Stranger Danger

In one of my previous incarnations I was walking home from the bus stop after a late shift. When I turned the corner and approached our quiet cul-de-sac I was surprised and a little alarmed to see two suspicious characters lurking on either corner, their cigarettes a tiny glow in the dark night. Dressed in black leather jackets they looked like East European gangsters. What could I do except look straight ahead, pretend I hadn’t noticed them and head for my house.

Then a voice said ‘Hi Mum.’

It was my fifteen year old son with his friend, who was waiting to be picked up by his mother. Their leather jackets were the ones the friend’s mother had ordered from her Littlewoods catalogue.

You don’t have to be female for groups of more than one strapping teenager to look threatening. Hanging around with mates and walking aimlessly in town is what teenagers do. Some may show off to their mates by calling out to hapless passers by, most are harmless. Real gangs armed with knives or selling drugs are more likely to be harming other young men.

The males that women have been complaining about recently … and for centuries … are those who don’t just hang about, but call out abusive remarks, follow lone women, slow their cars down or touch them in crowded tube trains. And of course far worse.

For many of us these perpetrators appear to be a totally different species from all the men in our lives. From our dads who made our pet cages to boyfriends, brothers, sons and work mates who fix our cars and washing machines, give us lifts, husbands who are lifelong companions; why would we want to hate men? It is a truth not often acknowledged that many of us preferred men teachers and male bosses. Women are not a united single species any more than men are and what girl hasn’t dreaded working with the bitch in the office or feared the nasty nurse on the maternity ward?

Little girls who have no reason to fear men adore them, batting their eyelids innocently when the firemen come to visit their playgroup, clutching the hand of their friend’s dad. When we visited my friend’s parents once, my little girl said to the mother ‘I like your Daddy!’

I once read an article by a woman who said she was thrilled when her first baby was a boy, because although she couldn’t be a man, at least she had given birth to one. Though it is the man that determines the sex of the baby, some women still feel proud if they manage to present their husband with a son. Perhaps there are simpler reasons why many women are secretly hoping or delighted when they have a boy first; maybe they always wanted a big brother or working with children has endeared them to little boys. Little boys are adorable and though they may hit their younger siblings and the other children at nursery and may not turn out quite as angelic as those choir boys that we all love, they are not often insidiously nasty and spiteful to each other as little girls can be.

Liking men and enjoying their company does not mean we assume they are superior, it just means it would be a dull world if we were all the same. It will be a sad day ( maybe it is already ) when men and women can no longer have a laugh at work, fearful of crossing the ever moving boundaries. When women would rather suffer a back injury than gracefully accept help with something heavy from the chap next door. When girls consider sewing a button on a male friend’s shirt as an insult rather than just being helpful.

But none of this takes away the fear. Why some men see a broken down car and worried female driver, a woman walking home from her late shift at the hospital or a very drunk girl losing her friends and attempting to walk home as an obvious opportunity to rape and murder them remains a complete mystery. It doesn’t feel helpful that crime dramas are so often about young pretty women being kidnapped and murdered, but that is not a cause; terrible crimes were being committed long before cinema and television were invented.

We still have to remember all the times we have walked our dog round the park, chatting to male dog owners who don’t try and molest us or say anything inappropriate. Recall that time your windscreen smashed on a deserted road and the truck driver kindly stopped to help without bundling you into his cab. Remember those times you went on dates with guys who turned out to be very boring or at least not interesting enough to want to see again, but who saw you safely home and accepted your invented polite excuses for not arranging another date and didn’t turn into a stalker.

We shouldn’t have to, but perhaps girls will always have to learn to develop their instincts as to who the bad guys are and sadly that will not always work. But it will be a long time yet before we figure out how a sweet little boy might turn into a monster scarier than our worst nightmares. In the meantime let us stay united as humans who respect and look after each other.

