Mr Verity by Andrew Bell

Mr Verity

A friendly stranger has taken over
the top floor in my head.

A man of culture and refinement,
he wears smart shoes,
with polish well rubbed in;
keeps his best thoughts
in his wardrobe on the shelf
above his suits and ties
and his aspirations,
in other fine pieces,
some suitably distressed.

You will never hear him grumble
about errant thoughts leaking
through distressed tap washers,
embarrassing moments, or missed opportunities.
But, I suspect he has come to teach me,
hold a mirror to my foibles
or, because he never seems to rest,
reset my synapses as I sleep.

More often though, I will find him
playfully disrupting my self-absorption,
like when he sings melodious refrains
through the floorboards above my bed.

At weekends, I may accompany him
in duets,
and sometimes, when I miss a beat,
I can see by his look,
that I’m somewhere else,
reliving those Sunday afternoons,
with the lady I met in the flat below,
the one who keeps my dreams
with her rings in a box.

And when the world is having fits
about this or that,
or when I get caught up
with the problems of mortality
or the properties of dark matter, or eternity,
or I’m wondering whether writing a poem
is a symptom of insecurity,
he answers my questions
with thoughtfulness and grace.

Then my attic voice
begins to change its tone.
I’ll feed on benign spaces
between the words,
put the issues back in their chest,
slip quietly into those silent attic spaces,
and make a cup of tea.


Peter Green’s End of the Game by Kevin Murphy

Kevin’s response to the trigger green

My Peter Green and the End of the Game for us.

December 1970

Image Copyright, Kevin Murphy

I had missed the early years of the British Blues Boom as I was a young Friar in a monastery. A few months after I left in June 1968, out of the corner of a community centre came an experience which changed my life. Some ethereal music was playing with the most plaintive singing and a heart rending wail of ‘I just wish I had never been born’.

It moved into a rock section which warmed me, before settling down and the singer finished with the line, ‘And I wish I was in love’.

By that point I was hovering over the Juke box and learnt that the track was ‘Man of the World’ by Fleetwood Mac.

After being cloistered away from ‘the world’ for the whole of my teens, the song stirred something in me. Yes, I had ‘missed the sixties’, and I did wish I was in love.

I needed to hear more, so I played the B side. I could have lost out so much. ‘Earl Vince & The Valiants – Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonite’? It seemed like Fleetwood Mac must be a novelty band, having a B side not by them: they must have so little material as to be a one-hit-wonder band.

It was from that same Juke box that I first heard Jimi Hendrix with ‘All along the Watchtower’. Luckily I was taking Melody Maker occasionally, so checked both – Mac and Jimi. It took a while to delve into the history to find what I had missed in music: Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors, West Coast rock, the British Blues Boom all getting a grip on me.

In early 1969 I was elected Member Leader of our new Youth Club – Greyfriars, Oxford – whilst also suggesting ‘dances’ at the College of Further Education. During a steep learning curve, over the coming year I became Social Secretary, Soc Sec – and was invited to Melody Maker’s Battle of the Bands final. The show was memorable to me only for the act who covered the judging interval – singer of the novelty hit, Space Oddity and its even stranger B side ‘I’m a little Gnome and you can’t catch me’, David Bowie.

I had promoted Anarchy rock sensation The Edgar Broughton Band three times – Out Demons Out was their politics – Steamhammer, Gypsy, Gracious and Pete Brown’s Battered Ornaments among many others. So I did get deep into the burgeoning Rock Music scene.

I bought up the sparse back-catalogue of Fleetwood Mac, and soon realised that I was moved only by the tracks written and sung by Peter Green. This fitted because ‘Vince’ of the Valiants, was Jeremy Spencer who seemed to have only one tune and style – that of ‘Dust my Broom’ and I would soon be skipping those tracks.

I then needed to find where Peter had started. This led to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’ A Hard Road album, with the spine tingling instrumental The Supernatural. That became a live staple even with Splinter group thirty years later. And the singles – there it was, a B side, what was to become my song – Out of Reach – deep, sad blues singing, and spine tingling guitar – by an eighteen year old! The last line ‘I’m Out of reach, can’t take no more’, brought me up to date with Man of the World’s – ‘I wish I was in love.’

The search was now on for any opportunity to catch Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac live.

Click to continue reading

God rest Peter who died during the Covid 19 Lockdown.

