Web by Rachel Hilton

Web

I don’t often write about me.  But the word web brought back a cascade of memories.  

When I was a teenager, a canary flew into our garage.  It was a bright yellow pretty little bird.  My Dad managed to catch it, and we put it in a cage.  I don’t remember where the cage came from but that’s not important.  We did all the usual responsible stuff, placing cards in all the local shops saying “Found: yellow canary” where and when etc, all the usual actions people took before social media.  We had no response so it lived in the cage in the dining room of the house.  My brother Simon, who is several years younger than me, named it Freedom.

I don’t remember how long it lived after it came to us, but I think it was a good while.  When Freedom died my dad bought another canary which my brother named Mushroom, as the little bird was various shades of brown and white.  None of us were overly happy about keeping a little bird on its own in a cage, so my Dad decided to build an aviary in one of our garages.  With Simons help he blocked the main door off so it couldn’t be opened and built some flights for the birds inside the garage and some outside too.

Once everything had been built Dad bought another little canary to go with Mushroom and placed them together in a flight.  They settled in quickly.

Between them, over time Dad and Simon kept a variety of birds.  Starting with the original canaries, Mushroom and partner, who surprised us one day when Mushroom started making a nest in the food bowl.  We quickly put out a proper nest box for her and she became a very good mum to a number a of chicks.  They were weird looking tiny bald creatures with huge eyes but they were beautiful.  It was amazing to watch as she fed them the special egg food, we had to make sure they had plenty of this throughout the day and that the little chicks crops were full when feeding time finished.

Then the Chinese painted quail, with their reddish-brown plumage on their undersides and mottled brownish feathering on their backs were really small and scratched about in the sawdust looking for food for most of the time.  They also had a nest box placed in the aviary when the little female started laying eggs on the floor!

There were several pairs of cockatiels, of various colours including the standard greys, pearled, cinnamon, lutino and pied.  I know there were others but I can’t remember them all.  The colour genetics of cockatiels is complicated and I never really fully understood it, I left that to my Dad.  

The diamond doves were small beautiful birds, with white spots and black edges on their wings, orange eyes and red eye-rings.  The female’s eye ring was less vivid than the males and she had more of a brown colour to her plumage.

Also in the aviary were Java sparrows, Bengalese finches, and Zebra finches, which were my favourite with their little cheeping sounds, all of these are smaller birds and easy to keep.

At one point my Dad bought a pair of Blue Throated Conures for which you need a CITES certificate to legally keep.  CITES entered into force to control the trade in endangered or protected animal or plant species.  It now has 180 signatory countries, including the UK and all other EU countries. All signatories must abide by these internationally agreed rules that regulate the import, export and transhipment of protected flora and fauna.

I remember there was pair of African Grey parrots for a period of time but they unsettled the rest of the birds so they didn’t stay.  Also the pretty rainbow lorikeets who looked so beautiful, so vibrant in colour, feathers of orange, blue, green and yellow, with their bright red beaks but they squirted poop everywhere so didn’t last too long.

Neither did the only bird that was mine, a pretty green ring neck parrot but he was so noisy if he was in an outside flight you could hear him down the road.  Dad said he couldn’t stay as he was upsetting all the other birds who were trying to incubate their eggs.  This could mean a disaster so I let him go a local pet shop we knew through buying birds.  The owner Graham was a helpful chap who enjoyed what he did.

All of the birds we ever bought were bred in the UK.  My Dad refused to buy anything that had come into Britain from abroad.

During the time we spent at the pet shop I saw they also sold various other unusual pets.  And I wanted one of them.  In time we ended up with a big tank in the house with one in.

The first one I ever held needed both hands to hold it. Initially I was a bit scared but I pushed that to one side while I concentrated on safely holding her, a Mexican red knee tarantula. This belonged to Graham and he said she wasn’t for sale.  That wasn’t a problem, she was far too big for me anyway! I had seen a small Chilean red tarantula with a large suitable tank. 

