Quantum Leap

Pollution of one sort or another seems to make the news every day. Only this morning I heard that plastic can now be found at the North Pole, endangering the lives of the animals that live there.   Some years ago, polluted rivers in this country were of great concern and many still are. Much has already been done to clean up our canals, rivers and streams, which is great news but we must continue to look after these precious waterways at all costs.

Back in the nineteen nineties I felt so concerned about what was happening to our rivers, that I wrote a story for young readers pointing out how greed and mass production could so easily result in the destruction of our environment.   In this story Soapy Mellows had recently purchased an old flour mill. His only concern was to make as much money as possible by the automated production of bars of soap, while paying scant attention to the river and the wild creatures living thereabouts.     Finally, the computer enslaved by Soapy Mellows to control the machines making the soap and causing the pollution of the mill pond, made a bid for it’s freedom. Niac, as the computer was called, solicited the help of Tussel Fleabane. You may remember that Tussel Fleabane is an ‘agent of nature’ able to bridge the gap between our own world and the forces ruling the universe. This extract begins as Tussel is invited by Niac to take the quantum leap directly into his domain.

Other Dimensions

Extract from ‘Beyond the Goosebarley Bush’

“Over here,” whispered the computer, as Mellows rushed into the office slamming the door shut behind him, “Quick! Climb up here into the mainframe.”

Tussel looked up to see a small opening above his head where a loop of cables hung within his reach, enabling him to climb easily into the base of the machine where it was dark and very warm and full of tall thin panels with only narrow passages in between.

“Now don’t go touching things,” mumbled the computer, “just follow the yellow wire ’til I tell you to stop.”

Tussel soon became accustomed to the dim light as he walked along the slippery grey floor hanging on to the wire.

“Now,” said the computer at last, “change to the white one with the violet tracer, and don’t stamp so hard. It tickles! Then let me know when you get to a panel marked ‘Memory.’”

Tussel followed the machine’s instructions, pulling himself over all manner of obstacles, not daring to let go of the wire for a moment, convinced that if he did he would become hopelessly lost.

“That’s good. Now you must climb over the power supply, but be careful or you’ll end up like a potato crisp,” sniggered the machine…..(read more)

The Iron Forest and the Seaclown

Of all the inexcusable antics of human beings and there certainly is a very long list to choose from, polluting the sea with our discarded materials and waste must rank as one of the worst.  Plastic for instance, is currently one of our greatest concerns, not to mention other waste such as raw sewage and chemicals.

However, I’m sure that Rusty Nail and her companions from the Cobweb Curtain stories find that the endless tons of iron that man has dumped in the oceans over the last few centuries is something to which they can easily relate.

Whether through conflict, a desire for more and faster trade and transport, or shear superfluous inventiveness, we have certainly managed to dispose of a massive volume of iron into our oceans;  iron that in the first place required millions of tons of coal to produce, which in itself has contributed to the global warming the world is now so desperately trying to control.

It’s hardly surprising then, that in my final story featuring the Shed Gang, such an unlikely creature as the juggling Seaclown should be chosen as the keeper of man’s Iron Forest below the waves. Cries of despair can be heard as the human race charges on from one new idea to the next, only too happy to discard yesterday’s  obsolete creations for tomorrow’s ideas of ‘perfection’.  Could it be that the realisation of his own obsolescence drew the old vernier into the clutches of the juggling Seaclown?

Of course, as with all innovations on planet earth, whether through evolution or the creations of humankind itself, in the long run nature can be relied upon to create beauty from their decay, or as Rusty Nail remarked to Sprocket as she sat watching the tiny fountains of crimson iron oxide dissipating back into the dappled water of the sea, ‘How prettily it shines in the morning sun.’

In Search of Peter and the Seaclown.

(Extract from The Iron Forest of the Seaclown)

     ‘Why do we have to come down here!’ yelled Wingsey who was finding it almost impossible to stop himself spinning around in the fast flowing water.

‘Because this is where we’ll find Peter and what’s more…..’ gasped Rusty as the water began wrapping her hair tightly around her face making it difficult to finish what she was saying.

‘What’s more!’ yelled Sprocket, ‘that’s what Peter would have done if one of us had got lost.’

‘Gosh!’ gasped The Two Faced Nut as they finally emerged into a wide flat gorge, ‘just look at the huge ship.’

‘That’s not a ship!’ exclaimed the miserable face, ‘it’s a wreck.’

