Friday Flash Fiction – Big Issue

It was the dog she recognised first and even then she wasn’t sure it was him, without his red vest and his hair much longer. Vivienne was busy with the secateurs in the front garden, glad of the breeze and cooling of the weather. If she didn’t call out he would cross over to the corner and the moment would be lost.

‘Sam… Sheba?’

He turned and looked, would he even recognise her out of context?

‘Wednesdays, noon, I always bought my Big Issue when I came out of the library after my class.’

‘Of course, how are you, fine by the look of it, me too.’

Vivienne was relieved, she had always felt slightly guilty at not offering him a home, a room at least, not that he was homeless exactly, but it sounded pretty grim the room he had in some place where you might get your stuff stolen and they were always being threatened with eviction. She could imagine James and Julia’s reaction if she had taken in a complete stranger and one wouldn’t know for sure if they were honest and then they might never leave. That was one good thing about the pandemic. All In, councils had to get everyone off the street, so she didn’t need to feel guilty about any homeless people, especially when she discovered she could subscribe to the Big Issue, get it through the post. The money still to go to Big Issue sellers who now needed help with mental health issues and loneliness and boredom, stuck in hotel rooms…. What would she say to Sam… thank goodness for dogs, always a conversation starter, Sheba, a shaggy friendly rescued dog.

‘How’s Sheba?’

‘She’s got a foster family, couldn’t have her in that hotel they put me up in. Now I’m allowed out I take her for a walk every day, access visit’ he laughed.

‘Sheba probably gets out more than me, I’ve got my divorced son living with me, polices my every move, though I guess he was right, the virus is so scary.’

Vivienne felt she had provided an explanation why the spare room could not be offered to Sam; even though there was now the worry about the homeless being put back out when hotels were back in business. The mention of divorce also made her feel more comfortable, her family, her life, was not cosily perfect; James could very well have ended up in the same position as Sam, they were much the same age, though it was hard to tell. She had no idea what Sam’s circumstances were, she didn’t like to intrude, he had his dignity and she could look up to him standing as a working person, not like walking past and trying not to look down at a bundle in the doorway.

‘What’s it like, the hotel?’

‘My own television, comfortable bed, three meals a day, some of the other guests though… I’m glad to get out and about, bit too hot the past few days…’

Vivienne looked at the over insulated dog, panting even in the cool breeze.

‘Would she like a drink?’

‘No, we’re right, Sheba’s been kitted out by the RSPCA’ he rummaged in his bag, produced a bottle of water and unfolded a dish. ‘New lead as well.’

‘Very stylish.’

She looked up the road, conscious that James was likely to come bowling down the road on his bike, back from his work break and daily exercise.

‘Well I must be going, I hope the library opens soon, maybe I’ll be back on my patch in July, before Sheba gets too soft and used to her foster home.’

He stepped out and crossed the road, narrowly missing James on his bike.

‘Who on earth was that Mother?’

‘My Big Issue man, you remember, I told you about him.’

‘No.’

‘Wednesdays, near the library, anyway at least he’s okay, for the moment, staying in a hotel.’

‘Nice to be some, you’re as bad as Cassie, she’s worried about her Big Issue girl, but you should be careful, how did he know where you lived?’

‘He didn’t, just coincidence, the dog’s foster home must be near here. It would be a shame if the poor dog didn’t want to go out on the streets, now she has enjoyed home comforts.’

‘Never mind the dog, the point is it could be dodgy, you don’t know him…’

‘I’m sure he’s not a burglar and he knows I’m not living alone,’ she decided to change the subject ‘anyway, talking of living alone, how’s Cassie, you haven’t said how the bubble idea is going.’

‘She’s not sure, thought she ought to ask that old lady next door to her if she wanted to be in her bubble, have her in for meals, make her feel less isolated.’

‘Oh that’s kind of her.’

