A Sixties Summer

I am very happy to tell you that my story, A Sixties Summer, was chosen as this year’s winner of Sutton Writers Apollo Prize. Hope you enjoy the read. Comments always welcome.

A Sixties Summer

My grandmother’s garden was a world away from the one I knew. Foxgloves and Lupins; Snapdragons and Sweet Peas – a fragrant world of flowers, raising their petaled heads to a perpetually blue sky in my memory of that Summer, and all growing up taller than the height of my own seven-year-old head.

As my grandmother pointedly told my father, when he dropped me and my little white suitcase off at her tiny end-of-terrace cottage, it wasn’t her job to teach her granddaughter. But by the Summer’s end, when I had fully recovered from my bout of pneumonia and returned home to books and homework, to ballet lessons and piano practice, my head was full of all those magical names from my grandmother’s garden: Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Painted Lady; Robin, Dunnock and House Martin; Quince, Crab Apple and Damson.

Not that I approved of all the names. Unlike my father who spoke only when he had something to say and encouraged those around him to do likewise, my grandmother talked to anyone, anything and nobody in particular. I soon learned I could do the same. ‘They shouldn’t just be called House Martins,’ I announced to my breakfast of boiled egg, bread and butter and glass of milk. I had grown fond of those dear little black-capped birds, with their comings and goings to their nests of spit and mud, as they fed their noisy broods in the eaves right outside my bedroom window. ‘They should be called House Martin and House Mary,’ I informed the large brown teapot that took up the centre of the table. ‘That so,’ my grandmother would say from time to time. More often she’d say nothing at all in direct response.

If I was often ignored in my grandmother’s house, or at least appeared to be, it was a pleasure I’d been denied as an only child in my father’s house and one I took advantage of. My father had always made a point of listening to everything I had the courage to say, correcting my grammar as necessary. Whereas my grandmother took little heed of the nonsense that I talked to her, to the teapot, to the birds and flowers as I drifted around in my convalescent state or lay on my back in the long grass watching the clouds for hours on end. The boundary between myself and the outside world felt thinner that summer. I absorbed something deep and nurturing from the soft air and sunshine, the dried grass and warm soil. If the birds and plants had decided to talk back to me I don’t think I would have been at all surprised.

From time to time one of my grandmother’s many brothers, my Great Uncles, would appear. To each I insisted on giving his full title. Great Uncle Tom played card games with me for old pennies from a jam jar after supper; with Great Uncle Jack I picked red currants, dyeing my hands, mouth and the front of my dress with streaks of red speckled with seeds. Perhaps my grandmother had not been entirely truthful about teaching me nothing, or at least she felt somebody should try. Her youngest brother, Great Uncle Jim, taught me a rhyme with which to recall the Kings and Queens of England, a speech by heart from Henry the fifth and my times tables right up to twelve twelves, all whilst throwing and catching an old tennis ball between us. He also helped me pen a postcard to my father each week, to which my grandmother always added the words, All’s well here.

But more useful than any formal skills or knowledge, at my grandmother’s I learned how to fit in, how to slip into the gaps in the casual but true affection that was offered without comment or cost. I learnt to make myself useful by stirring the batter for Toad-in-the-hole, to dress and wash myself without the fuss of home; to turn up for meals when called in from the garden; to kiss my grandmother’s lined cheek after supper and take myself up to my bed in the back bedroom, where I slept deeply in the furrow in the middle of the lumpy mattress and woke each morning to sunshine and House Martins.  

The village children were, however, a different matter. When my grandmother took me with her to one of the village shops – a useful pair of hands for an extra shopping bag – I was always stared at and sometimes questioned outright. ‘Why ain’t you at school?’ Here my grandmother’s habit of ignoring direct conversation was no help. The questioner would persist, more loudly now. ‘Why ain’t you?’ Despite having my edges softened at my grandmother’s, it was obvious to my questioner that I was not from the village. My smocked cotton dresses weren’t quite right and my soft leather sandals, though scuffed, were a bit too special. My cheeks would blaze but I wouldn’t, or couldn’t, answer and the most help my grandmother ever gave was to mutter, ‘Get lost now won’t you,’ to my persecutor when finally even she became irritated.

