Saturday, 24 October 2015

Me and Buzz and Elvis

Buzz’s Ma would swear on a stack of Bibles that she knew Elvis Presley for real.  Perhaps it would take a sarsaparilla or two but soon she’d been tellin’ everyone how she and Elvis were as close as anyone could be.
Sometimes during one of her stories she’d just stop, look far away as if she was remembering something, have a chuckle to herself and then continue with the story.
I’d have given a week’s wages to know what she was thinking right there and then.

If you’ve been reading these little stories about me and Buzz, well you won’t need to walk too far to get to where I’m going with this one: yep, with all the talk Buzz decided that he was the love child of Elvis and his Ma.

“It makes sense. What with my good looks and talent and all. It’s the only explanation.”

Now I ain’t gonna rain on Buzz’s story and say he ain’t Elvis’ kid because nothin’ would surprise  me about Buzz and his family, all I’m sayin’ is that you gotta take things like that - real careful, otherwise you get in a whole heap of trouble.

Even when I was walking along Main Street with him, he’d just stop, sneer  then give out a ‘Uh-huh’ Elvis style  followed by a ‘Thank you, you’ve been a wonderful audience, you really have’, which was followed by another sneer. Then he would just continue talking as if the last two minutes hadn’t happened.

Buzz decided that he would make some money from his birthright by touring the county as ‘The Son of Elvis’ . Two things were real wrong with this – for a start, Buzz can’t sing ,note a note, not even if a Colt 45 was pointed at where his brain is supposed to live, and the other thing is, no one in the county wanted to annoy Elvis’ family (or more accurately get sued).

One day, he asked if I would be his Colonel Tom Parker and manage him.
“For what?”
“For pee-forming,” he said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for him. “People need to know that there is a new, younger Elvis out there.”
“You?”
“Me.”

Now I swear, I didn’t say I would and I didn’t say I wouldn’t -  but some people take sayin’ nothin’ as if you’ve said you would. Next thing I know Buzz is tellin’ everyone in town that I’m his new hotshot manager and that I’m gonna make him a rock n’ roll star.

“Only a matter of time,” he’d say. “What with your brains and my good looks and talent, not to mention my daddy being....”

He’d learned to shut up about Elvis, just in case they took Buzz off to jail. Okay maybe it was me that said he’d go to prison if he kept claimin’ he was the son of Elvis but sometimes, I swear you gotta be cruel to be kind.

Still, it didn’t really stop Buzz. He’d sit talking to strangers and say to them that he couldn’t really tell them who his daddy was, then he’d put his fingers to his lips , say ‘shh’, sneer, and then he’d do that awful Elvis impersonation. I ain’t too sure that folks knew it was Elvis he was trying to impersonate, ‘cause I remember a couple walking away from Buzz and under his breath the man told his wife that Buzz was claiming to be the son of Bugs Bunny. Now that might not be too far from the truth, I tell ya.

At weekends, Buzz used to work as a bag boy at Winslow’s Grocery Store, the one that stands at the bottom of Creek Lane. He didn’t bag up like any normal person, oh no, what Buzz used to do was put everything in the bag while he stood in an Elvis pose: one knee bent , foot up with his toes touching the floor, and everything was placed in the bag with a full swing of the arm.

When he’d finished, he’d say ‘I thank you, my name is Buzz Presley and I’ll be here all week’. It used to scare some folks while it made others smile. Mrs Dalton gave him ten bucks ‘cause she thought he was touched. Her generation thought that a lot of people were touched. Hey, they might be right.

To be real honest, Mr Winslow was real pleased with Buzz and his packing ‘cause of the amount of extra folks that came for their groceries to his store. They all wanted their bags packed by the ‘crazy guy’.  Annie Black who had packed bags at the store since the war used to spend her  time just watching everyone queue up to get Buzz to do the packing. Mr 
Winslow let her go the second week in February.

Just before Easter, I heard tell from the Reverend about some Elvis show  that was taking place two counties over.

“You know, I don’t approve of rock and rolly music,” said the Reverend. He always called it ‘rock and rolly’. “But it would be right and good if someone from this county went over there and whipped their asses.”

I was thinking that Reverends shouldn’t really talk like that but he did have a point. I just wasn’t sure if Buzz was the man to do it – that’s all.

