April Workshop

U3A Creative Writing April 2020 Workshop

Participants: Shelagh, Lesley, Barbara, Hermoine, Jude, Jan, Laraine, Val

Writing under lockdown, we had a new writing prompt by email every 15 mins. These were suggested by group members and everyone wrote as fast as they could until the next prompt arrived.

Here are some of the results.

1) With relief, I grasped the last pack of toilet rolls from the top shelf, only to find…

With relief, I grasped the last pack of toilet rolls from the top shelf, only to find the pack was split! Nine perfectly formed white cylinders spilled over the floor as the aisle resembled a well-known advert, minus the dog.

I scrambled around, cussing my high-heeled new shoes, worn for the first time and definitely becoming a bad decision. Jeans would have been a better bet as I crawled around trollies and drew some casually amused side glances from bored men as they focused on my tights!

‘Excuse me please!’ I cried trying to social distance at the same time as negotiate wheels as I gathered my lost shopping. Turning around, I saw a child pick one up and unravel it running around the shelves towards a queue for the bleach. ‘Look Mummy aren’t I clever – a white path?’ she called out with a beam on her face.

A crash of trollies announced further mayhem. An elderly lady was sitting nursing her head and calling for her stick. I looked aghast as one shopper heaved herself out of the mops and buckets her face red and arms akimbo, she demanded what was going on? Her foot squashed a Flash bottle; a yellow puddle of slime slithered across the tiles.

I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned ready to launch into another exasperated apology. A young man stood cradling my loo rolls. ‘May I be your knight in shining armour?’ His eyes twinkled – perhaps my shoes will get another outing I thought as I smiled at him.

With relief, I grasped the last pack of toilet rolls only to find that they were the wrong colour. Oyster simply won’t go with any of the décors in my bathrooms or en suites. My dilemma was should I take them and risk it. After all I do have four packs of twenty four in my stockpile. I refuse to accept that I am a hoarder, I am being cautious, just like the five wise virgins in the bible.

They were savvy enough to stock up with oil whilst the five foolish ones lazed about doing their nails or something equally inane.

This lot were just a backup, after all who knows how long this is going to last, it could be months. We have five loos in our house and there is the one on the boat. I suppose I could use them in the guest en suite but then how long will it be before we have guests again. Then my conscience pricked me, I could put them back, it was only a pack of nine. That little old lady looked so disappointed when I took these. She was there before me but couldn’t reach them. I tried to find her in the busy store. There she was in the queue, I approached her benevolently “Would you like these my dear,” I said condescendingly.”

“Thank you so much for offering madam,” she smiled as she replied. “They are the wrong colour, my daughter just texted me, they have got white ones in our village shop. Isn’t that fortunate. So no, thank you, you have them I am sure your need is greater than mine.”

With relief, I grasped the last pack of toilet rolls, only to find it was an empty package. I hunted high and low without success. They really were all gone.
Furious, I fled further along the road to the next supermarket. However, the story was exactly the same there. How can people be so selfish as to panic-buy like this?

Sadly I returned home, put the kettle on and made a cup of tea. How could I have been so silly as to forget toilet rolls? I never forget toilet rolls. They are a staple…aren’t they?

Deep in thought, I hadn’t noticed my friend come through the front door. He shouted to me, “Hey, I was lucky. I found some toilet rolls!”

We both fell about in relieved laughter.

The world has gone mad.

Desperate times
With relief I grasp the last pack of toilet rolls only to find them snatched away by a grinning man in his mid-twenties.

‘Hey!’ I say. ‘I think I got to those first.’

‘I don’t think so,’ he says, ‘because I’ve got them.’

‘But that’s not fair. You snatched them off me.’

‘Well, what are you going to do about it?’ he says flexing his tattoed biceps. Barry, I note. ‘They’re in my trolley now.’ And he pushes off towards the checkout.

‘Hey, wait!’ I say. ‘What about sharing them? I could give you half the money.’

‘Not likely,’ he says. ‘I’ve got a wife and three kids.’

Seething, I scan the nearby shelves. Nothing! Not even any kitchen roll. No antiseptic wipes. I consider the packs of J-cloths. But they’d probably block up my loo.

Steering my own trolley towards the exit, I see the man with my loo rolls join another young man who touches him on the shoulder in a way that suggests more than mere matey affection. Huh! I suppose it could be Barry’s ‘wife’. But three kids. I don’t think so!

