passing his Dad’s study door he pushed it open. His Dad sat at the computer, but he wasn’t writing; he was drinking coffee and scrolling on his phone – it was OK to interrupt.

“How’s it going? Did you get much written today?”

“Yes. I had a bit of a breakthrough actually, I got a lot done. How about you? School good?”

“Er – guess so.” 

J flicked his fringe out of his eyes. He didn’t feel like sharing details of the recent weirdness with his Dad. Change of subject required.

“Lulu’s party sounds cool Dad.”

“I hope so. She wanted something none of her friends had done, and I saw the clown-guy’s card in the newsagent’s window. You might know him actually – he goes to your school. Danny something – Randall is it?” 

His Dad looked at him expectantly.

“Oh yeah. Does drama, year 12.” J nodded his head, he’d seen Danny in some school plays. 

Biting into his sandwich he moved off to his room. The dog got up from under his Dad’s desk and, having stretched followed J and his sandwich.

J opened his laptop, eating while he waited for his desktop to populate with various icons.  He chucked his crusts to the drooling dog, who caught them mid-air, then typed ‘Hypnosis’ into Google, checking Wikipedia first.

  • Hypnosis is a state of human consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness and an enhanced capacity to respond to suggestion. The term may also refer to an art, skill, or act of inducing hypnosis.
  • Theories explaining what occurs during hypnosis fall into two groups. Altered state theories see hypnosis as an altered state of mind or trance, marked by a level of awareness different from the ordinary conscious state.

J conceded that both Laurie & Katie seemed to be in an altered state of mind, blanking out their friends and exhibiting reduced emotional responses.  What puzzled him was how the Librarian was doing it, and for what purpose?  

He stroked the dog’s head absently. It snuffled around his desk hoping for more food, then plodded back down the hall to curl up on the dog bed in his Dad’s study.  As J clicked on more links he learned that hypnotism did not require the ‘subject’ to be sent to sleep. There were also more subtle ways to hypnotise than swinging a pendulum in front of someone’s eyes.  In fact it could work on the power of suggestion, and a normal conversation peppered with key command words could be used to trigger ‘mental obedience’. 

J printed off the most relevant passages to show to Alex tomorrow, then he cracked open his books and started on his German translation homework.

[To be continued]

The Muse : Jessie Burton

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~ Book Review ~

I imagine that having the first thing you create shoot off with stratospheric success and visibility, would be as daunting as it was exciting.  It might even inhibit you from creating anything again, as nothing seems to measure up to your stellar first effort. This book explores this theme, alongside inequality where battles are fought in public and private arenas. Here secrets are used as bargaining tools because the truth won’t set people free

Jessie Burton found international acclaim with her first novel The Miniaturist.  In The Muse, her second venture into the literary world, the author explores the challenge of topping an earlier success.  Meet Odelle Bastien, driven by dreams of becoming an author and Olive Schloss, who longs to be an artist and earn her art dealer father’s recognition; both women struggle with the challenge of sharing their craft with an audience who already has high expectations of their capability.

Time spent in Spain learning Olive’s story seems less upbeat, primarily because Olive feels invisible and undervalued by her parents, whose lives are as fractured as they are self-absorbed.  The country they’ve just arrived in is on the brink of war, the revolution brought to the family’s doorstep in by Isaac & his sister Teresa. They help around the property, but are embroiled in right-wing activities.

Due to a misunderstanding (soon purposefully encouraged) a vibrant, and unusual painting makes a big splash in the art world, while the reality of its creator remains a secret

Years later, at the Gallery in London where Odelle works, a new painting surfaces which also appears to be the this ‘same’ artist – but in order to feature in an exhibition its provenance must be established (reminiscent of The Girl You Left Behind – Jojo Moyes). The unravelling of this mystery is the power that drives the novel forward.

While I really enjoyed this book, I’ll admit to preferring the storyline which features Odelle and the gallery to that surrounding Olive’s development as an artist.  The character of a young working woman who dreams of being a writer was sharply drawn. Her efforts to integrate herself into a historically hostile society, while maintaining her integrity and dignity, unfolded gradually with convincing depth.

