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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category


Consigned to cold cobbles and
An orange plastic table and chair,
I wait for the coveted inside spot;
Anything will do – armchair, table with chalks,
It need not even be my favourite window seat,
I can work my way towards that
If I stay here long enough;
Watching for the slightest movement inside,
Indicating an imminent departure,
I must still keep my eyes peeled for
Later arrivals spying my space,
I am comforted, however, in the knowledge
That the staff have my back in this.

I kill the time in earnest debate
With a passing trader over whether
He should shave his beard off or not,
Twin enemies of bare patch and grey
Are sowing doubt in his anguished mind.

At least the unremitting building work
On the winding street the non-PC Dickens
Dubbed the “crippled ladder”,
Is quelled for a short blissful spell;
And I can hear the Four Tops and Marvin Gaye
Providing a soulful accompaniment
To the constant musical chairs inside.

My small cappuccino emerges in time
To warm my gloveless hands and heart,
And fend prospective boarders off at the pass
Before they dare to claim my appointed place,
Wedged between counter and disabled loo;

A large family hovers and dithers with door ajar
Over whether to wait their turn, or seek out
Alternative, but never better, coffee shops;
An impassioned argument ensues on whether
The apple crumble cake with plum compote
Is sufficient enticement to make them stay.

It is.

Errol Brown croons of his belief in miracles,
And following my brief captivity on the street,
I am now inclined to agree with him.

Another stand of lemon, almond and polenta cake,
Today’s obligatory and luscious vegan option,
Is borne on high from the kitchen downstairs,
Like a triumphant Roman emperor,
Before the plebeian hordes salivating below.

A small, blonde girl in blue denim dungarees
Sits transfixed by Peppa Pig on her iPad,
While mum ransacks more than her rightful share
Of chocolate orange cake meant for her daughter;
And a chihuahua named Molly plants itself
On the only available chair.

But then, suddenly and with no warning,
The once overcrowded interior
Thins out mysteriously;
I can only speculate that the departing hordes
Are all rushing for the Love Train
That the joyous O’Jays now sing about
Above the diminishing chatter.

But a new batch of shivering hordes
Are soon shuffling through the half open door
To take their places in the lengthening queue.
The warm, cozy, civilised atmosphere,
Delays my planned perambulation
Of the gloomy, abandoned harbour.
So I order a second small cappuccino
And that last slice of…………
Blueberry and walnut cake!

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The Four Umbrella Sketch
(with thanks /apologies to Monty Python)

Behind the clean, efficient counter of the lost property department at Euston Station lurks a dense jungle of paraphenalia left by passengers, including mobile phones, sunglasses and purses.

And a vast and assorted collection of umbrellas.

The office has been closed for hours, and the last train has long left the station.

All is quiet – until four of the department’s, hopefully temporary, residents break away to the furthest corner and engage in earnest conversation.

The first umbrella, a Liberty print ladies version, opened the debate by stating that “you won’t believe how I ended up here. My owner brought me from North Wales on a shopping trip. By early afternoon she had accumulated designer bags from Harrod’s, John Lewis, Harvey Nichols and many other high end stores. She turned down the offer of a bag to put me in, as it was raining steadily outside at the time, and I was called into immediate action.

I had a premonition even then that, in the panic and confusion that was bound to accompany the train’s arrival at Crewe for her connection, I might be left behind. And so I was, though I did get an extra trip back to London.

I suspect the half bottle of Prosecco she drank on the journey didn’t help”.

A foldable child’s Peppa Pig design replied “mine was a young mother with two kids, both with their own umbrellas. I “belonged” to her five year old daughter, and the six year old boy carried one in the shape of a particularly ugly frog. Their mum had brought them to London for the day from Hemel Hempstead to visit the Natural History and Science Museums.

The day was going well until it was time to catch the train home. As they gathered their belongings for the return journey, mum discovered that one of the umbrellas was missing and harangued her daughter for leaving it somewhere, the precise location and timing being a total mystery at the time.

Well, I can exclusively reveal now that I was left in the ladies’ loo opposite Platforms 1 and 2.

