Friday, 17 May 2013

Down the rabbit hole .... Part I

We were three days out when the storm hit us. The brisk wind, that had moaned in the rigging and sent the spinnaker soaring, pulling us over waves as though we were flying, turned into a raging hurricane that whipped the sea into a frenzy. Gigantic waves crashed onto the decks and threatened to swamp us at any moment. The tempest tore at the rigging; sails and spars creaking, ominously, as we battled with the cordage in a vain attempt to lower some of the sails. Barrels, that had been lashed to the handrails, broke free and, as the vessel plummeted into a trough, they rolled ever closer to me and I feared I would be flattened beneath them. The twins saw the island first; silhouetted in the luminous, lightning flashes and hope caught in my throat. Miraculously, the storm was blowing us towards the beach and sanctuary. Fearing that a reef may lie between us and safety, the Knave sank to his knees and prayed for deliverance. But I trusted no god and, listening to the creaks and rattles of the craft, I stared into the darkness at the fast approaching shore. Thus far, I had led a charmed life, often nearing disaster, but never quite succumbing.

The vessel came to ground on a sandbank, a few yards from the shore, listing precariously in the shallow water. I scooped up the Dormouse, shoving him into the band of my elastic- waisted, gypsy skirt. Then, a pause, as I checked that the twins had tucked the Cheshire cat safely into his basket. We swiftly gathered all we could carry and slid into the water. As we waded through the foaming waves and onto the beach, our battered vessel fell onto its side and the main-mast was wrenched in two. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the storm abated and we fell, exhausted, onto the silver sands. The pale moon rose in the sky and stars twinkled like diamonds studded in midnight-blue velvet. The Fisher-King cast his net of dreams and we slept where we lay.

" I'm late, I'm late " the Birds-of-Paradise seemed to say, to the harmonious accompaniment of the burring wings of the Hummingbird. The morning sun kissed our faces and Tweedledum and Tweedledee made nettle tea, so we sat on the sand, by the lagoon, sipping the aromatic beverage and, as the playing cards floated in and out on the tide, we thought of home. ______________________________________________________________________________________________

The above is my entry for this weeks Word Game, famously invented by the marvellous Matt. All details can be found on his blog at

This is a slight departure from my usual offering and probably confirms your suspicions about the state of my mind. I'm sure you could come up with something either equally weird or, infinitely more sensible, so please do 'have a bash' ! Just remember to include the following words;


This was first published on in January 2013

Down the rabbit hole ...... Part II

The nettle tea was restorative and, as it always imbues our band of travellers with a feeling of positivity, I was pleased that the twins had the foresight to prepare a large pitcher of the delicious beverage. I sipped slowly and considered our plight.

The day had dawned clear, thus far, but ominous dark clouds, in the West, were fast approaching and the island had little in the way of shelter. Palm trees, bent double by previous storms, were of little use should the tempest return. We needed to leave this place; find a safe harbour. Our situation was desperate, but even the wariest of us could not fail to be amused, when the Crab king ventured across the beach and, in a squeaky but eminently polite voice offered to help us refloat the ship.

This would normally have been a hopeless task, but I had become used to accomplishing seemingly impossible things and called for the others to assist. The vessel lay, on its side, in the surf. Waves foamed over the barnacled hull, washing mussels and cockles and sending them scurrying for cover under a large, brightly striped umbrella. Young dolphins had appeared, with their chalk and slates and were now sketching the whole sorry spectacle, under the watchful eye of the Walrus, who sat, leering, on his rocky dais.

The crabs marched, purposefully, down the shoreline, their claws "click, clicking" on the silver sand. Tumbling into the turquoise waters, they scrambled under the immersed port-side and clambered, one on top of the other, to form a wedge shape. Together they pushed and pushed as the Knave and I pulled and pulled, but we needed more strength.

I shouted out to the playing cards, who were still drifting, listlessly, back and forth on the tide. One by one, they floated to the shore and shook themselves. Some of the soggier ones ran about until they were drier and their cardboard was strong once more. Then, working as a pack, they heaved and heaved and, just as we were almost collapsing with the effort, there was a huge "SLUUURRRPPPP" and the ship was righted !

Tweedledum and Tweedledee triumphantly carried the only straight palm tree, proudly, across the sand-bank .... we had our main mast ! Working swiftly, eyeing the ever approaching clouds, the Dormouse secured the 'mast' and tightened the bolts with the handy torque-wrench, that he always carried in his hip pocket. Thank goodness for the Dormouse and his capacious, hip pocket.

