Monday, 22 May 2017

May 2017

Jackie's story:

I’m not feeling too good today I had another eruption just last night and it has upset my left side so that I am feeling off balance.
My name is “Earth” and my atmosphere is all clogged up with particles of waste, dust and diesel fumes which is causing me to produce earthquakes, flood storms and volcanoes.    
  I went to the doctor and he saw the dirty brown spots on me where it should have been lush and green.  He found whole areas that were dry and scaly - where trees had been cut down and land left barren.  
 I told him I felt warm but then kept going cold all over and then warm again in patches.   Also, it’s  embarrassing as noxious gasses escape me from time to time.
The doctor took my temperature and said he detected a little global warming.   I didn’t like the sound of that at all.  Then he told me what my condition was.   It turns out I have a hole, yes, a large hole that is growing by the minute in my ozone layer.  He explained that the ozone layer serves as a shield from the harmful ultraviolet rays emitted by the sun.  So I asked him to stitch me up but he said it wasn’t that easy - at the rate that it  is growing in other words, very fast,  there was a race against time for things to get better.   
He took some samples and came back with the results.  My sea is full of pollution and there are traces of industrial chemicals and oil.    ‘ Oil’ I thought that sounds ominous as I could imagine it sloshing around in my inner self causing suffocation and preventing wildlife and vegetation from multiplying.    Apparently also there are traces of waste matter too.   The doctor found a bug and so I said doctor that must be the Millienium bug and he replied that no the Millenium bug was just a hoax to make us all buy new laptops and DVD players at the turn of the century.  He added, this one that I have is more of a “litter” bug.    
    When the doctor read out the analysis of my sea he found  surprisingly low levels of life  as plastic bags, bottles and rubbish were clogging up my system which was the cause of my extreme constipation and stomach spasms causing volcanic venting and there was a serious lack of bacteria that would normally clean me up and enable sea life to reproduce.   He also found traces of a new phenonomen called nuclear debris which emits  dangerous levels of radiation.   At my earth poles, ice is melting fast which is affecting my balance causing me to tilt to an alarming degree;  my gravity is affected causing the moon to look at me sideways producing tornadoes, tidal waves and upsets growth of the creatures that live within me.
   All in all my visit to the doctor wasn’t at all reassuring in fact quite alarming and when I asked the doctor  what he thought was causing this,  he replied it was something called the human race and the real winner of this race will be of course future mankind.

Angie's Story

Mary never ever entered competitions. Her view of herself was such that she excelled at nothing, had no special skills, looked very average and was singularly unlucky.

She had always known successful people in her life. Her sister for example, confident and attractive would sometimes enter a competition with an expectation of winning and was usually successful. The trophies on her mantelpiece attested to this.
Gymnastics and swimming as a child, riding in teenage years and golf in adult life.
At work there were colleagues who regularly won office quiz nights or premium bonds or raffle prizes.
Mary just knew that somehow the fates had conspired against her and her lot in life was to be mediocre in every way.
She sometimes looked in the mirror and closing her eyes longed to see a different reflection. Regular features, good bone structure, flawless skin, large eyes, and full lips. Glossy luxuriant hair falling gracefully to her shoulders.
When she opened her eyes that image had faded and Mary's small eyes and mouth, a nose on the large side, fine unmanageable mousy hair and slightly double chin stared back at her.

Thankfully her great aunt Dolly, who herself had been no beauty, always said vanity was a sin and one should be grateful for what was one was given. At least everything worked!

Mary busied herself instead with her work and her passion for gardening and all things outdoors.
So it was, that when an email went round the office, inviting people to join up for a competitive walk in the Derbyshire  Peaks, staying overnight at a youth hostel, Mary scarcely glanced at it. She did actually enjoy walking very much and had quite good stamina, but she did it for pleasure, not to excel in any way. However, a colleague with whom she was quite friendly and like herself was single, approached her one lunchtime and asked if she would go with her. Unlike Mary, she liked a competition.
After several attempts to decline Mary finally acquiesced and agreed to accompany her friend.

So it was that two weeks later, Mary found herself lying on an uncomfortably lumpy bunk with a skinny pillow and the sounds of intermittent coughing and snoring from other bunks in the dormitory. She was dozing fitfully when the wake up call came and people jostled for the bathrooms and then the breakfast facilities in the large kitchen. She looked around at her fellow walkers and noticed one family in particular, a man, his wife and their young daughter of maybe 12 years old. Obviously friends invited by a colleague.
The office walk organiser Derek was already pulling on his sturdy and expensive looking waterproofs and boots and encouraging everyone to get kitted up and ready for the off.

