‘Wednesday’ Words: 29 August 2013

The inverted commas are a concession to the fact that the twenty-ninth is Thursday. Publication was delayed due to (ahem) pressure of other commitments. There. Looks plausible, doesn’t it? I’ll stick to that, then…

How many times have you heard (or even said) that expression ‘you can prove anything on paper’ in a cynical way?

One somewhat scathing summary was:

“There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Benjamin Disraeli  (1804 – 1881)

But this is perhaps a kinder approach to the concept:

“He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts – for support
rather than illumination.”

Attributed to Andrew Lang  (1844 – 1912)

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Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part Eight

My story continues… For an explanation of how this story came to be written up to this point, and a link to the beginning, go to my post here.

When Archie arrived home from the shipyard the following evening, he sensed immediately that something was wrong. Usually, he would hear the sound of the back door being unbolted and unlatched – and, in summer, opened, unless the weather was bad. From the open kitchen window, he would catch the enticing aroma of home cooking. Even in these days of wartime rationing and austerity, Jenny managed incredibly well. But today, there was nothing like this. Not even the least sound of domestic activity from inside.
Leaning his bike against the wall of the outhouse, Archie tried the back door. It was fastened on the inside. He knocked. No response. Perhaps Jenny had run out of something, and had gone on a message? Not likely, though; she always planned the evening meal carefully, in advance. He fished in his jacket pocket for his latch key, and walked back through the alley to the front door, and let himself in. Still no noise… and then, a soft moan from the next room. He walked through.
Jenny half sat, half lay on the sofa, clutching her tummy, grimacing with pain, and gasping for breath. Her face looked drawn, her eyes yellow. Archie gasped, himself, as he looked at her.
“Jenny, love… Whatever…?”
“The pain, lovie. It… just came over me sudden… this morning… Went to… baker’s… and then…”
Archie didn’t wait for more. With a gesture of reassurance, he ran back out of the front door, and knocked on the door of their neighbours, Jim and Lizzie Hamilton, who’d been good friends for as long as both families had lived in the same street.
As Lizzie answered Archie’s knock, she could see the anxiety in his face at once. “What is it, Archie? Is it your Jenny?” With a shout to Jim, who was just home, she followed Archie back to Jenny’s side. Quickly, they agreed that Lizzie would wait with Jenny, while Archie ran to the corner shop, to use the telephone.
Jack Duggan was just slicing bacon for a customer, and sorting out the coupons for it, as Archie ran in, breathless. He sensed what Archie wanted, almost before he managed to stammer out a few words of explanation, and led him through to the back of the shop. Archie was thankful that his fire service training meant that he knew how to call an ambulance quickly.
A few moments later, back at the counter, the shop was empty. Jack waved away Archie’s proffered payment. “Och, Archie, if I couldna dae that for a loyal frien’ an’ customer when they’re in trouble… Let me know how she is though, won’t ye?”
Local folk were the salt of the earth, Archie thought. He half smiled, half shook his head in thanks as he made for the door and headed back to Jennie. It was some fifteen minutes later that he opened the door to Fred Wilson, whom he knew well from the past few months. “Hello there, Archie. Hardly recognise you without a tin lid on! What’s to do?”
Fred’s assistant went to fetch a wheelchair as Archie explained what little he knew. Then, as he gently lifted his wife into the chair in response to Fred’s nod, he got a further fright; he realised how much weight Jenny had lost lately. He kicked himself inwardly for not being more observant, then kissed his wife gently. “See you soon, love. Behave for those nurses, won’t you?”
Jenny could only just smile. Archie thanked Fred and his mate for their care, and watched the ambulance drive away. Only then, back indoors, did he succumb to tears. It was the first time he’d wept since the night he visited the children’s ward, back in March.

Lizzie had made tea. Jim came round a few minutes later, carrying a plate of dinner. “Archie, lad, I know you won’t feel much like it, but get this down your inside. Only veggie pudden’ an spam, mind, thanks to Adolf, but ye need to keep yersel’ glued together!”
Archie responded to the squeeze on his shoulder. Truth to tell, he was hungrier than he realised, now. And he’d be cycling up to the hospital as soon as he could.

