Sunday, 31 March 2013

Liberty Falls (and how we found it)

You tell me why they called him Curly 'cause I'm sure I don’t know – anyhoo, me and ‘Curly’ decided that the Wild West was waiting on us and that was where we were headed.

He’d built the motor-home over a couple of winters when we’d been stuck ‘cause of the snow. It had really started out as something to make us all smile and jeez if it didn’t end up as an actual motor-home that you could drive and all.

The first time we took the darned thing out for a drive to see if the wheels would fall off, the cops stopped us twice. Second time they just said ‘you again’ and they left us alone after that.

We could get a distance of about fifty miles with a full tank of gas but sometimes we had to get out and push. We decided to call her the Corndog and she was christened with a well past its date bottle of cola.

So there was Curly, Corndog and me and we pointed the motor-home out in the direction of the setting sun.

It was sure cold at night and there was a lot of howling from the dogs on the prairies but apart from that, it was the smartest little home this side of the Smoky Mountains.

Curly drew a line with a pen that took us from where we were to where we were going – which happened to be Albuquerque. I wanted to go to El Paso but Curly won the game of cards and we were going where he had decided.

The big problem was that the line crossed mountains and rivers and places where roads didn’t necessarily go, but still an adventure is an adventure and that was what we were on.

We each took turns at driving, although Corndog was more likely to go where it wanted -  rather than you guiding the thing. The steering wheel was really just there as a suggestion than anything else.

The first time we stopped for more than a couple of hours was in the little village of Sudsville ( I kid you not). I asked the lady, who ran the grocery store, where they got the name of Sudsville, and she took a deep breath, making me move in to hear something spectacular and that was when she said ‘why don’t you outsiders just mind your own beeswax’.

Never did get to the bottom of it but we stayed there for two days, almost put down roots. And if it hadn’t been for Curly’s loud midnight snoring we might not have been run out of town and coulda been there to this day.
Still if it had been meant we would have known about it.

The next town was really a few houses and a café and it was called Liberty Falls. I have to tell you right here and now that I fell in love with the place the moment we drove old Corndog into the middle of town.

Liberty Falls is one of those places you read about and dream of finding and darn it, if we didn’t just run into the best place I have ever been.

Everyone was friendly and said ‘howdee’ and everyone wore a cowboy hat, and the men took their hats off for the ladies and said things like ‘mornin’ mam’ and the ladies all giggled and stuff.

After a spell of rain I saw one man from Liberty Falls take off his coat and spread it across a pool of water so that a lady wouldn’t get her feet wet. Just like in the movies. 

Talking of which - and this is where our story really starts - Curly suggested that we stayed for a while and I wasn’t one to say no. The problem was we needed a way to make some money and that was when Curly suggested that we turn Corndog into a small movie theatre.

If we put all our stuff outside we could get 6 seats in there and a white sheet as a screen and we could charge maybe 50 cents a pop.Our problem was where to get a projector and some movies and that was where the Mayor of Liberty Falls helped us out.

He was an old movie fan and his basement was full of real old movies and his Daddy had left a projector out in the barn. With a little bit of spit and polish we had our first movie showing on the last Friday of the month.
Problem was it proved to be too darn popular and they were queuing up outside the door.Curly said he’d wished he’d made them tickets 75 cents instead and I heard him shout ‘darn’.

But I gotta go and make the popcorn for them movie folks, so I'll write some more tomorrow. 
Take care from Curly, Corndog and Me.

 bobby stevenson 2013

thoughtcontrol ltd

Saturday, 30 March 2013

The House By The Sea

There was love above and below me in that house that stood beside the sea. 

On clear days I could spot the horizon and that meant everything to me. It was the tallest of houses and the happiest of homes. It was stuffed full to the rafters with sisters and brothers and my mother and father.

 We helped each other and we supported each other. We made each other smile and sometimes we made each other cry. These were the days which were warmed by the sun and seemed to last forever.

 In the winter we drank broth and ate stews and hunkered down in the heat of each other’s company, comfortable that the others were there. There were card games, singing, communal cooking and laughter, oh yes, the laughter. There was always someone laughing in that house.

When the storms hit the house, it rocked and swayed and the more it rocked and swayed, the more we felt safe. Don’t ask me what I mean by that, just that you had to be there to understand.

My Grandpa had built it for the simple reason that he wanted to prove you could build a house on the sand by the sea. There were those in town who said he was a brick short of a chimney but my Grandpa had always believed in himself and so it had happened. And having been built by such a kind soul and even kinder heart meant that the very building seemed to bleed understanding and tolerance.

When it swayed in the wind it sang to us, the building actually felt as if it was telling you that nothing was going to harm you. We were just to relax and bend with the wind.

There was a writing room or rather I used it to write in it, but my brothers and sisters would read, paint, listen to the radio, have heartfelt discussions about the world and all the stars, in it. I learned a lot of things about life in that room and some things I probably shouldn’t have.

I realise now how lucky I was back then, what with all that softness, that gentleness, that amount of caring from my family; all of it given to me by some higher force. Boy was I the lucky one.

My father and mother taught us to never ever to take anything for granted. To smell the rain, to feel the flowers, to stand on the roof of the house some days and just scream, scream for your very existence. Sometimes I’d scream for the overwhelming energy that was the world and some times I would scream for all the injustices that we heap on each other (even on ourselves) for  there is no crueller person in the world than those things we do to our own minds and hearts. It’s like the man said, if we treated other people the way we treated ourselves, we wouldn’t last long.

So I wrote and wrote about the way things changed and the way that things stayed the same. I wrote about love and hate and war and peace. Those days were the most perfect of my life. But as I’ve written in these pages before, no one ever tells you that you are passing perfection – you only ever see it in the rear view mirror and that’s when you realise that there’s no reverse.

