Friday Fiction – Friends Reunited

At least he wasn’t dead, that was the best that could be said so far since his decision to reply to the Facebook post. As a writer Nicholas had merely set out to do some research for his latest novel, how easy was it to find your old classmates on the internet? Typing in Clacket Lane Junior School had produced a screen page of blue headings, but he didn’t want to know about the latest Ofsted report or the summer fete. Typing in 1968-1972 narrowed the search considerably; there was a nostalgia group for the anonymous town where he had spent his childhood, a history page that celebrated a few tenuous links to national events and famous persons… he almost missed the reunion announcement.

Could it really be fifty years since that last summer; the celebration of the school’s centenary, prancing round the maypole dressed in Victorian clothes. His wife had been more excited than he was, urging him to attend, despite his pleadings that he just wanted to know if it was possible to meet up with the past, he didn’t actually want to meet his old class mates, he was appalled by the thought.

Old boys and girls could join the closed FB group, go on twitter, email or even phone the organiser Caroline Hepworth, nee Burton… Caroline Burton, it would be her, milk monitor, teacher’s pet. She was organising the get together at the Holiday Inn; that was a contradiction in terms, who would want to go on holiday to that God forsaken town, unless it had changed a lot.

Nicholas emailed her and got a reply ten minutes later.

Hi Nicholas, don’t remember you but please join the group, it’s really interesting hearing what everyone’s been up to in the past half century lol.

He groaned as his wife brought him a cup of coffee. ‘Does she have to rub it in, half a century?’

‘A good way for you to get more readers’ said his wife brightly.

‘I’ll join, but I’m not posting anything, let alone pushing my website.’

He read through the posts; memories of pranks played on teachers and each other, gentle teasing where once there had been bullying, tales of exotic travels, brilliant careers and wonderful children. No one had mentioned Nicholas. In some of the profile pictures he could recognise the child in the middle aged face, others had cheated by posting school pictures or snaps of their dog, cat, motorbike or grandchild. But with only some of the names could he conjure up a memory of the child.

The next day things took a sombre turn. Caroline’s post was pinned at the top of the page.

Martin Fletcher’s wife has emailed to say he passed away last November after a brave battle with cancer.

Nicholas recalled Martin well, though he was in the other class; top of the school for his sporting achievements, he could beat anyone in a playground sprint, scored most goals at football, whacked the rounders’ ball with a strength that gave a glimpse of his potential when adolescent testosterone kicked in.

Martin Fletcher had barely crossed his mind for fifty years, but the shock of his mortality was like a kick in the stomach. The comments scrolled down the page, people were still typing them in, but Nicholas the writer could think of nothing to say.

Incongruously the next post was up beat.

Hey guys, great to catch up with you all, bet you didn’t recognise me in Game of Thrones, well the name on my equity card says Zane Swartz, but back then I was Peter Potts.

Frail, pale Potty, who would have thought it? His profile picture was the last school photo taken at Clacket Lane, Peter with his hair combed neatly. It was unlikely that anyone would recognise him behind beards, shields and spears. Nicholas clicked the Like button, everyone was Liking each other. Nicholas decided it was time to join in, at least he was still alive.

Remember how Mrs. Walker always told me off in English for not writing enough, guess what, I write long novels now.

He paused then put a link to his new website. There was no way they could know he was self published and was never likely to give up the day job.

 The next day no one had Liked his post, let alone left a comment, perhaps they were still overwhelmed by the latest bad news.

Susan Fielding, everyone remembered her, all the girls wanted to be her or at least be her friend. Not surprisingly she had gone on to be head girl at grammar school. Perhaps others would have remembered Nicholas if his father’s work had not taken him to the other side of the country soon after he left the junior school.

Still, mustn’t complain, his life had been okay, while Susan’s obviously had not, she had taken her own life. News had filtered through via someone’s aunty who knew the family. Caroline had posted a hasty comment pointing out that it was not helpful to debate how or when it had happened. She was going to remember happy days with Susan at grammar school.

A sad comment from Howard.

 I’m gutted, she was my first love

Howard, he of the Adonis looks, probably be called a gay icon now, presumably not gay as he had ‘gone steady’ with Susan during their years at the church youth group. He had not seen her since she left for university. While Nicholas had been battling acne and crippling shyness, Howard was enjoying dream teen years with Susan.