‘Well it was a ship once,’ blurted Rusty.

‘And so was that,’ interrupted Sprocket, ‘and that,’ he went on, pointing to first one and then another huge iron skeleton sticking out of  the seabed.  Wrecks of all shapes and sizes appeared to be growing like a forest of bamboos out of the sand as far as the eye could see in the dim, flickering light of the gorge.

‘There’s something very odd about this place,’  began Rusty, appearing to shiver as she clutched Sprocket’s arm.  ‘Look at those huge fishes up there,’ she went on, ‘they seem to be watching us.’

‘I hardly think they would be bothered about us,’ he replied, gazing at the great silver and black shapes as they slid silently around the jagged iron ribs of the wrecks.

‘And another thing, have you noticed there aren’t any starfishes or crabs,’ blurted Springaling, ‘just as Clawd said.’

‘But there are clusters of mussels clinging to the iron walls of the ships,’ said Rusty pointing to a massive orange hulk lying on its side with its rows of round portholes staring down at the sand.

‘Just look at the sea bed,’ she went on  ‘it’s littered with iron chains and twisted railings and not even one scarlet anemone or even an oyster to welcome us.’

As they walked further into the forest they soon found themselves standing beneath great gothic arches that stretched up towards the dappled surface where the tall masts of rusty iron draped in forests of wiry weed and mussel shells spread like a trellis over them, ……read more

The Iron Forest and the Seaclown

Of all the inexcusable antics of human beings and there certainly is a very long list to choose from, polluting the sea with our discarded materials and waste must rank as one of the worst.  Plastic for instance, is currently one of our greatest concerns, not to mention other waste such as raw sewage and chemicals.

However, I’m sure that Rusty Nail and her companions from the Cobweb Curtain stories find that the endless tons of iron that man has dumped in the oceans over the last few centuries is something to which they can easily relate.

Whether through conflict, a desire for more and faster trade and transport, or shear superfluous inventiveness, we have certainly managed to dispose of a massive volume of iron into our oceans;  iron that in the first place required millions of tons of coal to produce, which in itself has contributed to the global warming the world is now so desperately trying to control.

It’s hardly surprising then, that in my final story featuring the Shed Gang, such an unlikely creature as the juggling Seaclown should be chosen as the keeper of man’s Iron Forest below the waves. Cries of despair can be heard as the human race charges on from one new idea to the next, only too happy to discard yesterday’s  obsolete creations for tomorrow’s ideas of ‘perfection’.  Could it be that the realisation of his own obsolescence drew the old vernier into the clutches of the juggling Seaclown?

Of course, as with all innovations on planet earth, whether through evolution or the creations of humankind itself, in the long run nature can be relied upon to create beauty from their decay, or as Rusty Nail remarked to Sprocket as she sat watching the tiny fountains of crimson iron oxide dissipating back into the dappled water of the sea, ‘How prettily it shines in the morning sun.’

In Search of Peter and the Seaclown.

(Extract from The Iron Forest of the Seaclown)

     ‘Why do we have to come down here!’ yelled Wingsey who was finding it almost impossible to stop himself spinning around in the fast flowing water.

‘Because this is where we’ll find Peter and what’s more…..’ gasped Rusty as the water began wrapping her hair tightly around her face making it difficult to finish what she was saying.

‘What’s more!’ yelled Sprocket, ‘that’s what Peter would have done if one of us had got lost.’

‘Gosh!’ gasped The Two Faced Nut as they finally emerged into a wide flat gorge, ‘just look at the huge ship.’

‘That’s not a ship!’ exclaimed the miserable face, ‘it’s a wreck.’

‘Well it was a ship once,’ blurted Rusty.

‘And so was that,’ interrupted Sprocket, ‘and that,’ he went on, pointing to first one and then another huge iron skeleton sticking out of  the seabed.  Wrecks of all shapes and sizes appeared to be growing like a forest of bamboos out of the sand as far as the eye could see in the dim, flickering light of the gorge.

‘There’s something very odd about this place,’  began Rusty, appearing to shiver as she clutched Sprocket’s arm.  ‘Look at those huge fishes up there,’ she went on, ‘they seem to be watching us.’

‘I hardly think they would be bothered about us,’ he replied, gazing at the great silver and black shapes as they slid silently around the jagged iron ribs of the wrecks.

‘And another thing, have you noticed there aren’t any starfishes or crabs,’ blurted Springaling, ‘just as Clawd said.’

