First Line Fiction (14)

The first line of this fictional short story was sent to me by Chris Tabone, who lives in America. It is relevant to my fiction serial, ‘A Good Runner’, making it a tricky prospect to pull off as a stand-alone story. I have decided not to recap though.

“With Ken’s affairs now fully in order, considering it was time to see what could be done to take Witney Cars to the next level.”

Trevor was a man with big plans, and they involved expanding everything to do with the taxi business he now owned. Stella was going to be a great help. After all, she had more or less run the place for Ken, though looking after her daughter Amy was always going to be her first priority. That meant taking on someone to work in the office when Stella couldn’t be there, and Trevor got the advertisement in the paper that Friday.

He also spotted an opening for other kinds of transport locally. School buses didn’t get out to the smaller villages, so if he could get some contracts from the council and buy a couple of minibuses, that could prove lucrative. In the school holidays and at weekends, the minibuses could be used for larger groups like wedding parties, and door-to-door trips into Oxford city centre for shoppers or theatre-goers.

And with many people facing long trips into the city for hospital appointments, he was sure he could tie some of those together, offering regular runs for customers with medical issues and disabilities.

A young woman named Janice was employed to work in the taxi office. Between him and Stella, they would show her how things worked. She had been doing administration work for an estate agent, but when they changed location she didn’t want to have to travel to work. As well as that, she was young and attractive, and that couldn’t hurt to have her as the public face of the office during the day.

Offering the hire of the Jaguar for weddings worked out well too. Even though it wasn’t white, he soon received many bookings for the following summer.

By the new year, and after a visit to the bank manager to get a business loan, Trevor had three new minibuses, a two-year contract with the local education authority, and dozens of confirmed bookings for larger parties to the airport, and hospital appointments. He also used a local company to repaint the office, and bought a smart new sign to go above the door. He felt he was really making something of himself, but Stella was worried.

“Don’t you think you are over-extending, Trev? I mean, the loans on the minibuses have to be paid, and the monthly insurance bills are very high too. By the time the education people pay their bill after twenty-eight days, we will have already had to find the money for what we are paying out. Then there is Janice’s weekly wage, and paying the minibus drivers in cash. It’s going to be tight, love”.

Trust her to be negative, Trevor thought to himself. He wanted Witney Cars to be the largest taxi company in Oxfordshire one day, maybe even make some inroads into the city of Oxford itself. “Actually, I was thinking of opening up another office, in Burford. I could offer minbus tours of the Cotswold Villages for tourists. They love to visit those English villages, and it’s an all year-round trade”. Stella looked concerned.

“That would mean more minibuses to buy, more drivers to pay, and someone to take the bookings in the office. It’s up to you, Trev, but think carefully love.”

By the start of the summer, Trevor had his small shop front next to a tea shop in Burford, two more minbuses, and drivers to run the tours. He did a deal with some local hotels and guest houses, and they agreed to promote his village tours in return for a small commission. A local lady who used to be a librarian worked taking the bookings from nine until three, and they started to flood in. After a great year of trading, Stella had a suggestion.

“Seems you were right about the Cotswolds tours, love. But it would be a good time to think about selling the business as a going concern, don’t you think? Take the profit, pay off the minibus loans, and concentrate on the local trade in Witney”. He was beginning to get fed up with her, that was the truth. “Why would I sell now? If anything, I should be thinking about putting on another couple of minibuses and expanding”. The rest of that evening at home had a bad atmosphere.

The first thing to go wrong for Trevor happened the following March. Just about to leave home to take a bride and her father to a local church, the gearbox went in the Jaguar. Frantic phone calls were made, but nothing suitable could be hired to replace the Jag. Stella managed to contact the bridal party with their apologies, and had to offer a full refund. But the father of the bride was a respected local businessman, and she knew the reputation of the firm would suffer as a result of letting him down.

When they got the estimate for repairs to the Jag, they knew there wasn’t enough money available to get it fixed. Janice had to contact all the summer wedding bookings, and cancel them. Then one of the Burford drivers quit, deciding to go back to driving bigger coaches. Trevor had to step in and take some of the booked tours, but his knowledge of the area was not so good, and that led to complaints from some of the tourists.

