Writers in the Rafters

Welcome to Writers in the Rafters, Leeds Central Library Writers Group. We meet every third Thursday of the month, in the Central Library’s The Portal, Second Floor, 1:30-3:30pm.

Image result for leeds central library

Find inspiration and develop your own writing style amongst a fun, eclectic writers group. Whatever your skill level or style, come along and enjoy discussing anything and everything to do with writing in a supportive and friendly social setting.

For those that can’t attend our group, please feel free to submit your creative writing below or to Jolene.stevens@leeds.gov.uk

For more information call Library Enquiries 0113 3785005 or email libraryenquiries@leeds.gov.uk

Christmas BreakImage result for christmas

A merry Christmas and a happy New Year from the Writers in the Rafters. Please note that we are taking a break over the festive season and will meet again on the 18th January 2017.

We shall be meeting in The Portal on the second floor at 1.30pm. Below is the list of dates for 2018.

Date Room
18th January The Portal, Second Floor
15th February The Portal, Second Floor
15th March The Portal, Second Floor
19th April The Portal, Second Floor
17th May The Second Floor Meeting Room
21st June The Second Floor Meeting Room
19th July The Portal, Second Floor
16th August Inspirational Visit
20th September The Portal, Second Floor
18th October The Portal, Second Floor
15th November The Portal, Second Floor
December Christmas Break

Decades apart

Write a story from the perspective of a character in ten year intervals of their life ie 16, 26, 36 etc. How does the character change and develop? What happens to that character in those years? How are you going to convey the changes to the reader?

The character can be historic, fantastic, realistic or even biographic. Use whatever settings or time period you prefer.Image result for film boyhood

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting: 1.30pm, 18th January 2018, The Portal, Second Floor.

 

A History of Magic

In December Central Library will be hosting a month of magical inspired events in coordination with the British Library to celebrate 20 years since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released and Potter Mania began.

I would like you to write a piece using a theme below. The writing doesn’t have to be related to Harry Potter and can be taken in any direction you choose. I would then like to display your work throughout the month in Lending as part of the History of Magic event. If you would like to participate, please send me your writing electronically by 20th November.

  • Herbology
  • Charms
  • Astronomy and divination
  • Defence against the dark arts
  • Care of magical creatures

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting: 16th November in the Portal, Second Floor.

 

Writing Prompts and Information

Please complete your City Museum pieces for our next meeting on the 19th October. We shall be meeting in the Portal, Second Floor.

The deadline for sending me your pieces for the anthology is also 19th October.

 

Inspirational Tour of City MuseumImage result for leeds city museum

Please write a piece that was inspired by something you saw at Leeds City Museum. This could be any of the artefacts, the exhibits, the building or maybe even a person. It may be prose or poetry. Please ensure that the piece is U rated.

Please send you finished work to me electronically (Jolene.stevens@leeds.gov.uk) by the deadline. No more than 2500 words.

Deadline:16th October 2017

Next meeting: 21st September 2017, Second Floor Meeting Room

Optional Task for Light Night : The Leeds Labyrinth

The theme for Light Night is ‘community’. One of the Library’s displays will be about the Leeds Labyrinth. Not much is known about the labyrinth – you may have heard some of the legend. All we really have is the following…Image result for leeds labyrinth

In the late 17th – early 18th century a Thomas Kirke owned a wood in the hamlet of Cookridge, a few miles north of the centre of Leeds. The wood was called Moseley Wood. The wood occupied about 120 acres. Mr Kirke had the wood laid out to form a complex pattern of paths and intersections. This plan provided over 300 views through the wood and 65 intersections that the walker had to decide which route to take next. Visitors to Mr Kirke would spend some considerable time walking in the wood being both amused and perplexed in trying to find their way out from the intricate labyrinth.The wood inspired the local legend of ‘Jack and His Eleven Brothers’ meeting at one of the ‘centres’ and then each taking one of the eleven paths out into the world to make their fortunes.

 We have been asked to write something about the labyrinth in poetry or prose. Please keep it relatively short no more than 3 A4 sides. It can take any direction you fancy – time travelling, what happened to the 11 brothers?, what was in the centre?, why was it built?…..it is really up to you.  

A website with more information – http://www.labyrinthos.net/C30%20Thomas%20Kirke.pdf

Please send any writings to me by 19th September.

Hey Diddle Diddle

Nursery rhymes, although great for teaching children language, they actImage result for nursery rhymesually reflect events in history. For example –Mary Mary Quite Contrary concerns Queen Mary I and her regime victims with silver bells and cockle shells being forms of torture . Many of the words and lyrics were used to parody the royal and political events of the day as direct dissent would often by punishable by death.

Choose a nursery rhyme and feature it in your writing. You could use the characters to tell a story (eg – what’s the background story on the owl and the pussycat before they eloped?), or try and create a modern satirical nursery rhyme. You can even set it to music if you want!

For any help a good nursery rhyme website is – http://www.rhymes.org.uk/

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting: 17th August 2017, The front door of Leeds City Museum, Millennium Store.

Game of Thrones

On 22nImage result for game of thronesd July in Room 700 in the library, we are planning a medieval inspired ‘fayre’ with various stalls and entertainment (possibly some sword fighting) to celebrate the start of the new series of Game of Thrones and everything gothic. At one end of the room we are planning to display of medieval inspired gothic books and it would be a good idea to ask you all to write a gothic/ medieval inspired piece of work which we could then display for all to read.

The writing could be an epic medieval poem, or, like Game of Thrones, a medieval inspired fantasy piece of prose involving dragons, knights and fair maidens. Think King Arthur, Robin Hood and Ivanhoe. Serious or not, it is completely up to you.

If you would like your writing displayed, could you please send me any work electronically by Monday 17th July so I can mount them for display. I will attempt to make your work look gothic!

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting: 20th July 2017, The Portal, Second Floor.

The Family PetImage result for pets

Write about life from the perspective of the family pet. The animal could be anything you want, and the family can be as normal or as dysfunctional as you wish. May be the pet is a beloved dog or a witches’ cat. Does the animal understand people, is it well behaved?

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting 15th June 2017, Second Floor Meeting Room, Second Floor.

WishesImage result for wishes

Everyone makes wishes, whether realistic or completely improbable. Write a piece that involves wishes coming true. How are they obtained (magically via a genie, winning a competition, marrying a wealthy spouse…), are the successful or do they go  horribly wrong?

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting 18th May 2017, Second Floor Meeting Room, Second Floor.

History Pin

This month we are going to create some writing that could be used for the History Pin project, explained by Sally.

Choose a photograph from Leodis www.leodis.net of Leeds.

You can choose a building or place that you like, or even dislike!

Using an image that resonates with you, you can write whatever you wish; a short story, poem, fiction or non-fiction, it’s up to you.

Anyone willing to read out their work and be recorded in the April meet up would be making a very welcome and valuable contribution to the Historypin Connections project.

Thank you!

Sally Hughes

Historypin Outreach Librarian

Sally.Hughes2@leeds.gov.uk

0113 3787050

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words (or up to two minutes long).

Next Meeting 20th April  2017 in the Second Floor Meeting Room, Second Floor.

Freedom

Freedom is the theme of National Poetry Day (28th September). To give us plenty of time, please write a poem based on the theme of Freedom. Poems should be no more than 2 minutes reading time out aloud if you are considering writing something for the video. Please llet me know if you are interested as soon as possible.

If you really don’t want to write a poem, then please write a piece of prose with this theme. I would like to use as many pieces of writing as possible to turn into a display in Lending.

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words (or up to two minutes long).

Next Meeting 16th March 2017 in the Second Floor Meeting Room, Second Floor.

Story Dice

As I don’t have enough dice to lend, please select a random piece of paper for setting, weather, time and object. Please try and include these in your writing. The rest of the story is up to you.

If you have story dice, please feel free to use them, but write them down so we kjnow what you are including.

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting 16th February 2017 in the Second Floor Meeting Room, Second Floor.

A happy new year to all. Just in case anyone is interested –

 

Wordsworth in Leeds

19 January 2017

10 – 11am

Central Lending, Leeds Central Library

In celebration of the ‘Creative Communities: Wordsworth in Leeds’ exhibition on display in Central Library during January, there will be an hour workshop on Wordsworth. The workshop will introduce and examine Wordsworth as a poet and how this is related to the exhibition.

Suitable for Adults

Free event

No booking required

Christmas Break

A merry Christmas and a happy new year from the Writers in the Rafters. Please note that we are taking a break over the festive season and will meet again on the 29th  January 2017.

Dates and places for 2017. Please note due to the roof, we will spend the first half of the year in the Second Floor meeting room. This is located on the second floor, the first door in the corridor from the lift/ Local and Family History library.

19th January 2nd Floor Meeting Room
16th February 2nd Floor Meeting Room
16th March 2nd Floor Meeting Room
20th April 2nd Floor Meeting Room
18th May 2nd Floor Meeting Room
15th June 2nd Floor Meeting Room
20th July Portal
17th August Inspirational Visit TBC
21st September Portal
19th October Portal
16th November Portal
December Christmas Break
19th January 2nd Floor Meeting Room
16th February 2nd Floor Meeting Room
16th March 2nd Floor Meeting Room
20th April 2nd Floor Meeting Room
18th May 2nd Floor Meeting Room
15th June 2nd Floor Meeting Room
20th July Portal
17th August Inspirational Visit TBC
21st September Portal
19th October Portal
16th November Portal
December Christmas Break

Sliding Doors

In the film Sliding Doors (1998), Helen is fired from her job, drops an earring in a lift, and then the film alternates between two parallel universes that are based on the two paths the central character’s life could take depending on whether or not she catches an early train home. Both paths causing different outcomes in her life.

Write about a character and the two different outcomes that depend on whether they get that bus, that lift, go to that party, buy that suit, take that job. What happens in the two versions? Do they merge at the end? Is the character better off in one version or the other?

For reference to the film ‘Sliding Doors’ – read wikipedia or IBM: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sliding_DoorsCachedSimilar

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting: 19th January 2017. In the Second Floor Meeting room.

‘I know what you did’.

Someone knows something about what you did (and when you did it) and you need to keep it a secret. What did you do? Was it good or bad? How are you going to keep it quiet?

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting 17th November 2016 in the Portal, Second Floor.

This meeting will be our last before our Christmas Break. We have agreed to make it party atmosphere and have asked everyone to bring sharing food. I shall also be handing out copies of the anthology.

