Monday, 20 June 2011

A Child of Atlantis by Bobby Stevenson

The house was built to be admired. It had even outshone the new hotel that stood only a few yards away on the corner of Main Street. The town of Kingston was growing up fast, sitting pretty and, above all, ready for the fast approaching twentieth century.

Andrew had been born here on the edge of the Catskills, unlike the rest of his family who had originally hailed from Lansdale, Pennsylvania.They had made their money in retail around the Market East area of Philadelphia, launching their grand store in the opening weeks of the American Civil War. Most of the brothers and sisters had built villas around the Schuylkill River but Edward, Andrew’s father, had decided to sell his share of the claustrophobic business and move to the Hudson valley in New York State. 

Edward continued to work in the trade by investing his money in, and running, The Fifth Avenue Emporium in Manhattan. Each morning, he would ride the train from Kingston into the Grand Central Depot and each evening, after making more dollars than he could ever possibly need, would return home again. If he was being honest, Edward lived for those return train journeys, smoking his cigar and reading his journal as the evening sun set on the shimmering Hudson River. 

Edward’s eldest son, Brett, was currently attending West Point Military Academy and each night, as the train passed nearby, the proud father would give a small salute. His middle son, Michael, was studying, as had all the family, at The University of Pennsylvania and it was his hope that Michael would follow in his father’s money making footsteps.  

His youngest son, Andrew, was born only a year after the family had moved north and was still to blossom into a creature that Edward could mould. As for Isabel, his devoted wife, he was pleased to report that both of them still found each other’s company attractive. 

Andrew didn’t attend any of the schools in Kingston, instead his father had engaged a tutor to ensure that all the educational needs, which Andrew required, were carried out at home. There was also a nanny on hand, in case Andrew was in need of a woman’s touch; his father thoroughly satisfied himself that he had thought of every possible need and want for his youngest son.

When the boy required some fresh air and outdoor pursuits, Edward would take his son hunting up into the hills around Woodstock where Edward would stand behind his son helping him to aim the rifle and pull the trigger. What Edward couldn’t see was that Andrew had his eyes closed almost constantly and detested the thought of killing another living creature. 

The head of one of Andrew’s ‘kills’ was stuffed and mounted and put in pride of place in the trophy room of that house which stood on the hill and was built to be admired.  

One day Edward took Andrew into the study to give him his birthday present.

“But my birthday is not for another two weeks, Papa.” 

“I know that son, but your mother and I will be travelling on that day, so we thought you should get your present sooner rather than later. You see, that is how much we love you.” 

Andrew could tell by the gun-shaped wrapping, what the present was and he wasn’t disappointed.
“You don’t look too happy son?”
“No Papa, I like it. Thank you Sir”
Edward tussled Andrew’s hair and sent him on his way, adding “We can go shooting together when I return”

Edward and Isabel were planning to attend The Chicago World’s Fair and would miss their youngest son’s birthday. Edward explained to Isabel, in terms that she would understand, that their son Andrew would have many more birthdays but the World’s Fair only came along once in a generation. Edward felt his wife understood and was happy to comply.

Andrew watched the carriage pull away from the house as his parents left for the rail road station and on to Chicago. No one had asked Andrew, but he would have loved to have gone to the World’s Fair. He was now in his tenth year and no one had ever asked Andrew what would make him happy. 

Andrew loved reading and his current passion was Woodstock by Sir Walter Scott. He had taken the book, with his father’s permission, from the family library believing it to be an adventure story about the little town that lay in the Catskills. Instead, it turned out to be an exciting story about the English Civil War and with the family away the library was all his, so he planned to read Ivanhoe, by the same author, next. 

One stormy Sunday, and co-incidentally Andrew’s birthday, the nanny was called away to Highland to attend to her mother who was dying. She had given Andrew little thought as she assumed the tutor would be on hand and anyway, she needed to travel the fifteen miles south as soon as possible. The tutor was indeed at home, but had confined himself to bed with a severe cold having been warned by Edward that should he ever be ill, he should separate himself from the family at the earliest opportunity. Not wanting to have the parents come home to find young Andrew the subject of a tutorial infection, he had remained in his top floor bedroom. 

On the wall of the family library, on the side which was forever in the shadows, there hung several photographs taken of Edward and his hunting trophies. One such photograph was of him on Slide Mountain just after he had ambushed and killed a particularly old deer. 

His father had never taken Andrew as far as Slide Mountain, which according to the tutor, was the highest in the Catskills. It had gained its name from a landslide in the early 1800s which had left the mountain with a large wound near its summit. Andrew’s father was always referring to his own elder brother, Charles, as Slide due to the heavy head injury he had picked up at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Andrew decided that since no one was going to ask him, he’d make his own happiness on his birthday and take himself off to Slide Mountain. So on the afternoon of the stormy Sunday, Andrew took some bread and cheese and placed them in an old satchel. He considered taking his birthday present, just in case of wild animals, but decided against it and condemned the rifle to remain in the cellar. 

The gentle climb out of Kingston and up towards Hurley was easier than Andrew expected but then he didn’t have the prospect of shooting an animal to look forward to. Once at the top, Andrew could see both Overlook and Slide mountains in all their glorious splendour. 