Then the former librarian who ran the tour office had to go into hospital for an operation on a hiatus hernia, Trevor had no alternative but to close down Cotswold Tours in Burford.

Bad luck continued when the education authority gave notice of cancellation of the contract for schools. They were going to buy their own bigger bus and start picking up the kids from the villages themselves. Then Janice’s boyfriend proposed. He was in the Army, and that would mean living in Yorkshire once they were married. So she gave two week’s notice.

Following a long evening going over the company accounts, Stella gave him the bad news. “The minibuses have to go, Trev. We are still paying the loans on them, and getting no business worth talking about. Nobody around here is ever going to book us for a wedding again, and you can forget reapplying for any school contracts now they are using their own transport. If we sell everything off, pay off the loans, we will just about have enough for you to buy a decent car and go back to just being a taxi driver. I can run the office while Amy is at school, but you will have to do the evenings and weekends”.

His face glum, Trevor nodded. Stella had been right all along.

Back to square one.

Ollie’s Holiday: The Porch

In our house in Beetley, Ollie cannot see outside. If I open the back door to let him out, he only has the familiar surroundings of our garden to look at. So being able to sit outside for a large part of the day, and most of the evening until bedtime, that’s a real treat for our beloved dog.

Because I spent so much of our holiday sittng happily on that covered porch of our cabin, Ollie was happy to be out there with me. When I got up each morning, I would carry his bed and toys out onto the porch, and leave them there until we closed up to go to bed for the night.

(All photos are full-frame, and can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

At various times, Ollie would take himself off down the ramp and explore the hotel beer garden. I was lucky enough to have the camera handy when he was ‘patrolling the porch’.

We love the fact that we can take Ollie on holiday with us, and that it is just as much a holiday for him as for us.

Our Holiday: Winceby Battlefield

Not too far from where we were staying, there is a memorial to a battle fought during The English Civil War. I have always been interested in that period, and have been a member of The Cromwell Association for a long time. As we were going to be so close, I thought we could combine it with a trip into the nearby town of Horncastle.

Winceby is tiny. A ‘blink and you miss it’ village. I had expected some signs directing me to the battlefield, but after driving back and forth for twenty minutes, there was nothing to indicate where it might be. Giving up, I started to head back, on the busy main road. As we passed a lay-by on that road, Julie spotted a notice board that looked relevant. After turning round in a side road, I drove back and parked in the lay-by, and there it was.

(Both photos are full-frame, and can be enlarged for detail by clicking on them.)

Behind the sign, a hedge borders the fields where the battle took place, in a landscape virtually unchanged since that day in October, 1643.

If anyone is interested, here are some more details about the battle.

On 10 October at the village of Horncastle, approximately 6 miles west of Bolingbroke Castle, the Royalist force commanded by Widdrington came upon a cavalry detachment screening for the Parliamentarians sieging the Royalist garrison. A brief skirmish took place and the Parliamentarians withdrew. The Parliamentary detachment reported back to the main army that the Royalists were moving towards them.

The next day the two opposing forces simultaneously took steps to confront each other. Manchester took part of his force and arrayed them on Kirkby Hill to prevent the Bolingbroke garrison from leaving the castle and organizing an attack from the rear. With the remainder of his army, Manchester advanced towards Horncastle. Meanwhile, Widdrington and the Royalists moved out of Horncastle and advanced toward Bolingbroke Castle.

The Parliamentary horse, which moved faster than the infantry, met the Royalists advancing in the opposite direction at Winceby. The field of battle was not ideal as the land falls away into sharp gullies on one side, but it was not poor enough to prohibit a battle. The two forces were approximately the same size and composition, all cavalry.