Each morning I could smell the cinnamon wafting its way up the stairs to my room and a few seconds later it was helped along by the smell of the coffee. My mother would be standing at the back porch with the wind coming in off the sea, both hands around her cup of hot brew and deeply breathing in the air.

“Good morning my much loved and cherished son,” she’d say.

I forgot to mention that my mother came with a warning: she was a crazy as a box of frogs. 

“And how has the universe treated you this fine morning?” she’d ask.

“Fine.” I’d say – I was trying real hard to cultivate a mysterious air about me at the time given the fact that I intended to be a writer.

“You don’t say,” then she’d smile, pull her housecoat in tight and head back to making the biscuits for breakfast.

Sometimes I would sit with a hand under my chin waiting on the rest of the family to come down, trying to look European (although I wasn’t real sure what that meant). Other times I would sit with Grandpa’s old pipe and stare out to sea as if the meaning of life was somewhere out there to be found. Man, that pipe tasted real bad.

I went through a spell of chewing tobacco but it was short lived due to the vomiting that accompanied it. Then I got a big hat and I decided that was the look for me.

There was a real hot summer when I would wear the hat from first thing in the morning to last thing at night. I even slept with the hat on, but I guess someone would take it off my head when I was fast asleep  - while I was dreaming of the future  life that I was going to live in that hat.

To be a writer in the last house on the beach was truly the best thing ever, in the whole world.

Then one morning my father came into breakfast and told everyone to remain calm and not to worry but Grandma had been taken to hospital. She had been my moon and my stars when I was growing up. She was the one who encouraged me to write, who had read Dickens to me and who now would listen to my own stories.

She’d never say if a story was good or bad, but when she said “My ain’t that interesting” I knew it wasn’t one of her favourites.

Her and my Grandpa lived in the best room at the top of the house, the one with the views and the sunshine, although when my Grandma was there, it always seemed to be full of sunshine.

In the evening when I was writing I could hear the dance music coming from their gramophone. Boy they loved to dance. When they were younger they would travel the county taking part in competitions. Their room was full to the roof with trophies.

When my Grandpa started to get sick neither of them talked about the illness, until the day my Grandpa said that perhaps they shouldn’t dance any more.

That day my Grandma got sick, I went to the hospital in the afternoon and she was sitting up in bed and smiling. Boy that made me feel a whole lot better.

Everyday after school I went straight to the hospital and read her my latest story. At the weekends, if she felt okay, she would read me some of David Copperfield.

In her final week she asked to be allowed home, I didn’t know that she was finished, I honestly thought she was getting better. About two days before she left us for good and while the nurse was downstairs getting a coffee, she asked me to take her to the roof and bring the wind-up gramophone.

When we got up there, boy it was warm and you could see for miles. I turned the handle on the gramophone and put on her favourite tune and then she asked me to dance. I took her hand and I bowed and then we danced as if she was seventeen again.

bobby stevenson 2013

Song: I'll Carry You Home

YOUTUBE>  I'll Carry You Home - Song by Bobby Stevenson

I'll come for you when the cold winds blow,
I'll carry you home across the sea,
No need to weep you are not alone,
Come take my hand and I'll carry you home.

I'll comfort you when the wild things call,
I'll give you hope when the darkness falls,
I'll sweep you up and hold you close,
Come take my arms and I'll carry you home.

Carry you home, I'll carry you home,
Where the rivers run deep and the spirits have flown,
Don't break your heart on a rolling stone,
Come to my arms and I'll carry you home.

I'll comfort you when the cold winds blow,
I'll carry you home across the sea,
No need to weep you are not alone,
Come take my hand and I'll carry you home.

sometimes I write, sometimes I shout at the sky and sometimes I just sing :-)
bobby stevenson 2013

Friday, 29 March 2013

100 Words

I think I walked the length of the street with a great huge grin on my face. I wasn’t sure if I looked like a ‘shoot-the-president’ type of crazy, but then again I wasn’t caring and I mean that, I really wasn’t caring. When you realise that you don’t have to waste time with people that don’t matter in your life, then you live. All you need to do is sort each of them out once and for all into who matters and who doesn’t. Then for the first time you’ll feel totally liberated – so free that you'll become dizzy.

bobby stevenson 2013

Once, This Was Our Land

Once, this was our land,
Where we ran the highest peaks and held the very sky inside our palms.

Once, this was our land,
Where we stalked the working fields for all that we could take,
Where love came calling and was so easily found, That it was cheaply wasted.

Once, this was our land, 
Where we ruled the earth and all within it and the rules were most certainly ours.
But now the eyes don’t see too well and the head no longer remembers so clearly,
And as I sit on the bus and look from my window, I see the young with different rules,
Not mine, for sure and in their eyes I  see it all – it says:
“This is our land”.

bobby stevenson 2013

Can You Hear The Ticking Ma....?

Can you hear the ticking ma of the clock upon the wall?
The time is fast approaching when we won't be here at all.

Can you hear the bombers ma as they fly above our heads?
They’re only trying to end it ma, get ready to be dead.

Can you see the mushroom cloud? Tell pa to come and look,
It’s lighting up the kitchen, setting fire to a book.

Can you feel the wind ma as it blows us all away?
Soon we’ll all be dust ma, only shadows left to play.

Can you hear the ticking ma of the clock upon the wall?
The time is fast approaching when we won't be here at all.

bobby stevenson 2013

Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Shipwrecked Heart

“But in the world where there is no stay but the hope of a better (world), and no reliance but on the mercy and goodness of God. Through these two harbours of a shipwrecked heart....”
Charles Dickens, letter, October 1865.

