church trees beverlie school house green church cross church clock corner alms church hall

St.Stephen's writers
Page Two : Showcasing the talents of local writers
Morning again, once more the morning sun
Arouses life although the world is ill,
This makes a place already full of pain,
Feel yet more still.

The streets are emptied as all places close,
Spaces keep those in queues apart
From the affliction hovering in the air.
When will it start?

To abate this seeming plague that’s changed our lives ?
Morning again, unconscious of our plight,
Slowly the sun grows higher in the sky
‘Till noonday’s height.

Through afternoons and evenings in our homes,
We read, watch television, laugh and talk,
Outside someone for exercise is on
A solitary walk.

The cabinet’s on lock down as they put it
Even advisers scurrying away,
But it is rumoured that they too have got it
The papers say.

Strangest of days among a world gown strange,
And millions looking to the promised end,
But each of them is worried as they think
What Fate might send.

Edward G.

He was new and they knew it. He was also young and had only recently changed from curate to vicar. They also knew that and resented being fobbed off with a new young vicar. He looked round the table at the great and good from the church’s congregation. Mostly hostile. He groaned inwardly but outwardly, he smiled genially at them and was pleasantly surprised to receive a few quick smiles which vanished as quickly as they came. What on earth can I say? I very much doubt that whatever I say will make any difference. He waved his hands over the table loaded with assorted goodies prepared with great care by his equally young wife. She was upstairs putting the boys to bed. Twins, not yet but close to getting out of the nappy stage.

‘Help yourselves’, His voice came out as a whisper. His throat was dry. The assembled group were waiting for the Matriarch to begin. A large formidable widow, complete with a stick which she held up beside her. She was dressed in black and would have used a lorgnette with devastating effect had they still been available. She inspected the spread with great care. Sniffed, approvingly or disapprovingly, it was difficult to say. She leaned forward. Glared at the cucumber sandwiches complete with crusts. Sniffed and transferred her attention to the fairy cakes. ‘ I will have one of those ‘ came the order, loud and commanding, finger elegantly pointing to the fairy cakes. She leaned back waiting expectantly to be waited on.

The new Vicar suddenly realised that was a battle for supremacy. This, he had to win. ‘Oh that’s a good choice ‘. He could hear his voice grating. He leaned forward, picked up the plate and offered it to the Matriarch. The onlookers held their breath. The two antagonists looked at each other. Neither wished to back down. The Vicar held the plate steady in front of the Matriarch just above waist level. Both kept eye contact. It was a duel. He had to win. Slowly and grudgingly the Matriarch extended a lavender coloured gloved hand, took a fairy cake and dropped it onto the white table cloth just in front of her.

The Vicar nearly fell for it and stopped himself just in time from picking up the cake. He kept the plate steady. The congregation watched the interplay quietly but with intensity. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘Leave it and have another one ‘. Hushed silence. The Matriarch glared at the vicar who was now using both hands to hold the plate steady. He held it closer to her. He delivered his master stroke. ‘ My wife made these especially for yourselves’, He had cleverly wrong footed the Matriarch. To refuse would make her look rude and ungracious. To accept would be tantamount to surrender. Once more she hesitated but how could she point blank refuse after already taking and deliberately dropping the first cake onto the table. She was not used to losing particularly as she had dominated the church, vicar and congregation for many years. After all, she did own and live in the manor house. With barely concealed hostility she took the cake. This young man must be brought to heel but how? She decorously ate the cake which she had to admit to herself was very good and reminded her of joyous times long past. She was tempted by the cake resting on the table cloth just in front of her but was resolved to resist temptation. With a sigh of relief, the congregation fell upon the feed. The others kept eyeing the cake, apprehension over the Matriarch’s reaction overturning the lustful desire for the cake.

The Vicar was happily surprised at the speed at which his wife’s fairy cakes had gone as he too regarded the remaining cake. Eye contact again. The duellists read each other’s thoughts. Each desired the cake but neither would give in. The tea party went on. The cucumber sandwiches, complete with crusts, were devoured in double quick time. There were Dundee cakes, Victoria sponges, all gone but still the fairy cake remained like a sentry between twin warring will powers. No one dared pick up and claim the lonely fairy cake.

One of the great and good was persuaded to pour out and dispense the tea, all in delicate bone china tea cups and saucers with matching teapot, milk jug and sugar bowl, left behind by some previous incumbent of the vicarage. Earl Grey for the refined, English Breakfast for the others. Naturally, the Matriarch had Earl Grey with a slice of lemon. She watched disdainfully as the Vicar accepted and drank his English breakfast with milk and sugar while she ostentatiously sipped her Earl Grey.

She studied the young man surreptitiously who pretended to be unaware that she was eyeing him and still the fairy cake lay between them. Forlorn but not forgotten. One of the lesser beings spoke, ‘And what brings you here? Spoken loudly and somewhat aggressively. A soft answer should turn away the wrath, the Vicar thought to himself but I do not think it will work here. ‘The Bishop’, came the cautious reply. ‘ But why should he send someone like you to a place like this. We didn’t want you’. Others, emboldened, took up the attack. The questions were beginning to get personal. One or two people tried to intervene but were brushed aside. The Vicar was beginning to wish he had never seen this place. His wife and two boys will be devoid of friends and playmates. The attacks on him and his family were beginning to get very nasty. The Vicar was beginning to get very angry while all the time the Matriarch just sat there like some high court judge waiting to pass judgement. He looked at her. Once she starts on me, we might just as well pack up and go, he thought bitterly to himself.