The Party

Write about a party. This could be a sophisticated dinner party, fairy tale ball or an energetic 90s rave. Who is hosting it? What is the reason for the event? Why is your character there?

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting 20th October 2016 in the Portal, Second Floor.

Please remember that the 20th of October is the deadline for the Armouries Inspired piece. Please may I have all pieces by this date.

Please remeber that Leeds Peace Poetry entries are due 21st October if you intend to submit a piece.

There are still a couple of places avalible for National Poetry Day Workshop on the 6th Ocotber with the Sunday Practice. Please let me know if you are interested.

August

Please use the visit to the Royal Armouries to inspire you to write a related piece for our annual anthology. You could focus on an artefact, the ideas of war/peace or the museum itself.

All entries into the Anthology must be submitted electronically to me (jolene.stevens@leeds.gov.uk) by the 20th October 2016. Entires may be up to 6 A4 pages or 1500 words.

Please note that on the 18th August we will be meeting in the entrance foyer of the Royal Armouries at 1.30pm for our Inspiration Trip for further details.

Roald Dahl

This September marks 100 years since the birth of Roald Dahl. Much loved as a children’s author, he also wrote for adults. One book loved by both is his ‘Revolting Rhymes’, published in 1982. A parody of traditional folk tales in verse, Dahl gives a re-interpretation of six well-known fairy tales, featuring surprise endings in place of the traditional happily-ever-after.

In tribute to this much loved author, choose a fairy tale/ folk tale and see if you can make a parody of it. If you’re feeling brave, you could also write it in verse with rhyming couplets!

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting 18th August 2016, The Armouries

The Beach

Summer is finally here and crowds of people head towards the coast for sun, sea and sand. Produce a piece of writing that is set on or around a beach. This could be a beach in the UK, or somewhere with a more exotic flavour. Please remember that beaches don not have to be bright sunny places!

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting 21st July 2016 in the Portal, Second Floor.

Script prompt

Use the random prompts below to write a scene (or two) for a play or film. Remember to set the scene and use stage directions. If you don’t like any of the ideas below, feel free to use your own.

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting 16th June 2016 in the Portal, Second Floor.

  • A couple finds an old trunk in an attic.
  • A family pet gives his/her owner a piece of his/her mind.
  • Face to face with an alien/ magical/ paranormal being
  • A husband/ wife of 20 years is a serial killer
  • Love at first bite
  • A breakout is being planned
  • A couple discover that their child has a unique ability
  • The summing up of a 1920s murder mystery
  • Discovery of a forbidden love affaire
  • Lost in translation

Bronte Birthday

The 21st April marks Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday.  Try and use either her or her sister’s character(s), plots or settings and use them in a piece of writing. This could be taking the character(s) and placing them in a modern setting, rewriting a part of the story for a modern audience, placing a modern person in the traditional plot, or just using the inspiration of the moody Howarth moors.

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting 19th May 2016 in the Portal, Second Floor.

An Unexpected Package

You do love getting packages! Yet this one’s different. It’s oddly colored. The material is unlike anything you’ve ever felt and something is violently shaking the box. The worst part is you never ordered anything. So how big is the box? What’s inside? Where did it come from? What does it mean?

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting 21st April 2016 in the Portal, Second Floor.

Shakespeare: Love him or hate him?

It will soon be the anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth and death (23rd April 1654- 23rd April 1616) – 400 years since his death. Please write a piece which involves Shakespeare. It could be an interpretation of a play or sonnet, perhaps something written for a modern audience or one of your own using Elizabethan language. It could be a piece of prose where Shakespeare or his work features or a piece which explores the question concerning whether he wrote all the work attributed to him.

To celebrate Shakespeare, I will be hoping to create a public display of the writing produced.

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting 17th March 2016 in the Portal, Second Floor.

Random Image

For something slightly different visit : http://writingexercises.co.uk/random-image-generator.php to obtain a random image or select one of your own.

Look at the image. What story does it tell you? Try and include some description and detail of the image in your work.

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting 18th February 2016 in the Portal, Second Floor, Leeds Central Library.

Christmas Break

A merry Christmas and a happy new year from the Writers in the Rafters. Please note that we are taking a break over the festive season and will meet again on the 21st  January 2016.

Ugly Beauty

Write about something that is ugly such as war, poverty, hate, cruelty, fear and find the beauty or the good in it.

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

Next Meeting 21st January 2016 in the second floor meeting room, Second Floor.

Eavesdropping

Write about a character that hears something that they are not supposed to hear. Or maybe you are talking to someone else and fear that someone is listening. What is the conversation about? Why is it private?

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words. Next Meeting Thursday 15th October

Writers in the Rafters Annual Anthology – Leeds Town Hall

Produce a piece of work inspired by your visit to the Town Hall for the publication of the annual Writers in the Rafters book. This may be poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction.

If possible, please email all work to Jolene.stevens@leeds.gov.uk.

Up to 6 A4 pages or 1500 words. Deadline Thursday 15th October. Publication by Thursday 19th November.

August 2015- Keys and Locks

Produce a piece of writing about keys and locks. Everyone has keys and they open a variety of things: doors, gates, windows, suitcases, jewellery boxes, diaries. Write about a key or set of keys and the objects which they unlock.

Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words. Next Meeting: Thursday 17th September

July 2015 – Regular Meeting

Produce a piece of writing about a regular meeting. The same people meet at the same time, every week or month, again and again. Why do they meet? Where do they meet? And what would it mean if a meeting went very badly wrong?
Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words. Next meeting: Thursday 20 August

June 2015 – Lies, Damned Lies!

Produce a short story or piece of writing in which a character is lying – to themselves or to others! Think about why they are lying –is it small and inconsequential? Is it life-changing? Is it self-serving? Is it a malicious lie? Or is it to protect someone else?
(If you’re up for a challenge, write in the 1st person, and have the character lying to the reader! How will you reveal to the reader that the narrator is unreliable?)
Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words. Next meeting: Thursday 16 July

May 2015 – Borrow a Character

There are many great characters in fiction, and for this exercise I’d like you to borrow one – write a short story or scene featuring a pre-existing character. It could be one of the greats, like Sherlock Holmes or Elizabeth Bennett, or you could use a character from film or television: Pat Butcher or Captain Kirk. Think about how the character is normally portrayed – will you stick to this, or introduce some new elements? How do they spend their time, off-page or off-screen? Try to get inside their head, reveal their inner life. Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

April 2015 – Curiosity Killed the Cat

‘Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,’ thought Alice; ‘but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!’

To celebrate 150 years of Alice in Wonderland i ask you to challenge your curiosity. There are curious things all around us – moments, people, situations, places, objects that are magnificently rich inspirations for our writing, especially fiction.  Collect at least five curiosities and weave them together into a piece of fiction – an overheard conversation on the train, someone wearing an unusual piece of clothing, someone’s strange quirk or habit, an odd item on the shelf at the charity shop.  The strange truths of our lives inspire our fiction all the time.

March 2015 – Britain from the Air

The writers were set a task to choose an aerial shot from the Britain from the Air exhibition currently on display outside the Central Library, on Victoria Gardens. The display is on for the rest of April, so do check it out before it’s gone and get creative and submit your writing below. Up to 3 A4 or 1200 words.

February 2015 – Map my writing 

The group shared their work around Central Library today, including areas such as the Atrium, Local Family History Gallery and the Arts Space. Afterwards, the group chose a map from our collection, and wrote a short story on it. Please contact Local Family History Library, Central Library for more information about our map collection.

January 2015

Happy New Year from Writers in the Rafters. We will be meeting on 15th January, in the 1st floor Art Reading Room from 1:30pm. This is just temporary as we will be locating to a quieter area of the building in February, more to follow. We would love to see you there.

November 2014

The group celebrated another fantastic year of creative writing. We took a heritage tour of the Central Library and this was used as the basis for homework for 2015. There are several tours available between January and March and can be booked from http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/leedslibraryevents

October 2014 –  The Dyslexic Writer’ is a well written and thought provoking article by Melissa Wuidart Phillips, Blackheath Dawn Writer 2014, very well worth a read.

September 2014 – An Archive of Discovery

This year’s end of year project will be based on Leeds Discovery Centre. We would like you to select an item from the stores there and write up to 6 A4 sides or 2500 words.

The deadline for project will be the 1/11/2014 at 5pm. If you would like to arrange a free tour of the stores at the Discovery Centre, then please book on 0113 378 2100.

August 2014 Topic – The Metal Workforce 

As robotic technology develops, more and more humans drop out of the workforce, having no need to work. The politicians watching these developments realize that, if people don’t have to spend most of their time and energy working, they will begin to question the need for a government. A government hoax creates millions of new jobs, jobs that only humans can fill. 2 x A4 or 1000 words.

July 2014 Topic – Two titles are better than one…..

This could prove to be the best one yet. Select two titles from any books, to create a new title of your piece. The titles could be from any genre, and for any age, but it must be a crime piece. So get searching through your bookshelves, pop into your local library and find the two titles that will create the crime story of the year.

Two A4 sheets or up to 1200 words

June 2014 Topic – Fortune Cookie

As the group are tied up with the Gledhow Scrapbook project, this task is short and……..not so sweet. On paying for your group birthday meal at the local Chinese restaurant, the waiter hands over fortune cookies for your party to enjoy. On opening yours it reads “Your life is in danger. Say Nothing to anyone. You must leave the city immediately and never return. Repeat………..say nothing.”

What do you do next??????

Two A4 sheets or up to 1200 words

May 2014 Topic – Me and My Bicycle

With the Grand Depart taking place in our beautiul Leeds on the 5th July, i thought it’d be fitting to get you to write about the bicycle. Let’s keep it short with a maximum 600 words, it can be fiction or autobiographical, I shall leave this up to your creativeness.

Keep those eyes peeled, as we have some great displays coming to Leeds Libraries, incoporating the work that is submitted.

April 2014 Topic – Shakespeare 2.0

On 23rd April, World Book Night, Leeds Central Library will be bringing you an evening to celebrate William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, 5-7:30pm. With Sonnets around the library, Romeo and Juliet:  The balcony scene, The Alan Cuckston Singers performing The Triumphs of Oriana, Hamlet: The alas, poor Yorick soliloquy and a Talk on the supernatural in the age of Shakespeare: witches, monsters and ghosts. These will all be performed by staff from the Leeds Library and Information Service, and bodes to be a fanstastic evening.