Silly Saturday – if novels were blogs…

When we write and post our blogs we hope people will read our words of wisdom, we hope they will read our post to the end. We all have different ideas; ‘how long is a piece of string’ comes to mind. But with varying degrees of success at dealing with WordPress, we might break up our tedious words with pictures or get a little carried away with the colour settings; anything to make sure readers don’t get bored. When we read a paperback or Kindle novel we happily expect to read hundreds of thousands of words with only chapter headings to break up the endless pages, but what if we published our novels in the same style as our blogs?





Chapter One Valentine’s Night

Ellen had never felt the house shake before. It was not unusual to hear the South Westerly driving rain against the bedroom windows. It was not unusual to be kept awake by torrential rain pounding the sloping roof above their heads, but this storm was getting scary. Gary was snoring through it all.

She crept out of bed and peeped through the curtains; in the orange glow of the street lights gusts of horizontal rain glittered and the road was a moving stream. She thought of what they had done the evening before, the man would be getting more than any of them had bargained for. Ellen’s part had merely been to lend the spare key and make sure they found the right number.

Ellen slipped back into bed. She had told no one, not even Gary. It would be foolish for her to go down to the seafront alone in this freak weather. The brothers were going to let him out in the morning with a warning to leave their sister alone. Before the storm, Ellen’s only worry had been that her beach hut would be damaged if the man tried to break out.

Gary was taking the boys to football.

‘Don’t go out in this weather Love, we don’t need any shopping and don’t do one of your “let’s go to the cliff top to look at the high spring tide” – it won’t be safe, they’re warning people to stay away from coastal areas.’

As soon as they had gone Ellen wrapped up and headed out on the five minute walk to the cliff top. In any other circumstances she would have loved the wind stinging her face. The record breaking wet winter had drawn her to study tide times and photograph flooding rivers and pounding waves.

At the cliff top she leaned into the howling wind, safe from falling, clinging onto the flimsy fence to prevent herself being blown backwards. But nothing could have prepared her for what she saw when she peered over the edge. The promenade was piled with wood, beach huts reduced to matchsticks. She was not the only person out; several photographers and distraught fellow beach hut owners struggled against the wind to make their way down the zig zag path. They picked their way past planks with dangerously protruding nails, huge Calor gas bottles and plastic body boards. Waves lapped over the strewn debris; some beach huts remained intact, but at bizarre angles. Nobody could hear themselves speak in the roaring wind, some stood by the empty space where their beach huts had been. Ellen stood where her beach hut used to be and picked up all that was left, the kettle. She looked out to sea and up and down the promenade, dreading the moment when someone would wave frantically and point to a boot sticking out from the planks, or a shape in the waves.

On Saturday morning at 10am, 15th February 2014, Ellen faced the probability she had become an accessory to manslaughter or murder. At 10.02am her thought processes had become those of a criminal. The man might have somehow saved himself, but if he had not, no evidence remained to link his death to her or her beach hut.

Read my novel for real here….

Friday Flash Fiction 950 – Writer’s Retreat

‘…yes, but I’m used to being on my own, with Giles away half the time and I rather like it now they have all left home… I know Tammy won’t be popping in every week when I’m up there. That’s half the point. She won’t come round with the children anyway, while all the work is going on next door, because of their ears and lungs… Yes it is that bad, that’s why I demanded they pay me compensation, enough to be away from home… but it’s not as if I could join Giles in the Antarctic. No of course I can’t afford a luxury cruise; what you call my Victorian Villa is more of a millstone, always has been, like a hungry monster that constantly has to be fed… We WERE thinking of downsizing till Dave and Debs got in first and sold next door for a fortune; no one is going to even look at our house while the foundations are being shaken. Yes Dave and Debs did say they had sold to a nice quiet family, a nice family who for some unearthly reason want to live underground… and a wine cellar and entertainment room… Oh they’ve started again, can you hear that awful thumping, that’s the pile driver. I almost wish the whole place would implode down into the Central Line. Do you think we could claim on their insurance if our house was swallowed by the London Underground? … Northumberland… but not as cold as the Antarctic…  I won’t be roughing it, there is an oil tank, just no electricity. I won’t need to charge my phone, because there is no WiFi… Pen and paper, like writers have always used. Long walks, fresh food and making a start on my new novel… Well it was bad timing the car conking out, but that’s part of the adventure, go up on the train to Berwick-upon-Tweed, local bus to this farm and then the farmer take me the rest of the way… Okay, love to Phil, yes I will, if he manages to Facetime tonight, not quite Shackleton, but it’s not easy communicating with a scientist at the South Pole, even if he is my husband.’

