This story was written a few summers ago when I pulled a distant memory from my childhood to put into words.
Much of this story is true.
Uncle George, lived across the road from my childhood home. By his blue front door, you would find purple rhododendrons, in august they would be past their flowering time. What you would find would be the brown dried up flower heads, with spider webs adorning.
Uncle George as we knew him was an archaeologist and did attend and take part in may digs in the local area. His house was very much as I have written it in the story you may have just read.
He was a kind and gentle man, I think he had family but cannot ever remember who they were and recall them visiting him.
He always had a pocket full of Murray mints and if I were to eat one today, I would remember him with true affection.
The little fossil I found that August afternoon, did disappear. I am pretty certain it ended up in the collections of one of my older siblings. Who knows, not me! But my search for that elusive piece of magic goes on. When I am digging in my garden or beachcombing, my eyes will be down with Uncle George’s voice gently whispering in my ear.
Looking right and left and then right again, she crossed the road. The Green Cross Code man’s voice rang in her ears. Keep looking and listening at all times. There were no cars on her road but she practised anyway as her teachers and parents had drilled the code into her bones. It was almost part of her DNA.
Her feet felt hot in her brown open-toed sandals with the shiny buckle at the ankle. It had taken a long time to break them in and her dad had resorted to hammering them on the painted red backdoor step in an effort to stop the rub.
As she stood outside the dark blue front door, sheltered from the August sun by the old rhododendrons, her pockets weighed heavily against her legs.
She knocked on the door – a small knock at first and then a louder one as she garnered more courage from her gut. She couldn’t reach the doorbell as it was too high. Maybe in a year or two, she could. She waited, the hum of the main road faint in the distance, the sound of distant giggles as someone splashed in a paddling pool down the road. She listened and knocked again.
She knew he was on his way; she heard the soft shuffling of his carpet slippers on the parquet floor. The door opened. No door chain to keep him safe. He was always confident that whoever it was would not cause him harm.
Uncle George stood looking down at the girl, whose scuffed knees, dusty open-toed sandals and muddy shorts gave him clues as to why she was here.
‘Hello mischief, what have you got in your pockets today?’
‘Treasure’, came the reply. ‘Can you tell me the stories about my treasure please?’ said the girl.
‘Does your mum know you are here?’ enquired Uncle George. A solemn nod and a slight flicker of the eyes made him think otherwise. ‘Remember, I have always told you, you must tell your mum where you are or she will get worried. Wait here.’ And off he shuffled as she waited quietly, her shorts sagging under the weight of her treasures a little more. She could hear him dial the phone number and a murmured conversation. He was right, as always, but she had been so keen to share her treasures rather than have her sisters steal them from under her nose.
‘Righto, your mum wants you home in fifteen minutes – come on in.’
His home always had a strange smell – the smell of old books, tobacco and dust. The books were piled up along the corridor into the front room. They took up every little bit of space on the tables and chairs. The books jostled for space with rocks, thousands of them, plus some old clay pipes, medals, rusty bits of metal and more.
Uncle George was an archaeologist and had taken part in hundreds of digs around the town, unearthing Roman and Saxon sites as well as more ancient Briton settlements.
He settled in a chair by the window. ‘Come on, let’s see the treasures.’
She pulled out a pile of pebbles from her pockets and scattered them on the table in a heap. She had spent the afternoon digging them up from her garden. She had given them a cursory wash in the old blue gardening bucket. They had glittered and shimmered whilst they were in the water. Now they looked a little drabber and a lot less exciting.
Uncle George put his special eyeglass to his eye and peered at the first one. ‘Mmmm, this one looks like a piece of quartz and this looks like granite.’ And so it went on with each pebble. He brought the magic back to the pile of stones. As he talked she noticed that he kept pushing one particular stone to the side of the pile. At last, he picked it up.
‘Now this one is a little bit special.’
Oh, how she had yearned to hear that phrase.
He turned it over and over in his fingers. She could see the yellow tobacco stains from his pipes colouring his nails and knuckles. ‘This I believe is a bit of a stone-age flint. You can almost see the indentations from someone’s fingers. They would have held it like this to strike it to get a spark. Shall we try it out?’
Her heart was in her mouth; she could hardly get the word out. ‘Yes.’
He got up from the window seat, taking the stone in his hand, and moved towards his high leather-backed chair by the fire. In front was a little kidney-shaped table with a heavy ashtray which had his pipe resting on the edge. Next to the ashtray was a really old box of matches with Swan Vesta on the side. There was another pile of books which he picked up and put on the floor. From inside the Swan Vesta box, Uncle George pulled out a pack of cigarette papers, just like the ones her dad used to do his rollups.
‘Right, you scrunch those up and make a little pile of paper in the ashtray.’ He then pulled out another stone from his pocket that was similar to hers but with some glittery sparkles on it.
‘This is called iron pyrite,’ Uncle George explained. ‘You often find iron pyrite near flint – the ancient Britons knew that if these stones were struck against each other they would get a spark. If I strike this one against yours, we should be able to light the papers. It might take a bit of time, but with patience we’ll get there.’
Holding her breath, she watched the old man striking one stone against the other, feeling almost as if time had slowed down.
Then something truly wonderful happened – as the spark jumped from the flint and became a flame, she felt the weight of history flashing into the room. It was as if she had travelled through time back to when the forests had spread out all over the land. She felt the presence of that ancient Briton as she had struck the flint back then to create warmth – warmth to cook some meat, warm her toes or simply to keep her family safe. That same warmth she saw now in Uncle George’s eyes. He watched her face too and he could see how this moment in time had linked them both to the past as well as to the future.
‘Keep this safe on your way home,’ he said, handing the stone back to her. ‘Now I think I have a Murray mint or two for you. Make sure you use the Green Cross Code when you cross the road. Now off home with you.’