I enjoyed the way two such diverse threads of plot were gradually woven together but the latter part of the book felt unnecessarily rushed.  It delivered surprises and tied up loose threads, but in comparison with the languid speed at which the rest of the novel unfolded, the conclusion felt rushed.

Uneasy Rider

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[3.5 min read]

When I was a girl, I had several friends who were into horses, so their games would revolve around booking lessons and discussions of horses’ names, what they looked like alongside talk of tools for grooming and mucking out. It was all a bit lost on me, but I played along. Riding sounded fun. My older siblings had been on pony-trekking holidays with my parents while we little ones enjoyed a bucket and spade vacation.

My mother had been evacuated to Exmoor during WWII, where she lived on a farm and rode a pony to school. It sounded idyllic. She sometimes got out of maths class by telling the teacher that her horse had become untethered so she needed to go outside to catch it! When she was 21 my mother took a trip to America and stayed on a ‘Dude’ ranch, where she rode with real cowboys, hence riding held a romantic appeal.

The year I turned 14 my parents booked a pony trekking holiday in Northumberland for me and my younger brother. We had lessons at a local riding school in advance, and I was kitted out with new riding jodhpurs, boots and hard hat. I was raring to go. It had seemed a little dull and walking round an indoor riding school, but there’s a lot to learn. Sitting on a horse’s back feels relatively unstable, compounded by the realisation you’re seated on a living creature which can be spooked or excited by anything.

On the first full day of our holiday we went directly to the stables after breakfast to enlist for pony trekking. I was curious to observe my mother, who usually wore dresses and smart shoes, in this new habitat. Having discussed our levels of experience, it was arranged we’d all go out that afternoon on quiet horses.

My father couldn’t ride as a child due to having horse and hay allergies, but as a grown up he’d taken to it and had a ‘natural seat’. It’s important to get your horse ready properly. Adjust the saddle so that it fits the horse firmly and can’t swivel round, the rider is in big trouble if this happens. Horses can be tricky, expanding their ribs during this tightening process, so the riding instructor showed us the correct technique then checked our saddles and tack before we set off.

Northumberland is a beautiful county, the last before Scotland. It’s wild and hilly with dry stone walls and quiet country roads that become corridors of greenery in the summer. Sitting high on the back of a handsome horse, my spirits soared as I took in the scenery from my new viewpoint. I could look over hedges and walls and was moving slowly enough to take in the panoramic beauty. After a while I got the hang of holding my back straight but letting my hips sway with the undulating movement of the horse’s stride. My mother did, indeed, look comfortable on horseback and my brother and I were a bit giggly with the novelty of the experience.

These horses were calm and steady, picked more for their biddable natures than their jumping abilities. They probably walked these ‘trekking’ routes routinely most days in the holiday season, giving families gentle tours of the area. My horse, however, wanted to eat plenty of long grass and buttercups along our route. Our leader instructed me to discourage her, to squeeze or dig my heels into the rib area to keep her moving along. Despite feeling more confident in my ‘seat’ I found this a hard thing to do. 

My mother got a little irritable with me. She explained that it’s hard work to clean the ‘bit’ if a horse eats while wearing it, because all the grass and stuff gets pasted around it. She expected me to stop the horse grazing, I could not. This horse was stubborn, the walk was a bit dull to her and snacking en route was a perk to which she felt entitled!

We carried on, with my horse dawdling and munching, to the point that our trek leader rode beside me so she could pull the horses head away from the greenery to keep her moving. The reins are traditionally the way to steer a horse, a little pull on the left side and the horse should turn left, a tug on the right and the horse turns in that direction. Your horse may suddenly pull its head down, or toss it, so if you’re holding too tightly, you can be pulled out of your seat and fall off the horse, something I didn’t want to happen.

We came to a river, it wasn’t deep and our trek leader wanted the horses to wade through to the other side. The horses stood in a queue so that they could descend the bank with due care. My horse saw a golden opportunity to take another nibble at the long grass while we waited. I couldn’t spur her on, so I tried pulling her head away from temptation. I shortened the reins and pulled to the left. 

On our left was a foot bridge, so my horse thought I wanted to use it. Her shod hooves made an echoing clip clop sound as she plodded up the steep incline of the bridge. Surprise rendered me powerless to stop her. It felt very high up on the bridge, both exhilarating and scary to be above the heads of my family whose horses were still crossing the river. I could not stop laughing as they stared and called out to me.