As the walk got underway, Derek was soon forging ahead with several others staying on his tail and the rest settling into a rhythm and biding their time. It was early October and though not too cold the sky was looking ominous as they headed up towards the plateau, a boggy marshy terrain with little other vegetation.
Mary had let her friend carry on so that she could keep up with the advance walkers and they all took the right hand fork on the winding track up to the top. Mary stopped to loosen her boot laces and then carried on enjoying the effort and the feeling of exertion. As she walked she was aware of someone coming towards her, the mother of the girl she'd noticed at breakfast. She was looking distraught. As she came closer she called to Mary,
'We've lost my daughter! Have you seen a young girl anywhere? My husband told her to go ahead while I changed my trousers but when we caught up she wasn't there.'
It's all so huge and wild - I'm so desperately scared for her.
She's called Louise and she was wearing a red anorak and blue trousers.'

Mary realised that the girl had probably taken the other track back at the fork. She knew speed was of the essence and by great chance she had also put her running shoes in her rucksack as spare footwear.
Trying quickly to reassure the  panicking mother while changing boots for trainers she set off at a good pace.
She soon reached the fork and took the left hand one which was not as steep but wound around trees and bushes before opening again onto a flatter wider expanse still with the occasional stand of trees and on one side dropping sharply to the valley below.  Mary scanned the whole area but could see nothing and no movement. She tried not to think about the drop to her right and carried straight on, pounding the ground as she ran, feeling too the first drops of the threatened rainstorm. She called the girl's name every so often hoping to hear some response but only her own footsteps broke the silence. She tried to think like a child. What would a young girl feeling lost be likely to,do. She thought of herself at that age and remembered she liked to make dens in bushes, feeling safe surrounded by the dark vegetation.
She began to look more closely at each bush as she came to it, still calling the girl's name.  As she ran closer to one thicket she thought she saw a flash of red and as she got closer she thought she heard a voice,
'Louise, are you ok? I'm from the walk, I saw you at breakfast. Your mum asked me to find you. She's very worried. Don't be scared - you're safe now'
Slowly a blonde curly head peered through the bush. Louise crawled out dishevelled, a bit tear stained,but otherwise ok.'

' I got scared when there was no one ahead of me. I couldn't remember the way back so I thought I'd just wait and hope. Thank you so much for finding me'
Then she burst into tears of relief and Mary hugged her shaking young body.

 By the time Mary and Louise finally made it back to the waiting group they had got to know each other quite well. Although young Louise was already very interested in gardening, and Mary was able to give her a few tips.
Louise's mother had become frantic with worry and fell on her daughter, her turn now to cry with relief. Her father, who had remained calm and positive throughout still gave his daughter a big hug and was man enough to admit to having made a bad error in sending her on ahead not knowing of the fork.

Finally back at the hostel where the advance walkers were already changed and on their second drink it was time for the announcement of the winner. There was probably little doubt that it would be Derek but as he received the cup he looked across at Mary, still wet and  bedraggled.
' Mary I'd like you to take this cup - I might have done the fastest time but today you are the real winner! '
The loud cheers and applause all around her, the first she'd ever experienced in her lifetime, made her feel blanketed in warmth. She would probably never win anything but today she had won the thanks and appreciation of her colleagues and perhaps the chance to help Louise create a patch of garden - what more could she ask for.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Write a short story entitled "The first flight" 24th April 2017

Monica's story:

First Flight

Sitting in my first class seat sipping champagne at some unearthly hour of the morning, the first flight we could get for a hastily called business conference in New York. Myself and two colleagues who were looking tired and strained as we took off into the dark starless sky. The crew also seemed strained and when service started 20 minutes later they were not very attentive and did not smile much, in fact their attitude to us passengers bordered on rudeness. I guess they had already done the trip from New York to London and were on their return leg and it showed. The nine hour flight seemed endless, my mind going over and over the business we had to discuss when we arrived. Unable to sleep and starting to feel a little nausea from the turbulence we were experiencing I looked around at the rest of my fellow passengers who with the exception of a few who were sleeping, seemed to be unable to relax like me. My mind suddenly took a flight of fancy, how could the Wright brothers have flown that flimsy contraption of a flying machine across part of America, open to the elements and with no facilities at all and the tiny machine that flew across the English channel all that time ago. Imagine the stress and emotions the pilots must have felt, elation and fear no doubt but determination to make history certainly. Were they egotistical or just adventurous or just plain crazy. Even in my fanciful thoughts I just could not get my head around those flights all those years ago.
I also thought about the young pilots in the First world war, English and German flying fragile killing machines. The Second World war pilots were no doubt romanticized a little as the machines like the Spitfire were more powerful and faster and they flew in closed cockpits but the stresses were no less. Lots of young women wanted to marry the pilots who to them seemed brave and cavalier but underneath the emotions were much the same.
I came out of my reverie and I decided to look at the in-flight movies and low and behold I found in the old classics the film the “Memphis belle” which I watched with my mind disapearing in the clouds every now and then and returning to my previous thoughts. Flying became even more glamorous when the Americans entered the war and even more young women fell for these men who were like modern day Knights with no fear but underneath the facades they portrayed must have been mental wrecks. Aircraft got bigger and carried more bomb loads. The B52 bomber was a classic example, cramped, uncomfortable and slow with many of the young crews never returning. By now my mind was filled with the images I was watching and my emotions were in turmoil thinking about all the young lives lost in the skies around the world.
We arrived in New York and after retrieving our bags got a taxi to the meeting venue where I managed to get my head together enough to do a great deal for our company. We left the meeting feeling very elated and when we arrived at our hotel we found a message from our CEO congratulating us on our successful completion and telling us that we would be returning First class on an Emerites flight as a thank you. It was like a self contained bubble in an aircraft, with a proper bed and a shower. A full size TV screen and a small bar. Sadly those early pioneers of flying machines will never know how far they have brought us with hundreds of planes flying thousands of people around the world to far flung exotic places for business and pleasure. Thank you for that First flight.