Andrew and his father regularly climbed the trail to Overlook but it was always busy with grown-ups and even more annoying, according to Edward, were the new hotels rising up all over the mountain. So Andrew decided to walk straight on and head towards Slide. 

He might be just a kid, but he wasn’t stupid and if there was one thing his father’s hunting trips had taught him was that he had to keep a watch out for wildlife; for his sake and theirs. Copperhead snakes especially as they were mean. He had only gone a further mile or so, when Andrew heard a rustling sound out to his left, he was hoping it wasn’t hunters or Andrew would be in real trouble. He stopped and held his breath and realised that the sound was following him in parallel.

Andrew wanted to cry out but he knew that this would cause more trouble than it was worth, so he decided to be a man and head towards the noise. Whatever it was, this thing was quite large and it sounded in trouble.
Andrew squatted down and slowly pulled back the vegetation, only to see a black bear cub staring straight back at him. They were both very surprised at the sight of each other which caused Andrew to fall flat on his back and although Andrew knew little about bears, he was surprised that the bear didn’t make his attack. Andrew quickly crawled back a few yards and then stood up, it was then he noticed that the bear cub’s leg was stuck fast in a rock crevice and the poor animal couldn’t move. 

So one abandoned child decided to help another abandoned child - I mean, he just couldn’t leave the bear out there to die, now could he? His father had told him that if a bear threatened, he should not make any eye contact and to back off as quickly and as quietly as possible but, hey, this was a small bear, just like him.
Andrew found a fallen tree and used it to ease the stone which was holding the cub's leg, just enough that  it was able to free its leg and run for a few yards. It then turned and growled which Andrew had assumed was its way of saying ‘thank you’. Except it wasn’t, it was calling on its mother who was approaching. 

“Don’t run, don’t make eye contact, don’t run, don’t make eye contact” was all that Andrew kept saying over and over to himself. He backed away towards a sturdy tree which was nearby, and was just about to climb it when a soft voice spoke from behind it. 

“Don’t climb the tree” whispered the woman, “you’ll only get yourself trapped, stay perfectly still and look at the ground. Don’t even scratch your nose. If you understand me, breathe a little heavier”
Andrew took a long breath. “Good” whispered the caring voice. “Now don’t be alarmed little one but I’m going to pick you up and run some, only a short distance.”

‘Don’t run, don’t run’ was still going through Andrew’s mind, when all of a sudden two large arms came around the tree and lifted him off his feet. He could hear the bear growling and starting to move towards him. Andrew was almost hanging upside down from the gigantic woman’s arms and he could see the bear closing in when all of a sudden he was in a small room with a door and no windows. The gigantic woman threw Andrew in the corner then placed a large piece of wood across the door. The woman signalled to Andrew to be quiet, which he did to such an extent that he almost stopped breathing. 
After a few minutes of listening at the door the woman, relaxed, took a deep breath and whispered “She’s gone” then said “Hi, my name’s Mary”  


“Good to meet you Andrew, you sure did have a close one today, someone up there must be looking out for ya. When it’s clear, we can head up back to my cabin and get you cleaned up”

And that is what they did. Mary kept an ever watchful eye out for anything else, as she and Andrew walked to higher ground, arriving at the homely cabin with the smoke coming out of the chimney. In that little hour, Andrew was probably shown more care and love than he’d been shown in all his short life. 

The food that Mary served up was easily the tastiest that he had ever put in his mouth, and he loved the way she whistled while she was cooking and serving the meal. 

“When we’re done, we can talk about what you were doing up in these woods alone. Ain’t you got a ma and pa?”Andrew nodded that he had and then continued eating.
When he’d finished, Andrew told Mary about his mother and father and their trip to Chicago.

“...And this being your birthday and all? If you was mine, I wouldn’t leave you”

Suddenly Andrew wished Mary was his mother. So he told her about his brothers, the ones who were always away from home, the nanny and her dying mother and the tutor in his room.
“You poor little orphan, you sure is a sad one. Come over here and let Mary hug the life out of you. Come on now.”
So the biggest woman in Andrew’s short life did indeed hug the life out of him, then she set him down by her side, always keeping one arm safely around him, and she told him a story. 

“You see Andrew...can I call you Andy?” and the boy nodded “Well Andy, you’re a lot like me, you're one of the others. My mother was one of the others and so was her father”

And she went on to tell Andrew about the others, how a very long time ago there was a land call Atlantis, and in that land lived the good people. These were the ones who created music, poetry, painting, dancing and would express love in so many kind and decent ways.

Because they had not mixed with any other beings, they believed that this was how life was meant to be lived, that each of us should always love and care for one another. But then, and remember this was still a very long time ago, the land of Atlantis arose in steam and fire and the ground below their feet began to break apart. Some swam, others took to the hills while some built small rafts and put to sea. As they looked back from their little boats they could see the land of their home disappear below the waves. 

Some of the good and brave survived and reached the lands we know of today but because they did not want to frighten those they had come to know, they dressed and lived as the strangers did. They married and had children - they fell in love with those they lived amongst and through the families they passed on the life force of the Atlantis people.

