Sunday, 3 June 2018


Compliments and Candy


 By Michael John Kelly

Chapter One


 The whole of the moon


He had long since abandoned his long and fruitless pursuit of perfection. Life had taught him that perfection was merely an illusion. It was like a rainbow, or a reflection in a still, clear stream. A thing of beauty, right there in front of his eyes, but remaining forever tantalisingly just out of reach. The reality was that there was always a flaw; always some tiny imperfection that would spoil even the most magical of moments. He had slowly and reluctantly accepted that near- perfect was as good as it ever got.

That fateful Saturday morning in Bristol was a prime example. It was April 11th, 1992, and all the ingredients were there for the making of a perfect day.  Saturday was, by some way, the highlight of his week, and not only was the weather set fair, but it was spring, and spring that fairest of all seasons, had always been his favourite time of the year. As usual, however, there was something which wasn't quite right, and today it was the time. His watch told him It was 6-05 am, and John Joseph Barton had never been an early morning man.

He sat behind the wheel of his car, grumbling, muttering and cursing under his breath as he reflected on the unfairness of life. He was a few months short of his fiftieth birthday, and time, which had once been his closest friend, was fast becoming an arch-enemy. There was always so much to do, and so little time in which to do it. He groaned, sighed, stretched, yawned and then lit his second cigarette of the day. He grimaced at the realisation that another promised attempt to quit his nicotine addiction had once more resulted in failure.

“Tomorrow,” he whispered. There was always tomorrow,  but deep down inside he was acutely aware that his tomorrows never seemed to arrive. He turned the ignition key, switched on his radio and set off on his journey.

The early morning traffic was light and his spirits slowly began to rise as he made good progress through the leafy suburb of Redland. Redland always looked good, but at this time of the year, the stately looking houses and tree lined avenues were at their best.

As he turned into Coldharbour Road, the voices on the radio were already beginning to annoy him, as a succession of so called experts pompously paraded their egos and opinions as to how and why Neil Kinnock had contrived to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in that Thursday's General Election. The majority of the speakers expressed surprise at the result, but not so Mr. Rupert Murdoch. He was more than happy to let it be known to the world that he had personally played a major role in the eventual outcome. He was boasting loudly about his flagship newspaper, The Sun. He bragged about its banner headline, which brashly screamed to the world that ‘It was the Sun wot won it’.

 Barton smiled ruefully as he listened to the discussion. He was not a political animal, and he felt a distinct sense of relief as the talking finally ended and the music started. Shakespear’s Sister sang the number one song in that week’s hit parade, Stay with me.

If this world is wearing thin

And you're thinking of escape

 I'll go anywhere with you

Just wrap me up in chains

But if you try to go out alone

 Don't think I'll understand

 Stay with me

 John Barton attempted to sing along, but his efforts  were hesitant and badly off key. He quickly gave up, and conceded that he was far from fluent with either the lyrics or the melody. The failure brought another frown to his face as he realised that with each passing year, popular music was slowly leaving him behind.

He was soon smiling again, however, as The Waterboys followed with The Whole of the Moon.

I pictured a rainbow

You held it in your hands

 I had flashes

 But you saw the plan

 I wandered out in the world for years

 While you just stayed in your room

 I saw the crescent

 You saw the whole of the moon

 This time, he was able to join in, and sing along loudly and confidently, and this time he was both word and pitch perfect.

Coldharbour Road had seamlessly become Kellaway Avenue, and the Golden Hill playing fields of Bristol Grammar School loomed large to his left. Those ancient fields were heavy with history and tradition, and the news that they were about to become the site of a new Tesco supermarket had fuelled massive protests.

