My Stories: The Boy with the Sword

There once was a boy who loved swords.He wasn’t old enough for a metal sword wooden ones were more than adequate. They would be swung around his head. He’d spin and thrust. He’d leap forward, twist and swing the sword. His wrist would twist and push the sword forward. He’d jump and reach upwards. He’d land and position.

Combing moves up and down the lawn he would dance. This way and that, backwards, forwards and sideways

In a world of his own he was entranced by the motion and the movement.

There was a gardener who would watch as he choreographed his moves, smiling at the pleasure dance.

The gardener had been trying to grow a particular flower, a tall slender flower with a multi-floral bloom at the top, an Agapanthus known romantically as the African Lily. The gardener had seen others grow these floral delights but had only managed to grow leaves until this particular year. This year one of the plants decided that it liked it’s location enough to burst into bloom. Upwards it pushed it’s long stem and moved it’s buds into position. The gardener watched as the buds steadily filled out ready to blossom.

Then one day, as you’ve probably already guessed, the boy with the sword walked up to the gardener and handed him the decapitated stem and buds. They were close to bursting, but they wouldn’t get the opportunity, this was not to be their year.

The gardener looked at the stem and looked at the boy and thought about all of the enjoyment that the boy had gained from his dancing and considered it a small price to pay. He looked at the boy and he laughed. African Lily would have to wait for another year.

Many years would pass and the boy would no longer dance around the lawn with his sword. The gardener would, eventually, grow another tall slender stem and watch the buds move into position. Maybe, just maybe he’ll watch them bloom but even if they don’t he’ll think about that boy with his sword and laugh.

My Stories: Driftwood Toast

In a previous story I told you about an experience with large waves at Hornsea. I also told you, in another story, about my Dad’s less than stereotypical approach to cars. This story brings those two threads together again.

When I was younger we lived in a house that still had an open fire. This type of fire were, at that time, being replaced with gas stoves across the UK. There’s something magical about a proper fire though. There are environmental concerns also, but there’s something primal about our connection with fire.

In this particular house the open fire wasn’t the main form of heating we had, as I remember, central heating. This left the open fire for special occasions and when it was very cold. The only thing I remember being burnt on the fire were logs. The logs were stored outside in a semi-neat pile at the back of the concrete garage. The logs got to the pile in one of two ways; they were extracted from people’s gardens (with their permission of course, another story for another day) or they were picked up as driftwood on the beach. I don’t know whether he did but I can’t imagine my Dad ever buying logs.

Collecting driftwood was something we would do on winter weekends. Summer weekends were spent at the allotment, but once the weather had changed it was time to walk the beaches and bring back whatever we found. This was mostly an opportunistic activity, we weren’t at the beach to fill a quota of wood, we were going to see what we could see.

On these adventures the car always had a trusty bow-saw deposited in the boot and we would go combing.

In the particular area of the east coast of England where I was raised there are miles and miles of beaches, the North sea is also a significant shipping route and the two together made for lots of discoveries. There were five of us on these excursions and we could carry pretty much anything we found. I have in my mind carrying a large log on our shoulders, my Dad, my brother and me. In my imagination this piece of wood is a broad tree-trunk and over 2 metres long. As I think about it now, I’m not sure how that worked because we would have been radically different heights, so perhaps that’s not quite how it was.

Having recovered our spoils we would stand at the back of the car sawing up pieces of wood so that they would fit in the boot. These eccentricities always gained us a certain amount of attention from others on the beach, some of it admiring, some more scornful.

Once back at home the bounty would be cut up into fire sized logs and placed onto the log-pile to dry.

Once the days work had been completed, but only on certain occasions, one of my parents (my Dad mostly I think) would lay the fire and we’d all sit around and watch it burn. We knew which of the logs were driftwood because they would burn in different colours, magical greens and blues, because of the sea-salt in them. Sometimes the fire would struggle to get going and my Dad would place a piece of newspaper over the fireplace, covering the fire, to get the draw going. He’d do this with his forehead on the newspaper against the top of the fireplace and his arms outstretched to the sides to spread the newspaper out. My Mum never seemed happy about this course of actions. I remember being fascinated by the way the flames would start to grow and and eventually roar as the air swept passed them up the chimney.