Nicholas was lost for words yet again. Would he put a sad emoticon to add to the list of comments on Susan?  He logged out, glad that he was invisible to the rest of his year at juniors.

He went a whole week without being tempted, then promised himself to just go on once more, to post an apology that he could not attend the reunion as he would be out of the country; he was tempted to say he now lived abroad, but in the unlikely event someone looked at his website they would see him described as living in the dead centre of the country. Unfortunate choice of words, perhaps they would think he was also dead.

New post from Caroline.

Amazingly, all except one pupil have been tracked down. What happened to Nigel Palmer, no one seems to have seen or heard of him since the last day of juniors. He was such an unusually talented boy, he could be anywhere in the world.

Nicholas logged out, but his brain had not logged out, his author’s mind was racing; every other pupil’s life was being recorded in more and more detail, but he was only interested in the missing boy. Nigel, a lively, entertaining, often naughty boy; Nicholas had admired his courage in the face of authority; who was the man he became? He was determined to find out.

New Friends and Old

Covid has not gone away by any means, but officially in England we are back to normal; yesterday was the second anniversary of the day we went into the first lockdown.  I have had my end of treatment visit to the oncologist so officially I am back to normal. For all of us the past two years have been strange. Perhaps because it is spring, or because Ukraine makes us appreciate our mundane lives, but everything seems more vivid, interesting, exciting even. I haven’t been further than a walk round Poole after my hospital visit but every walk, every coffee stop is ‘an experience.’

Poole Twin Sails Bridge

But we do have to face the fact that our town centre shops were already in decline and life is going to be hard and drab for many people with the economic disaster of Covid and Ukraine. Shopping therapy is going to be a thing of the past, though there is still coffee…

Looking on the positive side people have made new on line friends, got to know their neighbours better and become more empathic, helping those who have been isolated and those whose financial struggles were made worse by Covid.

For those of us who have lost partners and loved ones we see the proof that life always does go on, returning more and more to our previous lives doesn’t seem right, but unless we move to a different place or go sailing round the world, it is almost inevitable and a comfort.  Some parts of my life have been rejigged while others miraculously slot back into place. Our writing group has resumed in the library; our tutor and founder is now ninety, recovered from a broken hip and more on the ball than the rest of us!

Tea at Poole Museum.

A few weeks ago my friend was making coffee for the new monthly coffee morning at my local library – one of their activities to welcome real human beings back into the library. I went along for moral support, just as well as only two others turned up, both mature chaps who have just returned to England. We had a really interesting hour and it turned out one of the men, Mike, went to a writers’ group back in the USA.  I told him about our weekly group and he turned up the next week and has really enjoyed his two sessions. Our tutor was glad to have someone else who also remembered the war ( WW2 ) for our new chap was born in 1935 and spent fifty years in the USA after he and his wife emigrated. He is adamant that he is back in England for his ‘last years’ ( he is very spritely so there could be a good few last years), despite leaving all his family behind; a story that is his to tell not mine, but he is obviously making new friends as well, with the philosophy that every day he is going to engage in conversation with a stranger. This week another new bloke turned up at writers’ group, invited along by Mike.

It has been a strange few weeks. I received an email from my old high school friend in Australia who I have not seen or heard from since we were teenagers at college; fifty years of having no idea how both our lives panned out. She is helping with a research project on founder members of the college and with some difficulty ( as with all the girls who had married and changed their names ) managed to track down this website and found my email address on the contact page; I think that is the first time someone has used the contact page! It was really interesting catching up, though I have no idea what she looks like now!

If you walk dogs, walk or cycle everywhere and work in your front garden, you see familiar faces and smile or chat. Since Covid people seem even more likely to engage, with the silent sub text ‘Isn’t it nice not to be wearing masks and be out and about?’

A lady often passes by on her bicycle with a sweet poodly dog attached alongside, ears flying in the wind. I can’t help but smile and she gives a cheery nod. The other day she was on foot as I arrived back at my front gate and stopped to admire my front garden. It is hardly worthy of Gardeners’ World, but has burst into colour with bulbs out and the addition of the ubiquitous primula to fill in gaps in my tubs.

‘Are you a friend of Carolyn?’

I was pretty sure I didn’t know a Carolyn.