“Hey, where are you going?”

“Are you afraid to get your feet wet?”
Once I’d crossed the bridge and arrived safely on the other bank, I wiped tears of mirth from my eyes and tried to explain why my horse and I’d taken a different route.

Years later my own children showed an interest in riding. I arranged for them to have lessons before booking our own holiday to Northumberland. We stayed in cottages on a farm which offered pony trekking amongst its activities. We enjoyed two vacations there, making happy memories which I treasure alongside my earlier ones.

This post is linked to an initiative being hosted on Mrs Fever’s blog which encourages writing in a memoir style, the prompt this time was Ride. Follow the link to see what others have submitted but be aware hers is a site accepts adult content.

Don’t Let Him In (4)

Don’t Let Him In (Part 4)

The bright daylight made J scrunch his eyes tight shut. Having opened the blind, his dad headed downstairs.

“Breakfast is on the table. We’re running late.”

J could hardly grasp that his vivid encounter with Katie, so real one moment, was gone the next, part of a dream. He scrambled through his morning routine, eager to see Alex and share his experiences.

His friend picked up on his urgency. Grabbing his rucksack he was out of the house in moments. They fell into step and Alex turned to look at J.

“Spill. I can tell you’ve had an idea.”

“Not an idea, another dream.”

“About Laurie? Did you see the creep he was talking about?”

“No, not Laurie. This time about a girl – do you know Katie Thompson?”

Alex shook his head, she had not hit his ‘radar’. “Is she fit?”

“Fit? I dunno. I’ve known her since infant school, I don’t think of her that way. I was at her house – in the dream I mean.”

J paused for a moment, watchful of 2 boys in red blazers waiting outside a friend’s house. Once they’d passed its glossy laurel hedge and walked far enough to be out of earshot, he took up the story again.

“She was crying and really upset. Saying the same sort of thing as Laurie. She said that he had been there, that someone had let him in.”

“Did she say who?”

“No – she wasn’t clear on that. She looked absolutely terrified – and that creeped me out.”

“So we’re no nearer to working out who they’ve seen,” Alex was puzzled, “or why you keep dreaming about it. Ever had dreams like this before?”

“No, never.”

The boys were nearly at the bottom of the hill now, where Tower Lane intersected with the High Street. Again they turned in through the school side gate. Agreeing to talk later, they  headed off in their separate directions, Alex straight for the gym. J took the path that led to the Science block, passing kids he knew only to nod or smile at. Snatches of conversations swirled around him, and that’s when he heard something to make his blood run cold. A redhead, whose name he didn’t know, had a nasal voice that reached him quite clearly.

“I can’t believe her, stuck up cow! Walked straight past me. Don’t I always wait for her at the corner of Gladstone Road? “ 

Her friend nodded assent.

“ She sailed straight past me like the flipping queen – never looked at me. I thought it was a joke at first, right? Thought she would turn round and tell me to ‘keep up’ or something. But no – miss fancy pants kept right on walking to school, didn’t look back once. Well she can stick it! I ain’t being made to look stupid.”

“Shhh,” the red-head’s companion obviously didn’t want the tirade heard by everyone.

“I won’t shush. She’s a moody piece of work that Katie Thompson.” The set of the red-head’s body was angry as she marched off, still talking.
“I bet it’s because I bought the same bag as her – I said I wouldn’t use it for school but she likes to be different.” She made the quotes gesture with her index fingers and flicked her hair back definitely. Her quiet friend huried them towards class.

J was struck with the urge to see Katie for himself, so he peered in the glass circle of each form-room door that he passed, hoping to locate her. No such luck, she wasn’t in any class-room on this corridor. All he achieved was getting himself marked late on the register by Miss Read.

The morning passed by without event. Each time he changed classes, J scanned the corridors, but he didn’t see Katie. 

When J and Alex met for lunch he recounted what he’d overheard.  Alex had picked up a rumour too, but it related a teacher, not to Katie.

“He’s evil J, I’m telling you!”

The canteen was serving pizza today,so Alex was chewing a huge mouthful noisily as he spoke.