‘After’ by Kevin Murphy

For the trigger ‘after’:
An extract from my work in progress: After I left the monastery.
40 years later, fellow novice Brother Fidelis – Liam Murachu – wonders about the departure of Brother Bernard – Sean ‘Tack’ McIntire.

Tack didn’t wait for an answer, turned and headed into his room.

Cell, thought Liam, glancing at his closed door. He looked down at his heavy plaid shirt and brown cords, noticed the matching cardigan in the floor, dreamily draped it over his arm, stretched and yawned.

Tack’s Treasure card peeped out of a pocket. His back cracked as he bent to pick it out. Why bother? The flop onto the bed, was more of a pour. He seeped into the mattress.

Continue Reading

Vices and Virtues by Michael Healy

Vices and Virtues by Michael Healy

I was eight years old sixty one years ago.
And one of my pleasures, I really did know,
Was to work with my Grandfather, on his DIY.
He really knew how to make life fun,
Despite being injured in World War One.
He had a pleasant, large garden,
And I would help him mow the lawn
He also resprayed his pre-war car, a Morris Eight
Using a home vacuum cleaner, for power.
He was a skilled Carpenter with a magnificent box of tools.
One day he was working away in his garage,
Building a multi-bulb light, to hang in their lounge.
I helped him fasten the wood in a vice,
A magnificent wood and brass tool it was, worth a huge price.
He smiled at me and said ‘thanks’.

He went on, ‘one day all these tools will be yours’,
Seeing the vice, I thought ‘how nice’.
As life went on I drifted away,
Through the pull of School, and then University.
Though I still called round whenever I could.
Invariably he would be working with his wood.
He and my Grandmother had had four daughters,
Including my Mum, who was their eldest.
Their youngest daughter did not marry until he was old
And on his 90th birthday he sadly passed away.
The family gathered round to see what would be done,
At my age it all seemed rather sad and yet fun.
But in the will no mention there was of those tools and their box!
And so they all went to the youngest daughters new husband,
I was miffed, but knew nothing could be done.
As time went by I came to see,
The recipient was not at all like me.
He had the time to make full use of those fine old tools,
So they would continue their busy working life.
With me their use would have been a trifle,
Knowing this, that vice became a virtue.

SCHOOL REUNION by Barrie Purnell


There we all were assembled in the hall,
Like we did at school assembly 50 years before,
There for a school reunion of the class of fifty two
Looking around we were indeed a very motley crew.

Some were there just to have a bit of fun,
Others to show us just how well they’d done.
Some came old long lost friendships to renew,
Others because they just had nothing else to do.

I looked around at all the haggard faces
And couldn’t fit any in their schoolroom places.
Everyone just looked so old, how could this be?
Then I remembered they were all as old as me.

It was quite a shock to see how we’d all changed
How all our body dimensions had been re-arranged.
Despite liberal use of expensive astringents
There was no doubt we’d all turned into our parents.

We had all changed so much since the days of our youth
And were unrecognizable, that was the truth,
So to avoid any embarrassment and any shame
They gave us badges on which to write our name.

Jones who lisped his way through elementary French
Was now a grey haired magistrate on the local bench.
Brown sent home for wearing luminous yellow socks
Was a vicar at St Jude’s consoling errant flocks.
Pat, not bright enough university to attend,
Was teaching children on whom the country would depend.
Julie Short, who for boyfriends could have taken her pick,
Was now an unmarried nurse looking after the sick.
And shy Danny Davis had done alright in the end
He had a villa in Spain he shared with his gay friend.
Roger who won the outstanding sportsman shield,
Was in a wheelchair following an injury on the rugby field.
Gillian Jones the schools best looking girl by a mile
Now a small rotund old lady but with the same flirty smile.
Dave the class joker, who knew many a rude recitation,
Had become a boring accountant with no conversation.
And sexy Sarah Smith who had quite a reputation
Had made marrying rich men a profitable vocation.

I renewed some old friendships and reminisced
About what we’d done in the years that we’d missed,
Promised to stay in touch and addresses exchanged
But knew future meetings would not be arranged.
We had little in common, apart from our education,
Which was simply determined by our childhood location.
Few people, allowing for expected exaggeration,
Had been very successful in their chosen occupation
Having settled for less, because they had to pay
For mortgages and children and foreign holidays.
Then a list of fifteen names were read
Of classmates who were already dead.
Nearly twenty five percent of the total class
Had not lived to see this reunion pass,
And for all of our privileged education
It did not seem that our generation
Had left our world a much better place,
Or left any lasting mark upon its face,
Apart from teenagers, drugs and rock and roll
We’d provided little food for the nation’s soul.
Most of our childhood dreams and expectations
Had been lost in life’s day to day frustrations,
And although we’d not achieved much, I confess,
We thought surviving for fifty years sufficient success.
Despite everything there was a sense we’d paid our due
Among most of the class of fifty two.

