Categories
Pirate Poems

Pirate Blacktarn is Nearly Blown Away

By Jay Nicholls

Pirate Blacktarn is Nearly Blown Away


Pirate Blacktarn was feeling dizzy,
The winds above his head were being very busy.
They were roaring altogether in a contest of blowing,
Till the pirates didn’t know if they were coming or going.
Whooosh! went the West Wind, warm and wet.
EEEssh! hissed the East Wind in a fuss and a fret.
Rruusssh! went the North Wind, cruel and cold,
Swisssh! blustered the South Wind, burning and bold.

The pirate’s poor ship was spinning round and round
And the crews’ ears buzzed with the rush of sound.
“I’m going to be sick,” moaned Blacktarn yuckily.
“I’ll look after you,” said Big Bob pluckily.
“Eeeehow!’” blew the East Wind, “these Lemon Seas are mine,
I’m the wind to rule over this lemony brine.”
“Rubbish,” whooshed the West wind, “it’s me they need,
To bring them the rain, it’s obvious indeed.”
“Oh no,” niggled the North Wind, “oh no, no, no,
The Lemon Seas need me to bring them ice and snow.”
“Shusssh,” blew the South, “what’s needed is my breeze,
To bring the breath of warmth to the lovely Lemon Seas.”

The pirate’s ship tilted from side to side,
The crew fell on the deck and began to slide.
They clutched at the ropes and the yardarm and the sails,
Rakesh the mate grabbed at the rails,
Stowaway Fay tied herself to the mast,
Tim Parrot perched on her shoulder and held on fast.
It was the worst of storms the Lemon Seas had ever known.
“We’ll be blown to bits and pieces,” cried Blacktarn with a groan.
The ship tilted one way and the mast almost snapped
And then tipped the other as the great sails flapped.

The North Wind blew hailstones that clattered on the deck
And the West Wind whirled rain that poured down Blacktarn’s neck.
The East Wind blew a fog that hid them all from view
Till the South scorched it away, “Phew, phew, phew.”
“We’ll drown, we’ll drown,” moaned the terrified crew.
But all of a sudden the sea began to glow,
And a magical figure surged up from below.
Sea horses danced and sea nymphs sang
And all on its own, the ship’s bell rang.
For Neptune himself appeared on the scene.
He shook his trident which glittered gold and green.
For he was very angry and his face was very stern.
The Winds went silent and looked down in concern.
“What do you think you’re doing, blowing like fools
Over some stupid argument about which wind rules?”
“Puff,” muttered the West wind in great alarm,
“We didn’t really mean to do any harm.”
“I didn’t start it,” stuttered the East wind in a hurry.
“Nor me,” whinged the South, “I just blew a little flurry.”
“No, no,” fluttered the North, “it was only just in fun,
We didn’t really mean any harm to be done.”

“It’s just not good enough,” Neptune told them in a rage,
“You’re causing problems for sailors at every stage.
Ships are lying stranded in oceans far and near
Because you rowdy lot are all quarrelling here.
There’s no wind for any ship to sail, not even the smallest,
Everyone is stuck from the littlest to the tallest.
Now you just stop huffing and listen to me,
I’ll have no more rows over who blows on the Lemon Sea.
For a quarter of the year, the West Wind will bring rain,
To make sure the Lemon Seas are full of water again.
Then the next quarter the North Wind shall blow
And sometimes, not too often, bring the sleet and the snow.
The quarter after that shall blow the breeze of the East
And in the final quarter, last but not least,
Shall come the South Wind with the heat of the sun,
So all winds shall have their turn when my will is done.”

“What a good idea,” cried Blacktarn and his crew,
While the Winds huffed and puffed and wondered what to do.
But they daren’t defy Neptune, the Emperor of the Sea,
So grumbling and rumbling, they had to agree.
“Good,” said Neptune, “I’m glad we’ve settled that,
Now I’ll board ship and see Blacktarn for a chat.
Let the South Wind stay now and the rest of you go.”

