Friday, 30 March 2012

The Sad Valley (2012) by Bobby Stevenson


Tommy was tired of waiting for his life to start. 

He had given it more than enough chances in his nineteen short years, thank you very much, and still there was nothing to get excited about. So Tommy thought he might as well begin his life without any help from anyone.

His current dream was to watch the World Cup football final at Wembley and if something was going to happen, it was going to happen there. After all that was London, it was 1966 and it was most certainly the place to be. 

Tommy had made a list of some of the people he would probably meet: Julie Christie, Mick Jagger, Jean Shrimpton and Terence Stamp for starters. He’d seen all of them in newspapers and all of them seemed to like walking down King’s Road, Chelsea on a Saturday.

There was just the small matter of earning enough money to get him south and the small matter of keeping a roof over his head when he got there. 

After his Grandfather had passed away, Tommy was given the choice of any piece in the old house. He settled on a small, beautifully carved, wooden box that once held his Grandfather’s pipe tobacco and a watercolour of the hills above the village, painted in his Grandfather’s own hand. These would be the two possession he would take with him to start his life.

To raise the cash, Tommy worked on Sid’s farm from sun-up until dusk, then at Bella’s cafe until nine at night, followed by the Climber’s bar until one in the morning. When he had finished, he would deposit all of his day’s earning in the beautifully carved tobacco box and collapse onto the bed. By the morning, he was like a new man and would be itching to start all over again.  

The day he left, was just like any other one, he awoke with the sun rise and decided to slip away before the rest of the family rose. It was easier that way. He lifted his rucksack and prepared to walk the twelve miles to the railway station.

The weather was kind and he arrived with plenty of time to spare. Tommy decided to spend a couple of his hard earned pennies on a cup of tea but anything as frivolous as a cake was not to be entertained.  He reached into his sack and discovered that his mother had packed several sandwiches in a brown bag. He smiled to himself. They were his favourites – all filled with cheese and onion, and as he lifted one out to take with his cup of tea, a note fell from the brown paper bag.
It said “You can’t start a life on an empty stomach. Love Mum”

There were enough sandwiches to feed a small army and would easily keep Tommy satisfied on the journey south. He couldn’t remember mentioning he was going to start his life to his Mum but that was mothers for you. They knew everything, sometimes before you even knew them yourself.

The journey was perfect as he sat eating his sandwiches and watching the well remembered hills getting swallowed by the distance. 

The train whisked through towns with black smoke and cities with grey people but the nearer he got to London, the more excited he became. He knew he was going to start a life and that made him happier than anything else he could imagine, even more than the inflatable Yogi Bear he had received on his fifth birthday.  

When he opened the train door he could actually smell London and it spoke of streets of dreams, and hopes and people that would become his friends. He felt as if he already belonged, and although there was no one there to meet him, it seemed as if everyone was there to meet everyone else. What a place to start a life and what a place to call home. 

He spent the first night in a small hotel near Victoria station. It was run by an old woman, of maybe forty years of age, according to Tommy. She insisted that he call her ‘Twiggy’. He’d never seen such an old woman wear such a small revealing dress. 

“We calls it a mini skirt in these parts, young man”  

Tommy thought it was a very fitting name for such a short skirt. He mentioned to the old woman that he was in London to get his life started and all Twiggy would say was “Fancy that”.

At Breakfast, Twiggy was wearing an even shorter skirt than the night before and there were several business men in the lounge who kept dropping knives and forks so that Twiggy would bend over.
Tommy asked some of the men if they knew where he could get a ticket for the final of the World Cup. All of them, without exception, started laughing. “Oh, that’s a good one”, “That’ll keep me chuckling all day. Thanks lad”, “Aye, thanks”. 

The door closed behind him asTommy stepped into the London street still hearing  the laughter from the Breakfast room. What was so funny about what he had asked? 

There was now two days until the Final; surely someone was willing to sell him a ticket? To be honest he didn’t really know where Wembley Stadium was. “Somewhere in the north of the city, or the west” was how his brother had described it. So Tommy started walking. He felt it was best to avoid buses and The Underground until he knew London better.  

Within an hour, he’d arrived at Camden Lock and this place was alive with music and flags and laughter. It appeared to be the centre of the world for celebrating England qualifying for the Final. There were parties in windows above him, people on roofs dancing. A conga line made up of a dozen or so very happy people came out of a bar, slithered its way across the road and into a bar opposite. All these people, thought Tommy, had already started their lives and this made him grow even more excited to start his.

As he neared Kentish Town, he noticed a small cafe on his left. The place smelt of coffee, looked as if it was in Morocco and had the mellow sounds of jazz drifting out through the door. This was heaven. 