On the back of this, rewrite your favourite scene/monologue from any of Shakespeare’s works….with a modern twist. Our drama collection and literarture section are bursting with works by Will, so pop into your local library today to find your inspiration.

As always, please stick to the 3 x A4 or 1800 words.

March 2014 Topic – Theatre of Dreams

This months topic utilises one of Leeds Libraries finest treasures, the Playbill section on Leodis, a photographic archive of Leeds.

I had asked the writers to select a playbill from random, but as you have the time to peruse the playbills, please select one and write a short story from the perspective of someone who is either there to watch the show or work on it. Please pay attention to the date that the play is set, as you will need to base your story around this time. Up to 1800 words or three A4.

You may also find Leodis useful, for researching the location around the time the play is set.

February 2014 Topic – Heart of Leeds

We were fortunate to have Michelle Scally Clarke come in to this months group and discuss her exciting project, Heart of Leeds. On the 22nd March at 1pm, 100 dancers and poets will form a gigantic heart in Millenium Square,  and in a reverse flash mob, disperse in pairs throughout the city passing on positive messages of love, comfort, support, hope, wisdom and advice written by the people of Leeds. Please email Michelle on dispersal@outlook.com if you would like to contribute some work.

Now on the back of this, this months work is simple, produce up to 2 x A4 sheets or 1000 words using words of Love, Comfort, Support, Hope, Wisdom and Advice.

January 2014 Topic – Music my Muse

Choose your favourite song, a song that stands out in your mind. We’ve all got one, the one hit play again when it finishes. Listen to the song, and as you do use the lyrics and music to help you write 1800 words, or up to three A4.

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23 thoughts on “Writers in the Rafters

  1. As requested, here is my piece on the July topic, ‘The Last Truth’…

    The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 793 states: “In this year terrible portents appeared in Northumbria, and miserably afflicted the inhabitants: these were exceptional flashes of lightning and fiery dragons were seen flying in the air.”
    Modern-day scholars take this as meteors, or metaphors. But perhaps the truth was rather more literal…

    ****************

    I look back at what happened and there have been so many lies mixed up with so much truth that I can hardly separate them now.

    But of one thing I am sure, Finn, he it was told the first lie.

    I forgave him, of course. I have always forgiven Finn, no matter how outrageous he is, how far-fetched, how wrong.

    I love him, I cannot help myself.

    But when it began, he strolled casually in as I was sorting the good beans from the bad, and kissed my head in passing as he went to fling open his weapons chest.

    ‘Is there danger?’ I asked, alarmed as he pulled out bow and knives and sword and dropped them on the table opposite me, if you please, and began to clean and polish the blades.

    ‘No,’ he said lightly, too lightly, and that was the first lie; his eyes said yes, yes there is danger, flee, run, hide… ‘No, there’s just been… stories. At the coast, nowhere near us. Lights in the sky, oh, I don’t know, could be angels, could be… anything.’

    Dragons. Also, it could be dragons.

    ‘We all know the sky burns green at night, sometimes,’ I said, before he can mention dragons and so make them real.

    ‘Yes. Not in daylight, though. Anyway… I have been sent for.’

    ‘Of course you have.’

    He looked at me, his bright blue eyes innocent, hurt. ‘But they need me.’

    ‘They always send for you,’ I said. ‘They always need you. Why would they not, as strong as you are, as skilled? But… I have noticed, the summons arrives always just as you are ready, your weapons stowed, your prayers said…’

    He looked down, intent on his work, I saw his eyes reflected in the blade.

    ‘I love you, Aebba,’ he said, and that, that was no lie, and it frightened me more than any dragon, that he needed to say it now. ‘I won’t be gone long…’

    A sigh at my stern silence and he shook his head, looking up.

    ‘No, I will be gone as long as it takes to keep us safe, you and the little ones and the village. And then I will return triumphant, and I will expect good hot soup, cold beer, and warm arms.’

    And that was truth, and lie, and truth, all together.

    I did not wave and call after him as he rode off next day. I held the childers close to me and handed him a flower, a forget-me-not, so blue, so very blue.

    But not as blue as his eyes.

    *

    They are still blue now, brighter now, looking out from his poor, bruised face as I cradle him in my lap and try not to weep.

    ‘Aebbe?’ he manages to say, and from somewhere I find a smile.

    I look into his face, only his face, so that I do not have to see the rest of him.

    ‘Don’t fear,’ I tell him. ‘Help will come.’

    And that is most certainly a lie.

    There is no one left alive to help, I think, in the whole of the world.

    Everything is gone, lost, razed, destroyed by dragon-fire.

    At least it is not cold here.

    ‘I did it, didn’t I?’ Finn asks, desperate to know he is the hero. ‘I killed the dragon, blinded it with my last arrow, ran it through with my sword…’

    …No, beloved, you hit it in the eye, made it angry, alerted it to where you were sheltering me, my dear idiot, my foolish Finn, and it turned on us… you stopped it, you held it off… but it was Dunstan, the King’s man who killed it even as you stabbed and it swiped at you, throwing you clear across the village. It was Dunstan pushed me to safety, he who ducked beneath its body to stab up into its heart, he who died beneath its crushing weight…

    Of course, I do not tell my poor, damaged husband that.

    ‘Yes, Finn,’ I say instead. ‘You killed it, you saved me. You saved us all.’

    I stroke the remains of his hair back from his face. So beautiful he had been, so fair,golden and gleaming. Not now. But still fair, to me.

    ‘Where are they, my son? Our daughter?’

    ‘Hush. Safe.’ This is not a lie. They said their prayers, they are innocent, they… they are free from the pain of this world, now, and if that is not safety, I do not know what is. ‘You wouldn’t want them to leave off their games just yet, would you?’

    ‘What about you? I thought… I thought I heard you scream…’

    ‘It is nothing, I am fine. I was afraid for a moment.’

    ‘Aebbe? Aebbe, love, I can’t feel my legs…’

    ‘Well, and how could you, when I am holding your hands?’ I say, trying to be playful and fun, just as he likes me to be.

    But the truth is, when the dragon threw him through the air, he landed badly, and although it took me forever to get to him, he didn’t move, didn’t stir even when I lifted his head into my lap. The truth is, my Finn is broken almost in two and I cannot bear to tell him.

    ‘What are you hiding from me?’ he asks, and I do not know what to say, so I let go of one of his hands to stroke his face again.

    ‘Perhaps it is just the shock,’ I tell him. ‘You remember old Ernulf, when the horse kicked him. Claimed he was fine, didn’t feel a thing, and then fell down in agony an hour later…’

    ‘Yes… when owner of the horse arrived…’

    Finn smiles, and I laugh, thinking about old Ernulf, even though it hurts, and for a few moments I nearly forget about my childers burned and my husband dying in my arms and all the blood…

    For there is blood, pooling beneath us somewhere; I can feel its trickle and I hold Finn tighter against my fears.

    ‘It’s getting dark,’ he says, ‘they will be lighting the lamps soon.’

    ‘Yes, dearest,’ I say, even though the sun in the sky mocks us with its bright middle-day light. Even though there is nobody left to light the lamps.

    Perhaps it is just that my Finn’s eyes need wiping, from the smoke.

    ‘And I am cold,’ he adds.

    I still have my shawl, and I lay it over him and press my hands to his face. It won’t be long now, and I bend to kiss his lips, despite the taste of blood. If this is the last of him I will have, I will savour it, bitter though it be.

    ‘It often gets colder towards nightfall,’ I say, and this is not a lie. ‘Finn, I love you. Even when you show off, even when you are late, even when you are drunk.’

    ‘Now, don’t get carried away, my girl!’ he says with a hint of his old familiar grin. ‘Just maybe another kiss, warm an old warrior’s heart?’

    ‘My love, you will never be old,’ I tell him, bending to his lips again, and this is a sad, sad truth.

    As we kiss, he stills, and his breath drifts into my mouth, and that is all.

    But his eyes, they are still so blue and bright as they look up into whatever place he is gone to.

    I sit forever holding him, until he is long cold, and I wonder that still he bleeds from somewhere, still pooling out beneath me is this slow and sticky redness. I sit until the day fades, for the sky is dark and I am growing cold.

    And I realise the last lie; I am not fine, the blood is not Finn’s, it is my own.

    And still nobody comes. There is nobody left in the whole world except Finn, and me.

    And that, that is the last truth.

  2. The January topic was challenging. We each drew three slips of paper; one had two character names, one a setting, and the third a genre. I drew:
    Paul and Reuben
    Garden Party
    Teenage
    Since we were performing as part of Library Fest yesterday, we didn’t get a chance to read out our homework, but here’s mine:

    Tombola Trouble

    Thing is, when you’re the son of the Parish Secretary; your mum isn’t your own, not even in the school holidays, because that’s when they have their charity things, when everyone can come.

    I shouldn’t complain, I suppose. It’s why Mum let me get Reuben, so he’d be company for me when she’s working and doing her church stuff.

    Anyway, Reuben’s really cool. He’s white, but with proper black eyes, so bright, like little globs of polished jet. He’s so clever, too. Rats are really intelligent. When we humans are all long extinct, it’ll be a battle between the roaches and the rats for world domination, and I’m betting on the rats.

    He’s a quick learner, too, my Roobz. He knows if he stays still and quiet, he can come out with me in my coat pocket. Of course, if he gets bored, or scared, he’s away up my sleeve if I don’t watch him.

    ‘Paul?’ Mum called. I put Roobz into his cage before I went to see what’s up, I’ve done it a few times, gone downstairs with Roobz on my shoulder and given some old thing a fright, so I try to remember not to do that now.

    ‘Hey, Mum. You want me?’

    ‘Yes. Not now, but at the do on Saturday. I need you to sell raffle tickets…’

    ‘Mum! I’m only fifteen, is it allowed?’

    I was only joking, trying to get out of a boring job at an even more boring thing, but Mum actually thought for a minute.

    ‘Good point. I’ll check with the vicar.’

    The ‘do’ Mum was planning was billed as a garden party to raise money for the Church Fabric Fund, to make new curtains for the vestry, I supposed. Really it was just another fair or something, stalls and tombola and cafe and raffle, out of doors if the weather held, church hall if it rained. Mum gave me a funny look when I pointed out it couldn’t be a garden party indoors, could it?

    ‘Too literal, that’s you, Paul,’ she’d said.

    Anyway, Saturday came, clear and dry, a bit on the cool side, but Mum said that was a good thing.