“One kid said he was made to do 50 press ups and 10 laps around the sports field, just because he brought the wrong kit to school.”

“That’s rough,” J agreed. “But I think there’s more to this than a coach with an overdeveloped sense of discipline!”

Alex shook his head and tore off another bite of cheese and tomato. 

“I’m telling you mate, he won’t allow anyone in the sports pavilion since he started. All the equipment gets carried to the door, but only he can take it in to put it away. He’s hiding something, I bet.”

J didn’t think there was much cause for concern, but what made his theories better than Alex’s? No more fantastic for sure!  He’d found himself thinking along the lines of alien abduction – except that Laurie and Katie were not gone. He shook his head at his own craziness, and that’s when he saw her. 

Katie Thompson was outside in the quad, in conversation with an eccentric woman in a tweed suit. The staff member’s back was to the window, so J saw only her grey hair – not her face – but his view of Katie was clear. She looked drained and pale, her long hair looking lank and dishevelled.

“Who’s that?” he gestured at the woman lecturing Katie.

Alex looked up from his food

 “Who? The old biddy who looks like a 50s throwback?”

J nodded. He kept his eyes on Katie, who in turn stared unblinkingly at the older woman.

“That’s the new librarian – she took over from the one who went on maternity leave. Dunno her name though, who’s she ranting on at?” 

Alex craned round, and nearly fell off his chair.

“Whoa – is that Katie? The girl looks awful!

J shushed him when a couple of boys at a nearby table looked up from their meal.

“Exactly. It’s just like Laurie – they both look sort of … flat and lifeless.”

“You’re not kidding! I remember her now from the inter-house drama competition last year. She was hot in that murder mystery play! You remember, in the little tennis outfit?” He peered at her again. “I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Today she’s like a deflated balloon .”

“C’mon, let’s get closer.” 

J stacked his tray on the counter, before Alex could argue. The boys hurried outside into the quad. Katie had already gone, and they couldn’t tell where.

“What do we do now?” Alex wanted to know.

“Let’s check out the Library.”

They entered the English block and turned left, then stopped suddenly. Through the half-glazed doors they saw the tweed clad librarian standing by the large plastic container for pupils’ returned library books. Then she moved off to a door at the back of the Library which led to her tiny office. This was the ideal moment to get in there and snoop.

[To be continued]

Polly Cullen – Why Write

I have long believed I have a book in me – I read enough of them!

But it’s more than that; growing up with a mother who was a writer made me believe that it was a job people did for real. I was under no illusions that it paid much – only the lucky few hit the big time. I saw how many hours it took to write short stories and books, I watched those big fat typed manuscripts leave the house in a padded envelope. I also realised most of them came back with a polite note saying “interesting, but not for us”.

There were the giddy moments when a m/s was accepted but my mother had to edit it into shape, we tiptoed round the house then. Partly to avoid disturbing her but also not to bear the brunt of her frustration if the ‘words’ were not co-operating.

I’d seen it was a hard slog and wondered how I’d handle rejection. Did I have enough ideas for a full length novel? In a few years the internet went boom. Soon we had a home computer, but my whole family needed time on it. My husband for writing e-mails and CVs, my children for homework or gaming, but once I had my own laptop I could properly browse the internet and I discovered blogs.

My initial blog was populated with book reviews. I didn’t know how to promote , so it had almost no traffic, but I cut my teeth on creating regular posts. Next I got the idea to write short stories rather than a book, a less daunting prospect. Suspecting I couldn’t commit to writing a novel and wanting feedback, I wrote something for Wattpad.

I’ll be sharing that here. After that let’s see what happens, writing for prompts has been good for me so I intend to use Twitter to make connections with other writers.

Don’t Let Him In (3)

[Part 3]

In the school refectory, the clatter of lunchtime was loud. Alex and J slid their trays onto a table in the middle of the room. As they sat, J cast his eyes around looking for Laurie, before locating him sitting alone.

“Look at him,” J nodded in Laurie’s direction. 

Alex turned his head, but did not stop chewing macaroni cheese.

“What about him? Why the big interest in Laurie?” Alex continued shovelling the pasta into his mouth.

