The Russian Connection

Most of you who regularly read my blog will have noticed that one thing I tend not to write about, is politics. I have a simple reason for this, and that is that I have long since found that the best way to start an argument with someone, is to embark on a discussion about politics. Therefore, I tend to keep politics at a distance … a couple of miles, say.

That being said, I find that these days, I cannot avoid politics. It’s everywhere! Whether it’s the upcoming General Election farce in the UK or the Trump debacle in the US, I cannot turn on my TV without being bombarded with political messages and imagery.

Admittedly, however, I have found myself being somewhat transfixed with the whole Trump-Russia connection, a story which seems to be nothing if not self-propagating. Day after day, even hour upon hour, like some politicised Frankenstein’s monster, the issue surrounding whether the President of the United States colluded with the Russian government in order to get himself elected, as well as the connections amongst his staff, gets bigger and stronger. I am not a US citizen, and so I am watching all this unfold from a distance, flicking between such media outlets as CNN, Sky News, BBC, ABC, the Flemish press, Dutch press, to name but a few.

Now, I am certainly not a politics expert, and so it’s difficult for me to say whether there are any ties between the US and Russian governments. I mean, apart from the Michael Flynn thing … and the Paul Manafort thing … and the Tillerson thing … and the Sessions thing … and the Kushner thing … and the Carter Page thing … and the Roger Stone thing … and the Felix Sater thing … and the Boris Ephsteyn thing … and the Rosneft thing … and the Gazprom thing … and the Sergey Gorkov banker thing … and the Azerbaijan thing … and the “I love Putin” thing … and the Donald Trump, Jr. thing … and the Sergey Kislyak thing … and the Russian Affiliated Interests thing … and the Russian Business Interests thing … and the Emoluments Clause thing … and the Alex Schnaider thing … and the hack of the DNC thing … and the Guccifer 2.0 thing … and the Mike Pence “I don’t know anything” thing … and the Russians mysteriously dying thing … and Trump’s public request to Russia to hack Hillary’s email thing … and the Trump house sale for $100 million at the bottom of the housing bust to the Russian fertilizer king thing … and the Russian fertilizer king’s plane showing up in Concord, NC during Trump rally campaign thing … and the Nunes sudden flight to the White House in the night thing … and the Nunes personal investments in the Russian winery thing … and the Cyprus bank thing … and Trump not releasing his tax returns thing … and the Republican Party’s rejection of an amendment to require Trump to show his taxes thing … and the election hacking thing … and the GOP platform change to the Ukraine thing … and the Steele Dossier thing … and the Leninist Bannon thing … and the Sally Yates can’t testify thing … and the intelligence community’s investigative reports thing … and the Trump reassurance that the Russian connection is all “fake news” thing
and the Spicer’s Russian Dressing “nothing’s wrong” thing … and the Chaffetz not willing to start an investigation thing … and the Chaffetz suddenly deciding to go back to private life in the middle of an investigation thing … and the The Lead DOJ Investigator Mary McCord SUDDENLY in the middle of the investigation deciding to resign thing … and the appointment of Pam Bondi who was bribed by Trump in the Trump university scandal appointed to head the investigation thing … and the The White House going into full-on cover-up mode, refusing to turn over the documents related to the hiring and subsequent firing of Flynn thing … and the Chaffetz and White House blaming the poor vetting of Flynn on Obama thing … and the Poland and British intelligence gave information regarding the hacking back in 2015 to Paul Ryan and he didn’t do anything thing … and the Agent M16 following the money thing … and the Trump team KNOWING about Flynn’s involvement but hired him anyway thing … and The Corey Lewendowski thing … and the Preet Bharara firing thing but before he left he transferred evidence against Trump to a state level Schneiderman thing … and the Betsy Devos’ Brother thing … and the Sebastian Gorka thing … and the Greg Gianforte from Montana thing … and the Pence actually was warned about Flynn before he was hired thing … and the Pence and Manafort connection thing … and the 7 Allies coming forward with audio of Trump’s associates in an incidental wire tapping thing … and the Carter Page defying the Senate’s order to hand over his Russian contact list … and the Trump wants to VETO Sally Yates’ testimony thing … and the Trump trying to discredit Yates thing … and the Obama told Trump personally about Flynn thing … and the COMEY thing … and the meeting with Russian foreign minister upon the order of Putin thing … and the sharing of highly classified top secret information to Russian Foreign minister thing … and the invitation and hosting of Turkey’s dictator thing … I can’t see that there’s anything in it.

