A collection of award winning Short Stories by the editor, Kenneth Seymour, and by others. Your Short Story is very welcome. Please write to us at: Britmail@aol.com subject: 'Short Story.'
(Award winning essay: Selective Writers Guild/Short Essay Award. September 2005)
by Kenneth Seymour.
Seeing that title you're already thinking about that bully of the playground, or at the club, or at work, or as part of a group you belong to where he or she takes a seemingly great pleasure in making you feel totally useless, weak, and humiliated. The kind of person who can destroy your confidence, your self-esteem, and even take away your dignity. There are plenty of them around. They're loud, usually dull-eyed, monotone, vulgar, and seem to enjoy making others blush and feel embarrased. That's the visual bully. But there's another kind you can't see.
This other bully is unseen, very much felt, but unseen. He comes into your life usually when you have raised your spirits to a happy level and you feel all is going well. Or he can step in suddenly as the plans you have laboured on and built with such care begin to take shape. He can take your life, your hopes, your dreams, your plans, your loved ones, and slap them around as if they were a wet towel he was slapping around on a rock to dry. He - is the real bully. We know him as fate, bad luck, sods law, Murphy's law, the doomster, the hole in the road, the bogeyman, and 'old Nick.'
He's real. He could be looking over your shoulder as you read this, getting worked up himself to throw another spoke in your wheel of life. He has made some very noteworthy marks on life, such as the Titanic, Scott of the Antarctic, and, Burke & Wills. But mostly he works only the unknown individual, the ones who trust to life, who trust to faith, and who trust that being good will see us through. He watched a child run over by a curb speeding car as it took the child off the crosswalk in front of her mother. He watched as a father lost his grip on the hand of his young son as he hung out of a window in a burning building. He watched as the new immigrant saw his job, his mother, his pride, and his dreams lost to simple trust. He prods you and watches you as your heart breaks.
His exploits are uncountable, but be sure, he is in our midst. To know he's here is the first step to understanding life. Be prepared for that truthful saying 'whatever can go wrong will go wrong.' Never say never. Never trust all the way. Never give everything you have - that's an invite to him. Never be so naive to think I'm writing a lot of nonsense, for to be sure, within days or weeks some seemingly simple thing may go seriously wrong in your life. The 'Bully' is among us. More so lately, as his web of his catastrophe spreads throughout all our lives. Yet you never really know him. Now you do. You can't beat him, but now he can't surprise you anymore.
'Gallery Of Life'
(Award winning essay: St.George Literary Internet Award 2005)
by Kenneth Seymour.
I often think of my past life as I would a gallery. A place where I hang the pictures of my life that will remind me of all the wonderful things I've seen and been part of. I don't have a problem with nostalgia. I like to look back and relive in my mind and in my heart those great and unforgettable events that have made me the person I am. My gallery is huge. It has seven floors, and each floor has several rooms, each room filled with pictures of my life. Can I give you a guided tour and explain how many of these pictures came about? Mind the stairs, there is no elevator.
The top floor has the pictures of my early life, those innocent days when life was pure, and new, and full of excitement. That one there is of Bournemouth seafront, on a bright summers day, during the war years. I can smell the sea when I look at it. And over there is the one of Owlesbury farm in Hampshire, where I was evacuated to when I was five, and where I stayed with three other boys and Mrs. Pritchard and her sons. She was a kind lady. There's old Blackie the farm horse. He was huge. This picture over here is of Iron Pond, near Chandlers Ford, the village where I lived at the end of the war. We used to fish here, watch the moorhens, and on quiet, hot summer days you could hear the trains pass by on the other side of the fields. They were grand and golden days.
Let's go down a floor and visit the pictures of my teenage years. See this one of the sea and the flying fish. We were on our way to Jamaica. What a paradise that was. In this picture over here is the camp, Up Park Camp, where all the families lived. That's our house, and that's a mango tree, and two lime trees. We'd sit on the verandah at night and listen to the crickets and watch the fireflies. There are many more pictures of my life in Jamaica, but we must move on. Here I am in the army, as a band boy, trying to become a musician. I think I looked good in uniform, don't you! But, as with all the plans of mice and men, not everything works out the way you want it to. That's me working on Dover Marine after I left the army. I love harbours, and the cry of seagulls.
