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!
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]
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.
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.
The strongest influence over every element in this book is an appreciation of beauty. Its inextricably woven around the passions of the people who live within its pages and it bursts out of the beautiful, vivid descriptions of art, horticulture and architecture which are intrinsic in telling the story.
It’s a rolling family saga, which begins at a pivotal, dramatic moment; feted artist Ned Horner, struggling with grief and the Spanish flu (which was sweeping the country) destroys his most famous painting, The Garden of Lost and Found, to the horror of his wife Lydie, and renders them bankrupt.
It leaps from early 1900s to 2014, introducing Juliette, Ned and Lydie’s great granddaughter. She’s a fine art expert whose life is made chaotic by the juggle of motherhood and work within the confines of a failing marriage. Barely keeping her own head above water, she is ill equipped to support her eldest daughter who is struggling with her own issues.
As the book continues, rolling back to Edwardian times so that the Juliette’s ancestry can be explored, it reveals a tight knit family bond is between two Desart sisters and their brother, pitting themselves against abuse at the hand of their twisted, vengeful governess. Yet despite some desperate moments love blossoms and their lives are touched with its beauty. Young artists and architects cling together, forming a supportive network, gradually eking out some success to enhance their lives.
Returning to the present, Juliette’s life changes quite dramatically as the result of events out of her control. On many occasions it’s unclear if she’s made sound choices for herself and her young family. However returning to the ancestral home seems to have a draw she’s powerless to resist, the house itself seems to possess healing properties for Juliette’s family, as does the gradual sweeping away of anything which conceals the real truth.
I loved the author’s descriptive passages relating to the beautifully detailed arts and crafts interiors and the gloriously vibrant borders and lawns which surround Nightingale House, finding them both soothing and uplifting to read. A counterbalance to witnessing Juliette’s struggles with choking weeds, heating bills and stopping tiles sliding off the roof in her efforts to restore the place to some of its former glory. What secrets will be uncovered and which relationships will survive the transformation?
This was an epic saga told with great pace and appreciation for setting as well as characters and action. I always enjoy stories which take the reader back in time to shed light on the present. This had plenty of likeable players with twists and turns to keep me entertained: giddy highs and crushing lows. However, with relatable inevitability, life moves on, love supports and secrets never remain entirely hidden.
Content Warning: This book contains themes of child abuse, social media bullying, and tragedy.
I listened to this novel on Audible but it can be purchased from booksellers too.
A Short Science Fiction story written by Guest Author: Pamela Cleaver This story was penned in the 1970s – more innocent times. Sci-Fi was in its infancy and much of the technology is out of date. Originally published in an Anthology entitled Space 2
Inspector Deeping was worried: it had been happening for a fortnight now and he couldn’t understand it. If Everington had been a big city, it would have been understandable. Muggings, vandalism and other crimes of destructive violence happened all the time in cities, but Everington was a suburban district which had only recently developed from a village to town status by the addition and accredition of various housing estates.
His first thought, when the crime figures for his normally peaceable area went rocketing up, was that some criminal element had moved onto one of the newer estates, but he had immediately checked and found it was not so. There were one or two bad eggs in the new batches, but they soon proved they were not involved in Everington’s new crime wave.
The other thing that troubled him was the description of the criminals; in the few cases where they had been seen, they did not appear to conform to any known group. Threee elderly people had been knocked down and rendered unconscious – straight-forward muggings, Inspector Deeping had thought, except that the victims had not been robbed and the crimes seemed gratuitous and motiveless. From the description of the assailants, seen in the half dark, he had built up a curious picture. It seemed they were young people (no-one was sure if they were boys or girls) their hair was long, the locks dyed a mixture of green and blue. They wore silver trousers, jackets and boots. It sounded even stranger than the usual weird teenage gear.
Then there were four telephone boxes that had been smashed up, and six automatic vending machines that had been battered. The blue and green haired boys seemed to be involved in some cases, but in others there were some even stranger characters : shaven-headed hooligans dressed in scarlet robes.
“Are you having me on?” Inspector Deeping asked Sergeant Peel severely when he brought the reports in.
“No, honestly sir, that’s what the woman said who saw them running away. I asked her the same thing. Thought she might have been …” and he tilted his wrist to signify drinking, “but she was sober as a judge, and swore that was what they looked like.”
