Friday Flash Fiction – Digital Dialogue – Absence

‘Hello, is that Luke?’

‘Yes.’

‘It’s Ali.’

‘Who?’

‘Ali, Ben’s friend.’

‘Umm…’

‘Sixth form, best man at Ben’s wedding?’

‘Oh, er yes, so why are you calling?’

‘Have you heard from Ben?’

‘Not since Christmas was cancelled.’

‘Oh it’s just that I, we were wondering… we haven’t been able to contact him.’

‘Why do you need to contact him?’

‘We don’t, we just wondered why none of us had heard from him and they missed the quiz evening again.’

‘I didn’t know my brother was so popular.’

‘Perhaps I could ring your mother?’

‘I hardly think so as she’s been dead for eight months.’

‘Oh er I am so sorry, she looked fine at the wedding.’

‘She was fine at the wedding, anyway, I must cut you off, conference call coming up…’

‘Hi, Ali?’

‘Yup.’

‘It’s me.’

‘Who’s me?’

‘Louise, Tina’s sister, chief bridesmaid, top table?’

‘Louise, of course, sorry I didn’t get back in tou… answer your messages.’

‘That’s not why I’m calling. Have you seen Ben?’

‘No. I’ve been ringing round everyone, no one’s seen or heard from him, phone’s dead.’

‘Oh Ali, I’m really worried now, same with Tina, she hasn’t been on Facebook for weeks.’

‘You were right to call me, but don’t panic; what about your parents?’

‘They’re worried, I mean we’re not one of those families who call all the time, but she’s not answering in our WhatsApp group or anything.’

‘Has anyone been round their flat?’

‘No, Mum and Dad are isolating and I’m on a Scottish island.’

‘Oh so you did get that croft? What about her work?’

‘She’s furloughed.’

‘Now don’t worry, I’ll get in contact with Ben’s company, even if he’s still working from home they would know if he’s on leave. ’

‘Tina would have said if they were going on holiday, she was always talking about going on a proper holiday again.’

‘TG Services, how can I help?’

‘Can I speak to Ben Chambers please?’

‘Chambers, chambers… ben? Chaos here, everyone working from home, except me… I don’t know the name, what department?’

‘Actually I’m afraid I have no idea, can’t you look him up on the computer records?’

‘No, confidential records cannot be shared with members of the public…’

‘Tom, it’s Ali, have you had any luck? No, nor have I, not a trace of either of them. Have you been round their flat? No of course not, you would have popped round last week if you weren’t in Belfast. I’m a hundred miles away so who’s nearest… Gemma’s in hospital, what happened to her? Call the police? I don’t think it’s that serious yet, I mean they could have gone on holiday, stuck isolating goodness knows where and we’re panicking for nothing. Okay, okay, I’ll drive down tomorrow morning make a day out of it. Have you got their new address? No, nor have I, have to message Louise, no I didn’t see her again and now she’s on some bloody Scottish island.’

‘Louise? It’s Ali again. I’m in their road, the neighbours are already regarding me with suspicion. I couldn’t even get in the building let alone find their flat, yes used to be the old asylum, very smart. I have been lurking to catch anyone going in or out, no luck so far, nobody seems to know them, so not likely to find a friendly neighbour with a spare key, not that you can just go waltzing into someone else’s home uninvited… and what did the police website say? Surely the only option is to have them break in and … no I’m sure they are fine, but there could be a clue where they have gone on holiday, somewhere warm knowing them. Not that warm, no, I’m sure they didn’t end up on a Mediterranean island with a wildfire raging. You call the police then, more likely to take notice of a relative, and you will have to give permission for a search…  ’

ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO READ BEN AND TINA’S STORY?

Sending Sparks Flying

There are few jobs that women haven’t ventured into this century, even if they are still in the minority, but some of those jobs are ones girls probably didn’t know existed when they were at school.

At this time of year the shorter nights are ideal for enjoying firework displays, but in the dark we have no idea who has made them happen, perhaps vaguely imagining someone going around with a box of matches, but modern fireworks don’t need matches.

I interviewed Kellyanne Buckle who is a lighting technician and pyrotechnics expert.

 

What part of the country did you grow up in?

Tamworth near Birmingham.

Did you imagine when you were a child you would work with fireworks?

No, I didn’t even like fireworks.

What career ideas did you have at school?

I nearly went to catering college, but I grew up around the theatre and amateur dramatics so I decided to do a BTech in applied theatre technology, lighting and sound stage management. One of our projects was to do a production of Aladdin – we were given only £50, we asked Cadburys for free chocolate. We gave the show for a van company’s annual treat and they loved it.

What was your first job? 

I did an HND in media and communication; being a technician at a theatre for eighteen months I learnt a lot more than I had at college. I started doing casual work at Birmingham Symphony Hall and ended up working full time there for eight and a half years. I was the only female out of eleven on the team, but I just blocked out the banter. A couple of the older chaps probably just wanted to be helpful and not let me pick up anything heavy! In my last year I got interested in pyrotechnics.