“Well he’s a popular guy sitting alone for one,” J counted off on his fingers. “He’s not eating… and he looks like a zombie today!”

This caught Alex’s attention. He turned to stare at Laurie.

“He does look odd, now you mention it … like ….. I dunno, like he’s zoned out.”

J picked at his baguette and studied Laurie. He couldn’t shake the idea that his behaviour today had a connection with what he had dreamed last night.

All through the school day J puzzled over the mystery of what might be wrong with Laurie, and whether his dream had any bearing on it. As he and Alex trudged home from school, he decided to confide in his friend. Describing the dream made him feel the the dread chill again, as cold and threatening as it had been last night. Alex was agog, but equally confused by what it could mean. 

They parted ways at Alex’s house, agreeing to discuss it more tomorrow at school. However, J did not get through the night without incident.

It was pitch black, the clock read 3.03 am. J was jolted awake by the same bad feeling. In the gloom he listened, but heard nothing. As he had the previous night, J cast his mind back in search of what had woken him.

This time J ‘found’ himself in a garden. There was a curved path glowing faintly silver in the moonlight which he followed towards a house. He wasn’t sure whose home it was, although it seemed familiar. As he got closer he saw that the glazed back door was slightly open and the hairs at the back of his neck began to prickle. He stood at the door to listen to the silence of the house… but it wasn’t silent. It was faint but he heard sounds of crying.

Despite badly wanting to run away, J stepped over the threshold and into the kitchen. Moving cautiously into the room, the sobbing noise continued, but seemed closer. Looking round the kitchen, lit by the glow from the oven’s digital clock as well as the moonlight, he could discern a hunched figure in the corner. J made out a pale nightdress and long dark hair. 

Drawing a little closer he put his hand out to touch the girl’s shoulder – and that’s when he remembered her. Katie Thomson – at Primary school they had become friends because J’s Mum and hers became friends the same time. He didn’t see her much around school, only in art class, but it explained the house being familiar.

As he touched her she whipped round. Her cheeks were streaked with tears and her expression was fearful.

Did you see him?” she was distraught.

Who?” J looked over his shoulder with dread.

Katie clutched his arm digging her fingers in painfully.

Him – he was here.” Her eyes scanned the shadowy room.

There’s no-one here but us. “ 

J wanted to reassure her, but she rose and went to the back door. She shut it, turning the key in the lock, before leaning with her back against it and holding the key tightly. 

“They let him in,” she said. Her shoulders shook with silent sobs.

[To be continued …]


House Captain’s badge 1.7 Minute read

In primary school we had three houses: Red, Blue and Green. It was a way to mix us up differently so that we interacted with pupis other than those in our class. I looked up to the older girls in Green house. On sports day, even though I was totally useless at running fast, jumping high or catching things I did my best at the alternative events – egg and spoon race, throwing a bean bag. For the obstacle course I came into my own, I could eat a dry biscuit, balance along an up-side down bench and move fast placing my feet in a series of hoops – faster than the others. I competed, wearing my green badge on my aertex shirt and a ribbon fixed in a diagonal stripe from shoulder to hip. I cheered long and hard for my team mates, and sometimes Green house won.

On St Patrick’s day it was tradition for Green house members to compile and present something for assembly to educate fellow pupils about our patron saint and how he’d earned his saintly status. He was kidnapped at 16 but later returned to Ireland, bringing Christianity to his native country. The bit that always sticks, is that he is credited with driving all the snakes out of Ireland and into the sea.

I knew we had snakes in England, my mother always warned us that if we were ever bitten by an adder (they have a diamond pattern on their head) we should stand very still and send someone else to get help. She said running would just make the venom get round the body faster.

Some of our garden was quite overgrown, so we were encouraged wear wellington boots rather than go barefoot. My brother had day-glo orange boots of which he was proud. One day when playing in the garden, a bright green grass snake slithered between his legs. Gliding over the orange toe of his boot, it was so swift and silent that neither of us had time to yelp. Instead we watched in fascination as it slid after a mottled green frog, its unfortunate prey.