Annemarie's story:

First Flight

He pushed the ramshackle, paint-peeled little rowboat down the slope and clambered in as it slid into the gently lapping water; he grabbed the old gnarled oars and rowed to the tiny tree-covered island. A long thin loch studded with minute islands this one was his special place. He had been coming here for years, initially with his father, quietly observing the natural life. In their notebooks the two of them had written down details of diving birds, dates when they sat on their nests incubating eggs, they had seen the deers swim across the narrow slip of water but best of all were the sea eagles which had built their haphazard twiggy eyrie in the lofty height of a fir tree. Several years on the notebooks had become bigger and they hugged in their pages pencil sketches and wild life details from hours of quiet observation during forays to the tiny island.
But today he had left his notebook behind and slung, instead, the binoculars around his neck. Grabbing hold of the old knotted boatsman's rope that hung from a lower branch he scrambled his way up the Douglas fir tree. Once near the top he settled into the crook of some branches from where he could see the sea eagles' nest in the neighbouring tree. He had last been several months ago in Spring and had just been able to see the chicks, .they had appeared furry, their inadequate wings more fluff than feather. Their beaks ever-gaping, ever demanding food, constantly refilled with tasty titbits from the parent eagles, great hooked beak pushing food into the gaping smaller  hooked beaks.
Now the two enormous chicks overflowed the nest; he watched as one chick raised itself up on its tumbled, twiggy platform, wobbling at first, large yellow claws still gripping the nest, feathered pantaloons hanging down over strong-muscled legs; slowly it unfolded fully feathered wings, stretched them, then started bouncing up and down all the time furiously flapping those wings. The boy decided to stay longer in his own uncomfortable eyrie in his own tree, leaning his back against the rough bark and wedging himself between two spiky branches. Below and around him a feast of green, clumps of pine needles and lapping on the island shore the cool dark water of the loch. Above him, after the winter's icy north winds, the trees were rugged, bare and black against summer' azure skies. The wind was gentler now and the sun warmed his face and arms as he kept watch. Time rewarded him when the hungry eagle chick once again bounced up and down with outstretched wings until suddenly it launched itself into midair on a gust of wind, wavering drunkenly at first, then settling serenely into an elegant glide. Through the binoculars the boy could see the fan of the now-white tail feathers spread neatly behind, tilting from side to side like a rudder. He saw the yellow claws and feathered legs drawn backwards stretched beneath the tail fan , the bird's smooth dark head thrust forward but best of all its wings stretched to their full extension, the leading feathers like mini castellations with a hint of fluttering and the long outer feathers spread wide open, curving upwards under the wind draught like an elegant Balinese dancer's hands. 

He watched the fledgling swooping and gliding, mastering the skies until eventually it came to a bumpy, clumsy landing on a branch in its home tree. Thrilled to have seen the eagle's inaugural flight he shinned down the tree, pushed the boat into the water and against the incoming tide rowed as fast as he could to the far bank, dragged the boat onshore and puffing and panting clambered up the hill, bounding over purple heather, stumbling and falling over boulders in his rush to tell his parents.

Back in the crofter's cottage his father watched while his bird-crazy boy made adjustments to their winter's project. They had poured over yellowed pages of an old, cracked leather, Victorian naturalist book of engraved drawings of bird anatomy. Between them they had constructed a bamboo skeleton, hinged mid-section of each wing. The feathers, harvested from neighbouring farms, had been glued in place, then each one carefully tied with wire to the bamboo, row upon row of black feathers, brown feathers, striped and speckled feathers, all carefully preened and smoothed. Finally leather straps had been added at intervals down the length of both wings. Now the boy threaded more wire through the wingtip feathers, spread them a little apart and gently tip-tilted them to replicate the wings in flight as he had seen them. He looked with pride at his achievement and his father looked with love at his son.