When the waitress served him his coffee, he thought he had been given the wrong cup, “Excuse me, but I think someone may have already drunk from this”
There was only the smallest amount of coffee at the bottom of a very tiny cup. The waitress smiled and moved on. Tommy noticed people piling sugar on top of the coffee and so he did the same. He shouldn’t have swallowed all the contents at once; he realised that the moment he went dizzy,  

“You okay man? Like, are you cool?”
The question came from Herbert, who spoke with an American accent but really came from the east end of London.
“Here, try one of these” said Herbert “Just call me Herbie, all my friends do” and he handed Tommy a French cigarette.
“I don’t smoke” said Tommy. “This ain’t smoking, this is living” said an agreeable Herbie. So if it meant his life would start sooner rather than later, Tommy decided to smoke a cigarette. 

Before he knew it, Tommy was lying on the floor - apparently in a room above the cafe.
“We carried you up after you passed out” said the ever present Herbie. “I guess the cigarette was too much man and maybe the coffee, man. You got to take that coffee wisely, man. It can floor a buffalo” 

Tommy wasn’t sure if his life had now officially started, or he had just pulled into the side of the road to let the rest of the traffic go past.
“Where’s my bags?”
“What bags?”
“I didn’t see no bags, man. Too many people carrying too many bags in this life”  

Tommy shot woozily out of the room and down a very narrow staircase before slipping the last few steps into the bar and crashing on to the floor.
He could hear a girl in the corner say “That’s the second time that man has landed on the floor, what do they put in the coffee here?”

By the time Tommy got back up to the room, Herbie was dancing naked on the kitchen table to Highway 61 Revisited. Tommy’s bags had been stolen along with his money and his chance of ever seeing the World Cup final at Wembley.
Naked Herbie asked Tommy “What World Cup Final, man?”
So Tommy and Herbie became the best of pals. Tommy stayed in Herbie’s room but kept his clothes on at all times, unlike a lot of Herbie’s other friends; Herbie’s room seemed to be the place to get naked in Camden. 

England won the World Cup and that made Tommy happy. Herbie gave Tommy some of his shifts in the Cafe downstairs which let Tommy start to save some money again. 

One evening in October, after Tommy had just finished working twelve hours in the cafe, he heard a sobbing from the room, when he entered there was Herbie crying his heart out. 

Tommy put his arms around Herbie and held him. Maybe it was one of his family that had died but Tommy had never heard Herbie this upset before, even the day he’d cooked the breakfast naked.
“It’s this, man” and he showed Tommy the newspaper. “All those beautiful children”

In the Green Hollow Valley in Wales, a mountain of coal mining waste had slipped in the heavy rain and covered a primary school.“We got to go man. You and me, we got to help those people. Those children” and Tommy sat beside Herbie and they both sobbed into each other’s arms. 

Tommy had saved enough money to get him and Herbie as far as Merthyr Tydfil and then they would have to walk the rest. It was dark by the time they reached the village, but there were lights everywhere, all the way up the mountainside. No matter how tired they felt they got to work right away, digging the slurry that covered the school and the little ones. 

Sometimes you give up on the world, believing that everything is greed and bad but now and again you can see the best of people even in the worst of situations. 

At least several hundred children, teachers and parents were missing. The slurry had slipped across the school and into the houses opposite. Tommy was digging between the houses and the school and as he looked up he saw Herbie carrying a child with a cover over the body. Herbie looked at Tommy and his eyes spoke of a million things he had seen that evening. 

Important people came and went; The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh and The Prime Minster but Tommy and Herbie never once wavered from the digging. A couple of times Herbie fell asleep but Tommy would notice and waken him up again. 

This is not to say that the boys were heroes, everyone was a hero that weekend. Everyone pushed themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of, to release the little bodies. Herbie was told to take a break and he reluctantly did so. He went over to Tommy and shared a French cigarette and Tommy smoked it with him. 

“I don’t think I can cry anymore” said Herbie.  

A bearded man stopped and asked if he could possibly have a cigarette and Herbie invited him to sit. The man told them that his child had been ill that day and had stayed at home with his wife. His other child had gone to school and he had survived but the slurry had taken his home with his two darlings.
“How does that happen?” he asked them, how indeed.

It had been a long time since any child, or anyone for that matter, had been brought out alive and although Herbie and Tommy believed they could hear shouts for help, it was only the tiredness calling.
By the following morning 120 bodies had been recovered but many loved ones were still waiting to be found and brought home. 

There are times in your life when you know that something you have taken part in or witnessed will change your soul. Tommy knew it. It didn’t make him bitter, it just made him realise that we are each other’s keepers and we are all in this together. Good and bad times.