So the West and East and North roared away in a tornado
And set the ship reeling in the last awful storm.
But Neptune raised his trident and the South Wind blew warm
And calmed the angry seas till all was at peace
And the waves whispered with relief that the storm would cease.
“Now let’s have a party,” cried Neptune once aboard.
“How useful,” said Blacktarn, “to be friends with the Sea Lord.”
So they danced and sang all day and all night.
But when they awoke at the sun’s first light,
Neptune and his sea nymphs were nowhere to be seen.
“Was it a dream?” wondered Mick, “what did it all mean?”
“Never mind,” called Blacktarn, “I stopped those winds all blowing,
Now set sail crew, it’s time we were going.”

Note: The ‘Pirate Blacktarn’ poems were written in the early 1990s but were never submitted anywhere or shown to anyone. By lucky chance they were recently rescued from a floppy disc that had lain in the bottom of a box for almost thirty years. There are twelve poems in the series but no indication as to what order they were written in and the author no longer remembers. However, they seem to work well when read in any order. They all feature the same cast of characters, the eponymous pirate and his crew, including a stowaway and an intelligent parrot. The stories told by the poems are set on a fictional body of water named the Lemon Sea. (Dug up by Rhys Hughes from the bottom of an abandoned treasure chest).

Jay Nicholls was born in England and graduated with a degree in English Literature. She has worked in academia for many years in various student support roles, including counselling and careers. She has written poetry most of her life but has rarely submitted it for publication.

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Nostalgia Slices from Life

Cyclists

By Mike Smith

Two men on cycles. Photo Courtesy: Mike Smith

This is a photograph from my childhood. It is of a roadside cottage and a fine, unidentified tree, on what was the edge of a Midland town, as they both were over sixty years ago. I’d guess it was taken in the mid or late nineteen fifties. It shows the front wall of the cottage I grew up in, and the road outside. It was a road that, when the photograph was taken, led out into the Staffordshire countryside. You might have called it a road to nowhere.

In the foreground on the left, if you ignore the old gaslight, is an upright object with a white top. You might recognise it as a petrol pump, probably a ‘Shell’ one.

The cottage had been the gate-lodge to a substantial house belonging to a successful Burton-upon-Trent brewer. That was demolished sometime between the two World Wars. A short flight of stone steps, overgrown, and the rumour of a lost cellar, both at the far end of our plot, were all that was left of what must have been the house and its ornamental gardens.

A pale blue gate, permanently open during my childhood save once when I recall cattle being driven along the road, stands out of sight closer to the camera than the lens captures. It bore the name of ‘The Lodge’ if memory isn’t playing me false. A short drive led down past the bay window of the cottage – an oval rose garden edged with stone alongside – to old stables, coach houses and outbuildings. All had the same steep, slated roofs, blue weatherboards pierced with fleur-de-lis designs in which swallows nested, and tall, pointed wooden finials. You can just make one out on the visible gable of the cottage, not quite merged in the foliage of the tree behind. There’s the shadow of another on the roof, presumably above that bay window. These were the buildings that I described in my only published novella, A Penny Spitfire, and the greenhouse that features in my daughter’s animation Giant’s Puddings leaned against one of them.

The photograph shows more, and pricks memory beyond what it shows. I can just remember that gas lamp being lit at dusk by a man who, Wee Willie Winkie-like, ‘ran through the town’, carrying his long pole, hurrying to light the lamps before true darkness fell, or at least, I think I can. I found a coal miner lying beneath it once, or the lamp that replaced it, and thought him dead, rather than dead drunk, and wrote a poem about it fifty and more years later.

The tree is in full leaf, beneath a Simpson’s sky, which would have had no meaning when the photograph was taken. And the shadows are long and to the east of north if my internal compass points true. This makes it a summer evening, I guess, or maybe late afternoon. Those cyclists, small as they are, seem unhurried. I imagine them enjoying the warmth, chatting, side by side as they ride.

Above the stub wall, beyond the petrol pump, you can see the top of what used to be the front door. Unseen to the right of it, but the shadow gives the clue, steps led up to road level and an opening with, back then, a gate.