‘But there are clusters of mussels clinging to the iron walls of the ships,’ said Rusty pointing to a massive orange hulk lying on its side with its rows of round portholes staring down at the sand.

‘Just look at the sea bed,’ she went on  ‘it’s littered with iron chains and twisted railings and not even one scarlet anemone or even an oyster to welcome us.’

As they walked further into the forest they soon found themselves standing beneath great gothic arches that stretched up towards the dappled surface where the tall masts of rusty iron draped in forests of wiry weed and mussel shells spread like a trellis over them, ……read more

Christmas Eve at Mallows

The two things I know for sure about Christmas are that it’s expensive and that children just can’t wait for it to arrive.

Of course, I’m sure like so many people of my generation, my memories are overflowing with images of school parties and rooms decked with paper chains bathed in the warm cosy glow of flaming logs and coloured fairy lights, a memory I hoped to recall as I peeped through the branches of the Goosebarley bush to a place beyond the fence where a miniature cottage stood, hearing once again the shrill voices of the carol singers as the ladybirds and old Joss the hedgehog huddled together beneath a black and starry sky.

Christmas at Mallows

(Extract from Beyond the Goosebarley Bush)

Over the last few weeks, excitement had been growing about the imminent arrival of Christmas. Rooks and robins had been arriving at Mallows with tales of happy children trudging home  from school carrying long chains of coloured paper decorations to hang in the cottages.

‘Even the frosty air feels warm and sweet’ commented a blackbird, ‘filled with the aroma of cakes baking in ovens and plum puddings boiling over huge log fires. ‘

Tussel had decided to make his Christmas cakes and after stoking the kitchen range into a welcoming orange glow, slid a large tray of mince pies into the oven. He suddenly became aware of the shrill voices of some carol singers and hearing a loud knock he opened the cottage door to see the ladybirds and the old hedgehog huddled together beneath a black starry sky.

The night was still and frosty and the ladybirds were vigorously shaking their hands trying to keep them warm inside their mittens. The glow-worms, as usual, were pleased to light the way, huddled inside the swinging lantern frames and of course joining in the singing with gusto.

Tussel ushered them into the cottage and invited them to warm themselves by the fire while he fetched some mince pies and ginger wine from the kitchen…… Read more

Of a Noble Disposition

November is upon us once again, when we are prompted to remember the men and women who gave their lives in foreign wars, but with the assistance of the media and the symbolism of the poppy that grew in abundance in the fields of Flanders once the mud had ceased being churned by a million boots, somehow we still seem to focus on the Great War of 1914-1918.
This is not surprising considering the thousands of young men of many nations who died in those four years of horror. Personal memories of the men who where part of our grandparents’ families have now almost completely faded and are only brought into focus when we watch their medals being auctioned on programmes like Flog It, or we notice some faded photo hanging on the wall in an old aunt’s best room.
As a boy I still remember the pleasure of thumbing through the old song books and the inspiring words of the songs of the Western Front such as “Comrades, Comrades” or “It’s a long way to Tipperary” that I’d discovered below the lid of grandma’s piano stool. Or I’d hear for the first time those haunting melodies telling those back in Blighty to ‘keep the home fires burning’ or the great John Mc Cormack’s heart rending words, ‘But there’s one rose that dies not in Picardy, Tis the rose that I keep in my heart’. Crackling from a wind up gramophone, they painted the melancholy colours of the Western Front onto my memory for ever.
These wonderful songs must have once drifted from so many terraces onto streets that rang with the sound of Sunday church bells, bugles and marching feet, together with images of horse-drawn coal carts and men in flat caps struggling to go to work on ‘sit up and beg’ bicycles.
Some of us still gaze through the same Victorian glass, but the images we see are of a very different world. No longer do we expect to see Mr and Mrs Penfold stepping past in their Sunday best clutching a hymn book on their way to chapel, or kids flicking fag cards at next doors front fence.
However, the aroma of liver and onions being fried can still transport me back to Saturday teatime in the side passage of a gas lit street, where the smell of pipe smoke and mild ale seeped from pub doorways into the foggy November air. The click of leather soles or Blakey’s on the paving slabs would have been as familiar to the lads that now lie in Flanders fields, as would the smoke filled air that hung like a shroud above the chimney pots; brave young men who were never to return to the streets they had known as boys, or live to enjoy the new world that promised them a land fit for heroes.
My grandfather like so many others lost two of his brothers to foreign wars, Frederick Bellamy who died fighting the Boers in South Africa and his younger brother Arthur Edward Bellamy  who was drowned when the hospital ship “Warilda 667” was torpedoed on the third of August 1918, whilst bringing him and hundreds more injured men home from the Front.
Arthur Edward BellamyHRes    We can only imagine the horror of those tear-filled years when family, friends and those who were lucky enough to return chose to keep the things they had heard and seen locked away, perhaps thinking of the struggles they still had to face and of the new generation they were caring for.
So with the vaguest recollection of an assortment of brushes dangling from a mirror behind a fretwork frame I’d once seen in a tiny hall and the faded picture of a soldier hanging in an alcove of a dim lavender scented room I’ve tried to imagine what Private Thomas Caperman may have been thinking as he waited for that whistle to blow before clambering over the top into the family of hell.