“Where do I sign?” Asked Buzz when I told him.
“Don’t worry Buzz, I’ll take care of that, but what are you gonna sing?” I asked.
“Why, a song that my Daddy wrote for me,” said Buzz then went into a song that may or may not have been an Elvis song (or even just a song).

I filled out the form for him on account of the fact that Buzz was in hospital with something or other when Mrs Telford was teaching us all about writing and stuff.

“Name?”
“Buzz Presley”

I tried to talk him out of it, but he wasn’t having it and anyhoo maybe they wouldn’t put two and two together and make five, like Buzz had.
“Change that, I want Buzz Aaron Presley.”
“You can’t.”
“Can too.”

So that was what I put down on the entry form and just kept my fingers crossed that we wouldn’t get into trouble.

Me and Buzz hitched over to Ridge County with Buzz dressed as Elvis (like if Elvis had fallen out of an aeroplane). The last bus we caught from Hollington was almost full of Elvis impersonators and their carers.

Buzz loved it, he was jumping from seat to seat, talkin’ and singin’ (kinda) with other hopefuls and some had stories to tell about Elvis. One or two had seen him drive past them, others had heard him singin’ but mostly these folks on the bus were just out for a good time and they didn’t care who knew about it.

When we got into town there must have been about a couple of hundred Elvises, I kid you not: big ones, fat ones, skinny ones, girls dressed (and ladies) as the King. They way I looked at it, what harm were any of them doing?

The following day the contest started at noon and it sure was a long time of Elvis this and Elvis that - all dressed with the best of clothes. Then Buzz came up onstage, and the announcer said that this singer was all the way from Duchess County and his name was Buzz Aaron Presley.

That would have been okay if Buzz had mimed to the record, like we practiced, but he decided to do an introduction – how many times can you say to someone that there should be no introduction? – Anyway he told the crowd exactly what I  knew he was gonna say.

“I am the truly begotten son of Elvis Aaron Presley.”

Yep, I kid you not, that’s the way he said it alright, ‘the truly begotten son’ – what the h..., did that mean? There was a silence in the crowd as everyone’s jaws fell. Man, you could have heard a prison break twenty miles away. Then some kid at the back of the crowd shouted 

‘I’m his son, too.’
“No you ain’t,” shouts Buzz.
“Sure am,” hollers back this kid.
“My Ma was real close to Elvis,” shouts Buzz.
“Well my Ma was Elvis.”
That’s what the weird kid at the back shouted. Everyone turned to look at him, then someone shouted ‘get him’ and the folks started chasing him. I took this opportunity to grab Buzz off the stage and force him to head for the bus station.

When we got back, Buzz's Ma apologised and said she’d made a mistake it wasn’t Elvis Presley that she had been close to but Bob Hope.
Right there and then I could see a little light going on in Buzz’s head.


bobby stevenson 2015
www.randomactsstories.blogspot.com

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Honey On The Thorn



As you reach out, you're already asking yourself if it’s all too far,
And as your tongue stretches to taste the honey,
You know that the searing pain will always follow,
Cutting deeper than your heart can take.
But who among us can resist?
And as the warm blood drips from the wound,
And you slam your eyes tightly,
Tightly shut,
Promising yourself it’s for the very last time.  
Even then, even in that brief whisper of time,
When it's not too late to turn and run,
Even then,
Your very bones are craving for just one more taste
Of honey on the thorn.


bobby stevenson 2015
www.randomactsstories.blogspot.com

Cheedel Craze, Ghost Hunter




If you’ve ever journeyed upon a train through the centre of London town, you’ll have perhaps looked up, and seen, a vacant office with dirty windows; one that is unloved and unlived in. Well that dirty little place, dear friends and readers, is the current whereabouts of one, Cheedel Craze. You will certainly not know his name up until now, but you may have met him in one form or another.

If Cheedel was like us mortals, his career would be noted as space policeman, but believe me, he is much more than that, vastly more than that. Cheedel is the soul who keeps our universe in order – who cleans up any spillage and who attempts to put things right, the best that he can.

Each universe, (of which there are many) has guardians, and Cheedel is ours. He bases himself in London, since - when he started his tour of duty, this city was at the centre of a great empire and an easy place to get to anywhere else. As for choosing Earth, well this little outpost sitting on the edge of the Milky Way, was the ideal place for Cheedel to get some time to himself.