On the Monday morning Herbie, dirty and exhausted, felt it was time they returned to the cafe.
“Who’s gonna make the coffee, man, eh?”

Tommy tiredly agreed and they started off hitch-hiking back towards Merthyr. 
There were so many cars, ambulances and trucks transporting everything back and forth that getting a lift wasn’t so easy.  Tommy decided the best thing to do was split up and meet back at the railway station.
“I’ll have a Frenchie cigarette waiting on you man” was the last he heard of Herbie. 

Tommy sat at the station for several hours before he felt that something was wrong. He tried the Merthyr Tydfil police station to see if maybe Herbie had hitched naked and been arrested. It was just a thought to cheer himself up. The policeman informed him that they were too busy and that all missing reports were being centralised in Cardiff. He would be better going there. 

It was Tuesday before he found Herbie’s body lying in the morgue. It seemed one of the trucks taking slurry from the school hadn’t seen him in the lashing rain. He had been hit and died instantly.
Tommy got back to the room above the cafe on the Thursday and only then did he weep. He wept for the children and for the parents and for his friend, Herbie. 

And that is when he realised that you don’t ever wait to start your life. It begins the very first day you are born. Tommy was living when he was at home, he was alive when he was in the room above the cafe and he was most certainly living when he was with his best friend Herbie. Tommy had been alive all his life, he just hadn’t realised it. 

So Tommy did something he’d never done before, he took off all of his clothes in Herbie’s room and stood naked.
“This is for you, my pal”
And somewhere out there, he was sure he could hear Herbie laughing.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Retreads by Bobby Stevenson


Don’t cry too long
My little one
The world is waiting on your smile
Don’t listen to the midnight whispers
It is their way
To make things dark
Don’t feel
That other hearts are hardened
Sometimes they need
To take a rest
Don’t wish that you were someone
This life is only meant to test.
Don’t think
That you are somehow chosen
For all the trials in the world
Don’t cry too long
My little urchin
We need your heart to sing
Its song.

If all of this were up to me,
My gifts would be of other things,
The son to spend an afternoon
With a father long since gone,
The granddad seeing his offspring grow,
As his life goes on and on,
The children gone before their time,
Would come back home and ring the chime,
And chances lost would be our choice,
To try just one more time,
The girl whose births would fill a home,
A brother not a day alone,
The friend who’d never know the pain,
Of all that cancer brings,
If all of this were up to me,
Then these would be my things.

Be who you are,
Be magnificent,
Be strong,
And except to those who cared too much,
The one who never quite belonged.

Be who you are,
Stand tall, unique
Be grand
The one who smiled at little jokes,
That no one else could understand.

Be who you are,
Let laughter roll the same as tears
Take pleasure in the here and now,
Not in the days or months or years.

Be who you are,
Be loved
And loving everything,
Don’t back away from chance nor dare,
You too will have your song to sing.

Be who you are,
Let happiness and joy
Break through,
The universe was wise enough
To only make the one of you.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Shades Of Lives by Bobby Stevenson

A Life Half Lived

Always bending for every wind that blows my way,
Arching to the north, swirling to the south,
Never able to stand in my own true place,
Some see it as a weakness,
Contemptuous, even,
But I know the truth,
It’s because I’m broken inside,
And when they bury me,
It’ll be a stranger they mourn.

Footprints On A Carpet

Even if it’s only footprints on a carpet
Or blades of grass crushed where I once sat
Or a muddy scar upon a garage wall
Where my hand had leant upon
Or a thumb print on a pane of glass
On that day we talked and talked
Or a smile that made your face light up
When you thought of what I said
Or a note left out to tell you news
Now crushed and thrown away
Or a space that I once stood upon
Now emptier in the absence
Even for just one of those
That I’m remembered by
Then I’ll be satisfied in years,
That once,
Just once,

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Pear Blossom Highway by Bobby Stevenson

The moments that existed between the lights being turned off and the walk to bed were his to own for the briefest of times.
They were an echo from the edge of a life; one that was now long gone. There had been a time when all he needed to think about was his own selfish needs but now he had the wife and kids.

 They were his life now, his total life.

 He doused the fire and closed the window against the night air. He could smell the rain coming from the west and he knew, for certain, that tomorrow would be a good day.
 He went to his grandfather’s old tobacco box and took out the creased photo. It was safe in there – the box was on top of a cupboard and the kids never touched it. His wife knew that  was his safe place and never looked in.

 He couldn’t remember when he first seen it, I mean really seen it - probably in some old magazine which smelled of damp and sat  on a wonky table in the dentist’s surgery. He hadn’t really known who Hockney was, just some painter from the Yorkshire coast and anyway art was for other people, certainly not for the likes of him. 