The ensuing battle lasted about half an hour. Cromwell feigned a retreat and lured the Royalists from a good defensive position onto flat ground. A small party of Parliamentarians advanced on the Royalists who discharged their weapons at them. Cromwell then led his main body of horse in a charge hoping to press home his attack before the Royalists had time to reload. But dismounted Royalist dragoons managed to fire a second volley, hitting several of the Ironsides. Cromwell had his horse shot from under him, apparently by Sir Ingram Hopton (who was himself killed in the subsequent fighting and is commemorated by a memorial canvas found above the font in St. Mary’s Church, Horncastle.) The canvas’s inscription describes Cromwell as the ‘Arch Rebel’ and bears the incorrect date of October 6, 1643 for the Battle of Winceby.

Cromwell was only able to rejoin the battle after he had secured another mount. A Royalist cavalry division under Sir William Savile counterattacked Cromwell’s right flank. The Royalists were, in turn, attacked in the flank by Sir Fairfax’s horse. In the resulting melee, the Royalists lost cohesion when the command by Savile to about face was taken to be an order to retreat and Savile’s horse fled the battle. On the Parliamentarian’s left wing the Cavaliers enjoyed greater initial success, but the collapse of the Royalist left and centre meant that Widdrington had to retreat or face envelopment. A flanking attack by Cromwell’s reformed cavalry was enough to cause the Royalists to flee the field in confusion.

In Horncastle, at a place now known as “slash hollow”, some Royalists were killed or captured when they became trapped against a parish boundary gate that only opened one way (against them) and in their panic the press of men jammed it shut. For the remainder of the day the Parliamentarians hunted down Royalist stragglers not stopping until dusk, which in October occurs in early evening, when they were recalled by Manchester. The Royalists lost about 300 men and the Parliamentarians about 20 with a further 60 wounded

Given the fact that Cromwell was present at the battle, and it was a significant victory for the Parliamentary rebels, I would like to see the site better commemorated.

First Line Fiction (13)

The first line for this fictional short story was sent to me by the lovely Kim. She resides in Alabama, and blogs about her lifelong love of books.

She had never been so terrified in her entire life.

The crashing sound from the living room made Emma jump out of her skin. She leaned even harder against the bedroom door, wondering what Nick was up to, and if he was okay. When she had run screaming from the bathroom, Nick had been great. “Leave it to me, honey. I will deal with it. You stay in here”.

But then the nightmare had really started. The first sounds coming from the bathroom were unmistakable. The shower curtain pinging off, ring by ring. Then a slapping sound, as Nick fought hard. She hoped that would be the end of it, but then the commotion moved into the hallway.

That was the moment Emma had locked the bedroom door, and closed the open window.

With her ear flat to the door, and her heart racing, she had tried hard to work out what she could hear, and place the sounds in context. Nick had a fight on his hands, no mistaking that. But he was strong and brave, so she prayed he would prevail.

Was he rolling along the wooden floor in the hallway? Given the scuffing noise, and Nick’s grunting, it sure sounded like it. When the noises grew fainter, she guessed he was in the living room, and she sat down heavily on the floor, her trembling legs no longer able to support her small frame.

Then that crash came, and she jumped involuntarily. That had to be the reproduction oil lamp on the side table. Nothing else in there could make such a sound. Unless Nick had knocked over the television. After that, it all went quiet.

Emma felt her breath coming in short gasps. The quiet was much worse than the noise.

Maybe she could call out, and ask him if he was okay? But the door would muffle her voice, and she wasn’t about to open it, not even the tiniest crack. Then a roar, sounding like Nick. It had to be him. Oh please let it be him. The thump that followed sounded like the big armchair next to the fireplace. It had tipped over once before when she was vacuuming, and the noise was just like that.

She mouthed a silent prayer. ‘Oh please let it be over soon, I just can’t stand it.’

More silence followed, then there were soft footsteps along the hallway, and a gentle knock on the door. “You can open up, honey. It’s all over”. Unconvinced, she called back to her husband. “Are you sure? Do you promise me, Nicky?”

After counting to ten, she turned the key, and eased the door open just enough to look out. Nick was smiling, standing in the hallway with the light on behind him. He held up his copy of the evening paper, a fat black blob just visible on the folded pages.

“It cost us the old oil lamp, but that’s one spider that will never be in our bathroom again”.