Fat raindrops began to fall and splatter onto the deck as we loaded the Cheshire Cat and our meagre rations. Then we hoisted the spinnaker. We must outrun this storm. The Knave had now been demoted to First officer and so he set to work, checking that the barrels were lashed and the sheets were secure in their cleats. In my new capacity as Captain, I took the wheel and, with a final salute to the crabs, I turned the ship into the wind. The sails filled and the ship sprung to life, scudding swiftly away from the island, as storm petrels flew high across the fast disappearing sun. And all the while, the unseen maelstrom dragged us ever nearer to its depths and the rabbit hole yawned down at us, from its unattainable height, high in the sky. I could never reach it. Would I ever see Dinah again ? ______________________________________________________________________________________

The above nonsense is my entry for this week's Word Game. As you can see, I adore "Alice in Wonderland"!!!Although, I doubt Lewis Carroll would ever forgive me.

You can find the rules and more sensible examples of the game if you visit Matt's blog on

This week the words that must be included in the story are;


This was first published on

A day in the country

Rosemary laid her weary head on the plump pillows and closed her tired eyes. She was exhausted, but a smile was on her pale lips as she freed her mind from distractions and let it wander. Oh, it had been such a wonderful day. A perfect day.

He had managed to borrow a friend's car. A cute little MG, in racing green. He had been so funny as he gallantly helped her into the passenger's seat, closing the door with a flourish. Then galloping round, on his long legs, to the driver's side and leaping into the seat, without using the door at all ! Showing off !

She had been shy at first; this was only their second "real" date. However, she had seen him, often, around the office, where they both worked. They had nodded, politely, for a couple of months, until one day when her type-writer jammed. He had rushed to her aid and had given her a pointer or two on how best to manage the stubborn old machine. That was the day they had taken their lunch together, in the park and she had giggled as he shared his rations with a very greedy duck. They seemed to hit it off and she had been thrilled when he had asked her if she would like to go to the cinema. That had been fun, but this ..... oh this was entirely different. A whole day together.

He drove the little, open top sports car expertly through the city streets and soon they were zipping along in suburbia and on towards the countryside. It was early June, and already the day was very warm. Spring had lingered later than usual this year, rain and cold winds had swept the nation, as though reluctant to relinquish their hold. But, at last, the weather had changed; blue skies and fluffy clouds were ushering in the long-awaited Summer.

The scenery changed from neat suburban houses, with their little "postage-stamp" sized gardens, to open fields and hawthorn hedges. Fields of crops and sprawling farm buildings. Rosemary was a little quiet, at first, but Harry was so easy to talk to that soon they were chattering away like old friends. They laughed and told silly jokes to amuse themselves and Harry began to sing a popular song, with Rosemary joining in on the chorus. The MG powered along, its throaty roar competing with their singing. The roads were narrower now with tall trees lining the verges, their leafy branches arching overhead and forming a sort of "roof" through which the sun's rays shone and dappled the route with pools of sparkling sunlight. Rosemary's hair lifted and streamed out behind her, like a golden curtain and she gasped, exhilarated, as Harry swerved the car to avoid a pot-hole and she was flung, sidewards against the soft tweed of his jacket. She could smell his cologne and the subtler aroma of Palmolive soap and she blushed and hastily sat upright, suddenly flustered.

They took a sharp bend and there, just ahead, was a road sign beside a bright red telephone box and the road widened slightly as they drove into a picturesque little village. Old houses and trees stood in delightful, haphazard array around the large village green. There was a splendid sycamore among the trees and a large, creepered house alongside its humbler neighbours. The green was crossed by a couple of neat paths and over on one side stood a pretty, ivy-covered Inn. Harry steered the MG into the gravel-covered car park at the rear of the hostelry and brought the little car to a halt. He rushed to open the passenger's door and took Rosemary's hand to help her from the low-slung vehicle. As he did so, she felt a spark of electricity pass between them. Harry noticed it too and held her hand for slightly longer than necessary before gesturing towards the entrance of the "Roast Ox Inn",

" This looks like a nice place. Shall we have a break here ? Maybe some lunch ? " he asked. Rosemary nodded, suddenly shy and lowered her eyes, bashfully.

