Natural Choreography

My trip to the nature reserve at Minsmere which I wrote about yesterday I now realise was curtailed too early. I had wondered why so many people were arriving at the RSPB reserve so late in the day. The clear evening skies were the perfect backdrop to see the glorious balletic murmurations of thousands of starlings above the reed beds.

murmuration

[Photo: woodlandtrust.org]

It is estimated that there are tens of thousands of starlings in these groups as they perform these enigmatic shows.

 

Feather pillows in the sky

Sink and sway and undulate

Display of beauty to the eye

Swoop and gracefully gyrate

What instinct produces such a skill

That gives we onlookers such a thrill?

Shortie No. 2 – A Star is Forlorn

I think I cope quite well with technology, although with my advancing years there are vast areas that leave me quite perplexed and intimidated. The subject of this short story is an elderly former star of the silver screen whose foray into writing her memoirs is not that straightforward.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

A Star is Forlorn

Sandy watched the glowing television screen and topped up her glass of vodka. The movie was Meet Me at Sunrise (1967) and starred Tony Belmondo and Sandra Simmons, ‘a talented newcomer to Reeltime Studios’. Those were the good times, she thought. These were the down times.  She took a large gulp of her vodka and nearly choked as her phone made its presence felt.

  ‘Hello, Sandy Simmons,’ she said.

  ‘Hi, Sandy, it’s Don.’

  ‘Of course it is. Nobody else calls me these days. What opportunities have you got for me this time? Celebrities Making Fools of Themselves, or Golden Oldies Go Snowboarding; Has-Beens on Ice? How long have you been my agent, Don? Can’t you get me on one of those programmes where I go around the world checking out different restaurants or something?’

 ‘With your diet and delicate constitution, Sandy, I would fear for the consequences.  But I ran into Archie Cousins today and he gave me a great idea. A memoir.’

  ‘A memoir?’

  ‘They’re all doing it now.  Telling it like it was in the good old days, or should that be the bad old days? The story of your life on the silver screen.’

  ‘You make it sound like I died. I can still act, you know?’

  ‘Sure you can, but it’s all action movies now. Like watching a comic strip. No quality. Junk.  You’re better than that. Have you given any thought to the stage?  Lots of your contemporaries are treading the boards these days, doing the classics.’

  ‘My memory is shot for scripts, as you well know.’  She looked at the glass of vodka in her hand and slowly placed it on the table. ‘OK, tell me your idea for this memoir.’

  ‘Right. Well, Archie Cousins says he knows this great ghost writer who-.’

  ‘Hang on. A ghost writer?  Look, Don, if I’m writing a memoir it’ll be my memory, ok.  Not some hack who can’t write his own novel.’

  ‘Right, well that’s great. If you reckon you can do it, I’ll fix up a publishing deal right away.’

  ‘Of course I can do it.  All I need is a computer.’

  ‘You don’t have a computer?’ Don sounded as if Sandy had just agreed to go on the next moonshot.’

  ‘I got a cell phone, don’t I? That’s done me fine up to now. But if I’m going to write, you can forget pen and paper with the way my arthritis has crippled me now.’

  ‘Sure, sure. I’ll get you top of the range. I’ll come and set it up for you.’   Within a week Don had bought an expensive laptop for Sandy.  ‘This has got all the latest applications and programmes,’ he enthused, ‘but you probably only want it for writing, yeah?’

  ‘Absolutely.’

  ‘A word of warning. If you go on the internet, be careful of some websites that seem genuine but they could have viruses.’

  ‘Like this COVID-19?’

  ‘Not the same, Sandy. Just steer clear, eh, and stick to writing about all those people you loved working with, ha, ha? Oh, and especially the ones you didn’t like.’

  After Don had left, Sandy spent what seemed an age staring at the blank sheet on the blank screen, her mind awash with memories of her career.  But she couldn’t get them into any clear order.  ‘Begin at the beginning’ she told herself and she tentatively typed: 1967 – Sunrise. Pleased with the title of her opening chapter, she took a sip of vodka and continued. She typed fluently, those skills returning from the time she had worked in a downtown office before being ‘discovered’. Her arthritic finger joints twinged, but she reckoned the vodka would ease that pain, and the pain of some of the memories she was yet to record.