Or am I missing something?

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Sweet Child Of Mine: A Short Tale Of Horror

Just as I did every night, I climbed the stairs of my home and made my way across the landing to my little girl’s room. It was 8 o’clock, and I hadn’t tucked her in yet, or read her a bedtime story. I entered the room to find her hidden under the duvet, and, by the tremulous way it moved, I could see she was shaking.

“Sweetheart, whatever is the matter?” I asked.

She slowly pulled the duvet from over her head to expose her tear-stained face.

“There’s someone under my bed” she said, her voice barely a whisper.

I smiled and stroked her hair.

“Don’t be silly, sweetie. There’s no one under your bed. Look, I’ll prove it.”

Kneeling down on the floor, I looked under the bed. There, looking straight back at me was my sweet little girl, eyes wide, tears running silently down her cheeks. With a trembling finger, she pointed upwards.

“Mummy,” she whispered, “there’s someone in my bed.”

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Kindness Is Magic

 

Image may contain: people sitting, table and indoor

Recently, I saw this art installation in a local second-hand shop here in the village. Admittedly, at first I thought “What on earth is that?”, yet the more I looked, the more intrigued I became. When I read the description of the piece, however, and what the artist was trying to depict, I looked at it with different eyes. I now saw it as one of the saddest things I have ever seen. The card read: “Closing Time” This piece represents the figure you often see in a bar, the one with their head on the table. They’ve been there so long they’ve become invisible and the barman has closed the bar around them. They are trapped, not in a closed bar, but in a spiderweb of loneliness.

It made me think, think about those times of casual carelessness of which we are all guilty, when we look but don’t see, when we hear but don’t listen. We see someone staring into middle distance and pass them by, even when we see they are still there, in the same position, a little while later. Or the elderly neighbour that you haven’t seen in a couple of days. Should I knock on the door? No. How will that make it better? They’ll only think I’m interfering.

The truth is that some of the most powerful words in the English language are “Are you OK?” Those three little, inconsequential words can, when put together, literally save a life.

Take, for example, the case of 16-year-old Dublin teenage, Jamie Harrington. Two years ago, he was on his way to an American sweet shop in Dublin, when he saw a man sitting on the ledge of a bridge. Jamie said, .” I stopped and asked him if he was okay, but I knew from the look in his eyes he wasn’t, and he didn’t say anything either, but I saw tears coming from his eyes. I pleaded with him for a while to come down and sit on the steps, and eventually he did. We sat on the sidewalk on the south side of the Liffey and talked for about 45 minutes, about what was happening to him, why was he feeling that way… I couldn’t leave him there alone, but I had to go, so I was going to ring an ambulance. I told him they could help him feel better. But he was like “please, please don’t call them, I’m fine, I just want to walk around for a while, I’m gonna be okay!” I told him to please let me ring an ambulance, that I wouldn’t sleep knowing he was just walking around alone. So I rang it, and he was taken to St. James Hospital. I got his number so I would know what was going on with him for a good while… And about three months ago, he texted me that his wife is pregnant, they’re having a boy, and they’re naming him after me. Can you believe that? They’re going to name their child after me… He said in that moment that I approached him, he was just about to jump, and those few words saved his life. That they’re still ringing in his head every day. “Are you okay?” I can’t really understand how these few words could save his life, but he told me, “Imagine if nobody ever asked you those words…” “

Take too, the incident of four policemen in Rome, Italy, who were called because neighbours overheard an elderly couple crying in their apartment. When the policemen arrived, 84-year-old Jole and her 94-year-old husband, Michele, told them that no one had visited them in months and that after watching TV, they were not only lonely, but desperately saddened by the state of the world. Rather than simply leaving, the policemen tried to offer them comfort in the only way they knew how: by cooking them a dinner of spaghetti with parmesan. The policemen, Andrea, Alessandro, Ernesto and Mirko, said “It is not always an easy life. Especially when the city is empty and the neighbours are away on vacation. Sometimes the loneliness melts into tears. Sometimes it’s like a summer storm. It comes suddenly and overtakes one” 

