It was another keenly fought competition. Here are the results:
2020 VISION. ‘I May Have Lost my Vision, But I Can still be Heard. Or Can I?’
The clock announced the start of 2020 and we all joined together as friends, our arms wrapped around one another, singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’, not knowing that that would be the last time we would hug each other for a very long time.
We shared jokes and laughter and reflected on what was to come in the year to follow. ‘My 2020 vision’ we called it, playing with words, connecting the name of the year and perfect eyesight. The two would go together. It would be a great year. We were sure of it!
I was privileged because, unlike those who, because of impaired eyesight, did not have 20/20 vision, I would be able to watch a football game, joining with others to cheer on our team as they strived for that elusive goal, listening to the ‘Oooohs’ and ‘Aaaaahs’ of the crowd as the opposition goalkeeper pulled off yet another great save.
I would able to watch the actors ‘strutting their stuff’ on stage with a clarity which those without 20/20 vision would not.
I was privileged and thankful. I knew that 2020 would bring life-enhancing visions for me.
But then everything changed.
I watched football games, but only on a screen, so that I saw a picture of what went on, but not everything. I sat in a park, safe in the open air, watching a theatrical performance on stage, but only on a screen.
The camera decided my vision, not I. My gaze, my focus, every movement, every moment of importance, whether at the match or in the stalls, was dictated by that camera, not me. I had had my 20/20 vision stolen from me, and the year 2020 was the culprit. He was the one to blame.
But I still had my hearing, thank goodness.
That reminded me of the first sounds I heard as a child. They were of my mother, helping me to play with my toys. “You know, ‘Zoom’ is the sound made by rockets as they reach for the skies. One day you might be able to go up into space.”
Wow! I thought, sitting there, enraptured, as a small child.
Then, as I grew older, moving through those teenage years, I started to reflect on the isolation of astronauts as they went up into space, leaving the world behind. What was it really like to be ‘The first man in the moon’?
Zoom, I knew, meant isolation.
But here, in the year 2020, ‘Zoom’ does not mean isolation. It means making connections with people you would otherwise never see.
So now I sit at home again, not a small child any more.
‘Zoom’ means we can listen to one another, even if that is at a distance.
Zoom gives us all hope. We are not alone any more. If we listen hard enough we can hear the voices, the thoughts and feelings, of others.
I am alone at home again. But you can hear me now, I hope…………please.
Somewhere there’s a place for us
Our hundred days of separation ends in the car park at the St Mimms M25 Services. We share smiles, stories and hand gel but there’s no touching.
Three garden trysts later, Anne-Marie becomes an empty-nester and the easing of the Lockdown lets us hug again in a social bubble
2020 was to be a year of SKIng - spending the kids’ inheritance. After a month in New Zealand, we anticipated several more thrills: a WHO concert in Glasgow, Renaissance Football in Florence, the Fringe in Edinburgh and a Literary Cruise to New York on the Queen Mary 2.
Come Covid19, come cancellations. Only Cunard keep my deposit though they have no confirmed sailings.
Now, in July, the economy needs treatment and hotels, restaurants, and pubs are reopening. A short break looks safe. The hairdressers are cutting again and we can lose our long Sixties hairstyles.
We won’t go far and opt for two days in Suffolk, booking a stay in Sudbury.
Our apartment is rated 9.6 on Booking.com, close to the town centre and parking is free. The only drawback is the late 5pm access. We must do some touring during the day.
Sudbury is an easy drive and we’re there by 11.30am. Confused by lane changes in the town centre we take two circuits to find our apartment. It’s in a modern housing estate, littered with cars some parked on kerbs and at awkward angles, though all still have four wheels.
“Don’t jump to conclusions,” Anne-Marie says and adds smiling, “But remember we can be home in less than an hour.”
Sudbury’s market square is presided over by a statue of the town’s most famous resident Thomas Gainsborough, holding his palette and brushes. We celebrate the first coffee out for five months in David’s Café-Deli-Bar, breaking our no-cakes rule with delicious warmed almond croissants. Refreshed we drive to Bury St Edmunds for lunch in its elegant Georgian centre.