Once we were home I set her tank up, with large cork pieces that she could climb over, hide behind, sleep under and spin her beautiful silken web all over.  She was a light brown colour, with a shade of pink to her.  I called her Scarlet. She wasn’t exactly a cuddly pet but she could be taken out of the tank although I didn’t like holding her as I worried about her being fast in my hands and falling to the floor.  This could’ve killed her as spiders don’t have haemoglobin in their blood so if she had been hurt she could have died.  

Or, as was her favourite trick, she would become fed up and to let me know she would rub one of her legs across her abdomen.  This in turn released the Urticating hairs (Urtica is Latin for “nettle”),and can refer to certain types of barbed hairs that cover the dorsal and posterior surface of a tarantula’s abdomen. Many tarantula species eject hairs from their abdomens, directing them toward potential attackers. These hairs can embed themselves in the other animal’s skin or eyes, causing physical irritation, usually to great discomfort. 

And this is what Scarlett would do to me, in the palm of my hand, she didn’t do it to my Dad though and Simon wasn’t interested in or allowed, to get her out.  It would take several hours before it stopped irritating no matter what I tried. She appeared happier left alone to spin her webs to catch the crickets we fed her.  I remember one time we had a small box of crickets and the weather was warm and humid.  Even though they were kept in a cupboard in the dark they bred and several of the smallest ones managed to escape.  It was hilarious, when weeks later we would be watching television in the living room and out the corner of your eye you would see the carpet move. 

Cricket!

CITES, The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
Urtica is Latin for “nettle” (stinging nettles are in the genus Urtica)

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Star by Margaret Moreton

Star
by
Margaret Moreton

Once upon a time there were two, early teenage girls. They lived miles apart and never knew each other, though they had much in common. For them both, there was a stable family and equally they respected their elders. They were at that age which saw their awakening sexuality; involuntary blushes were not uncommon. They both accepted their school days and the lessons they absorbed there, though with varying degrees of interest or success. Naturally they longed for approbation.

For Kathy, this came one glorious summer day. She was called from her class and lauded as a master of her craft – she had written a verse or two about the wonder of the sky at night: the ethereal beauty of a new rising moon; the glorious clarity of a dark, cloudless sky, giving a backdrop to a whole galaxy of stars. Her teacher was impressed. He told her that her work had earned her a star. That star, a gold beauty, was fixed to her work. Star of wonder! It glistened; it reflected her exhilaration – approbation in deed. That star was the half-open door to a possible literary career. She returned to her seat on cloud nine. Her future suddenly seemed bright.

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Her contemporary, Katarina, was awarded a star – a bright gold emblem. She too had a star which defined her future. Her star was awarded in the company of her family and friends, not because of any excellence in her work, simply because of who she was. It was emblazoned on the lapel of her coat, for all the world to see. He who demanded that it be there intended just that.

An aching train journey followed this award, which took her far into the country, away from what she knew and loved – all because of her star. Journey over, she stood with her family, and that reassured her somewhat. Soon, though, she had to leave her dad and her brothers and go with her mum for a shower. She was filthy and smelly after her long, long journey, so to her mind, that had to be good.

That was the last she knew – the Zyclon B did its work and so did the ovens. Her star had truly defined her future. Her Dad, focussing on the giant belching chimney, saw in fatherhood’s mind’s eye, her star taking its place among nature’s galaxies, that would shine there forever.

Once upon a time, no fairy tale this, all this happened: two stars; two messages; two outcomes.

What means a star?

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The Call, by Fay Marie Morris

A real piece for the writers out there: Fay’s response to the trigger ‘call’, tells a moving story of how she came about writing the original poem.

The Call, by Fay Marie Morris

During early spring, 2015, I was given a journal that had been handwritten by my uncle Vic. He was writing about his experiences while on active service during WW2. It starts:

B N [battallion] EMBARKED ON TROOPSHIP S.S. CANTERBURY AT NEWHAVEN SUSSEX. FOR FRANCE.
THIS WAS IT. D DAY TROOPS SAILED DOWN COAST TO PORTSMOUTH AND CROSSED THE CHANNEL DURING
NIGHT. DEAR OLD ENGLAND LEFT BEHIND’…

I can’t explain my feelings when I first read it. Uncle Vic was my mother’s little brother and they were very close. He was 3 years old and my mother was 7 when she was given the job of bringing him up. Their mother had died suddenly in 1921 and their father, a Durham coal-miner, had struggled with both his loss and being solely responsible for the welfare of 4 motherless children.