During my last year of primary school I was made House Captain. My proudest moment was being chosen, for speech day/ prize giving, to make a speech of gratitude to the person invited to present the various awards and music certificates. It was a big deal. I sensed it bore great responsibility so when I wrote my speech and then lost it, I was in pieces. With one day to go I re-wrote it, mostly remembering what I’d wanted to say to the lady engineer.

This was the 1970s, my school was all girls, clearly my headmistress chose a role model to make us think out of the box regarding potential careers. What I said in my address escapes me, but I do remember trying to visualise the elegant lady on stage beside me wearing a yellow hard hat.

This is submitted for Reminiscences : Musings in Memoir #2 where the prompt is Green. Click the link to see what others have submitted.

My Dog’s Tale

Recently I had a light-bulb moment about reminiscing: it actually feels nice. A pleasant sensation is evoked by sifting through old memories. It’s particularly noticeable when I’m prompted to trawl my memories for something I’d almost forgotten. It makes me wonder if it’s like massaging for one’s brain!

I love dogs, I grew up with dogs and when I was old enough was given one of my own. Since then I haven’t stuck to the same breed of dog. Small, medium and large, I’ve owned all sizes. This story is about a large dog I owned when my children were younger, a weimeraner. They’re a beautiful looking breed, large and athletic with short, mouse grey fur with pale eyes to match. They make loyal and devoted family dogs but they’re also a lot to handle, in regards to both strength and their ‘fizzy’ temperament.

Determined to do things right, I had started by taking our girl to puppy classes. Next my dog and I drove to an agricultural college where a weekly obedience class took place at a fenced-in field. She was a sociable dog but rather vocal. I suspect  our trainer viewed us both as slightly ditzy. If we arrived early to class she wanted to greet (with a sniff and a wag) all the other dogs. If anyone arrived late she barked at the newcomer, seeming unable to settle til our tea break, when she could say her canine ‘hello’.

Tea-break on a blowy day in the middle of a grassy field was fairly basic. Our trainer provided flasks of tea and coffee. Alongside plastic cups, plastic spoons, sachets of sugar and milk, he brought biscuits and stackable plastic picnic chairs. We gathered in a circle with our dogs by our sides to chat, sipping our drinks to warm ourselves.

The wind was making my dog quite lively. I didn’t want her to spill my coffee, so I had a cunning idea. I put one leg of my chair through the loop on my dog’s lead before I sat. The group of dogs were quite relaxed with each other, comfortable in close proximity. On this day, however, I wished I’d chosen a seat further away from a West Highland White Terrier called Theo. 

They were both puppies, but Theo’s testosterone was kicking in, causing him to want to dominate other dogs. My girl was happy to play, but the windy day seemed to make her more spirited. What she wouldn’t tolerate was Theo using alpha moves or trying to mount her. A few doggy tussles went on around my chair. I wanted to get my dog to sit on the other side of me, away from Theo. I tried to avoid causing a disturbance, our trainer was telling a funny story. 

Suddenly Theo made another lunge for my Weimaraner. For her it was the last straw. She darted out of reach, accompanied by a crack like a shotgun report. Every startled owner whipped their head round, seeking the source of commotion. 

I couldn’t understand how my dog had moved so far away. When some of the other dog handlers began to laugh, I noticed that my girl’s lead was still round the white chair leg. The chair leg, however, was dragging in the grass no longer attached to my chair!

Yet, without spilling a drop of coffee, I was still sitting on that chair with only three legs on it!

This story is submitted for a writing meme the Reminiscences summer writing project. The point of this writing project is to create new content by writing from memory, with a focus on the form of memoir. The first prompt is to consider ‘wind’. (Both realistically and metaphorically.)

Aloha from Waikiki

The heat from the pavement made Brad’s feet ache. He kept walking, following that tiny string bikini swaying on the curvy rear up ahead. Hypnotised by the motion of her hips, he’d walked behind the girl since the beach.

Her rubber soled shoes smacking against bare feet, the pendulum swinging dark plait, all conspired to mesmerise Brad. Without a plan of what he would say – did he dare ask her for a drink?

Suddenly she stopped, turned. Alarmed, he spun away to study the tourist hats, heart thudding. She walked on. Coming to his senses, Brad did not follow.

Flash fiction for the picture prompt – follow the link to see who else is particpating. Many thanks to Ted Strutz for tagging me