But what if someone is behaving violently, or erratically? What do you do then? Well, if you are an elderly lady on the Vancouver Sky Train, you offer your hand in support. Mr. Taha, a fellow passenger on the train gave an account of what happened. He said, “I saw the most incredible display of humanity on the sky train. A six foot five man suffering from drug abuse and\or mental health issues was being very aggressive on the bus with erratic movements, cursing, shouting, etc. While everyone was scared, this one seventy year old woman reached out her hand, tightly gripping his hand until he calmed down, sat down silently, with eventual tears in his eyes. I spoke to the woman after this incident and she simply said, “I’m a mother and he needed someone to touch.” And she started to cry. Don’t fear or judge the stranger on the bus: life does not provide equal welfare for all its residents” 

With one in four of us likely to experience some form of mental health issue in our lives, wouldn’t we want someone to reach out their hand, cook us a meal, or simply ask us if we are OK? If someone is physically sick, people are on hand to offer support and comfort in order to make them better. Yet, when it comes to be mentally unwell, people shy away, unsure of what to do, or unwilling to get involved. It is at the times when people are at their most vulnerable that they are most in need of kindness.

How we treat the weak, the vulnerable, and seemingly insignificant members of our society is what defines us. I for one would like to be defined by being kind. For as these examples show, kindness is magic.

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The Funniest Story I’ve Ever Heard!

As a writer, I always carry a little notebook around with me, where I can jot down snippets of overheard conversations, or jokes, or any pieces of information that I think might be useful in a story at some point. This following tale, however, was told to me by a friend of a friend one night, after we’d all had a few drinks. It is one of the funniest stories I have ever heard, bar none! I have changed the name of the protagonist and his girlfriend to save their blushes. Other than that though, every word of it is true and as it was told to me. 