Our Holiday: The Cabin

Last year, we really enjoyed our time in the wooden holiday cabin. Then this year it was even better, as everything was familiar. So much so, we have booked it again for much the same time in 2022, seven days in September.

Here is an overview. It has two double bedrooms, and two extra beds in the roof space, accessed by a ladder. A large bathroom with shower, and an open-plan living room and fully-equipped kitchen. TV, iron and ironing board, two sofas, a dining table and chairs, and a private picnic table to the side. Enough storage and hanging space too.

Wi-fi is also available, through a connection supplied free of any extra charge by the hotel. But the signal is sometimes erratic.

But for me, the joy is the covered porch. I sat there quite happily for hours, watching the clouds and the world go by.

And it is only 100 yards to the huge unspoilt beach!

(All photos are full-frame, and can be clicked on twice to enlarge for detail.)

Ollie’s Holiday: Ice Cream For Dogs

On our recent holiday, we noticed that almost every cafe was selling a new formulation of ice cream for dogs. Ollie has enjoyed ‘human’ ice cream on a few occasions, as well as the residue of a few yoghurt pots. But we are aware that he is older, and less active now.

With that in mind, he was treated to a doggy ice cream on holiday, but just the one. It includes some crumbles of dog-biscuit, and Ollie devoured it, giving it his seal of approval on a warm afternoon.

(These are full-frame 35mm equivalent photos, reduced by 50%. But you can click on them twice to enlarge for detail.)

More to come of Ollie on his holidays!

First Line Fiction (12)

The first line of this fictional short story was sent to me by one of my longest and very best blogging friends, Cindy Bruchman. A published author and blogger, Cindy lives in Arizona, USA, where she works as a teacher.

“On a bitterly cold January morning, after saving for two years, he had enough money to buy a plane ticket to Arizona to visit his friend Cindy.”

Travelling in an English winter was never going to be easy, and the day didn’t start out well. Pete had to get to Heathrow Airport, just west of London, and that was one hundred and thirty miles from his home in Beetley.

And there was something else. That old Jimmy Webb song sung by Glen Campbell was playing on repeat in his head.

“By the time I get to Phoenix…”

As well as a flight of over fourteen hours to anticipate, there was that travelling time to the airport, and having to arrive two hours before departure. Given the problems with trains from East Anglia, and the cost of a taxi being prohibitive, Pete had opted for the long-stay parking option, with a shuttle bus from the compound. That meant a rush-hour drive in pretty awful conditions.

Packing one bag for a two-week stay wasn’t easy when you knew you had to be warm coming and going, but it could be 72 degrees while you were there. Then there were the cameras, two of them carried in hand luggage, plus chargers. He might never get another chance to photograph the wonders of the desert and surrounding mountains, let alone his delightful host.

On that grey, forbidding morning, as he scraped the ice from the windscreen and tried not to hear Glen Cambell in his head, the prospect of seeing the sunset over a giant cactus kept him positive and cheerful. Roadside diners, large portions, and all those things about the American south-west he had only ever seen on cinema screens. What a prospect.

At least his old car started first time, and Pete was so glad about that, he almost kissed the steering wheel.

After that, things went downhill. Light snow became heavier snow. People were driving slowly and carefully around the country roads in Norfolk. All well and good normally, but not when you knew there was a flight waiting for you later on, and you had only got as far as Swaffham.

It took almost another hour to weave along the winding lanes until he got past the air base at Lakenheath, and could get on to the A11 fast road at the big roundabout junction.

Still, why worry? He had allowed well over two hours more than it should take.

Good news followed. The A11 was moving well, probably as so many drivers had not bothered to venture out on such an awful day. Pete pushed the car a little, windsceen wipers on double speed to cope with the snow. Stump Cross junction was coming up. That meant joining the wider M11, and then it was south to the M25 junction where he would turn west in the direction of Heathrow.

But red lights were flashing on the gantry in the distance, and that wasn’t good.