‘Carolyn and Amos round the corner?’

‘No, I definitely don’t know a Carolyn and Amos.’

‘Oh, you would certainly remember if you did know them. You look like one of Carolyn’s friends.’

I am still pondering if I have met Carolyn and Amos, perhaps anonymous faces I pass by often. And did she mean I am a twin of a particular friend or just look like the sort of person who would be a friend of Carolyn’s? Has the lady with the bouncy auburn curly coated dog only been greeting me for several years because she thought I was a friend of Carolyn’s?

Do you feel your life is back to normal, have you made new friends or found old ones during Covid?

Drama at the Big House

As none of my novels have been snapped up for serialisation on prime time television I decided to go straight to producing my own psychological drama. Here are some handy hints in case you want to do the same. First you have to remember how to spell cycalojical, then you have to find a big house.

If you wondered why the characters in modern dramas all seem to live in architect designed huge houses it is because directors and crew love having plenty of space to film and of course more room for DRAMA. As I will be filming only with my iPhone you might think I will not need the Big House, but with the huge home comes that vital feature, the staircase. Because the house is architect designed and the ceilings very high the staircase is tall and never has a banister or railing of any sort. The main character will inevitably fall down the stairs, perhaps within the first five minutes of episode one.

This provides the opportunity for confusing flash backs as the character lies in hospital or in the morgue. Did they fall, jump or were they pushed? You have six to ten episodes to work this out. The story starts, or rather ends, as it’s back to front, with the main characters moving in to a new house that no mere mortal could possibly afford. They are in a new town / city / rural Wales / remote spot on the Scottish coast making a new start. The divorced / widowed parent has a teenage son and a teenage daughter who did not want to move, even though they now each have a huge bedroom with ensuite bathroom and their own home cinema and indoor swimming pool.

The family eats breakfast in an open plan kitchen the size of a mainline station concourse. The table is as long as the one used by Putin to speak to Western leaders. Everyone is in a rush for the first day at the new school and the new job. Our main character is a detective / brilliant surgeon / amazing artist. Everyone rushes out the door with a piece of toast in their hand, nobody clears the table, loads the dishwasher, cleans their teeth or makes their bed.

 That’s okay because over the coming weeks the house remains immaculate despite no evidence that they employ a cleaner. They always have clean clothes to wear, though no one ever does any washing. Meals appear by magic; not so much as an onion graces the immaculate marble work tops and nobody ever goes shopping. The main character has more important things to worry about than doing a big shop at Sainsburys or going on line to do the Tesco order. Occasionally the new love interest will pose at the huge kitchen island and slice a red pepper, announcing that they are making a special celebratory meal.

Nobody turns up when the feast is ready because one of the teenagers has run away and the other one is in hospital after an overdose. The parent has not noticed they are having trouble settling in and has already been called away to deal with a murder / emergency brain surgery / trouble at the art gallery; they will have difficulty concentrating after the messages from / meeting with the mystery person plaguing their life.

As the wonderful meal dries up, new love interest has no idea where anybody is, but takes the opportunity to answer a mobile phone ringing from some remote part of the house / look out the huge picture window to see a stranger peering in / rifle through a locked drawer after finding a key in another drawer while searching for a wooden spoon…

There are now only three days and two episodes left before the main character is going to fall down the stairs, but you will have to wait till my new drama arrives on television in 2024 to find out why or how. If you can’t wait that long, why not dip into one of my dramatic novels?

Really Surreal

When you get back into town and nothing is quite how you remembered…

A jolly day out…
…meeting friends…
…for coffee…
Think the weather’s brightening up?
Shopping centre’s changed since I was last here.
Wonder what the new book shop is like.
…or the new department store?
Very nice, but I haven’t seen any human beings yet…

Return to the Pink Zone

I was back in the Pink Zone for my Radiotherapy planning. Despite the long instructions in the letter for finding radiotherapy I was flummoxed when I found myself back in the familiar Oncology Outpatients. As it is on floor minus 2 and has a low ceiling I assumed this area was a dead end; unfortunate choice of words perhaps…

Luckily a lady in grey ( one of the health care assistants who pop up helpfully everywhere ) asked if I was lost and took me through a door that hadn’t been there before. Then she asked if I wanted Chesil, Furzey or Varian. I had no idea what she was talking about so produced my appointment letter ( always take your hospital letter with you ) and she took me to reception. I was soon given a gown and taken to get changed in a cubicle with the fatal words ‘Just come back to reception when you are ready’ assuming you are going to remember the way back…

I did find my way back and was soon in a room having a CT scan and lots of measurements taken. They give you four tiny tattoos as guide lines, apologising that they will be permanent. I am hardly likely to worry about that when I have a long scar and no breast, but at least they are acknowledging you still own your body. I asked for a butterfly tattoo, but they said they don’t have the artistic skills.