Not everyone was lucky enough to claim such heritage, but once in a generation a child would appear who had all the properties of Atlantis. They would be kind and loving, although they would be rarely understood. They would go out into the world and although they would be alone, they would do great things because they knew that they were children of Atlantis and they would never forget. 

“When I saw you, Andy, I knew straight away you were one of those children”
“For sure?”
“For sure, little one” 

So Mary took Andrew’s hand and led him back across the valley, up over the ridge and down to the house that was built to be admired. 

As for Andrew, he displayed all the goodness that Mary had told him about. When he had finished college as a doctor, he travelled to Africa and looked after the sick and the poor. 

And never, for one second, did he ever feel alone again because he knew he was a child of Atlantis and that was a good thing.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Electrician’s Story by Bobby Stevenson

Coldharbour:  Part four.

There was a time during the war when Coldharbour was neither one thing nor the other. The permanent part of town consisted of the main street, the harbour and the muddy road that led to the old castle. Yet, in the spring of 1942, a tented village grew that stretched all the way back to the McKenzie Falls and increased the size of Coldharbour by three fold. 

Most of the incomers were American soldiers waiting to go to war but there was also a scattering of British, Dutch, Polish and Free French commandos, added to this mix were several of the allied naval ships nestled in the bay; Coldharbour was considered a safe berth. 
Looking back, there are some who might say that these were Coldharbour’s most exciting days. 

If it was particularly exciting or busy at Mrs Huckerby's, then that would depend on whom you talked to. She had turned over the house to the government at the start of the War with the proviso that only a better class of gent would occupy the rooms. As Edith would tell you herself, it was seldom the case.

In Fort William, in the 1920s, Edith had been used to a very superior type of clientèle - those who took golfing tours of the Scottish Highlands - until her husband, Mr Allan Huckerby, ran away with a housemaid and all the money Edith had deposited in Fort William’s superior bank. Mrs Huckerby felt she could no longer hold up her head in social circles and so, on a dark night, she took her son Donald and the emergency money she had secreted under the bed and escaped to Coldharbour. 

Through hard work and sheer determination, Edith built up a nice little business where travellers could find good food and a clean, spacious room  but in the war years the military now allocated bunks and so space was very scarce indeed. 

Mrs Huckerby had moved Donald into the attic as a temporary measure, expecting him to move out and go to war like all the other men in Coldharbour. What neither of them knew, was that Donald had a heart defect from birth and was found to be unfit to fight. "He might drop dead at any moment" said the doctor, leading Donald to sleep on Mrs Huckerby’s bedroom floor when the house was full.

Although the army had its own boffins for electrical wiring and such like, Coldharbour didn’t have an electrician to speak of. The last one had been shot in Belgium and most of the houses were still lit by oil  and heated by the peat bricks from Ewan’s fields. 

But, one way or another, electricity had arrived in town and Mrs Huckerby insisted that her house was to be the first to have electrical light, even if it did mean Donald having to work day and night to achieve this. She had a ‘Switching-on of the lights’ ceremony (or soiree as they liked to call it in these parts) to which only Coldharbour’s good and great citizens were invited. Within a couple of months, both Mrs Huckerby’s house and the castle had been appropriated for war work which didn't stop Edith reminding everyone that the castle wasn’t fully fitted with electrical power unlike her bed and breakfast. 

Due to the friendly invasion of Coldharbour, the Duke of Inverkeith and his wife had vacated the castle in favour of a gamekeeper’s cottage, which stood high above the village and was handy for spying on poachers. The problem was that Lady McFonal, the Duchess, had become used to what little electrical power they had at the castle and insisted that Teddy, the Duke, install it without fail in the cottage before she would set foot in the blasted place. Teddy, being a man who liked a quiet life, immediately employed Donald Huckerby for the job. The Duke and Duchess moved to their flat in Edinburgh while the work was being carried out. 

Donald was only twenty-two and refused to let a little thing like dropping dead at any moment get in the way of living. He enjoyed the days spent at the gamekeeper’s cottage and it kept him away from his mother’s gaze. The only downside to the work was the cottage itself. There was a particular atmosphere about the place, that gave you the feeling you were being watched by someone or something. When Donald reluctantly told his mother his feelings, she told him to grow up and be a man and insisted the story about the gamekeeper’s ghost was just an old wives' tale.
“What gamekeeper’s ghost?” was Donald’s immediate reaction.

It seems that the old, old, old Duke – Teddy’s great grandfather - had married an Austrian girl whose beauty was renowned as far away as Oban. The downside was, that when the old, old, old Duke found her in the arms of the gamekeeper he shot them both, right there in the cottage.
“That’s the story?”
“That’s it” insisted Mrs Edith Huckerby “Isn’t that enough, Donald?”
Donald was now sorry he had asked the question because he knew where it was going to lead.
“If I had a gun, I would have shot your father and that scarlet woman before they had a chance to run away with all our money” and this discourse repeated itself all the way through their evening meal.

Donald had judged it would take him about four weeks to complete the wiring of the cottage, however with a little help from a couple of the American army guys he had finished it in just under three. The Duke and Duchess were happily informed, in their town flat, that the gamekeeper’s cottage was fully wired for electricity and ready for them to move in.  