Further along the road, even at this angle, you can make out a window and beyond that another door. This didn’t open into the house but was a yard gate through which you stepped down to outhouses, though I never saw it used: a washhouse with a boiler in the corner, a room with running water from a tap – dad fixed it up as a darkroom for photography. He was a hobby photographer all his life and taught me to develop and print in black and white. This photograph, of which I have several prints must be one of his.  There was an outside toilet too, in that yard, lit by starlight and protected from frost by a paraffin heater, with a store shed alongside, both backing onto the road. The shed was eventually hollowed out, its roof left intact and propped up at the corner, and a fuel tank for central heating was installed in the space beneath.

The cottage was tiny. The room with the bay window had an open fire, and opened onto a short corridor, to the left of which was a scullery kitchen with a gas water heater by the sink. The bath was underneath the kitchen table, which was fixed to the wall and hinged up, secured to a hook. And yes, I was told, it did once fall down on me in the bath. The room with the window onto the road was a bedroom. The room with the window showing to the left of the petrol pump must have been some sort of reception room. I can remember it with a desk, being used as an office and shop-front, but not for long.

Because dad was an inveterate builder, and demolisher. That single pump turned into two, and perhaps three. Their swing arms carried pipes across the pavement to serve the cars. At the back he extended the kitchen, and added a bathroom and indoor toilet, nibbling away at other outbuildings to make space. He added a bedroom. Some called them the golden fifties, though I remember them as grey, and the sixties they called the silver sixties, because things got better.

Reminiscing about my mother recently, I realised what a catalogue of disaster blighted the first forty years of her life, and dad’s. Born before the First World War, mum, the youngest child, was sent to queue for food at the shops – there was no rationing (until 1917?) in that war, and when it was gone it was gone. Then there was the Homes Fit for Heroes that didn’t materialise, the inflation caused by the war, the crippling debt it imposed, the General Strike, the Wall Street Crash, and the next war after that. No wonder mum was content and counted herself lucky all the years of my life. She knew her place, and knew it was better than she’d had before, and bore it without aspiration, with the stoicism of some unspoken disappointment. She might have truly asked though, who could want for more?

The cyclists – there are two more in the distance – emphasise the emptiness of the road. I can just recall it like that, though I wouldn’t have noticed at the time. Dad spoke of that petrol pump as being modern. Earlier ones were hand operated, and before that petrol was sold in two-gallon cans. But the times were changing. They started to build what was said would be the biggest coal fired power station in Western Europe a few miles up the road. Conveys of vehicles passed by in both directions day after day for years and several times a day, calling in for fuel. The private car was on the rise. By the time I left school they were predicting 20 million of them. Dad knocked down the extended cottage, put the pumps a little more than a car’s width back from the pavement, and a new building a tad more than a car’s width back from that.

There was a showroom, a shop, office and stores on the ground floor, a staircase bolted on at the back – overlooked in the original thumbnail sketch – and a four-bedroom flat with enormous rooms built on above. For a time, my old new bedroom had a steel girder down through the ceiling, a tarpaulin on the roof. I played on the scaffolding after school.

And not just our place: the road changed too. Just beyond the last tree on the right-hand side, a hillside we’d sledged down to the hedge was opened up. A road network spread over the ridge that we’d called the Cow Pastures. I learned to drive on it. Before that we had slid on metal trays down clay ski-runs where they later bumped out the hillside for houses. I went to school in a brand-new building on land I’d seen bulldozed flat, frogs, newts, plants, and water spilling from the ponds as they trashed them. The houses were slow to arrive, one by one over years, like reluctant weeds along the crest and on the reverse slope. After working hours, after school, we roamed the building sites.  

Below them at the slope’s foot, opposite to us, an Aunt and Uncle, dad’s sister with her second husband, lived in a bungalow stuffed with dark furniture and suppressed resentment. He was a tee-totaller with a fine palate and tasted the beer for one of the breweries. It might have been Bass. A taciturn man, he told me once, that if I practised long and hard enough with a tennis ball in my pocket, I could crush it flat with one hand. And he demonstrated.

Dad fell out with her, over a petrol mower he decided to sell when the last piece of our grass was concreted over for the business. I’ve no money, my uncle had said, surprised to be asked. She crossed the road, threw banknotes on to the kitchen table and didn’t speak to him again for years.