I really admired my uncle Vic, better known as Dobbie. He was such a lovely man and would light up a room whenever he walked in. He always saw the funny side of everything and his words throughout the journal highlight this, brilliantly. Towards the bottom of the first page he writes, STILL HAD TO WADE THROUGH WATER. [160 BDE?] GERMAN SHELLS STILL WHINING OVER OUR HEADS INTO THE SEA. ON DRY LAND AT LAST BUT IN FRANCE. KEPT WISHING I HAD JOINED THE NAVY… which is the first of many funny quips he inserted into the most dangerous of situations. No wonder everyone loved him!

He spent his 5 war years in the Welsh Regiment and was later mentioned in dispatches for distinguished service gallantry in North West Europe. His mates wrote to the local newspaper asking if they would include the letter, ‘FOR HIS FOLKS TO READ, AS THEY WOULD NEVER READ IT FROM HIM.’ They said.
Thankfully, both the letter and journal were kept safe and sound by my mum’s older sister, auntie Minnie but it ends abruptly, on page 51 and these were his last words, ‘ THE MO WAS KEPT BUSY! THE PADRE HAD PLENTY TO DO AS WELL!’

He’d been writing about the difficulty of keeping the ‘LINES’ operative due to ‘JERRY STONKING [SHELLING] AT REGULAR INTERVALS’, stretcher bearers [S-BS] bringing people in from the ‘COYS? and of the horrific injuries and lack of ‘FIELD DRESSINGS’. He describes how he and others had had to rip off their own field dressings to help a truck driver who was unloading his truck when it got a direct hit. He says ‘HE WASN’T HALF IN A MESS. HE WAS FULL OF HOLES AND THE BLOOD WAS RUNNING FROM HIS EARS EYES NOSE AND MOUTH’.

Something not included in the journal, and only known by me because of listening in to family conversations. Later in the war his battalion was stationed behind enemy lines in The Reichwell Forest [not sure of spelling] somewhere in N.W. Germany. His battalion liberated Belsen/Bergen Concentration Camp, an experience he never ever came to terms with.

I feel very sad that my mother [the Nan or Nancy mentioned several times throughout the journal] knew nothing of it. He often wrote that he wondered how she was and what she was doing and I only found out about the journal myself because my cousin Peter happened to come across it when clearing out his mother’s [my auntie Minnie’s] affects, after she died. He then put it in a drawer and forgot about it for several decades. He was an old man when he passed it on to me in 2015 and asked if I would let uncle Vic’s kids know about it.

Thankfully, my daughter Lisa helped me scan the 60 odd pages in the small, buff coloured notebook. She then enlarged and attempted to clarify them, while taking great care not to lose the integrity of the original, sometimes scribbled, faded pencil handwriting.

I sent Ian, his eldest son, the original notebook, of which he knew nothing. We made 7 copies altogether and sent one to each of his 3 kids, another for cousin Peter and 1 each for me and my 2.

I heard recently that Ian has donated the original notebook to Bishop Auckland War Museum. Uncle Vic was a well-liked and highly respected Town Councillor for many years and a local park has since been created and named in his honour, with shiny brass plaque to prove it, something I’m sure he would have hated.

After reading through the journal, several times, I felt compelled to write a poem about the waste and futility of war and decided to set it during WW1, but, I have no idea why except that by distancing myself from it, might have made it a little easier to write…

ANSWERING THE CALL.
It had been such a long time since daybreak
and the fighting was not over yet.
He waited, next to the rest of his mates
with beads of sweat running down his neck.