The Duchess decided that the Christmas season would be the perfect time to invite the locals and some of the selected armed forces who would join them in a Christmas Evening soiree. This would let the Duchess show  her new lighting and, according to her, give a boost to the village morale.

The Duke of Inverkeith’s entourage consisted mainly of young boys, too young for war, and of old men. So when one of them contacted the Duke to inform him that there was no electrical wiring actually in the house and asked whether they should bring more candles, the Duke immediately assumed that the man was a fool. This was a judgement hastily made. On closer inspection, no wiring of any sort could be found in the gamekeeper’s cottage. 

Constable McKelvie was called away from his normal war duties in Fort William to investigate this most serious of cases. He, too, quickly came to the conclusion that no wiring existed or had ever existed inside the cottage. 

Donald Huckerby swore an oath on a stack of bibles that the wiring had been installed and that most certainly he was out of pocket and required immediate paying. Whatever double dealing had been involved, it was nothing to do with him. The constable could not locate the two Americans, who had kindly helped Donald, as they were already on their way overseas.

Edith Huckerby took the whole episode as a slight against her family and wondered why the police force weren’t chasing real criminals; hadn’t they seen the behaviour of Agnes Addlington, wife of Stanley and friend of a particular American soldier? Edith called in ‘The Old Wifey’s daughter’ who lived just outside Dalmally to investigate if a poltergeist or a similar spirit could be responsible for the disappearance of the electrical wiring. Although the daughter felt a presence in the cottage, she was sure it was the ghost of some long clan chief who was not that particularity interested in electricity.

Donald felt aggrieved and decided the only way forward was to re-wire the cottage in its entirety and at his own expense; that way, it would stop his mother’s constant references to their loss of status in the community and stop the locals referring to him as the ‘Wire Liar’.

So not only did Donald pay for all the new materials himself, he managed to re-wire the house in just two weeks. This time he brought the locals in to see the place and to observe the lights going on and off. This attracted a spontaneous round of applause that caused Donald to make a spontaneous speech; his mother was very proud.  

The Duke and Duchess ( Teddy and Lady F as they were known to friends in the United States) were far too busy with their social lives in Los Angeles to return home to see the wiring installation. They would return in the spring of ‘43.  

They eventually returned home in July of that year and again they had organised a large function to welcome colleagues and family from around the Coldharbour area to join them in a little Summer soiree.
And again, when the staff arrived to open up the house for cleaning and airing, the wiring had completely vanished. Not a trace of electricity was to be found for love nor money in the gamekeeper’s cottage.   

People couldn’t call Donald a liar this time as they had all been present when the lights went on and off. As the church minister had quite rightly stated  - it would have been foolish for a man, such as Donald, to remove all the wiring that he himself had paid for, so surely there had to be another explanation that did not involve poltergeists . 

No one in the village could think of any way to explain the phenomena, especially Constable McKelvie who had kept the supernatural at the top of his list of suspects. Mrs Huckerby grew ever more desperate as she was no longer invited to high tea at the Big House at Tyndrum, nor was she even asked to help with the first aid in the village hall. So desperate times meant desperate measures and she decided to bankroll Donald in one more attempt at re-wiring the gamekeeper’s cottage.

By now the Duke and Duchess had grown bored of Coldharbour and decided to wait out the war in a large rented property in Guelph, Ontario in Canada. 

Donald was to re-wire the cottage and this would be celebrated by an Electricity soiree thrown by Mrs Edith Huckerby. Everyone, who was anyone, would be invited including those in the Big House at Tyndrum but not the women who organised the first aid in the village hall. 

Donald re-wired the house in a record time of eight days and he allowed any passing party, who were nosey enough to ask, to inspect his work and watch the lights going on and off. On the night of the soiree, Mrs Huckerby led the convoy of goods that were to be prepared for that evening’s party. The first thing she did, when she entered the gamekeeper's cottage was try the light switch - the second thing she did was shout “Donald!”  

Once again, the wiring was completely stripped from the walls but this time it looked like whoever had done it, was in a hurry.Sergeant McAllister from the Inverness branch of Her Majesty’s police force was called upon to solve the mystery once and for all. He noted - and was surprised that no one else had mentioned it - that there was no sign of a break-in at the cottage. Whoever had removed the wiring had not broken into the property. So did they have a key? Was it the work of a ghost? Or was there a more obvious answer? 

The following night, Sergeant McAllister asked that Constable McKelvie and Donald meet him in the village hall at 11.30 pm exactly. They were to wear dark clothes and, in case of emergencies, bring a blunt instrument with them. 

Donald decided it was for the best not to mention anything about this to his mother and met the two policemen in the village hall at 11.30pm, prompt.  
The Sergeant asked the two to be silent until he told them otherwise.
“Do not make a sound unless I tell you to, or make a movement unless I tell you to.” 

They were ordered around the back of the gamekeeper’s cottage and, with the use of a key from Donald, they entered via the rear door. 

“There was no sign of a break in, and no sign of damage of any sort. So maybe whoever it was wasn’t trying to steal the wiring but maybe they were attempting to stop anyone moving in.” whispered Sergeant McAllister.
“Why would you do that?” asked Donald.
“Good question – probably due to the fact they didn’t want anyone to know they were there.”
“Why would they do that?” asked Donald again.
“That is what we are about to find out.” 