Next door to them, another bungalow, more modern and with a tennis court – both plots had been the grounds of the house you can catch a glimpse of at the photo’s far right edge – and a retired policeman lived there. He always wore a fag, unlit, dangling from his lips. Offer him a light, dad said. I’ll get one later, he’d reply. When they were too worn, I suppose, to dry out and re-use, he’d buy another pack. Twenty Players.

There’s an old red phone box in the shot. We used it, until we got our own. What we see arrive seems always new. What is there already seems just furniture however recently it arrived. I recall our, first fridge, first image on a TV screen, even our first phone perhaps.

Go back there today and you’ll find the road, I suspect, much as it was, save for the cottage and perhaps the tree. It’s full fifteen years, as I write since I visited the spot. The pumps had gone. The showroom had substituted furniture for cars. The old red phone box might be a garden ornament by now. Cyclists will move a little faster, pumping Lycra, no doubt.

The power station’s come and gone, been swept away, its working life complete. Built, used, demolished, all in the blink of a life’s eye.

Fleur-de-lis

Mike Smith lives on the edge of England where he writes occasional plays, poetry, and essays, usually on the short story form in which he writes as Brindley Hallam Dennis. His writing has been published and performed. He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com 

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Pirate Poems

Pirate Blacktarn Cleans the Ship

PIRATE BLACKTARN CLEANS THE SHIP


Pirate Blacktarn, Terror of the Lemon Seas 
Was feeling cross because he’d lost his keys. 
“This is a most untidy ship,” he grumbled,
As he tripped on a rope and staggered and stumbled. 
“This ship must be tidied,” he shouted aloud,
“I want a smart, clean ship, so I can feel proud.
I want lots of space where I can put my feet. 
The deck should be spotless and shiny and neat.” 

Bosun Mick was sleeping soundly in his hammock
But when Blacktarn said “Clean,” he fell out in shock.
Rakesh the mate was strumming his guitar
And singing a song about lands from afar.
“Cleaning,” he hummed, “No, I don’t think so.
Cleaning? I don’t like that idea, no.”

“But Captain,” said Fay, “your cabin below,
Is the untidiest place on the ship, I know.” 
Big Bob the Cook was feeding the mouse
On sea snails and eel’s cheese, to eat in her house. 
“You’re making crumbs,” said Blacktarn, annoyed. 
“Crumbs,” said Bob, “are things you can’t avoid.” 

“That’s not the point,” said Blacktarn in a huff. 
“I want this ship to be clean enough
For Neptune himself to eat off the deck,
I want no more dirt, not a single speck.”

The crew all sighed, feeling very sad, 
“Our poor Captain’s gone completely mad.
You don’t clean pirate ships, they’re meant to be grimy,
A little bit grubby and a little bit slimy.”

But fearsome Blacktarn wouldn’t let them rest,
He was determined Neptune must be impressed. 
So Rakesh the mate began a cleaning song, 
And they sang as they swept all the dirt along.
“YO HO HO! This is a sad, sad, day,
WOE WOE WOE! We must clean the dirt away. 
YO HO HO! This is hard, hard work,
WOE WOE WOE! Our Captain’s gone berserk.”
Parrot Tim lurked on top of the mast
Till Blacktarn noticed and he flew away fast. 

Then Pirate Blacktarn began to tidy his cabin
But all he really did was dump things in the bin.
So Big Bob the Cook came to sort it all out 
And worked and worked till it was clean beyond doubt.
Everyone swept and dusted and polished
While the seagulls watched, utterly astonished. 

Then in the evening, when they could clean no more,
A huge wave came with a great wild roar
And swished and swashed all over the deck 
And rinsed off the dirt, to the very last speck.
And then the sea turned red and then it turned gold
And they saw all the sea nymphs, lovely to behold. 
And Neptune appeared, surrounded by light. 
“What a fine, tidy vessel,” he said, very polite. 
“Now we must celebrate this cleanest of ships,
How about some crab cake and seaweed chips?”

“Good idea, we’ll start cooking,” agreed all the crew.
“Include us,” called the sea nymphs,” we’re joining you.”