So when we left and all went our separate ways,
Having failed to recapture those past schooldays,
That school road we’d walked down full of hope in our teens
Was now just a sad boulevard of our broken dreams.
Having left school early at the age of sixteen
I’d often thought about what might have been.
Having seen what my classmates had achieved,
Even if their stories were to be believed,
Of real successes I had spotted very few
I had held my own with the class of fifty two.
It was interesting, and I enjoyed the music and champagne,
But I don’t think that I will be attending again.


SURPRISE! A CORNISH ADVENTURE by Margaret Moreton 19.1.17

A handful of postcards, tossed onto our table – one surfaced and faced me, – it said “Cornish Adventure”. It spoke to me and demanded of me the revelation of tales untold…it strangely allied itself to surprise too, so …

Our Cornish Adventure began in Market Bosworth in 1958, with John’s appointment to the headship of Tolgus County Secondary School – a newly created school in Redruth. Building was still in progress and the opening was proposed for Easter 1959. So, on January 1st 1059 we said goodbye to Market Bosworth , our home and the familiar and took a leap in the dark – into completely unknown territory and for a ground-breaking new task. John took our car, with treasures not committed to storage and I, with a good friend, took our daughters [aged 2 years and 3 months respectively] by train. Anything that happened to me on that opening day, had to be a surprise. Although my mind was buzzing with immediate relevancies, there was an emptiness there – a readiness and a wondering for what was to come. I anticipated the unfamiliar, a strangeness and yes, surprises.

Crisis at Birmingham station. We needed to change trains from Snow Hill to New Street. In those days, there were porters in plenty and one kind soul took Anna, in a Moses basket, and told us to follow him. We did, but we lost him; near panic on both sides; reunited, there was joy unconfined – on both sides!

As the train rumbled on to the S.W, the meaning of adventure became a reality. What was to come, for surely an adventure is the unknown which will befall. There was a complete blank sheet ahead of us – no friends there; no family there and a school just 3/4 built to be equipped and staffed. All this with a very basic Cornish cottage – as yet unseen and in the middle of a field, to call home. Journey’s end, at Redruth station, with rain whistling horizontally, driven by a wind that cut to our very bones, I felt lost. Adventure? Surprise was the word foremost in my mind!

We did survive; we slowly began to integrate. It was not easy – we were the only non-Cornish family in the village and known as “they up-country folk”. Even our speech was different – not just accents but vocabulary too. We traded in the village shop [I asked for bread-cakes, they sold me splits] We went to the village church and John joined the local golf club.

Slowly, the school was nearing completion and John received a cheque from County Hall for £25,000.00, with which to equip this brand new, much talked of, establishment. The trust which that bespoke and the freedom it gave was immense. It heavily underlined the responsibility that was forever at the forefront of planning. Would it happen today? I doubt it. But psychologically it was a very clever, if normal move. “You will be judged by the results” it said. The spirit of adventure was rampant.

Rugby was very much to the fore in the Cornishman’s way of life. Supporters and well-wishers were vehement in their opinions and many a pound changed hands on a result. The P.E master at Tolgus school [appointed by John!] played number ten for Penzance and the school caretaker [appointed by John!] played for Redruth. He also helped coach the school’s rugby team, to well-deserved success. They both became stalwart friends.

The sea, of course played a great part in our life in Cornwall. After all we were a family of Midlanders and went to the sea-side once a year – if we were lucky. From our windows, high above the shore, we could see and watch the sea whenever we chose. It’s many moods and displays were always sights for comment and reflection. The sheer fathomlessness of ifs depths was at once magnificent and yet eerie and foreboding. There was adventure in the visions it encapsulated. What did it hold and where could it take one? One day, relaxing on the beach, we became aware of a man calling urgently to a swimmer. We wondered why, for all seemed calm enough and then we spotted a dorsal fin breaking the water. An all-time speed record was surely broken when the swimmer also saw it! It was a shark and it beached itself. What a phenomenon and what an interest. Willing hands kept it watered until ropes were found and it was towed back into the waters. That day was reported as “the day of the shark” and it opened the eyes of the children who came after school to see it. Truly, an unlikely adventure – but what it taught them.