Returning to Sudbury, we detour through time, from 18th century Bury to Medieval Lavenham. No salesman of Cuprinol, or other wood preservative products, needed to call here for the last 500 years. The village is a forest of half-timbered buildings, their oak frames looking good for another few centuries.
Just before 5pm we ring the bell to the apartment block.
“I’m Pete. I suppose we should be socially distancing,” says our landlord as we squeeze into the 5ft square hall.
Our close encounter lasts half an hour but finally we can inspect the flat. It’s a work of art, a decorator’s show flat, with themed zones.
Torn brick wallpaper around the dining table suggests a renovated period cottage; French prints, vases of dried flowers and typical flea market ornaments are a reminder of Paris in the lounge area. Multiple wall lights, a six foot gilded framed mirror, floral decorated wardrobes and several shelves with cookbooks, travel guides and novels conjure other worlds.
Inside this dream cocoon of romantic places is the somewhere we can forget about Covid.
2375 Return to Earth
“Hey guys, come and look at this. I think it may be important.” Pavel Chomsky waved excitedly to his colleagues. They were all members of the inter-galactic archaeology team from Settlement Alpha on Mars. They were excavating in the city of Cambridge and were in a chamber under what had been the Cavendish laboratory. They were trying to fathom why Earth had become a dead planet in the twenty-second century. Their ancestors had left voluminous records on the chain of events leading to the total loss of viable habitats for all animals and plants but there were still some intriguing unanswered questions.
First, all species of insect had gradually died out and without this vital link the food chain had collapsed. Pavel’s colleague, the biologist Marco Biondi had briefed them all on the three week flight from Mars on the fundamental role of insects. “Every buzzing, crawling and hovering insect is a cog in the ecological machine.”
Pavel knew about their vital role as pollinators. Without insects crops can’t reproduce and humans and animals lose key food sources. He was also aware that they are food providers for birds, bats and fish and that they decompose animal and plant waste. He was unaware of their other two important functions as pest controllers and soil engineers.
“Yes,” Marco elaborated, “By feeding on crop-threatening pests, predatory insects perform the role of non-chemical pesticides….And termites and ants can transform soil in hot dry climates. Their tunnelling aerates hard ground helping it retain water.”
From their history lessons they knew that the huge loss in insect populations had caused all countries to stockpile food. With the inexorable decline in food production and the rapid depletion of these stocks World War Three had broken out between the Western and Eastern Hemispheres. Countries fought over remaining food and water supplies. Billions died from starvation and from nuclear fall-out. From 2225, once the hyper space propulsion technology had been proven, huge transports had been ferrying people from the richest countries on Earth to the rapidly growing biosphere colonies on Mars. These colonies started as independent national entities. Once the last link with Mother Earth had been severed in 2265 the colonists realised that their only hope of survival was to pool resources and brain-power and create an integrated trans-national society.
From then onwards the Mars Federation had grown and prospered. For the past few decades it had been sending teams back to Earth on exploratory missions. Pavel’s group was tasked with investigating the early 2020’s when a pandemic had caused major fractures in the established world order. Repeated failures to produce effective vaccines for the constantly mutating virus had led to increasingly hysterical reactions as countries closed their borders and developed a siege mentality.
Then the insects started to disappear. Why?
Pavel had in his hand a dusty research paper dated December2023 with the title ‘MUTANT STRAIN OF COVID 19 CAUSES INSECT DEPOPULATION. Scrawled across the front page was the supervisor’s comment, ‘Brilliant work. God help us!”
He Was So Handsome
For the third time that week Mary hid behind the oak tree opposite the house she was watching. Hoping when the occupant left she would pretend to bump into her and ask her again about Steven.
The Police responded immediately to the complaint and the Officer seemed to appear out of nowhere. He cautioned Mary; although she could barely understand him from behind his mask.
As she sat in the Police car she reflected on that text from her friend a week ago, and blamed it on the mess she was now in.