  Sandy typed steadily throughout the day, finding the process quite therapeutic and very liberating.  She was aware that hours had passed and she had not yet eaten and made her way into the kitchen to put something together. It was at moments like this that she wished she had not been hasty in firing her housekeeper, Dolores, but that was another story.  Her phone rang and it was Don again. ‘How’s it going, Sandy?’

  ‘Pretty good. I’ve been typing all day. I only just took a break for a bite to eat.  It’s amazing.  My life…coming to life,’ and she laughed

  ‘Wow, that’s great.  That could be the title of your book: Coming to Life!

  ‘Now you do make it sound like I died.’

  ‘So, how much have you written?’

  ‘Oh, I don’t know. A lot.’

  ‘It’ll tell you down the bottom left of your screen – how many words and pages.’

  ‘Oh, right. I’ll go and see. Hang on.’  Sandy flicked on the light and her life collapsed. The computer screen was completely blank. She let out a scream.

  ‘Sandy, Sandy? Are you OK?’

  ‘Oh, Don. It’s all disappeared from the screen. It looks like the computer has died,’ she sobbed.

  ‘No, no. It’s probably just gone into sleep mode, because you’ve been away from it for a while.  It’ll be fine. AutoSave will have taken care of things.  Probably a good idea to get an external hard drive backup and maybe a flash drive as well.’

  Sandy had never been good with technology, and if this was how things were going to be for producing her memoir… She took a large gulp of vodka.

  ‘Don,’ she said, ‘what was the name of that ghost-writer?’

© Wally Smith 2023

Shorties

Some time ago I posted a series of short stories. The aim was not so much to display any writing on my part but to act as an impetus for me to get on with more substantial pieces with a view to making submissions, a process for which I am decidedly unproductive. Hopefully, these short stories (or Shorties) will give me some energy as we drag on through these last weeks of winter.

This story, based on true events, was inspired by and written during the pandemic lockdown. It is about the village of Eyam (pronounced ‘eem’) during the great plague.

A Grave Undertaking

John Berryman was an anxious and irritated man as he walked back and forth across the stone floor of the kitchen, much to his wife’s annoyance.

  ‘I do wish you would sit down, John. The clack-clacking of your shoes is making my head ache.’

  ‘It’s all William Taylor’s fault.’

  ‘We don’t know that for sure.’

  ‘Oh, I think we all know. It was after that trip to London.’

  ‘You mean the one which you were waiting on with your special delivery of silk?’

  ‘Agnes, you make it sound as though I was partly responsible!’

  ‘William Taylor is a tradesman just like yourself, and has to make a living for his family.  Let’s face it, you’re not exactly short of ‘customers’ at the moment.’

  ‘But I am short of timber and other essentials which we don’t have available in this village. And work is literally piling up.’

  ‘Jack Dowson, the carpenter, said he would help, didn’t he?’

  ‘Yes, but he needs timber as much as I do and we can’t get over to Grindleford to get any because of this …curfew Rector Mompesson has imposed.’

  ‘It’s not a curfew, it’s a way of saving lives. There have been enough deaths already.  We’ll not spread this pestilence further if we stay together here in Eyam. The rector is staying and he’s arranged to have food and supplies sent in from his lordship at Chatsworth.’

  John Berryman sat in a chair beside the fire, his head in his hands. He looked up at his wife.

  ‘It’s not my work I worry about. It’s you. I am burying more and more of my friends every day. People I have known since I was a boy.’ He paused. ‘I do not want to be burying you next.’

  ‘The good Lord will decide if it’s my time, John. I pray we shall come through this.  We are hopefully setting an example to other communities, and, if we contain this plague, it shall come to an end.’

*

   The last death from plague in the village of Eyam was that of a farm worker, Abraham Morten, on 1st November 1666. The plague had lasted there from September 1665 and had claimed 260 lives, including Mompesson’s young wife, who had tended to the dying; but the self-isolation of the village is thought to have saved thousands of others.

© Wally Smith 2023

Frost

Photo by Peter Frese on Pexels.com

Frost has accosted the ground

and I have found nothing free of the freeze.