The harbour in Portreath, in those far-off days, was functional as a harbour for business. Men went to sea from ifs shelter, to fish for their livelihoods and their boats were part of the back-drop there. Boats also came into harbour, on a regular basis, from South Wales, delivering coal, which every household needed. For those boats, entering that tiny harbour through ifs narrow entrance required skill and expertise of a high order. On a bad day, when seas were rough, they perforce must anchor outside the harbour and wait. Watching such manoeuvrings one marvelled at the sheer abilities possessed!

All that glorious, shiny Welsh coal was unloaded by hand onto the harbour floor and then reloaded by Donald Williams onto his cart for delivery throughout the village. That little pony earned many a carrot from grateful home-owners. He was rounding off what was a necessary adventure from a coal mine in South Wales, across often turbulent seas to a tiny harbour on the Cornish coast. Handling the coal, Donald always wore black – a trilby; a sweater; trousers and a leather apron – and a black face to match! On Friday’s and Saturday’s, scrubbed and polished and in his white he delivered meat for the local butcher. On Sunday*!, in pressed and tidy serge suit, he sang base in the chapel choir and on Monday’s – his day off, he visited Mary in the cottage at the end of the terrace! Bless him he’s long gone to a well-earned rest!

Though we made many seriously good friends, words often singled us out from the Cornish. “Oh, she’s west country” someone would say about a Cornish friend. “Of course she is” I would say, “she’s Cornish.” but to the Cornishmen, west country meant land south of Penzance! Again, one fine day, I thought I would take the girls through the woods to lllogan. I asked a friend about a safe route, “Oh, you just stick on the tram which goes by the stile and you’ll be safe.” There were 2 buses to Portreath each day, but a tram?? I was nonplussed. Much laughter and discussion later, I learned that a tram was an age-old track into the wood, a path to you and me!

My first acquaintance with a very old Cornish idiom caused John’s eye-brows to arch…His golfing partner had come home with him after a match and his greeting to me was “How now Margaret! You fit my lover?” Explanations quickly ensued and it was established that in Cornwall ‘lover’ was a special, endearing and familiar word, expressing affection and respect! Learning all these many more words was a real adventure. Could we use them or would that be presumption? That we understood them was necessary. Better for us to offer some of our Midland idioms in exchange and thus present an amiable and understanding front.

One day, when in the nearly-ready new school, I met the Director of Education who was there with John. “Do you know the Cornish, Mrs M?” he asked me. “I’ll tell you – they are 1/2 an inch of moss on top and all granite underneath.” How right and accurate he was. When you recognise granite as immovable, rock-solid and sound, you have the indigenous native Cornishman, who smiles happily and is as welcoming and soft as the moss, but who holds the granite in reserve to deal with any and all eventualities.

I’m glad I knew Cornwall when I did – then it was real and true to itself. It has an ambience of ifs own and was so very proud of it’s difference. I am not surprised at the dilution of that ambience; that erstwhile way of life has gone. It has become a modern holiday resort and the butt of an overwhelming wash of modernity. In the UK then it was far-flung and distant and it was an adventure to go there. I was surprised and stunned as I came up, close and personal to it, by the overwhelming beauty and power of the sea. I was surprised by the singularly lush, verdant vigour of the wild flora. I was surprised by the so often ethereal quality of the light – a photographer’s dream… all this and much more made Cornwall a place of charm, of intense interest, of adventure and surprises.


Are you going? by Faymarie Morris

Trigger ‘Fair’

Are you going? by Faymarie Morris

We drove on, over the crest of a hill and saw the magnificent Indian Ocean, going on forever. Below us, where pure white sand and aquamarine water met, we had our first glimpse of Twilight Cove.

About 48 hours earlier we had left Perth and taken the inland road, passing through the small wheatbelt townships of Narrogin then Wagin before heading for Lake Grace, Lake King and turning off for Esperance which is part of the Recherche Archipelago and gateway to the Great Australian Bight. If we’d kept going instead of turning off we’d have eventually arrived at Norseman, entrance to The Nullarbor Plain, an 800 mile stretch of treeless road running between Western Australia and South Australia.

This was the holiday of a lifetime for myself and my two children, Melissa 14, [better known as Lissa] and Davy 9. It was the beginning of a 3 month visit to my Dad, who lived with 5000 head of sheep on an isolated Western Australian outstation. Sadly my husband couldn’t join us until the 3rd month.