Then came the knifeman. He arrived on his bike in the early morning, tall and lanky in a shiny black suit with a long pale face above, looking to my child’s eyes like one of the long handled knives from my grandmother’s kitchen. He set up his bicycle on the front path of the cottage and began with the sharpening of the kitchen scissors, sitting astride the stationary bike and using the pedals to turn the grey stone grinding wheel that was attached between the handlebars. I stood transfixed by the strange process, but was roused by my grandmother. ‘Run and tell number 2!’ She gestured across the way. ‘The knifeman child, cottage number 2.’

And because there was no further discussion I found myself crossing the narrow lane and knocking on the door of number 2, which was opened to a whole family at breakfast. What was I to say? In the event I didn’t have to say anything. ‘Knifeman!’ the child at the door shouted, looking past me and across to my grandmother’s garden where the knifeman had by now taken up the garden shears. The whole family scraped back chairs and set to it, opening drawers and cupboards, as the child sprinted off to knock at the next house with the important news.

I returned to my grandmother’s cottage and took up my prime position, seated on an upturned bucket, both out of the way but with a perfect view of the knifeman at his work. By the time he had sharpened every metallic cutting surface in my grandmother’s house a long line of children was waiting outside the gate, each child wielding an implement to be sharpened in one hand and clutching a coin for payment in the other. There were carving knives and kitchen knives; filleting knives and penknives; embroidery scissors and dressmaking scissors; secateurs and shears; scythes and billhooks. I sat and watched all morning as these were sharpened by the knifeman to the perfect surface for cutting, trimming or shaping; filleting, slicing or slitting; slashing, snipping or shaving; incising or whittling.   

Quite why this mattered I didn’t know, but my status was so raised by this event that the next time I ventured out with my grandmother’s shopping bag I was asked, ‘What’s yer name then?’ Beneath my shyness I was not stupid. ‘Toni,’ I replied, knowing Antonia wouldn’t go down well. ‘That’s a boy’s name, ain’t it,’ was the reply. ‘Course not,’ I said.  I did not, it must be said, go on to make lifelong friends with the village children, but from then on I let go of my grandmother’s hand whilst out shopping. I swung the shopping bag with a jaunty confidence and was greeted by name if another child happened to be out in the lane or queuing to pay at the new till in the tiny village supermarket.  

When my father arrived in his car in late August he was greeted by a child browned in the sunshine, watered by the occasional soft spattering of summer rain and generally nurtured from the spindly seedling he had left behind in May to convalesce. If I hadn’t for a moment thought of the comforts of my modern sixties home, with its fitted carpets and television, I realised I had missed my father’s reassuring taciturn presence. For his part, if he was taken aback by the smiling child in a well-worn summer dress and bright cardigan it had taken my grandmother all summer to knit, he didn’t let it show. Although I would miss my grandmother dearly my father and I were happy to be once again in each other’s company. Maybe my father was not quite so ready for such a full and extensive account of my countryside stay on our long drive home, but he didn’t venture to say so. 

Miranda Lewis 2022

Please excuse Jack wearing his trainers to class, only he lost his school shoe in the river.

Please excuse Jack wearing his trainers to class, only he lost his school shoe in the river.

It were like this Miss Grimble…

Me and the Nipper, we’re feeding the ducks when the Little Blighter leans too far. Seizing his coat tails sharpish, we splash as one into the churning waters.

Plunging down down , almost to a double funeral, I grasp the foot of a passing swan. Spluttering and crying, we’re swept downstream.

Slowing down at the meander, the Nipper grabs a branch.

Muddy, soaked and shivering, we’ve almost clambered out when a mighty trout swallows my leg whole. Shaking and cavorting, I pull free but sacrifice the shoe.

So that’s the shoe Jack, and English composition homework?

Miranda 2022

As a primary school teacher I received many interesting notes from parents. This one, about the lost shoe in the river (that I’ve reproduced as my title) is real. Jack’s story of what really happened…I’ll leave you to decide.

My local river (the River Wandle, a tributary of the London Thames) is fast flowing but shallow in most parts; no children were harmed in the course of this story.

Many thanks to our esteemed Friday Fiction host, Rochelle and to Ted Strutz for the photo.

To jump into the swim and fish out more tales click here.

Private Property

Private Property

I gave up cutting and dyeing my hair years ago, also parties and socialising and all that nonsense. I do live in a normal house, unlike the hippy on the beach.

He was boiling up a kettle when I strolled that way early this morning. He was older than I’d presumed, that beard threaded with silver.

