‘Better than any Son’ by Rob Nisbet

The Burrower is pleased to welcome a new Guest Blogger to Story-worm
and hopes you will enjoy:

‘Better than any Son’ by Rob Nisbet

    It was six o’clock in the morning and still bitterly cold. The sun wouldn’t rise over the distant horizon for another couple of hours and the clear black sky glittered with the light from those other stars, so incredibly distant that they might as well be made of ice.

Patience gazed up at the sky. Its vast emptiness seemed to suck the heat out of her, but it held her transfixed. This was one of the wonders of Botswana. She’d travelled far from the bustle of Gaberone; there was no light pollution here, just the speckled stripe of the Milky Way slicing through the heavens above the Kalahari.
Patience shivered and turned back to her tent; she needed to reach her goal before the midday heat made any progress unbearable. Though she was alone, she could hear her father’s voice, ever cautious and protective. “Always check under the flaps and the ground sheet. You never know what may have crept there overnight.” Patience smiled at the memory. “Yes, Dad,” she said to the empty desert as she carefully checked for snakes and scorpions that could crawl into the smallest of spaces. The tent was clear. She rolled it into her rucksack and took a deep gulp of cold water from one of several reassuringly heavy flasks. She picked up the only non-essential item she had with her, a terracotta jar. She reflected that, in a country where even the currency was named after water, this jar contained something far more precious to her than the vital flasks of liquid she carried. She tucked the jar into the crook of her left arm as if cradling a baby and set off northwards.
To her right the sky had started to brighten. She nodded to the ice-stars overhead – melted from view by the rising sun. She’d see them again in the evening, creeping over that same eastern horizon when the sun and its heat faded from the sky.
The first time Patience had made this journey she had been almost seven. She was an only child and had accompanied her father, in the absence of a son, on this trail of family tradition. That’s when she’d first learnt the safety rules of surviving away from town. In the evening she would collect the baked-dry sticks needed for the cooking fire. She always collected more than the boys – they just weren’t used to having to fend for themselves – and more than once her keen eyes had prevented one of the sons from grabbing hold of a snake hiding in the dead branches.
“Better than any son.” That’s what her father had said to the other men, in the evenings as they sat around the glowing fire. Its heat warmed them as the cold night swept like a tide over the bleak landscape, and the flames kept back any creatures that might otherwise have crept too close. Of course, the other men had disagreed, especially those with sons of their own. Patience had felt so proud, both of herself and of her father. He had gone against all prejudice and tradition to bring his daughter along, and then to speak-out in her favour in front of his own elders… But then, this whole tradition was itself a process of change; the old were replaced by the young. Old ideas, unless they still held some worth or relevance died and were forgotten. New concepts came into being with fresh generations – only certain values remained eternal.
Patience smiled as she thought of her father’s pedantic, caution. He seemed slow in today’s ever quickening world. It was hard now to imagine that in his day he had been the rebel, pushing against the prejudices of his elders – testing their limits, getting his seven-year-old daughter accepted even in this most male of ceremonies. It was a demonstration of his love for his family – and that was eternal, like the stars. The seven-year-old Patience had watched from the background as the ceremony unfolded. Her grandfather’s ashes had been poured onto the Kalahari with great solemnity ringed by his sons and grandsons – and one granddaughter.
Now it was her father’s turn. Patience clutched the terracotta jar to herself and continued to walk, amazed that in this almost featureless environment she could remember the way. Finally, she reached the correct spot. Why this particular area had been selected Patience didn’t know, and it was too late now to ask her father. Another tradition, no doubt based on the male ego and having to trek deep into the wilderness. But it was what her father would have wanted, and that was all the justification Patience needed.

  She had made good progress; there were still a couple of hours till midday. She took a long drink from one of her flasks, thankfully shrugging off the backpack and tent that she would need again on her way home. Patience unstoppered the terracotta jar. She tried to be serious, but memories of her father always made her smile. She missed him of course, but a life is to be celebrated! How else could she move on, push back at the old traditions. What would her own grandfather have thought of her – a daughter, alone in this most male of places, and with so important a mission?

   The sun poured down on the desert, bleaching away the old traditions, glowing over the lone figure of Patience who twirled with the jar, dancing its contents into the Kalahari, a smile on her lips and a tear in her eye.