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I should have started ringing round the rest of the family, but packing was my priority if I was to get to Kings Cross Station in the morning with one manageable rucksack.

Once the bus had dropped me off there was no turning back. I hoped it was the right farm gate I was standing by. I couldn’t even figure out how to open it, but just as I was wondering if the farm was occupied at all, a figure emerged from what I presumed must be the farm house. A voice hailed me, the only clue as to what sex the figure in green overalls might be. But when she strode up to the gate I was surprised to see a young woman with blond curls tied in a bunch and a huge baby bump. Already I was putting her into my novel. She introduced herself as Abby.

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After a cup of tea and home made scones, in a farmhouse kitchen straight out of the fifties, it was time to set off before it got dark. This was real life for sure. My home for a month had once been a tenant farmer’s cottage, a tied cottage. The family had done it up to rent out and supplement their income. The land rover was more comfortable than you might expect, even though it did smell of damp dog and cow manure.

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So there I was, by the cosy light of an oil lamp, in front of a wood fire. November nights up here were colder, that was to be expected. I have to confess Abby had already laid the fire earlier and got it going for me. She showed me the wood pile, the kindling, the oil tank that fuelled the Aga. Not that I was planning to do much cooking. There was no phone. I would not see anyone till next week when they would pop in with more food supplies. Abby looked rather doubtful when she asked if I would be alright.

I went to bed early. There were plenty of books in the house, how delightful to be Kindle free, but the evening felt long and I was tired after my journey and couldn’t muster the energy to start writing. It was so quiet, I hadn’t reckoned how much I would miss not being able to turn on the radio; still this was a good way get inside my character’s head.

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I woke up suddenly, in complete darkness, without any idea where I was. When I came to my senses I fumbled for my torch, but I had lost all sense of direction; the door and the window had disappeared. I felt an overwhelming longing for the intrusive street lights at home. All I could think to do was to feel my way outside, at least there would be moonlight. I stubbed my toes, banged my shins, nearly fell down the uneven wooden stairs. My watch was not luminous, I had no idea of the time without my phone to look at. I tried to picture the stairs in relation to the door. At last I felt the metal latch and heaved it up in panic.

There was no moon. The darkness was so thick you could slice it. The wonderful open fields that had surrounded me earlier had been replaced by dark nothingness and oppressive silence. With Giles this would have been an adventure, with a group of city friends it might have been a laugh. Alone it was turning into my worst nightmare.

For more stories I have four collections on Amazon.

Try Dark and Milk for only $us 1.28 or 99p.

Dip into the selection, what will you find, dark or milk, soft centre or hard, a moment’s pleasure or something to chew on? Stories for your coffee break or dare you read them at bed time?

Open the book…

 

Friday Flash Fiction 950 – Writer’s Retreat

sunshine-blogger

 

‘…yes, but I’m used to being on my own, with Giles away half the time and I rather like it now they have all left home…  I know Tammy won’t be popping in every week when I’m up there. That’s half the point. She won’t come round with the children anyway, while all the work is going on next door, because of their ears and lungs…  Yes it is that bad, that’s why I demanded they pay me compensation, enough to be away from home…  but it’s not as if I could join Giles in the Antarctic… No of course I can’t afford a luxury cruise; what you call my Victorian Villa is more of a millstone, always has been, like a hungry monster that constantly has to be fed…  We WERE thinking of downsizing till Dave and Debs got in first and sold next door for a fortune; no one is going to even look at our house while the foundations are being shaken. Yes Dave and Debs did say they had sold to a nice quiet family, a nice family who for some unearthly reason want to live underground…  and a wine cellar and entertainment room…  Oh they’ve started again, can you hear that awful thumping, that’s the pile driver. I almost wish the whole place would implode down into the Central Line. Do you think we could claim on their insurance if our house was swallowed by the London Underground?…  Northumberland…  I won’t be roughing it, there is an oil tank, just no electricity…  I won’t need to charge my phone, because there is no WiFi…  Pen and paper, like writers have always used. Long walks, fresh food and making a start on my new novel…  Well it was bad timing the car conking out, but that’s part of the adventure, go up on the train to Berwick-upon-Tweed, local bus to this farm and then the farmer take me the rest of the way…  Okay, love to Phil, yes I will, if he manages to Facetime tonight, not quite Shackleton, but it’s not easy communicating with a scientist at the South Pole, even if he is my husband.’