      Early the next morning the boy climbed up to the top of the boulder strewn hill, high up to where it descended steeply into the loch. He placed the wings behind his back and awkwardly struggled his arms through the leather straps. He gently flapped his arms up and down, hearing the rasping of the feathers. Then he stood up and on the open ground he began to run. This way and that bouncing as the eagle had done, then stretching and flapping his arms, exultant, whooping with joy. He only wished he could see himself and he wondered why he had not thought to make a white tail fan. Drunk with delight, he laughed out loud, his head thrown back and he ran ever faster, then launched himself into midair, this his first flight, over the loch, the sun glinting on the gently rippling water.

Angela's story:

Megan would not have called herself a dishonest person, just simply one who was blessed with an active and creative imagination. As a child when asked, for example. what she had had for breakfast,  she felt it beholden on her to embellish the piece of toast and glass of milk into something which would capture the interest of the enquirer. So, without missing a beat, she would find herself describing fresh orange juice squeezed by her mum, soft poached eggs on muffins and a chocolate milk shake.
To her it was as natural as breathing, although she took pains only to 'embellish the truth' when there was no one present who knew otherwise and might challenge her words.

On the whole this was a harmless exercise which was rarely remarked on and if noticed was dismissed as childish prevarication.

Later, in teenage years her imagination meant that she shone in the school plays and developed a passion for amateur dramatics.
On leaving school she joined the local Amdram society in her town and soon became good friends with several of the members in her age group.

Infact, perhaps more than good friends with one boy in particular,Rob, to whom she found herself cast opposite, in a one act play. While they provided the love interest, ( much to Megan's delight) Judy, a fairly new member, was cast as the 'other woman'.
It was unfortunate that this rather mirrored real life in that Judy had very quickly made it obvious that she too had designs on Rob.
It was during a break in rehearsals that Megan started on her 'first flight of fancy' as she had always thought her embellishments to be.
Judy had been telling Rob about the flat she was in the process of buying. He was listening politely and asking the right sorts of questions.
'How funny' said Megan, joining in.
'I've just moved into a new flat.It's a bit of a dream actually, on the river, spacious, with two bedrooms and huge French windows that open onto a balcony overlooking the water'.
As she spoke she realised she was describing her Aunt's flat who was single, and with a very good job which enabled her to have a pied de terre in the country not far from Megan's parents.
Rob seemed interested and said he'd like to see it sometime at which Judy's face fell since he'd not expressed the same desire to see hers.
Megan found herself saying that would be fine and they should make a date for him to see it and perhaps stay for a bite of lunch.

As with all prevaricators, after the flight of fancy comes the reality check. For Megan, it was how to conjure a non existent flat into existence.

Sometimes though, fate plays a hand. Back at home that night she heard her mother complaining mildly to her Father about that sister of hers who lives a life of Reilly.
'Off to the States this time! A week in California and then a road trip going off the beaten track. All right for some isn't it.
Of course I don't begrudge having had a family but by gum it puts paid to a lot of other life choices doesn't it!'
Megan's father, who'd heard it all before, muttered something about contentment and wandered off to spray his roses.

Megan however was very interested in this latest trip of her Aunt's and ascertained the impending date which was infact the next day.

So, she found herself at the next rehearsal, casually inviting
Rob to come and see the flat anytime that suited him. Just give her time to tidy up. This was infact shorthand for hiding any incriminating evidence that might give the game away - and that's  how Megan thought of it - just a game.

Her mother always had a set of keys to the flat for emergencies and it was so easy just to borrow them, to let herself in and pop away some things while draping a few of her own about the place.

So it was, that a few days later, Rob was knocking on the door of Megan's aunt's  flat and Megan was answering that door looking for all the world as if she'd done it many times before.

Rob's jaw dropped a little as he walked inside.
'Gosh Meg. This is something else! Really cool. I'd no idea you had such a great pad. Have you christened it with a housewarming yet?
Somehow Megan found herself saying.
'No, but funnily enough I was thinking of asking round this week and maybe having a do at the weekend'

When she got home her mind was in overdrive. This was the most complicated flight of fancy ever! Could she possibly get away with fooling people. She may have to confess to one or two who knew her that it was borrowed and ask them to keep it quiet.

For the rest of that week the party was all she could think of, doing a massive shop for buffet type food and drink.All ready made and easy to put out with no preparation involving using her Aunt's equipment.

She treated herself to a new rather flattering and low cut dress and had her hair done after work.

She came and went from home as she pleased so being out and possibly very late was no problem.

She got to her Aunt's flat well ahead of the first guests and set everything out on the kitchen surfaces with drinks and hired glasses.

By nine o clock things were in full swing and a very appreciative Rob was spending a lot of time chatting to Megan and asking her much more about herself which Megan found a little difficult now that she was a high flyer with a fancy flat.

She was even rather wishing she had never embarked on this crazy subterfuge. Where did these flights of fancy come from and what would it lead to.
She had excused herself and gone into the kitchen on the pretext of finding more bottles but in fact to take a breather and think just what had she done.