‘Cassie already does enough, getting her shopping and stuff, anyway I shall find out this afternoon. I have to go in to the office again, all my plans up in the air now two metres distance has suddenly changed to one metre. Cassie has a few ideas, suggested chatting over the coffee machine. I can sign her in for half an hour.’

‘Well I suppose that will make a change from talking on line.’

Vivienne thought Cassie sounded like someone she would like and certainly an improvement on her first daughter-in-law, but what Cassie thought of James was another matter.

Silly Saturday – Paddington Pangolin

Police are searching for a pangolin believed to have entered the UK illegally. They have appealed for information as to the whereabouts of Penny Peters, head of Pangolin Preservation Project. She is alleged to have smuggled the pangolin in her hand luggage on the last flight back to Britain. Her parents, Polly and Peter Peters, speaking from their home in Surrey, denied their daughter was involved in any sort of crime.
‘Penny loved her job teaching English as a second language and she loves pangolins, but when this virus business started we urged her to get the next flight out. She insisted she couldn’t abandon her pupils or pangolins.’

OIP[2]

Latest Update

Our reporter tracked Penny Peters down to a secret location and she agreed to an exclusive interview.
‘Yes I do know where Paddington Pangolin is, but he will never be safe until he is proved innocent.’
‘What is he accused of?’
At this point Ms Peters broke down in tears.
‘Sorry, sorry, it’s all been so stressful… let me start at the beginning. I rescued him from a wet market, I can’t reveal where for fear of reprisals. I smuggled him out on the last flight out to Heathrow. Then we jumped on the Heathrow Express; I was surprised how easy it all was. But when we arrived at Paddington Railway Station we were surrounded by an angry mob accusing this poor innocent pangolin of starting Corvid19. He fled in panic and I was terrified for his safety. I spent days searching the streets of London for him, wondering if he would find enough ants. Finally I found him in St. James’ Park, he had wanted to see The Queen, but she had already left Buckingham Palace to isolate at Windsor Castle.’
‘That is an amazing story, but surely the general public will only believe you if they actually see Paddington Pangolin?’

Latest Latest Update

Penny Peters agreed to be filmed with Paddington Pangolin on condition their whereabouts is never revealed and that we show the film on national news to expose the plight of pangolins. Tune into the ten o’clock news…

Friday Flash Fiction – Vivarium

Vivienne stood in her little back garden taking in the stillness, a feeling of holiday bliss swept over her; perhaps it was the wonderful sunny weather and strange atmosphere of this unique time. If she had to be imprisoned she was grateful to be at home and very thankful that her bossy daughter had not persuaded her to downsize after Malcomb’s death and move into one of those dreadful McCarthy and Stone flats.
After two years she now had the house just as she wanted, but that didn’t alter the fact that her independence had been swept from under her feet, transformed overnight by Boris Johnson from a fighting fit recycled teenager into a vulnerable over seventy. As if that wasn’t bad enough, her son had moved back in ‘for a week’ after his divorce, just in time to find himself locked in, locked down, or whatever they called it. Left to her own devices she would have sneaked out, but James was on guard, no doubt on instructions from his sister.

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Of course she had seen it coming, the divorce; she didn’t dislike her daughter-in-law, there was little about her to dislike or like, James deserved so much more. She never said any of this to him, just pretended to be surprised and she was surprised that he had managed to come out of it with nothing except his bicycle and computer.
Vivienne relished the peace of the garden. It was just her luck that James’ company was letting everyone work from home, so now her ‘ancient’ computer had been relegated to the dining room and inconveniently updated to Windows 10. She only went on line to be in the Facebook groups for her crafts, book club and bridge society.
Her friends sympathised with the loss of her sewing room as James commandeered it for his bedroom, but pointed out she had gained someone to do the shopping and a free handyman. What they actually meant was she was lucky to have a son who they all thought utterly charming, with a great sense of humour that would brighten up the dreary days ahead.