    ‘People will buy lots of hot drinks. Oh, Vicar says you can sell raffle tickets, it’s for charity and prizes, not for money.’

    So that was the end of my quiet Saturday; I was roped in to help set up, but managed to sneak off home and grab a sandwich while Mum wasn’t looking. I went to my bedroom to eat it, sharing with Reuben.

    Mum came looking for me, shouting up the stairs about it starting soon and she needed to tell me about the raffle.

    I sighed and tucked Roobz into my pocket. I hadn’t asked if I could bring him, she’d only say no and, anyway, if she found him, I might get sent home in disgrace.

    Raffle was easy, really. Tell everyone about the lovely prizes and hope they still want to buy tickets anyway. Take the money, give the change and the tickets, fold the stubs neatly and put them into the box.

    After half an hour or so, in raffle tickets was flagging. Mae, an ancient old woman with a wicked laugh who was meant to be in charge gave me a nudge.

    ‘Why don’t you take a walk round? I’ll be fine.’

    It seemed like a chance to escape, so I nodded and set off.

    It was starting to get warm, now, and I’d have liked to take off my jacket, but it had a pocket full of Reuben, of course, so I had to keep it on.

    Halfway around, I saw a familiar face, Cassie from school. She’s one of those girls you don’t mind talking to sometimes, clever and doesn’t have her head full of the same music as the rest of them. Today she was behind a stall looking fed up.

    ‘Hey, Cassie.’

    ‘Hi, Paul.’

    ‘What you doing here?’

    She nodded at a sign in front of a big wicker basket with a sigh.

    ‘Hold a snake £1.’ It said. ‘With photo £2.’

    ‘I take the pictures, Dad helps them hold the snake.’

    ‘Wow! Didn’t know you had a snake.’

    ‘Not me, Dad. I like them, though. We got two. They’re all right, not slimy, just smooth. Got a corn snake here today, he’s just a little thing, half a metre or so. He’s for the scared ones. And an Indian python, called Rajah… Metre and a half, for the tough guys.’

    ‘Wow. Are they hard to keep?’

    She shrugged. ‘Not really. Got to keep them warm. Rajah eats every ten days or so.’

    ‘What do you feed him?’

    ‘That’s the only icky bit, day old chicks, rats.…’

    ‘Rats!’

    ‘Frozen ones. Dad says, twenty years ago, you almost always had to give live feed, but it’s still a bit… you know…’

    ‘I have a rat in my pocket,’ I blurted.

    ‘Of course you do.’

    ‘No, really. He’s called Reuben and…’

    ‘Can I see?’

    ‘Well… All right. Come over here…’

    I backed away from the stall, taking no chances with Roobz even if the snakes were in a basket. Once I thought we were well clear, I lifted Reuben out, careful to keep most of him concealed so the old dears queuing for Tombola didn’t panic.

    ‘Oh, he’s nice!’ Cassie said. ‘Can I hold him?’

    ‘Okay.’ I stroked Roobz’s head, telling him to be good, not to mind the nice girl, be careful of his claws. ‘Hold out your hands.’

    She did, and I went to put Reuben into them, but suddenly he panicked, scabbled his feet madly against my hand and Cassie’s and ended up leaping out of my grip. The old dears around the Tombola gasped and one or two shrieked as Roobz headed for safety; the open hole of the Tombola barrel.

    ‘Quick, shut it,’ I shouted, hoping someone would listen, and the stallholder, realising what had happened, slid the panel across as people around me began to shout and scold.

    ‘I’m sorry,’ Cassie said, ‘it’s my fault. I helped get Rajah into his travel bag after a photo and I forgot, my hands must smell of snake… will he be all right?’

    ‘I hope so…’ I looked around. Angry old ladies were twittering at me now, someone had called for the vicar. ‘Come on.’

    I pushed through to the table where the tombola barrel was tumbling and rocking as Rueben moved around inside. I grabbed for it, ignoring the protests of people who hadn’t pulled out their tickets yet, running through the garden with Cassie fast on my heels.

    ‘Where are we going?’

    ‘My house!’

    Once we were round the corner and out of sight of the vicarage, I slowed down and took a better hold on the tombola drum as I led the way home, letting us in through the back door and heading straight up to my room, Cassie following.

    ‘Where’s your bathroom?’ she asked. ‘I need to wash my hands, I don’t want to frighten him again!’

    ‘On the left,’ I told her, putting the tombola drum down on the floor.

    Once Cassie joined me I shutt the bedroom door, taking Reuben’s feed dish out of his cage. I put a couple of bits of chocolate into it before opening the tombola drum; Cassie sat on the bed with her legs tucked up under her. I pretended not to notice.

    It took Roobz a minute or two before he came out, even for the chocolate. He looked okay, though, his movements a bit hesitant, maybe, but after a minute or two he let me pick him up and stroke him.

    ‘Want to meet him?’ I said, taking him over.

    Now Cassie no longer smelled of snake, Roobz was okay with her, relaxed and easy and Cassie smiled as she stroked him with one finger.

    ‘His fur’s so sleek! And he’s just…’

    ‘Yes, isn’t he?’ I shut Roobz back in his cage with fresh water and food. ‘Suppose we’d better get the Tombola back to the Garden Party.’

    Mum and the vicar were both waiting.

    ‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘sorry, Mum, it was Reuben, he…’

    ‘Paul, I’m ashamed of you! What you were thinking, bringing that rat…?’

    ‘I’ll have that, my lad,’ the vicar said, taking the Tombola barrel off me and heading back towards the stall. Mum followed, still telling me, and I trailed after, Cassie at my side.

    I had to apologise again to the old ladies whose fun had been spoiled when I ran off with the Tombola barrel.

    ‘Here, this ticket’s been ripped!’ one of the old dears said.

    ‘Mine’s all wet,’ another said, ‘and what’s this in here…? Raisins…?’

    I gulped and turned to Cassie.

    ‘I think Roobz got frightened…’ I said.

    ‘Are we running again?’

    ‘Yes.’

    We ran.

  3. August Homework

    The Android by Susan McCartney

    The 2 moons of Kryptol hung in the purpled sky as Karl made his way to the bar. The baleful light of the yellow moons reflected his dark mood and the hatred in his heart.
    ‘Damn robots stole my job, my chances, and my life. My wife, my kids gone and the blame lies with them, the machines. I hate all Androids.’
    He kicked up the red dust in his frustration and rage.
    ‘I hate them all with their expressionless faces. They show no emotions nor shed a tear. They work 24/7 with no fatigue, no pain and for little pay.’
    Bitterness stuck in his throat like cold vomit. He would have his revenge upon the system that allowed working men like him to be thrown on the scrapheap to fester. He pushed open the door of the bar and walked in with a scowl.
    ‘Hi Karl. Fancy a pint?’ Kurtis his only friend propped up the busy bar.
    Kryptol was a planet rich in minerals and jobs used to be plentiful before the advent of the Androids. The bitterness crawled through his brain like a maggot through a corpse. But now Android robots mined the rich red earth. He was out of work and impotent.
    Many Kryptolians were happy with the new system. They enjoyed generous Government benefits that enabled them to pursue cultured and rewarding lifestyles. On the surface, Kryptol was a peaceful planet with many opportunities for interplanetary travel, the sharing of ideas and the arts.
    Karl slammed his fist on the bar. ‘Get me a drink plastic man,’ The Android bartender displayed no emotion as he pulled a pint and handing it over with a polite ‘Thank you sir,’
    ‘Cool it Karl,’ said Kurtis. ‘They’ll send for the Reapers and no one wants them around.’
    The Reapers were a Government department designed to root out any hint of rebellion from the populace. Kryptol had little or no crime thanks to the actions of the Reapers who carried out summary justice with a callous and ruthless disregard for any would be wrong doer. Anyone caught carrying a weapon could be executed with no access to legal protection. Many who opposed the Government simply disappeared as if they never were. As if on cue 2 leather coated individuals entered the bar. The drinkers shrank back into their chairs with eyes down. The Reapers scanned the bar, their eyes like steel set in ice. Faces chiselled and hard took in each of the drinkers before they turned on their heels and left without a word.
    Kurtis whispered. ‘They are looking for renegades that blew up the No. 6 Rhodantium Mine. The explosion killed the humanoid supervisors as well as trapping the Android miners.’
    ‘Good for them,’ Karl hissed.
    Kurtis looked at his friend in disbelief.
    ‘Your father and your grandfather died before their time. Their lungs choked with Rhodantium dust. Remember them Karl? Their twisted bodies coughing up blood. Their faces seamed and scarred with the toxic mineral. You want that time back Karl? You want that for your son?’
    Karl had no time to answer as eyes swivelled to the TV screen. Karl felt a surge of excitement as the announcer beamed with the news that a new vein of Kronosite had been found on the Moon of Kronos. New opportunities would be available for all miners that wished to return to their old jobs. Kronosite was a mineral that could fuel the rockets that made trips to the stars and run the machines for centuries to come. The announcer, a spokesman for the Government, extolled the virtues of the new mineral and the benefits for all that made the trip to the Moon.
    ‘I thought that Kronos was a dead moon – a chunk of lifeless rock.’ Kurtis did not want to destroy Karl’s high hopes but he was troubled. Karl was transfixed by the news. His eyes gleamed with interest.
    Kurtis knew that his friend had taken part in protest marches that targeted Government offices concerned with Work and Employment. Hundreds of disenfranchised miners had marched waving banners and shouting for justice. The Reapers had looked upon these protesters with impassive faces. They had taken no action even when scuffles had broken out. Karl and his companions were unaware that secret cameras had continued to click and roll.
    ‘It’s a little hard to believe Karl. I’ve never heard of any mineral excavations on Kronos before.’ But Karl was not listening.
    ‘It’s a chance to get on my feet again and win my family back. I want to afford a real steak and not have to rely on this processed muck.’ He threw the Government Issue protein bar to the floor in disgust.
    The announcer continued to paint a vision of a new beginning with a new life working on a new colony. It was an appealing picture for those who were unemployed and very much unemployable.
    ‘All applicants should report to Sector 16 at 11.00 pm where employees of the Department of Work and Employment will process their applications.’ Such were the words that issued from the white teeth and smiling mouth of the announcer. He had the face of a weasel eyeing up a tempting clutch of eggs.
    ‘I don’t know Karl it seems too good to be true. Why are they not using the usual team of Androids? It seems an odd time to recruit and select!’
    ‘It’s fine for you. You have a job at No. 7 Mine. I need to work with my hands and not sit about discussing books I can’t read or art I don’t understand. If it wasn’t for them damn Androids my life would be great!’ The ranting had started up again.’
    ‘I’ve got to go Kurtis. See you tomorrow.’ He gulped down the last dregs of his beer and headed out to the one room that was now his only home.
    His friend looked at Karl’s retreating back, his face unreadable, impassive.
    The figure clad all in black jimmied open a back window of the Sector 16 building and without a sound entered. Eyes that had become accustomed to the gloom soon stared in horror. He’d known it was a scam. He knew that Kronos was a dead Moon and that the mineral and the jobs were cruel lies. Lies made to lure the unsuspecting and potential rebel to an unspeakable end.
    He froze as his sensitive ears caught the sound of feet drawing close. Reapers were checking that all would go ahead with success. The element of surprise was on his side. They never knew what hit them. The blows were swift and lethal. The Reapers were dead before the jaws of the machine devoured them. He waited for the others to come and when they did the same fate met them. One of them had managed to get in a knife wound deep into his side but he had felt no pain.
    Soon all the Reapers were ‘processed’ and he’d not long to wait for the Government Officials to make their entry.
    At 11pm Kurtis, the Android, joined Karl in the queue of unemployed miners. By 11.20 the queue was growing restless. There was no sign of any Government official.
    Kurtis opened the door to find Reception empty. The hum of machinery drew attention to a large steel door. Someone opened that door and gagged. Strong men stared with dawning horror. Some fainted. Some vomited. This room could only be described as an abattoir with an attached protein bar processing unit. A new batch of protein bars Government Issue lay wrapped and ready for despatch. A sharp-eyed observer may have noticed shreds of black leather beneath the cellophane wrappers.
    ‘This is what they meant for us Kurtis.’ Karl choked on the words. ‘I always blamed the Androids but the Government exploited them as well as us. I could not see it. Now I do. These evil manipulators need to be taught a lesson. They need to be brought down.’
    ‘Together we can Karl,’ said Kurtis the Android taking his friend’s arm. ‘Together we can. The future is ours.’