As they quietly climbed the stairs they could hear talking in one of the upper rooms.
“That sounds foreign.” whispered Donald.
Sergeant McKelvie nodded it was indeed and then signalled that they should enter the room on his count of  three.
"One...two....three" and then, with a joint effort, they battered down the door with their shoulders. The two men with the binoculars were totally surprised, making it easy to overwhelm them. 

“Job well done” said a satisfied Sergeant McAllister as he led the two handcuffed men down the stairs. Donald seemed particularly pleased with himself and when he told his mother of the adventure, she was already thinking of  ways to organise a Hero soiree for a few selected friends. It wasn't to be however, as the man from the Ministry told them that if it was known that two spies had been watching the movement of troops and ships it could cause widespread panic - it was all better left unsaid.

It didn’t stop Mrs Edith Huckerby informing everyone that her son had been decisive in ending the War. Our hero Donald moved to Inverness and married a local girl, where they had two sons. 

Donald didn’t drop dead at any moment, as the doctor had warned him, instead he died in his sleep one night, after telling his grandson all about the time he caught the foreign spies. 

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Christmas 1963 by Bobby Stevenson

I remember fighting a rather lonely wind as I crossed Central Park on that particular Wednesday before Christmas; an old faded newspaper flapped in the breeze against a wooden seat but I could still make out the headline: ‘JFK Dead’. They would be coming soon, those wise men from the east, the Beatles with their new English beat music. Perhaps we could stop grieving and begin to move on. I clambered up the hill, crossed Central Park West sliding in to 72nd Street and as I passed the Dakota building, a cold chill made me pull my coat in tight.


Monday, 13 June 2011

The End of Lonely Street by Bobby Stevenson

On March 3rd 1960, Elvis Presley landed for a few hours at Prestwick Airport, Scotland on his way home from Germany. It was the only time he ever visited the UK.

He is still playing with his hair and listening to the radio when his mother kicks the door open.
“You haven’t heard a word I’ve said Jimmy. Get to work - those animals won’t cut themselves up.”

And just like every other day, she follows the kicking of the door with rushing down the stairs and then leaving the house, and just like every other day in a now empty home, Jimmy turns up the radio volume to maximum. 
“There is a large crowd here to watch Elvis wave goodbye to his 16 year old girlfriend, Priscilla Beaulieu” says an excited radio announcer.

Elvis, the man, the god, the father, son and holy ghost is leaving Germany and flying back to the States. His time in the army is over and he’s going home to make more records, to make more movies and continue dating the daughter of a soldier he’s met in a club. Elvis and Priscilla have only been seeing each other for six weeks but Jimmy and Susan have been going strong now for a full three months.  

Across the street from Jimmy’s place, in one of the newer bungalows, Mister Andrews stares out of the window. Neither happy nor sad, he watches as Jimmy’s mother passes by and in a friendly manner he slowly raises a hand to wave but she looks straight ahead and disappears around the corner.
“There goes Mrs Baker, always in a hurry. I tell you what Brenda love, it’s such a beautiful day I think I’ll wash the car.”

Mister Andrew smiles to himself because he’s made a decision about something and that pleases him. Across the street he can see that nice young girl hurrying to Jimmy’s front door. 

Susan is agitated as she pushes her spectacles up her nose and rapidly knocks on the door. She can hear the music from Jimmy’s room above, so she steps back and enthusiastically waves to him but Jimmy just smiles and continues with sorting his hair. Susan tries another method by banging and kicking the front door, this time it brings Jimmy downstairs. As he opens his door, he’s caught between saying ‘where’s the fire’ and leaning forward to kiss her but Susan just rushes straight past him and into the small kitchen. 

Most of the time Jimmy’s mother has to work double shifts, so Susan has gotten to know where everything is located.
“Mum’s already made up my lunch.”
“You’re not going to work, not today” says Susan without raising her head.
“I’m not? So what am I doing then, eloping?”   
“That’s not funny”. She’s already wrapped up the first sandwiches in a brown bag and hands them to Jimmy. 

Jimmy knows what will happen if he doesn’t turn up for work today; he’s already been late three days running. 
“Well, I’ll just go and see him myself then, shall I?” and Susan kisses Jimmy on the cheek and leaves the room. Jimmy, forever the lost boy, follows her out, “Who, for crying out loud, are you going to see?”
Across the street Mister Andrews is already washing his car in the March sunshine and even he stops when he hears Jimmy shout out ‘Elvis Presley’ quickly followed by a hooting noise. Dogs bark, birds scatter – it seems the whole of the town has just heard.  

A few minutes later and Mister Andrews stands back and admires his handy work as he lets the car dry in the sun. Just up the street a touch, Jimmy and Susan are hiding behind a wall. Jimmy wants to know where Susan got the information about Elvis and she tells him from her father who is a baggage handler at Prestwick airport. He’s heard that Elvis’ plane is to land in the west of Scotland to refuel.
“But you better get here quick” was her father’s parting words.
Jimmy asks "if she's sure her father is telling the truth?" and she says that he has sworn on her Mum’s life and that is good enough for her and it should be good enough for him too. Then she tells him about her plan, the one where they borrow Mister Andrews’ car.
“It’s not stealing if we’re going to bring it back”.