 People talked on the television about paintings and photos in words that his grandfather would have called ‘flowery’. There was no place for flowery in his life thank you very much, that was for those and such as those – although he never really understood what that meant.

 But this one work of Hockney’s really got to him. It was called the Pear Blossom Highway and for whatever crazy reason the universe had as a purpose, it genuinely sang to him.
 It floated his boat and that was a much a surprise to him as it was to anyone. I mean, apart from his lovely family, the only other thing that made him happy was football. He knew who played for whom and who scored what, just like his grandfather had taught him (as would have his father if he’d lived long enough to get to know him).

 So in the twilight, he sat looking at the photo and seeing himself standing by the side of the road and for no reason other than he could, he wishedto himself that he was there right there in the Californian heat. 

 By the morning his secret life was shut away in the box and he was back to taking the family dog, Rufus, for his morning pee, ruffling the kids’ hair, kissing his darling wife and fighting for a place on the road into town.

 He wasn’t unhappy and no one could say that about him and think it was the truth, but his dream of standing on Pear Blossom Highway propped up his struggles against sadness when it came to visit.

 Sometimes he didn’t bother with the photo, like the days when they’d take the family to the beach – amongst all the screaming and shouting, he’d close his eyes and feel the warm winds blowing along the Highway and the smell of the desert air. Okay, it wasn’t real desert but it was a lot more desert than he could see at home.

 One day he’d found a book about the Pear Blossom Highway and it seems it was called the death road. Some of the good folks from LA would use it as an alternative route to the Inland Empire and then they’d drive as if they’d been set free from unseen restraint, speeding and hollering all the way home. And as he read the words, in his mind he was driving along the road with the top down, music on the radio and the biggest goddamn smile on his lips.

 He found his life was a hungry beast and never satisfied. It ate up time when he was busy, it devoured seconds, hours, days and weeks as he was looking somewhere else. Even in his quiet time, life sucked up every spare second. Before he knew it, the kids had grown, his belly had grown, he and the wife had grown in opposite directions and he was no nearer getting to the Highway. 

So he did something he would never have considered a few years earlier. He kept some of his wages back from the family. Not much but enough. He stuck it in the box that sat on top of the cupboard and he called it the emergency fund but he knew it was never going to be used in an emergency. It’s just that he couldn’t admit that to himself right at that moment.

 When the boss offered him more work but on the other side of the county, his guilt made him take the offer; the kids needed new clothes and none of them had had a holiday in several years. His eldest daughter was getting interested in boys and she wanted the latest fashions. So every Sunday evening he would pack the car and head off, returning on a Friday night when the rest of the family was asleep. But it wasn’t just his daughter who was dressing up, he noticed new dresses turning up in his wife’s closet. She wasn’t wearing them for him at the weekend, so who?

 He started to put a little extra money every week in the box on top of the cupboard. He reckoned it was up to a few hundred by the start of the summer. One day when the time was right he was going to use some of the emergency fund and it was going to take him all the way to Pear Blossom Highway.

 One Friday evening in mid July when he got back home, the house was in its usual darkness, yet given the warmth in the air the windows were tight shut. He didn’t bother turning on the lights, instead he took down the box to look at the photo and that’s all there was - the photo and a note.   
He turned the lamp on and read the letter.

 ‘I’ve taking the kids and the money you thought I didn’t know about. I’ll be in touch.’

 Now that he was on his own most of the week, life didn’t seem that hungry any more - there was always time kick around somewhere, unused. Sure he got to see the kids every second weekend but it meant a five hundred mile round trip and yes, they were always happy to see each other. Over a burger they’d talk about how their mother had a new daddy, Eric.

 Yeh they liked, Eric he was a good guy apparently.

 So he decided the only way to use up the time was to work seven days a week, which, when he thought about it was a good thing. It meant he could send a few hundredmore for the kids and still put some money in the emergency box.

He worked the winter, saw the kids from time to time (but not like before) and worked some more. Come the spring, he got a call from his ex wife. She was getting married and although she would like to invite him, she didn’t think it was on the cards but she wondered if he could send some more money kids to buy clothes for the wedding.

 So took the money from the emergency box and sent it to his ex wife.

Apart from the odd woman he’d pick up in bar from time to time, his nights and his bed were cold and lonely. It worried him that he’d be hitting forty soon and he’s still not seen much of the world.

One Saturday morning, he took his truck to a garage in town and sold it for a couple of thousand and then went straight to the agents and booked a flight to Los Angeles in the great state of California.

As you’re reading this, he’s standing next to the Pear Blossom Highway and feeling the warm air in his hair and wearing a smile that may just crack his face.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

A Million Other Things (2012) by Bobby Stevenson

He sat at the bar cradling his beer and wondering why the jukebox had more friends than he did.