So they ate and danced and sang and had a lot of fun
And forgot about the cleaning they’d all just done. 
It wasn’t till the moon left the early morning sky
That Neptune and the sea nymphs waved them goodbye. 
And then the sun rose and gleamed very bright
And shone on the shambles they’d made in the night. 

“What a disaster! Look at all the mess and murk!
We’ve ruined all yesterday’s hard, hard work,
Now we’ll have to clean all over again.”
The sorry crew groaned at the thought of such a strain. 
“Nonsense,” said Blacktarn, “that would be a pain.
Pirate ships are meant to be a little bit grimy,
A little bit grubby and a little bit slimy. 

Now come on crew, don’t start dawdling and dusting.
Let’s set sail before this ship starts rusting.”

Note: The ‘Pirate Blacktarn’ poems were written in the early 1990s but were never submitted anywhere or shown to anyone. By lucky chance they were recently rescued from a floppy disc that had lain in the bottom of a box for almost thirty years. There are twelve poems in the series but no indication as to what order they were written in and the author no longer remembers. However, they seem to work well when read in any order. They all feature the same cast of characters, the eponymous pirate and his crew, including a stowaway and an intelligent parrot. The stories told by the poems are set on a fictional body of water named the Lemon Sea. (Dug up by Rhys Hughes from the bottom of an abandoned treasure chest).

Jay Nicholls was born in England and graduated with a degree in English Literature. She has worked in academia for many years in various student support roles, including counselling and careers. She has written poetry most of her life but has rarely submitted it for publication.

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Pirate Poems

Pirate Blacktarn meets the Siren

A strange tale in verse by Jay Nicholls

PIRATE BLACKTARN MEETS THE SIREN

Pirate Blacktarn was sailing around
When all of a sudden, he heard a sweet sound,
A marvellous melody, wafting on the sea.
“Let’s go and see what that sound can be.”
“No you can’t,” said Tim Parrot anxiously,
“That’s the Siren’s song, turn back quickly.”

“Nonsense Tim, don’t be such a bore
Full sail ahead, I want to hear more.”

“No, no,” said Tim, “the Siren’s song’s a trap.
She’ll sing and tell tales till you doze and nap.
And at last you’ll fall asleep and never wake again.
Don’t you know the Siren makes statues of men?”

“Rubbish, don’t make a fuss, we’re brave and tough
And we’re not afraid of Sirens,” said Blacktarn in a huff.

So they sailed at speed to the Siren’s shores
Following her enchanted music’s lures.
“Welcome,” called the Siren as they finally came near,
“I have a tale or two, perhaps you’d like to hear?”

Her hair was shining silver and her eyes were glinting green,
The most amazing creature they’d ever seen.
Her lilting, laughing voice was rich and sweet as honey.
Mysterious and serious, fantastical and funny.

“Don’t listen,” cried Tim, flapping his wings with worry.
“Oh be quiet Tim, we’re not in a hurry,
“We can surely stay for just a little while.
Pleased to meet you Siren,” said Blacktarn with a smile.

Then the Siren gave them all a potion to drink
And they drank and drank and forgot to think.

“I see you pirates have come a long, long way,
You must stay here and rest,” they heard the Siren say.
Then she told them tales of the people of Mer
And of sunken ships full of long-lost treasure,
And the terrible battles of the squids and the whales
And the shining sea fire that never ever fails,
And the undersea caves that glitter with diamonds
And the eels that weave through the waving fern fronds,
And the ghosts of dead pirates all shivering and cold
Still seeking their hoards of silver and gold.

Their heads began to nod and their eyes began to close
And one by one they fell into a deep enchanted doze.
They hardly knew if they were waking or dreaming
For all was hazy and magical seeming.
Blacktarn’s mouth opened wider and wider
And he didn’t even notice when in jumped a spider.

“Wake up! Wake up!” cried Tim in agitation,
But the pirates were lost in their imagination.
“Time for drastic action,” thought Tim, very worried,
And away to his friends the seagulls, he hurried.

“Help me, please help me, I don’t know what to do,
The Siren’s enchanted Blacktarn and all his crew.”

