booksdefineme

the journey of a budding author


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From Darkness into Life

Darkness . . .

Nothing . . .

A reek of putrefaction . . .

Cold icy Death has claimed me.

Before due time

My life is ended.

Sin binds me

And confines me

And holds me on this unrelenting stone.

Helpless, bound in funeral bands,

My flesh decaying.

Hopeless.

Captive.

And then . . .

Oh Joy!

A Voice comes!

Loud. Strong with Authority

And Power.

O, Irresistible Voice . . .

Lazarus! Come Forth!

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Brigadoon. Or Trip to the Hogsback

Please click on the photos to see enlargements. I couldn’t get the text to precede the pics…

 

   Hidden away in the Amatola mountains of the Eastern Cape is a marvellous little village called Hogsback. One of the explanations for its name is because it is dominated by three mountains and the rocky ridge of one looks like the bristly back of a warthog. The village is situated in a lush indigenous forest and because its high altitude it is much cooler than the surrounding plains. To call it a village is a misnomer, it is a quaint collection of  small bed and breakfast places as well as self- catering cottages. There is no main street with lots of shops, but there are a couple of country stores that sell necessities, and a petrol station and a tea garden, some unusual restaurants and all tucked away from the road somehow. If you weren’t looking out, you’d drive right through Hogsback and wonder when you were going to get there!   

The main attraction is the peace and quiet. The enchantment of the forests permeates everything. Some of the names of the places we stayed were in keeping with the rather otherworldly mood: Back o’ the Moon, and Away with the Fairies ( although that name does have connotations of craziness!), Lothlorien, Misty Fell and Merlin Cottage gives you some idea of the atmosphere encompassing Hogsback. We went to a delightful tea-garden on the Saturday morning and there was a young man there who looked so elf-like that I would believe there are fairies and elves living in the forest! He was not a fairy you understand, more like Legolas, ageless and wise, youthful and resilient at the same time. He was sitting with his long legs stretched out and he was prosaically drinking tea in a party of ordinary mortals, but I thought he probably retreated into the emerald shadows of the forest afterwards. I didn’t dare ask for a photograph!

Although the village is almost invisible, there is a great deal to keep you busy there are hikes and drives and just ambling through  glorious dappled green caverns armed with  camera and binoculars; the birdlife is phenomenal. You set of with the sun shining and towards lunchtime you have to jog back to  your cosy cottage before the mist descends and the rain begins, to a build a fire and sip  a glass of wine or two and cosy up with a book.

One clear and warm evening, we had a barbecue and later when the stars were out we lay on loungers warmly wrapped against the gathering dew and watched the night sky wheel over us, in all its magnificence. This sight is something we so look forward to when we get out of range of city lights glaring into the sky. Living as we do, in the light-pollution of a big city, one can forget that Up There are unimaginable wonders. I find it a humbling experience to contemplate that ‘The heavens declare the infinite glory of God’. I think city dwellers have lost touch with their Maker because they no longer see this thunderous evidence of his greatness.

 

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More childhood memories

      We moved to 8th Avenue at the beginning of April 1953. What a magical place it was. It had been built about 1907 and in its glory years had been the home of a magistrate, but by the mid-nineteen fifties its pretensions to grandeur had ceased to pretend. We didn’t care about that. The back stand was the most marvellous playground any child could wish for. Firstly there was a stable and a garage on the western side and on the eastern side was a garage, where John later kept his pigeons. Next to that was a servant’s room, probably originally for a married couple, maybe the cook/housekeeper and the butler /driver / gardener, and next to that was a much bigger room that probably had been a dormitory for several maids. The rest of the stand was covered in fruit trees ( including a walnut tree, a row of quinces up against the back wall, an apricot, several types of plum and two or three different peach trees.( Heaven to me, was sitting up in the big plum tree with an exciting book to read, and being able to put out my hand and eat as many plums as my tummy could hold.) There was a drive coming down from the big worn out corrugated iron gates that displayed the address, 75. In the large area between the stable and the eastern garage and servant’s quarters, there were still vestiges of the gravel that must have covered the driveway. Behind the garage ( or carriage house, as it had been in its ostentatious days ) and stable that were on the western boundary grew huge fir trees, and next to them in the corner was a big oak.