 Barton frowned at the thought of those famous old pitches, the scenes of so many dramatic last minute tries and match saving tackles, disappearing under a sea of concrete, but he was a realist. He was well aware of the power of profit, and had already accepted the eventual and inevitable outcome. Despite this, he still gave a token honk and a wave to the handful of weary looking protestors who were already lining up outside of the entrance gate, and he still felt a pang of guilt that he wasn’t standing alongside them. Instead, he turned right and headed down the narrow track across Horfield Common, which led to the Ardagh Bowls and Tennis Club. As he pulled into the car park, The Waterboys were building up to the climax of the song.

Yes, you climbed on the ladder

 With the wind in your sails

 You came like a comet

 Blazing your trail

 Too high

 Too far

 Too soon

 You saw the whole of the moon

The car came gently to a halt just as the Waterboys were coming to the end of the song, and he closed his eyes as he held the last, long, lingering note with them. The third cigarette of the day reached his lips, almost before he had finished singing, and then he switched off the engine, and sat back in his seat.

He felt a profound relief that both the car park and the Common were deserted. He wasn’t in the mood for idle gossip, casual conversations or false bonhomie with total strangers. Today, he could well do without them. He inhaled deeply on his cigarette, blew several smoke rings, and then tossed the gold coloured Benson and Hedges packet on to his passenger seat. There it lay along with a growing pile of empty packets and a whole week’s supply of Sporting Life newspapers. Craning his neck, he glanced into his rear view mirror and studied the sole reason for his being up at this ungodly hour. The shiny black Labrador puppy calmly returned his gaze, tilted her head to one side, and then he heard her tail thumping furiously against the upholstery. His mood lightened, his icy heart melted, and he smiled for the first time that day.

The puppy tumbled clumsily and somewhat inelegantly from the rear seat and was soon rolling in the damp, recently mown grass. Barton left her to her own devices and headed for the heart of the Common. Here, he stood and watched the sun creeping into view over the Purdown hills. It truly was one of those near perfect early spring mornings. The breeze was soft and so gentle that it barely disturbed the newly formed blossom, which was hanging proudly from the boughs. The sky was a faultless blue for as far as the eye could see, and the sound of birdsong was everywhere. From time to time he caught a glimpse of a single bird on the wing, but it was the invisible chorus that commanded his attention; the wall of sound that was pouring from the trees and the bushes. He had never listened closely to the dawn chorus before, but now he closed his eyes and marvelled at the variety of cheeps, chirps, warbles, trills and whistles he could hear. There were so many different sounds and so many different species. He felt just a little bit inadequate that he was unable to identify a single one of them.

Annie could have identified them all. He pictured her standing there with the palm of her hand raised, demanding silence. Five feet five inches of fiery red headed, Irish stubbornness and determination. Her head was on one side; her eyes closed, lost in deep concentration. Eventually she would have smiled that smile; the smile of triumph; the smile that always followed the moment of victory after a heated discussion or an argument. Yes, Annie would have been able to name them all. 
‘Blackbird… Bullfinch… Chaffinch… Thrush… Dunnock… Wren… Robin.’ Annie was a walking, talking human encyclopaedia with regard to birds. But Annie wasn’t there, and now he felt that familiar pang of frustration and irritation. He and Annie never did anything together these days. Right now she was at home, tucked up in the marital bed, alternately sleeping or dozing fitfully as she waited for his return.

Once upon a time they had been the golden couple; the envy of the neighbourhood. Theirs had been the first names on every party invitation list, but somehow they had lost their way. Somewhere deep in the past they had started to drift apart. He knew precisely when it had all started to go wrong, but had always been loath to admit to it.
  ‘When the sex stops, love flies out of the window’. He recalled his mother’s cautionary advice on the day of his wedding.

 Dear old Mum! Her advice had always been rather basic, but crammed full of wisdom. Wisdom almost certainly derived from bitter, personal experience. He should have listened, he should have taken heed, but still he felt sympathy for Annie. Hard though he had tried, he had been unable to make her dreams come true. All she had ever wanted was to be a good mother. Fate had decreed otherwise, and they had remained childless.