If he was really being honest with himself, he was never, what you’d call, a popular guy; an acquaintance here or a guy you nodded to there, was probably the best way to describe his socialising strengths.

People respected him, he didn’t doubt that fact, but he couldn’t see respect bringing that many to his funeral, not that he planned on dying, no sir, not for a very long time, but still the hurt did go deep.

When did all this other craziness start? 
He had been going over that thought again and again until he was beginning to drive himself crazy. Had there been signs sitting right out there in plain sight with no one even seeing them?

He could feel through the beer glass it all starting again, the vibrations; small waves on top of the beer causing it to foam up, as if a half mile long train full of cargo was passing just outside the bar. But there wasn’t a rail track for miles and the road only saw one or two cars an hour, if that.

So he held the glass tight. 

“Jeez, Jethro are you okay? You’re gripping that beer like your life depended on it.” 

Jethro loosened his grip and smiled back at the barman.

“Guess you’re right Dan. Just thinking, that’s all.”

He left a tip on the counter, threw his jacket over his shoulder and walked out into the evening heat. It was growing dark as he drove onto his driveway where he failed to notice the flickering street light swinging above him. When Jethro entered the house, all the commotion stopped.

He walked down the hallway just as the telephone started ringing but something told him it was a cold call from an east coast building company, so he just plain ignored it. The little thoughts helped him at times. Like last Easter when he was driving through that blind junction on Madison Street and something told him to press the brake. He had no idea why he stopped but just then some old Chevy came blasting out of Jefferson Lane and it would have split Jethro’s car in two if had he driven straight on.

Now Jethro was never a religious creature you understand, but he always had a hankering that there was 
something else out there, some truth to the whole universe that kept folks in check.But all these things that were happening to him were unsettling, especially since he didn't  go out looking for them. “Just getting by” was his way in life and had anyone bothered to be his friend, well they would have known that too.

These days he had trouble sleeping and not just with the usual bad thoughts that crawled around in most men’s minds. Things happened to him in the night, strange things, like at 1am every morning the telephone would ring and when he answered it, no one would be there. Right after he put the ‘phone down , the smoke detector, that lay on the floor, would start beeping until he picked it up. The thing didn't have any power for crying out loud.

Now don’t get him wrong, these weren't ghosts or any kind of haunting. Jethro didn’t believe in such things. No, if someone worked that hard at life ( and Jethro felt everyone should  get an award for just getting through a single day) then they weren’t going to hang around afterwards, not when they’d just been promoted - so ghosts were definitely out of the question.

One night he had this thought about an airport and so he switched on his computer. He looked at the flight arrivals and noticed that one of them from South America was delayed and he knew right there and then that the flight was never going to land. Not ever. Some technical fault over Brazil had been the reason for the crash.

On Saturday nights if he didn't go down to the bar, he’d sit and watch the lottery show on the television. Without thinking he’d say a number out loud  and what do you know? That number would be chosen. If he tried to concentrate on it, it never happened. 

So one Saturday towards the end of the month, when his funds were getting real low, he put on a lottery ticket - he chose only four of the numbers he could hear in his head - well he didn’t want to peak too early, you know how it is? 

He won a couple of hundred, just enough to pay one or two bills and get by until his next pay day. At least that was the plan, but by Wednesday he was already thinking about the next lottery draw. So even although he still had money in the house, he put on five winning numbers and this time it was several hundred thousand he won. He called the lottery people direct so that no one local would find out.

He drove into the big city to pick up the money but somewhere at the back of his mind he was wishing that he had got the numbers wrong. Jethro decided that the money wasn’t his to keep, it had only been an experiment after all, a successful one nonetheless, but he’d proved a point.

He got the bank clerk to put the cash into two bags – half the amount in each – and decided the first place to start was the Church half way along Main Street.

A pleasant middle-aged woman let him in. 

“I’ll just tell the Reverend you're here. Have a seat please. Can I get you something to drink? Coffee? Tea?”

“Coffee is good.” Jethro was slightly nervous.

The woman smiled and left Jethro with the thought that this was probably the Reverend's wife. The room was in the process of being dragged from one century to another. There was garish pink flock wallpaper in a room of furniture that spoke of a more modern taste.

So two things startled Jethro that afternoon, the woman brought a large pot of coffee, two cups and a plate of cakes. She placed them on the table and sat beside him.

“So how can I help you?”

“I’d rather wait for the Reverend, if it’s all the same.”

“I’m she, the Reverend.”

“But you said....”

“That I’d tell the Reverend you were here? I was just trying to stop you running.”

“A lot do that?” asked Jethro.