‘Guess whose sister I’ve met – someone we both once had a crush on?’
Mary didn’t have to guess, a sharp knife was already twisting at her heart. Steven.
‘Do you remember, he was so handsome, well I’m sure I’m playing bridge with his sister. I’ve seen her on Zoom and there is a strong likeness. Sarah is her name, does that sound right?’
Mary remembered her name began with S, brother Steven was a server in church and his sister was in the choir. She begged her friend to find out more about him.
‘I can’t, now we have to play online there’s no opportunity to chat. It was so long ago let’s Just enjoy our memories of lusting after him in church. I never did understand your extreme obsession with him when you could have had anyone. We were all jealous of you with men.
The pain of that rejection was still as raw today.
‘Mary, you are still smitten. Good grief. I think I did hear he got divorced after some scandal.’
Excellent, Mary thought, he may still be available. She planned how to contact Sarah.’ Being secretary of the bridge club had its advantages. She found her phone number and address.
Mary rang and asked outright about Steven. The phone slammed down, deafening her.
The next day Mary went round to the house and knocked on her door. The lady opened, an inch, screamed and slammed the door in her face.
Mary then started each day hiding behind the tree preparing to waylay her.
All that time ago, when she asked Steven out he replied ‘No thanks.’ No thanks!’ when she could have had any man she wanted. How dare he.
She knew she was still attractive, she needed to lay this ghost to rest and get rid of this pain for good. This was 2020 and no one knew what the future held.
The Police Officer allowed her to call her friend once they were at the Police Station.
‘Mary. ‘What the hell have you done? No I am not coming down to the station to speak up for you. You will have to get yourself out of this one.
Anyway, I found out the sister’s name did begin with S but it wasn’t Sarah it was Susan.
However, my bridge partner Sarah was once called Steven.
Looking through the window pane
I notice the roads are silent once again.
There are no footsteps where people normally tread
Just silent whispers from the many dead.
Locked in guilded cages, throught with fear
As we loose those to us that are so dear.
I look towards the corner at the empty chair
Remembering that Auntie Betty once sat there.
With trepidation, I slowly open the door
And hesitate as I step out once more.
I walk past the nursing home where Aunt Betty used to stay
It would seem that half the residents had gone away
Dark empty rooms with curtains tightly closed
The remaining residents and staff indisposed.
The silent killer had been allowed to walk inside,
His putrid breath causing a deathly tide.
A little too late the door was actually locked,
Not soon enough for the silent killer to be blocked.
I watched as the black bags carried the many dead away.
I watched Auntie Betties friends finally leave with dismay.
With a deep feeling of dread and remorse
I continued with my one hour exercise course.
My exercise over I finally reach my abode
Inside, once again I follow the regime of the hygiene code.
I look for something to eat only to find the fridge and larder bare
I’m not that hungry so I don’t really care.
I go to bed, close my eyes and try to sleep
My eyes still open, I decide that would keep.
I sit in the corner in Auntie Betties chair
Recalling the daily news with despair.
Day by day things seemed to be getting worse
It seems that we will have to learn to live with this deadly curse.
I remembered when Auntie Betty and I had our last chat
She was happy in the nursing home and that was that.
Little did we know of the carnage that was to follow
When the silent killer began to make our lives so hollow.
Salty droplets of water run down my face
As I continued to think of the hopelessness of the case.
I look at the coat still hanging on the door,
My thought return to Aunt Betties suffering once more
As the silent killer ravaged her body she was unprepared
All alone in her last moments, she must have been very scared.
No family or friends allowed with her to say goodbye
All alone the poor old lady was left to die.
A brief respite for all of us in the summer sun
A decent send off for Aunt Betty was done.
Of the freedom many people made the most
Before returning to safety from their deadly host.
An Extract from ‘A Diary of a Lancashire Lass’
I started feeling unwell yesterday. I knew something was up when I awoke coughing. My sister Emily lay beside me in a huddle as usual. I hope this evil thing doesn’t get to her. She’s far too young to understand.