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I should have started ringing round the rest of the family, but packing was my priority if I was to get to Kings Cross Station in the morning with one manageable rucksack.

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Once the bus had dropped me off there was no turning back. I hoped it was the right farm gate I was standing by. I couldn’t even figure out how to open it, but just as I was wondering if the farm was occupied at all, a figure emerged from what I presumed must be the farm house. A voice hailed me, the only clue as to what sex the figure in green overalls might be. But when she strode up to the gate I was surprised to see a young woman with blond curls tied in a bunch and a huge baby bump. Already I was putting her into my novel. She introduced herself as Abby.

29597936_2035158053180641_1918614010821379073_n

After a cup of tea and home made scones, in a farmhouse kitchen straight out of the fifties, it was time to set off before it got dark. This was real life for sure. My home for a month had been a tenant farmer’s cottage, a tied cottage. The family had done it up to rent out and supplement their income. The land rover was more comfortable than you might expect, even though it did smell of damp dog and cow manure.

DSCN4962

So there I was, by the cosy light of an oil lamp, in front of a wood fire. Although it was spring, the nights up there were still cold. I have to confess Abby had already laid the fire earlier and got it going for me. She showed me the wood pile, the kindling, the oil tank that fuelled the Aga. Not that I was planning to do much cooking. There was no phone. I would not see anyone till next week when they popped in with more food supplies. Abby looked rather doubtful when she asked if I would be alright.

DSCN4964

I went to bed early. There were plenty of books in the house, how delightful to be Kindle free, but the evening felt long and I was tired after my journey and couldn’t muster the energy to start writing. It was so quiet, I hadn’t reckoned how much I would miss not being able to turn on the radio; still this was a good way get inside my character’s head.

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I woke up suddenly, in complete darkness, without any idea where I was. When I came to my senses I fumbled for my torch, but I had lost my bearings; the door and the window had disappeared. I felt an overwhelming longing for the intrusive street lights at home. All I could think to do was to feel my way outside, at least there would be moonlight. I stubbed my toes, banged my shins, nearly fell down the uneven wooden stairs. My watch was not luminous, I had no idea of the time without my phone to look at. I tried to picture the stairs in relation to the door. At last I felt the metal latch and heaved it up in panic.

There was no moon. The darkness was so thick you could slice it. The wonderful open fields that had surrounded me earlier had been replaced by dark nothingness and oppressive silence. With Giles this would have been an adventure, with a group of city friends it might have been a laugh. Alone it was turning into my worst nightmare.

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For more tales dark and light choose one of my selections of short stories.

 

Friday Flash Fiction -177 – Night Watch

Damp cold creeps up from the ground: long johns, zips, buttons, scarf, hat and gloves provide no defence against the bitter wind. I thought being a BBC cameraman would be a glamorous job, but someone has to do the night watch. At least it’s peaceful, better than being in a war zone.

I stay alert; my ear pieces are in, though all I can hear inside my woolly hat is my tinnitus, but when the signal comes I will be ready, this is a live broadcast.

He is standing motionless, head held high, I have him in my sight, in my lens, in focus. Then come the words I am waiting for.

We now go over live to Downing Street to hear from our political correspondent.

He looks directly at me, ready to speak to every home in the country, to tell the news we already know from the six o’clock bulletin, to repeat what the presenter in the warm studio has already recited from the news desk.

‘…as yet, there is no news from Downing Street.

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