The Bar was full of locals and, what looked like, members of the village cricket team. Apparently a match was due to be played that afternoon, on the far side of the green, and already players and spectators were gathering for refreshment and gossip. Harry and Rosemary found a table in the relative quiet of the Snug and a cheery barmaid bustled over to them, drying her hands on her apron as she said,

" Oh hello, have you enough room there ? I'll fetch your drinks, you'll never get to the bar. We don't do meals, only sandwiches. What'll you have to drink ?"

Rosemary glanced at Harry, totally confused and embarrassed, what on earth should she choose ? In spite of her 18yrs, she was quite naive and inexperienced . She was not used to pubs and country drives and barmaids. It all felt rather thrilling and dangerous. Harry sensed her consternation and gently took her hand,

" Mmmm, it's so hot. Shall we have some cider and some sandwiches ?" and Rosemary nodded, gratefully.

And so they had drunk golden cider, so cold that condensation frosted the glasses and they had laughed over the huge, but delicious "door-step" sandwiches of cheese and pickle, served with large, brown pickled onions. They had both avoided the pungent onions, perhaps already thinking of what may lie ahead ? They had lingered in the Snug, listening to the merry banter of the crowd and the loud voice of a rotund, red-faced chap, who appeared to be 'holding court'.

" Oh, that's old Fred," exclaimed the barmaid, as she gathered their plates. "He always yammers on like that, on match days. He used to be Captain of the team, before he lost his leg in the War"

Rosemary smiled and winced a little at the booming voice and raucous laughter that followed, then handed the barmaid her empty glass.

" Tell you what," the friendly woman continued, noticing Rosemary's wince, " If you don't want to watch the cricket, you could always go down by the stream. Nice walk, it is. There is a path out the back, over that style in the car-park !" She glanced at the young couple, then winked and added, " Nice and quiet it is, down by there, me loves !"

In the darkness of her bedroom, Rosemary opened her eyes. " Who's there ?" she whispered, " Is there anyone there ?" The silence enveloped her and she closed her eyes and her thoughts returned to the perfection of the day.

Harry had taken her arm and guided her gently through the crowded Bar. His touch had sent shivers down her spine and robbed her of her ability to speak. Wordlessly, they strolled across the crunchy gravel and negotiated the rustic, rather ricketty style. She giggled as her petticoat caught on the rough wood and almost fell as she tried to free the lacy garment. Harry steadied her gently and, putting his hands on her slim waist, he lifted her carefully down to the ground. She caught her heel in a tree root and fell against him, her heart beating so fast that she was certain he could feel it. He looked down at her and his soft, dark eyes seemed to peer into her soul. She was about to throw caution to the wind, to pull his head down to hers, when a bird flapped in the nearby yew tree, and startled, they leapt apart. Then they dissolved into nervous giggles; they both knew.

The path led down a slight slope, trees and bushes lined the route and the hem of Rosemary's full-skirted, Summer dress, brushed against long grasses and ferns. Birds, high in the trees, sang their songs of praise and thanks for this wonderful day and the air was still, hot and sultry .... and full of promise. The path gave way to a mossy clearing, a sleepy, sunlit hollow, where a little brook splashed and tinkled over its rocky bed. Harry stopped, turned and took Rosemary's face in his hands, then gently kissed her. She melted into his arms and they clung to each other, not daring to speak, not wishing to break the spell. He took off his jacket and spread it on the soft grass and then they lay among the fading bluebells and the nodding, yellow cowslips and kissed again.

Tentative touches became more urgent. Gentle kisses became more passionate, arousing. Hearts beating faster, hands caressing, searching out buttons and fastenings. Hot breath on cheeks and necks, soft lips on bare skin. His hand on her naked thigh, her stockings discarded. Her hands beneath his sweat-soaked shirt, nails digging into his skin as they made love for the first time. His face above her, his arms around her, holding her to his heart. His face .... his face....

" Is someone there ?" Rosemary calls, again, half awake in the bedroom. But the room is still, silent. Her hands, the skin so thin and translucent, lay at rest on the coverlet. The scent of roses and lilac waft in through the open window. She closes her eyes again and drifts .... and drifts....

The figure in the shadows, smiles and draws his dark cloak around his shoulders.

" Yes, that was peaceful " he whispers, "She was 81. She had some happy memories to help her on her way."