Inspector Deeping sucked on his pipe sceptically, but put the reports in his file. If they were not logical, he wondered where the strangely garbed youngsters were coming from. He asked his car patrols whether they had seen any groups coming into Everington from outside the district on motor bikes or in jalopies. But they had seen nothing unusual over the past two weeks. Not really surprising, he said to himself cynically, Everington was the sort of place you went away from, not came to.
He decided the only thing to do was to consult an expert, and who would be more knowledgeable about teenage behaviour than another teenager? So after supper, he took Tim, his seventeen-year-old son, for a walk.
“I want to pick your brains,” he told him and Tim came willingly, flattered to be consulted. “I want to know about any groups round here who dress in a special way,” he said.
“What – like the Skins in their bovver boots, or the Angels in their leather jackets?” asked Tim.
“That’s the sort of thing,” said Inspector Deeping, “but we know about them, though. Are there any new groups?”
Tim shrugged. “The Skins have mostly grown their hair, they call them Suedeheads now, you know, and they don’t wear bovver boots, they’re into crepe-soled boots with wedge heels. The Angels are still around, but not much in Everington.”
“Most of the kids are into embroidered denim, but that’s general,” said Tim, “not any special group. There aren’t really any gangs in Everington.”
Inspector Deeping made much of lighting his pipe before he asked his next question. “What would you think of chaps with their hair dyed green and blue, wearing silver jeans, silver jackets and silver boots?”
Tim breathed a great sigh of admiration. “Wow, way out – like intergalactic, man!”
Deeping tried not to smile. “Intergalactic – that’s a new one on me.”
“It’s even further out than way out,” said Tim patiently, “it’s the ultimate.”
“I see, but do you know about this group with the silver gear?”
“No,” said Tim, “but I wouldn’t mind!”
“I don’t advise it,” said his father repressively, “they’re in big trouble. Look Tim, you don’t mind me asking all this?”
The boy shook his head.
“Well there’s another group even odder. They wear scarlet robes and have shaven heads. Do you know them?”
“Nope,” said Tim, “but they don’t sound very turned-on. Say Dad, are you really looking for kooks like this, or are you putting me on?”
The Inspector shook his head. “I said almost the same ting to Sergeant Peel when he told me about them. I really have got problems dressed in those clothes. Do one thing more for me Tim? Keep your eyes open at the Youth Club, will you?”
Peter’s fear of the dark has only got worse since moving house, when unfortunately his night-light got broken... [read part 1]
Guest fiction by Pamela Cleaver
Quietness descended on the house, except for the creaks he remembered from the night before, of the old house settling itself. Peter tried really hard to clear his mind of horrors and closed his eyes attempting to sleep. Suddenly he heard a small scuttling noise from the corner of his room. His eyes snapped open again, alert and wary. What could it be? Instinctively he new that this was different, this was not THEM, it was something else.
Was it a mouse perhaps? A mouse would be infinitely better than a creeping, shapeless horror. He heard more scuttling and then suddenly something landed lightly on his pillow, something substantial and furry, much bigger than a mouse. A cat perhaps? He was less frightened now, he could feel warm fur against his cheek, he could move again. He put out his hand to investigate the furry body beside him, stroking the thing. It was not the silky fur of a cat who would respond to a human hand with a purr, it was dense, curly fur and its response to stroking was a kind of quiet chattering. The animal kept still while Peter stroked it, as if it was used to being handled. He was not at all afraid of it, he actually felt comforted by its presence, but what was it?
Because he was no longer afraid of THEM, Peter wasn’t paralysed any more. Stealthily, trying not to disturb his companion, Peter crept out of bed, walked to the door and put on the light. He looked back at his bed to identify his friend and saw — nothing!
He was amazed. His room was too small for the creature to have left it during the short time it had taken for him to cross the room and put on the light, so it must be hiding. Quietly (for his room was directly above his parents’) he began to search – under the bed, behind the door, at the back of the bookshelf, behind the curtains and even in the cupboard. He reasoned it couldn’t have got into the cupboard because the door was shut and no animal Peter could think of was able to open a door and shut it again. Nothing. There was no sign of any animal having visited the room at all. Peter was bitterly disappointed, the creature which he felt had come to comfort him had gone. He was alone again.
Sadly, he put out the light and went back to bed. He lay there thinking about the creature which had been as big as a cat but not a cat, woolly not silky and it had chattered not purred. What could it be? He was so busy trying to identify his visitor that he forgot about THEM and so tired out by his busy day and his earlier sleeplessness, that he fell asleep.