“Shannon! Shannon! Shannon! Shannon!” The voice interrupted his dreamy thoughts. It was female and each cry increased in both volume and urgency. The rising sun was low in the sky, and he was forced to shield his eyes from the glare. He quickly picked out the slightly obese yellow Labrador lumbering slowly towards him. The dog looked friendly enough, tail wagging, and tongue lolling. He leant forward to greet it.

“Steady on old girl.”

  Chapter two


Onwards and upwards


She drew back the heavy white curtains, and invited the soft, first light of daybreak into her spacious bedroom.  She lingered awhile at the window as she closely studied and admired her garden. The awesome power of nature, and the ever changing seasons of the year had always been a source of fascination to her. It bordered on being an obsession, particularly at this time of the year. For now it was spring; spring, the season of love, hope, promise and regeneration. The tell-tale signs were everywhere. Wherever she looked, she could see them. The green shoots of recovery, the buds, the blossom, the tiny clusters of pastel shaded early season flowers. She was proud of that garden; every square inch was the product of long hours of back breaking toil; it was all her own work. She stretched, smiled, and then skipped, almost childlike across the pale green carpet to the ornate full length, gold framed mirror in the far corner of the room.

“Happy birthday to you,” she sang quietly as she studied her reflection, but then she frowned as she remembered that her mother was throwing a party that night to celebrate the occasion. A party at her mother’s house invariably meant the introduction of a wholly unsuitable, predatory male to the table. Her mother had a mission in life to find a suitable partner for her daughter. Her mother was many things, but she wasn’t a good matchmaker.

Placing her hands on her hips, she stood motionless, intently studying her image. She was naked and fresh from the shower.  She held the pose for upwards of 10 seconds, and then swivelled slowly, almost imperceptibly, first one way and then another. It was a well-practiced routine, which enabled her to view her body closely from almost every conceivable angle. Finally, clearly satisfied, she smiled and nodded self approvingly. All those long hours at the gym had paid dividends. She looked good and she felt good. More importantly, she felt strong again. The previous 12 months had been a long and difficult period in her life, but now Jack Maxwell was finally out of her bed, out of her house, and almost completely out of both her heart and her head.

 “Onwards and upwards”, she whispered, and then giggled as she opened the nearest of the range of built in white wardrobes which covered the entire length of one wall. Maxwell at his very best, had been a master craftsman, and he had proven to be a class act when free from his demons. This room was the product of his finest moments, and there were reminders of him everywhere.

She studied the range of colour co-ordinated accessories hanging in the first of the wardrobes. They were arranged in perfect order; everything was totally symmetrical, for she was a perfectionist. There were six available colours; red, green, black, yellow, blue, and pink.

 "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe", she worked her way along the line, jabbing and pointing with her left index finger. The age old rhyme selected pink as the winning shade, but she frowned and hesitated, before reaching out instead for red.

“A woman’s prerogative”, she whispered, and then promptly changed her mind again and chose blue.

Turning again to the mirror, she painstakingly brushed her dark, shoulder length hair, before braiding it expertly into a single plait, which she then carefully arranged to fall casually over her left shoulder. She dressed quickly, scorning any underwear or make-up, with the exception of a hurried application of Clarin’s to her face. She then turned her back to the mirror, and peered first over her left shoulder, and then the right as she meticulously studied her rear. With both hands she patted her buttocks three times as a sign of satisfaction.

The large yellow Labrador who had been lying on the floor at the foot of the bed, had been watching her every move. The dog seemed to understand that now was its time. It stirred, rose, stretched and then lumbered eagerly over to her, clearly anxious to receive its collar and lead.

“Good girl. Shannon,” she stooped and lovingly smoothed the dog. Shannon had been Jack’s pet, but he had turned his back on the dog, just as he had abandoned everyone else in his troubled life.

 Shakespear’s Sister was singing Stay with me, as she switched off the radio, and attached the soft pink lead to the matching, studded collar.

“Come on girl, let’s rock; let’s go, let’s get lucky.”

