Micro-fiction: Rich Words

This is a piece I wrote as part of a university assignment for my life writing module. The idea was to conjour up atmosphere in under 300 words.  The inspiration for the piece was an Indian restaurant which I used to pass late on a Monday evening on my way home from a late class.  It was situated right next to the traffic lights which I inevitably caught on red. Although it didn’t open for business on Mondays there was always a light which glowed orange at the back of the restaurant and a lone elderly man could be seen on a low seat.

Mr Rajapoori, proprietor and proud host of the Raj Tandoori Restaurant shares stories. Not stories of the ‘Once upon a time, happy ever after’ variety, but stories told with such eloquence that they bear no resemblance to any tale you heard before.

“Welcome to the most splendid Raj Tandoori Restaurant. Come in, sit down,” says Mr Rajapoori.

Rest in the luxuriant magnificence of jewelled cushions: rich reds run through with shimmering gold and purples so deep they might almost be black – shot silk glinting with the bluest of greens.

The lights are low, the music a background sound; a melodious harmony of sitar and the tinntinabulation of the  ghungharu.  Dancers move gracefully amongst you, entrancing, ethereal in their gossamer fine saris of silk in amethyst and azure, carmine and crimson, drifting weightlessly as they glide past.

There is no menu; you cannot know before you enter which tasty morsels might be proffered. Arrive, be seated, and when Mr Rajapoori deems a sufficiency of diners, he will begin, mesmerising  with hypnotic voice –  tales of childhood, of luck and love, temples and treasures, intrigue and suspense , his words as rich and sweet as honey.  Prepare for enchantment; be amazed. Relish the heavenly offerings, rich with saffron, fragrant spices to ignite your tastebuds, coriander and cumin,  the aroma of clove, the  piquancy of hot and fiery ginger. Each dish an aromatic masterpiece.

And much later, leave rested; equilibrium magically restored.

So where might you find this cornucopia of epicurean delight?  I cannot tell you for it exists only for those prepared to chance labyrinthine alleys not taken before, those who are open to untried avenues might serendipitously happen upon it. Close your eyes, breathe slowly and dream.

 

The Korean War – a little bit of family history

I came from a mother who nursed in the army

Korean War, Singapore

Raffles Hotel, The Officers’ Mess

Tweed perfume and evening dress

 

Some who know me will be aware that I am in the process of writing a novel, the meticulously researched backdrop for which is the The Korean War, which was the first armed conflict of the Cold War. An astonishing fact: the British Army lost more men in Korea than the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan combined and yet many people today have barely any knowledge of it – little wonder that it has been referred to as The Forgotten War.

My interest is personal – my parents met during this time when both were in the army. My mother was an officer in the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps – QARANCs. Initially stationed in Kure, Japan she was later posted to Singapore. Her photograph albums document the period from 1952 to 1954 and contain many souvenirs in addition to her treasured photographs. I’d like to share a few of these. About half way through her albums photographs of my father start to appear (before they began courting). It looks as though she may have taken the photo of him below without his knowledge, don’t you think? Smitten before he knew!

All sorts of mementos were collected: the labels from drinks bottles, tram and bus tickets and menus.

My favourite is the menu from the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore where my parents dined on 31st December 1953.

Korean 8

QARANCs were granted commissioned  officer status and the rank of Lieutenant. My mother is the one in the darker uniform

Korean 3

Hours of work were long but there was still time to enjoy the sights and play tennis (or in the picture below, to umpire)!

image

During my research I have read numerous books on army life during the Korean War, and was pleased to see in one, reference to The Belles & Beaus hockey match which took place on Boxing Day 1952 at the BCGH (hospital)  in Kure. My mother was one of the Belles but unfortunately the photograph which gives evidence to this is now badly faded. In later years she gave talks to women’s groups such as the WI about her time in the army. I remember looking through her albums and being interested in the pictures of kimono-clad Japanese women but it is one of my greatest regrets that I did not show more interest in her experiences. In my book I have used some of the tales my parents recounted but I have so many questions which will sadly never be answered.

The main source of entertainment for officers on the hospital site would have been the social events and formal dinners which took place in The Officers’ Mess. I recall snippets of information as, when very young,  I sometimes accompanied my mother to her talks. This picture, with her seated on the far left of the picture, shows a Christmas meal in 1952.

Xmas Party Wo Sang - 1952

My short poem above refers to Tweed perfume and evening dress. When ever my parents went out my mother smelt of Tweed – such an old fashioned perfume now but back then it seemed the height of sophistication along with her deep pink lipstick.   My father liked to her wear Tweed because it reminded him of when they first met. When I was about seven years old she took me to a dressmaker along with one of her beautiful evening dresses which were kept in a metal trunk. Covered in travel labels, this had been the trunk which had accompanied her in her army days. A silky pale green brocade  formed the underneath part of the dress in question and over the top was a deeper greenish-bronze organza. I cannot imagine that by then she had any cause to wear such a dress so each of the luxurious fabrics were made into a party dress for her little girl. Unfortunately I can find no photographs of me wearing either, and I have no idea what happened to the rest of her dresses.