Then the Lord of the Seagulls held a meeting of his flock,
They all gathered together on his great grey rock.
They didn’t like the Siren, she turned birds into stone
And wore necklaces and rings made of seagulls’ bones.

“What we’ll do is hold a seagull’s chorus,”
The Great Gull decided, “and we’ll make such a fuss
That the Siren’s voice will be silenced and unheard,
Then the pirates will wake,” announced the Great Bird.
The gulls all agreed this was a very good idea
For a certain sort of seagull screech is hideous to hear.
So away they flew to the Siren’s shores
And saw the pirates and heard their snores.
The Great Gull himself let out a wild cry
Then the seagull chorus screamed through the sky.
The din they made echoed round and round
Till the Siren’s voice was completely drowned.

“Wake up Blacktarn,” called all the birds,
“Wake up, don’t listen to the Siren’s words.
Wake up Mick and Bob, wake Stowaway Fay
Wake, if you want to live another day.”

Tim went round pecking at the dozy crew.
“Wake up Captain and Rakesh and you and you.”
Then the crew stopped hearing the Siren’s voice.
They only heard the gulls, they didn’t have a choice.
“I must have been napping,” said Bob opening his eyes,
“I’ve had some strange dreams,” said Mick in surprise.

Then they stared at the Siren in horror and dismay
She’d turned purple with rage, now she couldn’t get her way.
She frothed at the mouth and her eyes went red
And writhing snakes twisted round her head.

“Run,” yelled Fay and at top speed they fled,
And didn’t dare stop, they were so filled with dread.
At last they reached the ship and sighed with relief.
That was an adventure quite beyond belief!”

“I wish I could remember the stories she told,
 I wanted to hear those magic tales unfold,”
Said Stowaway Fay, with a rather sad sigh.
“Me too,” said Bob. “Yes” said Mick, “so did I.”
“You be grateful you haven’t been turned to stone,”
Said Parrot Tim crossly, “then you’d really moan.
If it wasn’t for the help of the gulls of the air
You’d be trapped forever in the Siren’s snare.”

“Nonsense,” said Blacktarn, “we were dozing a while,
We weren’t caught up in the Siren’s guile.
I told you no Siren would get the better of me,
Now come on crew, get sailing, across the Lemon Sea.”

.

Note: The ‘Pirate Blacktarn’ poems were written in the early 1990s but were never submitted anywhere or shown to anyone. By lucky chance they were recently rescued from a floppy disc that had lain in the bottom of a box for almost thirty years. There are twelve poems in the series but no indication as to what order they were written in and the author no longer remembers. However, they seem to work well when read in any order. They all feature the same cast of characters, the eponymous pirate and his crew, including a stowaway and an intelligent parrot. The stories told by the poems are set on a fictional body of water named the Lemon Sea. (Dug up by Rhys Hughes from the bottom of an abandoned treasure chest).

Jay Nicholls was born in England and graduated with a degree in English Literature. She has worked in academia for many years in various student support roles, including counselling and careers. She has written poetry most of her life but has rarely submitted it for publication.

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Musings

The Source

Mike Smith drifts into nostalgia about mid-twentieth century while exploring a box of old postcards. What are the stories they tell?

In the days when I used to give live readings of short stories I was often asked where they came from. It’s a question writing buddies know better than to ask. Obviously, they already know that stories come from wherever you have found them. But to the non-writing reader it seems to be a mystery.

V.S.Pritchett said that they came from a ‘poetic impulse’, and life can and will prompt that impulse without warning. Even something as simple as looking at postcard can do the job. I was recently shown one such card, sent in the mid nineteen-thirties from Algiers. On the back it’s titled as number 12: Alger. Rue Bab-Azoun, and on the front of it carries a black and white photograph of a street scene. I’ve never been to Algiers, but the image evokes memories and associations with travellers’ tales, articles, TV shows and movies, and by no means all of them directly related to that city.