Next morning when he went down to breakfast his mother asked him if he had slept well. He was able to say, “yes thank you,” because, to his surprise, he really had.
“Good!” his mother said encouragingly as she stirred the eggs she was scrambling for their breakfast.
“That’s the ticket,” said his father approvingly from behind the paper.
For a moment Peter considered telling them about his visitor, but decided against it. If his mother thought there was an animal in the house she might start searching for it. Peter did not want that. He just hoped that whatever it was would come and visit him again that night. But this time he would not scare it away by putting on the light.
That day, while Mrs Newsam hung curtains and arranged furniture, books and ornaments in the sitting room, Peter and his father set to work to clear the garden. They began by raking up huge piles of leaves which had blown in from the woods behind. Then Mr Newsam got his saw and ladder to cut back trees and shrubs, pruning and tidying them. Peter’s job was to collect great armfuls of branches and add them to the mountain of leaves. Late that afternoon they had an enormous bonfire whose flames leapt up in the twilight. When Peter’s mother called them in for tea they were happy and dirty and very hungry.
After they had eaten hot buttered crumpets and some very good fruit cake, they went to admire the way Mum had arranged the sitting room. There was a fire in the big fireplace and the room looked welcoming; Peter was happy to see that the house was really beginning to look like home now. He began to think he might quite like living at Captain’s Cottage after all.
At bedtime, bouyed up by the hope of seeing the strange animal again, he was not as reluctant as he had been the previous night and still felt quite cheerful when his mother turned out the light and bid him goodnight.
“Could I have the curtain drawn back?” he asked her, “so that just a little light comes in?”
“If you want to, darling,” she said openining them up, “but there’s too much cloud for you to see the moon tonight and the sun may wake you in the morning. But try it anyway and see how you get on.” She was so pleased that he was no longer fretting about the nightlight that she agreed readily.
But after she had gone, clattering down the stairs, the old horrors began again. Peter felt the menace of THEM crowding round his bed, he was sure his voice had gone again and that he must not move a muscle otherwise THEY would get him. The darkness, a little less black than it had been the night before because of the open curtains, seemed full of strange, shadowy shapes. He was breathing faster and faster, his fear turning into panic when suddenly, this time without any preliminary scuttling, something landed on his pillow by his head. Again he felt a warm, woolly body, then a long tail curled round his head and across this throat like a comforting scarf. He turned his head sideways to try to see his companion and this time, because the blackness was not absolute, he made out its shape.
It was a monkey! It sat there on his pillow, its neat roundhead moving from side to side and its long tail moving gently. Its compact body was covered with short, curly fur like a lamb’s and it seemed to glow faintly in the dark.
“Hello monkey,” he greeted it, a note of amazement in his soft whisper as he ran his hands over its fur.
The monkey chattered as if in agreement. Slowly, not wanting to alarm the little creature, he sat up in bed; he held his arms out to it and the monkey jumped into them, clinging lovingly to him with hand-like paws.
Peter Newman was afraid of the dark, he had been ever since he was tiny but when they moved to the Captain’s Cottage it became worse. In the daytime he could believe that there was nothing horrible in his bedroom, but as soon as his mother said goodnight and turned his light out, the most terrifying thoughts came into his head. He would lie in bed rigid with fear, unable to move in case the tiniest noise or movement on his part attracted the nameless horrors that he felt sure were lying in wait for him. He couldn’t even call Mum back because he was sure that the very moment the light went out, his voice no longer functioned and that he became mute.
Before they moved it hadn’t been so bad because he had a nightlight beside his bed, a tiny china cottage with a little bulb inside which lit up the windows and made them glow in a cheerful, comforting way: while the light shone from the little rose-covered cottages with its simulated thatched roof, it kept the imagined horrors at bay and he was able to go to sleep.
Unfortunately all that changed when they moved to the country. When he first heard they were going, Peter was quite shocked to discover that the house he’d been born in, and which he’d lived the nine years of his life, would no longer be his home. He resented the house in the country which his parents took him to see. It was an old cottage with creaky floorboards and crooked dark beams that held the bulging walls together and the sloping ceilings up.
His mother was very excited, it was just what she’d always wanted, she said, and gleefully showed him the big fireplace in the sitting room around which, she promised, they would sit and roast chestnuts. His father pointed out how much bigger the garden was than the little one they had in the town.
“Great for football!” he told Peter.