Thinking of Mary, his sweetheart back home,
wondering when he’d see her again.
He pictured her face and her golden hair
instead of the mud and pouring rain.

Would she be waiting when all this was done?
Would she consent to become his bride?
Would they be happy and have many bairns?
Would they stay together all their lives?

Her eyes were the blue of forget-me-nots
and her lips were like soft pink rose buds.
She smelt of green meadows in early spring
and of fresh new growth, so clean and good.

He remembered her, standing in the lane,
with salty tears streaming down her face.
He wondered if she’d be there at the end
still dressed like a maid, in snow white lace.

His mother had cried as she waved farewell
and he just marched away from her arms.
His father had stood with stiff upper lip
while suppressing the worst of his qualms.

He had answered the call to arms with pride
and was ready and eager to go.
Until he heard screams and the sound of guns,
something we hope we will never know.

All of his dreams disappeared in a flash
and his heart seemed to turn into ice
but he steeled himself, went over the top… s
ealing his fate with the roll of a dice.

By Faymarie Morris. Nov 2016

I very nearly didn’t finish it but the poem began to assert itself after I read the last few pages of the notebook for about the 5th time.

Uncle Vic had made a list of all his ‘GIRLS’, starting when he was only 15 and I couldn’t understand why, until I realised it was probably to try and take his mind off what was happening to him or what he was expected to do. I imagine that anything from his youth would have been better than the reality of the situation, and listing his many girlfriends would have been a distraction he’d have welcomed with open arms.

The last girl he wrote about was Margaret Wright, my mother’s best friend and much later, her bridesmaid. He said how lovely she was but that he was too shy. He said he would have asked her to marry him, but was too slow.

In my poem, the soldier is thinking about Mary, his girl back home. A scenario that must have been played out many millions of times, in all the trenches or bivouacs of every war that has ever been fought.

Also, I would like to dedicate the poem to the memory of my dad’s sister, auntie Louie, who was only 21 when she learned that her fiancee had lost his life in Ypres, on the same day he arrived there. This fact seemed to have coloured the rest of her life because she never married. I really loved my eccentric auntie Louie, she was certainly a one off, but most people saw her as a sad, weird, lonely old spinster until the day she died, aged 86.

LEST WE FORGET!!

Freedom by Michael Healy

Michael’s response to the trigger

FREEDOM
Freedom is a precious favour which most people assume is their right
But many have found their lives are restricted and so have to fight
Two examples were slavery and the African Apartheid system
Both were defeated by strong men campaigning against them.

Born on 24th August 1759 and died on 29th July 1833,
William Wilberforce was a leading politician and MP
He led the campaign for the abolition of slavery
Throughout Britain and the lands of the British Empire.

He campaigned most of his life against the evil that was slavery,
And as a Member of Parliament he could influence the laws
So when the Slave Trade Act of 1807 was passed
He had achieved much of his life’s aim.

In 1826 he resigned from Parliament because of failing health
But he still continued to campaign and eventually Parliament
Passed the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. He died just three days later
After the passage of this bill into law.

Nelson Mandela was another campaigner for freedom
Born in South Africa on 18th July 1918, he campaigned for
Freedom for the Black South African from Apartheid
The system of preference for White South Africans.

He trained as a lawyer and graduated from Hare and Witwatersrand Universities,
before Practicing in Johannesburg. Here he developed his political interests.
These led to bitter disagreement with the Government.
In 1962 he was arrested and charged with attempting to overthrow the state.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment and served 27 years.

With growing unrest among the black South Africans, he was released in 1990
From there he was elected to be President and set about rationalizing black and white.
This he achieved and his country is now fit for both black and whites.
With Freedom for both ethnic groups.