‘Fancy a brew?’ he called.

‘You do know this beach is private,’ I replied, instantly regretting it.

He just smiled. ‘And the view?’

I followed his gaze to where the sun-burnished sky met a gently rippling sea.

‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘Tea would be lovely.’

Miranda 2022

Welcome to Friday flash fiction, hosted as ever (ah, there is some continuity in a crazy world!) by the esteemed Rochelle, and this week with a fantastically evocative seascape from Bradley Harris.

To sail away on a raft of stories (and with absolutely no travel restrictions or testing requirements) click here.

Happy New Year to all. In 2022, may you get a chance to misplace your phone, your shoes and all your troublesome obligations, if only for one long afternoon, and exchange secrets with the sky and the sea as you take a stroll along the beach.

City Tree

City Tree

For years I stood vigil outside a human dwelling at the edge of the city. I missed the hushed companionship of the forest but I gave my shade freely, bound the earth with my roots.

An owl perched amongst my leaves. I soaked up water and made oxygen.

Harmonious coexistence. 

Until they mutilated my limbs, tore out my roots and paved over the rich earth beneath. Until they burnt my body.

I do not mind. My soul lives on amongst my sisters the clouds. I look down on fire and flood, on drought and hunger and I wonder at it all.

Miranda Lewis 2021

Welcome to Friday Fiction, hosted by the esteemed Rochelle. Thanks to Dale Rogerson for the photo and also to all who visit.

A special thanks to those who stay to comment.

A Coda…

I realise my story will do nothing to raise your mood if, like me, the COP and various climatic world events have left you reeling.

The house I was born in 1960, on the edge of London, definitely had a huge tree (I was very small!) growing in the front garden.  When I visited the street a couple of years ago, sadly all the trees and every front garden had been replaced with a paved area.

My dad drove a Ford Anglia in the sixties and used to sometimes stop in the road outside his own front door, so that I could run down the garden path and hop into the front passenger seat. He then drove us around the back of the house to our own garage.

Nobody uses these old garages anymore, but the grassy lane running along behind the back gardens is still there, now beautifully rewilded and a real corridor for city flora and fauna. A little piece of living hope clinging on in a concrete world even though every front garden has disappeared…

The New Woodsman

The New Woodsman

They said the new woodsman had broken the bank, crashed his Jag, killed his wife. And I said, they said too much.

Springtime I traded my ex-husband’s discarded jacket and a bottle of whisky for a sack of charcoal. Later he mended my fences.

They said the new woodsman slept on a bed of moss, never washed and had a tail tucked down his patched old trousers. When I saw him rise naked from the river, shaking ribbons of sunlight from his shaggy mane, I knew at least two of those were untrue.

And I said, second time lucky. Maybe.

Miranda Lewis

Welcome to Friday flash fiction here on a Wednesday, hosted by the indefatigable Rochelle and with a great photo from Alicia Jamtaas that sent me straight back to a little woodland tale/tail of yesteryear. So it’s Friday reprieve time – hope you enjoy it.

Thanks to all who visit and most especially those who stay to comment. For more woodland frolics from around the globe click here.

Your Fortune, Your Choice

Your Fortune, Your Choice

May your Love be beautiful and your children industrious.

May your days be short and your nights long.

Or vice versa.

And when that petrol guzzling, pollution spewing, metal box
you insist on driving finally gives up the ghost
may it not be with a crunch of brick on metal on glass on bone on soft tissue,
but with a gentle splutter
beside a meadow,
where you will walk
through wildflowers to a perfect little stone house
with June roses blooming around the door,
a fruit orchard beside
and a For Sale sign holding up the rickety gate post.  

Miranda Lewis 2021

Welcome to Friday Fiction, with our esteemed host Rochelle. Thanks to all who visit and especially those who stay to comment. Thanks to to Liz Young for the photo.

(For more instructions do visit Rochelle’s post on the link above. Please don’t post the photo for any other purpose than to join the fun.)

I have been reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and loved her description of setting up a poetry stall at an event in her local town and just writing…. no re-reading, no revising just writing off the top of her head for the recipient and the universe.
SO, I’m having a go at writing fortunes just straight off, 5 minutes max – a photo is a great start. I did have to revise this one a little because it came in over the word count, but mostly it is as it is…Good practice for writer’s block, writer’s perfectionism and all sorts of common writing aliments and now yours for the taking – your fortune, your choice…

The Trees are coming…

The Trees Are Coming

Lucky us – a beautiful house in a tree-lined road! The gutters filled with Autumn leaves, but we bought a strong ladder.