There’s just the three of us now. Fred died last week. He got up one morning, went off to coal yard and never came back. Mr Grace says he just fell over with a fever. Fred was full of life. When he wasn’t at the yard, he’d be making sure we were all right. And on his afternoon off, he’d go and watch Clarets at Turf Moor.
Mum has not been well either, but she carries on washing for Mr Prendergast. Without Fred’s wages, it’s going to be tough for us. Rent man says he won’t call for a month to allow us time to grieve. I just can’t see an end to this.
You might ask where our Dad is? Dad and his brothers went off to war before our Emily was born. Mum received a note from Ministry that Dad was not coming home. I’m not sure what happened, but my friend Katy says her Dad was shot at by the Bosch. I think Bosch is the name for the Kaiser’s army. I can still see Dad walking up Nelson Street. Mum doesn’t talk about it.
Mum has mended my summer dress in time for Church on Sunday. I caught it on stile at Craggy Cross. I didn’t mean to. Mum was not angry with me. She knows I go there to gaze at valley. I met Billy there the other day. He gave me a posey of cornflowers and buttercups. I think he likes me.
‘Eh Rosie, how’s doing?’
‘Hello Billy. I’m fine. Just looking at meadow.’
‘Eee, the valley looks grand from ‘ere.’
‘Aye. You off to work at Mill soon?’
‘Aye, I think so. Ma needs me to earn money for my keep. What with our Sam away in Ireland and all that. Not sure when Sam will be back. Mr Prendergast says Mill workers will have to wear cloths over their nose and mouth soon. They’re calling illness a pandemic flu. I hope the world knows how to deal with a pandemic in a hundred years’ time?’
Billy looked at the river, drew a heavy intake of breath. ‘Our Dad died yesterday.’
‘Bloody gas got him after all. At least he came ‘ome, but he wasn’t same.’
I looked down at the ground. ‘Mum won’t tell us what happened to our Dad. He just didn’t come back.’
The warmth of the sun filled our hearts and hillside looked radiant on other side of river.
‘I wonder how this valley will look in hundred years’ time?’ said Billy.
‘It’s the one place I can tell the change of the seasons,’ I said smiling at Billy.’
Jason stood three shades stupefied in Euston’s concourse, looking up at the departures board that confirmed not time nor platform for his train. The updraft from the underground swished his top-knot, an aloe-vera draught to his sunburnt neck.
Feet clattered; synchronous with the board.
‘The next train from platform eleven, is the twenty-twenty - calling at Harrow and Wealdstone, Watford junction…’
Jason burst into a run down the ramp past the M&S where he careered through the poncy couple and their newly purchased overblown bottle of plonk. Passengers scattered as he burst through the barrier without even the decency to swipe his oyster card.
He ran (those watching or avoiding him, would say staggered) down the platform to the front of the train and jumped into a first-class compartment. Lolling, he rested his boots up on the chair opposite; his blue urban combat trousers clashing with the lime-green check seat coverings.
He popped and downed his pilfered can of Stella; before discarding it onto the floor with the toast ‘Drink, fight, football.’
He fished out a large cigar from his pocket and after running his nose along its length, lit it; confirming that it was well alight by blowing a cloud of vitriolic blue smoke into the compartment.
Rule Britannia, his ring-tone floated up into the smoky strata.
‘Yeah Baz, great day.’
‘Just like we promised - protect the statues - Ing-ger-land - Ing-ger-land.’
The couple and their plonk, made to enter the compartment; took one look at his flagrant smoking abuse and retreated.
‘Great day on tour; what a ruck at the Cenotaph, did you see that horse bolt? Priceless.’
‘Pity Boris didn’t show his mop in Trafalgar Square, he could have worn one of your smoke-bombs.’
Crowing laughter echoed.
‘Never has so much been owed; we’ll fight them on Waterloo Station, on Dover beach.’
Jason puffed on the cigar.