Several days now with sunlight

only highlighting the white

without significant warmth.

Bitter winds bite at fingers and face

and any trace of a mild respite is quite

remote.

Grass just grows longer and the weeds

seem stronger, despite the cold

and the hard solid earth.

How bulbs have the strength to break the

surface only Nature knows.

The burst of first shoots shows a bold

outlook that I can only envy.

Wordplay

Went to a local poetry group the other night for the first time in a while. An entertaining and uplifting couple of hours in great company.

Icy Runes

Wordspinning

whirlpools of poems

Rhymings that chimed with the times.

Sensuous and strident,

prescient and prophetic.

Thoughts translated

on outlooks of life.

Water, water, everywhere…

Dreadful day –

Unrelenting rain –

Leaves are blocking every drain.

Water running down the road –

gutters into overload,

and yet in summer everyone knows

we won’t be able to use a hose,

since reservoirs will be too low.

So, where did all this water flow?

Evaporated in the air?

Heated by this climate change?

Industry don’t seem to care,

which isn’t really very strange.

Shareholders need to make a profit.

Is there any way to stop it?

In this way I am a prophet,

but sadly one of impending doom.

We’re done for, unless we act real soon!

January

Dull.

And a full thirty one days of drear.

There must be ways to clear

the post-holiday New Year blues.

And the news provides no respite,

despite the increase in daylight

hours. Incessant showers

saturate the satiated ground,

where the grass could pass for Pampas.

Despite the chastening chills

of winter, soon daffodils

will mark the start of Spring

and bring a cheer to everything.

At Dunwich

An evening walk on a favoured Suffolk beach a few days ago recalled a poem I had written a while back.

Where the North Sea claws at soft cliff faces,

seeping into ancient salted marshes,

the pebbled, shingled shoreline

challenges each wave of attack.

My boots sink into slopes of quarried stones,

and always there is one to catch my eye. 

Salt-scrubbed and rounded smooth,

lined with subtle streaks of light.

I feel its contours, judge its weight,

and walk towards the water’s edge

to skim it to a greater glory. 

My record is eleven skips – in 1968. 

This grey, lustrous mini-discus fits my hand.

I throw, but I am half a century too late.

Five skips are all I count before I see it sink, 

to return to rubbing shoulders

with those who met a self-same fate.

The tide is turning,

lapping foam is blown about my boots,

and I scramble on to higher ground.

My wind-blown walk continues down the coast,

through sandy scrub and sea kale,

beside the timeless swathes of reeds,

where woodlarks, swans and warblers

tolerate my brief intrusion.

© Wally Smith 2022

Sunflowers without Showers

This very prolonged spell of hot, dry weather has been devastating for gardens, parks and farms with the countryside turned into areas of dull brown stubble and scorched ground. However, my garden sports a stand-out bloom in the shape of a multi-headed sunflower, which seems to have arrived by pure accident. Presumably a seed dropped by a bird.

At first it seemed a weed, much like others

that self-seed, and appear to have no need

of water to reproduce.

Tempted to dig it out, I paused to figure out

what it might be. I left it to flourish and soon,

like Jack’s beanstalk, it grew and grew

and I quickly knew it was a sunflower.

A glorious gargantuan head of yellow

amongst the dust and rust-coloured

shrubs. A must for the bees and the bugs

and spiders for whom this is home.

The smaller heads comprise a family,

whose autumn seeds will feed the birds

and maybe begin others, further afield.

Green to Gold

Three haikus of observation.

Nature’s alchemy

Still a mystery to us all:

(Except scientists).

Lushness of April

Transformed by summer sunshine

Neatly into wheat.

Harvest will be soon-

A bounty from precious Earth,

Awaiting winter

Changeable Weather

Scattered showers. Isolated showers. A rash of showers. These are terms that weather people use because the forecasting of weather is not, and can never be, an exact science. Recent days are evidence of this, as I have been caught in several sudden downpours when going out in warm Spring sunshine. But this is a fact of life and living things, and should never be anything but unpredictable.

Sunshine and showers

A show of sun

A rash of showers

Rashers of sunlight

Light showers and sun

Scattered sunlight

Rainfall

Rainbow

Nightfall

A hallowed shroud of golden cloud.