     This WAS the Faraway tree. (I once fell out of this tree; there was no Slippery Slip I found to my chagrin and had to break my fall by grabbing the edge of the corrugated iron fence below that separated us from the neighbours. I bear the scars to this day!) We used to play on the rather rusty roof of this garage, having climbed up via the oak tree which almost reached the roof; after a rather daring leap we would be into another kind of wonderland amongst the thick fallen fir ‘leaves’ where we found huge egg-shaped cocoons which held ugly white grubs. I learned quickly to stand my ground and conceal my shudders while my mischievous older brother made me hold one of these wriggly horrors. This resoluteness stood me in good stead when I was faced with having to pick up frogs and grass snakes and huge locusts and other uglies. I knew instinctively that had I shown my fear, my life would have been miserable for ever afterwards.

      Once we had attained this rather dangerous eyrie we used to play that we were on a space ship hurtling through time and endless space to another Universe which we called Veronica. We zipped through the Milky Way; We flew at incredible speeds, hurtling past millions of galaxies, whizzing around myriads of brilliant, singing stars and their marvellous planets. What strange creatures might we find roaming down there? But we weren’t distracted as we braved the perils of our mission. Then we would be brought back with a bump as mom called us in for lunch, and  with my heart in my mouth, I had to put my trust in that tiny branch once more, to descent to the land of Earthlings.

   I recall that day we moved in, the excitement as we explored everything. When we had visited the house before we bought the place, I had peeked into the housekeeper’s  room. That old lady and her husband were sitting quietly and when I peeked around the half-open door and I jumped, not expecting to find anyone there. They greeted me with solemn kindness and I was about to continue my exploration of the property, when I saw a curtain in the corner which obviously concealed the servant’s clothing, but I imagined that it lead to some other mysterious room, maybe a staircase to somewhere else!  I could not investigate at once of course, but excitement tickled in my chest at the thought of what could be there. It was one of the first things I looked for on the day we moved there. The door of the servant’s room was slightly ajar and it creaked as I pushed it open with anticipation giving me cold shivers. I crept into the shadowy, rather musty room and was very disappointed to find the room was empty and all there was in the corner was a blank wall. Shades of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe! I know exactly how Lucy must have felt when she couldn’t go back to Narnia, because the wardrobe was no longer a way of getting there. It was just that. A Wardrobe. This was just A Wall. And I never did see the Other Room. Except in my imagination.

     The unfortunate part about these buildings was that they were dangerous in that they had only used a mud with a bit of concrete, it seems, as mortar. The whole lot were very shaky and we really couldn’t do anything with them except demolish them, which was a real pity. But they remained for several years for us to enjoy before they finally were torn down.


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Death of a Dentist. A Short story

     She jumped off the bus, umbrella blossoming against the rain, glad that it was home-time. She’d had an awful day at the office. The boss had been very full of it today. Picking on her for no reason, just looking for faults, so of course, he wouldn’t let her go early, so that she could miss the rush, that was worse when the rain started pelting down. Why is it, she thought, that when the sun is shining in the morning, the traffic is smooth but suddenly when there is a downpour in the afternoon there seem to be so many more cars and so many more people rushing, jostling, elbowing. Where do they come from, they seem to appear out of nowhere. . .

     As she hurried to the train station, ahead of her, a slight figure caught her eye; bare head, rimmed with white hair above the collar of a shabby overcoat, hunched shoulders. No umbrella. He looked like a tramp. She accelerated past the pathetic little man, glancing sideways as she did. With a jolt, she recognised him. Those horn-rimmed spectacles. The moustache. Doctor Smith.

     In a flash, it all came back to her.