Normally the time would come for toast, or crumpets, which we would toast over the firewood with a long brass toasting fork. We would argue about who’s turn it was to go first because we were so eager for that unique flavour of wood-fire toasted bread, melted butter and home-made jam.

I still love to sit and watch an open fire.

For those of you who can’t imagine me as a small person I thought I would include a picture that I recently came across. I’m the one with the arms crossed (not looking at my sister):

Chastney Family

Top posts for 2015 – Blessings and My Stories

There hasn’t been much new content on this site this year, there are many reasons for that, but I have to admit that the primary one is that I just didn’t get around to it.

For Blessings posts the top 10 have looked like this:

  1. Count Your Blessings #120 – Short Stories
  2. Blessings #183 – Counting the thing I have that money can’t buy
  3. Blessing #203 – High-Mileage Songs
  4. Blessing #205 – A Bit of Nonsense
  5. Count Your Blessings #64 – Stories, Fables and Parables
  6. Blessings #176 – Hovis Digestives
  7. Blessings #198 – Personal Proverbs
  8. Blessings #196 – A Full Notebook
  9. Blessing #204 – Clearing Out
  10. Blessings #202 – Home

It’s worth noting that the top 2 are by far the most popular posts.

For My Stories there’s only a top 8, because I’ve only written 9 of them:

  1. My Stories: Concussion
  2. My Stories: Mr Smith
  3. My Stories: Two Allotments
  4. My Stories: Hornsea Waves
  5. My Stories: £9 or £10
  6. My Stories: Jet Planes, Helicopters and Army Vehicles
  7. My Stories: “Y’alright Wack”
  8. My Stories: Sitting in the Corner

I have a list of ideas for the My Stories posts in my to-do list, I just need to get the words typed, so hopefully some more to follow in 2016.

My Stories: Concussion

All memories are manipulated by the passage of time, I’m aware that for this one I’m particularly conscious of that.

The other evening I was talking to my parents about an event that happened when I was a teenager. In those days I played rugby at least once a weekend, but more often twice. This involved playing for both a local rugby club and for my secondary school. My Dad’s recollection is that in this particular game I was playing for the school team, against the school teachers, that’s not something I remember so I’m not sure whether this is true or not. The game was certainly being played on one of the pitches at school.

At some point during the game I received a boot to the chin. My recollection is that this was received whilst trying to dive in front of  a ball that a member of the opposition was kicking further up the field.  Clearly I mistimed my dive and got a bit too close.

The rest of the game is a mystery as is the journey home.

The next thing I have is a dim memory of falling down the stairs – while I was trying to go to the toilet. This isn’t as odd as it sounds, at my parent’s house the door to the toilet is next to the top of the stairs, but it does mean that I missed the toilet door by at least a metre.

My next dim memory is of my mum talking to me in the car (on the way to the hospital). Apparently, I was steadily drifting off and the only voice that I would respond to was my Mum’s.

Time continued it’s merry journey, but my participation in it was limited. I have a memory of lying on a bed with people trying to get me to do things, but that’s about all. My Mum’s memory is of walking into the Casualty unit at the hospital and being waved through by the receptionist; I clearly looked unwell.

The following morning I awoke and looked around to find myself in a hospital ward. The bed opposite was occupied by a man who had a shaved head and stitches that started just above one of his eyes and reached all the way over his head beyond where I could see. He smiled at me and said “morning!” The man in the bed to the right had a similar cut but this time from ear to ear. My first response was to run my hands over my head to see where the damage was. Eventually I found a graze on my chin which was developing a nice bruise beneath it; it was a relief.

Later on that morning there was a ward round. The person leading the round (a Consultant I assume) was not impressed. In my notes there were a lot of x-rays of my head, the Consultant looked through each one slowly.

“Why did we take so many x-rays?” he asked.

“Because he wouldn’t stay still.” was the answer from one of the juniors.

“Wasn’t it obvious what was wrong with him?” the Consultant responded.

There was no response to this question.

“This young man has a mark on his chin and he’s been playing rugby. Surely concussion is the obvious diagnosis!”

That was all that was said, no one spoke to me, I was just the patient. What needed to be said had been said and it was time to move on. Later on that day it was my time to move on.