Mister Andrews is at that stage where he’s proudly polishing  his pride and joy.He takes a step back, sees another blemish and continues rubbing. Susan rushes up and asks him if she can "please, please, please use his toilet". He’s not happy about this turn of events, but she seems so desperate and Jimmy and his family have already gone to work. Mister Andrews says it’s okay but she has to take her shoes off before entering the house. He follows her in, dusting any part of the wall or furniture she may have accidentally rubbed against; he doesn’t want to seem fussy but he knows he probably is. He stands outside the toilet door but feels it may look a little weird and so he moves down the hall a few steps.

Mister Andrews doesn’t hear the sound of the car horn the first time around but Susan does. She’s been waiting on it. She rockets out of the toilet handing back Mister Andrews one of his towels then shooting out through the front door. Shocked at first, it takes the second car horn for Mister Andrew to realise what’s going on. He, too, rushes out his house but just in time to see his car, the girl and Jimmy from across the street driving it away. Well maybe driving is an exaggeration; they are more pointing the car and making it hiccup along the road. 

“Oh dear - oh dear, oh dear, oh dear” says Mister Andrews as he wanders back into his home.  
“I’ve just stolen a car”, declares Jimmy.
“Borrowed” Susan adds “and I’ve just left my shoes back there”.

Standing once more at his window, Mister Andrews is worried about to what to do next. This wasn’t meant to happen, you make a decision and things shouldn’t deviate, but deviate, they have.
“They’ve taken the car Brenda love, do you think I should telephone the police?”
Mister Andrews whispers, “oh dear, oh dear, oh dear” then adds, “You’re probably right Brenda love, you always are.” 

Jimmy knows the only way to get to the airport in time to see The King is to use the village High Street but just as he turns in to the road, Susan spots Jimmy’s mother and Jimmy’s boss talking to each other outside the butcher’s shop. That is why Jimmy’s mother sees an empty car driving past her along the High Street, Susan and Jimmy are well hidden.
“Isn’t that Mister Andrew’s car?”
She soon dismisses what she thinks she’s seen and continues with her conversation.

At the other end of the High Street where it turns into Observatory Road, old Webster and Hamish are in the village garage. It’s tea break time and this involves looking out the window while dunking their biscuits in their cracked cups. Old Webster checks with Hamish that he’s also just seen Mister Andrew’s car passing driver-less and sure enough he has.
“Mighty me” says old Webster as he picks up the telephone, intending to call the police. 
Five minutes later, ten at the most, a policeman appears in front of Jimmy’s car with his hand raised in the 'stop' position. I suppose if there are people reading this in later years and are wondering why a policeman would do such a thing, well in March 1960 in the United Kingdom, people still obeyed the law.
Except Jimmy and Susan drive straight on, causing the constable to have to jump out of the way in order to save his life. 

It is only as the car crawls to the top of the hill and disappears over the other side, that the screaming starts. Mister Andrews may have had a clean car but the brakes aren’t of any use for stopping. Twice Jimmy bashes his head on the roof as these are the days before seat belts and such like. 

Luckily as they shoot across the main road and into the airport they fail to hit anything and come to rest in a ploughed field at the side of the runway. Jimmy and Susan sit for a second to catch their breaths and then undeterred by the lack of Susan’s shoes, they run towards the airport reception.
“Ow, ow, ow” as Susan steps on every rock possible, Jimmy suggests she takes his shoes and although they are a whole lot larger, she finds it really does stop the pain. 

It will be worth it in a minute when they get to the reception, she thinks to herself, except when they get there, the hall is empty, that is except for the rubbish scattered everywhere. An old man slides back a dirty glass partition.
“If you’re here to see that Mister Elvis fellow, then you’re too late. He’s been and he’s gone and it’s me who’s going to have to clean this mess up. Do you know what he said?”
Apparently Elvis had asked where he was, which caused the old man much laughter and mirth, so the old man felt he had to put Elvis right and tell him he was in Scotland.
“Where am I? What kind of question is that for a grown man?” 

So that’s that. Who knows when Elvis will pass this way again? And with shoulders slumped, Jimmy and Susan leave the building only for the old man to call after them that he’s heard that Elvis was going up to that local cafe. There is a god.

To call the Brigadoon Tearooms anything but an old hut would be a kindness, except Susan is sure she can hear Elvis singing inside. Her heart begins to palpitate but Jimmy is only worried about avoiding sharp things on the ground since he’s walking in bare feet. He doesn’t notice Susan run ahead, storm the Brigadoon Tearooms and shout “Marry me Elvis”. He hears her the second time ‘though.
“What do you mean he’s gone?” Susan is almost crying as the jukebox plays on.
“Oh he was dreamy, wouldn’t take his cap off ‘though – ‘no Mam, I can’t do that’” says a giggling girl who had also wanted to marry Elvis .
Susan is talking to a girl who has talked to Elvis and it hurts.  