When I arrived for the start of my fifteen daily treatments ( weekends not included ) a couple of weeks later, I smugly assumed I knew where I was going, but at reception she asked if I was Chesil, Furzey or Varian.  No idea, but she soon returned with the answer. I had to find Varian 2 and was directed to turn and follow and turn down several corridors. Every time you go through a double door a whole new hospital seems to unfold before your eyes…

Chesil and Furzey are local place names, but who, what or where was Varian? Lord Varian, the famous Dorset benefactor or Planet Varian from Star Trek… ‘Captain, the Varians are attacking.’

Varian is the manufacturer of the machines under which we patients lie in treatment rooms Varian 1 and 2. We arrive at the pleasant Varian waiting room from where we are called to the sub waiting room on the intercom. There we change into the gowns with three armholes which we are allowed to keep for all our sessions. From here you can see the lighted red warning signs when the radioactivity is active and staff must leave. The radiologist soon comes to fetch you and take you round the curving corridor. The actual zapping with rays is brief, most of the time is spent adjusting you to exactly the right position with the two radiologists talking numbers and degrees. They take a three year degree to learn all this. The weird grey machine makes various beeps and noises, but all we have to do is keep our arms raised holding on to the bars and stay completely still. When out of the room the staff are watching you on closed circuit TV and you can wave to them if there is a problem… All the staff are very friendly and reassuring.

 After a few sessions I thought I was getting the hang of the routine; three buzzes and staff must leave the room. I have three zaps from three different directions and in between, the Great Varian grinds and moves. A long buzzy beep is the actual dose of rays. One time it had just started when the room lights suddenly came on. Over the intercom a voice said ‘Don’t worry, we have an interlock, we just have to wait five minutes before we can restart.’

This was definitely out of Star Trek… ‘Captain we have an interlock with the Varian ship.’  I was about to go through a time shift or into another dimension. After what seemed like twenty minutes the voice said ‘Only two more minutes to go.’ The staff returned and so did normality.

All my appointments have been quite early and very specific times. 9.06am, 9.18am 9.03. I have usually been called in on time or early, but one morning I was sitting by myself, no one on the reception desk and the screen said Varian Two On Time.  Time passed, other patients came in and we compared appointment times. I was first, what was going on? After the interlock incident of the day before I wondered if the machine had broken down, but why had no one come to tell us? Had Varian Two taken all the staff through a time shift or zapped them all with a mega dose of radiation… more time passed and at last I was called. The explanation was more prosaic than my imaginings. They were busy, short staffed and had no time to update the screen in the waiting room.

Strangely, my trips down the corridors have got shorter with familiarity.  The route is lined with paintings and the area is bright and pleasant. The shiny wooden floor squeaks when anyone walks, it is not just my new shoes.  A look at the health ap on my phone shows I have walked less than a kilometre from the hospital main entrance and back again, not the miles it seemed.

Some of the questions I have been tempted to ask as a writer, but haven’t yet…

Do you get many patients who panic?’

‘Has anyone accidentally been given a mega dose or forgotten about?’

‘Have you ever had a rogue/insane radiologist who tampered with the machine?’

As a patient I don’t think I will ask as they are all very professional and sane and nice…

Hallows and Heretics

I published my last book on Amazon Kindle and in paperback in November 2019. I have never stopped writing short fiction since then, but for the first time I don’t have a novel underway and I have barely started putting together another collection to publish. But Hey Ho, with all that’s happened in the past couple of years it doesn’t matter and I do have five novels and four collections always available – unless something happens to Amazon! The late Cyberspouse always helped me with the technical side and designed the covers, which made up for him never reading my fiction! Later on I was thrilled when it became possible to produce paperbacks through Amazon Kindle, at last my mother could hold and read ‘real’ books by me.  