So they talked, in fact they talked for a good two hours and Jethro told Maureen, the Reverend’s name, all about the strange things that were happening to him.

“You’re not stressed in anyway?” she asked.

He wasn’t and the question annoyed him. How could she dismiss his strangeness, yet spend her life promoting a strangeness of her own. He was sure his experiences were nearer to religion than she was willing to accept.

He left her the money but she needed convincing that he wasn’t a dealer, or a robber or insane. This he did.

“It could be lots of things causing this” said Maureen. “It could be weather conditions or it could be something electrical in you. It might even be God working in a mysterious way as he’s want to do. It could be a million other things as well.”

And  that was really all she had to say on the subject. Except when Jethro mentioned that she might use some of the money to fix the room up. She said the money would be put to good use as the flock wallpaper was expensive and so she was decorating real slowly. She couldn’t wait to get rid of all that modern furniture. That was the second thing that surprised him that day, she was transforming the room back the way. His power, whatever it was, wasn’t infallible. 

He walked along University Street with the second bag of cash but was hesitant about who he should talk to. He read off the different faculties, some he dismissed immediately, some he played with in his head for a while. In the end it came down to Philosophy, Physics or Mathematics and as the first department that he approached was Mathematics, he settled on them.

He told the receptionist that he wanted to make a donation and within five minutes he had been whisked into the Dean’s office and another cup of coffee pushed in front of his face. He explained that although he was happy to donate to the faculty, he wanted to talk to someone about a problem he had.

As the Dean removed the bag and the cash and placed it in a safe, he called in his secretary to contact whomever Jethro wanted to talk to. It made Jethro smile that in the university no one was bothered if he was a robber or a dealer.

In the end he was given time with a Nobel Prize winning professor who seemed a kindly man and who asked Jethro straight away how he could help him.

When Jethro had told him of the flickering and the vibrations and the lottery numbers, he seemed bemused.

“So you think that you have some extraordinary powers, am I correct?”

And Jethro had to agree that he’d got the problem down in one. The kindly man suggested that Jethro take some notes as the professor tended to ramble on and it might be a bit difficult for him to follow. So Jethro took a pad from the professor’s desk and started writing. Words like ‘Chaos Theory’ kept coming up again and again.

“So if I get this" said Jethro "and I’m still not sure that I have, you are saying Prof, that in the universe, no matter how sure that something is meant to happen or is due to happen, it might not happen because of Chaos Theory? And that means that anything could happen?”

“Exactly my boy, wonderfully put.”

“So I’m a chaotic interruption in an otherwise ordered universe?”

“Just so”

“Doesn’t that make me a freak?”

“Never young man. Now, I really must dash.”

Jethro drove home after spending a large amount of money on advice that he could have got off of a television talk show, but he felt that they had both meant well.

As he approached his house, several of the street lights began to flicker and swing and as he said out loud “this problem isn’t getting any better”. 

He stayed in all weekend and drank a few beers and this seemed to keep the thoughts at bay for a while - it even managed to stop the lights flickering in the house.

By the Tuesday he took a walk into town and as he rounded the corner he literally bumped into a neighbour, Tomas Saltz.

“I’m sorry to hear about your wife's passing” he said sympathetically to Tomas.

“How did you know? I have only come from the hospital, she died this afternoon. Who told you?”

Jethro left the poor man crying in the street as he ran off into Center City. The rules had changed again, this chaos, whatever it was, had surprised him once again.

So Jethro sat in the bar with his hands clasped around a glass of beer and purposely ignoring the vibrations on top of his drink. Danny the barman gave him his usual look.

“You alright, Jethro?”

“Sure Danny.”

Danny went back to cleaning the glasses.



“Can I tell you something?”


And Jethro told Danny about all the strange things that had been happening to him and how it might be one of a million other things, but then again he might just be a freak.

Danny assured Jethro that there was no such thing as a freak and that we all fitted into the universe in our own way. He also hoped that Jethro didn’t think Danny was a hippy or anything, but  if Jethro was made the way the universe wanted him to be, then that was all there was to it.

Jethro said he was sorry that he didn’t have any money to give him right there and then, but come Saturday he could give Danny as much as he wanted.

Danny said he wasn’t interested in Jethro’s money. Wasn’t he a friend and wasn’t that what friends did for one another? Friends listened and they helped each other, they cared.

Danny handed Jethro a fresh beer. “On the house pal”

And then they shook hands and that was when Jethro knew everything was going to be alright. In an instance, he saw Danny in the years ahead with a wife, kids and in a poor but happy life. He also saw a photo with
 Jethro as a godparent holding one of Danny’s children.