At home I log on to my laptop and start to search online. The first site that shows up is Celebrity Loo Paper. I could buy a 12-pack of Simon Cowell black paper for £350. £350! I check that again. Surely not. Thirty quid a roll. Encrusted with diamanté,’ the blurb says. Rich pickings in the sewers then!

I move on quickly to the next site selling paper embossed with Donald Trump’s face. Hmm, tempting! But, again, ridiculously expensive.

A Facebook post from someone lists alternatives to paper including leaves that can be used in times of shortage. No stinging nettles, I hope. There are photos of a dozen different plants with suitable leaves: maple, mallow, lamb’s ear, magnolia. At least with the last one we’d all have fragrant bums. But what if we made a mistake and used something that gave us an allergic reaction?

I check out eBay. Some joker is selling used loo paper for £3 per roll, or £25 for ten, labelled ‘Pre-loved. One careful owner. Soiled one side only.’

Oh well, I think with resignation, clicking ‘Buy now’. It’s important to recycle – it could help to save the planet.

Desperate times, desperate measures.

2) I am sitting in a strange room listening

I am sitting in a strange room listening to the hustle and bustle of the large hospital. Swing doors thudding, rubber soled shoes squeaking along the floor. The odd shout, laugh, cough. Somewhere in the distance a phone rings, reminding me of the frightening episode I had just had.

I was sleeping soundly, in the middle of the night. Dreaming of walking through a large house with so many doors. All closed. Suddenly a bell began to chime. Quietly at first, then louder and more insistent. I had the feeling it meant something was wrong…..

I felt a sharp pang in my heart as I awoke. It wasn’t a bell, it was the telephone. A call in the night could only mean one thing. Mother.

My mother was in hospital having had quite a bad stroke. My sisters and I had spent all day with her, but she seemed to be drifting away from us.

Exhausted, we all trailed home to try and catch some sleep. Tomorrow would be another long day.

3) We are reviewing the situation

Boris is reviewing the situation. At least he was before the virus laid him low. I have been self-isolating for the last twelve days. I count myself as one of the lucky baby boomers. No children to keep amused only my son to be concerned about, he is thirty-five and whilst not exactly working on the coal face he is one step back. He is very sensible and takes all the precautions. No change in income, they are still paying pensions, at the moment, I have most things that I need, food, drink and medicines, a comfortable home and all the necessaries to survive for quite some time. Providing my heating doesn’t pack up or my electricity go off I should be OK. So thanks John Logie Baird and Tim Berners Lee, I think I can cope.

My main problem is what to do with all this spare time, how do I organize it. In recent years my principal aim in life has been to keep my brain and body active to avoid the descent into dementia that has afflicted the last two generations of the female line in my immediate family. All my outside the house activities have ceased. No more Spanish, Ukulele, Philosophy, Psychology and most importantly swimming.

My house needs a good spring clean. My wardrobes and drawers want sorting out, my study could do with de-cluttering not to mention the garden or dare I say it, the garage. Surely now is the time to get on with these jobs, but they are not much fun are they. There are so many exciting things to look at on line. Free Pilates, Yoga and Tai Chi classes even ballet and belly dancing by top notch teachers, they could take care of my fitness. There’s Gareth Malones’ choir, Carole Vorderman’s maths lessons are free, although they are really for children and Dan Snow’s daily history presentations. I do like Dan Snow. There are six hundred free courses from Universities all over the world. How many of those could I cope with, they include meditation and mindfulness among many others. Then there is the technology, Zoom and the like. How much time will they take up?

Facebook has lots of fun things to view, spoofs on well-known songs, as well as some serious stuff we should all read about. Then there are the adverts for what is available in the arts and culture world. Plays from the Royal Shakespeare Company and The National Theatre as well as Ballet and Opera from Covent Garden are all available to watch. Classical music concerts and virtual visits to National Parks, Grand Houses, Ancient Monuments and foreign travelogues are there as well.

I know I have to practise my Spanish and my Ukulele, get on Zoom for my Singing Club, practise my Creative Writing exercises and read some of my copious collection of unread books. Whilst the house, the garden, the wardrobes, the de-cluttering and the garage are important, the question is, how long have we got? Since I am self-isolating I shall have to do it all on my own. I think we might have to review the situation. (Lesley)

We are reviewing the situation. I groaned with frustration. How many times had I heard that phrase from one or other of the current government? If I had a pound for each time, I would be rich.