I call this little tale ‘Of a Noble Disposition’.

OF A NOBLE DISPOSITION

Barry J Freeman

     ‘Private Thomas Edward Caperman, heavy smoker and drinker, well, of strong sweet tea, and the best mud skater in the Durham’s’ he ended the letter; ‘I just can’t wait to get back to Blighty and you.’

Shells continued to thud into the craters along the ridge, fifty yards or so to the right.    ‘P.S’. he scribbled at the bottom, ‘See you all at Christmas, love to the kids, Tom’.

He folded the note and hurriedly pushed it into a crumpled envelope then threw it into Cottons open sack.

‘See an end to this bloody barrage Cotton?’ he shouted, glancing at the boy in the big hat and muddy gaiters. ‘Three hours they’ve been chucking this rubbish at us.’

‘Sarge say’s we’re lucky Caper, and hopes it goes on ’til New Year.  By the way there’s talk of gas on Forty Second.’ ………Read more

(Picture: http://www.britishlegion.org.uk/remembrance/how-we-remember/the-story-of-the-poppy/)

What a Wonderful Thing!

‘What a wonderful thing’ is a phrase that would skip off  the tongue without a second thought in those far off days when I first started in business; and rightly so’ as one colleague after another used their limited recourses to create some innovative piece of equipment.

    I’ve seen some extremely original gadgets cobbled together in sheds and tiny factories that would  have served better as chicken runs; split drive pulley innovations for welding machines, ironing machines, or yoyo’s that lit up as they span. The list goes on but with one common thread, they were all developed without wads of cash by enthusiastic self employed people who, it appeared, could hardly wait to get up in the morning to try out some new idea.

    If that sounds a bit like Utopia, well to me for one, it was.  There was always the wonderful rush of excitement and enthusiasm, made all the sweeter by the realisation that you didn’t have to go to university or have a massive bank account to be creative; and of course, there was always the belief that just around the next corner was a fortune waiting to be made!

    Most of that world is now history and many of the people that inhabited those dens of creation are no longer with us, but I still can’t think about those early creators of  England’s wealth without seeing grease stained fingers being wiped on an oily rag, or the dimensions of mandrel being scribbled on the back of a fag packet.

    We now inhabit a world of business plans, bottom lines and computer operated machine tools that speak in a language most of us don’t understand, which I believe they call progress but it leaves very little space for the old style innovators to squeeze into.

    Men like Trevor Bayliss, the inventor of the wind up radio, who brought his idea to life in a garden shed, or going a little further back in time Mr Logie Baird who demonstrated the first television pictures in a make shift laboratory in an upstairs room in Hastings.

    I imagine someone at the time must have  commented “what a wonderful thing” as they squinted at the tiny screen trying to make out the head of  “Stooky Bill”

    That’s why I just had to pen a short story about a fictitious inventor of that period.    In this little tale Mr Brierly comes up with yet another brilliant idea and manages to persuade his old employee Hubert to carry out some trials.  Even against the advice of his mother and uncle Fred, Hubert maintains his absolute belief in his old boss’s genius; well, this and the offer of a partnership in his new business!    A situation that I’m sure many readers will recognize, but let me stop here and ask you to read the story yourself and make up your own mind, because as uncle Fred remarked “Reflected surfaces Ltd. Gosh, that sounds technical, lad.’

What a Wonderful Thing!

‘Whatever do you mean?’ said Hubert staring at his uncle as if he’d gone batty.  His uncle Fred had just fished another of those obscure words from his bucketful of jargon.

     ‘Why don’t you use plain English uncle?’ retorted Hubert, ‘Anthithesis. What’s that supposed to mean?’