Hope I'm not boring you. Let's go down another floor to the gallery that shows my years as a single man in London in the 1960's, and then when I married, and when we had our first child Susan. That's our flat, on the second floor, at 3 Coningham Road, Shepherds Bush. I lived there six years. Kind of old London isn't it? There's Susan on my lap. She's just two years old. I love this one of me in the company car. It's a brand new Ford Cortina. We had many weekend trips in that. That's us on a trip to Edinburgh, and that's a tin of bacon sandwiches we ate with such pleasure. I'll never forget that weekend.
I'd like to bypass the next few floors if you don't mind. They're about my life in Canada in the years from 1967 to 1984, which were not my happiest. We had emigrated with a job offer from the company I worked for in London, but things all went wrong, and my mother died after three months, and after that we never settled. Yes, there were good times, although few and far between, and I do keep a few faded water colours of that long sad era. The only great moment was when my daughter Sarah was born in 1968. There she is, with her mother Mary. Let's move down to the present time.
Ah, the ground floor, where there are lots of pictures from 1984 upto the present, 2005. A new beginning, in a new marraige, after Mary had left to join the exciting life she saw for herself in Canada. See this picture, it's with my dogs Spikey and Bridie. I love dogs. You'll see more pictures of all my other dogs here. Oh dear, did I catch you yawning. I'm sorry. Why don't you come back another time and I can show you more pictures. There are so many of my life. I come here every time I need to remind myself how good life has been, and how lucky I am. Bye. See you soon I hope.
'OTHER PEOPLE'S HOUSES'
(Award Winning Essay - St.George Literary Internet Award 2004)
By Kenneth Seymour.
One evening, after the last glow of sunlight had left the sky, and a patch of blue hung on the horizon as if refusing to leave, I stood waiting for a bus. The houses along the street began turning on their lights. Bay windows, covered in delicate lace curtains suddenly poured out a golden glow that fell like an evening mist on the few remaining roses of summer. Street lights pierced the darkening sky like small moons, each one aglow and casting a veil of light like a Chinaman's hat. Darkness crowded in. A chill wind blew about my feet, and upon my face, making my eyes water a little. And all along the street house lights, of different colours and hues lit a pathway along which I hoped my bus would soon arrive.
Then as I stood there, leaning on the edge of the bus shelter and looking at the houses all lit up in the darkening surroundings, it came to me that each house is about a family. Each family has more family somewhere else. And everyone has a long story to tell about life - their life, and their families. If only we knew all these stories, and if only we had the time to hear about their lives, and their loves, their achievements, and their losses. It reminded me that I, in my little world that I've always thought of as being so unique, is nothing but another story, on another street, in another town, in another country. How would my story stack up to any of theirs I wondered. The same? More exciting? More saddening? More ordinary? And how would I ever know.
The night sky was now a deep inky black, pin-pricked here and there with little stars that twinkled like tiny diamonds laid on a black felt background. A few clouds scudded across the night sky, and a wind, much colder, caused me to pull up the collar of my coat and sink my hands deep into my pockets. Where is that bus I thought. A man walked by with his old Golden Retriever on a lead. He glanced up, half smiled, and walked on. I heard a door slam. A rider came by on a bicycle, his lamp throwing an arc of light along the road. Then silence. Except for the wind, blowing a few leaves along the gutter and across the path. Then I heard the rumble of a large diesel bus, and down the road came a tall, oblong, two storey vehicle, blazing in welcoming lights. I hopped on board and the conductor rang the bell twice. I flopped into a seat just inside, as the engine roared into a higher gear and we gradually moved away. I looked back down the street as we rumbled along into the dark of the countryside. All those people. All those homes. All those stories. All, in other people's houses.
SEPTEMBER 26th 1985
Spikey & Bridie
A Story Of My Dogs In Quarantine: Britain 1985
by Kenneth Seymour
Kenneth James Seymour.
In March of 1985 I departed from Canada after spending 18 years there as an immigrant, and flew back home to Britain, literally on a wing and a prayer. Nowhere to go, no real plans, but a sum of saved money and a few loose plans. In that time in Canada I achieved many material things, such as a home, and cars, and a good job, but it cost me many dear and personal things that can never be replaced. Before deciding to return home to England I decided to sell everything and return with nothing more than what I arrived with in Canada, back in 1967, other than my accumulated wealth. There were however two very special exceptions. My dogs. I had a female cocker spaniel named 'Bridie', aged about ten, and one of her male puppies, then just over a year old, named 'Spikey'. Leaving them in Canada was out of the question. And I knew taking them back home meant quarantine, for six long months. So I inquired, arranged, and sent them ahead of me by about a week to a large kennels in West Sussex. I took them to the hanger at Vancouver airport, each in their own travelling kennel, and tickled their chins with a 'sad goodbye', and, 'see you in a week'.
