Tuesday, 28 November 2017
He chose the highest room in town. Which, I suppose, is fair enough. What it doesn’t explain is why he chose Hastings, a seaside town on the south coast of England. His wife explained it by telling everyone that he was obsessed by history, and more specifically by the Battle of Hastings. Okay, to be totally accurate, the battle wasn’t exactly at Hastings but then the Norsemen weren’t caring that much back in 1066.
He knew what to expect with a Lapland winter, but it was the summers up there that really got to him. Lapland in July to August was humid and full of mosquitoes. It didn’t seem to bother his wife or the helpers – although to be honest most of them took their yearly vacation around about that time, letting them rest up before the onslaught of Christmas and all that entailed.
So, Santa decided he’d have a little break of his own (a break that Mrs Claus wasn’t unhappy about) and planned to go to Hastings and study the invasion of William the Conqueror. The highest room in the town was the only one available at the time, but it seemed to him that it was meant. The room and the views were perfect.
He had taken the sleigh all the way to a little airport in Tornio, then he’d given Rudolf and the other reindeer a few dollars to enjoy themselves. Santa told them he’d see them soon and then he went into a bathroom, cut down his beard, gelled back his hair and placed his red clothes in a locker. He flew from Lapland to Helsinki and then onto London using a cheap airline. Santa wondered if maybe cheap airlines were the future of Christmas and that the reindeer were perhaps past their sell-by-date.
He loved the seaside and the beaches, although the seagulls could be annoying, especially the ones that realised he was Santa and therefore would keep swooping down and asking him for Christmas stuff. Santa, like most folks in Hastings, just threw the birds a hot potato chip, and told the gulls that he’d put their request on a list.
There were somethings that he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) tell Mrs Claus – after all, what happened in Hastings, stayed in Hastings. He hadn’t actually tried beer in the past and before he knew it, Santa was being arrested by the cops for lying drunk under Hastings’ pier, and shouting out the words to ‘Jingle Bells’. He used the name Mr Claus at the Police Station, and he was sure that he hadn’t imagined hearing a couple of the police folks sniggering at the back.
As for the other thing – he was definite that those men on the beach (he had befriended) had told him that ‘breaking into a bank’ was another name for a party in Hastings. Luckily Santa had escaped before the police had shown up. One of the older guys had stuffed some of the bank money in Santa’s pocket – money, which Santa had given to several homeless folks on the front of the town.
But the thing that he really remembered about that summer, was the lady who had lived in the rooms below him. He had literally bumped into her as she was climbing the steep steps to the second highest room in the building, and he was sliding down the bannister. He picked her up off the stairs, apologised and then continued sliding down the shiny slide.
A few days later, Santa was passing one of the many fish and chip shops in town when he saw the lady sitting on her own. She was playing with the food rather than eating it. Santa knocked the window. She didn’t recognise him at first – then she put on her spectacles on and eventually gave him a little smile. Santa took this as an invitation and went in the tiny shop and sat next to the lady.
It seems that the woman and her husband had been married in Hastings and had honeymooned there. Her husband was long dead, they’d had no children and now she spent a few weeks in the summer reliving the old days in Hastings.
Santa and the woman met a few more times in the days and weeks ahead, and when Santa asked what she wanted for Christmas – she replied that apart from her Bert coming back, nothing much else. She lived in a little village in Hampshire with her dog, Cheeky (who her sister was currently looking after) – and both she and Cheeky would eat everything in sight and then watch Christmas television. That was her Christmas day and that was enough for her.
She never got to say a proper goodbye to Mr Claus (he told her it was a well-known Finnish name) but several days before she was due to return home water started coming through her roof from the rooms above – the ones that Mr Clause had stayed in.
The man who came to fix the leak was called Bertie (just like her husband) – he was a widower who had a little dog called ‘Rascal’. The last few days of her holidays were a whirlwind. She and Bertie (and Rascal) went for walks along the beach, they even went for fish and chips – and this time she ate them rather than just picking at the food.
As Bertie walked her to the train station for her trip back to Hampshire, he told her that he had a break over Christmas and wondered if the two of them could perhaps meet up.