Oh, and by the way, that blasted frog survived the ordeal”.

At that point, a multi-coloured beach brolly interrupted, insisting that “they’re both conventional ways of being left behind. My abandonment was much more interesting. They brought me, along with their two teenage boys, from Watford Junction on a day trip to the seaside. I spent five hours on Viking Bay Beach at Broadstairs, shielding them from the whistling wind and intermittent drizzle, I blew inside out at least twenty times (fortunately my spokes are strong and I didn’t suffer any lasting damage), and how did they repay me?

Left me to go round the entire Circle Line three times, being pushed from seat to seat (I nearly gone thrown onto the platform at Shepherd’s Bush Market), before a kind commuter picked me up and brought me here”.

A large, black, Ministry of Defence affair with hand carved ash handle had been listening to these laments with increasing irritation. He could not restrain himself any longer and haughtily exclaimed “that’s all very interesting but incredibly boring. My owner is a senior civil servant currently employed on top secret government business. It is as highly stressful as it is well remunerated, and requires high intelligence and discretion. He needs to relieve himself – literally – on occasions or it would all become too much.

So, his Tuesday afternoons are set aside for visits to a professional lady along the road from here at King’s Cross. To cover his tracks he always walks from his office in Whitehall and, due to today’s inclement weather, I was recruited to join him. We arrived at the appointed time and he promptly disappeared to carry out his business. At least he had the good grace to prop me by the door to the flat rather than condemn me to witness the proceedings from the inner sanctum.

At the customary time of four in the afternoon, the door opened and, as immaculately attired as he had been when he arrived, he took his leave. However, with the sun strenuously trying to penetrate the tattered curtain in the lady’s bedroom, thus restricting his vision, he omitted to collect me on his way out.

So how did I get here, I hear you ask?

It transpired that, rather than, as I would have expected, she resided in the hovel that hosted the afternoon’s divertissement, the lady in question actually commuted to her place of work on a daily basis, just like the office workers and retail staff that frequent the concourse here from the early morning until midnight.

After attending to three more gentleman callers, she duly took the 18:57 to Birmingham New Street, but not without making a short detour to this establishment to place me in its safe custody.

I must say I was surprised, but equally gratified, to learn that the entertainment industry is as subject to gentrification as any other these days.

It makes one proud to be British”.

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Harbour Morning
High tide, low spirits,
Sun splits the glowering clouds,
Grave beauty unveiled.

 

(Steep Street) Coffee House
Young mothers converge,
Coffee, cakes, conversation
Drown creative talk.

 

Radnor Park Lake
Dawn birdlife clamours,
Noon anglers cast silent floats
Night, serene moon shines.

 

Sunny Sands
Gulls shriek across the sky,
Dogs bark and prance in the surf,
Stoic mermaid stares.

 

Checkpoint George (Lane)
Tourists face loafers,
Chocolate or bacon sandwich,
So close but worlds apart.

 

Old High Street Morning
Dalla Corte steams
Boot heels on sodden cobbles
Curved hill comes to life

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“Always got his head in a book, hasn’t he?”

“Doesn’t he play with other boys
Like normal children?”

“He comes out with some very long words
For someone his age”.

Common complaints from his early years,
Still spoke today by puzzled adult peers.

As dusk descends on the car-less, cobbled street,
He doesn’t heed the steadily falling rain
Driving him in from games of marbles, cricket
And flicking fag cards down the darkening lane;
He’s immersed in yarns of a boy named William,
A girl called Alice and a bear of little brain.

Intrepid tales of a Little White Bull,
A three part novel written at age eight,
Inspired by a song by Tommy Steele,
Leaves proud parents in a blissful state.

It earns a mention in the local press,
A child genius the gushing paper quips;
Before it goes the way of most success,
Wrapped up in paper folding fish and chips.