But to Peter the house seemed big and echoing, cold and somehow menacing, and he felt like a traitor even thinking of leaving the comfortable little house in which he’d always lived. However nothing he said or did would make his parents change their minds.
“You’ll soon get used to it,” his father said heartily when Peter said tentatively that he did not like the new house.
“You’ll soon make new friends,” his mother told him briskly when he had cried out in anguish on discovering that he’d have to go to a different school in the new area. Peter doubted it, he was a loner, not the sort of boy who made friends easily.
As moving day approached, Peter got increasingly gloomy but his parents, although busy packing up and sorting out, were too pleased and happy to notice. Big, burly moving men invaded Peter’s house and began carrying bits of furniture out through the front door, packing books and ornaments into crates and finally rolling the carpets up and carrying them over their shoulders like inert bodies until their whole home was crammed into one vast pantechnicon and driven away. Peter and his parents took one last look round the forlorn, empty house, slammed the front door for the final time then jumped into their car to follow the pantechnicon.
Sitting in the car, Peter could not stop the tears rolling down his cheeks; his mother was tired but not sad like him, and his father showed no emotion at all.
“You’re a funny boy,” his mother smiled, “once we get to Captain’s Cottage and are settled in with all our own things round us, you’ll love it – just you wait and see.”
Peter nodded, but he didn’t quite believe it.
They arrived as the autumn daylight was fading, so the first night at Captain’s cottage was a muddle. Getting the kitchen straight so they could eat was the first job, and making the beds up was the next. None of the big boxes containing their personal possessions were to be unpacked until the following day, so Peter’s bedroom at the top of the house with its tiny latticed window and sloping ceiling under the roof only had his bed, his desk and his chair in it. No little china house to give him the comforting light so his mother agreed “just this once,” to keep the landing light on and the door ajar.
That allayed his night fears, but he did not sleep very well because of the unfamiliarity of the place and the strange creaking noises the old house made, as if it were stretching and easing its bones, when the central heating went off.
The next day was a turmoil of unpacking, sorting and arranging old familiar things in new places. In spite of himself, Peter enjoyed unpacking his books and toys and deciding where to put them in his new room. But when he got to the bottom of the second crate he let out a cry of horror and dismay. His little china house that had given him light and comfort for so long was smashed into dozens of little pieces.
“Afraid not, old son,” his father said, “just like my shaving mirror – come and see what those clumsy oafs have done to that!”
But looking at his father’s breakage did not make Peter feel any better – especially as Dad could buy a new mirror and his little house could not be replaced; Mum said they just did not make them any more.
“Can I have something else – some other kind of night light?”
His parents exchanged glances.
“I don’t think you should dear,” his mother said, “you’re nearly ten, you’re getting too old for a nightlight now.”
Peter pleaded, but his parents had made up their minds – new house, new ways. Peter had to learn to be brave and go to sleep in the dark. They were not even prepared to let him have the landing light on outside, although they said he could have the door ajar so that he could call out to them if he was really frightened. He tried to explain that his voice just would not work in the dark when he was scared, but his mother just laughed.
“Nonsense Peter, you just imagine these things.”
So bedtime on the second night at the new house was truly terrible for Peter. He tried to put off the evil moment for as long as possible, keeping Mum close by asking for an extra pillow, an unwanted glass of water, all sorts of things. Finally his mother’s patience gave out.
“Look love,” she said, “I’m really, really tired and in no mood for games. Just settle down. Tell yourself a nice story and before you can say Jack Robinson, you’ll be asleep. I’m leaving the door ajar so if you want me you can call out, but please don’t get me up all these stairs unless it’s really important.” She kissed his cheek, tucked the bedcovers in firmly, walked to the door and switched off the light. “Go to sleep, Peter and stop worrying, there’s nothing to be frightened of, truly there isn’t.”
The landing light snapped off and Peter heard her footsteps clicking busily on the uncarpeted steps as she went downstairs. He heard her pause on the next landing where her bedroom, the bathroom and the spare room were. Another light clicked off as she left that landing and went down to the ground floor to join Dad in the sitting room.