She smiled at Bertie and said she would love to.
bobby stevenson 2017
Friday, 24 November 2017
It wasn’t hurting anyone; now was it? She’d give the kids a difficult problem to solve, although if she was being honest, there wasn’t an answer to it. Then, when all their heads were down staring at the desk, she’d nip outside for a smoke on a delicious cigarette. She loved teaching – don’t get her wrong, it was her life. Yet it left no time for anything else. Most evenings she’d take her kids’ work back to the bed sit and drink gin while she ran red lines through the essays. One day she’d meet someone – that special someone – but until then five minutes with a cigarette behind the school was as good as it got.
He’d bathe her, then feed her some cereal – the way she had done with him, a long time ago. She was his mother, after all – at least she had been, but she was gone somewhere else now – to an undiscovered country where he could not follow. He missed her and the chats, and the laughter and tears. What would you choose for a parent, if you had to choose; cancer or dementia? Jeez, what would you choose for yourself? He wasn’t meant to leave her, but he would, just for five minutes each morning. He would tuck her into her bed, then take a pillow from the side his father used to sleep on and go outside. And for those five minutes he would put the pillow over his face and scream and scream until the tears were washing his cheeks. That’s all it was. A few minutes, each day, to keep himself sane.
He loved her. They were getting married in a few weeks. She was everything that he wanted. Everything that he needed in this life. And yet, if it wasn’t for that one person across the street. The one he would say ‘hello’ to, from time-to-time. The one who made his stomach jump in circles – those things that never happened with his fiancée. Never. Yet, he could see a life stretching into the future with his girl, but what about the person across the street? Perhaps they were difficult to live with? Maybe it was all in his stupid, stupid head - but once a week – and yeah, he knew it was creepy, he would look out of the window at the house where that special person lived, and he would imagine that he lived there too. It was only for five minutes, as that was all it took before his fiancée would notice he was missing and call him back to look at wedding plans.
Sometimes the shaking got so bad, that he would have to hold on to the side of the bed, just to stop himself from falling out. ‘Degenerative’ was the word of his life. The nurse was a kind soul and she would take her lunch at 12.15 every day, without fail. She always left the matches beside his bed, and then she’d smile and wink before she left the room. It was she who brought him in the special cigarettes. Her brother liked a blow and she’d get him to roll one extra. So, when she went to have something to eat, and through his shaking hands, he would light up the joint and for a few minutes, his troubles would float away in a cloud of smoke.
bobby stevenson 2017
Tuesday, 17 October 2017
Most people will never notice it. They’ll be too busy on their commute, or containing their excitement as they head to the seashore. Yet it is there, and it is waiting, and it did happen.
Between Hastings and Bexhill on the south coast of England, is a tunnel; a railway tunnel. It lies just off the Bopeep Junction, and naturally enough is known as the Bopeep Tunnel. Yet it was here in a warm Autumn night in 1941 that a most peculiar thing happened. A train of 77 soldiers and 13 civilians disappeared.
It was that simple.
The train had halted at St Leonard’s Warrior Square, to let another twenty troops to board the train and then it was off to allow them to be stationed at several points along the south coast.
Except they never got there. The train left St Leonard’s at 10.31 pm and was only reported missing by Bexhill staff at 3.15am, the following morning. There were initial thoughts that the train had fallen victim to a bomb, or even sabotage, but there were no raids that evening, and no reported explosions.
To put things simply: the train had just vanished off the face of the earth.
The men from Whitehall, sat on the news and three days later released a statement that the train had been bombed and no one had survived. The statement noted that the train had been waiting in a siding at Eastbourne when it had met its fate.
It was the War and information could be, and was, controlled. No one recalled a train being destroyed at Eastbourne station, but then there were many things that couldn’t be recalled in those days.
The truth was, that a train had entered a railway tunnel from the east side and had failed to exit on the west, all with 90 souls on board.
Coffins turned up for funerals, with the proviso that no family members were to look inside: it was all due to the state of the bodies – they were mutilated.