There was a spring in both of their steps, as mistress and dog set off on the short 2 minute walk to Horfield Common.

The brisk walk along Maple Road led them to the lower entrance to the Common, and upon arrival she hesitated only briefly before deciding to walk in a clockwise direction. Together the two of them set off up the gentle slope which led to the car park. She always enjoyed the solitude of her early, Saturday morning start. She preferred the silence and the peace that dawn always provided, but as she turned into the car park, she was both surprised and just a little disappointed to find a car parked there. It felt almost like an invasion of her privacy, an attack on her personal space. The disappointment was quickly replaced by inquisitiveness. The gleaming powder blue car was not only a top of the range Mercedes, but was also a sparkling, brand new model. The bonnet was warm to her touch, and she knew the owner wasn’t far away. She looked around surreptitiously and then stole a furtive glance into the passenger window. She pursed her lips and whistled quietly.

“Every picture tells a story,” she whispered.  

It took but a minute to find the owner. There he was, standing in one of her favourite spots, lost in thought, staring towards Purdown and watching the sun-rise. His black Labrador puppy was happily playing at his side. The stranger looked remarkably unremarkable. Everything about him screamed ‘Mr Average’. He was average height, and average build, with average good looks. He was not unattractive, and was smartly, but inexpensively dressed.  She came to the conclusion that he was probably just the wrong side of 50.

“The man from C and A,” she whispered, and then giggled and snorted.

 “This way Shannon,” she turned on her heel and retraced her steps, now walking anti clockwise. This way she would be guaranteed to meet the mysterious stranger head on.

He was still there when she reached the bottom corner, still in the same spot, still watching the rising sun.

“Go say hello,” she released Shannon from her leash, and the dog set off towards the stranger.

“Shannon! Shannon! Shannon! Shannon!”  She took a deep breath, and then trotted off in pursuit. “It’s Watson to the rescue,” she giggled and snorted. as she ran. Something told her that this was going to be fun.







Saturday, 2 June 2018

An audience with Gloria An extract from Just a boy from Bristol Part2


“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” said Dad quietly as he lit a cigarette and settled back into his rocking chair. Only a few minutes earlier we had been dancing around the living room, playing happy families, as we held hands and sang Auld Lang Sine together. Now, it was all over. The church bells had stopped chiming, the car horns had ceased beeping, and the dustbin lids were no longer clattering. The streets of Bristol fell silent again. It was 1st January 1950; another new year was upon us; it was time for yet another round of well-intentioned resolutions, but It was also time for a period of reflection. Time to look back on last year’s shattered illusions and broken dreams. “A new decade, which is rich with promise. Now, we will see and taste the fruits of victory.” Dad was waxing lyrical. He always waxed lyrical after a couple of pints.

I had been looking forward to 1950 with anticipation, because it was a particularly special time for me and all the other children of my generation. 1950 was the year when we became teenagers. One by one our little gang reached, and celebrated the milestone. Patrick was first, at the start of the year, and then it was my turn in May. Johnny, as ever, brought up the rear. Like many of the milestones in life it proved to be a bit of an anti-climax. The only changes I noticed were the spots and pimples, the temper tantrums, the mood swings, and the ever increasing problems with that ‘little bit of skin between your legs’ that Granny Kelly had warned me about. But in truth, there were also many exciting changes. We now had our very own special world. A self contained world in which we created our own collection of heroes. We no longer worshipped at the altar of the past, we had our very own sporting, musical and screen heroes to fire our imaginations. All that I was lacking now was the elusive girl of my dreams. Someone to share my special world with.