The noise level was rising as the alcohol was going down literally and in terms of bottles. Would she need to go out and get  more she wondered. Then her musings were interrupted by a clinking of spoon on glass and her name being called.
To her horror they were wanting to congratulate her on her new abode.
She went reluctantly through to the main room where Rob had got everyone's attention and all eyes were focused on her.
To her horror,  a large wrapped parcel was being produced along with a big bouquet of flowers. She opened her mouth to protest that she did not in any way deserve this generosity and as she did so a new figure appeared in the doorway behind her.
A cold voice interrupted her protestations.
'No you're damn right you don't deserve them since this my flat and not yours and just what the hell do you think you're doing in it with all these people?'

Megan spun round to see her Aunt standing there, her face twisted in anger and still holding her suitcase along with some groceries bought on her way home.

Megan felt exactly like an animal caught in car headlights. No way to turn and run, nothing to do but stare in horror at her Aunt. What flight of fancy could she conjure now to get her out of this. In a split second several scenarios went through her mind but even she knew none were convincing.

She was forced to tell the  truth, to confront her Aunt head on and admit what had led to this. The worst part was having to do it in front of these acquaintances, some of whom she barely knew.
She was about to open her mouth when a scream came from the balcony. A girl had been smoking out there and not heard the call for quiet. Now, as they rushed to see, the girl was staring at the water and pointing.
They could see in the fading light the murky outline of a body floating face down in the water.
At once all was pandemonium. Calls for police, ambulance, men to help perhaps with retrieving the body and Megan and her Aunt forgotten in the excitement.
People rushed outside down to the river bank either to try to help or just out of curiosity.
Suddenly it was just Megan and her aunt still waiting for an explanation and largely ignoring the panic around them.

' I'm so so sorry' Megan said, with genuine tears in her eyes.
'It's not enough' her aunt replied, what you have done is totally unacceptable on any level.
'I  started off just pretending I had a nice flat to talk about and it went from there but I never expected you to come back'
'I bet you didn't! Your mum hadn't mentioned there was just an outside chance I might be called back by my work then? No, obviously not'
They were interrupted by more noise as some of the guests came back in.
' Have you not seen?' said one. '
Real drama out there. Someone dived in before the ambulance got here and dragged the guy out. Seems he was still alive  and then the paramedics did the rest.
He's on his way to the hospital now but they reckon he was saved just in time. They said if he hadn't been spotted from that balcony he'd have been a gonner. Weird eh!
Maybe not a bad thing you threw that party Megan!

Jackie's Story:

 Sylvie  paced back and forth across the waiting lounge for the fourth time.   Her flight had been delayed and there she was, stuck at  San Francisco airport.  She had been there for a few hours, and had done a fair bit of window shopping, spray tested  expensive perfumes, tested hand creams and imagined herself in ‘that’ dress or carrying ‘that’ pocketbook or wearing ‘that’ designer coat.   She was dressed in her comfies ; black sports pants a loose top and carried her flight necessities in a large bag - books phone water and notebook.    The lady back at the counter informed her that the flight could be delayed further.   Feeling jittery as always before a long air trip, she parked herself on a cosy couch at the coffee bar.  It was a busy Sunday morning and Sylvie enjoyed watching the crowd - she was particularly observant and scribbled in her notebook small details of what she considered were interesting people and noted how they wore their clothes and matched their colour schemes.
Sylvie sipped her 3rd coffee and aimlessly scanned the airport, sometimes tears in her eyes and throat choked up at the emotions the place held  - the joys of arrival, the tears of departure and the excitement of a vacation.  Amidst the crowd, an old man in a sloppy t-shirt was seen wandering around the public area.   As she watched him, he was mooching about muttering to people, shopkeepers and even to a group of airport authorities biding their time at the bar.     He appeared to be in distress and was dragging a canvas bag by its handle over the highly polished airport floor;   twisting his airline ticket or rather wringing it as you would the washing before you put it out to dry,  he appeared disorientated and in discomfort.        Sylvie was a people-person and generally went out of her way to offer help.  She finished her coffee and headed out to the counter to ask about him. “This man has been wandering around aimlessly in the airport for hours maybe days  and appears to be lost.” The desk steward  replied with unmistakable lethargy in his voice. “He has not caused any disturbance to anyone, so the airport officials cannot take any action.”
It took a few seconds for the gravity of his words to sink in: There was no attempt made to help an old man obviously lost in the airport. 
Sylvie went up to him and tried to strike up a conversation.   His eyes were forget-me-not blue,  his lips dry and voice cracked as she took his arm.   His body shook as he explained  that he was a citizen of the United States and losing his memory due to old age.    Apparently he was supposed to join his daughter and her husband in London but was so worried and nervous about boarding a plane that he had wandered around the airport not really knowing what to do.   When they announced his flight he said “I trembled so much and was so scared that I locked myself in the men’s room…I must have been there for some time as when I came out the flight had gone”.  You see, he said “I have never flown before”.  I am 78 years old and this was to be my first flight - I guess I’m being a little silly.
She offered to call his daughter and inform them about his whereabouts, but he just couldn’t remember their contact numbers.   So with a little kindness and help from google she contacted and reassured the UK family who were frantic having come to meet the plane and found Dad was missing, she found out his name was Ted, next she managed to change his ticket to her flight with a seat next to her own.   Sylvie spoke to the head stewardess when boarding the plane - told Ted’s story and was upgraded to Business class then proceeded to be served champagne, steak, caviar, lobster and the best wine on board plus a full English breakfast as they neared England.    Sylvie learned all about Ted’s life, how he had come to the USA with his family in the 50’s hoping to make money - how his wife had become ill and died and he had lived the past 20 years alone - his daughter had moved to England but as times were hard he had only just managed to scrape together the money to buy the air ticket.
 The 10 hour flight just whizzed by and Sylvie forgot her pre-flight butterflies.  The relieved faces of Ted’s daughter and son in law at Heathrow airport and the hug they gave her was thanks indeed for a memorable trip for Ted and also for herself.