And so the War continued and no more trains went missing at the Bo Peep tunnel.
“Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep and nobody knows where to find them….”
The story was largely forgotten, and a monument to the loss stood on the spot where the train had been destroyed by the bomb. The monument was torn down a few years ago to make way for restaurants and a carpark.
Then on the evening of October the 31st, 2017, a train driver taking the 11.40pm from London Charing Cross into Hastings noticed a light on in the signal box at Bopeep Junction.
He reported it to the staff at West St Leonard’s station, who decided it was just the usual vandals and called the police.
What the police found wasn’t any one attempting to destroy the junction box, what they found was a young man in a World War 2 uniform. When they asked him his date of birth he said the 12th of December 1922.
bobby stevenson 2017
Wednesday, 20 September 2017
I know you know. It’s just whether you remember the facts or not. The thing is, I must have learned to write and then I learned to live. We kind of knew it was always going to be that way – didn’t we?
Am I getting ahead of myself? Probably. I was always getting ahead. So I’ll just start at the beginning like most people would.
I am writing you a letter from your past – from our past. I have been to the doctor and he has told me. He said it in the most matter of fact way possible.
He looked out of his window, asked did I want a glass of water, then turned and said ‘you have Alzheimer’s’. I said ‘sorry’ and he said so was he, I then asked him to repeat himself. And as you know and I now know, I’ve got Alzheimer’s.
What am I like from where you are? Are you reading this, or perhaps some help has found it and is reading it to you? Or maybe they are reading it to themselves and wondering if they should read it to you.
I just wanted to write to you – well, me, the future me, a letter to say goodbye and to say I’m sorry. Was it something I did, something in my life that led us down this road of sorrow?
I wonder what went first? Did you start to forget the lovers, you and I once knew? I always was proud of myself that I could remember all their names. It was always a little exercise I did on dark days – to remember when love and life were easy. When I had enough offers to be careless with those who had said they loved me. Forgive me.
My fear is that you – well, me in the future will be talked about by strangers. They will look at me with pity and tears and forget how young and alive I once was. Please don’t let them talk about me. Please don’t let them say I am mad. I am not mad – am I’m only dying.
Something we will all do.
I remember one of my lovers said to me, that you should never judge a life by how it ends. I was alive once, I was a child, a kid, a teenager, a lover, a partner – but all of those things are dependent on being able to remember.
And my memories are being cruelly stolen, so that in the end I am nothing.
More than nothing.
I am not feeling sorry for you or me, for I had a life and that is more than some souls get.
I just wanted to write and say I love you, I didn’t always love you – learning to love yourself takes a lifetime.
I hope you are happy in your dreams.
With all the love in the world,
Yourself, from all the way back here.
(bobby stevenson 2017)
Thursday, 7 September 2017
It had been last summer when Suzie had seen her first driverless car. It had been taking that kid, Trig to school. Trig’s father had more money than all the other kid’s parents put together. The story was that he’d been kicked out of every private education establishment in the tri-state area and Suzie’s school was the only one left – at least that was the talk .
Over the winter there were more and more of the driverless cars which were soon joined by taxi cabs with no chauffeurs. As Suzie told her brother – “the world has gone mad, Billy. Really, totally mad”.
Billy, her younger brother, wasn’t caring that much, he had his computer games and that was good enough for him. He didn’t like to go outside all the much anyway.
So, it was on that Spring day, that it all went horribly wrong. Folks said that it was some terrorist group or other who had hacked into the cars’ systems and made them all jam up.
Billy, to be honest, thought that it was cool idea and wished he’d thought of it. Leastways it would have stopped him having to go to school.
Still others said it was a flare from the Sun which had broken all the world’s electrics and had caused all the traffic to pile-up. Now let me say right here and now, no one was hurt – let’s get that straight – but the jam caused such a problem that people and business probably lost a lot of money. Folks got stuck on the way to hospitals and stuff – so serious things did happen.