I was cross. It seemed to me they were always “looking at,” “thinking about,” “having to do more” and “reviewing the situation.” When were they actually going to do anything? Put their money where their mouth was? Actually show they cared about us?

I switched off the TV and went back to my book.

4) Picture – beach scene with solitary figure walking along

She left footprints in the damp, gritty sand that stretched into the distance. Soon, her mark on the world would be obliterated. Alone with the gathering clouds, she observed them massing ominously, masking the last brushes of azure blue painted in the sky.

She felt the passing of the moment, as the spume ceremoniously cleansed her feet in preparation. A light breeze touched her face. She felt blessed.
Turning slowly, she retraced her path towards a light that burnt brightly. (Jan)

She walks alone

She walks alone
Footprints in the pale beige sand,
Left by those who came before
Not yet washed away.
She walks alone
along the water’s edge.
Waves wash her feet
Rubbing out her traces.

The sea a sheet of metal grey
reflects the silver dawn,
stretches to infinity
and far beyond.
She walks alone
Under a dawn blue sky
behind muslin clouds  
still shadowed by the dark of night.

Many have walked this path before
this well trodden path beside the sea,
and many more are still to come.
She walks alone
Along the water’s edge,
blown by winds, warmed by the sun.
Her footprints will be washed away.

I looked at the photograph Susie had sent me from her holiday by the sea.
She looked so peaceful, so at home.

It showed an overcast day, with soft foam tickling her bare feet as she strolled along the sandy beach. I wondered what she was thinking there, all alone, hands in the pockets of her baggy jumper. Susie had looked forward to this holiday. She loved the ocean, the sand, the gulls, sea shells, the sea air.
Aquarius is an ‘air’ sign.

The ocean wouldn’t be my choice for a holiday. I preferred fields and woods. I was an ‘earth’ girl, despite my star sign being a ‘fire’ element.

5) We’ll meet again some sunny day

We’ll meet again…

One day, soon, I hope. Wetherspoons for lunch, chips and chat and many a laugh.

But hearing the news of Wetherspoons CEO and how he has treated his staff it may be that everyone will send him to Coventry. He has made 58 million this year and refused to pay his staff their wages, telling them to go and work in Tesco if they needed money.

Then, what will we do, Barbara? Where else can we go to get into so much mischief in so short a time. Oh dear!

We’ll meet again one sunny day. Definitely! But perhaps it won’t be Wetherspoons!

“We’ll meet again some sunny day” go the words of the song. Words of hope.
I struggle with the belief my friend has that we will all meet one day in a far away Heaven. We will all be twenty-five years old, regardless of our age now! I’m happy to believe there is something after death, and it will probably be better than our life now. I even believe we may have lived many lives. Why not?

I had rung this friend to ask how they were, fully aware I would, at some point, get a little lesson on his religious beliefs. I usually try hard to change the subject, but really that feels disrespectful. He believes it. He gets comfort from it. Who am I to argue my case against it? So I just say, “Hmm, and “oh yes,” and let him chat on with his strange ideas. He isn’t hurting anyone. That’s not to say his church isn’t though! After all, my friend lost his home and all his savings because of this church.

Never mind. He is alive, though old, and has found friendship and support. I’m glad of that.

I moved the subject on to gardening. It’s another passion for my friend and he is very knowledgable on the subject, but sadly, because of age and partial loss of eyesight, gardening has had to take a back seat, and he has become a ‘tele-gardener’ instead.

6) My favourite teacher (or least favourite)

When I went ot Grammar school and in my thirteenth year, Tess Cropper became my Maths and Physics teacher and also my form teacher. She was only a decade older than us. Until then English was my favourite subject.

Suddenly Tess Cropper brought Maths and Physics to life and Maths, particularly, became one of the world’s wonders to me.

I lived for my Maths lessons and my hand always went up first when questions were asked, Once I even rang the teacher late at night as the answer given did not seem to be right. It appeared that there had been a mistake in the publishing.

Next day Miss Cropper mentioned my phone call in class. I then became a cross between teacher’s pet and a nerd.

There had been high hopes for me to excel in Maths, but I left school early to get married. Bad decision!

I don’t think I have any favourite schoolteachers, so I will choose one of my least favourites.