    Susan McCartney

    • Mangled by Tracey Martin (for Leeds Discovery Centre project)

      Mangled
      My gran’s in her pinny.
      We’ve watched her roll the pastry out
      and been allowed to eat
      the scalloped scraps the cutter left behind.
      We’ve spooned the jewel-red jam
      into the perfect cups she’s slipped
      in the hollows in the baking tin.

      Then the thunder starts.
      She sends us to open both doors
      front and back while she
      struggles to pull her wedding ring
      over her floury fingers.
      She makes us sit under the table
      still strewn with baking things.

      My gran shudders at each rumble
      but my real fear is the washing machine
      sitting malevolently by the door
      with its tight-lipped wooden mangle,
      threatening to pull my arm into its jaws
      and squeeze all the blood out
      like water oozing out of gran’s sheets.

  4. For ‘The Metal Workforce’ Exercise…

    Tarine Coutomaine and the Great Big Fib…

    Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the characters, especially by Tarine Coutomaine, are not the opinions of the author.

    She perched on the edge of the desk, her legs crossed and her hands bracing against it, occasionally moving to gesticulate. Her heels were high, but her hems were higher, high enough so that it was obvious to the two young men that formed her class that her legs were clad not in tights but in stockings. Her impossible auburn hair was piled improbably high on her head and her audience were paying rapt attention.
    Tremaine, watching through the glass of the classroom door, shook his head and smiled at the legend that was Tarine Coutomaine.
    Her clothing would have looked good on someone half her age, and ought to have looked wrong, like Grandma borrowing your sister’s rah-rah skirt to wear to a disco, but on this woman, it looked fine. By the time you had taken in the entirety of her presence, and decided she couldn’t, possibly, be that old, she could have got you in a death grip, had it been necessary.
    He knocked, and was about to enter when he saw Tarine’s basilisk glare and hesitated, waiting while she finished speaking and finally waved him in.
    The two students got to their feet, their chairs scarping back, somehow regressing to schooldays and the need to show respect for the teacher.
    ‘Sit down,’ Tremaine said, watching a moue of amusement form on Tarine’s elegantly lipsticked mouth. ‘Tarine – could I have a word?’
    She raised one of those daunting eyebrows at him and jumped down off the desk. The two students gave a simultaneous sigh as her skirts drifted up for just a moment, and she favoured them both with a stern look.
    ‘While I’m gone, begin working of the premise on the board. Peregrine, you’re trying to prove the premise, Arthur, you’re disproving it. Feel free to argue about it.’
    Tremaine led the way to his office. Coffee was waiting and he poured two cups while Tarine arranged herself elegantly on a chair.
    ‘What’s this about, Tremaine?’ she asked, sipping daintily.
    ‘It’s about David. Thought you’d like to know the hospital sent word he’s woken up. Should be out in a few days, back to work within a couple of weeks…’
    ‘Oh, that is good news! Almost worth interrupting my class for, in fact.’
    ‘First words out of his mouth were ‘It wasn’t Tarine’s fault.’…’
    Tarine tried hard for an innocent look.
    ‘But what were you thinking, Tremaine, questioning the poor boy as soon as he regained consciousness…?’
    ‘I didn’t! Nobody asked him anything, he just woke up saying…’
    ‘Sweet of him, then. Was the lion all right, too?’
    Tremaine sighed.
    ‘Yes, the lion was fine…’
    ‘You know, I really don’t know what this place is coming to! It looks as if you just can’t get the staff any more…’
    ‘Well, there are some things you just can’t put in a job advertisement… by the time they come into my hands, they’ve been trained to expect a certain degree of health and safety…’
    ‘So what am I? Baptism of fire?’
    Tremaine allowed himself a smile.
    ‘Pretty much, yes.’
    ‘Well, delighted though I am to learn David is awake and not too badly mauled, what else, Tremaine?’
    ‘About this thought exercise I’ve got you and your chaps on…’
    ‘The one that says when people have more time they’ll realised they don’t need a government so we’d better keep them busy with McJobs?’
    ‘Yes…’
    ‘It’s flawed. The premise is just not sound. We’ll never have that much free time, we never have the chance to get beyond thumb-twiddling! Ever since there were enough people to call them a crowd, there has been crowd control…’
    ‘What?’ Tremaine managed faintly.
    ‘The Romans, slave-based society. But the slave owners weren’t idle, they had all their gods to appease, their estates to run… there were the Games to use up the surplus population and to keep the masses happy… what was the phrase? ‘Bread and Circuses, that’s it… Then came the church, telling you what you could and couldn’t do, when you could do it, with whom…the Crusades used up the surplus men so those left behind had to work harder – war is always good for population control, if extreme… witch-hunts later used up the surplus old ladies…’
    ‘Tarine…’
    ‘…The only people with any spare time were the wealthy, and as they were the only ones allowed to vote, they were in the club, so to speak. They knew how it worked back than and it still works now. It’s all just a great big fib to keep us where they want us.’
    She finished her coffee.
    ‘Besides, people will always want to be told what to do. And if the government doesn’t do it, someone else will.’
    Tremaine waited to be sure the World According to Tarine diatribe had finished.
    ‘You know, Tarine, you’re starting to remind me of David Icke…’
    ‘David Icke? Do not get me started on David Icke! The man has a revelation, starts talking, gains a following, next thing you know the only way to shut him up is to feed him some ridiculous information nobody would ever fall for… and people still believed him anyway.’ Tarine shook her head. ‘Which only goes to prove my point: People may not like being led, but they do like to follow…’
    ‘When did you ever toe the party line, Tarine?’
    ‘That’s because I’m a person, not a people. Individually, a person can be reasoned with. Together, people can be very stupid.’ She got to her feet. ‘And on that note, I need to get back to my class.’
    ‘Are you calling two of my finest stupid?’
    ‘Not at all – I’m, calling your thought experiment stupid.’
    ‘Tarine – that thought experiment? It’s more than that – it’s an actual policy…’
    She spared him a longsuffering glance as he held the door for her.
    ‘Of course it’s policy!’ She sniffed. ‘Doesn’t make it any less stupid, though.’

    Peregrine and Arthur broke off their discussion as Tarine breezed past them towards the whiteboard, Tremaine following. She waited for the trainees to settle before addressing them.
    ‘Very well. Arthur, you were to disprove the premise… how did you get on?’
    ‘Well, we have soaring house prices, soaring unemployment… with many couples, both have to work to pay the bills… I can’t see where all this extra time is that the government is worried about, people work harder than ever, except the unemployed and even they have to do courses and such now. The premise doesn’t hold up.’
    ‘On the contrary.’ Peregrine stood up to speak. ‘The very things Arthur uses as evidence are my proof. It shows the government has already begun to plan. Look at the rise in fast food restaurants, and the jobs they create… then look at the corresponding need for jobs in the health sector, the proliferation of private gyms, the rise of the personal trainer… it’s all evidence for the premise…
    ‘Well, Tarine?’ Tremaine said into the silence that followed.
    She composed her thoughts for a moment.
    ‘In the 1970s, a TV show named ‘Tomorrow’s World’ showed a device called a microchip. They claimed it would revolutionise how we lived… And it has. But not in the way predicted. Instead of working half hours and having all this leisure time, we now work longer and have less time than ever. But what we do have is lots of gadgets with microchips in them, things we’re convinced we cannot live without.’
    She shrugged.
    ‘Frankly, gentlemen, we have all been had. We will never have more leisure time – we don’t even have time to cook, we claim, hence all the fast food… and we will always believe there is something else to strive for, a new phone, a bigger tv… and what is TV except the biggest circus of all?’ In fact, the only thing doing well out of this whole thing is the microchip.’
    Tarine smiled.
    ‘We’re back to bread and circuses again, fast food, TV, internet… this isn’t a modern policy, it’s two thousand years old. Makes you think, doesn’t it?’