What really amazed Suzie was that some of the teachers had made it into school that day, it all started. “They probably sleep there,” said Billy, totally disgusted with those types of teachers. Suzie mother telephoned the school to ask if it was to be a ‘driverless-car-jam-holiday’, and she was told that it wasn’t and that perhaps the kids could just walk to school – like people used to.
“Walk!” Shouted Billy. “Not in my lifetime,” he shouted louder.
That was when their Granddad, Bobby came up from the cellar with another one of his inventions.
“They are called Bobby Pods, and you wear them on your back. Your school is only three blocks away and it will be easy enough to pull yourselves along the walls”.
“Are you crazy?” Shouted Billy, again. “What if a strong wind comes and blows us away?”
“The weather is going to be kind today. I checked it out,” Said Granddad.
So, with a lot of struggle and a bit of shouting, Granddad fitted the balloons (or Bobby Pods) to their backs.
Suzie’s mother wasn’t too sure about the whole thing but trusted her father, a man who usually made things work. Suzie and Billy climbed out of the window and without any nerves threw themselves into the great blue yonder.
Suzie pulled herself along the wall, in the general direction of the school. It was just as they turned the corner that they felt the missile whiz past their heads. Andy, the school bully, was hanging out his bedroom and firing stones to try to burst their balloons. He reckoned that if those weird kids, Suzie and Billy, made it as far as school, then he’d have to go in as well.
When Andy fired another of his rockets, Billy caught it with his foot and kicked it right back at Andy’s window, accidentally smashing the glass. Andy’s mother came running into his bedroom to see what happened and when he blamed it on a passing kid who was flying with balloons – she felt that maybe her son was even more crazy than she had first thought, and took him to see the doctor. At least he got the morning off school.
Anyway, Billy and Suzie managed to make it into class, even if they did turn up a few wrong alleys on the way. The next day several other kids joined them and by the end of the week, they had a ‘flying train’, led by a teacher (who needed a lot of balloons) and who used her personal battery fan to navigate all the way to school.
bobby stevenson 2017
Wednesday, 30 August 2017
Jake remembered what his Grandmother used to call it: ‘your grandad is away down the doctors’. That’s what she called it – the pub at the end of the street.
“If life wasn’t so shit, there would be no need for pubs”, was her usual follow-up. “Don’t matter what it was; just back from the war, or the birth of his first-born, the night his mother died, the day his brother got thrown in jail – those times all ended up with your grandfather down the doctors”.
Andrew looked on the pub across the street as some sort of church. Whatever sin he had committed, all he had to do was spend a few hours in the pub and it was all sorted between him and God. I mean it wasn’t his fault, it was always Karen who started the arguments. The way she’d serve his dinner warm, rather than piping hot – or the fact that she’d run out of chips when he wanted nothing else in the world. Sometimes she wouldn’t get his coffee fast enough – so who could blame him, if he had to raise his hand and give her a gentle slap now and again? He’d tell the lads in the pub the story as he saw it, and none of them seemed to object, ‘Just natural, init?’ So, he’d go back to the house that night, say he was sorry to his darling Karen and then he’d enter her little body until he fell asleep on top of her.
Annie slipped into the pub at the corner at 5.20 every night. They always said in the bar, that if she missed a night they would have to send a wreath and a condolence card around to her house; ‘cause only death would stop her having her ale’. Annie did the same thing each evening. She’d give her mother double the dose that the doctor had recommended, and that would keep her mother fast asleep for a few hours while Annie had a drink or two. What harm was she doing? After all, wasn’t it her mother’s fault that Annie had never married? She was stuck with an old woman who couldn’t speak anymore. When Donald, her man, had run off with her sister – she thought she had known loneliness then - but this living, night after night wasn’t a life – Annie felt she was only existing. She lifted her head and asked the barman for another drink to wash away the day.
Jacob was a happy sort. Everyone said so. He’d pop in the bar at the corner of the street and he’d buy the person next to him a drink – be it stranger or best friend. There was a little jukebox in the corner that was seldom used during the day, but in the evening the younger drinkers would pile their coins into it. It was then that Jacob would put on that tune. He only did it when the person he wanted to hear it was in the pub. He wondered did they ever notice it was Jacob who put it on, and even more curiously, he wondered did they ever listen to the words.