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Vivienne heard the back door open and realised her moments of solitude were over, James was back from his daily bike ride.
‘Hey Mother, talking to the plants again?’
‘You don’t need to worry until they answer back.’
‘I’ll just put the Tesco order on line then I’ll get us something nice for lunch, I popped into the bakers.’
Vivienne gritted her teeth, wondering which items she didn’t want would arrive on the Tesco van this week. At least he was keeping the bakers going, it would be awful for them to close and the high street lose their lovely coffee shop.
‘Look at this, Cassie sent a picture.’
He marched down the path with his mobile phone aloft and her curiosity was aroused. He kept mentioning Cassie, who he had met in the queue for the chemist and turned out to also work for MPJ. James spent a lot of time chatting to her on the computer, Zoomtime, Scope or whatever it was when you could see the other person. Vivienne wondered what she looked like, but in the bright outdoor light she could make out nothing on the tiny screen of his phone.
‘Is that her?’
‘No, it’s a picture of her vivarium, remember I always wanted one.’
‘I don’t even know what a vivarium is.’
‘A complete environment in a glass tank, in Cassie’s case a huge tank. You keep reptiles in it.’
‘I certainly haven’t forgotten that tarantula you had. What does Cassie keep in hers?’
‘Lizards, fascinating.’
‘You and Jane never had any pets.’ Or any babies, she refrained from mentioning the topic that was never spoken about; whether by choice or if not, whose fault it was. ‘You could have had a vivarium…’
James just smiled, they both new Jane would not have liked her pristine lounge taken over by a tank full of scenery from a David Attenborough documentary.
‘So now you have a girlfriend who loves lizards.’
‘Mother, she’s not a girlfriend, a friend, on her own, glad to have someone to chat to about work, but mostly not about work. You would like her, great sense of humour and loves cycling.’
Vivienne smiled. ‘So if this virus business is ever over, you could meet up with her for bike rides and talk about lizards…?’

The NHS

I was going to write about The NHS weeks ago, but events kept overtaking me and the subject.

‘The National Health Service is the publicly funded healthcare system of the United Kingdom. It is made up of four separate systems that serve each part of the UK: The National Health Service in England, NHS Scotland, NHS Wales and Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland. They were established together in 1948 as one of the major social reforms following the Second World War. The founding principles were that services should be comprehensive, universal and free at the point of delivery. Each service provides a comprehensive range of health services, free at the point of use for people ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom, apart from dental treatment and optical care. The English NHS also requires patients to pay prescription charges with a range of exemptions from these charges.’

https://www.nhs.uk/

Often the NHS is only in our thoughts when we are having our own personal dramas. Sometimes it is in the news for the wrong reasons, when things go drastically wrong. At present it is in the news all the time, it IS The News. The system that has cared for most of us from before we were born until we take our last breath is now responsible for steering the UK through the world wide pandemic. Whilst many people have been told not to go to work and stay at home, NHS staff are hardly seeing their homes. Government quickly forgets all the cut backs, poor pay for some, meddling, outsourcing and attempts to sell bits off that put the NHS at risk and expect all the staff to rise to the challenge… and they have. Perhaps when or if this is over those in power will do the right thing, instead of the public having to continually sign petitions pleading for our national treasure to be protected.
I recently finished reading Adam Kay’s Book This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor and reviewed it on Goodreads.

‘When my planned caesarean for our first baby ( breech ) turned into a 1am Sunday morning dash to Queen Charlotte’s Hospital a week early, one of the staff said ‘You’re in luck, the registrar’s on tonight’ I wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t been on. They may also have said I was lucky it was a quiet night. Anyway, everything proceeded quickly. When the same early imminent arrival happened with my third caesarean the same hospital was busy with a worrying lack of progress; the surgeon told me he had another emergency caesarean to perform and he had rung the consultant – for advice, not actually to come in; consultants don’t come in during the night as you will find out when you read this book! The anaesthetist said he had been on for 24 hours, I was shocked, but this was no doubt the norm, then and now. Adam Kay’s book is very funny, but there are dark moments and to an outsider it seems a realistic portrayal of a medical career, the dedication of those who work for the NHS and the cavalier attitude of management and government to our most important and treasured institution. Many readers will find anecdotes that relate to their family’s experiences and people who enjoy medical things are bound to relish this book.’