And with that, Death slipped slowly out of the room. His work was done. _____________________________________________________________________________________________ This week's entry for Matt's Countdown Word Game is a rather sad story. Maybe you can write something lighter ? You will find rules and examples of past entries on Matt's page at

This week the words to be included are;


This was first published on

A Fete worse than Death

Mrs Worthington-Smythe shook her head, vehemently,

" No, Belinda, dear ! Your refreshment tent will be beside the Bingo marquee, as usual !"

Then she produced one of her 'smiles', the one that always brought to mind a Great White Shark, just before it sinks its teeth into some poor, helpless victim.

" As Chairperson of the village Anniversary and Fete committee, I really must insist that we retain the 'status quo'. We can't go changing things, willy-nilly, my dear. We have a tradition to uphold."

Poor Belinda sighed and studied her finger-nails, the tried a cannier approach,

" But the noise from the Bingo tent ........"

Her voice trailed off, she could see that it was useless. I gave her a sympathetic grin. I have only lived in the village for eighteen months, but I knew that Belinda was wasting her breath. The Worthington-Smythe woman had moved on to the next item on her agenda and was now discussing the flower and produce stalls. Her voice droned on and on, as she forced her will on the hapless committee members.

The warmth of the sun's rays, beating through the windows of the Village Hall, had a soporific effect on me and I drifted, in that 'half-light', that state of being not asleep but not truly awake. I wondered how I had ever let myself be persuaded to take part in the organisation of this annual event. I had no experience, as such, but I suppose I was following in family footsteps. My beloved Grandmother, now sadly deceased these past six months, had always been active in village matters. She had once been a great traveller, but old age and arthritis and various heart conditions, had made her cease her travels and settle in a tiny cottage in this pretty place.

The village was proud of its heritage and the part it had played in the English Civil war. Apparently, the Cavaliers had made a stand and won a great battle here; some had subsequently made their homes in this delightful area. For years, now, the village had held an annual, week long celebration of all things English. This began with a traditional Fete, continued with various events throughout the week and then culminated the following weekend, with a performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and then a celebratory Grand Ball.

I seethed, silently, as I thought of the auditions for the play. Having missed them, last year, I was keen to attend and try for the part of Titania. I had just graduated from Drama College and this would be wonderful experience. My audition had gone extremely well and the Director was very impressed,

" I think we can safely say that we have found our Faerie Queen !" he grinned, delightedly.

But my joy was short-lived. Mrs Worthington-Smythe had burst in, a frown creasing her well-powdered forehead,

" No, no, Jeremy ! I thought it was all arranged. My Jocasta will be Titania, this year ! This, this, er .... person...can be her understudy !"

And that was it, fait accompli. No-one dared argue. All the events were held on Worthington-Smythe land and, although Jocasta was no actress, her family funded the production, provided the venue, everything ! The Director looked at me and shrugged his shoulders, ruefully, then turned to a beaming Jocasta and shook her hand. That was all two months ago and I had dutifully attended every rehearsal and every costume fitting. And bided my time. Waiting.

" So, that's okay, Rosie, dear ? You will be our gypsy, won't you ?"

I startled and blinked and dragged my mind back to the present; back to the committee meeting. I stared, dumb-struck, at the pile of clothes that had suddenly appeared on the table, in front of me.

" You will be our Fortune Teller ? Oh, say you will. I know your Grandmother used to do it, years ago, but that was before my time. And we really can't have Mrs Browning again, she is far too, erm, ah, 'unreliable' !"

Oh, yes, I remembered Mrs Browning's antics, last year. How she had lurched about, full of sherry and 'bon-homie', her turban tilted, precariously on the curly wig. A streamer of toilet tissue trailing from the waistband of the spangled skirt, as she accosted every male, be he gentleman, Lord or lout and offered,

" Just a little nip of gin and a cuddle in me tent, me ducks !"

No, I reasoned, we couldn't have a repeat performance of that. Mrs Worthington-Smythe gurned at me as I gathered up the cheap, garish outfit and the paste jewels,

" Oh, thank you, my dear. And it will be a little 'starring role' for you, at last !"

Grrrrr ! I could cheerfully have slapped her, but no, I was thinking of something else.

Back at home I dumped the clothes on the kitchen table and ran upstairs to my Grandmother's room. Everything was just as it had been when she was alive. Although the cottage now belonged to me, her presence still filled every space, but especially here, in her special sanctuary. I pulled open the heavy drawer in the base of her huge, oak wardrobe and carefully lifted out a long, slightly battered cardboard box. I lifted the lid and gently peeled back the yellowing tissue and there it lay. A beautiful, authentic Romani costume.