The girls of my generation had also  become teenagers, and we watched with growing awe and lustful admiration as they developed the most delightful curves in all the right places. Sadly, most of them failed to make the most of the enhancements  and the streets of Kingsdown and St James were awash with nervous looking girls who crept timidly around with slouched, rounded shoulders and folded arms, as they struggled to hide their burgeoning assets. One girl, however, was delightfully different. Her name was Gloria, and Gloria wore her breasts with pride. She walked around the cobblestoned streets of Kingsdown with shoulders back, and chest out. She invariably wore a tight fitting, white aertex shirt, and sported a bow of pink ribbon and a white butterfly slide in her blonde hair. She swayed around the streets with an easy grace and confidence. Her indigo blue eyes closely studied every passing face, and she rewarded any admiring glance with a toss of her fair hair, a flirtatious smile, and a nod of appreciation. Sadly, she was from somewhere on the upper slopes of Kingsdown and as our paths rarely crossed, I was only able to admire her from a distance and infrequently.

Sunday night was cinema night for us boys. The Academy or the Scala were our usual chosen venues, and on this particular Sunday night, we had been to the latter. The film over, we chatted underneath the arches at the foot of Cotham Brow for a while, before saying our goodnights and then we made our separate ways home. I headed off up Cotham Brow with Tony Rees who lived in Victoria Walk.  We parted company half way up the hill and I then headed alone for Somerset Street, which ran parallel and behind Kingsdown Parade. Somerset Street had always held a special fascination for me. It was packed with tall, impressive houses, and was narrow and cobblestoned, with a pavement on one side only. As I reached my destination that night, I remember it started to drizzle, and I felt the soft summer rain brushing against my face. The rain grew slowly heavier and I started to run. As I turned right into Spring Hill, my thoughts turned back to earlier days when I had struggled up and down that hill with the heavy accumulator batteries which we used to power our precious wireless set. At that very moment Gloria appeared from the little lane where I had taken the batteries for charging. We almost collided as she stepped out onto the hill.

“Hello, my name is Gloria,” she waited for a response, but I had now turned into a blushing, stammering wreck, and there was no chance of a response. “What’s wrong, has the cat got your tongue? … Never mind, I will be here next week…same time, same place,” and then she was gone.

Bob Hope and Jane Russell were the stars of the film showing at the Academy the following week. We had already seen Paleface twice before, but with Jane Russell on screen, it was an easy task to persuade the boys to watch it again. The light was fading as we wandered out into the night after the viewing, and we lingered at the foot of Ninetree Hill, still chuckling as we talked about the film. Tony Rees, who never missed an opportunity to entertain, swung into action, and paraded up and down, his shoulders swaying and his hands hovering over imaginary holster and pistols as he re-enacted, word for word,  the gun fight between Bob Hope and the gun slinging outlaw.

‘Hey listen, the man that's after you just killed my brother. Here's a tip: He draws from the left, so lean to the right.

 He draws from the left so lean to the right.

Son, I'll let you in on something. Along towards sunset there's a wind from the east. So you better aim to the west.

 He draws from the left so lean to the right. There's a wind from the east so better aim to the west.

 I know this Joe like a book. He crouches when he shoots so stand on your toes.

 He draws from the left so lean to the right. There's a wind from the east so better aim to the west. He crouches when he shoots so stand on your toes.

 He draws from the left so stand on your toes... There's a wind from the east, better lean to the right... He crouches when he shoots, better aim to the west... He draws from his toes, so lean toward the wind. Ah ha! I got it!’

For the umpteenth time that tight we howled with laughter. Tony bowed to his fans. “I thank you,” he said in his best Arthur Askey voice and made his way home.
The conversation switched to Jane Russell and, inevitably to her breasts. We fell silent for a while, before Patrick spoke. “They aren’t really shaped like that you know. Underneath her sweater there is a contraption built with tiny scaffolding poles, which holds it all in place.” It was a perfect conversation stopper, and we all stood and stared at Patrick in silence. I felt a wave of envy sweep over me. I wanted to emulate my cousin, Patrick. I was also desperate to acquire just a fraction of his knowledge of the female anatomy. But the talk about breasts had made my mind up. I mumbled my excuses and goodnights and headed off, at speed, up Ninetree Hill. I had an urgent appointment; I had an audience with Gloria