‘We must do this again. What was the name of that boozer? What do you mean, of course I can remember how many pints we drank; unlucky thirteen. You’re such a lightweight and it was your round next. Typical Mourinho always bottling it… No surrender Baz, gotta go, it’s my stop.’
His head was fit to burst; ‘Oww, Mum.’
She hit him with her paper again and again. ‘Is this you?
He peered out from under the duvet and got another whack for his troubles.
‘Don’t you Mum me you filthy toad. It is you.’
Jason scrutinized the headlines through a fog, fending off more blows.
RIGHT WING THUG DESICRATES
ROBERT PEEL’S MEMORIAL.
As his Mother was pointing out, there in colour, so it had to be true, was his own bum on show – an amber rivulet trickled away from Peel’s statue and it wasn’t from all the discarded beer cans.
‘But mum, I had thirteen pints.’
‘Do I look like I care?’
Jason winced as his ear was twisted.
‘Protecting statues my foot. As usual, you’re taking the Peter Schmeichel. Bye the bye, the Bobbies want a word.’
The year I discovered space.
Well to be fair, it’s always been there. You only have to look up. During the day of course there are clouds which are pretty enough unless they’re grey. Blue skies instantly put a smile on your face, mainly for their rarity value. As a rule, I don’t wander around the neighbourhood at night. I don’t have a dog to walk and not needing the money, I don’t join those who ply their trade in the dark.
Lockdown 2020 flipped all our lives. Stop. I know what you’re thinking, I took to the streets. No. But I did venture into our back garden. I turned off the house lights and I looked up. Stunning. Black skies like a velvet cloak across my world. And somebody has thrown handfuls of diamonds across the velvet. I can’t stop staring at this beautiful picture but I realise my neck is creaking and I’m in grave danger of falling backwards. I pull a lounger into the middle of the garden and lay on it continuing my unique discovery.
My husband, fed up of sitting in a darkened house joins me and says:
“If you wait 10 more minutes you will see the International Space Station pass over. It’s coming from the west.” He points “It’s orbit will, for the first time this month, pass directly overhead.”
Turns out this is not a unique event and I was staggered to learn that the ISS has been spinning around the world since 1998 around 15 times a day. And it’s got people living in it. Men and women from several countries are living and working in this floating lab.
Space is something that other people discuss and get excited about. I’ve watched shuttle launches on TV and been impressed by mans ingenuity and bravery. But it’s always seemed remote from my life and my everyday world of kids, work and bills. Incredibly intelligent teams of people from across the globe have built this floating laboratory. My husband interrupts my thoughts with his fact download:
“It’s 250 miles up and travelling at 17,105 miles per hour.”
“Hold on, so we won’t be able see it without a telescope, which we don’t have.” I then thought of another brilliant and obvious question.
“How do you know its only 10 minutes away?”
He waves his phone at me. “Because there is a timetable. It will pass across at exactly 10.07 and will take 6 mins. Tonight, it’s very bright”
I look at him and think he’s winding me up. A timetable? It’s travelling at over 17,000 miles an hour and passing over Watford.
Then he points and I see a very bright round light travelling sedately across the sky and keep watching as it travels silently over Watford in a seemingly straight line.
Inside that light real humans are discovering new horizons of knowledge. Risking their lives to make mine better. I find tears are streaming down my face.
Is There An Upside To Covid?
“I hate this bloody virus. Rob is laying in a hospital bed, with sepsis running through his body and we can’t go and see him.” I yelled pacing around the kitchen. Yes the news he is now classed as stable after spending 3 days on the critical list is great news. The tough old bugger is beating the infection but the cancer is still there. The cancer that we’ve been told will take him away from us within a year.
“I hate this.” My voice full of anger, because being angry is easier than facing my other emotions. We should be doing all the things we planned when he got the diagnosis. We’d all spent the weekend before lock down together, celebrating our birthdays, with the usual teasing of him being a whole day older , although the emphasis on teasing has changed since we were kids, now I like being the youngest.
We were moaning about the ridiculously long 16 week curfew that has been placed on him because he was now in the “at risk” category. Surely this Covid stuff would be over long before 16 weeks, after all it’s just like flu right?