If you have read all my books and are waiting for a new one let me know… To read about all my books here just link in above to My Books. In the meantime, I am always thrilled when a fellow blogger mentions one of my books in his blog and especially if he gives it a Five star review…

Top review from the United States

Geoff

5.0 out of 5 stars All Good Whether Dark or Light

Reviewed in the United States on January 8, 2022

Verified Purchase

I purchased Hallows and Heretics because I favor short stories. These are all winners because you do not know where you are headed when you begin reading one. Gogerty is comfortable in both ordinary and quirky settings. Relax and enjoy the twisting journey through two dozen different stories. Fun reads.

Take a look at Geoff Stamper’s blogs if you aren’t already following him.

Insurance Strategies | Suicide Squeeze (wordpress.com)

Prologue:      Hallows and Heretics is my second collection of short stories. Twenty four tales to take you through the year. ‘Gate’ is set in a Western Australian summer, return to Saints and Sinners for an English spring and pass through all the seasons in the British Isles. ‘Red Car’ and ‘Moving On’ take place in my local area. Discover the Hambourne Chronicles, other places you may not find on the map… These are short stories, the shortest is 700 words, the longest 3,000 words. As in the previous collection ‘Dark and Milk,’ some tales are light and others are very dark, but you won’t know which is which until it’s too late to turn back.

Hallows and Heretics was published in 2013. I was going to call it Saints and Sinners, after the first story in the Hambourne Chronicles, but after looking it up I discovered many books on Amazon had the same title. Hallows and Heretics reflects the good and evil in some of the darker stories. Hambourne is a place you may not find on the map, though perhaps it will feel familiar if you have visited Middle England. All the stories in the Hambourne Chronicles were written to read out at our writers’ group and are linked.

Some of my stories were entered for competitions and ‘Experiment’ was written for a competition run by Diamond Light Source, which does really exist.

Diamond Light Source is the UK’s national synchrotron. It works like a giant microscope, harnessing the power of electrons to produce bright light that scientists can use to study anything from fossils to jet engines to viruses and vaccines.

About Us – – Diamond Light Source

Alas, visits by the public are now put on hold due to Covid. But in my story the hapless Gregory, hoping for inspiration for the science fiction thrillers he writes, gets an experience he hasn’t bargained for… I wasn’t placed in that competition, but I entered it for a local competition in 2013 and came second. Amusingly, when I went up to get my prize, the judge was totally astonished that I wasn’t a man, she assumed only men write such stories?

Have a peep inside the book.

Christmas Cancelled – NOT

We had our second, proper Christmas on Tuesday 28th as Team H felt well enough to drive 180 miles on Monday and had negative results. People still get coughs, colds and winter lurgies nothing to do with Covid. It would have been a waste of totally rearranging and child proofing the house if they couldn’t have come at all! With my son and daughter-in-law living with me it has tripled ( octupled? )  the amount of equipment needing protection from three and six year old boys, not to mention the mountain of Christmas presents they had given each other.

Traditional chocolate Christmas cake.

A favourite children’s present, sent by Nanna in Spain via Amazon, turned out to be very popular. Seasick Sam is a game, along the same idea as Buckaroo, but they just liked playing with Sam. You see how much food you can stuff in his mouth before he is sick. We five adults had Secret Santa with all presents to be bought locally or in charity shops and we all came up with a great selection.

Writing did not take a back seat as six year old wanted to write his own Frightened Freddy Lego story and being six it revolved around vomiting, with Seaside Sam having a starring role and toilets. We took lots of screen shots and edited the pictures on the computer. When I suggested we start writing the story he said ‘I think I’ll make the story longer…’ who would be an editor!

The next day we edited more photos and whittled them down to 33. Then he narrated and I typed, no easy task with someone who bounces around like Tigger the whole time, whilst leaning on my desk… We printed it out and sent the photos to his mother’s ipad in time for the deadline of going home .