And he knew things were going to be alright for him too. So what if he was the exception, so what if he didn’t have too many friends? He had one and that was enough for him, and he had a gift that not too many people had and he knew that he had to use it for better things than lottery wins. 

After all, this was a big, big universe and everything and anything was possible.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

The Best of All Summers (2012) by Bobby Stevenson

Some things remain with you forever.

When I was ten years old, my father took me on a trip in an old battered car and caravan, and although I didn’t know it at the time, my father was dying. He was only forty years of age and he was dying of a brain tumour. 

What can I tell you about me back then? That I was the only son of parents who never got around to marrying? That I lived with my two sisters and a cat and that despite not having any money, we lived in a house packed to the roof with love.

Maybe that’s as good as it gets in anyone’s life. 

My father was the gentlest of hearts and the kindest of men, and I’m not just saying that because he’s gone. I’m saying it because it was true. It was his strength and his weakness. My mother watched so many people taking advantage of his goodness, that in the end she put herself in the way of anyone trying to use him. This made her seem hard but she was willing to put up with that, because that was what our family was always about – love.

My parents had decided that when school was closed for the summer, Mum and the girls would go to London for a few days to see a show, while me and Dad would go north taking his old car hooked up to Granddad’s caravan. I knew Dad was probably hoping this would be a chance for us to talk, as he was always working and I was always in my bedroom being misunderstood. Even at ten years of age I had no real idea how to enjoy myself.

On that summer, that glorious summer, school finished and my life began. Dad drove Mum and the girls to the railway station and I sat on the front steps waiting, bag ready and caravan packed.
I’ll always remember the ‘toot-toot-toot’ of my Dad on the car horn as he returned from the station, letting everyone in the street know that the boys were off on holiday. All those unused days were spread before us, waiting.

If I’d thought that it was going to be a particularly difficult time sitting in the car with my Dad, I was wrong. I had imagined him and me struggling to talk to each other and stumbling over words. I guess I’ve always made assumptions about things. I’ve worried and assumed – I suppose that’s what should be written on my headstone. There I go again.

As we drove towards the coast, I felt ashamed of myself. Here was a man who knew all about my writings and about the books I’d read. He would steal himself into my room after he came home late from work, too late to wish me goodnight but long enough to kiss me on the forehead and absorb from the room who and what I was. There was I knowing very little about him, except he was my father and he was rarely home.
I don’t recall when he stopped the car but I do remember it getting dark. I had been telling him all about the characters in some Dickens novel when I must have fallen asleep in his arms. When I awoke, it was morning and the sun was fighting the condensation on the window. Dad had placed me in the back seat and covered me with his jacket. 

The car was freezing and as I sat up, I shivered. I wiped away mist from the side window and saw, that despite the sun, the sky and the sea were a cold blue, broken up by the foamy edges of the waves.  We had parked at the edge of a cliff and Dad was sitting, staring - that was all he was doing - just staring. When I felt brave enough, I ventured outside to join him. I’ll always remember his face that day, the wind had slapped his cheeks into a Santa Claus red and his eyes were watering, stung by the sea. You could almost imagine that he had been crying, and I wonder now, from all those years away, if he had been. 

He told me to sit next to him and he put his arm around me, “You, and me, son are going on an adventure”.
Now don’t get me wrong, I liked the sound of ‘adventure’ and I loved my father and felt safe with him but there was always a part of me that wanted to return to the protection of my bedroom, pull up my arms into my sleeves and wait on the next hurtful thing. Yeah, you’re right, I was one weird kid.

As we came over the hill I could see it: Blackpool Tower. I had never seen anything so tall in all my life and was so excited that I forgot about my misgivings. The place was alive with people who were swept up with enjoying life and buzzing with laughter. There were donkey rides by the sea, the odd uncle with a handkerchief on his head to keep the sun away and people breaking their teeth on sticks of rocks, slurping ice cream and getting pieces of candy floss stuck to their noses. 

Dad and I went down on to the beach and ate our fish and chips from a newspaper. I think it was the best fish and chips I ever tasted.
“That’s better.” said Dad.
“You’re smiling, you’ve got a nice smile, you know. You should use it more often.”
“Oh Dad.”
“I’m just saying.”
And do you know what? I felt that I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Just me and my Dad on the beach at Blackpool. 

“It’s my fault.” he said, sadly.
“What is, Dad?”
“The fact that you never smile, me and your Mum left you sitting too long in that room of yours.”
“I like my room.”
“No one likes their room.”

Dad parked the caravan down some quiet side street and told me to get washed and ready as he took a walk into town. When he returned, his breath smelt of beer and his clothes of cigarettes.
“You’ll never guess what I’ve got in my pocket? Two tickets to see Arthur Askey at the Grand”
What a night that was, everyone laughing and singing along with The Bee Song. I looked over at my Dad and he was laughing so hard the tears were rolling down his face. God, I miss him.