Now I’m going to try and explain multiverses (lots and lots of universes) the patronising way that Cheedel explains it to me. So nothing personal then.

Imagine that you have a car, sitting outside your house at 7am on a Monday – and for whatever reason you try to cram as many people as possible into said car. Say, the total you could fit in at any one time without killing people is, eight. The next morning (Tuesday) you do the same again – another eight souls into an empty car. Each of them occupying the same physical space on a different day – but now imagine that someone from the Monday car left a paper behind, and the Tuesday crowd found it - then it would be Cheedel’s job to clean up that tracer (as he calls it) so that the Tuesday crowd know nothing of the Monday crowd. Okay, I hear you, you’re none the wiser. Anyway that is Cheedel’s job and he loves it.

On this particular morning, ironically a Monday, he hears tell of a ghostly apparition that has been causing consternation at a public house (a bar) on Fleet Street. The bar owner loved the attention at first, but now the figure of a woman is attacking his precious clients by throwing things around. This would have been called a poltergeist in the old superstitious days but Cheedel knows this not to be the case.

Sometimes universes rub up against each other and cause little ripples, or ulcers if you like, that allows energy to slip from one to the other. It’s as if someone in the Tuesday car happen to see an image of someone sitting in the car on the Monday. Once these were called ghosts – but now you know better.

By the time Cheedel arrives at the bar, there has been much destruction and not a soul left drinking in the place. Cheedel finds the owner hiding behind the bar trying to avoid plates that are being thrown at the bottles behind him. Even if he misses the plate, the bottles smash and scatter glass everywhere.

Cheedel had found out about this particular problem while sitting in the British Library – he sometimes fondly calls that building the ‘Geek Palace’ on account of the folks who sit in there and have discussions that would probably get them beaten up just a few yards outside the building.

One couple who frequented the Geek Palace, quite regularly, were talking about existentialism and ghosts. As I say, had they been having that conversation on a bus, the driver would have probably thrown them off. Anyway the taller of the two mentioned about the haunting at the bar on Fleet Street and about the ghost of Anne Boleyn, the Queen, who apparently stalked the corridors.

Cheedel chuckled to himself, because he knew that even if she was an Anne Boleyn, she would have definitely not been the Queen of England. No two people did the same thing in two universes. So even if it was her, she was probably appearing as a contestant on X-Factor in that universe (although Cheedel realised that he was a bit facetious).

The owner asked if Cheedel was a ghost hunter or if he was just in for a pint of beer to be drunk under trying circumstances. Cheedel decided to call himself a ghost hunter as it always seemed to work with Londoners.

Cheedel strode up the bar corridor and was met with a toilet pan flying across his path. He entered the room that the toilet had come from, to find a grainy image of an old (annoyed) woman. You see, this woman would have slipped through from her universe unintentionally and was probably being treated for mental illness over at her side. What with all her talking about bars and people in funny clothes - when she might be just sitting in a room and no one else knowing what she was going on about.

The secret to a successful clean-up was for Cheedel to fix the rupture in the universe wall without leaving any of the leakage on this side. Otherwise the angry woman might be throwing furniture about for eternity.

He tried to distract the apparition by singing a Monty Python song. Cheedel had no idea why this worked but it seemed to. She stopped throwing things about long enough for Cheedel to locate the rip in the space-time continuum (it was a lot of nonsense, of course, but he loved to impress the geeks with that type of talk).

The woman slipped happily back through the hole and Cheedel manage to make a nice repair in the wall. Cheedel knew that the woman (who ever she was) would be starting to recover on her side and would no longer see strange things – she might even go on to win X-Factor in that universe. Cheedel chuckled at this and considered it another victory for the space police.

And on the way home, he thought he might just drop into the Geek Palace to see what folks were talking about at this time of day.

bobby stevenson 2015
www.randomactsstories.blogspot.com

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Barking Up The Wrong Tree



Olivia was woken by what she thought were people arguing in the kitchen, below. She quickly dressed and ran down the wooden stairs to see if she could help.

To be honest, Olivia was a curious little girl, some might say ‘nosey’ even, but this isn’t the time or place to air those thoughts. As she got to the bottom of the stairs, she could hear clearly that it was her Grandpa and Grandma laughing so hard that Olivia thought that both their heads might just fall off, there and then.
Her Grandma saw little Olivia standing at the door, looking worried.