 This story goes to show that by helping others we forget our own small problems. 


Monday, 13 March 2017

A story with the following words: ramshackle, bargaining, Burgundy, wall, Compostele

Eve's Story:

The Pilgrimage
I have been thinking of going on a pilgrimage to St.Jacques de Compostele it,'s spring in Burgundy and if we leave now (my companion and I), we should be back for Christmas.
This idea is so farfetched, bizarre, in a way, it seemed wond, in any case, I canerful at the time but the more I think about it,the harder the trip seems.
What to take on such a long journey,water,food,clothes and snacks must not forget the snacks, Taking the train or a car would defeat the purpose which is walking through France and Spain.  What a wonderful deed to accomplish,filling our hearts with joy,our feet with blisters,just magical!.

The people say you can get room and board for free ,in any case I can bargain but I must bring cash.Again,what to pack,what to take and cramming everything in a backpack doesn't leave room for error, plus I must have a Compostele outfit when we arrive ,my friend won't need any but will she be able to make the journey on such short,fat legs? or we might catch a ride over the mountains.  I am sure some pilgrims do it and never say a word.What an idea to walk,I mean,actually so far.  I do hope we get a medal on arrival so I can display it to my friends.  I really am worried about the trip, even though people do it all the time and live to talk about it.
Summertime is pleasant,hot;I'll need a hat plus I'll have to I'll have to carry loads of water or get a small carriage,put all our stuff in it  later leave it in someone's garage.
It's getting to be an ordeal.As I sit on the little wall at the end of my garden,looking at the lovely valley below,I decided to get a haircut before leaving,I must look good for the trip.
It is a good idea after all,I'll be thin and tan for Christmas,a plus.I have to google this pilgrimage deal and must get a map.Will all the stuff fit in the backpack,it's driving me insane .I must look decent,don't want to be taken for a bag lady or a voyager.
I must start on the project now if we are to leave in March.So many unanswered questions and I must provide for my companion who is a spoiled Princess,I am also worried about her chubby legs but I will not put up with any whining.
8 months of traveling over mountains, through rivers, meeting wildlife and our legs having no feelings in them but it is a small price to pay for such an adventure.
If we don't make it this year as time is getting short, maybe  next year would be a better idea and we will call the trip "the year of the Great Pilgrimage".

Angie's story:

'Burgundy!' they said, 'Who on earth goes  to live in Burgundy!?'
'You drink the stuff, you don't  live in it!'
It was true to some extent; the area was not that well known to British ex pats keen to have a little place in France as a 'maison secondaire', or even those, less common, wanting to uproot, go the whole hog and take on ' la vie en France' with all its unknown hazards and pitfalls.

However, holiday  cruising on the French canals, in their very own barge, Sally and Mike had found themselves on the Burgundy Canal one happy summer, when the sun shone and the wine flowed and the cheese, baguettes and croissant slipped down a treat as they reclined and lazily watched the little villages pass by in the distance each with a different church spire topping them off.
Every so often, right on the canal  towpath almost,  an 'ecluse' or lockhouse would hove into view, each one slightly different, all inhabited and in various states of repair. How romantic they thought, to be that close to water, totally free of neighbours but with a constant passing stream of sociable sailors, ready to call out a cheery word of greeting but not wanting to stop too long.

It was as they were actually voicing their thoughts out loud to each other that they drew level with a rather less romantic ecluse. It had obviously not been inhabited for many years and was ramshackle to say the least and that was just from the outside. Yet, as Sally and Mike looked at it, they both had the same strong feeling that it should be theirs. That they should be the ones to bring it back to life and restore its identity.

Yet at the same time as they thought that, they also were aware of what a crazy scheme it was. Yes, Sally was a French teacher so language was not a problem, and Mike with his woodcarving business was good with his hands but what happens easily in the land of your birth does not seamlessly translate into life in another country.