We naively made a list of things we would do and places we would go after the 16 weeks was up. If we could have followed the plan we would have been up to see him twice already and would now be getting ready for us all to go to the Lake District next week.
If it wasn’t for this bloody COVID we would have travelled up to see him the minute he was taken into hospital, hell no we wouldn’t, at least one of us would have gone up to look after him when the infection first took hold and it might never have got to this stage but because we were trying to protect him from COVID he is now facing lengthy skin graft operations to cover the wounds left by the sepsis. “This Bloody Covid has robbing us of precious time with our friend.” I yell even louder.
“Mum stop!” My daughter grabs my by the shoulders stopping me from pace, forcing me to look at her.
“Yes COVID has stopped you going up to see Rob, but, because of Covid you all now zoom every week. You all laugh like teenagers from 7 Friday evening through to the early hours of Saturday morning. Your cheesy jokes, singing of advert tunes from the olden days and awful StarWars puns, keep me awake by the way. These wouldn’t have happened had it not been for COVID. You now all phone each other throughout the week too, because other distractions aren’t getting in the way. This virus may have kept you physically appear but has actually bought you all closer. You are now a much bigger part of each other’s lives than you ever have been. COVID isn’t robbing you if your friends, it’s giving them back to you.”
The Covid Years
You remember the start of 2020?
Busy lives and parties plenty
Cupboards full and never empty
Jetting off to far-away places
Food enough to fill our faces
Then came Covid and suddenly
A change of life for you and me
Friends we could no longer see
Over 70s stuck at home
Keeping contact on the phone
So much time to spare indoors
Dusting the house and sorting out drawers
Cleaning the loo and washing floors
No need to tidy things away
Every day felt like a holiday
So many hours for us to talk
Plenty of time to go for a walk
April showers where were they?
The sun shone every single day
It felt more like July than May
Sometimes bad news trickled through
About the people we once knew
Tried not to watch the news on TV
I turned to you, you comforted me
We kept each other company
December came, the days were cold
All of us did what we were told
Living out our lives on hold
Celebrations have come and gone
All of us older one year on
The winter months they soon passed by
I’d learned to smile and not to cry
If the children asked we said we were well
And if we weren’t they couldn’t tell
Our interaction was all on screen
As if our old lives had never been
Celebrations put on ice: like a patient lying on a
trolley. Unmoving. Play dates, for young and old,
pencilled in for another day: ‘when this is all over’.
The daily score. Government graphs that rise
and rise, like lofty spires; each one, unwelcome,
a steep stairway to heaven.
Supermarkets: imagined threats, fear of
shortages, empty the shelves of people’s brains,
the zeroes registering behind eyes of jealous
Time on our hands – too much for some to fill –
rattling empty spaces or bouncing off the walls
of the thirteenth floor.
Weasel words, truths and untruths shift and
fuse, like quicksands that serve to confuse. Firm
exceptions made - Cummings and goings – like
the man himself, repel.
Empty stages, pages of lines unlearned and left
stage right – the ghosts of past performances
daring to whisper, their voices, lost,
echoing through The Gods.
We wrestle - no touch - with the idea of …no
touch. Do we have the measure of distance –
donning the mantle of social dimension as never
The old -old people – diminished memories their
only protection - left to shrink and fade.
Betrayed, by…who, and why? Left to die.
The schools – the children – bubbles of a very
different sort that do not float from place to
place or reflect delight in the eyes of the small;
but separate, as sure as walls of steel.
Choirs lose their voice, their songs and arias
wrapped up and boxed, stamped as dangerous
to the public good.
The motorway hushed and empty. Cars and
lorries packed away, in a scene from days long
gone, to come out another day.
Long summer days, sunshine carried on the
wings of friendly winds, the jet- stream bent
high above the clear blue skies.
Distant Spanish island: its pocket picked,
February sunshine stolen, and smuggled home
to flood months later from glossy holiday snaps.