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Jes, Graffiti Kid

I’m bored. Nothing ever happens in this crummy town; even the beach is a snooze, full of old people in cardigans shuffling along the front looking for cheap tearooms. They shout and wave their walking sticks at you if you so much as pass ‘em fast on your scooter. Nothin’ for kids to do here, nowhere to go.

There’s the Skate Park though which is OK, but a bit small. Loads of us go there most days in the summer. Could spend hours there ‘cept when the big kids from Whiteways Estate come an’ take over. When they turn up it’s time to split.

Then I go over to the old flats by the station. They’re all boarded up now, waitin’ for the demolition men. Best thing is them big boards. You should see the kewel stuff that’s up there. Some of the best tags I’ve ever seen, ‘n there’s always somethin’ new every time you go.

Same today, I hadn’t been for a week or so ‘cause the parents wouldn’t stop draggin’ us round the shops or visiting relatives. Even more of a snore, ‘cept if I get given some money or somethin’, like when Gran and Granddad gave me this neat book about how to do Manga Drawings – way chill. I’m practisin’ that a lot, that’s what I really want to do -all the time if I could.

So I get to the flats an’ I see this awesome new board. Taller ‘an me and way wide; I was face to face with this huge Tiger- person. Like with a ginormous head, with seven glowing eyes and a human body with loads of arms an’ legs like those Indian gods you see.

I just stand there for ages staring at it. It was way chill. Then I get this odd idea the eyes are watching me. I shake my head and blink, then, I swear it turns its head and smiles a toothy grin at me. I gasp and swallow hard, am I seeing things? I step forward to touch the picture to see if it was real, and as I do, Tiger- person puts out a hand and like beckons to me. I’m gob smacked … before I could think, I’m leaning closer. As I touch it, the board kinda softens and my arm sinks into it.

Suddenly the Tiger person’s hand is holding mine and guiding me forward until I’m IN the picture. I tell you, my head’s spinning now; all the bright colours are shining and dazzling me, but it feels warm and happy. I’m holding hands with this weird Tiger- person and we start to move through a forest of cool colours and images like. Stuff you’ve never seen before.

We’re moving faster an’ faster now, then I look down and we’re actually flying through the air, looking out over the town and the countryside beyond. We swoop down to a street in the city and land in a square I’ve never seen before. Lookin’ round I see all the walls of the buildings are covered with the most mind-boggling pictures you ever seen. Not just great characters, but they’re moving around, playing games and pretend fighting with each other:

I can even hear ‘em talking too, and they’re talking to me. I stop in my tracks, what’s happening? I listen hard, yes, did I hear my name? Yes, Jes, you can join us if you like; we’ll show you what you can really do.

I look down and find I’ve got a spray can in one hand and a paint brush in the other. Tiger- person has melted away and a small group of goggle-eyed little characters are gathered around me smiling and babbling all at once.

One taller one, looking like one of those Olympic Mascots, with like only one eye and lime green skin but friendly-looking anyway, steps closer. He puts an arm round me and steers me round the corner to a big blank wall.

‘Hey Jes, we got this ready for you. Go ahead, it’s all yours.’

‘But I dunno where to start, I can’t do it’- I sez, totally fazed by now.

‘Yo, we’ve been keeping an eye on you’ says One-Eye, leaning over me, ‘we know a good’un when we see one. You’re a natural.’

‘How do you mean, keeping an eye on me?’ – thinking this is totally weird as I look in his one eye, ‘You’re not real.’

‘We’re as real as anything you can imagine’ * says One-Eye. ‘You have an idea, you think yourself into it, breathe life into it and so it appears – before your eyes; how much more real does it have to get?’

Takes me a while to get my head round that one, but as I stand there thinking about it, a small idea creeps into my brain. I’ve seen so much already this afternoon, all these weird characters and places – AND I’d flown through the air holding a Tiger-person’s hand. I could make a picture of my day.

I take another long look at the blank wall, thinking I’ll never fill all that up, but at least I should make a start. Never had a chance like this before, probably won’t get one again; no one at home would ever let me do a wall like this.