I’ve been playing around with the life of a toy, this is the start of a short story about Silly Sam, Cat and Dragon. Would love to know what you think?
Silly Sam shook her head, once then twice. The overwhelming scent of lavender had kept her half asleep for about 3 months. She had been standing in a cloth bag surrounded by lavender. A smell she loved and was beginning to loathe.
She sat on top of her bookcase looking around the room. She approved of the green on the walls, it took her back to the wonderful trees in the ground of Kenilworth which she had admired for so long. As she sat on her perch, she spied Cat and Dragon opposite, peeking out of the bookshelves.
‘Psst, are you awake?’ she whispered, ‘what’s the view like from that side of the room?’
‘Nice,’ purred Cat. ‘I have a bird’s eye view of the floor, so I can spot any pesky spiders who dare to dash out.’
‘I like the view too,’ said Dragon, ‘but I am a little afraid of the height of this shelf. What if I drop and fall and bash my wings?’
‘Oh piffle,’ replied Cat. ‘You are such a ninny! Your wings are meant to be unfurled and to fly on the breeze. Think more Cat. We have nine lives you know, able to jump over any obstacle and at any height.’
Cat prepared herself to launch into the air. ‘Be careful Cat,’ warned Silly Sam, ‘It is quite high.’
I cut out and kept this list of questions written by Matt Haig in January 2016.
I came across this today and thought that they were a useful prompt for me as I develop my new writing habit.
How many times have I checked my phone today when I didn’t need to? Too many times. This phone is going out of my study tomorrow.
Have I learned something new today? Yes, my lovely boy showed me a wonderful video all about Casper David Friedrich. A 19th -century German Romantic landscape painter.
Have I helped someone? Yes, I took my sister to work today which saved her a trip on the train.
Have I eaten something that’s given me pleasure? Absolutely, I ate a piece of Love cake, which melted in my mouth, with memories of making it for my mum.
Am I getting the right amount of sleep and if not, is it affecting my mood? I woke early today sadly with a nightmare. Hoping to have better dreams tonight.
Have I spent longer facing a screen than outdoors with my loved ones? I have been outdoors quite a bit today, visiting a friend and walking the dog. I have spent time in front of a screen but with my family whilst watching a favourite family programme.
How much time have I spent procrastinating or doing pointless work, and how can I avoid doing it tomorrow? I did the piece of work I set out to do today. But it did take me a lot longer than necessary. Tomorrow, my forest app will be put into action. Maybe I can plant a tree or two?
As I walked, I had to step around the bodies. Standing still, faces bathed in a golden glow. Cameras out pointing to the sky. I glanced up, the clouds high, puffy and white against a deep blue sky. That blue sky that I love so much accompanied me on my journey.
I walked on a little further, crossing the busy junction continuing to dodge the statue bodies all looking up. Men, women, teenagers, workers and shoppers on one of the busiest junctions in London at Oxford Street yesterday the 6th October late afternoon.
As I crossed the road I stopped in the middle and turned and looked to my right.
I too was then transfixed by the wonder in the sky. My fellow humans had been sending me messages that I for a short time had ignored. ‘Sam, stop, pause and lookup.’
They were drawn to the energy from the evening sun as it lit like a beacon, low in the sky. We were all taking part in a collective moment of awe and wonder. The sunlight lit the busyness of the street, bouncing off the tops of buses and the bonnets of the cars and taxis. Each person knew that this was something special.
As I took in the view, felt the sun on my face, I too pulled out my camera to capture the glory of that moment. Then put away my phone and stood #savouring the moment.
Drinking it in, I could feel the sunshine warming my bones, topping up my energy. I had a moment when I wanted to talk to someone near me, but not wanting to break into the reverie they were experiencing, I stood still and shared the joy that they were feeling. There was a palpable sense of joy all around me.
As I crossed over and continued on my way, there was a lightness in my step and a smile on my face and the faces of others who had savoured the beauty that evening.
This moment fitted so beautifully into my week as on Tuesday I had led my late summer/early autumn masterclass which was all about savouring. The power of savouring that I experienced yesterday was pretty special.
So join me and use this hashtag and share moments of #savouring this autumn. I would love to share those moments with you.
I am interested in finding out how you are savouring life right now.
I joined a wonderful Kitchen table creative writing group last week. We had 3 prompts and had to write to a time limit of about 12 minutes.
This first piece was prompted by a recording of a leaf blower. I enjoyed writing this. I promise I am not a noisy neighbour!
“ Pete, this is it! You have used that leaf blower so many times this week. There cannot possibly be any leaves left in your garden to blow!
What is it with the blower, can’t you use a rake or a brush?
Yesterday, my book club friends came around and we had just fired up the BBQ and you started.
The day before we were all trying to enjoy the paddling pool and the waterslide and you started.
Sunday, when we were having a late night drinks party to watch the perseid meteor shower you started.
What exactly is going on?” screamed Sam over the hedge.
“Don’t stop there Sam, what about Saturday, when you had a mini sports day in your garden to celebrate the Olympics?
Or Friday when your teens had their very own rave till 3a.m.
Or maybe last Monday when your whole extended family came out to celebrate ‘freedom day’. There’s plenty more I could go on.” retorted Pete.
“What the heck”, Sam replied. “Are you trying to tell me that I make too much noise, that I’m the one who is at fault? That my social engagements are too much for you?” shouted Sam who had turned a lovely shade of puce.
“Yes, they are,” replied Pete.
And just too bloody noisy!”
That was it, Sam turned on her heel and stomped indoors. Her blood boiled just a little bit more as Pete switched on his leaf blower.
12 minutes, written on the prompt of anger and to the noise of a leaf blower.