Four chairs, surround a table where once there
were only two – unscheduled family meals,
diverting chat, swapping stories an unexpected
Swifts swoop high and low, an aerial display, a
masterclass that fill the skies now that the
planes have gone – their tails a V-sign to the
Time to read… then read some more. To settle
into the comfortable familiarity of a favourite
chair, to start, and read until the end.
Acts of kindness, selflessness played out on
every scale – in quiet solitude or trumpeted on
the national stage.
New heroes – dressed now not in khaki nor
draped in capes of red, but clad in scrubs, or
whites, or simple homespun tweed.
Fitter than for years – circuits in the garden,
press-ups, pull-ups, never ever give ups, brisk
evening walks fuelled by talk about the this and
that of lockdown.
Neighbours, rarely seen together, stand socially
distanced shoulder to shoulder, to clap the NHS
with hands, and pans, to let them know their
sacrifice has not gone unnoticed.
So, at the end of this year
With questions aplenty
What score would I give it?
Say… ten out twenty?
The Air of Discontent
Sighing I re-arranged the fish knives, I’d sorted all the kitchen drawers now. Earlier I had filled up three black bin bags of clothes, next on the list was emptying the linen cupboard.
When Dad died five years ago I’d moved back home to look after Mum, but nothing was ever right,
“Hannah, I like my tea stronger than this.”
“How long did you leave the bread out? It’s stale.”
“You should get your hair cut Hannah, your fringe is too long.”
Growing up as an only child in this house, the air of mother’s constant discontent clung in the corners of every room. My friends’ parents were all much younger than mine. Now I am an orphan. Mum passed away last year after falling and breaking her hip.
It made sense to sell my flat and stay in the house. 2020 was a new start, plans to modernise the house, make it brighter and more airy. Just as the builders were about to start, a pandemic screwed up all plans. Surrounded by memories of my childhood filling every lonely day, I slept in my old bedroom where my musical teddy sat on the shelf.
The linen cupboard could wait, I remembered the brown leather suitcase with dad’s old photos in. The metal clasps, rusted with brown spots, sprung open easily. Black and white photos filled the case. White sandy beaches and palm trees, souvenirs of Dad’s National Service. The essence of aftershave lingered in the air. When the case was empty, I noticed the lining was slightly split. Tucked just inside was a letter.
Hesitating, I examined the envelope and slowly turned it in my hands, childish writing on thin blue paper.
2nd August 1982
The nuns said I can write you a letter, which your new Mammy and Daddy might give you. I’m sorry that I cannot keep you. You’re a beautiful baby. I had to come to England to have you as nobody at home knew, except my Mammy. I am going back to Cork tomorrow. The nuns tell me you are going to a very nice home of a man and lady that cannot have children and that you will want for nothing. I hope they will be kind and love you as much as I would if I could keep you. I managed to bring a wee teddy from home that plays music, I hope they let you keep it.
I will think of you every day.
Your loving Mother,
I wiped the tears from my cheeks. Everything started to make sense, but nothing made sense.
The letter was dated my birthday.
I was adopted.
My name should have been Julie, not Hannah. I thought of the teddy, yes it must be the one upstairs, my real mother had given it to me.
I might not be an orphan, that feeling of ‘something missing’ might be fulfilled.
Frantically opening the computer, I started typing in Google search.
Gemma woke to the dawn sunlight filtering through the lavender drapes, handcrafted by an Indian collective, which she’d purchased last week from the local free trade ethical shop in town. She’d added a tie-dyed matching trim of pink silk, which she'd dyed herself with avocado stones, just to add a little extra flourish. She got up and made herself a large mug of of fair trade coffee, and returned to the bedroom. She'd left Jon still sleeping; he’d had a busy day yesterday, teaching carpentry skills at the local school and later, at the evening class; his hobby reborn. He'd been tired, but so much happier than when he faced the daily commute, over an hour long both ways, to his faceless office for a unrewarding job. He’d even been inspired, as soon as he returned home, to pick up his guitar and work on a new tune for his band, which played weekly for the sing-around at the community hall.