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35235302-this-is-going-to-hurt

Adam Kay is now a writer and comedian, no longer a doctor. Is the NHS perfect? Of course not, it’s staffed by human beings, some not as caring as they should be, some arrogant and others too scared to be whistle blowers. Tales of what went wrong and what went right are for another time.
One of the sad aspects of the virus tragedy is that the seriously ill are in isolation, they are not able to see any loved ones. Nor do they have the comfort of seeing the compassionate faces of the medical staff, who in all their protective gear must look like aliens or spacemen to their patients. Those of us who have had treatment in normal times know staff come from all over the world, international cooperation at its best.

Sunday Short Story 720 – The Queue

The ringing startled Cassie, nobody ever called her on the landline, few people called her mobile either. She was tempted to ignore it, but the sound penetrated the calm of her little house.
‘Hello Dear, it’s Doris.’
Cassie was slow to react.
‘Doris next door.’
‘Oh, of course…’
In a rare moment of neighbourliness, when Cassie moved in a year ago, she had given the old lady next door her number, just in case…
‘You said to call if there was an emergency.’
Had she really said that? Cassie pictured Doris lying on the floor with a broken hip. That would be the end of her pleasant Day One working from home.
‘Yes, yes of course, what happened?’
‘Nothing yet, but I can’t get out to collect my prescriptions. Boris said I had to stay indoors with my lungs.’
‘Well we all do…’
‘Yes, but you’re not vulnerable dear, you could cycle down to the chemist.’
Relief that she would not have to apply first aid lifted Cassie’s spirits, she brightened her voice to what she hoped was a caring tone.
‘Of course, I’m going out anyway for my one permitted exercise of the day.’

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Self isolation was what Cassie practised most of the time, why she had moved to that quiet road, but neither did she want to be stuck indoors all the time. As she turned her bike into the high street, what looked like a new Antony Gormley art installation filled the pavement outside several shops. Suddenly every figure moved two paces, perhaps it was a flash mob; she waited for them to break into song and dance. She wheeled her bike a few inches towards a woman now rooted firmly to the spot. The woman backed away a few inches.
‘Excuse me, what’s going on?’
‘Queue for the chemist, one out, one in.’
‘Oh god, how long have you been here?’
‘Thirty minutes, you’d better get to the end of the queue.’
Cassie padlocked her bike and took up position outside the closed card and gift shop. The woman six feet in front of her turned and smiled. Cassie groaned inwardly, not one of those who liked to chat…
‘Nice day for it, I was here yesterday, but I don’t mind standing out in the sunshine; it’s for my dad, didn’t have all his meds yesterday. He’s got OCD, or is it COPD and diabetes, you wouldn’t believe how many different tablets he takes… he had a funny turn yesterday and I was worried it was the Coronavirus, but he didn’t have a temperature, at least I don’t think he did, we couldn’t find a thermometer…’
‘Oh well it must be…’
Cassie glanced up ahead, four more shops before she was even near the chemist. She glanced behind and noted three more people hovering. One chap looked vaguely familiar.
‘Is this the queue for…
‘The chemist.’
‘Ahh, not how I planned to spend my first day working from home.’
‘Me neither, it’s not for me, the old lady next door.’