It was when I had come to stay, eighteen months ago, to look after my ailing Grandmother, that I had learned of her past and of my heritage. She told me all about her youth. Her travels with the other members of the Romani family. She taught me of our ancestor's origins, thousands of years ago in Rajasthan. Of beautifully carved and painted, horse-drawn caravans. Of the traditions and legends and the 'old ways'. Of the trek across the Continents, throughout the centuries and of her branch of the family's eventual arrival in Britain.

Slipping out of my modern clothes, I reverently donned the beautiful garments. The fine embroidery shone in purples and golds, as vibrant as the day it was stitched, many years ago. I slowly twirled, in front of the full-length mirror and marvelled as the crystals sparkled in the folds of the skirt and tiny coins tinkled around the hem. The jewelled head-dress and beaded necklaces completed the picture and I smiled at my reflection as I felt a strange new feeling, a magical aura. This was my true heritage.

The day of the Fete dawned, bright and clear and by 10am it was already hot and sultry. I was doing a brisk business, as villager after villager crossed my palm with silver and hunched over the crystal ball, as I gazed into their 'future'. I was just about to take a well-earned break and find some cool refreshment, when the beaded curtain, that hung at the entrance to the tent, was noisily flung back and into the tent flounced Jocasta. I knew she wouldn't be able to resist a gloat. I settled back into my seat and indicated for her to take her place. She was full of herself, as usual.

" Cor, Rosie ! That outfit is lush !" she exclaimed, " If I had known it was so gorge and flattering, I would have had a bash at this, myself ! Go on then, do my fortune, Rosie !"

I took the plump, well manicured hand and studied her palm, carefully. Then, I closed my eyes and smiled as I placed her hand back onto the paisley-patterned cloth that covered the ricketty card table. Then I gazed into the crystal ball that sat in the centre of the table.

" Oh, oh, my goodness, oh! Jocasta, I must tell you .... next week .... the play .... you will be covered in ...."

" Glory, I will be covered in glory !" she cried, before I could finish. " Yes, yes ! I can picture it. I will be a triumph in the play. There will be shouts and roars of approval and applause and curtain calls and flowers ! I will be a star ! Mummy has arranged it all !But don't say a word, it's a huge secret Oh, thanks, Rosie"

And, with that, she swept out of the tent.

Well, Jocasta was, indeed, covered, but not in glory. Oh, no, she was covered in the bright red, itchy spots, of some mysterious illness that suddenly manifested itself during the week. Neither her expensive, private Doctor, nor the exclusive clinic, could find the cause. It wasn't measles, it wasn't rubella, it wasn't chicken-pox and it certainly wasn't attractive. It lasted two whole weeks, ensuring that there was no way Jocasta could play Titania; not with a face like a well-smacked bottom ! Thank heavens there was a word-perfect understudy to take over and captivate the audience, not to mention the 'surprise' guest..... a talent-scout from the Royal Shakespeare Company ! ______________________________________________________________________________________________ Yes, that piece of nonsense is my entry for Matt's Countdown Word Challenge. You can find all the details you need on his blog at

This week the words to be included are;


This was first published on

Slow Dancing

The music begins. He appears, in the guise of stranger, the illusion of innocence. A glance; hearts skip a beat and then; an outstretched hand. Into the throng, the centre of the dimly-lit floor. Swallowed up amongst the colourful revellers, not noticed, unseen. Swaying to the music, feet barely moving, glued to the spot, knees weak at the daring, delicious danger. Into the formal hold, tentative, in awe; arm around waist, cool hand enclosing hand.

Then, closer, body against body, thrilling to the touch. Smooth silk dress against fine wool jacket, scarlet nails against white cotton shirt. Closer still, clinging to each other. Whispered promises, soft entreaties. Lips brush forehead, hands caress, with longing in every fingertip. Kisses cover wrists, words catch in throats; tears fall on soft cheeks.

The music hypnotises, intoxicating perfume mingles with the scent of desire. Strong fingers tenderly brush tendrils of hair from damp cheeks, then move down to gently lift a fair chin. A dark head bows to steal a single, forbidden kiss, as fairy lights twinkle and laughter spins around. All too soon the music stops. The crowd applauds and disperses . With one, last, lingering look the couple part and go back to their separate tables, back to their own, private prisons, their own personal hell.