You gave me that look when I said the old Lime Tree out front was growing too quickly. Its branches clawed the windows. You too stopped sleeping. The road split in two, masonry fell from houses. A sapling appeared in the sitting room.

If I wake at night now, it is to fox call or grunt of badger. Blackbird greets my day. That ladder takes me from sleeping platform of salvaged floorboards to mossy forest floor, where I sit… and breathe.  

Miranda Lewis 2021

Greeting Friday Fictioneers, from this cold London Wednesday. The sky is blue, the clouds are perfect and the narcissus are managing to push through the frozen earth and remains of snow. Whatever else has turned upside down in this world, it’ll soon be spring.

Thanks as ever to our host and reader/writer in chief, Rochelle and to Alicia Jamtaas for the wonderful photo. For more home-grown tales click here. Thanks to all who visit and most especially those who stay to comment.

Also posted in Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Planet

Under the Pier

Under the Pier

My older sisters were both stunningly pretty. I claimed awkwardness and the sort of shy cleverness that upsets most people.

‘Look out for each other,’ Mum would call as we left for the beach. As if.

He looked after the dodgems noon until midnight, breaks around four and eight. Sometimes I met him for both. My cheek against his ribcage, I’d listen to his heart. He smelt of sweat and damp caravans.

‘Reckon she fancies him,’ one sister quipped and the other flicked back her hair. They turned and as he winked I licked the salty taste of summertime from my chapped lips.

Miranda Lewis 2020

Welcome to Friday Fiction where, as we hunker down in the Northern hemisphere to our various (vastly curtailed) mid-winter festivities, a gentle summer breeze blew through my sitting room. For more salty tales from around the globe click here.

Thanks as ever to our host Rochelle whose story definitely inspired mine this week. What is it about fairgrounds and pleasure gardens, throughout time and location, that allow their visitors to cross class barriers and other taboos?

Thanks also to Roger Bultot for the phot and to all who visit, most especially those who stay to comment.

Fragment of sunlight and shadow

Fragment of Sunlight and Shadow

I am

throwing out the old jars

invertebrates

dead stuff

tentacles in formaldehyde

bleached octopus

the sack of unmatched socks under the bed

pressed flower

baby teeth and hair clippings

dusting high shelves

with sugar soap and grit

resentments and past hurts

the day you said that thing

I am

wading out

into deep water

cold afraid

the beauty of pebbles

of toes

the caress of speckled fin

pulsing alive

I am

Miranda Lewis 2020

Welcome to Friday Fiction where I seem to be bending those rules yet again – although this definitely weighs in under 100 words and does have a beginning, middle and end (of sorts). Thanks as always to our host Rochelle who keeps going through thunder storm and pandemic, whilst presidents come and (hopefully) go. And thanks also to Sarah Potter for this week’s photo. Stay home, stay safe and tour the world from the comfort of your own sofa right here.

Thanks to all visitors and especially to those who stay to comment.

Miranda

Dinner and Delusion

restaurant

Dinner and Delusion

You should have seen their faces.

Gavel parked the Rolls outside the restaurant – more of a pub really. He held the door and I lifted my silk gown high over the melting snow. We’d already had a cheeky sherry and giggled our way inside, Stefan so handsome in that old suit with the lapels.

I quickly realised how drunk Stefan actually was – a sherry or half a bottle of vodka? He could hardly sit up, let alone order. So much for our romantic dinner.

What was it that girl said to me? ‘You with Steve?’ ‘Stefan,’ I corrected and she laughed out loud.

Miranda Lewis 2020

Welcome to Friday Fiction and to my 100-word tale that can be read alone, or indeed in a small gathering of family members or friends isolating together. It can also be read as the third in a series, the first episode written in February 2017 and the second in February 2018. If I’m planning on turning this into a novel I probably won’t live long enough.

On that cheery thought, if you have been reading thank you. Do come right in and comment.

For safe travel around a world of stories click here. Many thanks as ever to our host Rochelle. And to Dale all hale for the snowy scene. (And actually Dale if you’re visiting, you also provided the snowy photo back in February 2018.)