“A few years ago, I was dating this girl called Emma. Her parents hated me. Especially her mother. Christ! That woman loathed me with a passion! She even went so far as to say that if she ever caught me with so much as a toe inside her house, she’d happily throttle me where I stood and claim provocation in court!
“Well, in light of what she said, I thought it best if me and Emma started seeing each other on the quiet, and well away from her place. At first Emma said that she didn’t care what her Mum said. I was her boyfriend and if her Mum didn’t like that, well then, she’d just have to grow up and get used to it. I wasn’t having any of it though. I certainly didn’t fancy taking my chances with some psycho-throttling-mother-from-hell. Anyway, I managed to talk some sense into her, and we decided that we’d see each other on the sly, just for a little while, and then if things started to get more serious between us, well, then I’d have to have a chat with her mum…from a safe distance of course…a couple of hundred miles, say.
“Anyway, we’d been seeing each other as much as we could, ducking and diving here and there and generally keeping as far away from her Mum’s meaty-throttlers (I laughed my ass clean off the back of my legs at that phrase!) as we could, when Emma came to me with some news. She said that her parents were going away to Paris that weekend and so seeing as how she’d have the house all to herself, she thought that maybe we could spend the weekend together at her place. She said she’d asked her Mum to let her know when they got to Paris, so she knew they’d got there safely. Then, once she knew they were there, she’d text me and tell me to come over.
“So the day finally dawns, and about around two in the afternoon I got a text from Emma to say that her Mum and Dad were safely in Paris and that I was to come over. Now, she lived about a half hour walk from me, but no word of a lie, I was there in ten minutes. We practically fell on each other as soon as she answered the door and, being the horny beast that I am, we had sex right there in the hall. Well, after the hallway we did it in the kitchen and the bathroom. Emma wanted to do it in the conservatory but I appealed to her mercy to let me recover a little and so we ended up cuddling up on the sofa.
We spent a lovely day together. About 8 in the evening, we sent out for pizza and watched The X Factor. We had a shower together and had sex in the shower, and then when it got to about 11 o’clock, I suggested that it might be best if I went home.
“Why?” she said, “My Mum and Dad are miles away in Paris. I mean, I know my Mum’s got 20/20 vision, but I doubt even she can see that far” I said that I was just nervous that they might come back early or something, but Emma assured me that that wouldn’t happen.
Well, Emma had already told me that I’d have to sleep on a camp bed in her room, because there wasn’t enough space for two in her single bed. I thought about mooting the idea of sleeping in her Mum and Dad’s bed, but since she hadn’t mentioned it, I thought it best not to. I’m guessing it was about two in the morning when we finally went to bed. We had a cuddle on her bed first and then I got onto the camp bed and we both fell asleep. Next morning, I woke up with a massive hard on. I mean, I’m talking full blanket tent pole…”
At this point, I questioned whether I actually needed to hear this bit, but, he assured me it was important, so I let him continue.
“So, I’ve got this hard on,” Danny continued, “and of course, needing to do something about it, I gently woke Emma up. I had no idea that women can be just as horny as us fellas first thing in the morning, and as soon as she saw my bed tent, she was on me like some kind of ravenous vampire. We really went at it. First she was on top and then we switched so I was on top of her. We were really going for it!”
“I’m sensing a but,” I said, “if you’ll pardon the pun”
“There isn’t a but,” said Danny, “There is an “and then” though.
“Go on”
“And then the bed collapsed”
I have to admit, I was expecting a little more than that, and I told him so. However, when he said “the bed collapsed and because I was bracing myself with my hands on the floor, it trapped my hands underneath it. I couldn’t bloody move!” I damned near choked on my drink!
“Oh my god!” I gasped, practically choking.
“So, there I am, on top of Emma, both of us stark-bollock naked and me with my hands trapped underneath the camp bed. With both our weights on it, there was no way I could get myself free. Emma was telling me to lift up and I was telling her that if I could lift up, I would have done so by now. Honestly, as time went on I started having visions of the police searching the house and finding just our skeletons, still trapped in the same position”
“So what happened?” I asked. “I mean, how did you get free?”
“Her Mum and Dad came home”
“You’re kidding?”
“I wish to god I was! I’d just asked Emma if there was any way she could slide out from under me when we heard the front door open and then heard her Mum and Dad. “Only us, love” her Mum shouted. “I know we’re home early but we basically got there and came straight back. Paris isn’t as romantic as everyone makes out. It’s really a…”
“Shithole” her Dad said.
“Language, Arthur!” said her Mum.
Both our hearts are going ten to the dozen and I’m pinning all my hopes on Emma being able to wriggle out from underneath me, lift up the bed just enough for me to get my hands out, and then I can quickly hide in the wardrobe and she can jump into bed and pretend to be asleep. As it turned out we didn’t have time for any of that. Her Mum came up the stairs, poked her head around the door, saw my hairy arse pointing straight at her and screamed. Her Dad must have thought there was a burglar or something, because he came bursting in with a hammer in his hand and I’m convinced he’d have done me a mischief if Emma hadn’t poked her head out from under me and said “Hiya. You’ve…er… met Danny haven’t you?”
By this point, all hope was lost for me and I found myself as a teary, giggling mess on the floor. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t stop laughing; in fact, the harder I tried, the funnier it got. Eventually, I somehow must have managed to stammer something along the lines of “Then what happened?” because Danny said “Well, her Dad managed to lift the bed a bit so I could get my hands out and I stood up, making sure to cover my essentials with my hands of course. Mind you, I didn’t really help myself there because ended up moving my hands away to offer a hello to her Mum. I’m telling you, the look on that woman’s face was enough to strike the fear of god into anyone. I swear, if I’d been alone with her I’d be a eunuch”

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Stumbling Across A Blog

One of the things I love about blogging is not so much the notion of putting my own thoughts, feelings, fears and ideas out there into the ether, where, it is hoped, they will be loved and accepted by all who come across them, but rather the fact that, at any moment, I could stumble across a blog which really captures my imagination. Recently, I had just such an experience, when I happened upon the travel blog of Rona Lee Cunliffe.

Entitled Travels With Rona, the blog documents Rona’s travels, which so far seem to be confined to Italy, although she does say that she has visited many different countries. What I like about her blog though, is not so much the places she has visited (although they are all quite beautiful), but the writing. Most travel writing I have read is rather perfunctory, to the point. Rona writes as a writer, and as a writer myself, I find that enthralling. There is not only freedom and fluency in her work, but also control, a sense of knowing what to put in, and more importantly, what to leave out. Hyperbole is a stranger here.

I won’t waffle on any more though. I hate it when people critique my work, whether it be good or bad (I suppose I’m in the wrong profession then, eh?), and so I shall do a fellow writer the courtesy of not critiquing their work. Nevertheless, if you have a little time, I can highly recommend “Travels With Rona”, if only for a little escapism. And on a dreary, rainy Belgian Tuesday, I need a heavy dose of that!