And now, through adult recklessness,
It’s lost like many of those TV shows
Twizzle, Torchy the Battery Boy,
Hoppity and Four Feather Falls,
The boy watched while eating crumpets
Toasted with fork on open fire that glows

Two years on he stands upon the platform
Of Greatstone’s railway station green,
Waiting for Typhoon or for Southern Maid
Or if he’s lucky, maybe Doctor Syn!
Bottle green cardigan knitted by Mum,
Plastic shoes and pudding basin hair,
Shorts excrutiatingly tight,
He hugs a guide book, pen and favourite bear.

So many hundreds, thousands, read since then,
Most kept, but some to charity shops have flown;
So many bookshelves creaking from the weight
Attest to how the love affair has grown.

The man remains seduced by books’ allure,
Enchanted by their feel and smell and view;
And though his taste has mellowed since,
His friends include that crazy girl and Pooh!

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Today I read that you had died.
Saw it by chance, in black and white;
After a short illness, it said,
Surrounded by loved ones, at night.

First news of you in fifty years,
No photographs nor word of yours
Had I received in all that time,
Discarded then, beloved no more.

Now I’ll never know the answers
To questions I have asked for years;
Could we have built a life together,
Endured, then blossomed through the tears?

Do you recall that dress you wore,
Long, black, sleek, shimmering and smart,
You shone a smile across the room
That burned and melted this boy’s heart?

Do you recall that Sunday lunch,
Thin pretext for our swelling love,
Before you led my hand upstairs
And laid me on your goatskin rug?

Where I first tasted a woman’s flesh,
Caressed with slow and tender touch;
As your new son slept in the hall,
We basked within each other’s clutch.

Four weeks we laid in that warm bed,
Rising to feed and change your child
When passion eased and left us spent,
We lay with him and smiled, and smiled.

Do you recall the plans we made,
To leave together, your young son too,
And live in blissful poverty,
On student grant, somehow make do.

But then they said that we were wrong,
That you were ill and I too young,
That we should never meet again
Or I would pay for what I’d done.

Do you recall that still we met
Three times on my planned visits home,
When we sat on our favourite bench,
And snatched kisses from too sweet gloom?

Do you recall thinking of me,
While raising kids and making good,
At social settings with my parents
With talk of me prohibited?

Through sloping fields, by muddy river,
Along the ancient cobbled street,
Courtyards, cafes and Cathedral,
For forty years I yearned to meet.

To see once more your lovely smile,
Across unheeding crowd you’d send,
But that can never happen now,
A second and more wretched end.

Today I read that you had died.
Saw it by chance, in black and white;
After a short illness, it said,
Surrounded by loved ones, at night.

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“Work is so busy”.

“I’m too tired in the evenings”.

“The kids take up all my time”.

“I just can’t think of anything to write”.

The list goes on.

Writers are society’s great procrastinators, forever finding excuses for not putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

And I’m no different.

Aside from (some claim unhealthy) daily absorption in social media, primarily Facebook, I have written little of consequence over the past eighteen months, in fact a total of twenty five posts on my blog, admittedly most of which were of considerable length.

But it is now three years since I published A Half-Forgotten Triumph with my late, lamented co-author, Martin Moseling, to some acclaim in cricketing circles. That was to be the – somewhat idiosyncratic – launch pad for a writing career that, frankly, was always going to be more likely to bring modest pleasure to a small proportion of the reading public than any riches to its author.

Based on a host of articles written on annual trips to San Francisco, I planned to follow Triumph up in 2015 with a book celebrating, from an English traveller’s perspective, the City by the Bay. By the time I’m writing this piece, I would have hoped to have published it.

Not so.

A significant chunk of Smiling on a Cloudy Day: An Englishman’s Love Affair with San Francisco is still sitting on my desk in the nicely decorated binder I bought for the express purpose. Less developed is the manuscript of High Kicks and Red Rocks: A South West Road Trip which was the next planned work.

Now, this is where, in the classic writer’s fashion, I reel out my own excuses – deteriorating health and ultimate death of my father, which took a physical and mental toll, the passing of two other close friends, including the aforementioned Martin, two major operations for myself and, during this calendar year, the need to sell two properties and purchase another fifty miles apart.