I want you to sit comfortably and find comfort in this strangest of tales. Some swear it is true, although there are just as many who would disagree. Perhaps in the passing of the years and in the re-telling, the shadowy remembrance of the truth has been lost. I am hoping, however, that you will be my judge and jury.

Our story concerns one warm day in June 1865 in the most beautiful Kent village of Shoreham, a day like many others where the occupants of this little haven are wrapped up in their day to day chores; all of them unaware of a train crash which has taken place several miles away. 

The centre of our tale is the Crown public house occupied by the hard working Mistress Squib and her family.

Eliza Squib has not seen her husband for many a year but we will not speak unkindly of that soul, rather we meet with Eliza as she takes the first opportunity of the day to sit and mend the clothes of her two children.
Her son, who stands beside her, is Obadiah Squib, the man of the house and full of all the life that God can give a heart. His wish is to sail the oceans and by this method find his father – but we shall leave that tale for another time. 

The boy who sits reading in the corner is the other apple of Eliza’s eye, young Benedict, who has been on this earth the merest of summers, yet he is assuming all the finer qualities that could be wished for in a son.

Finally we meet Charlotte Squib and let no harsh construct be heard against her. Charlotte is a good soul of infinite compassion and has sacrificed her life to work from morn’ through late evenings to compensate for her brother’s mysterious disappearance, Eliza’s errant husband. Ever since her brother’s parting Charlotte has been compelled to repeat the same incantation...
“He will return, I swear it.”
Eliza smiles as she has done a thousand times before and for all their worries and concerns they are a happy band and one that providence has decreed should assist our Mister Charles Dickens in his most troubled of times.

And so our story begins with an innocent knock at the door of the public house.
“Sweet bird of youth and such a times as this; tut, tut” 

At the door stands Mister Dickens, his mistress Ellen Ternan (known as Nelly) and her mother Frances. They have recently alighted from a train at Shoreham Station as Charles, having been overcome by the shakes, has been unable to continue his rail journey.

Never one to use his real name in such awkward and complex circumstances he introduces himself as a Mister Tringham esquire accompanied by his god-daughter Nelly and supported by her mother. 

“Let me rest awhile in order to dispense of this constant shaking” says Charles as he sits without being asked.
Eliza observing his distress dispatches Obadiah with all haste to prepare a set of rooms above. 
“I cannot have you abroad with such pallor as this gentleman displays, I feel you may all find a benefit in resting awhile. You are welcome, you are all most welcome” 

Although the day is splendid in heat and the windows thrown open to the skies, when Charles finally sits he asks the boy to be kind enough to build a fire and take the chill from his ancient bones. 

“May I trouble you once more, young...?”
“Obadiah, sir”
“Young Obadiah would you be so kind as to fetch me my overcoat, I believe I have abandoned it below”
As Obadiah retrieves the coat a manuscript falls from the pocket, it is several unpublished chapters of an excellent story by Mister Charles Dickens called ‘Our Mutual Friend’. Obadiah has read the early published chapters but has no recognition of these. He replaces the manuscript in the pocket and returns to the rooms above knowing that the man can only be one person. 

Entering the room Obadiah notices that the man sits unusually close to the fire.
“Is there something of consequence regarding my appearance?” asks Charles.
“None sir, it’s just that you have the look of a haunted man”
“T’is due to a change in my circumstances Obadiah, I have just this afternoon escaped from the throats of death. Not far from here was an accident of the most horrific sort, the train in which I travelled left the rails. Pour me a brandy Obadiah, there’s a good man.”

Obadiah likes being called a man and juggles the word in his head as Charles imbibes the first glass. Empty now, Charles holds the glass out for Obadiah to immediately refill.

In the adjoining room, Nelly is being attended by Eliza and Charlotte. She too is explaining their current circumstances as Eliza dresses Nelly’s wound to her upper left arm. 

“So you are Mister Tringham’s god-daughter?” asks Eliza as a distraction to subdue Nelly’s pain.
Nelly sadly replies, “He describes it as such but it is not the truth”
“I did not mean to breach a threshold with my inquisitiveness”
“You did not Eliza, if anything you are kindness itself. Mister Tringham is a writer, together with my mother we have spent a French summer in the company of the gentleman. He is my companion, not my god father”.
“It is of no consequence to me whatsoever” says an apologetic Eliza who watches as Charlotte excuse herself from the room.

“May I speak freely?” asks Nelly.
So Nelly explains that she met Charles when still only eighteen years of age and he was, even then, an elderly gentleman. She knows that Mister Tringham has a family and that she will be held to account one day but that day has not yet arrived and whether t'is the pain or the closeness of death she has tasted this day, Ellen Ternan speaks one sentence that will never pass her lips again.

“Our son lies buried in France”.

Next door, Obadiah has finished building up the fire to a roar which is almost impotent against the shaking. Obadiah knows this is not the best of times but he feels compelled to ask:
“I wondered sir, if it did not burden you too much, that perhaps you could describe the accident?”
“Why should you not be interested, after all you are a boy.”
“I am a man, Mister Tringham”.
Charles feels bad and apologies to Obadiah then implores him to make himself comfortable.

“I, and my two companions, had boarded the 2.38 tidal-train at Folkestone. All was well abroad and the world was an excellent container until I felt the carriage shaking, first this way then the other. My little Nell cried out, ‘let us all hold hands and die as friends’. A silence followed, Obadiah, one that hushed the very birds on the trees. I crawled to the window to observe that our carriage was hanging twenty feet, at least, above a ravine held by the slightest of graces. The others had been less fortunate, each having crashed to the river below. I called out to the train guards asking did they recognise me......”