Later that evening, after he’d been up to the hospital and seen that Jenny was comfortable and being cared for, he visited his warm-hearted neighbours to thank them again, and Jack and Sally Duggan, too. Then, for the first time in years, he went to bed alone.

You can read part nine here.

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Wednesday Words: 21 August 2013

For ‘Wednesday Words’ this week, as hosted by Emma at Crazy With Twins, I first of all reflected a little on the way I often tend not to credit singers or ‘showbiz’ personalities with much capability for serious thought. Others of you may feel the same, if you think it over. Now, some, indeed, may be rather empty-headed; I say may. But many have made some striking observations! Here is one that I love:

“A fan will grab you and hug you and will not let go. When that happens,
you wish it could be that way all over the world.”

Charley Pride, American country music singer  (b.1938)

I think this quote, like his singing, shows a depth of feeling. Try this one… and while you’re at it, read this biography. Quite an eye-opener!

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Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part Seven

With this part, my story enters a new phase… but you can start at the very beginning here.

It was a warm sunny Sunday afternoon in August. There had been no serious raids for a while, now. After their mid-day meal, Archie suggested to Jenny that they might go for a walk. However, Jenny pointed out that, with some birthdays not far away, she had some knitting to finish.
“But you have your walk, love. I’ll be fine here. Would you just put me a chair in the yard?”
As Archie did this, he tried, out of kindness, not to seem too enthusiastic. But in fact, this was what he had hoped for. He needed to clear his head, in every sense. So, with Jenny safely ensconced in her favourite chair, he grabbed his small ’emergency’ rucksack, and set off.

Alone with his thoughts, Archie reflected on his life over the last few months. Twenty-five years back, he’d been in the thick of the action as a fighting airman. Miraculously, he’d got away with no worse injuries than a few wood splinters from when a machine-gun bullet hit the cockpit instrument panel. But in the last few months, he’d seen war from a different angle; in a way, this had sobered him more. And now, as well as this, he was getting increasingly worried about Jenny’s recurrent tummy-aches. She didn’t care to see a doctor; just a bit of indigestion, she said. Archie was not so sure; they were better off than many, and he could afford the fee. Maybe he’d have to be a little more insistent…

Almost subconsciously, his walking route took him closer to Trafalgar Terrace. He felt it keenly that, that March night, fire had beaten him. Somehow, he felt he had to go back and look, to clear his mind about this, even though he couldn’t explain why.
As he reached the terrace, he could see that it was completely derelict; this was no surprise. The usual warning signs had been put up. Archie took his tin hat from his rucksack as he approached the end house. Number fifteen. You could still read the painted figures on the brickwork, close to the boarded-up front door. Putting on his hat, he walked through the alley to the back. The back door, of course, was boarded up too. A low wall enclosed a tiny yard.
And then, two things happened almost at once; first, Archie caught a whiff of a heady, floral scent. Just as this began to stir his memory, a plane flew overhead. He looked up at the red, white and blue roundels of the RAF, and mentally compared the plane with those he had flown. Hell, those things had been overgrown kites with an engine, at the side of that machine up there…
As the plane passed over, Archie glanced across the yard. There, blooming in complete and absurd indifference to the bombardment of nearly five months before, was a buddleia bush. Two peacock butterflies had settled on it. Archie smiled to himself as he remembered that, when he had recently taken young Ross for a walk, they had seen what Ross now always called a ‘butterfly tree.’