Wrapped up against the weather, a policeman in a bright yellow jacket stood next to his police car. Its blue lights were flashing, and he was waving his arm to indicate drivers had to turn off. Pete stopped close to him, and let down the window enough to speak. “What’s happening, officer?” The cop’s weary expression indicated he had been asked the question too many times. “Mortorway’s closed. Bad accident further south. You need to turn here and head for Saffron Walden. Hurry up please”.

That wasn’t good. Saffron Walden was further east, and Pete wanted to go west. But with no access to the motorway, he had to comply, and follow the huge queue of traffic snaking along the small roads of Essex. Switching the radio on, he waited the six minutes to the hour to hear the news. The M11 was going to be closed until the Stansted Airport junction. That didn’t seem so bad, as it wasn’t far. Pity you couldn’t fly from there to Arizona, he was thinking.

In between verses of the Jimmy Webb song.

Trouble was, every car in that part of eastern England was in the same predicament as him, and nothing was moving at all.

Just over ninety minutes later, Pete switched off the engine. An hour after that, he turned it on again, and moved about twenty feet. This time he left it on, as it was getting colder in the car.

Four and a half hours after leaving home that morning, Pete rejoined the motorway to see three lanes of solid traffic moving at a crawl in heavy, settled snow. Still over sixty miles to go to the car parking compound, and he had yet to deal with the notoriously bad M25 orbital motorway. The flight was due to take off in just over two hours, and his top speed was currently ten miles per hour with no sign of the road clearing ahead.

With the M25 junction fast-becoming an impossible dream, he took the next available exit in the direction of Chipping Ongar, and parked on the first stretch of quiet road. In the glovebox was his mobile phone, and he reached for it with a heavy heart.

The least he could do was to ring Cindy, and save her waiting at the airport for someone who was not going to arrive.

Farewell Windows 10

I saw this yesterday on Twitter. It was the first I had heard about it.

Windows UK
The new Windows 11 is coming on 5th October to bring you closer to what you love. Whether you’re a hardcore gamer or a total film lover, you can find your favourite apps, films, and games more quickly and easily in the new Microsoft Store.

In April 2020, I bought a new PC after the old one running Windows 7 started to break down. Now after just 18 months, Windows 10 is to be replaced before I had even managed to fully understand it!

Microsoft is apparently offering a free upgrade, but only if my current PC ‘meets the requirements’ to download it. If not, it seems likely I will be having to consider replacing a perfectly working PC sometime next year.

Planned obsolescene strikes again. So much for Microsoft’s carbon footprint.

First Line Fiction (11)

The first line for this fictional short story was supplied by film blogger Otsky, from

He looked into the camera, knowing this may be watched by millions, and cleared his throat: “Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini – I label these… tyrants as some of the worst humans to ever dwell on our Earth; so today is a very sad day to see myself included, by some, on this list.

There were times when Tom Carswell wondered how it had got to this. Many times, in fact. He had started out like most people, reasonably unconcerned about politics. He voted for the same party as his dad used to, and complained a bit when they lost. Then he just got on with life. What else could you do?

Something changed when they decided to build a motorway junction close to the small town where he lived. The local people were outraged at the loss of an ancient forest, and some started up an online campaign to oppose the construction. Tom got involved, in a small way at first. That escalated into blocking traffic heading for the site, and some minor scuffles with the police trying to remove the protestors. He was asked to give an interview on local news, and that was later shown on the national news too.

After that, it was as if the floodgates opened.

Two women came up from London, and asked him to stand in the Council elections for their party. It was the party he always voted for, and one he had been a member of since he was eighteen. The women made it clear that they wanted to radicalise the policies of that party, take it back to the Socialist roots, and remove the middle of the road old guard that was running it. Tom felt inspired, and agreed.

After all, he was a respected History teacher at the local senior school, and he had no skeletons in any closets that he could think of. Jack was starting at university, and Mandy thought he would make a good candidate.

Family support was crucial, of course. But the local education authority was less than impressed. They didn’t like the idea of one of their teachers being seen to be a radical, advocating ideas that hadn’t been around since the seventies.

But Tom did it anyway.