Reviews and Resolutions – NOT

I can’t abide reviews of the year, any year and especially not the Terrible Twenties! Sport, politics, war, disaster or disease, I don’t want to see or hear reviews; it started days before the chimes and fireworks …

Revitalizing, reviving and rambling is what we need. You can ramble around having exercise or you can ramble on when you are blogging…

A BOXING DAY RAMBLE – FOR ONE DAY THE WEATHER WAS PERFECT and I was going to write a blog about it... but

I haven’t completely left 2021 behind; Christmas was delayed for three days Chez Tidalscribe, so I am a bit late arriving in 2022 and I have only just started reading the book for tomorrow’s Zoom book club.

Two days later… well it turned out only one person in the group had read the book and the lady who runs the group had not even opened it. Everyone cited Christmas as the reason.

Four more Christmas cards just arrived, one of which I will definitely have to answer with a review resume an update on 2021. Just when you think the Christmas card nightmare is over… remember those days in the December twenties when you realise you have not sent out cards early to tell old friends and relatives you have moved, got cancer, been widowed, made redundant… or you realise you did not reply to those old friends and relatives who wrote last January to apologise for not sending a Christmas card because they had been widowed, busy moving house, got a cancer diagnosis, lost their dog …

Covid has given us a whole new string of excuses for not sending cards, or more importantly getting out of actually seeing anybody next year…

We must get together when things settle down.

Would love to take you up on your invitation to come up and stay, but I’m working 24/7 at the hospital.

Just tested positive so New Year’s party is cancelled.

I’ll send you the link for the Zoom funeral, such a shame you can’t come, Dad would have loved a good turn out…

Idle Thoughts of a Tidalscribe

Why Omicron, what happened to the other letters before that. I keep forgetting what it’s called… Omicrom, onicrom, Covicrom… What is your favourite Greek letter? I rather like Epsilon.

For ordinary folk everyday chit chat is banal, but the life blood of family, friends and hum drum jobs; the antidote to World Crisis, disasters and politics. It means nothing to outsiders and sounds very dreary.

Six boxes short on the crisps and they haven’t delivered the sandwiches!

Hardly a Global Crisis, but to the three workers on the team it is a big drama.

I saw Phil when I was in Aldis!

A remark full of significance when you relate your shopping trip to your friend, in fact you messaged her before you even left the store.

Our regular banal conversations are now littered with remarks that meant nothing two years ago, testing positive would probably have referred to pregnancy.

Sharon’s tested positive. Have you had your results yet? Evie’s going back to school on Friday. No she can’t think where she got it from and her friend had to come and collect the dog.

Covid, Christmas, Chemotherapy and restricted lives bring vivid dreams as our brains take themselves on holiday. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley camera club in the church hall – in my dressing gown and pyjamas. Next minute a fellow blogger ( who doesn’t even blog about cooking ) was concocting the most delicious recipe, deep frying rich wraps of hidden delights. The food fantasy is understandable when chemo and sore tongue make food tasteless or vile. I am obviously missing an ideal opportunity to ascend to a higher spiritual state in which food is no longer important, or even vital. I do not have what it takes to go into the wilderness and live on leaves, but at least I have found that out now before going up a mountain or into the desert. The fact that millions of people do not have enough food does not stop me being filled with lowly envy when people drop remarks like

‘No, we’re fine, we stopped off at MacDonalds on the way.’

I hardly ever have MacDonald’s and have certainly never ordered a cooked breakfast from Tesco to be delivered to my door, but these are now things on my wish list for 2022. I have learnt a few things though. Expensive and fad diets are pointless, if you eat less you lose weight. If you want to try this without chemo, just picture honestly what you have eaten and drunk at the end of each day and cut out the sneaky biscuits, fizzy drinks, crisps, chocolate ( insert your favourite treats ) the next day. I do now have an insight into young children at meal times, or people with eating disorders; putting something into your mouth when you have no idea what it will taste like or cannot bear the idea of anything passing your lips. We glibly tell our children they are going to like strange textures and flavours with no notion what their tongue is telling their brain.

Your body in good health is a marvellous machine that repairs itself, with your skin and nerves protecting you from the outside world and your internal organs function efficiently without having to be programmed by a computer. You do not need expensive moisturisers or exotic food supplements. But there are the odd benefits to chemo interfering with your system. After decades of barefoot and sandal wear resulting in as many decades of pumicing and moisturising my heels ( in fairness to our bodies, the feet naturally grow tough soles to walk barefoot, much healthier than wearing shoes ) my heels just fell off, revealing the feet I had not had since I was  baby…