Peter was in complete darkness and he’d never felt so alone or lonely before. His throat was dry and he knew that, however much he wanted to, he couldn’t call out for his voice was useless. Nor could he get out of bed and run to the door to put on the landing light, because if he were to move THEY would know he was there, but as long as he kept still he was safe from THEIR attention. Who THEY were, Peter couldn’t have told you, he just felt that shapeless, formless things of a malevolent kind were lurking in his room, intent on doing him harm
He lay stiffly in bed with his eyes wide open, but he could see nothing but velvet blackness; his heart was pounding madly, he wanted to call out, to scream even though it would alert THEM. He opened his mouth and tried, but no sound came out. He tried to take deep breaths and to imagine his little china house with the light streaming from its windows was still beside him, but that only made him unhappier and his fear fed upon his unhappiness. Peter’s ears seemed to stretch as he listened for sounds of THEM, but there was nothing to hear, no sound in the house at all.
He had lain there terrified and unmoving for some time when he heard soft footsteps on the bare boards of the staircase. What was that? He wondered with a new stab of fear. The steps approached his room then a soft voice spoke.
“Peter, are you alright fella? Are you asleep yet?” It was his Dad.
He opened his mouth to reply: No I am not alright, I am frightened, please take me out of this room. But no sounds would come. He heard the soft footsteps retreating, then on the landing below he heard a murmur.
“He’s OK, fast asleep. It was all his imagination. I told you he’d be alright.”
He heard Mum give a soft laugh and then a door closed and he was alone again – still as frightened as ever.
Like Bridget Jones, I’m starting the year with a fresh page
I recently found out about bullet journalling and I was quickly champing at the bit to try it for myself. BuJo as it’s affectionately known is using pen and paper to keep a planner, with the added opportunity for doodling / colouring / scrapbooking thrown in, or at least that’s my take on it. You can Google it to go down the rabbit hole yourself and see all the ways individuals interpret it.
For many users it is a way to organise their thoughts, juggle projects, make an inroad into tasks they’ve been putting off, get a handle on their work/life balance.
This is not a new concept — my mother (a writer) kept numbered notebooks her whole career. As well as jotting down plot ideas and character outlines there would be packing lists for holidays alongside birthday cards she needed to send or books she intended to read. In the 1980’s – it wasn’t just the Sloane Rangers who carried a Filofax, many people had organisers with coloured tabs to centralise their addresses, personal finances and diaries and other essential information.
When I was a PA I was sent on a Time Manager course and taught a way of thinking with the project book to match, in order to support my boss in his endeavours to manage projects intermingled with a good work life balance. The building blocks BuJo utilises are much the same.
I’d be lying if I denied that my excitement about journalling is also sparked by the opportunity to buy new stationery – in fact I asked for new pens thick and thin nibbed pens and a journal for Christmas. Being a self-confessed stationery addict, I get particularly twitchy at the start of a new school year – even though my school career ended decades ago!
For me the cherry on the icing on the cake of BuJo is the opportunity to be creative, to use my scrapbooking supplies, stencils and stickers, to doodle and draw, to tick and hi-light. I’m all over this fad like a rash. My friend and I intend to motivate each other by sharing some of our page inspirations and taking this planning in a creative style for a spin. We think it will be fun and are encouraged to embark on this together and to compare how our journals are developing.
What I currently need to plan:
Editing — I have stories to edit for my team, and these must fit a schedule
Write – here and on other platforms— I intend to publish at least 3 new posts per week.
Read — as well as running a book club on Twitter, there are books I want to read for myself and others I want to listen to on Audible.
Podcasts / TV series / Films — I intend to keep a track of viewing and audio pleasure I have planned for myself.
Review – I’d like to share more reviews here about some of the above.
It’s no good for my mental health or concentration if the things I need to do keep bumping around erratically in my brain.
If I pin them down in lists and dated schedules, using my journal, I will be able to fit them into my life and feel the pleasure of progress as I work through them — crossing a listed item through, or ticking it off is a very satisfying feeling.
Confession: sometimes I list a task I’ve already achieved, for the pure pleasure of striking it off as ‘done’
In the article I linked earlier, Melody Wilding says
One important purpose of the bullet journal is to create a refuge away from the glow of screens and the suck of social media. This peace of mind is a gift in the age of information overload, where it’s a chore to manage the flurry of tasks, requests, and data coming your way.
I totally agree, colouring for mindfulness has been very popular, and this will be relaxing in a similar way. Using a notebook and pens, not a screen with blue-light and a keyboard, engages the brain more fully. My old RSI injury has been playing up a little recently, so I think going ‘old school’ with my planning and mind mapping is going to be very beneficial. I’m going to make use of my creativity to quiet my thoughts.
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!”
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.”
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
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.
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!
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.
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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).
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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.
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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.