“What’s wrong, Sweet-pea?” Asked her Grandma.
“I thought I heard folks fighting,” said Olivia.
“No, no, little one, it’s that buddy of your Grandpa’s we were discussin’. Old Edward, you know the one who lives over in Star County. Anyway, seems Old Edward is up on the high road and he wants Grandpa to join him,” said Olivia’s Grandma.
“To do what?” Asked Olivia.
“’To do what’, you hear your granddaughter, Grandpa? She’s askin’ what Old Edward wants with you,” says her Grandma before breaking out into laughter again.

Olivia felt she’d better just leave them to it, as she wasn’t getting any sense from her grandparents. So Olivia got dressed and then went to sit outside in the farmyard and enjoy the sunshine.

It was just a little after one o’clock when she heard her Grandma tell the mailman about Old Edward and how he was looking for gold up on the High Road but everyone knew he was barking up the wrong tree.

That was enough for Olivia to take a walk up to the High Road and see what was happening. She had only got as far as Asker’s Farm when her pal, Herbert, the dog, stuck his head over the fence.

“What cha doing?” He asked.
“Going up to the High Road, that’s all,” said Olivia.
“To do what?”
“Why, to see Old Edward looking for gold,” added Olivia.
“Mind if I join you? Asked Herbert.
“Don’t mind if you do,” said Olivia to her pal.

So the two of them talked and talked until they got to the old town well where they saw their pal, Scrimpy, the Ass, taking a well-deserved drink.
“Where are you guys going?” Asked Scrimpy.
“Why, we’re going to the High Road to see Old Edward discover gold,” said Herbert.
“Mind if I come too?” Asked Scrimpy the Ass.
“Don’t mind if you do,” said his two friends.

All three, Scrimpy, Herbert and Olivia went to their usual spot on the road and they sat down.
“So what are we looking for?” Asked Herbert.
“Should be easy,” said Olivia. “Apparently, Old Edward is barking up the wrong tree,” she added, making it sound as if she knew what she was talking about.
“Which tree?” Asked Scrimpy.
“Whatever one he chooses will probably be the wrong tree,” added Herbert.
“So he’ll pick the wrong tree, on purpose?” Asked Scrimpy.”Then what?”
“Then he barks at it,” added Olivia.
“And that’s how you find gold?” Asked Scrimpy - and both Olivia and Herbert nodded their heads.
“I believe so,” said Olivia quite confidently.

The three of them sat for an hour and didn’t see anything of Old Edward or him barking up any tree, never mind the wrong one.

“What cha say if we meet here next week, and I can bark up the wrong tree on account of being a dog, maybe we’ll find gold,” said Herbert. And they all thought that was a great idea and said they’d look forward to it.  

bobby stevenson 2015
www.randomactsstories.blogspot.com

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 work 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 2015
www.randomactsstories.blogspot.com

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The Ballad of Square Peg


Peg was the happiest of happy little girls
She beamed and smiled all day long and
Everything was good in Peg’s life except
That she was Square Peg and she lived
In the town of Round Holes
Now the town was a beautiful little place
At the foot of a mountain and anyone would be
Lucky to live there, except Peg found that
Being square didn’t fit well in Round Holes
Everything was built and ordered for the round ones and
Peg couldn’t fit in anywhere
She cut corners to try and fit in
But it hurt her more than she cared to let on
So she found that keeping to herself
And avoiding most things that were round was the way forward
One day she walked out of town just to be herself again
And there she met Square Andy and Square Jane having a
Square dance and she joined in and for the first time
In her life she felt truly at peace
Peg ran all the way back to town and decided that she would
Dig a square hole in the middle of town and invite everyone
To come and see
Some thought it was the end of the world, others thought it
Wrong and blamed all the troubles that befell the place on
The fact that there was a square in the middle of the town
But Square Peg realised that a town was only really happy when
Everyone had a place to feel at home and that the people
Of Round Holes only thought they were happy because they were
Going around in circles
And even although it wasn’t easy, Peg stayed where she was
And soon the place eventually became known as the Town of
Round Holes with the Square in the middle of it all.

bobby stevenson 2015
www.randomactsstories.blogspot.com

Monday, 19 October 2015

October 21st, 1966 - The Sad Valley



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 as Tommy 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 Aberfan 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.


bobby stevenson 2015 
www.randomactsstories.blogspot.com