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A Garden For Bella & Tommy: A Short Story of Enduring Love

The snow had fallen heavily overnight, and the residents of the garden – the tiny nightingale with its enchanting song, the speckled song thrush, the scarlet-breasted robin, the bushy-tailed red squirrel, fleet of foot and fur of flame, the little hedgehog and the great spotted woodpecker – all woke to find their home swathed in winter’s white veil. The grass, once green, was covered by a thick blanket of unspoiled snow that glistened in the sun as she spread her warm fingers of light over the frozen land. The ivy, dark green and bejewelled with frost, sparkled too; stunningly beautiful, like ivory on jade. A fir tree, wreathed and garlanded with winter’s stole, offered shelter amongst its emerald fronds, whilst the old-fashioned wishing well which stood beneath had frozen solid, entombing the hopes and dreams cast therein, until the Spring thaw would set them free.

At the far end of the garden, the oak and beech tree, their naked, rime encrusted limbs outstretched to greet the dawn, stood beside a small brook which once babbled merrily, but whose voice was now muted by a thick layer of ice.

Bella was 8-years-old when she first stumbled across the garden. She had accidentally lost her grip on her mother’s hand, and since her mother neither noticed nor cared that her little girl was no longer by her side she had wandered, lost and alone through the city where she lived until she happened across a large, heavy, wrought iron gate. The gate was securely fastened with a thick chain and a lock as big as Bella’s hand, but the bars were just wide enough to allow Bella to squeeze through. Beyond the gate was a gravel pathway. Bella delighted in the way the gravel crunched beneath her feet as she walked. At first the pathway ran straight ahead, but soon turned sharp right, where it gave onto a small courtyard with another locked gate. This second gate was too narrow for Bella to squeeze through, but, undaunted and possessed with the energetic zeal of youthful adventure, she saw that she could easily scale the bars and drop down onto the other side. This she did effortlessly, and after rounding a large privet hedge, Bella found herself in the garden.

“Nothing cures the senses but the senses” wrote Oscar Wilde. For Bella, now aged 80, this was certainly true. She still came to the garden, her “little piece of heaven” as she liked to call it, to escape the humdrum banality of her life, but primarily to fill the void of lonliness which, like a swirling black hole, sat at the centre of her being, threatening to pull her in entirely.

Today, a glorious day in the height of summer, as Bella stepped barefoot onto the crisp, cool grass, every last vestige of negative emotion was banished absolutely. The hedgerows were ablaze with violet blooms, their petals still wet with morning dew, shimmering brilliantly in the bright summer sun. The grass too had erupted in a riot of colour, as pink tulips, blood-red poppies and purple and yellow pansies strained their heads upwards towards the clear blue sky. The oak and beech tree, the boughs adorned with glossy, bright green leaves, played host to a veritable array of birds who sang and called as if in greeting to their faithful friend. The fir, too, was busy with energy and life. The fleet-footed red squirrel, no doubt a descendent of that which she had seen on her very first visit, and with a family of its own, shimmied down the trunk and scurried across the garden, stopping here and there to snaffle a few tasty acorns discarded by the oak. High up, amongst the boughs of the beech tree, the great-spotted woodpecker poked its head out of the home it had hammered out for itself earlier in the spring.

Gingerly, Bella eased herself down onto the cool grass. She wasn’t entirely sure how she would get up again, but she would think about that when it was time to go. As she sat there amongst the flowers, she thought about all that had happened in the years since she first found her idyll. The world had seen two wars, with millions lost. Friends and family had come and gone; some had simply lost touch; others had passed away. Meanwhile technology had moved apace, bringing gadgets and gizmos to the masses, making the world smarter, and yet somehow colder.

She thought too about Tommy, the love of her life, the only man she had ever loved. They had met at the cinema in January 1914. She was 18; he 21. Bella had arrived at the cinema with a different date, a local boy about whom her mother always said was “a wrong un” and that “his eyes are too close together.” As it happened, her mother was right, for as they entered the cinema, he suggestively suggested that they sit in the back row. Bella had smiled and said that this was only their first date, and besides, she wasn’t that kind of girl. He shrugged and said OK, but then half way through the film he said that he had to go to the toilet and that was the last time she saw him. When the film had finished she walked out to the foyer alone, dejected, rejected, but determined not to be upset. Her determination was never that strong though, and the tears began to fall. That’s when she met Tommy. He was there with friends, but seeing her distressed, had offered to walk her home.