He has said too much.

“You mean did they recognise you Mister Dickens?”
Charles smiles at the boy. “It is our secret Mister Dickens”
“Once my two companions were safely at the top of the hill I returned to the ravine, it would have been less of a chore to have walked into the jaws of hell. 

“The valley was awash with the dead and dying, I climbed the side of our train and re-entered our carriage retrieving my top hat and a brandy flask. 

“I filled my hat with water and took it to a young man who lay a short distance from me. What I could see, but he could not, was the fatal damage to his upper head. He asked that I slake his thirst, asked me not to leave him then closed his eyes for the last time.

“Slightly to the north was a lady of similar age to myself who lay on the ground. I lifted her and sat her against a little pollard tree and wetted her lips with brandy. She smiled at me with one half of her mouth and I instructed her to wait as I fetched for help. The next time I passed the tree she had expired. It was then I remembered I had left my manuscript in my pocket of my overcoat and that that was in the carriage we had vacated. I climbed as the carriage threatened to crash along with all the others. Yet I did not relish rewriting those chapters. I recovered the document which I am assuming you must have identified.”

Charles did not instruct Obadiah on all the facts regarding the three hours that he had spent tending to the dead and dying. In all ten people perished and forty nine were injured. He could not talk of it to others for fear of the scandal in his choice of companions. 

When he asked Obadiah what would ensure his silence regarding his true identity, Obadiah asked for only one thing, a new story written by the greatest of all writers. 
The source of the crash was a deadly simple one: the foreman at the site in Staplehurst had read the wrong timetable. His times were for the following day, the Saturday, when the next train was due shortly after five o’ clock but on that day, the 9th of June, Dickens’ train was due to pass the bridge at several minutes after three. Thinking that the workmen had two clear hours of maintenance, the foreman instructed the gang to lift the rails.

Shortly after Dickens finished his recounting of the tale, Charles, Frances and Nelly were on a train to Charing Cross. They were met at the station by Willis, Dickens confidant, who saw the ladies on to their London home at Mornington Crescent.

Charles had intended to return to his family that evening, a family watched over by his sister-in-law Georgina at Gad’s Hill in Higham, but the shakes overtook him once again and he spent the night at his London office.
Charles’ panic attacks increased over the following years and once it was noted by his daughter that he seemed to sink into a trance and relive the day of the crash. His concentration suffered too and he found it difficult to complete ‘Our Mutual Friend’. He brought it to such an abrupt halt that his publisher asked him to think again and extend it. This he did reluctantly but it was to be the last novel he ever completed.

It was love that kept Charles silent about that day and it was love that nurtured him in the final years of his life. He died five years to the day of the train crash while writing ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’. 

As for Charles attendance at the crash, there is a postscript by him at the end of ‘Our Mutual Friend’ and as for the presence of Nelly, there is a letter sent by Dickens to the Station Master at Charing Cross instructing him of Mistress Ternan’s lost jewellery at the crash site. 

Regarding our Shoreham friends, Eliza’s husband Richard came home several months after Dickens’ visit and they settled into running the Crown Public House together; both are buried in Shoreham churchyard.

A few weeks after the crash a letter was delivered to Obadiah containing a story, true to his word Mister Charles Dickens, the most famous man in all Christendom, had penned a ghost story called ‘The Signalman’. 
Aunt Charlotte was committed to Bedlam where she died in 1877. Benedict, the youngest son took over the running of the Crown and Obadiah, after many years in the Royal Navy, settled in Australia.

And so dear friends we are almost done with this remembrance and whether or not you believe my story, I hope it has amused you. I wish each and every one of you a wonderful life.

bobby stevenson 2013

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Me and Buzz and Filmin'

Buzz always wanted to be a movie star and so from a real young age, he got to practising. Not with anything sensible like acting, that would have been too clever, no – he got practising with signing his autograph.

“You got to start somewhere” was what he told me.

When people on Main Street saw Buzz coming their way they used to cross over just to avoid him. Buzz put it down to folks being overwhelmed with his natural good looks.

If ya didn’t avoid him, before you knew it, Buzz would be staring into your face and asking if you wanted his autograph. Everyone and I mean everyone in town, had several copies of Buzz’s signature.
I remember seeing the minister walking to church one Sunday morning with Buzz’s writing on that white bit of the collar they wear. How Buzz got it there, God only knows (and he probably does).

“I’m a good looking kid and if they don’t want me to act in their movies, then they don’t know what they’re missing.”

One Saturday Buzz decided he’d do just that – show them what they were missing, that is. That weekend the weather was real toasting and Buzz got me to borrow (borrow without askin’) my granddaddy’s movie camera.

“I kinda see myself as a cowboy, don’t ya think?”  I just nodded, hell it was best to just go along with anything Buzz said.

I ain’t sure where Buzz got the gun from, but I do remember a story a while back about Buzz’s uncle Joshua who was thrown in jail for holding up a burger joint. Somehow the store owner convinced his uncle Joshua to take some French fries and a soda rather than the contents of the money drawer. Still, he went to jail all the same. I don’t remember any gun being used but I guess that’s where Buzz got it.

Buzz wanted me to be the baddy and the plan was for me to walk down Main Street and pretend to call him out; cussing and saying he was a coward. Then Buzz would come out of the saloon (it was really Mrs Bat’s Craft Shop) and challenge me to a shoot out in the street.

I was the one that was to get shot; Buzz felt that a man about to make his mark in the movies shouldn’t take the bullet.

I guess you should really check if a gun is loaded or not.