Although the kids were enjoying this complete change from their normal lives, they craved adventure and other children. So, when my sister-in-law, Pam, offered to take us to the coast for a holiday within a holiday, we jumped at it. Sadly, this particular coast just happened to be 2 full days drive away and I soon found out that Pam had ulterior motives. She was a devout Christian and, as I’m an atheist, we clashed.

We’d been driving for hours when I had no other course of action but to ask her to stop treating us as a captive audience for her sermons. When she refused, I ordered her to stop the car and said we preferred to die of heat stroke than slowly be tortured to death by her sanctimonious piety and self-righteous rubbish. We got out of the car on an endless stretch of empty outback road and started to walk.

She agreed, reluctantly, and we climbed back in. The heat was relentless and the distances off the scale but we managed to settle for an uneasy kind of peace. There were 6 of us altogether. Pam and her 2 sons, John 9 and Paul, a toddler. She’d named them John and Paul during her Catholic period and whenever they were naughty, which was often, she threatened them with ‘the rod’ which she kept in her handbag. This turned out to be a simple wooden spoon but just the thought of it terrified my two.

At least the 6 berth static caravan was clean and well equipped and the Esperance Caravan Park not too busy. We ate our lunch in strained silence until Davy and John announced they were going fishing, somewhere John knew well. Earlier, Lissa had bought herself a second-hand surfboard, but with a missing ankle strap, and was desperate to try it out, so the rest of us went to Twilight Cove. Pam parked the car at the top of the cliff and we climbed down the 30+ steps onto a deserted expanse of pristine sand.

We explored some amazing rock formations at the water’s edge and made several sandcastles which Paul loved, but Lissa couldn’t wait any longer to try out her board. Pam warned her not to go out too far because of the dangerous rips, which meant nothing to me as I couldn’t swim a stroke.

Lissa was a strong swimmer, passing all her swimming and life-saving certificates with top marks, but she did as she was told and stayed close to the water’s edge. Each time I checked to see how she was doing, she seemed to be either falling off the surfboard or climbing back on. Pam and I immersed ourselves in the task of creating a life sized sand-car for Paul when I suddenly realised I hadn’t been watching Lissa.

I looked up and couldn’t see her, but her surfboard was blowing towards the beach. Then I noticed her blonde head bobbing up and down in the water. She was too far away, why had she gone out so far when we told her to stay close? She waved, I waved back and pointed at her surfboard, so she’d know it was safe.

Then Pam screamed, “she’s too far out. She’ll get caught in the rip…or worse, and I daren’t go out that far.” I began to panic. What could I do? I ran along the beach hoping to see someone, anyone else but there was no-one around. Pam said for me to look after Paul while she stayed at the water’s edge. I picked him up and started to run for the steps, in the vain hope that another car might be parked at the top.

My heart was beating so hard I couldn’t breathe and my arms felt as if they were being torn from their sockets. My legs felt like lead weights and the muscles burned, but I kept going up the steps, not daring to stop or turn around. About halfway up I glanced back, with a depth of dread I never experienced before.

She looked so tiny, her blonde head being tossed around in the waves that continually crashed over her, and I felt useless. What kind of a mother allows her child to… No! Don’t even think of..No! Stoppit. Anything but that. I couldn’t breathe. My legs were buckling underneath me but still I managed to hang on to Paul, who had begun to wail. I remember not wanting to look but looking anyway and saw Pam in the shallows, reaching…The world stopped turning, then, in slow motion I watched as their fingers touched.

How I managed to get down those steps I’ll never know, but I remember holding Paul under one arm, like a rolled up carpet, while steadying myself down the rope handrail, with the other. Pam was grabbing Lissa and lugging her out of the water and by then I was trying to run through soft sand, in a desperate bid to get to my child while wrestling with what felt more like a bag of Rottweilers than a toddler.

By the time I reached them I could hardly stand. Lissa was lying on the sand and Pam was kneeling by her side, singing. But it wasn’t singing, she was chanting, ‘Praise be to the Lord,’ while gazing up, crossing herself repeatedly and shouting that it was the blessed hand of God that had reached down and plucked her from the seething maelstrom. I immediately saw red and grabbed Pam by the hair. I said I had made it perfectly clear that we weren’t religious, so how dare she take it upon herself to behave like this?