He won the seat with a huge majority, boosted by voters who appreciated his work against the motorway junction. Then he became something of a firebrand at Council meetings, rocking the foundations of the stuffy and long-established group who had been running the town since he was a boy.

That got him noticed in London again. This time, he was asked to go down to the capital, where they discussed him standing in the general election the following year. His town constituency had been represented by the other side for most of his life, and they convinced Tom he was the right man to change that. He accepted, and campaigned hard. His opponent had little to offer, save for his almost twenty years doing little to represent the town in parliament, and that man’s approval of the motorway scheme was the last straw for voters.

Carswell won a memorable victory, unseating the incumbent and achieving a majority in excess of ten thousand. And his party won nationally, with a sixteen seat majority.

Huge life changes followed. Resigning his teaching post, renting a flat in London, coming back to the town on Fridays to hold meetings, and learning the ways of government in the House of Commons. Tom didn’t like what he saw going on there, and soon became part of a left-wing splinter group determined to get rid of the moderate centrists that had infected the party of the people.

The media latched on to this younger, outspoken man who wasn’t afraid to go against the dull policies of his own party. He was on the front pages of newspapers, and asked on to TV political debates and even chat shows. Very soon, everyone in Britain knew who Tom Carswell was. By the time the next general election was still two years away, he was approached to stand against the party leader after a vote to force a leadership election.

At the time, he was still being painted by the media as a kind of British version of JFK. Nice wife, a son who had done well at university, and that small-town appeal that avoided any big city financial connections.

Then he won the leadership election.

Once in control, Tom started to formulate policies that alienated forty percent of the country. Heavy taxation on the rich, and less influence from royalty and aristocracy. A massive programme of cheap social housing to combat the problems of homelessness, and a big boost in benefits to the unemployed and disabled. On top of that he removed Britain from NATO, scrapped the nuclear weapons programme, and asked America to remove all its weapons and aircraft from any bases in Britain.

It was a busy couple of years, but he had done enough for his party to win again, and increase its majority ten fold.

Tom looked older, and felt the weight of responsibility. But he wasn’t about to give up. Scotland was granted another referendum, and chose independence. Discussions with Ireland resulted in a promise to return the six counties in the north within ten years. That would just leave England and Wales, and Great Britain would become a thing of the past.

Now the media turned against him, and so did many of the people. He was nicknamed ‘Castro Carswell’ by the tabloids. Northern Ireland degenerated into daily rioting, and some areas in northern England started to talk about becoming part of Scotland. It all began to fall apart.

Tom’s marriage fell apart too, and his son went to live and work in Australia. It seemed his own family thought he had gone too far. But he carried on.

New police powers cracked down on rioters and demonstrators. Many in his own party started to call for his removal, and he had to survive a leadership election by the skin of his teeth. The tabloids railed against him and his most loyal supporters, calling them The Gang of Ten. So Tom brought in new laws to muzzle the press. As the public outrage continued to build, and the police fought running battles on the streets outside, he decided to make a broadcast on national television.

After declaring that he was sad to see himself compared to historical dictators, he continued.

“Yes, I am sad indeed. But it will not soften my resolve. I will do what must be done, whatever the consequences”.

Before Tom could continue, the camerman turned to the sound man, a quizzical look on his face.

“Was that gunfire I heard outside?”

Bloggers Books: Chaya Ubhayakar

I am very pleased to announce that Chaya has had her first book published. It is a nicely-illustrated book for chidren, ‘Different and Similar’.

This story is about the friendship between Missy, a Golden Retriever, and Billu, a cat, and their love for Jai, a ten-year-old boy.

Children will discover how Missy and Billu show love and kindness to each other by respecting their differences and appreciating their similarities.

Illustrated by Andrea Benko, the book explores how in a world where everyone is unique, similarities can always be found.
This is a tale of Jai and his dog Missy welcoming a new friend, Billu the cat. Follow how Missy and Billu discover the differences and similarities between each other.

Here is an Amazon link where you can find out more, and buy a very reasonably priced Kindle copy.

This is a link to Chaya’s blog, where you can read more about her and her work.