On the exact day I arrived in Canada 18 years before, March 31st (1967) I left Vancouver, on March 31st, (1985) and arrived at Heathrow late afternoon to a shiny, wet, on and off London drizzle. Outside the airport I picked up my pre-arranged rental car and for the first time in many years I drove cautiously on the left side of the street. Soon we were on the motorway heading south (I was with my campanion whom I later married) then off onto the side-roads and country lanes of Sussex as we sought out a B & B. First stop was the low ceiling, age old pub in Rusper called 'The Plough' (huge fire roaring away in the fireplace), but they had no vacancies. An hour later we had secured a hotel room in old Crawley and were flopped out asleep by 10 pm - our Vancouver jet-lag time reading 6 am the next day. Our plan was to visit the kennels in Aldbourne, on the A 23, next morning to see if we could just say 'hi' to Bridie & Spikey. We had been told that the rules (why all those pointless rules?) only allow visits twice a week, being wednesday 2 to 4 pm and saturday 2 to 4 pm. The next day was neither.
Very early the next morning we were at the kennels anyway begging a look at our dogs. There they were in a concrete-floored wire cage no more than 5 feet wide by 8 feet long, with the upper part of the wire cage being a hole in the wall leading into a tight sleeping area. They were at least both together, and they went wild when they saw us, giving us uncountable licks and pushes and lip-raising smiles the way dogs do. But alas we were given only five minutes and we left them before they'd even settled down from their excitement. Paying a further £200 (per month - even in 1985) for them both (£100 month each) plus airport pickup fees, vets fees, etc., we were now much lonelier and very much sadder, as we were told there would be no 'outings' or even grass for them to walk on. And our next visit was days away.
Our concern now was to find a semi-permanent B & B, which we did along the seafront at Lancing, a small town between Worthing and Brighton. Our view was magnificent, looking out across a sometimes choppy English Channel and a sometimes still one with swells rising like huge, soft, dark blue hills. To open the old wood window in our room in the mornings was to get a rush of sea air that was a true wake-up call. We stayed there a month then moved into a self-catering B & B for the next two months. There was no hurry to find work, as a big part of my journey home was to renew myself with my old haunts and my old pleasures long lost in the years in Canada. We bought an old banger, a Hillman Hunter for £395 and off we went, to London, to Kent, to Hampshire, to Devon & Somerset, always making sure we were back for the wednesday and saturday visits. Lancing is only a 30 minute drive to the kennels.
A routine veterinary inspection of our dogs revealed that Bridie had a small amount of cancer building up on her lower tummy. The vet removed that area of her lower tummy and, apart from being put into a private kennel away from Spike for two weeks (she wore a neck cone) the cancer was cured. We visited her with her cone on and away from Spike and she looked so sad. After one visit during that time we drove away with tears running down our cheeks. Soon she was back with Spike and they both relished once again being in each others company. I only ever missed one visit out of the 52 scheduled, and that was when my partner returned from a trip to Canada to visit her children there. The plane landed on a wednesday at precisely 2 pm!
The Spring became summer and our visits were always on time. The kennel maid who looked after them both said they'd move to the end of the cage and rest their twitching noses on the concrete floor, sniffing the air for our scent whenever wednesdays and saturdays came around. They knew our walk. They began jumping up and down as soon we arrived and knowing we had to pass the end of the cage to go into the passage way that let us in through their back entrance. We always went inside with them and sat the full hour on the concrete, playing, reassuring, settling them down, and of course bringing them snacks. When we left we passed the outside end of the cage and their tails would drop and they'd know we were off again and it would be several days and nights before we saw them again.