Love blossomed during the walk, and from that moment, until the war came, they were inseparable. She brought Tommy to the garden, and was thrilled that he was as enraptured by its serenity, tranquility and beauty as she. They would sit together on the grass, just holding hands and talking like they had known each other all their lives, or simply listening to the sounds of nature all around them. It was here in the garden that he had told her he loved her, and, with a freshly picked poppy in hand, had got down on one knee and asked her to marry him.

With war looming on the horizon, Bella and Tommy married post haste. After the ceremony they took the train to Brighton for their honeymoon. That was the last time she had ever been truly happy; the last time she had ever felt complete.

Tommy, like the thousands of others who believed that they “would be home by Christmas” enlisted in the army and was immediately posted to Belgium. He died two months later, in the mud at Ypres, leaving a world at war, and Bella alone.

That day, when the postman arrived with the telegram, Bella had run to the garden. She remembered how the birds seemed to fall silent, as though they could sense her grief. Strangely, they were silent again now. Aware of someone standing close beside her, Bella looked up. Tommy’s handsome face gazed down at her. He was smiling, not a day older than when they parted all those years ago at the train station.

“Tommy?” she whispered.

“I’ve come to walk you home,” he smiled “Just like when we met”

He reached down and handed her a poppy, and then sat down beside her, like he had done on that wonderful day when she first shared the garden with him. As they sat on the cool grass face to face, she closed her eyes to blink away the tears of joy.

Two days later, on page five of the local newspaper, was the headline:

ELDERLY WOMAN FOUND DEAD IN SECLUDED GARDEN

CLUTCHING A POPPY: A TRAGIC, LONELY DEATH

If only they knew.

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Think Before You Unzip

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Still from the 2004 movie, Alfie.

As I mentioned in my post Life In The Front Rowone of the major changes that recently took place in both mine and my husband’s life, was that our best friend and former Casanova-cum-Lothario, was flying to Las Vegas to get married.

I for one, never thought he would go through with it. Having known him for over twenty years, I have seen him go from one relationship to another, and even have seven different girlfriends on the go at the same time! Now, don’t get me wrong. He is a lovely guy and the best friend anyone could ever wish to have in their lives, and other than an inability to be honest that he wasn’t ready to choose one particular woman to settle down with, he never mistreated the women he was with. On the contrary; he wined and dined them, courted and cavorted with them. They loved him. Couldn’t get enough of him.

Since he met his wife, however, he seems to have been a changed man. All the sleeping around, all the courting and cavorting, even all the wining and dining, has been well and truly put to rest. Even so, just before he left for Vegas, I told him two things. “I wish you all the happiness in the world” I said, and then added, “For god’s sake, don’t f*ck it up” He shook his head and smiled, and promised he wouldn’t.

The day after his wedding, I caught up with him on FaceTime. He was positively glowing, and after a five-minute verbal onslaught over how he was torn between wearing a blue jacket or a gray one, he said that they were currently in a suite at the Bellagio. It was, he said, a wedding gift from his new wife’s best friend, Andrea (not her real name). “I tell you what though,” he said, his voice dropping conspiratorially, “Andrea is so cute” It was, for me, a real head-in-hands moment. “What?” he said, as if he were as innocent as virgin snow, “I’m only saying”

I thought a moment, and then remembered a line I had heard several years ago, in the movie remake of “Alfie” with Jude Law. And so I said, “I can’t tell you what to do or how to behave, but whatever you do … think before you unzip.”

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Pretoria Pit

The Pretoria Pit disaster took place on December 21, 1910, in Westhoughton, Lancashire, a town just a stone’s throw from where I grew up. The pit employed 2,500 men and boys, all of them local, and many from the same families. On the day of the disaster, 900 men and boys clocked on for the early shift, while the rest of the community finished their Christmas preparations. Many of the miners had, in the past, complained of about gas and hot air in the mine. 

Unbeknownst to the miners that morning, the previous day saw a 20-yard (18 meter) section of the roof had collapsed further down the mine. It should have been cleared before the miners clocked on that morning, but it had not been. This caused a build-up of flammable gas within the now enclosed space. At 7:50 a.m a faulty safety lamp ignited the gas, resulting in a huge explosion and causing a wall of hot coal dust, carbon monoxide and methane gas to fill the mine. Of the 900 men and boys who clocked on for work that morning, 348 of them died. 