We had ice cream topped with raspberry sauce on the way back and I never once thought about my misgivings, not once. 

The next morning after a cup of tea and a bacon roll, we left Blackpool still singing the Bee Song, just me and my Dad. 

I can’t remember who saw the old lady first. My Dad had stopped the car because I needed to pee again and I was hiding in the bushes. The woman was sitting on a bench and at first we thought she was just sleeping, but her head had rolled forwards and she was moaning. Dad put his ear close to listen to her breathing.
“This isn’t good. We’ll need to get her to hospital.”

I sat with her in the back seat of the car while she rested her head on my lap. She reminded me of my Gran, I almost said “We won’t be long now Gran” when she moaned really loudly. The nurse brought Dad and me drinks as we sat in the corridor waiting on news. It almost felt like it was my Gran.

“Are you family?”
Dad explained to the doctor that we had found her sitting by the side of the road.
“There was nothing we could do, I’m afraid. I’m sorry your trip was in vain. She passed away five minutes ago.” 

Dad got a bit annoyed but he kept it to himself until we were outside the hospital. I thought maybe he was sad about the old lady dying, but really he was a bit angry.

“Don’t you ever believe that what we did was in vain, son. Never think that. That poor lady would have died alone on that bench if we hadn’t stopped. As it is, you kept her company and there were people with her when she went. So it wasn’t in vain. Nothing is in vain. Always, always remember that. Everything matters”
I guess that’s the kind of thing that happens to a person when they come out of their room.

As Dad drove south, I had the feeling that he just wanted to keep driving but as soon as it started to get dark, we stopped. Thinking back, I guess he couldn’t see too well in the dying light, something to do with his tumour.We set the caravan down in a field that overlooked Liverpool. What a city. Looking over the way the setting sun painted the building tops, a crimson yellow. We were going into town tomorrow and Dad said he had a surprise. 

I don’t think I have ever been to a happier city than Liverpool that day. People were going to and fro but always laughing and joking. Some were singing, others whistling. I loved every minute of it; every blooming minute of it. 

“I’ve got a pal and he owes me a favour”, said Dad. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t even known that my father had any friends or who they were.
“He works at a club down Matthew Street. He says if we arrive early enough, he’ll get us in and you can hide under my coat.”
I almost had misgivings again, almost wishing I was back in my safe, warm, bedroom - almost. 

We did what Dad said and he put me under his coat and the doorman, his pal, waved us past all the people waiting to get in.
“We’ll need to keep you under cover young ‘un” said Bert, Dad’s pal, as he led me to a small room by the stairs where he gave me lemonade.
“We’ll come and get you when the band is ready” said my Dad. “I’m going to have a talk with Bert. You’ll be okay here?”
I would be. 

I had just finished my drink when there was a knock at the door, followed by it opening.
“Hey Paul, look what I’ve found, the Cavern has little people living under the stairs. What are you doing here, son?”
I told him I was waiting on the band and that my Dad was coming to get me.
“And what band would that be son?”
I shrugged and the man seemed to find that funny. His pal, Paul came over to have a look at me.
“You’re right John, that is one of the little people. You’ve got to be lucky to see them” and then he rubbed my head.
John said it was his band that was playing and I said I was sorry. He said not as sorry as he was and asked did I want to come to their dressing room?  Although on second thoughts, John said, there was probably more room under the stairs. 

So I went with John and Paul and met the other two, George and Pete. They were all fooling around and didn’t seem to be in anyway nervous. John asked me what I wanted to do “That is, when you stop being one of the little people.”
I told him I wanted to be a writer and he said that was probably the best job in the world next to being in a band, especially his band, and he went into his jacket and gave me his pen. 

“If anyone asks, tell them John Lennon gave it to you.” 

That night I watched John, Paul, George and Pete play the most wonderful music I had ever heard or will ever hear. I didn’t know it then, but a few weeks later Ringo replaced Pete. I never got to meet him. 

My Dad died, just after Christmas, that year.

He left me with the best present that I have ever received in my life. He took me out of my room and locked the door so I couldn’t go back in. So what if I got hurt? That was the price you paid for being out there, that was the price we all paid, and the other thing he gave me was the belief that nothing is ever in vain, nothing. 

On the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon’s death, I flew to New York and walked through Central Park and climbed the hill to Strawberry Fields. There was a little boy about ten and his Dad listening to the music of Lennon and I took out the pen and I handed it to them:

“John Lennon gave me this.”

Everything matters.

A big thanks to Stephen Fry for tweeting this story to the world.