  5. Since we were a little thin on the ground yesterday, I’m posting my story here as well…

    Tarine Coutomaine and the Fortune Cookie of Doom
    ‘So… Who’s paying?’
    Tarine propped her elbows on the table, laced her fingers together to make a suitable support for her chin and fluttered her improbably long eyelashes at her husband.
    Nat returned her look with an easy grin. ‘Who always pays, Tee?’
    She smiled and dimpled, the skin at the sides of her eyes creasing into laugh-lines as she looked around at the rest of her family; two sons and a daughter, all grown up now.
    Not that you’d know they were grown up to judge from her daughter’s excited squeal as the Fortune Cookies arrived
    ‘No, thank you,’ Tarine waved hers away. ‘I prefer life to surprise me!’ But the waiter ignored her and tumbled the last one onto her plate. She sighed and broke into the cookie as around her the rest of the family read out and pondered their fortunes.
    Her own wasn’t quite what she’d expected…
    “Your life is in danger. Say nothing to anyone. You must leave the city immediately and never return. Repeat………..say nothing.”
    Really? Tarine sighed, picked up her handbag and pushed her chair back, passing behind Nat’s seat to press her hands on his shoulders for a moment.
    ‘Just going to powder my nose, dearest,’ she said. Passing the adjoining table, she saw two young men trying to pretend they hadn’t seen her, which was odd because they’d been looking at her all evening… not that she wasn’t worthy of looking at, with her striking auburn hair back-combed into a post-modernist beehive, and she didn’t look her age… but something about their eyes hadn’t suggested admiration…
    Smiling so hard she dimpled, Tarine leaned between the two men so they were intimidated by the sight of her still-formidable cleavage.
    ‘I think this one was meant for you,’ she said, and picked a victim, depositing her fortune cookie of doom in front of the darker-haired one. ‘You’d better hurry.’
    Job done, she trotted past them, heading through the swing doors to the toilets and ducking quickly into the ladies’, where she locked herself in a cubicle and opened the window.
    It wasn’t the first time she’d had to make a hasty exit, and she made a point of reconnoitring every restaurant in advance, just in case. So she knew that the window in the ladies’ opened just wide enough to admit a human body but had a nasty drop down into a locked yard which held the bins; the only hiding places were obvious, smelly and unpleasant.
    The gents’, however, accessed an alleyway, and once she had slithered under the cubicle (they made the dividing walls as short as possible to save on costs and materials these days) and escaped the ladies’, she ducked into the gents’, and was out of the window before the swing door had had time to stop swinging.
    It was a warm summer evening, not late enough for it to be properly dark or for the buses to have stopped running, so she headed out of the alley and straight towards the bus stops.
    While she waited she pondered the message. ‘Your life is in danger…say nothing to anyone… leave the city… never return…’
    ‘Nonsense!’ Tarine said aloud, drawing wary glances from the others in the queue.
    But it was nonsense! There was nothing worse, to Tarine’s mind, than a badly-worded threat! Although it could be a warning… In any case ‘Say nothing’ was ambiguous; did it mean about the danger? About her leaving? It was impossible to say nothing; one had to say please or thank you, and then Tarine was not naturally the silent type…
    A bus arrived and she got on, buying a day ticket so that she didn’t have to decide where she was going yet. A seat at the back offered the best cover, and she sat neatly with her handbag on her lap, thinking.
    She allowed herself a small smile as she remembered the expression on the young man’s face as he read the fortune cookie; as distractions went, it had been a good one. She hoped he was naïve enough to believe the cookie really was for him, that he was running, even as she was, although hopefully in the opposite direction…
    As the bus growled along, she realised she’d have to choose a destination soon… turning alternatives over in her head, she discounted one after another…
    Oh, yes, of course. Perfect.
    She got off the bus at the next stop and waited ten minutes on the edge of a sink estate for another to take her a mile up the road to where she could disembark and head through the back streets and ginnels of East Leeds to a slightly run-down park.
    It was a dark, unlit wilderness, but Tarine knew it of old and headed across the grass towards a stand of trees where there was an old oak with nice, wide boughs. She shimmied up, secured herself tightly in a wedge of the branches, and settled in for the night.
    The Morning Chorus sounded exceptionally loud to Tarine, from her vantage point in the middle of the tree. The sky had that thin, milky quality of the very early morning and she guessed she’d had about three or four hours rest; she couldn’t really call it sleep. Her eyes felt scratchy and fuzzy and she ached in places she didn’t know existed…
    Stretching carefully, she opened her handbag and made a swift inventory of her weapons… a metal tail comb (vital for backcombing neatly and equally good for stabbing an enemy in the eye with), a pair of nail scissors, a plastic-coated woven tape measure which could function as either bindings or a garrotte… a fountain pen and a propelling pencil… yes, you could tell she’d retired, there was hardly anything in here these days.

    Mind you, with everything else she carried round, the bag was heavy enough to make a useful cosh…
    It is a matter of record that the building at the bottom of York Rd in Leeds is based on Ceausescu’s palace. It is less well known that several different planning applications were made, all with variations, and nobody is quite sure exactly which plan was followed.
    Nobody except Tarine, of course.
    Six thirty a.m. and she entered the building with other cleaning staff and set about her apparent duties. It wasn’t long, however, before she ditched her overall and found her way up a set of back stairs to a small office on the third floor that was, apparently, a toilet, a stationery cupboard, or a kitchen, depending which plan you looked at.
    In reality, it was none of those things, but a rather lushly appointed office.
    Tarine ensconced herself in the swivel chair, tucking her feet up and swinging it round so she couldn’t be seen from the door.
    She dozed for an hour or so until the rattle of the door woke her. She timed her swivel for maximum impact and met the astonished stare of the Head of Department.
    ‘Good grief! What are you doing here, Tarine?’
    Tarine raised an expressive eyebrow.
    ‘Good question, Tremayne. “Leave the city and never return”?
    Tremayne grinned. ‘You never could follow orders!’
    ‘I have followed orders – I have left the city – according to its mediaeval boundaries, that is. Really, if you are going to write instructions and hide them in Fortune Cookies, you should be more explicit! Now, Tremayne, what are you playing at? I am, after all, retired… or I thought I was…’
    ‘Ah.’ Tremayne looked at his shoes. ‘Yes. You see, we needed to show some of the young chaps how it’s done and…’
    ‘And you didn’t ask me first?’
    ‘Well, no; we knew it was your birthday and you’d have declined. This way…’
    ‘This way, how could I refuse the challenge…?’ She raised an amused eyebrow. ‘I hope, after I left, someone told Nat what you were up to?’
    ‘Well, eventually…’
    ‘Eventually?’
    ‘Yes. Our two trainees panicked; one of them got as far as Bradford before we picked him up. It took an hour of patient explanation before he believed that Fortune Cookie hadn’t been intended for him…’
    Tarine shook her head, laughing. ‘You really can’t get the staff, these days, can you?’
    ‘Well, no,’ Tremayne said. ‘Why else do you think we needed you?’ He grinned. ‘You know, your husband said you seem bored lately… he also said he wouldn’t mind if you came back… on a part-time basis… and I thought perhaps training up the new young operatives might be of interest…?’
    Tarine’s eyes danced and she locked her fingers together and dimpled at him. ‘Go on?’
    ‘An increase of salary, of course… due consideration for family… it would be much more nine-to-five…’
    ‘Three,’ she said. ‘Nine-to-three. Actually, nine-thirty-to-three is good. Occasional out of hours, perhaps.’
    ‘Excellent!’ Tremayne stepped forward to shake her hand. ‘When can you start?’
    Tarine raised an expressive eyebrow. ‘I started last night, didn’t I?’ she said.

  6. FRAMED

    Sam spent a while looking for the best vantage point-he must be losing his touch as when he was younger he was able to go straight to the right point for taking his photos. Now his body seemed to ache with the climb up the hill and other photographers were already gathering in the best spots. Then he saw it-the small incline with a flat boulder on top-he would even be able to not only get a solid spot for his tripod, but also get an almost aerial view of the race. It was a pull to climb up the final incline-small though it was, but after the final puffing and panting he almost collapsed at the top-careful not to damage his camera of course. Getting his breathe back he set up his tripod and camera then settled down to eat his breakfast of jam sandwiches with tea from his flask.
    He checked his watch it-it was almost ten o’clock and from his vantage point he could see the crowds starting to gather up both sides of the road up the hill. He was glad he had set off early. The race was due to pass by about one o’clock in the afternoon it had said on the news so he had plenty of time to judge camera angles, rules of thirds and the best view for light and shadows from where the sun would be in the sky at that time. Past experience came into play and he just did it automatically-even if it was a bit more slowly. “Just like riding a bike” he had always said to his grandchildren. Then the time came he saw the riders racing up the hill – camera ready he took his photo using fill in flash and panning on the lead cyclist to get the sense of speed.
    The cyclist, head down, moved his body to the rhythm of the bike. In an almost standing position he felt the pain and adrenalin pumping through his body. Gloved hands gripping the handlebars, throat dry, muscles straining, his mind was totally in the moment of the effort of keeping his lead-he would have a drink having got past the brow of the hill. In the pull up the hill he did not see the scenery or the spectators at either side of the road his mind only focused on the job in hand sweat ran down his face. The old man taking the photo was just another spectator to him.
    Sam sat back having taken the photo, then watched the remaining of the race enjoying it and remembering when he had raced in the Tour de France as a young man. He also remembered the terrible accident that had meant he could no longer ride and then he took up photography instead to fill the days left empty of purpose. Reminiscing he drank the last of his tea and ate his potted beef sandwiches then went home.
    Back at the care home he had caused total panic. He had told no one of his plans so when it was breakfast time and he wasn’t there a search party was raised. On his return that evening all the care workers had sighed a sigh of relief and everyone made a fuss of him. Watching the evening news in his slippers he thought he saw himself on the bulletin and he had a little smile to himself for the good day he had had. Going to bed, he looked at the framed photo of him cycling in his younger days.