Yet, on their return to the UK the dream persisted. So much so that after not a great deal of time, their house was let and notice was given on both jobs. It was at that point the comments from friends came thick and fast..Ignoring the negative and embracing the positive they found themselves back in Burgundy, moored in a dock not too far from their little old ruin.
Negotiations with the Burgundy  Waterways  had eventually, after much bargaining resulted in a long term let for the foreseeable future.
It was the sale of the barge of course that was funding this new enterprise and providing a cushion in the wake of paid employment.
So the eventual arrival at their mini dream house was actually by road not water. They pulled up and parked on the surrounding rough ground adjacent to the tow path.
Nothing broke the silence of this idyllic spot with their beloved canal winding away into the distance through tall straight poplars and the rolling green hills all around them.
May was a beautiful month and living in a tent not such a daunting prospect with warm sun and not much rain to speak of.

No strangers to practical work, Sally and Mike got stuck in and with their frequent visits to the building and DIY shops in the small town ten minutes away,they soon became known by the assistants and local customers alike.
It was one of the latter, a builder himself of many years experience, who suggested the idea of erecting oak beams either side of a dividing wall in the kitchen to give a more rustic effect. Had that conversation never taken place, how different things might have been.
After three months of solid grind, the little ecluse had been transformed, a new door and windows, all in keeping with the original , a complete clean up and paint of all outside walls and woodwork, meant people now looked from their barges and boats with admiration and interest, many of them knew the ecluse from old. Sally had filled tubs and boxes with the ubiquitous trailing red geraniums and a rose was already climbing half way round the door.
The tent was packed away, as they now had a bedroom and kitchen which were liveable albeit not completely finished. Sally was   thinking of looking around for teaching work for when school would start again in September.

The oak beams were delivered one sunny morning in August. It took Mike, the driver and his mate to manoeuvre them off the truck and through the door into what was to be the sitting area. There they rested them vertically against the wall. They were a bit reluctant to leave Mike to deal with them alone but he assured them that he was used to working with wood and he'd take care.
Even at that point all might have been fine if only two walkers with their large Labrador had not walked past at that moment. The door was still open and Sally had been cooking a chicken casserole which she'd put on a low table by the door to cool.
The dog, lured by the enticing smell veered from the path and following his nose burst through the door.
Mike, who was just grappling with the first beam in an effort to get it exactly in place, was totally shocked by the sudden onslaught of barking muscular dog invading the silence from nowhere.
He turned to see what was happening and in doing so lost his grip on the beam which given its weight and position inevitably
fell with a huge force crashing down and bringing all in its wake including Mike.
The noise was horrendous and Sally, outside hanging washing, saw the dog shoot out of the kitchen. She flew inside with just split seconds to imagine the scene that would meet her eyes.
It was as bad as she feared, the beam now lying across the floor and Mike pinned beneath it still and quiet.
In her panic she could not think straight needing to know if Mike was alive and yet desperate to find her phone to call for help. In the event the dog owners, aware of something very wrong, had stopped and now came in behind her ready to help.
By some miracle, the woman had had nursing experience and went into first aid mode checking for signs of life in Mike and talking to him in that calm reassuring way only the professionals can. For Sally it was far worse than any nightmare she could have imagined and feeling so utterly helpless and terrified for Mike she was in a severe state of shock by the time the Pompiers arrived with extra men and equipment to release Mike with incredible care and in doing so realised that as a matter of life and death he must be helicoptered out immediately if he were to have any chance of making it.
As they worked on Mike, Sally sat shaking and trying to talk coherently to the dog owners . She wanted just to be by Mike, holding his hand, but he was surrounded by the men who were trying to save his life in urgent voices but with infinite care.

It must have been the sun, coming through the window and warming her as she sat doing her marking, that made her suddenly think back to that hideous day. It had been very warm then as Mike was taken from her, barely conscious  and
heavily sedated. The agony of not knowing when and if she would see him, time had passed in a blur.
She looked across at him now. Working at the table on his wood designs he was totally engrossed. Then, he looked up, feeling some unseen communication.
'I'll put the kettle on love shall I?' He moved the wheelchair adeptly to the sink and filled the kettle.
She thought for the thousandth time how lucky they were still to have each other, and though the Burgundy dream was not to be, life was more special to them than perhaps to others who had seen not just their dream but almost their life ripped apart in an instant.
She looked at a picture on the wall of pilgrims walking the route of Compostelle. Although heading for Spain many passed through Burgundy near to where their little ecluse had been. They were making a pilgrimage to somewhere they believed was a place of religious significance, perhaps of healing for some.
Sally felt that they too had made a pilgrimage of sorts from brokenness to healing from despair to a new, different life of disability but huge gratitude that they were still together and were already finding challenges and excitements in the simplest of things for it is those that make for real contentment and love.