This poem was inspired by the story of Ben Byers, whose brother, Fountain Byers, was one of the 348 who died. Fountain was brought out alive, but died a short time later of his injuries. Fountain was buried on Christmas Day, 1910. The worst affected family, however, was that of Mrs. Miriam Tyldesley. She lost her husband, four sons and two brothers. 

I can see it as clearly as I saw it then

That hideous black day in 1910,

When the fates saw fit for our souls to plunder

And tear hundreds of families completely asunder.

I was 14-years-old and worked in the mill

When the news jolted in, and the world stood still.

I strained my ears and hoped I’d misheard

That a terrible tragedy had occurred,

Further down yonder at the Pretoria Pit,

And I was told I could leave if I saw fit.

I had three brothers that worked down that mine

Mum always worried, but they said they’d be fine.

The pit gives a living, and the pit destroys,

And takes the best of our men and boys.

A friend of mine’s dad worked down there too,

We grabbed our coats and then we two

Ran like the wind through the drizzling rain,

Trying hard our composures’ to maintain.

We hoped against hope that all would be well,

And troubling thoughts we fought to dispel.

Rounding the corner we came on the scene.

The air was thick and the smell was keen.

Women with eyes filled with fear and hurt;

Children sobbing and clinging to their mothers’ skirt.

The menfolk were stoic, but you could tell they knew,

That there was very little anyone could do,

Save some semblance of hope to try and derive

That at least one or two would be brought out alive.

And so we waited, in the drizzling rain,

Wondering if we’d see our loved ones again.

By four o’clock it was almost dark.

I was cold and wet, and so I walked through the park,

Back towards home to my Mum and Dad,

To see if any news they’d had.

As I stepped through the door I heard sobbing cries,

And my Dad came to greet me with dread in his eyes.

There, by the fire, my brother George sits;

Poisoned gas had shot his lungs to bits.

A cry from the parlour, so loud the devil awoke.

My brother, Fountain, just died … and Mum’s heart just broke.

My third brother was one of those to survive.

He was still at the pit, bringing out the dead and alive.

I once told my Dad, “You know, our George proclaims

That one day that pit’s going to go up in flames.”

They laid my brother to rest on Christmas Day.

What a heavy price for coal we pay!

His wife, now a widow, and his newborn child,

Never knowing her father, so gentle and mild.

When my brother to Saint Peter his name does tell,

He’ll be told “Come on in and rest, lad. You’ve seen enough of hell.”

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Cereal Killer

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A silly little verse to indulge my love of wordplay. 

He was sitting, eating his breakfast,

When amidst a clap of thunder,

He was drowned in his bowl of muesli

A strong currant pulled him under.

His wife, who was upstairs packing

For a weekend getting her kicks,

Was discovered dead on the bedroom floor,

Throttled by a Weetabix.

A few days passed without incident,

When an icecream van from Manfredi’s

Had to swerve to avoid a woman in the road,

Who’d been stabbed to death by some Shreddies.

The police investigation

Eventually came to naught,

And all the deaths were deemed freak events,

Or at least, that’s what people thought.

Then the detectives received a letter

From a criminal mastermind,

He boasted that he was the brains behind all the deaths

And that him they’d never find.

“I’m climbing the heights of infamy” he said

“I’m the Moriarty of my day!”

He ended his letter with “You’ll hear from me soon!”

And he signed it, “Special K”.

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Surprise! It’s A Grass Spider!

A couple of mornings ago, as is my habit, I wandered outside to check the postbox. As I did so, I noticed dozens of small silken webs, each one bejewelled with dew, all over the lawn. I was immediately intrigued, more so given the fact that I had never noticed anything such as that on my lawn before, even in all the years I have lived here. I felt compelled to take a photo, if only to record the stunningly delicate beauty of the dewdrops, glistening on the silken threads in the spring sunshine.

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At the time, I had no idea what had made these webs, nor indeed why they were so numerous – there were at least two dozen of them. My best guess was some kind of caterpillar or moth, such as the Ermine Moth, which spins ghostly silken webs in and along hedgerows in late spring and early summer. Imagine my surprise then when I discovered that it was in fact a Grass Spider that had bedecked my lawn with its handiwork!

Now, whilst I would never do them any harm (to me, all life is precious), I would be lying if I said that spiders were one of my favourite creatures. So to know that there is such a creature as a grass spider, well, I don’t mind admitting that I shan’t be walking barefoot on the grass this summer!

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