I’m kinda worried and my hands are shakin’ so the first few lines are a bit wobbly, but I soon get the hang of it. I get quite excited as I draw some big ‘Manga’ eyes which grow to become this, dead-good figure surrounded by an army of one-eyed, many coloured foot soldiers. A flying Tiger wearing a flaming cloak leading them all across a huge purple moonscape, awesome.

Before I know it, I fill the whole space and a rattle of applause makes me turn. All the goggle-eyed characters are clapping and smiling and jumpin’ up and down excitedly.

‘Wicked,’ says One-Eye ‘knew we weren’t wrong – just shows you don’t it ?’

I tell you, I stand back and look at what I’d done. It’s rockin’. Who’d a thought I could do a piece like that? What a day.

‘That’s utterly ultimate,’ says I, ‘Maybe I really can do stuff after all, way chill.’

‘You can spray that again,’ says One-Eye and we all groan and laugh.

 

  • *   ‘Everything you can imagine is real’    Pablo Picasso
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HAIKU

 

Mists rise through pale sun

Lifting pastel shaded drapes

Earthy scents unfold

 

Image copyright Kim lane

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Hands-on

Reach out to others
young and old
Offer friendship
from the cold
Connecting skin
with a human touch
a precious move
that means so much

That muscles sense
a warm response
and strengthens feelings
right at once
confirms the need
I do confess
that such a move
will bring success

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…When angry, paint Bamboo

Years had gone by – decades, and still no real change. The bamboo grew dense and high, rattled by the breeze and furious in the gales which often struck it. Unexpectedly, there’d be periods of calm when only an occasional rustle would disturb the air. These were peaceful times when all seemed well with the world. The steady soil pushed up new growth. Ideas and projects swelled and flowered into fullness. The future promised progress and all was deceptively calm; however, a step away from the path and one could lose one’s footing. What seemed safe and solid would suddenly show itself to be slippery and hazardous. A menacing darkness exhibited deep, unnerving shadows exploding from a black centre and stealing one’s breath away.Dark tensions wildly swirling and crazed questions demanding impossible answers. There were no answers to these, no easy response. All was lost, wasted. Success destroyed by a storm of suspicion and ignorance and a signal to hit out. Emotional turmoil tore violently into the precious root, leaving it a twisted, distorted shrivelled thing with scant chance of survival. Then, as suddenly as it had come, the storm blew over, but a trail of damage was left behind; and there it was again, the sense that nothing had really happened. All would continue as before. The wild wind had dropped and the storm had blown itself out. Only those left behind to pick up the wreckage and wonder what it had all been about. All the effort and care, blown to pieces in a few moments…

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When happy, paint the Iris…

 

The days grow longer with pale shafts of light lifting the grey mood. The morning skies are rinsed with early promise and heralded by sparrow-chattered trees. Snowdrops modestly bow their heads to the welcome dawn and the chilled birds begin their songs again. Spears of Daffodils pierce the blank soil presaging a host of gold and catkin topped Birches are headline news. Delighted Blackbirds bound on worm cast encrusted lawns as Starlings squabble for their share. Bulbs, like the old friends you’ve not seen for months, cluster together bringing smiles and cheer to the winter gloom. The dormant garden wakes and in the tousled beds the mauve flags proclaim the tentative arrival of an optimistic spring with lively warmth and fun-lit days ahead… A hopeful time of year.

 

‘Iris’ Illustration copyright Kim Lane

 

 

 

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AFTERMATH

Mum’s done the cooking, all single-handed
while for the umpteenth time, ‘The Eagle has Landed’
The dinner is stuffed into over-filled tums
as we’ve nibbled the crisps and mince pies with crumbs

After the meal, we collapse in a heap
Gran and Grandad have fallen asleep
At the sight of presents eyes light up with hope
But uncle has wandered off at a lope
to find a fresh glass to fill up with beer
to ready himself for all the good cheer

The TV’s ablaze with the ‘Christmas Carol’
He’s sure he was told there was a big barrel
The parcels are hastily ripped from their wrapping
While cameras and phones are excitedly snapping
Then we watch all the movies, including Toy Story
for the grown-ups later, something ghostly or gory

Outside a ‘White Christmas’ refused to appear
and the fog has crept in, but we hope it’ll clear
We drive home tomorrow to our own cosy beds
but for now it’s just time to rest weary heads

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Two Letters…

…Landed on the mat today – An ‘Amazing Offer’ of a free trial to facilitate my online purchasing. Apparently I’ll love the improvements they’ve made, and I won’t believe what changes have happened since my last membership. My last membership? Oh yes, I remember now I pressed the wrong button and subsequently un-clicked it as an option. So here’s the splendid ‘Offer’ complete with a glossy plastic card emblazoned with their logo and my name awaiting my eager attention.