Jackie's story

Once upon a time a farmer, named Jarvis, lived in the village of Saint Jacques de Compostele.  He had few acres of land. One hot afternoon, the poor farmer was digging his field. All of a sudden, his spade hit something. Then he continued his digging. “It is a big metal pot," said Jarvis.   It was big enough to boil rice for more than hundred people. “It does not seem to be of any use to me. I will dig deeper. May be I will find something else," and he continued to dig.

After he had dug for a long time, Jarvis felt tired. “It is of no use. There is nothing in this field" he thought. Then, he threw the spade into the pot in frustration and sat against a wall to take rest for a while.

After a while, when he got up to leave, he could not believe his eyes. There were one hundred spades in the pot. “This is a magical pot. I will put this potato inside the pot and see what happens," he thought. He then got 100 potatoes enough to feed the whole village.     Then Jarvis put a bottle of  wine into the pot. To his astonishment, later he found one hundred bottles of wine. Jarvis carried the pot to his home and kept it in an old ramshackle hut so that no one would become aware of it.

After that, he put many things in the pot  and each time everything became hundred folds. With that pot, he became a rich man. The King of Burgundy came to know of the pot and its whereabouts. The King was curious to know about it and he was a greedy King. “I want to find out the secret of the magical pot. If it is valuable, it should be in the King’s castle ,” the King thought. Then at once, the King ordered his men to bring the farmer and his pot.

When the magic pot was brought to the King’s chamber, he did not know what to do. The King thought, “Let me see what is there inside this pot which makes it so magical?" He peered inside.  He hadn’t bargained on it being so deep and he slipped and fell inside the pot. When he climbed out of the magic pot, he was shocked to find that there were one hundred other Kings.

All the kings then started to climb onto the throne. They fought among themselves and all died.

Jarvis who had become so rich also then became King of his land.   

Moral of the story :   don’t throw out any old pots …..


Annemarie's story:

Words, Words, Words

It is said that six degrees of separation is the idea that all living things and everything else in the world are just six steps away from each other. Well would that be the same for six random words out of more than two hundred and fifty thousand?
Well here I am in a small Spanish café perched precariously on a ramshackle chair (in my dictionary ramshackle is squeezed between ram-raid - is that why the chair is ramshackle?- and ransom, meaning wild garlic and, yes, breaths of garlic waft from the restaurant kitchen. I see that ramshackle means 'tumbledown ',’ badly constructed’. That explains why this chair creaks beneath me, no doubt bought in a sunny street market and hopefully with a good degree of bargaining on the part of the buyer. To 'bargain', nestled between 'barf' meaning to vomit (and doesn’t it sound like that?) and 'barge', a flat-bottomed freight boat. Well I hope the buyer of this bottomed-out chair haggled his way down to just a just a few Euros.
 I have idled the days down the idyllic tree-lined waterways on a picturesque barge, all the way from Burgundy to Spain. Burgundy - think of full-bodied red wine, a rich purple-brown-red colour, reminiscent of clerical colours, of chalices of communion wine. You may have had a glass or two,(but careful now, not too many, - burgundy is just before 'burial' in the dictionary!) at the convivial bar halfway up the cobbled street which winds its way to the basilica in the sky in the pilgrim's town of Vezelay. Yes, not too many glasses if you are a pilgrim as you will still need to stagger down that steep hill, following scallop shells embedded in the street pointing the way and the wearisome walk to Santiago de Compestela.
Now Compestela doesn't feature in my dictionary but if it did it would be hunkered down between 'compose meaning to restrain - you see what I meant about 'careful with the wine'? - and compete. Now I'm not sure you

would be striving with the other pilgrims to be there first but perhaps you would be contending with your own ability to walk for three months in dust, rain, burning sun or sharing your bed with fleas in the many lodgings en route.
   How worthwhile when at last you reach the walled town overlooking the green Galician hills. Wall, ( appropriately after walkathon, - a long-distance walk-) meaning to enclose or fortify. Over the centuries Compestela had need of its walls, constructed after a Viking raid in the late 10th century and again after an attack by Arabs a few decades later. Now the hordes are more likely to be scallop-bearing pilgrims finally completing the arduous pélérinage to the Baroque cathedral of SaintJames.
   I hear you ask how magical can be linked to Compestela since the Christian church condemns magic - or 'witchcraft' as defined in the dictionary - but fortunately for me it also defines magical as enchanting and wonderful.
   And so was the scene I observed as I sat on my ramshackle chair with a glass of burgundy wine in the golden evening sun. The magical, nay, enchanting sight of a tall elegant woman, albeit rather exhausted, hauling a giant skateboard upon which stood a long tubby body with four short legs which were as wrinkly as floppy suede boots; two long velvet ears dangling this way and that and two lugubrious eyes which stared in bewilderment, wondering why she had walked, or almost walked, one thousand, five hundred and ninety-five kilometres.

For Fendi, in training for her walk to Spain and who only hopes for 'downhills'

6 random words:  ramshackle, bargaining, burgundy, wall, Compestela, magical 9to be included in the story)