And then his memory took him back: in his flying days, in France, he’d made friends with one of the lads on the repair team. They’d got talking, and Archie had learned that they’d got something in common: originally from Scotland, this fellow had trained as a ship’s carpenter in Northern Ireland, then volunteered for the RAF. When it became clear at his medical that his sight and hearing weren’t A1 (he’d had measles badly, as a kid) he’d begged to be allowed to do something, anything, in the service. That was how he’d finished up in the repairs section of Archie’s squadron. What was his name, now…? Ah, yes, Iain Ellison. He wasn’t married, but he’d had photos of all his family in his wallet. A good-looking lot; one of the aircrew took up writing to one of his sisters…
One day, Archie had ventured to Iain that he was amazed at how the repair team managed to check all the wire bracings on a biplane. Now, the airfield had been in a country area, and Iain had replied facetiously. “Och, laddie, sure, an’ it’s easy… D’ye see that bush over there, the one with purple flowers? Well, we just grab one or two of they wee butterflies that come to it, and let them go inside the wings, so we do. If they get out quick, we know there’s one or two more wires to mend!”
The next day, there’d been a call over the field telephone, from another nearby squadron. They were desperate for an airframe fitter, they’d said – some sickness in the camp, evidently. Could Archie’s squadron spare a man? Iain had been detailed…
Eager as ever, Iain had gone off, joking that he’d show them how it was done, then he’d soon be back. Then, a couple of nights or so later, a German aircraft had ‘slipped over to lay a few eggs’ as they said. One bomb had fallen scarcely ten feet from where Iain was struggling to take cover, and he was killed instantly. That was war…

Archie shook himself back into the present day. He thought again of those poor twins. Of how, in another world, a world without a war, they might have been snoozing in a pram, out in this yard, on an afternoon like this, while the butterflies fluttered around them…
He glanced absently about him and entered the yard, randomly kicking small pieces of rubble. Then, quite by chance, he noticed, just protruding from under a few bricks, what looked like a leather belt or strap. Bending down, he pulled it gently. His grip met with resistance, so he stopped to lift away some of the rubble. This uncovered a small, well-used, and now very battered, leather satchel such as a school-child might have used.
And then, Archie’s heart thumped as he remembered: on that terrible night, he’d caught his foot in something, then kicked it free as he emerged from the back door. This had to be what had almost stumbled him!
Undoing its two buckles, he looked inside for a moment. It appeared to contain some personal papers and letters. Oh well, he’d take it home, and drop it in at the police station tomorrow. With one last glance around, he headed homewards.

Back home, he was glad to find Jenny in good spirits, having enjoyed her knitting session. Putting the kettle on to make tea for them both, Archie told Jenny about his find, and how it would mean a trip to the police station nearby. Jenny then ventured that she could do that herself, the next day.
“Oh, thanks, then, lovie. I’ll just leave it on the shelf at the cellar head. Tell them what I said – fifteen, Trafalgar Terrace. And remember me to Charlie, if he’s on duty.” Sergeant Charles Mahon had been at school with Archie many years before. Archie grinned as he reflected that, had he been a gambling man, the very last thing he’d have bet on was the chance of Charlie finishing up as a police officer. But, there you go, he thought…

Part eight is now published here.

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Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part Six

My story continues. You can start at the beginning here.

Archie pushed back his empty plate. “That was great, lovie. How you do it on rations, I don’t know. How’s the tummy been today?”
“Ee, no worse love, no worse. Are you still wanting to go and check on those wee children?”
“I reckon, lovie, I reckon… You be OK?” He hadn’t told Jenny that the mother, who had probably wanted to fetch something for her children, had been killed instantly by the blast.
“Course I will.” Jenny sighed. “But you know what George Baird’s always telling you. I dunno, something about getting – or not getting – what is it he says?”
“Oh, yes, I know what you’re getting at. ‘Emotionally involved’ he says. But I can’t help it, you know that. It’s just me.” Archie rolled his eyes at his wife of nearly thirty years. “I got ’emotionally involved’ as George says, with a pretty girl, once. Jenny Randall, her name was…”
Jenny playfully slapped the back of her husbands hand. “Well, you better be going, so you can get back in time for some sleep. That shipyard needs romantic men like you.”
Archie kissed his wife and grabbed his coat. A few moments later, the ting of a bicycle bell signalled his departure.