What is the difference between fireworks and pyrotechnics?

Pyrotechnics are precisely made and always exactly the same so you can use them safely indoors.

What sort of shows did you work on?

Birmingham Town Hall also came under our umbrella so there was great variety. We did shows for Chris Rhea, Billy Connolly and pop bands on the way up or down. Also conferences and corporate dinner dances.

Did you get to meet many stars?

Not really, the sound technicians got more involved, but Jimmy Carr did a show every year and we got to know him. One time he noticed the usual stage manager was not there. When we told him the chap had had a triple bypass operation, Jimmy recorded a get well message for him.

What made you leave Symphony Hall?

The management changed and there was a staff restructure; I didn’t want to be stuck doing admin, it was time to move on and do something different. I had already been doing freelance work with a pyro and firework company; it was October, it didn’t rain, I enjoyed it.

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What big outdoor events have you worked on?

On the River Medway, Chatham, Kent in 2017 for the 350th anniversary of the Battle of Medway.  ‘Medway in Flames’ dramatically relived the Battle of Medway when Dutch ships launched a surprise attack on the English naval fleet moored at Chatham Dockyard. I designed the pyrotechnics that went with the video showing on giant screens.

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Firework spectaculars for cruise ships leaving Liverpool or Southampton usually involve long hours on barges, though when the three Queens left Liverpool I was up on the roof of Cunard offices.

I have also worked regularly at ‘Beating The Retreat’ on Horseguards’ Parade.

Does your work involve a lot of travelling?

Yes, often far from home, Porthleven in Cornwall to Scotland, but my furthest journey was to Spain to teach a safety course, though I don’t speak Spanish.

What led you to start your own company, Hillcrest Street Productions?

It’s good to be able to take control, working for yourself; as freelancers you can’t pick and choose the work. We are trying to do what no one else is doing, for example offer a display that can be done at a wedding and make the wedding photographs extra special. The happy couple can have a confetti cannon for the first dance or ‘dancing on a cloud’ with low level ‘fog’ or cold sparks for choreographed photos.

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How do you make cold sparks?

80% titanium 20% zirconium granules are heated at 500-600c, just enough to glow but not combust. They pass in front of the heater just before they are pushed out of the machine by a fan and are cool again less than a second later. You can put your hands in the sparks.

What was your favourite job?

A job I volunteered to do for free! When Westlife announced in 2012 they were splitting up I was invited to Cardiff to help with the pyrotechnics for their Last Ever Show, I certainly didn’t want to miss that. This year I went to their Comeback show in Belfast!

What are the hard parts of your work?

Working long days with a deadline, overnight set ups, working all through the night… Preparation takes a lot of time, then after a display, especially a large one, everything has to be packed away again.

What are the best parts?

Variety, not doing a nine to five job and having days off during the week.

Do you have different interests outside work?

If I had followed a different career path I would have liked it to be music. Two years ago I started learning the piano. I also enjoy ice skating and reading.

 What advice would you give to girls still at school who want to do something different?

If you want to do something don’t let others put you off.

Visit Hillcrest Street Production’s Facebook Page here.

https://www.facebook.com/Hillcreststreetproductions

Friday Flash Fiction – 525 – Linda

John was already up. I hadn’t heard the alarm. He was keen to get an early start, breakfast on the way. I started down the stairs, determined to at least have a cup of tea before I got dressed. I stopped halfway down, John was talking to a stranger, a man in a black polo shirt with a scarlet logo AID, he looked like a plumber or an electrician, maybe he had got the wrong house. But they were talking intently, John hadn’t noticed me. Irritated I listened to what they were saying. The other man was doing all the talking.

‘We usually advise counselling Mr. Anderson, a week at our clinic to adjust.’

Something was wrong, why hadn’t John told me? The man continued speaking.

‘…but with your daughter’s wedding tomorrow, there isn’t time. Nobody will ever guess, her big day will not be spoiled.’

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Of course her big day would not be spoiled, what was this stranger talking about? Over a year in the planning, we all knew what we were doing, John had his speech off pat.

‘John, what’s the matter?’ I called out.

He didn’t hear me, I felt frozen to the spot, nerves perhaps, I hadn’t felt well last night.

At last John was speaking, but not to me.

‘What will happen… upstairs?’

‘All taken care of,’ said the man in black ‘we’ll lock up after. It’s time you set off, are you ready to meet her?’

The living room door opened and John gasped. ‘Linda?’

‘Who were you expecting, come on, are you ready to go, are we all locked up?’

I clung dizzily to the banister; the woman my husband was talking to was me, Linda Anderson, his wife of twenty eight years.

‘Are you feeling better, you said you felt ill last night.’

‘Fine, never better, I feel like a new woman.’

She put her hand on his chest, I felt the warmth through his shirt in my finger tips.