     The school dental clinic in the middle of town. For poor children. Her mother used to take her for her check-ups, and she’d loved going there. Once they had been to the reception desk to check in with smiley Mrs Barnes, her mother would take her small hand and together they would climb the magical, starry stairway to the second floor. It was only when she got a bit older and was allowed to go on her own, did she realise that the stars were only some kind of glittery additive in the concrete. The staff were kind and there were lovely toys to play with while they waited. Especially she remembered that mechanical rocking horse, that all the children headed for and laid claim to, as soon as they arrived. She seldom got a chance to ride on this wonder. But there were compensations; dolls and blocks and picture books to keep her busy.

     But all that ended when she went to high school. High school patients had to go to the fifth floor. In the lift. No more starry staircase. And no more kind staff. The benches were hard and there were no pretty pictures on the walls, no more distractions. Just Doctor Smith and his stern-faced nurse. And you waited your turn with trepidation, as you sat, hating the smell of disinfectant and clove oil, the steam billowing from the steriliser and misting up the windows and worst of all the prospect of being in the hands of the Nazi.

     He was a typical Roald Dahl villain, now that she thought about it. He had a Groucho Marx moustache and round wire-rimmed glasses that glinted in the light over the dentist’s chair. His breath and clothing smelled strongly of stale cigarettes, and he had yellowed uneven teeth, his scant hair parted in the middle. He wasn’t amusing like Groucho; he was cruel and nasty to every kid that climbed, trembling, into That Chair. He never used an anaesthetic, oh no! That would have been too nice. He would drill and grind away at cavities, not caring that he was making someone cry. And you would wait your turn, heart pounding. . .

     The last time she went there, he performed a root-canal treatment on her, without an anaesthetic naturally, and when she was groaning and weeping under his rough handling, he told her, sneering, ‘It’s not sore! You are nothing but a cry baby!’ as he ground and dug away her tooth, until she was almost fainting with the pain.

     She never went back.

     A few years later, at a party she met a young man called Gordon, who, she found, had also suffered under the Nazi.

     ‘I never hated anyone as much as I hate Doctor Smith. There must be so many of us who hate that man,’ he said, ‘we should form a club. Did you ever see Murder on the Orient Express. How a whole lot of people ganged up on a villain and murdered him, by taking turns to stab him in the dark, so no-one knew who had actually killed him?’

     ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ she said, and she moved away, but she realised that, talking about it to another victim, her feelings of childish revenge had boiled to the surface once again. She hated the man too.

     And now here she was, walking along the pavement with the dreaded Dr Smith. She fell back a few paces, but stayed near him. As they crossed the road to the station she felt a strong urge to push him into the path of the oncoming traffic.

     She was shaken by the strength of her emotions and was relieved that her innate sense of self-preservation prevented her from doing the deed, but as she followed him into the station and through the barrier, all her frustrations of the day rose up and focussed on the little man in front of her. It seemed he was travelling on the same train as she was and they descended to the platform on the escalator, she, still a few paces behind him.

     She mingled in the crowd waiting for the train, only just able to see the top of his head. Suddenly she became aware of a burly man not far from her. Gordon. The train was slowing down and Doctor Smith was in the front, as the crowd surged forward. Suddenly there was a scream, and a screech of brakes.

     ‘What has happened?’ she asked the man next to her, as she craned her neck to see.

     ‘A jumper. An old man jumped in front of the train.’ the man said, excitedly.

      But she knew better.

     Gordon. Their eyes met as he turned and slipped through the milling confused crowd.

     And he winked at her as he passed and ran lightly up the escalator.

 


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Weekly Writing Challenge: Easy As Pie

This post is a small section from a novel I am writing

As the boats approached the funeral isle of San Michele in the mist they could see the rosy-brick wall that surrounds the island and the shadowy shapes of cypress trees that loomed like giant guardians behind it. It looks like some walled country estate, thought Libby surprised, but the fields are rippling waves, for all the world as though it has been magically transported from the countryside by some great Gulliver and is now floating dreamily on the sea.