Mr Parker was my maths teacher, and, as I was hopeless at maths, I’m guessing I didn’t make much of an impression him. I sat at the back of his class, writing notes to my friend Helen. We were always joint bottom of the class. However, I don’t feel it was all ‘me’ at fault as Mr Parker was an awful teacher. If you were good at the subject, he gave you lots of time. He ignored me and Helen.

Mr Parker was tall and thin, with a long, pointed nose and sparse hair, stuck down with something like brilliantine. He always wore the same clothes, a white shirt with tie and charcoal suit and black shoes. A decidedly unpleasant character, he never offered to help if understanding was difficult. He would more likely insult you! I always wondered if he secretly hated teaching, or perhaps he hated adolescent children. Not that I could blame him for that!

Mrs B
Mrs B was something of an anomaly at the girls grammar school I attended; she was a three dimensional character and more than the sum of her teaching parts. She wore stylish clothes and drove a racy car and it was in her lessons that I discovered that French was not just a collection of nouns and verbs. ‘Le Grand Meaulnes’, our first ‘A’ Level set book, still sits on my shelf.

Mrs B was passionate about her subject and her frustration with our small group of well behaved girls was tangible. She railed not at our lack of concentration, questionable behaviour or missing homework, but at our lack of passion. ’Don’t you feel anything?’, she would rage, as we sat in silence in the small portacabin, cold in the winter and hot in the summer, and tried reflect her enthusiasm. The truth was, the curriculum had failed to equip us with the emotions and self-awareness she demanded of us. ‘But how do you feel when you smell a flower?’, she would cry in anguish.

Our school was in the flight path and we soon discovered that every time a plane flew overhead Mrs B would pause for a moment and look up in utter absorption. Someone said that she held a pilot’s licence, and when there was a problem at Southend airport on the day we were due to fly to Brittany on the school exchange, Mrs B wanted to fly us all to Guernsey for a connecting flight. She made no attempt to hide her frustration when our head teacher, Mrs M, gave an emphatic ‘no’.

One afternoon, and quite out of character, she regaled us with tales of a pilot at her flying club who was a warlock. No one would fly with him, she declared, because he would always fly naked. In hindsight, I think her intention was to shock; to force a reaction, any reaction, out of us.
When we discovered that she was divorced, her reputation was sealed.

7) You are reading a book and the main character says in the last line: ‘Please don't close the book, I don't want to die.’

I like to read last thing at night before I go to sleep, and inevitably I find myself dropping off to sleep as I read. My current book is exciting and I think I can manage to get to the end of it tonight. The action speeds up, the fear is so well expressed by the writer, and I can’t put the book down, though my eyelids are getting heavy.

I’m getting close now. One more page.

Suddenly the character in the book looks right at me and pleads, ‘Please don't close the book, I don't want to die.’

I nearly fall out of bed with fright and feel very fuddled. I look around for the book. I only have a few sentences to read, but I seem to have dropped it and it has closed. I fell asleep didn’t I?

‘Please don't close the book, I don't want to die.’
Stunned, I stare at that statement. A joke surely? How would the author know? Is this a device to prevent me shunting it off to the nearest charity shop?

But that would be a good thing, surely, wouldn’t it? Another person could read it then. Perhaps several if it was recycled. Isn’t that what every author wants? Better than the book malingering on my bedside table, forever open at that prophetic line.

But suppose it had been wired in some way? Technology could be contained in the smallest invisible chip these days. Was there a hidden camera perhaps built into the paper on that last page? Or something worse?

And is it just my copy or in every book that has been bought? Where had I bought it? I scan my brain. Waterstones? No, I don’t think so. Amazon? No, surely not. I’ve been trying to avoid them. Maybe a little Indie shop on the high street? Had it been the only copy? I can’t remember.

I sit and stare at the book. It was a good read, but not a great read. Perhaps this is a marketing gimmick to promote the book and try to make it a bestseller, human nature being what it is.

I shiver. Suppose I close the book and it detonates a bomb somewhere. Maybe it isn’t really the author who dies but everyone else. If it’s a device, could it set off something that would annihilate me too?

My hands begin to tremble. What if I leave it and it shuts of its own accord? What if my cat jumps up and knocks it off the table and it snaps shut?

I glimpse at the title at the top of the page. Who is this Kim Jong Un anyway?

A Walk in the Woods – A mix of all the prompts

With relief, I grasped the last pack of toilet rolls only to find that the plastic had split and as I picked the packet up, several fell out and rolled across the floor. What a nuisance! There was no point in my taking them. I really didn’t think I could use them now.

I decided to go for a walk in the woods. It was only a short way round the corner to the entrance and at least a bit of exercise might get rid of some of the frustration I was feeling.

It only took a couple of minutes to get to the sheltered trail that led away from the road and under the trees. It didn’t look too muddy, so I carried on. A sense of calm descended upon me almost immediately. I felt much better as I began to look around.

There were several types of trees here, most just coming into leaf. There was the slender silvered bark of the birch. Its branches dangling elegantly with golden catkins dropping off the ends, like earrings worn by beautiful girls at a summer ball, their dresses swaying and shimmering in candlelight. The oak, tall and sturdy; it’s bark rough and furrowed like the skin of an old matron aunt, who might be chaperoning the girls; sitting around the edge of the room chatting to friends and nodding at acquaintances.

A little further on I came to a green dell that could have been from a fairy tale. The tall beech trees with their boughs bending over like a ceiling give me the sensation that I was sitting in a strange room listening to the whispers of unseen beings. I sat down on a fallen giant and tried to make out what they were saying, but it means nothing; it is a fairy language, high pitched, with an occasional trill of light laughter.

‘We are reviewing the situation’, the voices seemed to say in a moment of clarity. ‘Do you belong here? Should we let you stay?’ Feeling like an intruder, I moved on.

Passing silently over the spongy moss beneath my feet I left the glade and turned towards the sound of trickling water. I had never seen a stream in the woods. Maybe I had never been this way before, but now I was determined to find the source of the noise. I walked along a narrow path with brambles and nettles growing along one edge. On the other side was a myriad of tiny white flowers, clustering amongst the leaf litter and the shoots of bluebells, which would, in a few week’s time, cover the area with a lake of blue.

I love bluebells. Their colour is glorious. Deep rich blue, pale stripes highlighting their delicate shape as the sun hits them. Deepening to violet where they cluster closely. Bluer than the sea, prettier somehow. Though of course the sea isn’t always blue. In the winter it can be a storm-coloured grey, with waves thrown onto the beach, a dirty, yellow foam. It hadn’t been like that last week though, when I had wandered along the strand, my feet sinking and squelching in the soft, sucking sand as the water pulled one way, then the other. The sun had managed to pierce the cloud cover, now and again and, striking the water, had turned it into a bright beacon of light. When the sun had finally sunk low on the horizon, we had said our goodbyes and parted ways. I know, I think remembering the old song, we’ll meet again some sunny day, but probably not for some time.

Moving more quickly along the path, brushing past the cobwebs of old man’s beard and spears of purple loosestrife, I knew I was getting closer to my goal. The trickle was louder, splashing, rushing, close at hand. Squeezing through a gap in the long grasses, I saw some large boulders, honeyed and gleaming pale green with lichens, water trailing down them. I edged along the drop in front of me until I could see where the water was going. It was running from the boulders and dropping over the edge into a pool a few feet below. I wondered idly, what sort of rocks they. I should have known really. Would have known in fact, if I’d listened more in geography lessons. It’s a sad indictment, I thought, since she’d been my favourite school teacher, and I still couldn’t remember an igneous from a sedimentary rock!

I noticed there was a series of stones, almost like a staircase, leading down to the pool. They didn’t provide the easiest route down, being deep and rather slippery with algae creeping along the cracks and joins. But I could see there was another path leading away to the left so it was a one way trip. When I reached the water gathering in the hollow it was shadowed and gloomy. As I looked deep into the pool, it reminded me of a poster that was popular when I was young. It was of a small girl with long blonde hair, kneeling by a pool in a dark wood. It was from a fairy story book which was something to do with trolls, but I can’t remember what she was doing there. Perhaps she was gazing at her reflection and hoping that whoever was reading the book wouldn’t close it because she didn’t want to die and sadly, in a way, when a book, or a story, is finished, the characters within it do die.

8) Ten things I’m going to do in isolation

Writing !
Playing Witcher (a computer game)
Sorting out junk
Buying on line 
Mourning the loss of my Wimbledon tickets 
Eating chocolate 
Oh and watching television, when I get time!