Bucket list by Kevin Murphy

Kevin’s response to the ‘Bucket List’ trigger:
Bucket List:
‘I am just a poor boy though my story’s seldom told’… is one of my mantras. My mother was incredibly practical, perhaps out of necessity as my father was not; perhaps from the make do and mend attitude of the war; perhaps because her father was a shoe mender – the inter war years being a busy time, but also one where customers did not return to collect the shoes he had repaired because they could not pay.
My mother got permission to start work not at the statutory accepted end of her 14th school year, but the Monday after her October birthday, just two weeks after war was declared in 1939. For decades after her father died in 1956 (from his Great War wounds – gassing) we had one of his lasts in our cellar.https://i0.wp.com/i.ebayimg.com/00/s/MTA3MVgxNjAw/z/2VMAAOSwnNBXZ9xT/$_35.JPGThis had use right into the eighties – a trade secret to stop heels rubbing – gently hammer out the leather to stretch it.
One of our most famous family stories is about the time my Father got my sister and me to surprise Mother, who would normally wallpaper all by herself, by papering the hall ceiling for her while she was out at mass. All of us on ladders, he at one end, passed to Ces in the middle who passed it to me at the other end. We had difficulty making it stick in the stretches between us. It slowly drooped at one or two points and gradually, oh so gradually, gathered pace until it effectively dressed Ces atop her ladder. She was intrepid though. She did not let go her hand. She did let go of something else. At first the giggle … led to tears of laughter … before she eventually wet herself.
When Ma returned there was a six inch patch of paper in the middle of the hall ceiling, a twelve inch puddle on the hall carpet, and a wasted roll of the wallpaper we could little afford in a corner.
I do try to do all the jobs. Laying a hedge I swung the billhook back and caught the back of my head. Only the dufflecoat hood saved serious injury. I’ve electrocuted myself fixing the washer, and broken a finger dropping a car axle onto it. Though the list of fixables did reduce over the years, I persevere, I am intrepid. I’ve fixed the flat screen TV in the last year … but now I am a bit of a ‘Gunner’ and the list of things I’m gunner fix is getting longer again.
There is no need to fix. I am no longer a poor boy. Money in the bank making negative interest. My kids deny it when I sing ‘I am just a poor boy, though my story’s seldom told. ‘
There’s a hole in my bucket dear Kevin,
I’ll fix it dear Diane…
DON’T FIX THE FLIPPIN’ THING, JUST BUY ME A NEW ONE!

Solution by Margaret Moreton

Margaret’s response to the trigger ‘word’:

Solution by Margaret Moreton

‘The word was made flesh … and dwelt among us … full of grace and truth…’ The word was “solution” and was proclaimed to the world. It too was flesh – nothing more nor less – and dwelt among us – full of dread and despair … and yet hope.

“Arbeit macht frei” – so many times have I seen this maxim proclaimed in news bulletins or I’ve read it in journalistic articles, but never have I felt the chill of its impact so deeply, as I stood beneath the gateway carrying its message. My mind ranged through the translated meaning which I understood from schoolgirl German, and which I’m sure lay behind the hoped for message greeting impending occupants. The dastardly underlying meaning hit me and clearly I saw the man who put it there. He who dreamt it up must have borne a triumphant, cynical smile across his lips. A more loaded welcome would have been hard to extend.

What did I expect as I stood there? This epic chapter of history I had lived through. Had I been asked that question in the late forties, my answer would have been different from that which I may have offered a few weeks ago. Even with that answer, I would not have come close to what now I saw and learned. I had seen photos of ‘striped pyjamas’, ‘Goon boxes’ and barbed wire, but none began to relate the choking horror of what was preserved, telling of what happened. As I walked on, between the harsh naked once-dwellings of selected and herded humans, I was eerily forewarned by the chilling silence, of the awfulness of what I had to address as I went forward. No birds sang; no dogs barked; indeed, in the vast openness of Birkenau, no rabbits scampered, no foxes prowled.

Everywhere was evidence of the dehumanisation of people; of men and women like you and me, and of children like ours. Names ignored and numbers used instead. Thus dignity was gone – indeed how would a number need – on demand – dignity? Clothes removed, comfortless striped pyjamas supplied in return. Dignity and individuality were gone. Barbed wire and electric fences corralled all, and all were watched by armed guards in elevated wooden towers. Dignity was gone! Even in death there was no dignity – corpses were haphazardly cast into mass graves, body on body. Unsuspecting souls were promised much-needed showers; instead were stripped, cornered and poisoned by Zyclon B, then cast into an oven inferno.