Under cross-examination, I do believe I could make a case for partly justifying my inaction in respect of some of those issues, but, ultimately, my natural indolence took control of my writing energies.

But I can no longer cite them, or any other factors for that matter, as reasons for not getting “back on the horse”.

So it is time to dust off that nicely decorated binder and get to work on Cloudy Day, and following that, High Kicks. 

And I will.

However.

(I know – procrastinating again).

A slight spanner has been thrown into the works in the past few months which has had both a positive and potentially negative impact on my writing plans.

Folkestone.

My new home on the Channel coast has given me both a source of renewed inspiration and motivation. Without it, I doubt whether I would have been able to exorcise those demons I listed above.

It has been the subject of my four most recent blog posts, the last three alone written in the two and a half months since I arrived in the town that had generated so many happy memories from half a century ago.

But the danger, of course, is that its charms might divert me from the plans I have just outlined for those two books. I suspect that there may one day be a need to make Folkestone the main protagonist of another, more substantial, piece, but, for now, it has to be the light relief, the day job if you like. Aside from the requirement to sustain interest in the upcoming San Francisco book, ever more important as completion approaches, it will continue to be the primary focus of my social media activity.

Now where did I say that nicely decorated binder was?

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Shortly after the publication of my first book, A Half-Forgotten Triumph, I outlined my initial thoughts on what was already being referred to as “the San Francisco book”:

https://tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/the-next-book/

At that time, I was considering various options on its subject matter and format:

  • standard travel diary;
  • guide book;
  • reflections on aspects of life in the city;
  • features on some of its larger than life characters; and
  • analysis of the British influence on the City.

A year on, all of those options still appeal to me, and I would fully intend to tackle them all in the future. But if I am to make progress with this first book in the series, the time has come to set aside doubts and decide which course to take.

I keep returning to the idea of a combination of the first three options. Indeed, the material that I have written already has adopted that approach.

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The book will follow an English couple on a month long vacation in the City. From their rental cottage in Bernal Heights, they will explore both the most celebrated and lesser known locations, reflecting, not only on their experiences, but also the issues affecting tourists and residents alike in modern day San Francisco.

Those reflections will inevitably carry an English flavour, similar to the style of both my blog and the Tony Quarrington: An Englishman’s Love Affair with San Francisco Facebook page.

I have had an acceptable working title for some time – Smiling on a Cloudy Day Some readers may recognise the direct quote which, I think, reflects neatly my habitual engagement with the “City by the Bay”.

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I’ll confess that even reaching this point has not been easy, and progress has been slow.

Perhaps it’s laziness, perhaps lack of imagination – or, more likely, both – but I struggle to write authentically about San Francisco when I am domiciled most of the time more than five thousand miles away.

There is so much support material available online – not only websites and other resources, but hundreds of videos online on every aspect of life in the City.

Want to ride the Powell and Hyde cable car line?

Click on the one of several YouTube videos.

Want to know what it’s really like living in the Mission district?

Click on one of the many “vox pop” interviews with residents on YouTube.

Want to absorb yourself in one of the many festivals that abound in San Francisco on almost any given weekend?

I think you know the answer.

Easy then isn’t it?

No. It’s very hard – well, at least for me.

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James Joyce may have been able to capture the essence of daily life in Dublin despite only occasionally, and then briefly, returning to his native city a handful of times after first leaving it in the year in which Ulysses is set.

It helps, of course, if you have spent the first twenty two years of your life in that environment. Being a genius and a master of the English language too are hardly handicaps.

I can claim neither of those advantages.

So I’m left with memories from a dozen visits, bolstered by notes and blog articles at the time, and those YouTube videos to convey the spirit of life in the city.

Ultimately, the readers will be the judge of how successful I have been.

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Finally, there are a number of practical decisions to make over the coming months as the book comes together, notably the projected publication date and form the book will take (print or e-version).

On timing, my current plans are to publish midway between my planned trips to the City in May and September of next year, enabling me to promote it locally.

I will continue to use this blog to relay my emerging thoughts, and, where appropriate, trail some of the content.

 

 

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