I’m just saying, as it would have saved a lot of trouble. I’ve never seen a grown man being shot in the bee-hind before but Samuel Brooks hollered and screamed like the world was coming to an end. It was only a bullet in the butt, what was the big problem?

Mrs Brooks wanted to hang Buzz right there and then, the way they did with her Daddy years back. I guess two people don’t make a lynch mob, but it scared the hell out of me all the same.

Buzz was hauled in front of Judge Pickering and folks were telling me that Buzz would probably get the electric chair or something. At the time (I was young then) I thought giving someone an electric chair was a real strange thing to do. Where would ya keep it?

Anyway a lot of people were saying that Buzz came from a real bad family, didn’t he have an uncle who’d stolen diamonds?

Funny, how French fries get exaggerated like that.

Anyways, I had filmed the whole thing and we were allowed to show it in court. The judge said it was okay to show a movie. Some folks brought in popcorn. From the movie, you could see that as Buzz was pulling the trigger, he shut his eyes and didn’t really mean to hit anyone. At the end of the movie some of Buzz’s family started clapping – so Buzz got up and took  a bow. Which I have to say was pretty cool. Buzz started waving, movie star like, to the folks upstairs in the gallery.

As I left the courthouse that day, I saw Buzz up at the bench giving Judge Pickering his autograph.

bobby stevenson 2013

Bullying Never Sleeps

There was a man with the large dog who would watch and wait and make the boy run indoors. Then the man would smile, chuckle to himself and walk off. Everyday, that happened. Everyday to a young boy.

Then the boy started going to school and at least he wouldn’t see the man and the dog again. But there were bigger monsters in the school. Those who were scared and unhappy and jealous - were the worst of the bullies, those were the monsters.

When he left to go to college, he thought that his days as a bully's target were over. But people bully with words rather than their fists. People bully with humour. People bully with silence.

When he moved into his first job, he thought now I am a man, I can stand up for myself. But people bully with power and people bully with money and people bully with favours. 

People bully about race and sexuality and disfigurement and illness.

And those who walk a kinder path, those who should know so much better, bully with their gods.

When he retired he thought that would be the end of it, there would be no more bullying, surely they must all be tired by now. But people bully with friendships, in the giving and taking of them. People bully with their time. People bully with loneliness. People bully with the kindest of smiles and the coldest of stares.

Bullying never sleeps.  

bobby stevenson 2013

Sticks and Stones

"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me..."

When they found him,
His face, it wore a perfect smile,
No troubles etched upon his brow.
The cause of death,
Was hard to say,
He’d smiled just once,
Just once he smiled
And then his eye-shine and soul
Went on their way.
They cut him up to find the cause,
And there they were,
In stomach, blood,
And in his brain,
He’d choked on all the words inside
All the words he’d tried to hide.
He kept each one -
Instead of spitting all them out,
They killed him in the end.

bobby stevenson 2013

The Three Shoreham Stories

Perhaps I should start way back at the beginning. 

By the way this is the first story and it's called the Shoreham Rose.

The first time I laid eyes on Sally – Ludlow as she was called then – she had a permanent band aid on a pair of National Health spectacles. She was nothing special, at least not to me, she was just one of those children who run through the streets of Shoreham on any given sunny evening. Kent, back then, was a different place than it is today. It was a gentler, kinder time and in the years after the war, there was still rationing but with that came a feeling that we had to look after one and other.

Sally and her family lived on the High Street and we lived on a small farm on the back road. On those summer evenings the kids used to meet up by the Cross on the hill. The Cross had been cut out of the chalk hills in the years after the Great War to remember those who had given their lives and by a strange irony it had to be covered up during World War 2 as the enemy bombers used it as a landmark.

That night, the night it happened – we both must have been about fifteen back then – I was sitting on the hill overlooking the village and I knew that when the lantern came on outside the Rising Sun pub, it was time for me to head over the hill and back to the farm.

I loved this view and even on a warm evening there would still be smoke rising from the chimneys and leaving a ghostly drift across the valley.The smell of the grass and the fields and the fires was like nowhere else on earth.
“Is it okay, if I sit?”
And there she was, Sally standing over me as she pushed those spectacles back up her nose, they always seemed to be trying to escape her face.
“Sure” I said to the funny little girl wearing the funny little glasses.
“I always see you sitting up here from my bedroom window.”
“It’s the best place in the world to sit”, I said.
“My father doesn’t like me watching you.”
“Why?” I knew I was going to regret asking this.
“He says you’re a weird one, always on your own.”
“And you, what do you think?” I asked.
“Oh I don’t think you’re weird, I love you.”

And that was that. That was the night, the first time ever, a person, other than my grandmother, told me that they loved me.

The rest of the summer we were inseparable and even her father got to like me. When I wasn’t working on our farm, I was over at Sally’s and some days she would come and help at our place.
The night before we were due to go back to school, she made a small ring from the grass on the hill and asked me to propose to her.
“Sally Ludlow will you marry me?”
She said ‘yes’.
“And you can’t ever get out of it, James. Till death us do part.”

So at fifteen years of age Sally and me were engaged to be married. Sally said we should start saving right away so that way we could have a big wedding and invite all the family. She reckoned we’d be really old by the time we could afford it.
“Maybe nineteen or twenty.” That seemed such a long way away.

Every penny I earned went into our secret wedding box and it lay side by side with Sally’s contributions. Of course we were going to get married in St. Peter and St.Paul’s, the local church.
Then Sally moved to High Wycombe, it seemed her grandmother was poorly and her family wanted to live with her.
“It’ll only be a few weeks”, she said.
But it wasn’t, it was almost a year. I met Sally in London on two occasions but as we were saving our money, we decided to write to each other instead.
To start with we wrote every day but eventually it was one small note, once a week. I almost gave up and thought she was never coming back.

Then I got called up for National Service and I was shipped out to Aden. Before I left, I heard that Sally’s father was coming back to Shoreham to work in the butcher shop at the corner of Crown Road and that Sally and her mother would follow on.

Her father rented a room above the butcher's while he waited on his family but since his mother-in-law was in a state of decline, his wife and daughter stayed on in High Wycombe.

I came back home twice but there wasn’t any time to travel to see Sally as I was needed on the farm.
By the time that Sally and me were in Shoreham she turned up accompanied by her boyfriend, Andrew. Apparently he was studying to be a doctor and his family were something in High Wycombe, least ways that’s what her mother told me. I don't think she meant anything by it.

Sally and her parents moved temporarily into the Station Master’s house at Shoreham as the wife of the house and Sally’s mother were the best of friends.Every time I called at the station I was told that Sally was out but I’m sure I saw the curtains twitch in a room upstairs. I wrote to her a couple of times but never got any reply.

That year my family decided to send me off to Agricultural college in deepest Sussex and this allowed me to return from time to time to work on the farm. I had a few girlfriends while I was studying but none of them was ever Sally, she was always on my thoughts one way or another. Then one day I ran into Sally’s mother who told me that her daughter had married and moved to High Wycombe.

That’s one of those moments in your life when you feel as if everything inside you has been ripped out and yet you still manage to function – I continued to speak to her mother without missing a beat.

I threw myself into working on the farm and from time to time I got involved in the Village Players: a drama group which helped me take my mind off of Sally.

Once a week I would meet up with pals in The Royal Oak, the best of all pubs in Shoreham and really that was my life for the next ten years. 

It was at a wedding in the new golf club that our paths crossed again. Sally hadn’t aged in all those years, she was still as beautiful as ever but there was a sadness on her face.
“Hi” was all she said and how long had I waited on that?
She had nursed her husband for the last three years and he’d died just before Christmas. This was a grown up Sally I was talking to. She was only back for a weekend to remind herself how beautiful Shoreham was as a village. She had begun to think she'd only dreamt the place up.
I told her that the next time she was in the village she could stay on our farm. She said thanks, and told me she’d think about it but she had to get back to her family. She had an eight year old daughter and a five year old son and she had to work out what her future was going to hold.

Then the following summer she came for a weekend with the kids to stay on the farm and that was the happiest I had been in years. She too, looked less sad.

What can I tell you?

We married the following the year and we set up house in one of the farm cottages.
We had one further child between us, Simon and the five of us had the best of times. Sure we struggled but I was with Sally and my family and anything was possible.

The older boy, James and the girl, Sue moved into London and both had families of their own. Simon settled down and took over the farm, letting me and Sally travel for the first time. We even drove across the States.
Sally left me in her 65th year – she had been ill for several months and her leaving took my heart. Sure the kids and the grandchildren visited the farm but once again I spent my days missing Sally.

When I felt strong enough to clear out her clothes, I found a small box in the back of the wardrobe and in it was the small ring made from grass. She’d kept it all those years.

When the time comes I’m going to be buried in the church next to Sally.

It’ll just be me and her again.


2. Auntie Gertie's Lost Shoreham Diary

To be honest I’d never actually heard of Gertrude Swansway. She was one of those ‘larger-than-life’ characters and to the locals in Shoreham at the end of the 19th century, she was simply known as ‘Aunt Gertie’.

When ever you needed anything organised, arranged or distributed, Aunt Gertie was your lady. The reason that so much is remembered about her life is the fact that she left so many diaries.

However there had always been one journal missing, that of the year 1901. This question was answered when the diary turned up several weeks ago under the floorboards of one of the large houses down by the river, currently being renovated. In Gertrude’s journal of 1901 was recorded the funeral of Queen Victoria and the opening of the new Co-operative shop on Shoreham High Street. So why did she hide the journal?

Contained within the pages were scribblings to suggest that Aunt Gertie had been a paramour of the new King of England.

We’ll leave those stories for another time and get to the part that is pertinent to this evening. 2009 is the 85th anniversary of the Shoreham Village Players, although this wasn’t the first drama society formed in the village – in her journal, Aunt Gertie discussed how she, along with Minty Minton and Shasha Dogoody in July 1901 formed the Shoreham Strolling Troubadours.

 Minty had mentioned at their inaugural meeting that  “Something should be done to cheer the ballyhoo village up” “Weren’t we now in the modern age, the Edwardian age” at which point Aunt Gertie blushed. “I suggest we put on a ballyhoo show” said Minty. Shasha Dogoody said “As long it does not involve that dwedfull Oscar Wilde”. Minty felt that that was rather a shame but Aunt Gertie insisted we should not mention that horrible man’s name again. Then Minty came up with a corker – “why don’t we put on Three Men In A Boat?” Shasha Dogoody said “You mean dat rawwer spiffing little story by Jerome K Jerome?” “Exactimondo”, said Minty and “I know the very ballyhoo place to stage it”.

And that, dear friends, is why the first ever recorded drama production in Shoreham was actually held on the river.

Minty had taken charge from the word go. “I see myself as J, said Minty, “you Gertie can be George and Sasha shall be Harris. Mrs Trafalgar’s pooch can play Montmorency. So it’s all settled”….and apparently it was. 

“I see the whole thing taking place upon a little boat in the middle of the Darent river” said Minty getting ever so excited. ”We shall tie the boat to the bridge and the audience will bring hampers and sit by the river”. Gertie was to write the ballyhoo play and Sasha could stitch together some marvellous costumes.

The rehearsals went ever so well, although Minty suggested holding them after dark “to maintain secrecy”. Therefore there was many an inhabitant of the village that made their way home from the nearby hostelry believing that they could hear supernatural voices. One such man, Ebaneezer Twislewaite was so frightened by the experience that he took an oath never to drink again – at least until the day he got hit by a runaway horse and sadly expired.

As far as the three of them could judge - in the dark, that is - the rehearsals had gone exceedingly well.

Then came the big day, ”the grande journee” said Minty in his rather over excited manner. Many of the great and good were sitting in anticipation on either banks of the river. Hampers were opened and oodles of food consumed.

However dear friends, I have to mention at this juncture - that the evening prior, when the three were having their dress rehearsal in the dark – it had rained very heavy, very heavy indeed.

To say that the river was torrential on the day of the performance was to rather underestimate it. 
It was just as Aunt Gertie was shouting (very deep voice) “Montmorency, Montmorency where are you?” that the tiny boat began to slip it’s mooring – that is to say, from being tied to the bridge. No one noticed at first and as the boat edged down the river a little, the picnickers just moved their derrières a few inches further along the bank. 

However when the boat finally did break loose , it was actually very noticeable since Sasha Dogoody somehow managed to remain tied to the bridge and went flying off the back of the boat - just as Aunt Gertie and Minty started on a rather fateful voyage down stream.    

The last they heard of Sasha was as she shouted “be bwave fellow thespians, be bwave”.

Minty shouted to Gertie “.. I do believe that you should also play the part of Harris, Gertie”
(Deep voice) “Why should I?” “Because I don’t know the ballyhoo part, that’s why” screamed a panicky Minty. 

It was also obvious to those ashore that the audience had now broken into a trot, and then a run, attempting to follow the boat down stream.

“Gertrude, please speak up and please try to make the voices of George sound different from that of Harris”

Aunt Gertie got ever so cross and warned Minty (deep voice) “I may be a lady but one more derogatory word about my acting and by God I’ll give you a sound thrashing within an inch of your life”.

Monty had never heard Auntie Gertie talk like that and to say Monty was stunned was an understatement – that is, until he was actually stunned when the boat hit the second bridge. Unfortunately Monty was standing and took the full force, endng up face down in the river. Aunt Gertie had fallen backwards on to the deck and so avoided hitting any large objects.

Nothing could cool Gertie’s temper however, and when Police Constable Wikenshaw of Otford constabulary tried to help her to her feet – his face appeared to stop Aunt Gertie’s fist.
That evening Minty was taken to a hospital in Bromley, Aunt Gertie cooled her heels in Sevenoaks’ gaol and everyone forgot about Sasha Dogoody who literally hung about the bridge for several hours afterwards.

The following week, the Shoreham Strolling Troubadours wasofficially closed down by a vote of 3 votes to nil. 

Minty suggested they never speak of it again.

And that dear friends is the real beginning to the Shoreham Village Players.

3. Tommy and I Cycle To Shoreham Village

Whenever Tommy was excited or stressed, which to be honest was most days, he’d put the word ‘chuffing’ in front of everything. For instance, today was going to be a blooming chuffing day with loads of chuffing hills to cycle up and when we got to the ballyhoo top well we’d chuffing have a pick nick. 

You see what I mean?

Tommy was a good egg, a decent sort who would lift a finger to help anyone, a talented tennis player, cyclist and a very good footballer. On the other side, he was a frightful drunk, which thank goodness had only been that once, he was extremely competitive – he would bet you a farthing on who would blink first and he was useless with money. Apart from that he was the kind of gent you would be proud to call a friend.  

So come Saturday morning, Tommy and I would be on our chuffing bicycles, out of the chuffing city and heading for the chuffing countryside (I promise to limit the use of chuffing in future) and this Saturday was no exception.

Tommy knocked at my door at 5.30 (in the morning may I say – I didn’t even know there was a 5.30 in the morning, if truth be told) “Get up, you chuffing wastrel” was the morning cry of the Tommesara Smitheratist bird and it tended to waken everyone else up as well.

“Will you please tell that very stupid friend of yours that it is far too early in the morning for his buffoonery” said my rather grumpy father without opening his eyes (apparently it helped him get back to sleep quicker). Like Tommy, my father tended to hook in a word and then beat it to death with its overuse. ‘Buffoon’ and ‘buffoonery’ were both in the process of getting six shades of purple knocked out of them. Luckily he hadn’t heard Tommy’s current obsession or that would have resulted in me having to leave home and declaring myself an orphan.

“Apologies Holmes but we have the whole of the south east to explore and time is chuffing moving on.” 

Every since he’d read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I had received that name. It was better just to smile and accept my fate because he might come up with something far, far worse. On our cycling trips Tommy wanted to be known as Moriarty because he said the name felt good on his tongue. I know what you’re thinking, Tommy wasn’t the most intelligent of my friends. 

By six o’clock in the morning we were happily cycling over the Thames and heading down the Old Kent road where the world was waiting to entertain Holmes and Moriarty.

“First stop, chuffing breakers” said my pal.  
For those that don’t speak Tommyese, that meant breakfast must be had with all haste.
Toast, crumpets and coffee were the order of the day at Mrs O’Reilly’s tea room in Lewisham, a bargain at one shilling. Mrs O’Reilly had long since departed this life and gone to the big tea room in the sky. The place was actually run by a man with the name of Derek.  

“’Mrs O’Reilly’s’ sounds that bit more romantic” said a very tattooed Derek. “People knows what to expect, with that name, but Derek’s Cafe, well it just don’t sound right, do it?” 

Both I and Tommy left the premises agreeing that Derek was correct in what he had said but that we should avoid the place in future as Derek seemed to be two seagulls short of an aviary. 