As it grows dark, Jimmy and Susan haven’t spoken to each other for a few hours now. The only communication they have had is when Jimmy takes his shoes back.
“You would have run off with him to America - and married him”
Susan has no defence and simply says “I would have invited you to the wedding”

Jimmy is just about to take his turn at crying when a car turns up beside them. It’s Mister Andrews in his borrowed car and he rolls down the window.
“I brought you these, they’re Susan’s shoes. Hop in and I’ll drive you both home. You can tell me all about it on the way”

Susan puts on her shoes then asks Jimmy if he’s coming. 

The next day is a glorious one as Mister Andrews stands by the fireplace.
“You’re looking a little grubby today, Brenda love” and Mister Andrews polishes the urn that keeps Brenda's ashes safe. Once she’s gleaming, he turns satisfied to look out the window again.
“Now you’re ready to face the world” 

Jimmy’s mother comes out of her door and crosses the street towards Mister Andrews’ house. For the first time ever she waves to him and he waves back. 

Mister Andrews smiles.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Seeing By Wireless by Bobby Stevenson

As a boy, Stan thought he could remember seeing a clown being fired from a cannon at a circus in Hove. He couldn’t recollect, however, witnessing a man flying through the air. At least not one who flew straight through a pair of heavy wooden doors knocking Stan over and causing him to end up in the middle of a busy street. That sort of just didn’t happen in Hastings

Stan lived off this story for years, and he told and retold it so often that people stopped listening.
“That was how I met Logie” Stan would say to everyone and no one in particular.

On the morning we speak of, he had set out intending to go for a constitutional stroll along the older part of town. This was his sanctuary; down here he could scupper and hide by the little fishing boats and let the wind wash away his mother’s ‘inspirational talks’. 

Stan was twenty four years of age, for goodness sake, and since leaving the army had never held down a decent job. The war had been long over and for a man born on the first day of 1900 he was not making a wonderful example of the new dawn. What was going through that stupid head of his? I ask you?
In life, all the best things appear to come when you least expect them, usually followed by the best things hitting you straight in the face - or making you roll out into the street - just the way Stan met Logie, as if you didn’t know. 

Now here’s a question, would Stan have ever known he could be an engineer if he hadn’t met Logie? Just like there must have been another Einstein or Shakespeare out there who, for whatever reason, never got a chance to find out about their own genius. Not that I’m saying Stan was a genius but certainly Logie was one and he knew Stan had his uses. 

After the ‘flying man’ episode and as a way of an apology, Logie took Stan for a drink. As so often happens in these circumstances, they found they actually liked each other’s company. So much so, that when Logie’s landlord stormed into the public house later that day “to find the mad Scottish scientist who had blown up his rented rooms” Stan lied for Logie and told the landlord that his friend “had been taken to hospital that very afternoon and could be at death’s door even as we speak” whereas Logie was actually hiding in the toilet.  Needless to say, the two of them became the greatest of pals.Here was Stan, a man in need of a job and Logie in need of an assistant he could trust. Stanley Addlington was born and bred a Sussex man and proud of it, his friend John Logie Baird, or Logie as he preferred, was from Helensburgh in the West of Scotland.

Now it wouldn’t be so far from the truth to say that Logie was run out of Hastings. Logie and his landlord had an altercation in the street when he demanded recompense for the damage caused by the explosions. Logie reluctantly paid the swine and decided enough was enough, taking his inventions to a set of rooms in London’s Soho.And it was in these modest rooms that John Logie Baird demonstrated the first electro mechanical television.  

Stan would tell you that he was the first face ever to appear on a television screen. He had done it to amuse himself one night when Logie was out. The problem was that since he was the only person in the room at the time, he couldn’t actually see himself on the screen but he did remember burning himself on the lights needed for the camera. When Logie came in the next day and spotted the burns on Stan’s face, he smiled to himself having guessed what his friend had been up to. Unfortunately for Stan, history chose another as the first televised face.

Those London years were the busiest of Stan’s life, forever working on Logie’s latest inventions, sometimes fourteen to sixteen hours a day. Too much work for him to realise how lonely he actually was.

In the spring of 1936, Logie decided to take a trip home to Helensburgh to see the family but due to his deteriorating health Logie asked Stan to drive him up there. This meant that Stan could take the car north and return to collect Logie at the end of the stay. Stan had only been to Scotland once before and that was when Logie transmitted television pictures to the Central Hotel in Glasgow via a telephone line from London. So yes, he would drive him to Helensburgh and then take the car on into the Highlands. 

Whatever made Stan take the Coldharbour road at Inveraray is between him and his maker but turn he did and before long he was staring at a rusty welcoming sign:
‘Coldharbour: The B nniest Place in the West’. 