The Matriarch banged her stick on the floor. The resounding noise silenced every one. She cleared her throat. There was an expectant hush. Her supporters hugged themselves with glee. Now for the coup de grace. This should be good. She looked her formidable best. The Matriarch carefully removed her gloves. Those around the table looked at each other, totally bemused. In a commanding voice which rattled the windows, she spoke, ‘This has gone far enough’, she declared. She leaned forward and picked up the last fairy cake. She glanced around to the onlookers. Carefully she removed the wrapper and held the cake out towards the Vicar who just looked. ‘Young man, would you like this last fairy cake. I think you have earned it. You must bring your wife and boys to tea some time.

John Redwood

The War in Europe was over. It was difficult to believe. No more killing. No more sleeping in an air raid shelter in the back garden or under the stairs sheltering from an air raid. The street lights were on. No more stumbling home in the pitch black blackout. No more covering the windows at night. There was still some fighting to be done in the Far East but that was only a matter of time. It was time to celebrate. A party for everyone, a street party.

Some thought that it would be better to wait until fathers, sons, brothers and sisters returned but not everyone one would be coming home. How would those feel waiting for someone who would never return? No, it was decided, let us have the party now with a line of tables down the middle of the street. No petrol, no cars. No problem.

Tablecloths? Let us really celebrate and use tablecloths. If any were damaged, replacements could be bought once the austerity was over. Food, drinks and decorations were made right up to just before the great day dawned. Finally, the day arrived and the bustle and organisation began. The tables were set up directly down the middle of the street and surrounded by chairs. Paper decorations, specially made for the occasion were hung. Unseasonable Christmas decorations were dusted down and put up. Flags appeared. Union flags, Royal Navy flags! No one asked from whence they came. They just appeared and flown proudly from the lamp posts and the lone telegraph pole which bisected the street neatly in half which also acted to divide the street into a them and us society until the War blew it all away.

There were jellies, previously held back and carefully spooned out to deserving children on birthdays and Christmas. Cakes were provided. Quantities of cakes evolved over the past six years with a strange mix of compromise ingredients. A celebratory iced cake appeared but only the icing was real. There was still rationing and shortages. Precious mugs, cups and saucers were produced together with sugar. Sugar made from sugar beet. A wartime measure destined to continue. Meat paste sandwiches. Bananas and apples and oranges. For the younger children, this was the first time they had met bananas. Parents watched their offspring coming to grips with a banana until they were taught how to unzip. There was cream. Carefully syphoned from the top of the milk bottle before the blue tits pecked through the silver topped lid and stole the cream. All this activity was watched by the street children and their friends carefully penned up in their homes. Extra places were made at the table for young friends who had joined them from another street who were celebrating in a different way or on a different day when the hospitality would be expected and returned. There were homemade sweets and toffees made from sugar and condensed milk. Sweet rations had been carefully kept back and pooled so that the children could really enjoy a decent sweet harvest. The delicious smell of cooking had been tantalising the street for the past week.

At last all was now ready. The signal to begin was given on a now redundant gas rattle. The children were released, surging out into the street and with excited pushing and barging, took their places. On each plate was a paper hat, carefully made by the mum who had worked at the big house over the way and a very large bar of milk chocolate. The assembled children looked wide eyed at the spread. Those old enough to remember were reminded of birthdays and Christmases from happier times in the past. For the younger ones, the dream was now reality. Some of them remembered the American soldiers riding on trucks in convoys on their way to D-Day who had thrown them large bars of milky chocolate which they then shared between them. Ice cream appeared, made by an enterprising mum and doled out to the youngest first as there was not enough to go round. The repast, so long in preparation, was soon gone leaving empty plates and full contented children.

Games followed, organised by fathers who had remained at home as they were in reserved occupations and by others who had been demobilised early from the armed forces, due to war wounds. There were handicapped races so everyone could take part. Egg and spoon races with a small apple instead of a precious egg. Hopscotch, skipping until it began to grow darker. The children were allowed to stay up as it was a special occasion. A very special occasion. A large bonfire was quickly built on nearby waste ground using wood from a house which had received a direct hit in nineteen forty one. A piano was dragged out from one of the houses and a pianist began to play. He played the songs which the majority knew and everyone joined in.

A store keeper from the now disbanded Home Guard threw a thunder flash directly into the fire. It exploded with an intense flash of light and deafening bang, startling the people and children surrounding the bonfire, reminding them of recent times. Some looked up into the sky, conditioned by six years of warfare until they realised it was now only a firework. More thunder flashes followed. Each with the brilliant flash and deafening bang which shook the windows. Slowly the fire died down, the pianist closed the lid and people started to drift away taking their children with them. Some to bed with thoughts of returning husbands. Others to their beds which would remain empty and to an uncertain future living on a war widow’s pension.

John Redwood