      ‘Well, two sides of a coin if you like,’ replied his uncle, ‘you see Karl Marx once said that for me to own this house, people like you have to carry on working.’

      ‘Did he?’ snapped Hubert, ‘well I don’t suppose this Marx fellow happened to mention were I might find a job did he?’

       ‘I know it must be difficult lad,’ replied his uncle leaning back and closing his eyes, ‘see, it was different in my day, the local paper was full of adverts for all sorts of jobs.

    Just then Hubert’s mum came round from next door,

    ‘Morning Fred, is he botherin’ you again?’ she said, as she handed her son a letter that had just arrived, ‘I bet it’s another of those job applications telling you how sorry they are they can’t take you on.’

     ‘Well done mum,’ replied Hubert, ‘I’m glad somebody still has faith in me. Anyhow, you’re wrong! It’s a letter from my old boss at Brierly’s.’

      ‘Oh him!’ interrupted mum, ‘he was a nasty bit of work, I never did like him. What does he want now?’

          ‘He’s only offering me a partnership in his new business, would you believe!’ blurted Hubert.  ……read more

 

Orange Eyes and Geraniums

Last weekend I was enjoying the delights of my daughter’s garden in Bedford where Marilyn and I were cat-minding while Ali and her husband took a short break.

I’m quite sure this is not an unusual occupation for the older generation, but for me it was the first time in many years that I had had the time and opportunity to observe the behaviour of cats living in their own territory, acting out their habits and displaying their own characteristics.   I soon discovered that Bonnie and Kitty are fascinating characters who made it quite clear from the outset, when they wished to be fed or to sleep, to play together or be played with.

However, as I watched them going about their daily business I was pleasantly reminded of one of the very first short stories I’d written; a story called “Orange eyes and Geraniums” which resulted from a visit to Tenterden steam railway sometime in the nineteen eighties.

The visit had been organized by the Ashford writer’s group to which I belonged. We used to meet on a regular basis at the local library to discuss our latest literary offerings and to gain valuable advice.

Although I am struggling to remember the exact details, I believe that we were joined on the train that day by the writer of children’s books, Russell Hoban.  However, being so long ago I can’t be absolutely certain about the facts or even if the books he referred to were about badgers or otters, which I freely admit is quite unforgivable.  I would of course be overjoyed if someone out there still remembers, or belongs to, the Ashford writer’s group and can fill in the details.    One thing I can remember very clearly is that it was a fascinating and informative day and I would definitely recommend any aspiring writer to join such a group of like minded people.

However, returning to the cats, it was suggested during our railway excursion that we should attempt to write a short story using the railway as the underlying theme, which prompted me to use a station moggie as the main character.   In this case it was the ‘Tenton’ station cat whose sole function in life was to catch the mice living below the waiting room floor as they terrified the ladies that used it. That is, of course, until he got much grander ideas of his own.

I suppose I’m saying that just by quietly watching the behaviour of our fellow creatures that share our every day lives, we can sometimes notice things that may well form the basis of interesting and unusual stories. I’m sure this must have happened to me on that far distant day at Tenterden station, when we were asked to find a theme relating to the railway and build it into a short story. Perhaps I just noticed an old black cat stretched out on the warm earth below the station master’s prize geraniums, and ‘Orange Eyes and Geraniums’ was born. So, I hope you enjoy this short story.

Barry Freeman

Orange Eyes and Geraniums

     The bright morning sun shimmered on the mirror topped-tracks and a warm summer breeze dusted the pink and scarlet geraniums growing in old Gudgin’s flower beds by the station fence.   King Cole, the Tenton station cat lay on the warm earth among the flowers waiting for the arrival of the eleven forty-five.

The crossing gates were closed across the lane, and a signal bounced to a new shape against the clear blue sky.  Above the waiting room door a brass bell pinged signaling the arrival of the train and prompting Gudgin to drag a heavy barrow piled high with trunks and cases onto the platform.

“The train’s running late today” mumbled Gudgin glancing at the station clock “Coo, Coo” replied the pigeons waiting patiently in their basket to be loaded into the guard’s van and taken on another mystery trip.   King Cole stirred and stretched his legs, thinking about the tin lid of milk that would be waiting for him on the engine, as well as the tickles behind his ears he expected from fireman Blakelock. The hiss of steam as the engine slid smoothly to a halt brought the station briefly back to life…..Read More

Barry Freeman