Meanwhile, she’d been busy baking cakes for the annual celebration happening this afternoon, ‘Care for all’. The celebration had begun eight years ago, after the vaccine was produced and it was safe to mix and mingle once more, get together again sharing lives and memories. Thank goodness, Gemma thought, the people had finally come to their senses, all over the world. As one, they'd decided that enough was enough; they would find other ways to live their lives, at one with nature and humanity.
She was looking forward to the celebration, meeting up with family and friends, old and new and the warm fuzzy feeling everyone shared. And later, she and Jon were planning to wander to the evening meet-up, held around the town's memorial to those who had lost their lives in the pandemic. It had been carved by a local stonemason, with the names of the lost, etched on its sides, for remembrance. The last time they’d seen the memorial, a fortnight ago, the late-flowering climbing roses and vines were already at the top, their buds beginning to form. And they would at last gaze in wonder at the newly created Green Man, his skeleton now clothed, as every year, in sweet-smelling blooms.
So as Gemma opened the curtains on another glorious autumn morning, and as the sunlight welcomed a beautiful day, she could hear the birds and bees mingling their sweet twitterings and buzzings as they lived out their lives in this newly created world, where humanity once more had become part of, not apart from, Nature; a post-apocalyptic heaven.
She was still tired. Leaving the curtains open, she set the alarm for an hour's time and lay down once more at Jon’s side and dozed.
As the alarm blared out, Gemma woke. She picked up her mobile, at the side of the bed.
And her dream shattered. The date glared out from the screen.
28th September 2020. Back to reality; an apocalyptic hell.
Through the Rabbit Hole
The labyrinth, takes us to who knows where?
Take a look around, there are holes everywhere.
My lovely vintage wine box has woodworm. I thought that someone had stuck drawing pins into it, or perhaps used it as a back-box for a dart board. Then the thought crossed my mind that perhaps it was tiny little worms eating away, and I wondered; are there living worms in there? If so, how many? Are they all one family? What can they see? Are they trying to get to somewhere in particular or are they simply journeying into the unknown whilst filling their tiny tummies with tasty grub?
Our dining table also has holes; formed by the knots in the wood drying out and shrinking. These ‘blemishes’ are part of its beauty.
The space where the knots once were are now beautifully smooth, perfectly circular spaces to stick your fingers into, or sweep crumbs through. They are a talking point at dinner parties. Someone suggested that the largest hole is an ideal place to surreptitiously place unwanted food for the dog to enjoy below the table. This would be fine apart from the fact that we don’t have a dog. Nonetheless, it was an interesting suggestion!
On the subject of holes, when Alice took her first steps into her rabbit hole, she had no idea where she was going, she had no idea if or when she would ever get out. She could have been brave and placed one foot in front of the other, trying each door that she came to in the hope of finding one open, or she could have screamed in terror. She could even have had a tantrum, stamping her foot and refusing to move even one inch.
What if someone had encouraged her “Come on Alice, I know the way, follow me and all will be well” and she listened and followed in a trusting unquestioning fashion, only to be told a few hours later “I am sorry, but we seem to be getting more lost.” Would she have trusted again or would she have listened to the voice in her head telling her that she was no longer safe and needed to rethink her strategy? But what alternative did she have? Trust those who said they knew the way or trust her own instincts and make a blind dash for the speck of light in the distance. What if she could see no speck of light? what then?
You are not alone in this hole. We are all in it together, and what you see down here is mainly of your own choosing; darkness, shadows, fear and isolation, or light, companionship, a sense of being part of the whole, taking this unknown journey together.
We know not where the rabbit hole ends, or when daylight will reappear, however we can be assured that as always, things will change. Nothing stays the same.
Down and around and around we go
Where this ends, nobody knows.
Please use one of the forms below compatible with your computer/laptop for judging 'The Year 2020' competition;
and Email your score sheet to Helen and Ian by NOON on Friday 2 October. Results will be announced at Monday's meeting.