We met other people there, a retired couple from Canada who were English and had returned to England to live. They had a small dog who over the six months began to lose her coat and not eat. The six months ended just in time, a short week or two before the dog would have died. Many other dogs and cats never got visits, their owners living too far away and some with the hard hearted belief that if you just left them without constant visits they'd be better for it as well as oneself. We didn't subscribe to that at all. Visits are needed, and yes they tug at everyones heart-strings, but love is better than anything else. Very rarely, we were told by the staff there, an animal would not be paid for beyond a month or two and never claimed. These animals were put down as the kennels said they can't keep them and care for them over that long a period. If you go home and are looking for a cat or a dog that got halfway to freedom go visit them, and save a life. We passed many unvisited, forlorn looking dogs on our visits and I'd make a gesture or two to say we cared in our small way. A big old black lab always sat at the top of his cage, head raised, wondering in his mind if anyone cared. We did. I like to think he took some notice of our friendly gestures.
Towards the end of the six months in the August Bridie began showing less interest in our visits. She'd only give us a moments attention then sit off in a corner of the cage. When we left and went round in front of the cage she'd be gone, back into the inside sleeping area, never saying goodbye as she did before. In her dear little way she'd given up hope. She began to eat less food. Spike took to licking her all the time. The kennel maid was worried, as we were. This was the time I got very upset with the system and fired off a few letters about the needless length of the quarantine. There is absolutely no question that if properly vaccinated and monitored by a vet a mere one, or at the most, a two month quarantine is all that is necessary. We just prayed she'd not give up completely and counted the days to their release.
September 25th was a wednesday and we made our usual visit. We told the dogs that tomorrow morning, at 8 am, we'd be there to take them home. As if they could understand that, but we held their heads, their nose to our nose, and said "just one more lousy God-forsaken night". Bridie lingered at the cage bottom as we left. They 'sensed' something for sure. Needless to say that night couldn't go quick enough for us and the next morning, September 26th 1985, dawned bright and early for us with a cold mist coming in off the sea. We got ourselves into the Hillman and sporting two new leads we were parked outside the kennels at Aldbourne at 7.30 am. Half hour to go. We heard dogs barking as they usually do from behind the big perimeter fence. The clock ticked slowly. Then at five to eight our kennel maid came out to the front to make sure we were there as we said we'd be, waved, and said those magic words, "I'll bring them out now". We gave her the new leads and stood by the door. Out they came, pulling on the leads, jumping up and and down and going crazy! Into the car they jumped without much coaxing and we drove off with both of them standing on the back seats, licking our necks and ears and making all kinds of happy noises.
We had a place all planned for their first run. It was a wide field with a wood on the right through which a pathway led out into another field. This would give them a full run and the woods to poke around in. We parked the car by a five bar gate, opened it, and then the back car door, and away they went, full tilt, their legs feeling the wet soggy grass and earth for the first time in six months. It was still early and pockets of mist hung in corners of the field and by the woods. They ran in them, through them, and around them with every now and then a yelp given in our direction as if to say, "come on you two". We took them back to the bed and board we were living in where our kind landlady had already approved their arrival. It was noon and the sun had made a full spectacular appearance and there was nothing for it but to take them up on The Downs, where dogs are always welcome to run free. And they did, the soft autumn winds sweeping up in gentle gusts blowing their fur and bringing them back to life, their concrete and wire cage all forgotten. Later that evening, as the sun began to descend into the distant horizon above the English channel I took them both to the beach, and we ran, and we played, and they chased sticks, and they got their feet wet as I did. We stopped, all of us panting, and a huge golden sun melted into the sea and fell seemingly off the edge of the earth.
That night I hardly slept. Bridie close to my side of the bed and Spike up on it by my feet. I'd wake, every hour or so and reach down and touch Bridie who would return my touch with a soft warm lick. Spike would move, look up to me, his ears drop, and I'd reach down and rub his nose. We were all together again on one of the most marvellous days of my life. September 26th is an anniversary, of freedom, of love, of being alive, and loving all the good things life can bring. They're both gone now, and as I write this Spike's picture is on the wall to my left, one taken inside the cage. Bridie's picture is slightly behind me, one taken in her older years. They're part of me. Part of my trip through life. Part of my good times. Part of my real life. And I still love them both.
The Blackbirds Of Ealing Common Station
Before you had this website I read in your magazine about the 'Blackbirds' at Ealing Common Station, London, and how family after family had settled in the nearby trees and sung their wonderful song each evening at sunset since the middle 1960's. I was there in late August and went down onto the platform just before sunset. I waited nearly half an hour and the sky had turned from grey-blue to dark red and I thought I'd be unlucky and not hear them. Many tube trains came and went and in one quiet, lull between trains I heard this throaty, almost yodel-type song being sung by a blackbird. His or her voice was very clear, very deep, and echoed around the station. Another train arrived and after it left there was silence, and darkness. I only heard the blackbird sing for a short moment or two, but I did hear it. It was wonderful.
