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’.


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


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


Ryman Business

Now here’s a funny thing to admit but as a youngster what made me feel the happiest and I confess, the proudest kid in the street, was if some respected adult asked me to help them with a proper grown up job; I mean a real job like planting lettuces, or perhaps mending a puncture in their old work bike. I admit that it is a peculiar thing to say, but what it really meant was that they trusted me to do the job properly, something that parents didn’t always find possible to do.

These are the sort of things that stick in a child’s mind and perhaps why we so often look back at our school days and remember some particular teacher with affection.   With some people it’s the first boss they worked for after leaving school, clearly remembering the first simple tasks they were trusted with. I still remember fondly a particular teacher, Frank Richards, from my days at the secondary modern school in Kempston, an art teacher who taught many other subjects, as most teachers did.  His classroom was always referred to as the art room, possibly because it contained a large sink where we could wash our brushes and palettes.

Then there was the first shop manager who guided me through that mind boggling transition between being a boy at school and the world of paid employment; particularly learning how to deal with the real world which I soon discovered is made up of many diverse characters who depend on your knowledge and whose respect must quickly be gained.

In my case this was also helped by the attitude shown by the teacher I mentioned earlier, who spoke in a language I understood and trusted in my ability carry out such momentous tasks as painting back-drops for school plays as well as encouraging me to become involved in amateur dramatics without questioning my imagination or skill. These were probably not the most demanding tasks I agree but it demonstrated a trust in me that, even after sixty years, I have not forgotten.

I now find it very comforting that after years of filling my days with the necessary essentials of earning a living, I have at last retired and moved back to my home town, only to recently discover, I’m very pleased to say, that my old teacher had the very same political views that I hold and was, I understand, once an active Party worker in my present ward.  I also remember from my youth that he wrote and directed plays, an ‘Over Mighty Subject’ I believe one of them was called and he was a respected member of the long established local amateur dramatic society.

My one regret is that I never had the opportunity to meet him again and only have his reminiscences to read; reminiscences of the town he was born in and lived in for most of his life. To me, however, the most important memory is of the encouragement he gave me and the trust he placed in me as a boy some sixty or so years ago.

Finally, for those of us who were ‘lucky’ enough to go to a secondary modern school in the nineteen fifties and may just have some enduring memory of one particular teacher, I once scribbled down a few short stories about those days at school which I called “The Secondary Years”.  One of these little tales, entitled “A Piece of Plywood” may just jog a few memories as it portrays a teacher I called Frank Ryman, who is very much like the old art teacher who inspired me so much all those years ago. Of course I didn’t always live up to his expectations!


The old red brick walls of the school felt warm, while the tall windows set in frames of brown and cream flared in the bright afternoon sun high above the tarmac playground.  Around the corner of the building, worn smooth by a million fingers, stood a wooden cloakroom connected to the main block by an arched canopy.

Frank Ryman, the art teacher, stood by the entrance with his hands in his pockets glaring expectantly through his huge horn rimmed glasses. He always seemed untidy and chalky and never stopped pushing his specs back up his nose.

“Benson! Use your ruddy eyes lad!” he shouted as I collided with the dusty trouser legs. “Slow down boy!”

Restricted from further movement by a firm grip on my left ear I was instructed to go to the woodwork room and ask Mister Sutherland, Inky that is, for a piece of plywood.

“Tell him, about the size of an exercise book. An off cut will do. Oh yes,” he went on, releasing his vice like grip, “and try not to disable too many people on the way.”

Not a bad bloke old Ryman, dead sarcastic but always good for a laugh.  He often appeared to be grinning when he was ranting at you.

I walked fairly slowly past the new block. No need to rush I decided, after all I was on ‘Ryman business’…….  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.  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 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, signalling 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 ready to be loaded into the luggage van and taken for another mystery trip. King Cole stirred and stretched his legs, thinking about the old 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

The Hint of Wonder in the Everyday

shutterstock_358582475 (1)

You’d have to be a pretty vain old grandad gristle to imagine you could write a story that would suddenly stop kids playing games on their phones and soak up every word; maybe even asking for more!  Well perhaps that’s just what every author believes they can achieve when he or she sets their words onto the page of a new book.

I’m sure I do; that is until some kid asks, ‘Grandad, whatever is a rocker box cover?’ or some such question, whereas if you’d have written escape velocity plus factor two, they would have understood immediately what it meant.