  7. Beloved Pirate

    Oh, how I loved you.
    Ten years, now, and I remember the day. You are my Kennedy Assassination, my Twin Towers; I remember what I was doing when the news came of your death.
    I was so alone in my grief. Alone, that is, until Georgia got to work to do her half-day.
    Georgia is hard-core. Every year, she and her husband Mark ride a stage of Le Tour. I have photos of her on Ventoux, stoker on their tandem. She brings her folding bike to work with her, cycling to and from the railway station, a mile this end of the journey, five at the other.
    I can barely manage two wheels; I have an amazing canary-bird yellow 1970s Pashley tricycle which I can just about cope with, and a pre-WWI Hercules: rod brakes, Sturmey Archer shift, dynamo lantern and original Brookes saddle. My husband was the real cyclist, though; he built his own racer, and has destroyed his knees riding too hard.
    So. Ten years ago, I looked at Georgia and she looked at me.
    ‘Pantani,’ I said, and she nodded and came to sit on the edge of my desk.
    ‘Isn’t it awful?’
    ‘Terrible. He was an idiot, but he was a clean idiot. Mostly. Sort of.’
    ‘It broke him, that. Everyone knew he was clean…ish…’
    ‘It wasn’t illegal, then, haematocrit.’
    ‘Shocking.’
    ‘So sad.’
    Our line manager looked at us. ‘Are you two okay?’
    ‘Just someone died. A cyclist. He was only 34.’
    ‘Oh, that’s young. What was it, drugs?’
    ‘Yes. Depression and cocaine overdose. Such a waste.’
    She wandered off to line manage someone else, at least giving us a few minutes more to look at each other and shrug and sigh.
    ‘I haven’t had anyone to talk to about it,’ Georgia said. ‘Mark’s away.’
    ‘I know. It’s just so sad.’
    ‘He was great. He was crazy.’
    ‘Remember 1998? He got the double…’
    ‘Yes. Le Tour and the Giro.’
    ‘He deserved the yellow jumper.’
    ‘True. But he looked so hot in the pink. Remember him and Armstrong, eyeball to eyeball?’
    ‘And Pantani took him and Armstrong claimed after to have gifted him it?’ She grinned.
    ‘Never believed that one.’ I grinned back. ‘It’s such a loss.’

    It still is such a loss, beloved pirate. The shaven head, the bandana, the earrings, the swagger… you earned the nickname and lived up to it. Il Pirata. You were far too young and much too precious to lose, but, still, we lost you, and, even now, I watch the great races and I miss you.
    And now Le Tour is coming to Leeds. You wouldn’t still have been racing, not now; you’d have been 44 by now, just a little long in the tooth. But I bet you’d have been watching, as I will be watching and as Georgia will be watching and, just maybe, I would have thought of us all watching the same thing together, all focussed on the same great event.
    Maybe, when I go to watch the Grand Depart, I’ll wear pink. And maybe I’ll take a bandana, beloved pirate. And I will certainly think of you, the way you used to ride, dancing the mountains away.

    ***
    Notes: The winner of the Giro wears a pink jersey.

  8. CYCLIST IN THE HOUSE

    A cyclist lives in our house.
    Cycling caused one of his screws to come loose. Literally. One of the screws holding his fractured ankle bone together, worked loose. He broke the ankle cycling. An unanticipated dismount.
    The bone has knitted. The loose screw has been removed, along with a metal plate and four others that weren’t loose. He is healing, and the jokes about him having a screw loose are now irrelevant.
    ‘I want to ride my bike!’ he complains. I tell him there’s a song about that, tell him to be patient, tell him he must think of the rest of his life. A compromise is reached; an exercise roller is purchased, taken upstairs.
    After a nerve-racking, wobbly start, one hand on the handlebars, the other on the wardrobe door handle, the thunderous vibrations cause the downstairs light fittings to rattle and drown out conversation. We take the contraption outside. It starts to rain. The rollers become too slippery, too dangerous. Finally, settled in the garage, frantic, sweaty, static cycling takes place. The sounds of indie music tumble out of the open door.
    You can tell a cyclist lives in our house – the huge amount of food that is consumed, the bright bunting of headless and footless lycra bodies waving on the washing line, the helmet, gloves, pump, inner tubes, tyre levers, spanners and allen keys that are always by the back door, the tap-dancer click-clack of his shoes across the kitchen floor, the regular parcels from Wiggle – indispensible, incomprehensible pieces of rubber and metal.
    The Tour is coming. Its vivid pageant will flash through our city and will soon be gone. A brilliant, summer memory.
    My cyclist is going soon, away to University.
    I shall miss him.

  9. Scars
    A lifetime passionate about cycling had left Jenna with many mementos, some of which she was proud of. She had awards for cycle races, fundraising medals, certificates and photos, and newspaper clippings documenting her many successes. Her failures were marked in a different way, however, but she’d never been bothered about her looks until her friend asked Jenna to be a bridesmaid.
    She’d turned up to the first fitting, hugging Lyndsey and smiling at the two cousins and three young nieces all lined up and ready to be measured. Gamely, Jenna stripped down to her underwear, and stepped up to the dressmaker’s assistant and her tape measure.
    “Oh my God,” she heard muttered behind her.
    Jenna turned to look at the cousins, who were now whispering behind their hands, and glancing at her.
    “What? What’s up?” she asked Lyndsey. Her friend was staring at her, mouth wide open.
    “Jen, I never realised…” Lyndsey stammered, her sentence drifting off into the ether.
    Jenna walked over to the huge mirror, trying to ignore the assistant and dressmaker’s looks of horror. The youngest niece piped up “Was the lady in an accident?” before her big sister shushed her.
    Jenna regarded her reflection. Scars, down her left leg, where she’d corned too fast on a mountain bend in Italy. White lines criss-crossed her upper arm on the other side, a reminder of braking quickly when a pile up of bikes and riders interrupted a race in Belgium. Pits and bumps on both knees and shins. She’d had gravel picked out so many times that she couldn’t remember the individual incidents.
    Scars over her collarbone, scars over her elbows, scars on her back, scars everywhere. She usually didn’t see them. But today they were all she could look at. She glanced up at the peach dresses hanging on the rail next to the mirror. They were strapless, knee-length, and totally unforgiving to someone with muscular thighs and calves from hours spent pumping the pedals, let alone a body that had been punished by tarmac and gravel.
    “Oh, I see what you mean. “
    “I never realised, I mean, I’d seen the marks on your hands and arms, but you always wear jeans and t-shirts.”
    Jenna didn’t know what to say.
    “Well, it’s not so bad, we can sort something out,” Lyndsey rallied. “You could wear a shrug, cover your shoulders, and…”
    “We could get some of that special make up they use, I’ve read a magazine article about a woman with a burned…” joined in a cousin.
    Jenna shook her head.
    “I’m not embarrassed, and I’m not going to hide myself. I’m sorry Lyndsey, but I’m proud of my scars, they’re part of me, my history, my love of cycling. “
    She put her hand on her friend’s arm.
    “I’m not going to ruin your wedding by looking out of place, don’t worry. I think I’d better sit the bridesmaid thing out. Maybe you could ask…” she started, as Lyndsey flung her arms around her, sobbing.
    “But I wanted you in my wedding!” she wailed.
    And that’s how, on the big day itself, Jenna had a very different role to play. Everyone agreed that Lyndsey and Steve looked absolutely charming as they left the church, seated in the white, ornate, beribboned rickshaw, with Jenna pedalling away in front. She was dressed in a new trouser suit, with a peach rose in her lapel, and peach fascinator in her hair, and gave a huge grin as cameras flashed, and her best friend waved happily from the seat behind.

  10. The new sport

    Hazel and her partner brought a carven recently just outside of Filey. It was a good bargain price on a well kept site.
    Although Hazel was happy with the holiday home, she felt she needed more than somewhere to walk around there, and having meals out with Sam, and they new found friends. Hazel had been healthy eating, and decided she would take up cycling to regain her fitness. She discussed with Sam by telling him she intended to buy a bike for their break in the holiday home mid-July.
    That Saturday she visited a bike shop in town One of the assistants asked if they could help her; I would like to speak to a professional cyclists please; Hazel firmly asked. He then when over to get the manager. Good afternoon, he said; as he approached Hazel. Asking what kind of bike she was looking for? and also what would she be using it for. Hazel went on to say, how she had a bike in her late teens and loved the joy of cycling seeing things in different light I feel it gives you that taste of freedom. I ‘m just concentrating on using it around our holiday site for the time being. Ok, he smiled I’ll just talk you through all you need to start you up. Hazel sat on a few bikes that caught her eye, but felt a bit awkward on them. Them this helpful voice pointed her in the right direction this bike over here, Madam. Will be perfect for your height if you like to try it out. You see the saddle and hand-bars need to be the right height for you. Hazel did feel comfortable he was so right, there the sale was made. He made a point about her posture, and how important that was especially after a long journey. You need to try out in a park first or small area to check your brakes & gears. It will be a good idea to have padded cycle shorts, and you also need good cycling shoes, so any good sport shop will do for those.
    Hazel was so happy with the bike he had made a good choice, and getting it at a sale price was a bonus. She could not wait for Sam to return from to show off her pride & joy.
    Hazel set out to the local park the next Friday with a ex work mate knowing had been riding a bike for years. Hazel needed a kick start to get her back on track. The bike needed to be held in position by someone until Hazel could get her confidence back. They were there for hours, then at long last Hazel was cycling alone going like wind with the bike shining in the sun. Time for a bike to eat now, Hazel announced; My treat after all your help. The two girls chatting till 5.30 when the café closed. Then saying they goodbyes.
    Then the time came for them to go and stay at their holiday home, the weather was perfect. Hazel cycled every day getting better all the time, Sam prised her saying how cute she looked in all the new gear Helmet, T shirt, shorts & even cycling gloves. She cycled to the next village for four miles in which was a big improvement for her. After a perfect holiday with Sam, her interest in cycling become more keen, and she then signed up online for next years charity cycle race. How Sam was very proud of her she had come so far in sure a short space of time.

    By Susan Mace

  11. My New Life on a Bike

    Until last year, I had not ridden a bicycle since I was 14.

    Now I am 46, and, 5 years ago, moved from Leeds to Girona, a small city in Catalonia, NE Spain, close to Barcelona and the Costa Brava. It is a very beautiful, picturesque city with an old neighbourhood much visited by tourists and surrounded by miles of countryside, an idyllic place to live.

    For cycling enthusiasts it is also known as a centre for pro cyclists drawn to the area by the perfect riding conditions, both weather and terrain, and made famous when Lance Armstrong chose to live here at the peak of his, albeit drug fuelled, powers. Now a number of top riders, including Ireland’s Dan Martin, live here and it is home to the whole Garmin team, which will ride in the Tour De France, this year. For me, though, my cycling ambitions, were much simpler.

    When driving out to the coast through acres of green countryside and tiny villages, under the sun, it struck me how many people ride bikes here, not just pro’s, but locals, families and kids, and how they seemed to be able to take paths and routes through the heart of the countryside that car drivers just couldn’t go. I felt like I was missing out. So, I decided to nip down to the local bike shop, picked up a used, ex-rental Cannondale bike and join them.

    The last time I had rode a bike, it was a Raleigh Chopper, I had lost control, banged my head on the railings outside my house in Sheffield, and woken up in the hospital. After a night’s observation, next day I was fine but you can imagine my apprehension as I sat there on my new bike, lined up alongside my wife, 30+ years later getting ready to set off on the country road ahead.