I’m unsure if this was taken in Kure or Singapore but here is my mother wearing one of her lovely evening dresses. I don’t believe my waist was ever that tiny!

Japan X

I have hundreds of photographs similar to those below and I have donated a number of images to Japan’s Kure City Hall Historical Collection. I’m delighted to report that, following an appeal I made for background minutiae some time ago on the ‘Memories of Kure’ website, just last week I was contacted by a gentleman from Queensland, Australia who has very kindly and generously  transcribed many of his handwritten notes from the time and emailed them to me. I am both touched and thrilled to have received this first hand account and will, undoubtedly, incorporate some of his memories into my story.

Postscript:  I have just discovered that my gentleman from Queensland is in fact rather more well known that he’d have had me believe! Mr Ron Callander -author, playwright, poet and journalist has written many articles and television scripts, and has received several awards for his writing.  Furthermore, he has served as State Secretary of the Australian Radio Television and Screen Writers’ Guild and Committee Member of the Fellowship of Australian Writers. How lucky am I that he saw my appeal for information!

kamakura

 

Flash Fiction – The mouse that turned

A short story by me, as published today in the West Country regional newspaper The Western Morning News.

If asked to describe Mavis Middleton, you’d be hard pushed to say more than, ‘She’s a mousey sort of woman’, because that’s the perfect description of Mavis and in her fifty nine years no-one’s ever noticed much about her at all. George, her husband, wooed and married her to get his hands on her father’s business and from the day Mavis’s father died, George has barely uttered a civil word to her.  He keeps a roof over her head and makes her a monthly allowance which covers the cost of their food and very little else . With careful budgeting, she manages to clothe herself from the stores at the cheaper end of town. She cuts her own hair and has never been able to afford a colour. George, on the other hand, has appearances to keep up and is partial to a nice bit of cashmere and a well cut suit with a five button cuff,  preferably from the Mayfair Tailors which, as you might guess, resides some way from the cheap end of town.

George has always made it clear that he didn’t want Mavis working outside the home and have people thinking that her husband couldn’t provide for her. He’s a complicated man, thinks Mavis.  She cooks, she cleans, she gardens, and she lives a life of quiet frustration. 

 “George never thought it the right time for the business and then it was just too late,” explains Mavis if anyone ever asks whether they have children. It doesn’t happen often because she rarely meets anyone with whom she’d have that kind of conversation. They have never taken a holiday together, though George takes a short golfing break in the Algarve each spring and autumn .  “Business need,” he tells her. “Networking.”   

Mavis has never met any of his colleagues and never accompanies George to the annual dinner or Christmas parties though she suspects that other wives might be invited along by their husbands.

“More Premium bonds,” announces George at dinner, apropos of nothing. “ Sort it out, will you?”  It’s not really a question.   He tells her that they’ll have to be bought in her name since he already has the maximum permitted.

The cheque is made out to her and is sitting on the breakfast table the next morning. She banks it and is tempted to divert a hundred or so to get herself a decent winter coat, but she does the right thing and writes out her own cheque to pay for the bonds. The fact that she has an account of her own it not, as one might imagine, to benefit herself, but rather so that George can ‘arrange his finances to the best advantage,’or so he tells her. This seems to consist of the random moving of money in and out of the account. She suspects that it may have something to do with the money laundering that she has heard about in the news.

The letter from the Premium Bonds arrives several months later. It is one of Mavis’s bonds that has won – Mavis’s bond in Mavis’s name. Try proving otherwise thinks Mavis as she stares at the contents.

The kindly young man in the library helps her to set up an email account and she sends her first ever email in response to a job advert she found in The Lady  whilst at the dentist. Two weeks later George arrives home to an empty house. No waiting cup of tea, no dinner, no wife.  She has left a note in which she tells him that she will not be returning. Everyone has their tipping point.  

In the small coffee shop in a sleepy Devon town, the new waitress who lives in the flat above seems pleasant enough, but if asked to describe her, you’d be hard pushed to say more than, ‘She’s a mousey sort of woman’. There’s not much else to notice about her except perhaps the subtle highlights in her hair and the small smile of satisfaction that plays around her mouth.  

Seven things you might not know about me

Glasgow Rose

I’m a bit of a rocker at heart
It’s left over from my youth.
Springsteen, Deep Purple, The Stones, The Who
But Strauss and Chopin suit me too

I’m a little in love with Art Nouveau
I adore ‘The Glasgow Style’.
Dazzling stained glass and geometric line
But the Mackintosh rose is my favourite design

I’m more than a tad scared of flying
I do it under greatest duress.
Morocco, Croatia, Italy, France
But it’s Ireland that makes my heart dance

I’ve a passion for Green & Black’s chocolate,
Oh the way that it melts in my mouth.
Maya Gold, Chilli and Ginger too
But when feeling desperate, Bourneville will do

I really enjoy entertaining
I think I’m a bit of a chef.
Tagines and tapas and Sunday roast
But the best thing of all is cheese on toast

I adore a floral aroma
I specially choose what I grow
Lily and Lilac, Sweet Pea and Rose
But lemon verbena gets right up my nose!

I’m ace at being a Nanny
I am better at this than all else
Bicycles, dolls and The Gruffalo,
But I do like the peace when they finally go.