Archie reached the children’s ward just as the sister was passing the door. “Ah, Mr. McGeoch! Always glad to see you, even if we’re off our feet, as usual, only worse. Give me ten minutes, all right?”
Archie raised his hand in ready acceptance. “Thank you, sister. Appreciate your trouble.” By now, he knew Helen Anderson well, but maintained formality in public. He watched thoughtfully as the nursing staff battled on…

“Nurse Jamieson, keep an eye out for a few minutes, will you? I’ll be in the office if you need me.”
“I’ll do that, sister. Is Nurse Fraser around?”
“I sent Annie to get herself a bite to eat. She’d been going non-stop since three. She’ll be back any time. Can’t keep herself away from the action for long. But if anyone collapses on this ward, it’s got to be me.” With a weary grin, she made for the ward office door.

“Nursie Jamieson! My leg hurts again. Ow!”
“Yes, sweetheart, I know. We’ll get Nursie Fraser to look at that bandage when she comes back. Brave girl.”
“I like Nursie Fraser. Are both of you going to make me all better? Will I walk again by myself soon?”
Oh, help. Nursing school didn’t tell you the answers to these kind of questions. The poor kid didn’t even know about her twin baby sisters yet.
“Well, yes, pet, but it might all take a wee while. All right?”

When Archie tapped on the door of the office and entered in answer to the response, Sister Anderson had just finished using the tiny spirit stove in one corner to boil water for tea. She paused to rub her eyes with her fingers, then nodded towards a chair.
“Well, Archie… I suppose you were on duty two nights running?”
“Couldn’t very well do anything else, could I? We could have used many times the men, and many times the equipment. But there you are. That’s a war for you. And it’s the same for you anyhow. I don’t suppose week-ends off are going to be a big part of your menu, are they?”
The sister shrugged. “I’d only worry about what was and wasn’t happening in here. Half the staff just about out of nappies. Mind you, Evie Jamieson’s just twenty, Annie Fraser’s nineteen, and although on paper they’ve still got stripes to earn, Evie can near enough run the ward, and she’s about trained up Annie by herself. An old school chum, evidently. Anyway, what can I do for you?”

Hell, woman, you know why the man’s here. Face it.

“Just wanting the up-to-date on those three from Trafalgar Terrace.”
“Well, the four-year-old’s doing fine. A few bangs and bruises, a nasty gash on the right leg we’re keeping an eye on, and one or two tiny burns. But… she’ll be fine…”
“And what about the wee twins?”

Pull yourself together, woman. You’re a trained nurse since that last lot, for any sake.

Helen quietly put a cup of tea in front of Archie and looked down.
“Archie… I’m sorry. The human lungs will only stand so much hot smoke. We did what we could with oxygen, but it didn’t work. Not this time.”
Archie sipped his tea in silence for a whole minute. He knew what the poor woman had gone through. You did your best. You forgot about yourself. And sometimes that just wasn’t enough. And it got to you. Because you wanted a happy ending every time. He didn’t need to say any more about the two poor mites he’d carried out to an ambulance crew, one in each arm, two nights before. And he knew Helen would know about the poor mother.
She shook herself sharply and looked up. “What?” she murmured.
“Those two you told me about, out there on the ward. You mother them, don’t you?”
“You don’t miss much, do you? Trouble is, they’re me. Twenty-five years ago, in France, in the last fuss. I see myself. All eager. Wanting success, every time. Like I still do. So what do you expect me to be like?”
Archie nodded slowly. Then he smiled his thanks for the tea as he got up…

The first six parts make up the first main section of my story. Part seven begins a new section; you can read it here.

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By the Butterfly Tree: An Explanation and Acknowledgements

For ‘Prose for Thought’ this week, hosted by Vicky at Verily, Victoria Vocalises, I am introducing my story entitled By the Butterfly Tree which is appearing on this blog in small instalments. I would like to explain how this story came into being, and thank those people who have motivated me.

You see, I should say first that, at school – all those years ago – there were some subjects I enjoyed and got quite good at. Science, and stuff. Maths. Now, when it came to English, I was a mixture; comprehension and descriptive writing I could handle, the odd poem, even. But writing fiction was a nightmare for me; as Winnie-the-Pooh would say, it didn’t. It just didn’t. So, when I get complimentary comments on here, about my writing, I feel both honoured and humbled – in a good way.