Kathleen Wright, Wilmington, Deleware, U.S.A. September 2002.
A TRIBUTE TO BRITAIN
Bill Bryson, the American writer of such bestsellers as 'Notes From A Small Island', and 'A Walk In The Woods', considers himself a very happy anglophile. He lived for ten years in Yorkshire and worked as a journalist for 'The Times,' and still frequents his favourite places in England every year. The following is what he had to say some years ago in the U.S. 'Travel & Leisure' magazine.
"We British possess one quality on which we actively pride ourselves, our sense of humour. No other nation holds wit in such high regard. As John Cleese once said, "An Englishman would rather be told he is a bad lover than that he has no sense of humour.
Every nation is ridiculous in one way or another, but only the British could make a virtue of it. Only we could give our towns names like 'Great Snoring' or 'Middle Wallop', drink at pubs called the 'Crab and Gumboil' and eat dishes called 'toad-in-the-hole' and 'bubble and squeak.' Only we could compel our most senior parliamentarian to sit on something called the 'Woolsack', require judges and lawyers to wear mops on their heads, call 'private' schools 'public' schools, and devote three days to a single match of cricket, a game that has positions with names like 'short leg' and 'silly mid on.'
Britain may have lost an empire. It may stumble from one financial crisis to another. It may have the worlds most despressing weather. It may have fast food which is neither of those things. But as long as it retains its humour, its patience, its politeness and its sense of the ridiculous, as long as there is 'bubble and squeak' for dinner and someone, somewhere, is playing 'silly mid on' with a straight face - it will remain home to me."
THE WINGS OF THE GREAT SPIRIT
If you ever find the feather of a bird, remember it is a feather from the wings of The Great Spirit. You were meant to find it. You must keep the feather. It is a great sign that The Great Spirit knows of your journey through life, and he is helping you make that journey by shedding his own feathers so that you may make your way through life with good fortune and a safe journey. They are HIS feathers, from HIS great wings. If you find many feathers, then your life is even more blessed by The Great Spirit. Remember, you must find The Great Spirits feathers, not be given them. HE places them in your path through life. They come directly from HIM.
THE WHISPERING SEA.
A true Sussex Legend passed on from Olden Days.
In the southern heart of England there is an area of rolling green hills, called 'The Downs'. They rise and fall, like a soft green cloud, and in days long past there dwelt upon these hills groups of families, housed in small encircled villages, surrounded by moats. The hills faced south, and overlooked the sea. And on still evenings when the smoke from the fires would curl upwards into the darkening sky, a man named Betheken would sit upon a crest and look out to the sea. He could be found sitting on this crest most evenings, and when asked what brought him there he would say, "I can hear the sea whispering to me". He would chant a soft, gentle song to himself, and he would listen. To the wind, to the cries of sea birds, and to the whisperings from the sea.
"What does the sea whisper?", they would ask him. And he would never reply. But smile. A knowing soft smile. A smile of peace. The people that dwelt upon these hills knew Betheken had different ways, yet they trusted him. He would say to them that the sea 'tells' him things. The sea he said was their causeway to the promised land, to the place of the War Lords, the way of Kings. But he never told them what the sea revealed. Only that the sea spoke to him. When there were times of trial and pestilence he would leave the hills and make his way to the shore. Here he would offer cries to the Gods and would ask the sea to calm the way. And the sea would whisper, and Betheken would return, and all would be well.
As Betheken grew into old age many younger men sought to take his crown. He had no strength left for fighting, telling them that the way through life is not upon mans shoulders alone. They must 'hear' a voice. They must have guidance. 'Show us the way' they would ask but Betheken was not a teacher. One has to 'hear' the sea whisper he would say. One has to believe. Then one will know when it calls, and what it says. It is in the heart.
It came to pass that Betheken passed away and the crown fell upon the shoulders of a young man named Tomias. Now Tomias knew nothing of the sea, and the village soon fell to the invaders, and the people perished. But they say that on the night of the full moon you can find Betheken, sitting on the crest, singing a soft, gentle song, and listening ........ to "the whispering sea".
Kennth James Seymour.