Apparently the benefits include instant access to millions of items, stuff to have, stuff to give, stuff to share and even stuff to stuff. Then there’s videos, movies, TV shows and sports, all with fast, one day delivery. As a member I can demand access to over two million songs, hundreds of playlists, albums and stations. Some of the ‘Best Deals’ are also available a whole 30 minutes before non-members! Even a selection of e-books and editor’s packs in advance of official release dates. What joy, what wonders are laid before me. Merry festive stuff for and friends and family, hearth and home.
With all these extra benefits, I can watch movies and TV shows ‘on demand,’ when it suits me; ‘on-the-go’ on my own device or even share three different programmes amongst the family in the comfort of my own home. This is great news and all at no extra cost, convenient and hassle-free.

I set aside the letter as I hear the staccato beat of freezing rain on the Velux window, and looking to the garden, I see the bird-feeders swinging crazily in the wind. Yes, it’s true, I can shop easily and comfortably from home – just let someone else brave the weather to deliver my purchases, (at least they have a job I can console myself.) Then the icy rain battered even harder and I was somewhat comforted that I had filled the bird-feeders. My concern intensified as I watched them struggle in the freezing blasts. How do these poor creatures survive out there in all weathers with little shelter and food so hard to find.

My mind then turned to the other envelope in my hand. Of course I already know from the logo what it’s about. It’s Christmas time and I’m a little late with a contribution, but the question remains. How do these poor creatures survive? These who have no tablets to order their gadgets, shopping, groceries – or even bird food. No warm beds from which to watch movies or videos, or to follow sports. No headphones for musical downloads and certainly no i-phones.
Out there in all weathers with only the shelter of a shop doorway and a damp sleeping bag on concrete is certainly no place like home.
These are the many folks we see so often on the streets, but who are equally often ignored
‘The homeless’
It’s winter, it’s foul weather, it’s Christmas time. A warm bed, clean clothes, hot food and a welcoming Christmas lunch with friendly company can be gifted easily online:
www.crisis.org.uk
in Brighton too
The Clock Tower Sanctuary

Home


Helps homeless young people in Brighton and Hove get their lives back on track.

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Know Ideas – for Festive wish-lists

Audio and art sets, and Alexa from Amazon
Bluetooth and Build-a-bear and much stuff to choose from
Cameras and candles and candy-floss makers
Darth Vader costumes and cool cocktail shakers
Earings and earphones and designer earbuds
Fit bits and face-cream and exfoliating marsh mud
Gadgets and games and glamorous goodies
Headphones and handsets and colourful hoodies
i-phones and i-pads for the internet initiate
Jackets by Jaeger for you to appreciate
Keyboards and Kindles, Kimonos or Kites
LEGO or Lava Lamp with colourful light
Monopoly, Mobiles or Metal Detectors
Negligees and necklaces are in other sectors
Offers and specials and fur overcoats
At one end of the store and rather remote
Play-stations, perfumes and other such quackery
Quiz books and literary novels by Thackeray
Rain-wear and racquets for tennis or squash
Skateboards and sportswear that’s easy to wash
TV’s and Telescopes, Tablets and throws
Unicorns in underwear – anything goes…
Wi-fi and widgets, watches and wine
Xylophone lessons just for Xmas time
Young people these days just yearn for some Yen
so yuletide equivalent is alright with them
A Z-Box for Geeks compliments the play-station
and for desperate shoppers – a Zen meditation

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‘You can’t beat Rock and Roll’