Exactly what happened next is a bit of a blur but we must have controlled ourselves enough to climb back up to the car. I bundled Lissa onto the back seat and held her tightly in my arms while we both shivered uncontrollably. There was no-one about when we finally reached the caravan park so I carried my trembling child to the nearest ablution block for a hot shower. She wasn’t able to support herself so I got in with her and there we stood, fully clothed, clinging onto each other while letting the steaming water work it’s magic. Our shivering slowly eased but I couldn’t seem to stop stroking her hair or kissing the top of her head.

She wasn’t able to tell me what had happened to her or how she managed to save herself, until several days later.

“Mum, that surfboard really was the best fun I’ve had, ever, not that I was on it much and Twilight Cove is the most beautiful place. I did try to stay close to the beach, like Auntie Pam said, but the sea was stronger than me and when I realised how far out I had gone, it was too late. My surfboard blew away and the waves were getting bigger. I couldn’t get back to the shore. I tried and tried but the sea was angry and kept crashing over my head and the rip was pulling me back out. Then, I remembered what Mr Davey said at life-saving classes about staying calm and not fighting. It was horrible, Mum. I thought I was going to die and I hadn’t even said goodbye to Dad or Davy. Mum, I was really scared, but then I decided it was about time I stopped being so pathetic and did something to help myself. I don’t know why, but I started to sing, repeating the same words over and over until I found myself treading water. I kept on, singing the same words until I slowly started drifting back, towards the shore.

I could see you on the steps, holding Paul and Auntie Pam reaching out. The sea stopped being angry and I was floating towards her. But afterwards, while I was lying on the beach, she kept praying, rolling her eyes back and doing something weird with her hands, which I hated. I didn’t dare say anything, but, I was glad when you did!”

I told her how brave she was, how proud I felt and how much I loved her. Then I asked if she would please tell me which song she’d been singing.

“I don’t know why it was this song, Mum, except that it’s on one of the LP’s you played all the time, when I was a kid. But it’s only a bit that I repeated over and over again. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme…I’ll always love that song.”

Well, I wonder what Simon and Garfunkel would think if they knew that one of their songs helped save my daughter’s life. Mr Davey’s lessons were important too, but it was mainly Lissa herself, her strength of character, her indomitable spirit, and… Scarborough Fair.


REMEMBERING WHEN … by Cynthia Smith

REMEMBERING WHEN … by Cynthia Smith

 Mine was a very loving mother and I wish I had many more happy memories of her than I do. But, sadly, she was not always ‘my Mum’. Through no fault of her own, she was often that ‘other’ mother.

My earliest recollection, when I was probably no more than two years old, was squealing with delight as Mum puffed out her cheeks for me to ‘pop’ with my little hands, when she would blow a raspberry. She would only stop when I was in danger of being sick from laughing so much. I wish I could have stayed in that happy childhood bubble for ever.

My father was often bad-tempered. Mum told me it was because of the pain caused by his stomach ulcer, whatever that was. But he, too, was a very loving parent. He was fond of children and often good fun when my friends came round.

When we were quite small he liked to play ‘Peter and Paul’ with us. He would stick a little piece of white paper on the top of two of his fingers and recite:

         “Two little dickie birds, sitting on a wall,

          “One named Peter, one named Paul.”

Here he would wiggle the fingers representing the birds.

         “Fly away Peter, fly away Paul …”

Here the two ‘birds’ would disappear over Dad’s shoulder and his fingers return without the birds.

         “Come back Peter, come back Paul.”

Miraculously, as it seemed to us, the birds re-appeared on Dad’s fingers. There were delighted ‘oohs’ from us and no matter how many times he did it Dad seemed to enjoy it as much as we did. The birds ‘flew’ so fast that we small children could not see the sleight of hand.

One day our enthusiasm encouraged Dad to show us a new ‘trick’. He said he was going to take all his teeth out! Having seen dentistry in cartoons on the television, with the agony of just one tooth being removed, we were aghast at the thought of this. We knew nothing of false teeth, so there were gasps of horror as Dad removed first his lower and then his upper denture. With a theatrical flourish, he put them back, no doubt pleased with our stunned reaction.

Some people, however, are never satisfied. Tom from next door piped up:

         “Now take your head off.”    

SHOP! by Cynthia Smith


Mr and Mrs Kopinski were an elderly couple who owned a little store on Falmouth and Fifth. It sold just about everything and me and my friends loved going there on a Saturday morning. The shop was a veritable cornucopia; though I didn’t know long words like that then.