The image is full of life, locating itself at a precise moment in place and time by its buildings, its street furniture, its traffic, its advertising posters and its people, more than a dozen of them in several distinct groups. Each of those groups might imply a tale, and in combination a more complex one. That dead centre café with its two arches, ‘La Vieux Grenadier’ makes me think of Rick’s place in the film Casablanca. And could the ‘Au Grand Bon Marche’* up above it on the wall be an ironic comment? On the dapper man in the dark jacket and tie, his straw boater subtly tilted, his thumb stuck in his belt, say, as he strides towards us. Is he known to them, rejoining them perhaps after an assignation? And what about those two characters in white suits whom he has just passed? One of them is glancing across. Is it at him, and if so, why? Could be somebody’s brother, and the start of something. Or is his line of sight slightly ahead of the man, towards a couple partially obscured by the little knot of tourists nearer the foreground? Has something been done, or said? And who is the man standing on the back of the tram vanishing into the shadows? Has he just boarded at the stop? It is a stop, I’m sure, just close by that nearer group, because we can see the tracks reverting to single from double lines, that would form a passing loop for crossing vehicles. Further to the left there’s a mixed group: a man in robes reaching out, for what? Two men in solar topees: are they the police? Off duty soldiers? What sort of vehicle is it? Are they demanding to see papers? Is that luggage on the roof?

And on the far right, a couple, casually dressed. She is just visible behind him. They are heading towards the ‘Parfumerie’, if I have read the lettering on the wall above them correctly. They are moving quickly, I think, and with no eyes for the others in the scene.

Every still photograph catches a moment in time and place and holds it motionless, which, almost word for word, is what the writer Arthur Miller told us short stories do. Each picture is a segment of the arc of some imagined or remembered story, and for the would-be writer the trick might be – I offer no certainties – to know which segment: beginning, middle or end? So that the whole arc might be created.

And every momentary image brought to our eyes, upon the street or in a building, or from a vehicle, every sight and every sound, each whiff of wind off the sea, or waft of coffee from a café, each faint smell of smoke or blood from an alleyway or open door, offers us the same potential. And so, the answer to that question, asked or unasked, must always be: stories? They come from everywhere!

12: Alger. Rue Bab-Azoun. Snapshot of the postcard by Mike Smith

Where to start?

For I know only the ending of the story. That lies in the box of old postcards and photographs, of dinner menus and an itinerary of the liner, The Laconia. It was a Cunard Line ship and came to an unwanted fame a few years later when, in 1942 it was sunk by a German U-boat. A flotilla of German and Italian submarines attempted to rescue survivors, but were later bombed and strafed by American warplanes, forcing them to dive, sweeping those survivors into the sea.

The Mediterranean cruise recorded in those old postcards took place in the mid-nineteen thirties and was a honeymoon trip. The postcards show Algiers, Jerusalem, Valetta, and unknown views. Petra, city of the rock is in there. Photographs show bustling streets. Western tourists in period costume to us now, smile, raise glasses, chin-chin, gaze from balconies and terraces. The menus show us what they dined on, the itinerary, where and when they made landfall. They are printed on a stiff card, Art Deco in design and near to what we might think of as A5 in size, but which in those days would have carried what seems now a more Imperial label: crown quarto, small demy octavo.

There’s even a folding diagram of the ship: printed on flimsy paper but still good, even along the eighty-year-old folds. It shows the steel hull, the cabin walls (Not walls, an old naval friend mine would have corrected. Those are bulwarks, matey!).

The young bride was my mother in law’s mother. Her husband was an English farmer, a cut above her in class. She was a Londoner, a nurse, he a Norfolk country landowner. But tragedy struck. Before even the Laconia sank, he had died.

And through the twists and turns of life she’d kept the box of postcards and old photographs, and the dinner menus, the itinerary of their trip, the folded diagram of the ship, their cabin black-inked and arrowed in someone’s hand; perhaps hers, perhaps his.

I never met the lady. She died the year I met my wife, but I could weep for her now, knowing the ending of their story.      

Glossary

Au Grand Bon Marche: Literal translation, a great bargain, French. Could also refer to a French Department store Le Bon Marche.      

Parfumerie: A place where perfumes are sold. French.

.

Mike Smith lives on the edge of England where he writes occasional plays, poetry, and essays, usually on the short story form in which he writes as Brindley Hallam Dennis. His writing has been published and performed. He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com 

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL