U3A Creative Writing May 2020 Workshop
Participants: Shelagh, Lesley, Barbara, Hermoine, Jude, 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) “We are out of our depth” said the boy.
“Just breathe” said the horse “and hold on”
“We are out of our depth” said the boy.
“Just breathe” said the horse “and hold on”.
And the boy breathed. He breathed more deeply than he had ever breathed before.
“I’m holding on” said the boy. And he held on. He anchored his small, soft fingers in the rough, wet hairs of the horse’s mane and held on as the horse powered through the swirling blue, strong legs propelling them towards the shore. And although the boy’s legs trailed behind him in the watery deep, he sensed the horse’s back, smooth and solid, beneath him.
“I’m breathing” said the boy “and I’m holding on”.
“That’s all you need to do” said the horse. “I will do the rest”.
And the horse swam on towards the shore.
“Are you tired?” asked the boy.
“No” said the horse. “I am not tired”.
“It’s a long way to swim” said the boy.
“I am a good swimmer” said the horse “and I am swimming for both of us”.
And the boy knew he was safe.
We are often out of our depth in life. Even now, with coronavirus, none of us are sure what we can do to ‘hold on’. But the alternative is to let go and drown. So we hold on by faith and belief that tomorrow will be a better day.
Keep right on to the end of the road… Our faith and belief is being sorely tested nevertheless. The social exclusion does not help as we become emotionally isolated as well as physically. Only our self-discipline keeps us afloat, as well as loving family and friends. If you cannot swim, it is even more daunting, so hold on tight until you reach shore. Nothing goes on forever!
“We’re out of our depth” said the boy.
“Just breathe” said the horse, and hold on.”
When I agreed to try riding a horse for the first time I hadn’t bargained on a bog and a pond! How could I get out of this one? I was already terrified from sitting so high up on something unpredictable, like a horse, and moving! My mind became like the boggy ground underneath us, and I clung on for dear life.
“Breathe” admonished the horse, “I can feel the bottom of the pond. We will make it.”
I closed my eyes, no longer able to bear the possibilities looming up to me from the depths of the pond. How deep was it? I was scared of water.
I felt the pounding heart and heavy breathing of the horse, which seemed to become my heart, and my breathing. I counted his breaths and matched them to mine. It took my mind off the horrible end I envisaged coming to me shortly. His heart beats were strangely comforting, coming from deep within his powerful body.
Suddenly I heard a rushing sound in my head and everything went black. This was it.
I opened my eyes as I fell into the arms of someone in a black uniform.
“Hang on to me,” said the uniform. “I will carry you to the ambulance.”
Looking round I saw the horse, and I’m sure he winked at me!
“We are out of our depth,” said the boy (Barbara)
“Don’t be afraid, just hold on tight and breathe,” said the horse.
They were as one, galloping on the sands, the boy astride the horse riding bare-backed, they
could feel every twitch coursing through one another’s bodies. The horse ran free, sometimes galloping with the wind, sometimes slowing to a canter, sometimes splashing through the foamy edges of the sea washing onto the sands. Wheeling and rearing, playing with the incoming tidal waves.
“We are out of our depth,” said the boy.
“Don’t be afraid,” said the horse, “just hold on tight and breathe.”
The horse reared up on his hind legs, then plunged headfirst into the sea.
The boy taken by surprise held on, his body rigid with panic. He held his breath, until he felt his lungs would burst.
“I told you to breathe,” said the horse.
“I…I….I…,” the boy gulped down a mouthful of bitter, salty sea water.
Then he began to breathe. His lungs filled with air.
“Trust me,” said the horse.
They swam through a field of tall swaying kelp, sticky tongues caressing them as they passed by.
They emerged onto a wide open marshy plain. The horse picked up speed and they galloped over a wetland, criss-crossed by rivers, streams and shallow lakes.
“Where are we?”
“Doggerland,” said the horse, “submerged by the sea over 8,000 years ago.”
“What are they?” asked the boy pointing into the distance where a herd of woolly mammoths were ambling eastwards.
“Mammoths, prehistoric elephants.”
An oak forest closed around them, forcing the horse to slow down, picking a way through the dense undergrowth.
A 10 foot tall red deer with 6 foot wide antlers raced across the path and disappeared soundlessly amongst the trees. A deafening roar broke the silence. The boy quivered with fear.
“A lion,” said the horse. “Don’t worry, he can’t see you. Besides you are too skinny to interest him. He is after the deer. As are those hunters hiding behind the trees?”
Leaving the forest, they trotted on until they came to a small settlement. Dwellings constructed out of forest timbers covered with reeds from the marshes. Men were busy sharpening weapons, women cooked on tripods over open fires, children played.
“Who are these people?”
“Some of the very first Europeans. They lived in Doggerland over 10,000 years ago.”
At the end of the village, the horse said, “Hold on tight and keep breathing.”
Like an arrow he shot vertically up to the surface of the sea.
The boy plaited his fingers into the horse’s mane and gripped tightly with his knees. Feeling his body slip away from the horse. He held on although his fingers grew numb with the effort. He remembered to breathe and to trust the horse.
When they emerged out of the waves, the horse wheeled to the west and galloped with the wind over the surface of the sea towards the setting sun, until they reached the sandy shore.
2) “This path
On the red earth
meandering through the fields
has enchanted me.” TAGORE
This path on the red earth
Meandering through fields
Has enchanted me.
It passes through golden corn
And fades into the blue haze
Of far distant hills.
Where it goes I know not
Where I go it cares not.
A loved scene.
Fields, bosky hedges, dotted with wild flowers,
a peewit dive-bombs me.
How sweet his voice, taking me instantly back
to my childhood.
In the distance a steam train puffs and hoots,
behind a row of pine trees.
Further still the river with its silvery sheen
a ribbon of light twixt earth and sky.
3) The first cry of anguish ripped into the silence of her consciousness
The last memory she had was of running. Running as if her life depended on it. What for? Why was she running?
The second ear-splitting cry brought Wendy to her senses. Her cat! Where was her cat?
Wendy was lying sprawled on the pavement, and her head hurt. She put her hand on her head and felt the sticky blood.
The crying continued, and Wendy tried to stand. She had to find her cat. He had been hit by a car and Wendy had been running to the Vet with him.
She managed to stand, but felt weak and dizzy. Looking round for Benny, her little cat, her eye was caught by his white paws poking out from the overgrown grass on the roadside verge. Her lunge forwards to pick him up nearly had her flat on the pavement again, and she had to take deep breaths to steady herself.
Cars kept rushing by. Why didn’t someone stop to help? Wendy, feeling desperate by now, made a huge effort and bent slowly down to pick up her cat. Benny pleaded with his eyes, he was badly hurt.
Trying to think clearly, Wendy gently picked Benny up in her arms and returned to her house. It would be more sensible to wrap him up in a towel and call a taxi instead of trying to run to the Vet’s office.
So, slowly now, that is what she did, first stopping to briefly bathe her head.
4) Make do and mend
Jenny hated clutter. She had grown up with it, both mother and grandma were crafters. According to William Morris, you should have nothing in your house that you do not know to be beautiful or believe to be useful. Jenny’s Mum and Gran took the latter part of this statement to heart. Nothing was thrown away, the smallest piece of fabric, wool, paper was saved. As were buttons, haberdashery, patterns magazine and books. They sewed, knitted, crocheted, patch-worked, and embroidered. They made cards, scrap booked and painted. They painted glass, silk and fabric as well as the odd water colour. To accomplish all this they had stuff, masses of stuff.
Jenny supposed it was something to do with the war. A darning mushroom was a necessity, underwear and dresses were made from parachute silk. Jars and tins could be turned into all sorts of things, Cloths were refashioned, her Gran once told her she had made a boys suit out of a woollen coat and wealthy lady had given her. Jenny was taught all these skills as a child but as a teenager she was one of the buy it cheap and give it or throw it away brigade.
Jenny’s hard worked for flat was minimalist to a fault. Nothing out of place, Marie Kondo was her idol, her drawers and cupboards all organized. She didn’t believe in useful, she believed in necessary. Any new item of clothing meant that something else was out.
Then came lockdown, Jenny was furloughed. Hers wasn’t the sort of job that could be done from home, she put so much of herself into her job she didn’t have much time to smell the roses. She certainly had no garden, her only outside interests was going to the gym or going out with friends, and all that was closed.
After a week, she hated to admit she was bored, something that would have appalled her mother who really hated the word. Jenny was never allowed to be bored within her mother’s hearing. Mother would always find her something to do. She phoned her mother who was normally delighted to hear from her only daughter. Now, however she didn’t have time to chat. “Sorry love,” said mum, “can’t stop, gran and I are making scrub bags out of pillow cases for the NHS workers to wash their clothes in at 60 degrees. When we get the patterns next week we are going to make the scrubs out of duvet covers. Loads of people are helping out, it’s a real wartime spirit taking over.” Jenny wondered what gran was actually doing. In her nineties now she was a little frail. She would be classed as vulnerable but she wouldn’t let that stop her.
“Wish I could help out” replied Jenny. “I have all the skills but not the equipment.”
“No,” retorted her Mum cynically. “That’s the problem with your sort of lifestyle, you don’t have any resources when a crisis comes. I’ve got fabric and yarn to hand. It’s not as if you can go and buy any, the shops are all closed and you’re not supposed to go out anyway. You could get some cotton yarn on line to make some ear protectors, but then I don’t suppose you have any knitting needles or buttons, do you?”
Make do and mend, they said. It’s all very well for them to say! I bet they’re not making do. Probably still eating caviar on toast, washed down with a nice bottle of Moët. I’m absolutely fed up with boiled potatoes and that disgusting spam that passes laughingly for our meat ration. And don’t get me started on old for new. The times I’ve patched our Jack’s school trousers is nobody’s business. They’re more patch than trouser, these days! I wouldn’t mind, but her next door, you know, her that’s no better than she should be. Well! I never did. Men coming calling all hours of the day and night. It’s an absolute disgrace! And her John off doing his bit an’ all. Women like her should be locked up, they should. She’s no right to call herself British, that’s what I say. And what about that Micky up the road! He’s up to no good, you mark my words. Have you seen that suit he’s been wearing lately? You’re not going to tell me he got that off the coupons! He’s on some sort of fiddle I should say. A right spiv that’s what he is!
Still, mustn’t grumble I suppose. Walls have ears and all that!
5) The light flickered and went out
The light flickered and went out. And here I am in a strange, darkened house with swishing noises all around me.
We had moved into this 21-rooms house on the banks of the river Wye in Hereford only three months ago. My husband was an engineer who had to be away from home constantly and here I was in this enormous, 5-storied house with two young daughters. To make matters worse, the river had flooded badly and, without any sandbags delivered, it had made its way into the semi-basement, so that the stench added to the unpleasantness of the muddy water.
It was dark when the river became quiet again. I took a huge candle to the basement and left the girls upstairs. The water was very deep on the beautiful mosaic-tiled floor, but this could not be seen.
With my wellingtons on, I waded through the water and could hear other swishing around me, which I took to be fish. Suddenly the candlelight flickered and went out. I did not turn on the electric light because of the water and so I was in total darkness. I also did not have another match. I was very scared and did not know how I could find my way upstairs.
Bit by bit I felt my way around and eventually I found my way upstairs with a very thankful heart.
While I was scared to be in the darkness, I would have been much more scared if I had known that the swishing around me was not fish, but water rats! erfHeH
The light flickered and went out. There was no escaping it. The wind was not so much howling as screaming, blowing spray way into the air. The waves too, were extreme; climbing up the white paintwork and smashing against the harbour wall. The boats were pulling hard against their moorings, their masts swinging through more than 90 degrees, and rattling their rigging in a strange kind of symphony.
He heaved against the door. It opened just enough for him to squeeze through and it banged shut viciously behind him. It took a, great effort to make headway, but slowly he crossed the quayside and reached the lee of the lighthouse. Managing with cold, wet fingers to unlock the door, he entered and prepared for the long climb. 199 steps. He’d always thought it an odd number, why not make it a round 200, he mused as he trudged wearily round and up, round and up. Eventually he reached the top to see a crack in one pane. Not much, not enough to dislodge the glass, but enough, in this storm, to blow out the light. He picked up the oil and the taper, dipped it and then striking the flint lit it and pushed it through the mesh. The light shone again.
6) 'When (s)he came back downstairs the answer phone was blinking...'
It was the best shower Maggie had ever had, As the hot water danced all over her she wallowed in the relaxing feeling as her pent up neck and shoulder muscles were pounded by the invigorating spray. It was added to by the calming smell of the lavender shower gel, permeating all over her aching body. Thank goodness for power showers. She washed her hair, paid attention to her feet and was now wrapped in a cosy bath robe. She would have loved to have been able to get into bed or to have had a nice long soak in her corner Jacuzzi bath, but there wasn’t time.
The last three days had been spent at a nursing home with her mother, whose life was slowly slipping away. It had taken a lot of persuasion by the staff to encourage her to go home for a while to regroup. She needed things, who knew how long it was going to be. Tom had taken the boys to his Mum’s, thank goodness it was the summer holidays. He was due to be back soon, she would just wait for him, have something to eat and then head back to “Sunnyside” before the afternoon shift went off.
Jody the lovely care assistant who was so fond of her mum, had persuaded her to come home. “You need a break” she said “go home do what you have to, I’m on duty until nine. I’ll stay with her, she won’t be on her own, I will ring you if there is any change.”
“OK.” Maggie agreed. “I won’t be long.”
As she reached the top of the stairs Maggie heard Tom’s car arriving. She quickened her step as she went down the stairs, his key was in the lock. It was then that she noticed the light on the answerphone was blinking
7) Sometimes all you hear about is the hate, but there is ore love in the world than you could possibly imagine.
My spiritual teacher and friend Bea gave me so many good things to think about all those years ago, and this was one of them.
As humans we do tend to look for the dark side of life, the bad people, the unhappy events, the negative things.
But Bea gave us a very good lesson (one of many) that, if you concentrate on the bad that is what you will get more of, and if you give out hatred and negativity, they are what you will get back.
It’s not easy making a new mindset, but Bea used to tell us that, if we put things “on the back burner” then one day they would make sense to us, and by and large, I have found this to be true.
Personally, although I have always found it hard to share, my favourite way of being, both for myself and others, is to be kind. Kindness costs nothing, but pays huge dividends. Gradually your thinking changes and you find things like kindness, generosity and hope come as second nature.
That is the way of the Universe. I am mostly an optimist, which is such a huge gift in today’s uncertain times, and it enables me to pass on Bea’s wisdom to others, even though I am a shy person. Thank you Bea, from the bottom of my heart.