Leona, only went the pub when she felt crushingly lonely. Then she’d wear her lowest top, push up her chest and wait on getting drinks bought for her. Some mornings she’d waken next to the last person in the world that she wanted to be there. Some mornings, she woke alone – as some always left after they got what they came for. All she really wanted was for someone to put their arms around her, and hold her while the sun came up.
Connor only went into the pub because it was a happy place, and everyone in it was happy too - and uncomplicated – just like his life.
bobby stevenson 2017
Sunday, 27 August 2017
I am used to walking alone; being alone; surviving on my own. It has to be this way. They know I am here - because from several miles above me, their satellites are watching. Picking up my heat. Not like them and cold metallic hearts.
I’ve found that if you stay in the one place too long, one of their drones will come and hover. That’s just to let me know. ‘We are watching you’.
I’ve been by myself for so long, that sometimes, just sometimes, I wish they would just shoot me. Perhaps they experiment with us, or maybe we are on some robot reality television show, or, and this is the most depressing - they are just watching us disappear. For ever.
I’ve spent the last few months (and by that, I mean the moon has waxed and waned several times) on the high sierra. There is always something to eat up there – even it is only a small animal or a tasty grub. I suppose they are aware that our food is dwindling and it is only a matter of time, before we starve. Long, long ago, I met some of us who had tried to farm a little food but when it came time to harvest, the crops tended to have been disrupted or destroyed (by unseen hands). So maybe, I’m right, maybe it is a reality television show.
The one thing they seem to hate (if they can hate) is when two heat sources are next to each other. They don’t like humans meeting one and other – that way, rebellion and revolution lie (I’m assuming).
When I saw some smoke coming from the mouth of cave higher on the ridge, I was wary. It could have been a termination – I’ve passed many humans who have been ‘terminated’ by the drones. You just walk on and whisper ‘God Bless’ under your voice. I’m not hard, but when I first tried to bury my fellow beings, the drones appeared and told me to leave them alone – or else.
I decided to climb to the cave anyway. Inside I could see the flames of a fire in the distance.
“Stay there,” came a voice. “Don’t come in”.
So, I did. It might be a drone after all.
After a few minutes during which I was unsure whether to run or stay put, a voice called out once again.
“When I say run, come into the cave”.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“A friend,” came the voice. “You can trust me. Anyway, what choice do you have? If I was going to kill you, I would have done it by now, and if I were a drone, well you’re a dead man walking. Aren’t you?”
He was right, what option did I have? It was my choice to come to the mouth of the cave.
“Okay, on my count of three, run. One…two...three…”
And I ran – and as I ran there was a fireball shot past my right shoulder and out of the cave entrance.
“That should do it”, said the man, and it was another human. “They’ll see a heat source and think it’s you. The fire should burn for an hour or so and then they’ll assume you died, or have fallen into a river”.
“That simple?” I asked.
At the back of the cave was almost the replica of an old lounge – when we had such things – when we were allowed such things. He asked me to sit and made me a cup of coffee.
“It has been a long time since I tasted coffee”, I told him.
We sat talking about the little things, like family, and friends, really everything about the old times when we were luckier than we could ever imagined.
“Our days are numbered,” he said, looking at me sympathetically.
“Well the robots have won, haven’t they? They were probably always meant to. We had a weakness.”
And he went on to explain that no matter how good our health and doctors were, we had a limited time. Our bodies were only built to last a certain amount of time.
“Possibly 90, maybe 100 years but no more. Our brains and organs were designed for it.
But the robots – well they can go on, and on. They had all the knowledge we had fed them, and the ability to teach themselves more. They have forever, we only have today. We are a bit like the Neanderthals seeing the Homo Sapiens for the first time and knowing their time had come.”
“What will become of us?” I asked.
“Have you seen any Neanderthals recently?”
He poured me a large whisky from a bottle he had saved over the years. It wasn’t long until I fell asleep, and dreamed of the old days.
bobby stevenson 2017