    All went well, a few problems with understanding the gears, could hardly climb the smallest incline, yet seemed to have no tension on the flat, but, once, that was overcome, it was fine, no accidents, and, by the end, even felt relaxed and enjoyed myself.

    Net day, the bum was numb and my legs were like jelly but, not put off, I sought out further good routes, checked the off-road maps, and, now try to get out on my bike every Sunday.

    We are lucky in this part of the Spain, the lack of people, quiet traffic and availability of wide open spaces, make it very easy to ride for miles without sharing the path with a car. It is very safe and scenic. The routes are picture postcard perfect, can be flat and easy or, follow the pro’s, and be very hard but it is accessible and fun for everyone.

    When the Grand Depart was announced for Leeds, I don’t think the people of the UK really realised just how big the Tour De France is in Europe. When I came to Girona and said I was from Leeds people used to look at me blankly, asked “is it near London?” “Is that in the North, somewhere?” Now, everyone seems to know the place, often better than me, raving about the wonderful countryside nearby, and that is well before they have even seen the event when the ever-present helicopter above the race will capture “God’s Country” at its perfect best.

    I couldn’t miss out on this event and, rather than just spectate, I have decided (for the first time in my life!) to volunteer. You should see me somewhere between Otley and Ilkley on Stage 1 with my flag and whistle trying to make sure no cyclist comes to grief on my stretch of race.

    To those that remember riding their bikes fondly in their childhood, I would say, it is never too late to get back into it. It is a fun way to sightsee and keep fit at the same time. If the weather and traffic put you off after so many years, come over to somewhere like Girona, hire a bike and get your confidence. Once that bug bites again, it will be hard to give it up again!

    Enjoy the Tour De France and be proud of Yorkshire.

  12. ‘The wheel ’

    This Tour de France will finish sometime.
    The bicycle wheels will go round and round and round.
    Never will stop, this the monotonous competition.
    The exhausted cyclists will be glad to stop.
    But the race will go on and on over the tops.

    Round and round the cycles go;
    sometimes fast, sometimes slow;
    sometimes debris clogs the flow.
    But progressing to…what?
    We just don’t know!

    How can so delicate a structure
    support without breakage or fracture
    without feeling any the worse after all
    the ups and downs of life’s meandering course?
    The supports seem so fragile, so diaphanous

    The cycle cannot stop going round and round
    until it reaches the inevitable boundary
    where everything stops and nothing is found.
    It finds its origin, here in the ground.

    When the energy runs out the motor dies,
    the rest, like a bird, off it flies.
    Unlike the Tour, where the race will go on,
    and on, and on and on
    ad infinitum, never to be completed…

  13. The February topic is proving surprisingly difficult to pin down! Finally have an idea with nine days to go to the next meeting!

  14. Music, My Muse: Kostas and Jenny
    He walked in and it felt as if all the air had been expelled from my lungs, a bear-hug contraction leaving me breathless, drowning… Above average height, hair the colour of corn and grey eyes , irises ringed with a dark oceanic blue, a memory of pain and fortitude in their depths… Strong and muscular, but with just a few extra pounds to soften his frame, to make him perfectly huggable, holdable.
    Yes. I knew he was exactly right for the job. But I went through the questions, just to see how he reacted. It would help later.
    First thing was to get him talking, see what he sounded like.
    I made myself breathe again and found a professional smile. ‘Hello. What’s your name?’
    ‘Kostas. They call me Kostas.’
    ‘Have a seat, Kostas. Tell me a bit about yourself?’
    ‘I… I don’t know how I got here. I don’t know what you want?’
    ‘Don’t worry about it.’ I had his voice now, a musical tenor, clear, with lots of inflection, a touch of an accent. The sort of voice you could listen to as if it were your favourite song. ‘When you came into the room…’ I began.
    He lifted his chin to look at me, hold my gaze.
    ‘I didn’t expect to find myself here,’ he said. ‘I was just going for a walk… and then there is a building, a door. You.’
    ‘It’s confusing, I know. But it’s okay, you’re safe here. Have some coffee, or tea?’
    There was a tray on a low table, flanked by easy chairs. I moved across to sit, inviting Kostas to join me with a gesture. I hope the informality would relax him.
    ‘Coffee, thank you.’
    I poured coffee for us both, most of my attention to the brew to give him a moment’s recovery time.
    The truth was I didn’t have the first idea where I pulled these people from. I just sent for them, and they arrived. They all responded differently, none of them sure how they got here, all claiming they’d been plucked from some quiet inactivity to find themselves in my office. I remember, years ago now, when I interviewed Rhys… he’d walked in with nonchalant curiosity, and when I’d tried to get him talking about himself, instead, he’d held me in his handsome gaze and given me an almost edible smile.
    ‘I do believe this sofa converts to a bed, did you realise that?’ he’d said. ‘Care to try it?’
    Of course, that bravado had landed him the job, although I hadn’t let him demonstrate my furniture’s previously-unsuspected versatility. Rhys had done good work for me, still was, in fact. But no-one, before or since, had ever responded quite so calmly as Rhys had. Generally, like poor Kostas, they exhibited differing levels of bewilderment.
    Kostas was looking a little better now, at least. I decided not to ask any more personal questions. I could find out later. I always did.
    ‘So, Kostas, I have something I’d like you to do. A job, if you like…’
    ‘A job? But I have things to do, places I must be and…’
    Of course, it didn’t matter. He would do what I asked; he had no option, really. Once I told him, he’d find himself set on the course of action I spelled out for him. The only thing was how much to tell him and how much to let him find out for himself. I always felt bad, keeping anything from them.
    ‘There’s a young woman. She’s alone and vulnerable and she really needs a friend. But she’s damaged, and this means she might not behave the way you expect…’
    ‘A girl? But I have too much to do to be friends with some girl… I’m very sorry, but I have to go now. Thank you for coffee.’
    ‘Okay, Kostas. It was nice to talk to you. I hope it works out.’
    Once he’d gone, I sighed. I’d taken to Kostas in a way I seldom took to the people I met in here. Perhaps I was almost a little in love with him. And I was responsible for what came next for this quiet, calm young man with the suffering eyes, and I felt rather bad about it. He was going to be very unhappy for a long time, all because I’d summoned him and told him he was going to meet someone.
    ‘Oh, Kostas!’ I found myself muttering. ‘I’m going to do so many things with you. Bad things, sadly.

    I gave it a few minutes before considering the next applicant.
    ‘You’re Jenny, aren’t you? Take a seat.’
    Jenny shrugged. She had energetic red hair and washed-out blue eyes. Something about her made my spine prickle.
    ‘I was in my room… I do it a lot, when it all gets too much. I don’t like to be around people… I just fill up with despair and seeing other people happy just disassociates me…’
    ‘How are you feeling, Jenny?’
    ‘Good days, bad days. I thought this was a good day, and suddenly I’m hallucinating again…’
    ‘No, you’re not, Jenny, you’re fine. I asked you here because I have a job for you.’
    ‘Me? You do know nobody will employ me? Go off sick with stress-related depression these days, you never work again!’
    Her voice was sharp, full of the knives of her past, and as she lifted a hand to push her pre-Raphaelite hair away from her face I saw traces of scarring on her wrist. Sometimes, I really didn’t like my work.
    ‘Would you like a coffee, cup of tea?’
    ‘No, thanks. Have to watch my caffeine intake, just in case it sets me off. So, what’s this job, then?’
    ‘It’s just flat-sitting, really. Full board, a small wage. Somewhere warm.’
    ‘Good… one of the things they say makes me ill is British winters. So dark and cold!’
    ‘That’s settled, then.’
    ‘When do I start?’
    ‘We’ll be in touch. Good luck.’
    *
    Kostas shook his head. He’d been walking… he’d been interviewed for a job he knew nothing about…and now he’d woken up on the beach. At least it was a beach he recognised, at the west end of Hersonissos, and about a mile from his lodgings. The sun was setting, and the air was cool. The surf shushed at the shore. He scrambled to his feet, suddenly aware of the bite of shingle against his feet. His sandals were beside him, and he struggled up to a nearby slipway before putting them on.
    It seemed to be that odd time of day where the afternoon tourists were gone and the evening ones not out yet. It wasn’t quiet, but neither was it busy, and certainly not so busy that he didn’t notice the flame-headed woman sitting on the wall at the side of the slipway. She was closed in, shrinking to take up as little space as she could, he thought, looking forlorn and lost as she stared down at her feet.
    ‘Are you okay?’ he asked softly.
    The girl looked up at the sound of his gentle voice. She looked into blue-grey eyes that held kindness and somehow made her feel safe.
    ‘I’m lost,’ she said. ‘I’m starting a new job today. Only I don’t know where to go… it’s up the hill at Hersonissos, only this is Hersonissos, isn’t it? And there’s no hill… I’ve been walking for hours…’
    ‘Ah. You see, it is Hersonissos… but there is also a village, up against the mountain, which is the real Hersonissos, here before Limenas Hersonissou – the port and the resort. So, if you have the address, I can walk you to the village, as I live in Piskopiano, not far away.’
    ‘Would… would you do that? It’s very kind…’
    ‘It’s no trouble. What is your name? I am Kostas.’
    ‘Jenny. Thank you, Kostas.’
    It was only when she got up that he noticed she had a suitcase with her, tucked behind her against the wall. He took hold of it, glad it had wheels and he didn’t have to offer carry it; the village was a good walk away, and all of it uphill.
    They broke their journey at a small blue and white bar, halfway between the sea and the villages on the hill, drinking beer to the soundtrack of a raunchy, twangy soft rock song. Jenny offered to pay, but Kostas refused.
    ‘No, it is my treat.’
    ‘But it’s not fair… you’ve been so kind…’
    ‘Then meet me for lunch tomorrow, and you can buy me a drink then.’
    *
    I knew how it was going to end, of course. The entire story of Kostas and Jenny’s romance, of how she confided in him that she’d had her heart broken once too often and it had broken part of her mind, she thought, too. How Kostas would try to help, to save her from her demons, and they would have some good days, some happy moments. But, ultimately, they were doomed. Jenny was going to die and Kostas would be left with a small daughter to bring up and a huge sense of loss.
    And now all I had to do was live with the knowledge that I’d brought them together, that I was responsible.
    Sometimes I really don’t enjoy being a writer.

    Song: ‘Bad Things’ by Jace Everett 2005
    `

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