Although it had been five months, Tommy still insisted that he wear a black band on his right arm as a mark of respect for the old Queen. I told him that this was a new and exciting time, that this was a new century , this was 1901, after all, and goodness knows what the next hundred years would bring. 

Tommy felt that the new century could chuffing well wait until his mourning was chuffing done. I know I promised to keep the use of ‘chuffing’ to a minimum but it seems impossible when in the company of Tommy Smithers, I will try harder – I promise. 

Just as we left Bromley, Tommy declared that the countryside had properly started and although I tried very hard to see it, I was at a loss to notice the difference. Still Tommy knows what he’s talking about or so he tells me.

After a mile or so I hinted that perhaps an ale might be the order of the day. Tommy stopped so fast that I almost ran into the back of him.
“I have a plan” he said (actually he said ‘a chuffing plan’ but I thought I would spare you that nonsense).
“And your plan is what, Tommy?” that was my contribution to the discussion.  
“I know of a little village in the Darenth Valley where the ale is like nectar.” Tommy was tasting the ale in his mind's eye.

“Why haven’t you told me of this place before?” I ask.
“Because my dear friend, it is not a place for the unwary.”
“Why is that Tommy?” I ask.
“Because my fine fellow, it is a hot bed of liberalism and creativity. People have really let things slide in this village. There are some women who are so close to looking like men, that one might wish them ‘a good morning sir’ without realising.”
“Well I never.” I declared.

“Worse still..” Tommy looks around before whispering “..there are men in this village who do not like the company of women. There I’ve said the chuffing thing. It’s too late but it’s out in the big world for all to know.”
“Don’t like the company of women?” I think I may have look perplexed.
“Really, you know what I mean, stop being an chuffing idiot. They don’t like women.”

So I had to have my say and I mentioned “I don’t know any men who don’t like women apart from Father who hasn’t spoken to Mother since she tried to fry the porridge. That must be eleven years ago, now.”
“Your mother tried to fry porridge?” says Tommy.
“She did, and Father said that any woman who was stupid enough to try and fry porridge shouldn’t expect any conversation to be thrown her way in future and that was that. He never said a bally word to her again. He said she was an imbecile, a harsh word I grant you, but I think that was his word of the week at that particular time.”

I expected Tommy to be impressed with this story but instead he said that I should stop talking chuffing rot and stop acting like an imbecile.

That is why, by the time we got to the little village, Tommy had dropped the word ‘chuffing’ in favour of the word ‘imbecile’. Why hadn’t I said that my father had called my mother ‘lovable’ or had given her money to shut her up? Maybe then Tommy would have done the same.
“Hey, ho, oft we go” shouted Tommy, adding “you imbecile.” 

I do rather make things difficult for myself when I don’t bally mean to.   

The village clock was striking one o’clock as we freewheeled our way down the hill into the centre of this dastardly liberal little village. I had to be honest with Tommy and tell him that I thought the people looked jolly normal.
“Nonsense, you imbecile” was his reply.
We parked up outside a delightful little public house called The Crown. The door was at an angle to the building and led into a small bar for gentlemen.  
“Just in case this pub is over run by liberals let me do the talking” said reliable Tommy, “just to be on the safe side.”
Now to me, the person serving behind the bar was clearly a man but Tommy insisted on calling him ‘Mam’ then winking to me in a very obvious manner followed by him touching the side of his nose with his finger.

“I didn’t want to drink in the place anyway” said a rather surprised Tommy, “the establishment looked totally unsavoury. We are well shot of it.”At least the barman only asked me to leave whereas he caught Tommy by the collar and threw him out of the door. 
 Tommy said that he was right about the place all along, it was a den of liberal minded imbeciles and he would be writing to his Member of Parliament just as soon as he returned from the country. 

We tried to gain access at the next pub, the Two Brewers but apparently Tommy had been there before and was no longer welcome. I didn’t realise that you could use so many cursing words in one sentence but the manager of The Two Brewers must have broken a record.
“Another den of imbeciles?” I asked.
“Just so.” 

That is why we came to be sitting outside the Kings Arms drinking two of the most wonderful glasses of ale. Apparently this was not a den of imbeciles and the prices were exceedingly fair.
Having slaked our thirst we mounted our trusted bicycles and headed towards the large town which sat at the top of the hill, above the village. 

About one third of the way up the hill, Tommy suggested that we dismount and push our bicycles up the rest of the way. Apparently it didn’t do the bicycles much good to be treated to a hill in the manner we were riding them. To be honest I thought maybe Tommy found the hill a little too steep but in fear of being called an imbecile, I refrained.

The climb was worth the effort and the view over the North Downs was spell binding. 

Why people steal bicycles is beyond me, and two of them at the same time. You have to ask yourself - was the thief a member of some circus troupe? However the dasterdly deed was done and it meant that cycling back to London was now out of the question. A train was called for and a train it would be. 

Tommy suggested that we travel back by First Class and that I should foot the bill seeing as I was the last one to see the bally bicycles. I actually think the last time I saw them, I said “Tommy, do you think the bicycles are safe by that public house? ” Whereupon Tommy called me an imbecile and told me in no uncertain terms that if I was worried about people stealing our property, well that sort of thing just didn’t happen in the countryside. Then he said “Grow up man.” The next time I looked the bicycles were gone. 

In the railway carriage, on the way back to the city, a rather plump man and his rather plump wife were playing cards. The husband seemed to have won a round as he let out the most frightening cry of ‘Ballyhoo’. 

I could see the glimmer in Tommy’s eyes as he tried the word ‘Ballyhoo’ out on his tongue. 

The word was not found wanting.

bobby stevensonn 2013