Well now, first came ‘The Twitter Key Project’ conceived, organised and hosted by Josie aka @porridgebrain on Twitter, which she explained here. Along with many others, I submitted an entry, which Josie kindly wrote on a label and added to the project here, with a photo.

Next, as you will see below the photo, Julia (That retired, but not retiring, woman, who blogs at Julia’s Place and tweets as @jfb57) left a comment – that got me thinking…

And then, more recently, Helen, who blogs at All at Sea, came up with a concept she called ‘Summer Of Words’ which she explained here. She personally invited me to take part.

The story in many parts, now unfolding on this blog, is the result. Many thanks to Josie, Julia, and Helen. And to all of you who may care to read By the Butterfly Tree. 

Here is a link to the beginning. More links will take you from one part to the next. I hope you enjoy the journey…

Prose for Thought

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Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part Five

My story continues… You can read it from the beginning here. The ‘Summer of Words’ writing initiative was started by Helen at All at Sea.

When the sirens sounded on that mid-March night, the general mood was not so much of alarm as of weary resignation to ‘another raid’. It soon became clear, however, that to classify the night’s activity in this way was on a par with suggesting that Chopin, say, wrote some natty little tuneful numbers. For this was no mere raid; it was a blitz.

As Jenny made for the shelter, Archie cycled to the fire station, where he joined his team to face the toughest night’s fire-fighting they had known so far. Tenements with roofs like tinder-boxes were being hit with incendiaries, and then high-explosive bombs followed. Rescue work went on as bombs fell perilously close. After a relief team took over at three a.m. Archie arrived home in a daze. Jenny was safe, but their house had several broken windows, and a crack had appeared in the back wall. Archie joined his wife in their shelter until the ‘all clear’ finally sounded, snatching at sleep a few minutes at a time. Later, he cleaned himself up as best as he could (without hot water, owing to the gas-mains having been damaged) satisfied himself that there was no risk of the house collapsing round his wife, and headed for the shipyard.

When he returned home later, he ate almost mechanically, then fell asleep – until the sirens sounded again, announcing the start of another night of terror. Once again, he headed for the fire station, where calls soon flooded in. Archie and his team were soon sent to assist with fighting a spreading fire in a small row of terraced houses in a narrow side street.

Almost as soon as they arrived, they heard the spine-chilling whistle of a falling bomb, and then the ear-splitting blast from just yards away. Men scarcely had time to protect their faces from flying glass and debris. Just after this, one of the men noticed that smoke was coming from the ‘coal hole’ of the end house, and then heard a child scream. Quickly, the front door was opened with an axe. A little girl half ran, half limped out of the house and was lifted to safety by a defence volunteer and taken to an ambulance. She yelled something about ‘baby sisters’. Archie grabbed a mask and went inside. As he reached the cellar door, he smelt burning paraffin. He guessed that a lamp had been blown over by the blast, and broken. A cellar would be the obvious shelter for babies, though. Diving down the cellar, by the light of his helmet lamp he could just make out the outlines of two babies in a cot. Grabbing them, he climbed the steps as fast as he could. As he did so, he stumbled as his foot caught in something… The strap of a bag, maybe, he thought… he couldn’t see, just scrambled on, fearful of falling as both his arms were full. Somehow, he made it. When he reached the top of the cellar steps, he felt cool air; George Baird had broken down the adjacent back door that led into a tiny yard. Once out of the doorway, he was able to kick whatever it was off his foot. Ambulance crew relieved him of his two armfuls…

You can read part six here.

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Wednesday Words: 14 August 2013

Anyone who, in whatever capacity, teaches others, especially adults, may care to reflect on this:

“Strike a balance between what people need, what they have already achieved,
and the learning opportunities you can realistically provide for them.”

 – from Adult Learning Adult Teaching by John Daines with Carolyn Daines
and Brian Graham  (Fourth edition, 2006 – Welsh Academic Press)

A good guide to go by, I think…

Copyright is acknowledged. This quotation is published under the scope of the ‘fair dealing’ provision under UK copyright law in regard of ‘criticism and news reporting’. (In this case, positive criticism.) 

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