Tentatively John put his arms loosely round her waist, then smiled, tightening his grasp. I felt his strong familiar hands in the small of my back. I turned to look behind me at the empty stairs, I was obviously dreaming. I mounted the few stairs to the open bedroom door.

I halted in confusion. Two strange men were in our bedroom, two men in black polo shirts, bending over something on the bed. Angrily I stepped towards them, they did not turn their heads. I screamed, but no sound came out.

On the bed, motionless, was a body, a naked body, my body. The men were pulling off wires, electrodes. Next to me was a suit bag, no it was longer, a black vinyl bag. Deftly they inserted their arms under the body and lifted it up. I caught a glimpse of my face, pale, eyes closed, before the zip reached the top of the bag.

Oddly detached for a moment, I read the logos on their shirts AID, then noticed an unfamiliar piece of paper on my dressing table.

AID Emergency Call Out

I skimmed down the page.

Android Intelligence from Donor – Resurrection for the Digital Age

liebster-award

Wonderful Windsor Wedding

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The Japanese tourist gasped as the toddler hurtled towards the castle wall, beyond lay a steep drop down the grassy bank.

Before the Windsor Castle fire of 1992, the public were free to wander round most of the castle grounds. The Royal family still had their private gardens. You could pay to just see Queen Mary’s dolls house, or to go in parts of the castle. The free wander round made a pleasant outing for children or Australian visitors on a sunny day.

I don’t think anyone’s child has ever fallen over the wall, but ‘bad parents’ also had another child wander into the guard room in an unguarded moment, he was quickly ejected.

The town of Windsor in Royal Berkshire is still a great place to visit, a playground for those who live near or work at Heathrow airport. Why did the Queen have her castle built right under the flight path? The streets around the castle are thronged with tourists all year round, though not as crowded as today for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Though we often visit Windsor, we weren’t there today. I don’t like crowds, but I do admire the spirit of the stalwarts who camp out for days for royal events. Like millions of others we stayed at home and had an excellent view on television. Billions around the world?  How do they know how many people are watching in their own homes? My sister in Australia was and my daughter-in-law in the USA was up at 2am ready to switch on.

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You may have thought from news coverage that everybody in the country was avidly interested, but this is not so. In Britain, royalists and republicans are as sharply divided as Remainers and Brexiteers, but we chopped our king’s head off long ago, did not like the alternative and welcomed back the monarchy. Ten European countries still have a king or queen. Through many ups and downs The Windsors are still with us and Queen Elizabeth the Second is the only monarch most of us have lived under, seeing off many prime ministers and far wiser than most of them no doubt. Truly a spiritual head of the country, above politics; whatever anybody else believes I am sure the Queen truly believes in the holy vows she took on her coronation. She is head of the Church of England, it is our state religion and a Christian wedding is what took place today. Most of us don’t bother to go to church, but we do expect the church to be there in all its glory for special occasions.

The happy atmosphere and the vast crowds showed plenty of people still love monarchy and tradition. Humans love colour, pageantry, romance and drama. We enjoyed all of that today with sunny weather making it perfect.

I know nothing about Meghan or her acting career, but she seems a graceful and warm person who has slipped easily into her fairy tale princess role.

The wedding went perfectly; nine o’clock seemed early for full coverage to start, but guests were arriving and there were outfits to admire and the guessing game of who was who. People from all walks of life, no politicians, just the occasional prince from afar such as Prince Seeiso of Lesotho.

The bride had ten delightful little bridesmaids and page boys. Inside the church there was beautiful music. Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal church livened up the Cof E with his rousing sermon on love.

The sun was still shining as the bride and groom emerged from Saint George’s chapel and it was time for the beautiful horses to play their starring role. The Windsor Greys pulled the carriage, the Household Cavalry escorted them on their shiny black steeds, through the streets then back up the Long Walk in Windsor Great Park and the return to the castle for the Queen to host lunch, our part in the wedding was over.

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Friday Flash Fiction – Father’s Speech

 When Ken came to ask… no, tell me he and Julie were going to get married, I was surprised. They have been friends for a long time, but I didn’t know love was in the air. My wife did of course, being a woman; claimed to have seen it coming for a while. Either way, we knew our Julie would be marrying a wonderful man and there is no better base for a marriage than to be best friends as well. And they have been friends for a long time; I can remember Ken as a little nipper standing at the back door, asking if he could come round to play.

Julie was a bit of a tom boy when she was young; if they weren’t building something amazing with Lego, they were out there on their bikes or catching tadpoles. We never knew what she was going to come home with when she went out with Ken.

But Julie grew into a beautiful young woman who wanted Ken to take her to the pictures or the theatre. Now we all know that Ken was sadly widowed last year and Julie helped nurse Babs in the last months. She would not have wanted Ken to stay on his own and Julie was always there for him; the same as Ken was always there for Julie when she had all her troubles.

So we wish two wonderful people all happiness for the future; Julie my only daughter and Ken, my best friend since our days at Green Lane Infants School. He’s been a wonderful god father to Julie and I know he will be a marvellous husband.

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