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

The Hint of Wonder in the Everyday

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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

     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

 

Tussell Fleabane

It was at least three decades ago that I first conjured up Tussel Fleabane.  ‘The Protector, Apply Within’, was written on the little brass plaque attached to his cottage gate post.

My intention was to highlight some of the pollution problems that were coming to light at that time and make them understandable to children through the adventures of this mythical little creature.  These were issues that I was personally becoming concerned about, such as the extinction of certain species through loss of habitat and the pollution of our rivers and seas.

When I first began writing it meant printing the stories off on long strips of computer paper using a word processor and sending the manuscripts to children’s book publishers, always optimistic that eventually one of them may turn my ramblings into a book.  However, it wasn’t long before one after another, the big brown envelopes began to return and along with the manuscript was the usual pleasantly worded but standard rejection letter.

It appeared that Tussel’s adventures had not yet captured the imagination of the publishing houses and the stories I had so much hoped the youngsters would have the opportunity to read, or at least have read to them, must wait a little longer for their time to arrive. Tussel had to go back in the cupboard.

Thirty years or so later many of the issues that concerned me then are still at the forefront of many people’s minds, but the methods and opportunities of getting the stories into print has changed dramatically.  This has encouraged me to resurrect Tussel and his friends and to self publish Beyond the Goosebarley Bush.

So who knows, the adventures of Tussel Fleabane The Protector may yet have the opportunity to inform and inspire the children of a new generation.

Barry Freeman