That’s the time you ask yourself, perhaps I should pen the stories that kids ask for, the sort of flash-bang adventures you find in most children’s book shops, where the beautifully illustrated covers portray a futuristic world of heroes or giant airborne creatures reminiscent of dinosaurs or domesticated dragons.

Stories we would all love to have written; or maybe not. You see there are people like me who still believe in the value of triggering that hint of wonder that can still be found in the everyday world that surrounds us; the plaintive echoes of a world long gone escaping from a gramophone that has to be wound up, or images of Laurel and Hardy, flickering on a silver screen that still have the ability to make us laugh.

Please don’t gasp ‘that’s just nostalgia’, when perhaps you really mean memories, the true links that bind one generation to the next and without which, quiet moments would be shallow indeed.

For me, these are the building blocks for stories, searching out the tiny and sometimes insignificant pictures trapped within our memories and fashioned into a beginning a middle and an end.

Of course, tales that can transport a child into some wondrous adventure in the outer reaches of space, or create the brave immortal heroes that will save the world from destruction, are valuable stories that need to be told.

But so too are the chronicles of the quiet creatures that inhabit the ordinary world, even the strange inanimate objects that are given a voice by so many authors and find a permanent place in our memories, objects such as little blue locomotives or even a fork and a spoon that once, we were told, jumped over the moon.

There are no dragons to be discovered along the track to Crosswart, or evil wizards poised to cast a spell on the unwary traveller passing through Aarons wood.  Only a very sad snail.  Even the Companions collecting the magenta liquid from the wood violets offer no threat, but may just help us to understand how our memories may triggered by the scent of violets carried on a summer breeze.

Working on this assumption it appears that I’m still a vain old grandad gristle who believes that such tales may just have a smidgen of value; simple stories that I love to write and very much hope will continue to be told.

Barry Freeman






Through the cobweb curtains

Whether the old spider lives under a broken flower pot, or perhaps in some dark corner of the window frame, our eight legged companion still demands the same respect. In my opinion it’s a brave man indeed that dares to brush away its silken trap with his bare hand.

     Hands up anyone who has ever owned a shed and never been greeted by a handsome cobweb curtain draped across the window.  It’s as natural as discovering that a colony of greenflies has just taken up residence on your favourite rose. So it seemed a good idea to use Cobweb Curtains as the title for a series of little tales about the collection of unusual objects that had taken up residence in Morris Wainwright’s garden shed.

scrao box hall
Scrap Box Hall

    Of course, I’m talking about Rusty Nail and her friends Sprocket and Young Pinion, as well as Wingsey Nut, the cross threaded wingnut, Springaling and the Two Faced Nut, whose constant arguing with himself often drives the others to distraction.

     These strange but endearing characters sprung to life out of some of my earliest memories, often recalled through a vale of cobweb curtains, when as a child in the late nineteen forties, I would delight in exploring the secret place below the bench in my Grandfather’s garage.

     I never ceased to be fascinated by the shape and feel of objects such as discarded sparking plugs, or mysterious acetylene lamps that I was told had once lit the way for an Edwardian cyclist.

     All this I discovered by the dim light of the sun, bouncing from tins of washers and split pins or an ageing oil can standing on the dust covered sill, as it peeped through the tiny window half obscured by a curtain of cobwebs.  I need only add the aroma of a warm radiator and a hint of petrol and I would be back there, sitting on the chrome bumper of the old Bantam that had just been put to bed by my Grandfather.

      I’m a child of the post war years and realize that since then the world has changed out of all recognition except, of course, for the cobweb curtains.  Whether the old spider lives under a broken flower pot, or perhaps in some dark corner of the window frame, our eight legged companion still demands the same respect. In my opinion it’s a brave man indeed that dares to brush away its silken trap with his bare hand.

     I imagine that the dark corners of sheds, barns and garages still grip the imagination of many youngsters eager to find some long forgotten cricket bat, or a Hornby with a string of red and cream carriages, only to be deterred by a great silken web draped across their discovery like a portcullis guarding a castle gate.

     In the same way perhaps, the old spider ensures the long term survival of Rusty Nail and Sprocket in Morris Wainwright’s garden shed. It would be comforting indeed to believe that such a delicate and intricate creation as a cobweb curtain was in some way responsible for keeping the secrets of Rusty, Sprocket and the others safe, that is, until now!

Barry Freeman

Cobweb Curtains