We would stand in front of the line of big candy jars, half a dozen of us from the same class in school, trying to choose between gummy bears, liquorice laces, sherbet dabs, jaw breaker taffy, and lots more. Mr Kopinski was kind and patient: he seemed to understand our dilemma. He had a round, plump, currant bun face, which would crease into such a big smile that his twinkley eyes almost disappeared. When we finally made our minds up, he placed our purchases into small paper bags and took our nickels and dimes, warm from having been clutched for so long.

This was only the start of our Saturday treat. There were dozens of toys for us to inspect and try out, even though we had no money to buy them. Mr Kopinski surely knew that, but it did not deter him from allowing us to run model planes, cars and other miniature vehicles across the counter and around the floor. We would play marbles and skittles and risk wearing out the mechanism on clockwork clowns and animals. It was said that Mr and Mrs Kopinski had no children of their own, which was maybe why they were happy to see youngsters enjoying themselves in their store.

Being a girl, I was expected to like “girls’ toys”, but found them boring. The clammy plastic skin on dolls felt horrible, and why should I play with replica household appliances like stoves and wash tubs? My mom hated cooking and housework, so why was it supposed to be fun for little girls to pretend they were doing it? It was obvious that boys had much more fun with their toys, so I preferred playing with them.

We liked trying to jump cars over larger vehicles, leading to numerous collisions and triumphant yells. Sometimes I heard Mrs Kopinski’s wooden shoes clacking across the floor as she came to check on the commotion. Seeing how much we were enjoying ourselves, she would smile indulgently and return to her provisions counter.

I remember one day at the store in particular. Tired of trying to wreck things, I wandered over to see if Mrs Kopinski needed any help. Mrs K, wisps of white hair escaping as usual from her little paper cap, was in the middle of getting an order together for delivery. Knowing she did not like being interrupted when she was weighing things out, I sat on a sack of flour to wait until she was free.

I was always interested to look at the things which the shop had for sale, even though some of them lining the walls had a coating of dust and so presumably were not popular items. This applied to a bottle of California Poppy scent, which I hoped would still be there when I had saved enough to buy it for Mom’s birthday. But the foodstuffs did not stay around so long. There were always boxes of cookies and Hershey bars, tins of beans, vegetables and pet food. Sometimes, towards Christmas time, there would be big fruit cakes, which Mom said you could put the frosting on yourself, so folk would think the cake was home made. I had never tasted most of the cheeses on the counter and, from the smell of some of them, I doubted I ever would. The same went for the collection of evil-looking, dark-coloured sausage.

On the wall there was a large red lobster. Although I knew it wasn’t real, its tiny black eyes and drooping whiskers seemed to give it a sad expression.

I had never tasted lobster. I wondered if I had enough quarters left to take one home for Mom, as a surprise for supper. As soon as Mrs Kopinski had finished the order, I asked her excitedly where she kept the lobsters, presuming there was a tank in the back of the store. To my surprise, Mrs K laughed.

“Bless you child, lobsters is what rich folk eat, or those that live by the ocean.” She carried on chuckling, as though I had made a huge joke, but patted me on the head when she saw my red face. I hated it when grown-ups laughed at me for something I couldn’t be expected to know. Before I had a chance to offer to help behind the counter, the doorbell dinged.

I recognised the portly gentleman who entered as the local bank manager. I had seen him when I was in the bank once with Mom. Disappointed that we had not left with a big bag of dollar bills I wondered why Mom had not asked the manager for some. She said it didn’t work like that, unless you robbed a bank. Now there was a thought. Perhaps when I grew up, instead of being a housewife I would be a bank robber. It had to be more exciting than cleaning and listening to your family complaining about what you had cooked for dinner.

Mrs Kopinski beamed delightedly when I asked if I could help her. I went to fetch the tobacco and boot polish that Mr Levy, the bank manager, wanted, and by the time I returned Mrs K was neatly wrapping his other purchases. As usual, she enquired about her customer’s health and about his family. Perhaps it was because Mr Levy went on so long about his bad back that Mrs K. appeared less interested than she usually did. When he had left the store, she gave a big sigh and passed a hand across her eyes.

“Oh Susan, I’m so sorry”, she said weakly. “I’m a little bit tired. I think I’ll lie down for a few minutes. Would you look after the counter for me, dear?” I could hardly believe that I had been entrusted with this important task on my own and waited eagerly for the next customer to come through the door.

As it turned out, I didn’t do any serving because the store had to be closed early. Mr Kopinski had come hurrying out to tell me and the boys that his wife was not at all well and he had telephoned for an ambulance. We children were shocked into silence and began to leave the store.