The stark reality of rows of supported wooden planks with holes over buckets every two or three feet – latrines in a very open communal area – no question of a label or a latch on a door – no question of a door. Privacy and dignity were words far divorced from the vocabulary of the master. The dormitories were grotesque – indeed the derivation of the word was a mockery – sleep could only have happened in exhaustion. Just tier upon tier of stark, rough, wooden, crate-like structures, each one shared by, I believe, two or even three people – often by corpses.

Seventy years of suns, snows, rains and fogs have not cleansed the chill concrete ‘shower-room’ of its awful gasping cries; of its bitterly dashed hopes for a future. It is still there, that aching mausoleum of innocents. Neither have those years cleansed and erased the shuddering ghastliness of the vast ovens, nor the sight of crammed heaps of empty Zyclon casks, nor yet the impact of the towering chimneys.

While I was there I bought a book: ‘Man’s search for meaning.’ Its cover carries the picture of an imaginary but splendidly vibrant bird, poised for flight, perched, on a barbed fence surrounding an open space, guarded by observation towers, wired electric fences and flood lights. I see it as a defiant salute to hope, despite the awfulness of Holocaust – a message voiced in its forthright writing. We all need hope in our lives. So felt the man who secretly fashioned a tiny rosary from his once-a-day ration of bread.

Towards the end of my visit, I became aware of the biting wind and my deeply blue hands. It seemed to sum up and underline the pervading chill; the insidious lack of any feeling of warmth anywhere. In quiet moments now, there still thunders through my mind the phrase, ‘Man’s inhumanity to man.’ I have seen in widescreen, pictures of those words drawn in abject sufferings. May they never be so clearly portrayed again.

The word? The word was ‘solution’. And the solution? Was it final? I think not. I was helped in my aching tiredness, over the last hours there, by three groups at various times: firstly by a party of young Jewish men, then by a party of Irish visitors, and finally by a French family. There lies something towards a solution, with natural barriers down and help given as and when it was needed. We can preserve our differences without resorting to aggression, if we have humanity, nation unto nation.

The Unbelievable Truth by MICHAEL HEALY

Michael’s response to the trigger ‘truth’:
THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH
As a group, the sad truth is that Human Beings as a race do not take care of each other. Indeed, through history the evidence is that Wars have sought better and more efficient ways to cause such harm. This truth was brought vividly to my attention some years ago.
The year was 1978. I was talking to the Chief Scientist of a company called Cary Scientific Instruments in Metuchen, New York, USA.
The purpose of my visit was to assess one of Cary’s Raman Spectrometers with a view to its possible purchase for research at Nottingham University, a mere £70,000 .
The Chief Scientist was an interesting man, I guess about twice my age. He was an expert in the use of spectroscopy for chemical analysis. Their machine was state-of-the-Art: laser powered, and computer driven. By comparison my machine at Nottingham would have looked out of date at Stonehenge. I continued our conversation by asking him what was his background. He explained that he did his first degree at Harvard followed by his PhD , and then he joined the US Army’s technical branch just as the war started. He found himself being seconded to the Manhattan Project – the Atomic Bomb.
He went on to explain the excitement of developing techniques for purification of Uranium and methods for measuring it. He had witnessed several bomb tests in the Mexican desert, which he said were astounding. ‘But none of us realized what the impact would be’. He then went on to describe the dropping on Hiroshima. ‘We were all horrified at what we had developed and the magnitude of the effect,’ he said.
I was slightly shocked to note he had tears in his eyes. He continued that as soon as he could he left the US Army’s Technical Branch and returned to civilian life.
‘Have a look at the pictures of destruction caused to see what it meant,’ he said to me. ‘Be careful what you do as a scientist.’
This encounter had a profound impact on me and ever since I have considered the impact of any research I do.
Oh yes, I bought the Raman Spectrometer

MICHAEL HEALY