“I’ve told him a hundred times now, he can’t expect me to stay home all the time just looking after him. It’s been seven years now since mum died and I’m not getting any younger. I know at first he really needed me around, and after Joe and Phil were married and gone – well someone had to look after him. Who else but me of course!”
“Yer, well you know what they used to say Eileen? said Sue, ‘A son is a son ’til he gets him a wife, but a daughter’s a daughter ALL of her life.’ Do you want mousse on that by the way?”
“Oh I know, but I’d kinda promised mum before she went that I’d do what I could to help, but now I feel I’m just stuck.”
“Yes, love, you should’ve left years ago…You should get out more. I think he’s utterly selfish.”
“I’m beginning to think you’re right, he’s got more and more possessive now. You wouldn’t believe the way he took up when I started at the Le Roc classes. My one night out and he begrudged me that …and when I told him I’d met a nice fella there – well, you’d think the sky was falling!”
“Well there you are, he’s only ever thinking about himself. Never mind if you meet ‘Mr Right’ and want to start a family of your own…”
“Oh god, I know. If I don’t get away soon, it’ll be too late, I’m 34 next birthday…”
“Well I’d say it’s now or never then. You really don’t owe him anything anymore – even if he is your dad. He’s just all take and no give… Do you want some hairspray on it too?”
Eileen smiled and checked her new cut admiringly, “No, it looks fine. I’m ready to do battle now! Thanks Sue, I’ll let you know how we get on…tonight’s the night!”

Bill was standing at the open front door looking at his watch when she got home. “What is it NOW!” he demanded.
“Look dad, I told you this morning I wasn’t going to be in tonight…”
“What about my dinner then?”
“I’ve left you a casserole, you just have to put it in the microwave on medium for five minutes to heat through…”
“I can’t do the damned cooking, that’s your job…”
“C’mon dad, it’s perfectly alright, just follow the note I’ve left, but I have to go, it’s the semi-finals night.”
“Semi-finals! What bloody semi-finals?”
“I told you loads of times – it’s the semi-finals of the Le Roc annual competition and we’re up against the Great Yarmouth team…”
“Bloody Le wa’dyer call it doesn’t come before my dinner…”
“Well it does now dad, cause I’m going! Jeff’s calling for me at 6.30 and that’s that, and if you don’t like it, that’s tough…”
“Don’t you talk to me like that, me own bloody daughter. You should show a bit of respect…”
“Dad. stop it. I’ve done everything for you since mum died. Looked after the house, cooked your meals, kept you company. All I ask is a little time for me…”
“An’ who’s this bloody Jeff person anyway, why’s he giving you a lift ?”
“Jeff, as I’ve told you before is my dance partner, and we’ve every chance of getting in the finals.”
“Partner is he? What’s his family like, is he trustworthy?”
“Dad, don’t be so daft, he’s a decent fella and I like him, a lot…”
“Well you’d better be home by 10 o’clock then!”
” Oh dad, don’t be so silly – I’m nearly 34!”

At the hairdresser’s later that week, Sue’s customer Debbie was a mutual friend of Eileen’s and the gossip turned to the dance competition…
“Hey, did you know Jeff and Eileen got into the finals despite her miserable old dad trying to put a damper on everything?” announced Sue.

“Yes she told me, she’s so chuffed – and they make a great couple don’t they?” said Debbie.
“I’m really pleased for her too, but Bill’s such an old bigot and he makes Eileen’s life a right misery. She’s been a saint looking after him all these years, but I think it’s about time she put her foot down.”
“Too right Sue, she should have a bit of a life of her own, she deserves it.”
“She told me about the ding dong she had with him when he tried to stop her going to the Le Roc competition… Well I told my mum and she let on that Bill and Rose were quite a ‘thing’ at the Starlight School of Ballroom Dancing way back when. They were the envy of the town, won all the prizes and awards. That’s where they met in the first place of course.”
“Really, who’d of thought it…” said Debbie, “and him such an old stick in the mud.”
“Yeah, seems Bill’s mum was dead against it, mainly ’cause she was terrified Bill would get married and leave her on her own. She was divorced you see and was really jealous of any romantic attachments on Bill’s horizon.”
“So it looks like history repeating itself then?” remarked Debbie smiling.
“You know what Debs, I’m gonna tell her – time’s up for the old bugger I reckon…”

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