I was just going to pick up my coat and purse when the door bell jangled and someone called “Shop!” A man and a lady in uniform entered with a stretcher. The boys and I waited outside and watched as Mr Kopinski followed his wife, who was on the stretcher, into the ambulance. When it had driven away the boys walked off, but I stood on the sidewalk and cried. Supposing Mrs K died. She was such a lovely, kind lady. (I had completely forgiven her for laughing at me.) Whatever would Mr Kopinski do without her? After a little snivel I felt a bit better and hurried home to tell Mom. Sometimes I was glad I was a girl and did not have to pretend I didn’t have any feelings.

It was such a relief when we heard that Mrs Kopinski was not suffering from anything serious and had returned home that evening. Next morning I picked some flowers from our garden and took them, along with a little pot of honey which Mom had got me from the hive, to cheer up Mrs K. I left them on the step in front of the store, as it was still closed and I did not want to disturb the Kopinskis.

When I had told Mom how worried I was about Mrs K, she said the people in the hospital would look after her very well. That got me thinking how wonderful it must be to help sick people feel better. After all, bank robbers spent a lot of time in prison if they got caught, and nobody liked them, but nurses were “angels in uniform”. That’s what Uncle Harry had said when we visited him in hospital, and I had seen how many boxes of chocolates the nurses were given. Then I realised that the most important people in the hospital were the doctors. It must be amazing to actually save people’s lives.

Suddenly my mind was made up: I would be a doctor. And if Mom said girls couldn’t be doctors, I would walk over to Granddaddy’s and see what he said!


Those memories are from nearly thirty years ago. The Kopinskis and their store are long gone but I still have fond memories of my visits there. As I sit at my desk enjoying a much-needed break, my pager goes. Sighing, I leave my coffee and go to see what the next patient needs. Sometimes I think life would have been easier if I had been a stay at home housewife, or a shop assistant; but, on a good day, not nearly so rewarding.

Cynthia Smith




THE FAMILY KUMAR by Michael Healy


The year was 1956 and I sat in my Grandfather’s lounge

In his comfy chair beside his rotating wooden Bookcase

With each revolution different books appeared

Telling the stories of future or past.

One in particular caught my eye

And I decided to pull it free as it circled by

The title ‘The Family Kumar’ seemed fascinating

I pushed the bookcase further

And grabbed this book as it passed.

Around its leather binding, my choice still had a paper sleeve

Slightly ragged around the edge, but clearly illustrating the Indian Sub-continent

Painted with vivid pictures of workers on their land,

And in the background stood a busy village;

Bullocks pulled two wheeled carts along dusty tracks loaded with wood for fires

And young women queued to pump up water,

Clearly it all depicted that a meal was about to be prepared.

And that is just where the story began, as I started the Introduction.

I opened the volume and began my read.

Set in India at the time of the British Raj.

At first it seemed a quite happy tale.

The family was comfortable with food, water and a bungalow.

And they all worked together at different jobs on their four acres of fertile land.

They really had a comfortable life, except for Adam.


He was the eldest son and politically aware, unlike his four younger brothers

He objected to the British presence, even though his father disagreed.

‘They have brought us food, water, medicines and banished fraud,

And, now we all have a fair chance to progress’.

‘We can join their Army, their Civil Service and they give us education’.


I had been very young , but I still recalled the stories from 1947

Indian independence from Britain,

and resulting murderous conflicts with neighbouring Pakistan.

As I read further it was clear that Adam had been involved in uprisings

He was on the run from the British officials, and yet his love was Kate.

Kate was a Consular Secretary, a member of the ‘other side’.

Life was very confusing for 24 year old Adam, but he loved the auburn hair of his young lady.

As he grew older the pull of the politics weakened, and yet his friends despised this.

How could he love an English maiden, yet hate her nation.

He almost agreed, but his love was stronger.

Over the following weeks I hardly put the book down.

As time passed I felt closer to the members of the Kumar family.

How would their lives evolve in this changing World?

The book finished adruptly, with many questions still unanswered

Did Adam and Kate get together?

I had to know.


The last page of the book advertised a sequel ‘,The life of the Kumars’

I had to get that book to find out what happened!

But it was not to be found In my Grandfather’s rotating bookcase.

Michael Healy

If this story is of interest, perhaps you may wish to get hold of the (currently out of print) book:

‘The Asian Community, Medicines and Traditions’

By Dr M A HEALY and Dr M ASLAM   Silver Link (1990)