My Stories: “Y’alright Wack”

Parking between the caravans resident in the “orchard”.

Walking along the straight narrow path, past the ample, two extended, workshop.

Seeing that the usually open door was closed progressing into the garden.

Looking across the garden to see how busy the top of Latrigg was and noticing that the bench was empty.

Saying hello to the search and rescue dogs noisily doing their job next door.

Climbing the few steps into the kitchen saying hello to Pauline stood their like a sentry on duty.

Turning the corner into the lounge.

There Doug would often be in his chair, reading with the aid of a standard desk lamp.

The greeting was simple, yet meaningful all the same “Y’alright Wack”.

I hadn’t always been Wack, the first time we met, and for some time after that, he called me Mark. Sue, now my wife, then my girlfriend, found this very embarrassing. Mark was a friend of her’s who would visit the house from time to time. I wasn’t embarrassed, it just made me smile.

I would sometimes get my real name, but more normally I was simply Wack and happy to be pal, mate, friend. As a stranger from the other side of Pennines it was nice to be welcomed in.

Many a time I wouldn’t get any further than the front of the workshop where he’d be reassembling some newly restored part of an Ariel, BSA, Norton, Royal Enfield and such like. Two wheeled marvels of chrome and gleaming paint on their way back to full health and occasional trips on the open road.

At other times he would be resident inside the workshop surrounded by tools, machines and various components. There was skill to the way he worked, but he wasn’t the tidiest of craftsmen, I liked that, because I’m not the tidiest either.

The workshop is cold now.

Most of the machinery has gone and so have the components.

I think I’ll carry on being Wack though.

My Stories: £9 or £10

Stereotypical men are supposed to love a fancy car, preferably a sports car with a loud engine. In this regard my dad is certainly not stereotypical.

Car’s have never been high on my dad’s priority list, they tended to be bought already aged and run from purchase to grave. A vehicle is purely a utility for carrying people and things. Even during the weekly commute the car’s boot would be adorned with a standard set of allotment gardening equipment including a spade, a fork, a watering can and a selection of dirty carrier bags ready for retrieved produce.

One car was an aged Ford Anglia Estate. I can’t remember how old it was, but they ceased production before I was born. I can’t even remember how old I would be when we had it, but suspect that I was somewhere between 8 and 12. I do remember that it was a deep red, burgundy even. At it’s youngest it would have been 10 years old.

Modern vehicles have all sorts of safety features the Ford Anglia didn’t even have seat-belts in the back. The wearing of seat-belts in the front of vehicles only became a legal requirement in the UK in 1983; it wasn’t until 1989 that it was a mandatory requirement for children in the rear of vehicles, the Ford Anglia went to it’s grave long before that. The three of us would sit in the back, we’d even add in a few friends if the need arose. There wasn’t the same sensitivity about the potential danger of accidents.

One day the time came for the Ford Anglia to go to its grave. I’m not sure what the terminal calamity that precipitated its demise was but I suspect that it was related to the expense of getting it through an annual MOT.

The chosen graveyard for our burgundy family bus was a breakers yard which, I think, was in a small village outside Beverley called Weel which also happened to be the location of the local tip.  My memory is of being sat in the car as my dad conducted the business with the breaker. Another memory is that the car was sat on a newly tarmacked road, it’s interesting what your brain stores away even if it’s not accurate. The windows must have been wound down because we could hear the negotiations as they unfolded.

The breakers initial offer was “£9”, for some reason my dad had a glint in his eye and wasn’t going to settle for that, he countered with “£10”. In modern money terms this is roughly the difference between £45 and £50. Backwards and forwards went the offer and counter offer but neither of them were shifting there was still £1 between them. Eventually my dad suggested that they toss a coin for it a truly British way of resolving a conflict.

The look of delight on my dad’s face when he won was priceless – £10 it was.

I don’t remember how we got home, but suspect that a neighbour picked us up because it’s a 3 mile walk from our house, but it wasn’t unheard of us to walk that kind of distance either. It couldn’t have been my mum who picked us up because she didn’t drive until we were older and they weren’t a two car family until after I left home.

I can’t be absolutely sure of all of the pieces of this story, the only bit that I’m reasonably confident about is that the bartering was between £9 and £10.