Coming in from that direction, the village hall was the first real building you would pass. Outside Stan saw a rather pretty girl taking down a notice telling that the library was now open. She disappeared inside the hall and Stan saw this as a reason to stop. 
When he entered, she was packing up the makeshift library into boxes and was apparently doing so without anyone to help her.
“Excuse me” said Stan.
The girl spoke without lifting her head. “If you’re going to tell me there’s a letter ‘O’ missing from our village sign, then I already know. It fell off last week. If you’re here to borrow books, you’re too late and anyway judging by your accent you’re not from these parts.” And on she worked. 
“I just wondered.....I was wondering if you would like to come out with me this evening...for a drink or something, young lady?”
“Did you just call me young lady?” enquired the girl.
“Depends - did you want me to call you ‘young lady’?”
And the beautiful young girl thought about it and decided, yes, she did like it. So that was how Stanley Addlington met Agnes Lily Sorensen, daughter of Peter; the man who sat quietly in rooms. 

Stan decided that this was as much of the Highlands as he wanted to see and found a room at Mrs Edith Huckerby’s bed and breakfast – five shillings and clean sheets.
Mrs Huckerby never told her lodger that she disapproved of Agnes and her demented father but it seemed to Stan that Mrs Huckerby disapproved of everyone. What she needed was a hard kiss on those lips, thought Stan, but decided he wasn’t the man for the job. Although her house smelt of the most delicious baking, Mrs Huckerby, herself, smelt of mothballs, probably one of the reasons why Stan did not feel he was the right man to deliver the kiss. 

Stan and Agnes spent the next Sunday afternoon walking the high hills overlooking Loch Awe – Agnes liked the way Stan called it ‘Lock ah’, in fact she liked many things about Stan. She was twenty two years of age and this was the first time she had ever had these feelings. 

On the following Tuesday ,as usual, Agnes set up the library in the hall but this time there were two differences: Stan was there helping and the rooms were full of the happy sound of laughter, even the sun turned up to shine through the windows.

They set up the books in an ordered fashion, crime was on the left and very popular in Coldharbour, the classics were on the right and the penny romances were in the centre; the latter proving very popular with the women and girls of the village who never stopped dreaming of their knights in shining armour. 

Stan, Agnes’ knight, lifted a small vase out of a tired old box and asked what it was for.
“Ah that’s the suggestions vase, at the end of every session I read what’s been placed in it. Some suggest particular books, some just want to leave a message, some to place some money or to say thanks” said Agnes. 
By the end of the afternoon Stan knew it was time to head back south to Helensburgh and pick up Logie. They intended to stay a night in Glasgow before driving to London and Stan wished with all his heart that Agnes could join him, but he knew about her father and him sitting in a room quietly.
So when Agnes’ back was turned, Stan scrawled a quick note and placed it in the jar, then he kissed her goodbye and promised lovely Agnes that he would return. 

As he was driving away from Loch Awe, he looked at his watch and knew that she would soon read the proposal of marriage he had placed in the vase.Stan was just about to whistle his favourite tune by way of celebration when the car skidded for several yards before tumbling off the road. He was sure he had felt the road shaking just before the accident. As he sat stunned in the automobile, he felt it again, the earth definitely moved. The machine was stuck good and proper and there was no way he could push it out. So Stan set out to walk up the old road that followed the Orchy River to the bridge.

Nothing passed by him that afternoon and it was early evening before he arrived at a small house in Inveronan on the shores of Loch Tulla.An old man answered the door, “There is nothing we can do this evening for your transport young man, but come away inside and we’ll feed and water you”.

In Coldharbour, Agnes was clearing up the mess in the hall. There had been small earthquakes before in the area but this was a bit stronger than usual. Still, she got to work picking up all the bookshelves and the scattered books but Agnes failed to notice the broken vase lying on its side and its contents having spilled out under a wooden desk. 

In the morning, Stan thanked the old couple who fed him well and who asked for nothing in return. He walked the military road across Ba Bridge and into Glencoe, finding a telephone at The Kingshouse and thereby allowing him to notify Logie that he would be delayed.

In the Autumn of 1936, Logie and his team were busier than ever supplying the BBC with their latest television technology to test against other competing systems. Logie’s group were based at The Crystal Palace, a structure moved from Hyde Park to Penge Common in 1851. 

Stan had bought a small house near-by in Sydenham, in the hope that he would hear from Agnes and that she would say yes. It was nearly the end of November and Stan had begun to give up on the idea of a life with Agnes. 

Several days before the Coldharbour hall was to be used for a Saint Andrew’s night party Miss McKelvie, the village hall cleaner, found the contents of the suggestion vase underneath the desk, including Stan’s proposal of marriage. 

So on the night of the 30th of November and instead of dancing in the village hall, Agnes found herself knocking on the door of a house in Sydenham, south east London. She had been reluctant to go as it would mean leaving her mother with a father who sat and said nothing, but her mother told her that sometimes happiness only comes once and that she should catch it before it was too late. 

Stan proposed properly to Agnes that night with the ring he had been keeping safe on a chain around his neck.  It was just as Agnes had accepted Stan’s hand in marriage, that she noticed the redness of the sky. She thought, at first, it was to do with the London lights being so much stronger than those in Coldharbour but when Stan went out into the garden he could smell the smoke, then he heard the clang...clang...clang of the fire engines. 

The Crystal Palace, and all ideas that he and Logie had worked so hard on over the years, was on fire. 

The BBC, in the end, chose another television system just as the country drifted into war. In Hastings, Agnes and Stan got married and had two wonderful years before Agnes moved back to Coldharbour to wait on her knight returning from battle.