‘Same here, shoot me if I ever end up collecting a bag of medicines every week.’
Cassie laughed, someone with the same sense of humour. ‘Let’s hope we have nice neighbours if we get like that.’
‘Well the old lady isn’t exactly a neighbour, it’s my mother, I live with her.’
Oh no, a chap in his forties who still lived with his mother, not what she needed. Well standing two yards away from a bloke hardly rated as being chatted up, though even at that distance she had noted his piercing blue eyes. She realised he was still talking.
‘I know, sounds a bit sad, you get divorced and instead of freedom your sister expects you to take your turn at responsibility, it didn’t help getting transferred here… speaking of which, I’m sure you look familiar, you don’t work for MPJ as well do you?’
She could say no, but then if she bumped into him at work… if they ever went back to work, how long was this virus thing going to last, would her job even survive. He was still talking.
‘So we can hardly go out for a drink with everything closed, but it might get lonely working at home, perhaps we could link up on line.’
‘Okay, I’m Cassie…

Au Revoir or Adieu?

Whether you jet set on business or love going on cruises, you can’t have failed to notice there are more hazards to travel lately. Your cruise ship may weigh anchor and keep all the passengers hostage – in quarantine because of Coronavirus, which we now have to call Covid19, though that doesn’t slip as easily off the tongue. If you’re lucky you may get to have your own videoblog as self appointed spokesman to your national television channel and the folk back home. If you’re unlucky you will have a cabin without a balcony, a government that will not evacuate you and test positive for the virus.

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Is flying any better? You may not be allowed on the plane if you have a temperature, you may not be allowed off the plane until you can be hermetically sealed and sent off to a quarantine centre; though that could be the start of a pleasant fortnight’s holiday if a nice hotel has been commandeered. World wide plague is not the only hazard for fliers. Storms hurling themselves across the Atlantic to Europe have caused mass cancellation of flights, but that is better than the Ryanair passengers on a flight from Prague, that in hindsight should have been cancelled. Thrice, pilots attempted to land at Bournemouth Airport as passengers screamed and hyperventilated. They abandoned the attempt and with petrol running low were diverted to Brussels from whence they returned to Prague…

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Although I hardly ever go anywhere outside this kingdom I can give advice on ocean liners and airliners. Cyberson 2, builder and pyrotechnics expert, has often worked at Southampton, sending up fireworks to farewell passengers on their trip of a lifetime, or often their twentieth or perhaps their last… The first time he worked there, one of the regular workers on the docks described the arrival of an ocean liner ‘The first thing that happens, they bring all the bodies off.’ Whether this is due to the age of the passengers, the vast amount of food provided or terminal boredom, I cannot say, but it sounds like a good way to go. Perhaps if you pay extra you can have a burial at sea. My longest voyage was on ‘The Pride of Bilbao’ from Portsmouth to Bilbao and back again on an off season excursion, where the only hazard was the live entertainment.

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Storm Dennis was not the only problem at Heathrow Airport on Sunday as ‘technical issues’ created chaos. Whiteboards, marker pens and extra staff were drafted in to ensure chaos continued. When I worked at Heathrow I won’t pretend I was not occasionally envious of passengers jetting off somewhere exotic, but mostly I was glad I could go home and would always advise DON’T even THINK of flying at Easter or Christmas. One Christmas Eve, working in Singapore Lounge, the evening flight was delayed, putting Christmas on hold in Singapore and Australia for those who celebrated it. I cringed as a young colleague said in a loud voice in front of the passengers ‘That’s ALL I need.’ We would be late finishing, but she only had to get home to Osterley Park and none of us were going to miss Christmas.

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Singapore Airlines treated their customers with oriental respect and had letters printed out and delivered to them explaining delays. When we worked in British Airways lounges catering staff were left to soothe disgruntled passengers. The huge lounge in Terminal 1 catered for the many short haul flights, very different from the serene atmosphere of quieter business lounges. There was an endless  surge of passengers, the buffet bars constantly replenished, platters of sandwiches devoured instantly. I only worked there a couple of times, but one weekend a story came from our colleagues. There was a strike on; passengers kept coming in, but none went out. Then the British Airways staff abandoned the desk leaving the catering staff to deal with the ever increasing braying mob; in the end they called the police.

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What were your worst travel experiences? You can tell us about your good journeys, but that might not be so amusing…