Alan’s Writing 2016

The Flying Saucer Tray…

The young boy, a wannabee chef, had watched his father prepare the food and cook the family’s dinner on many occasions. It was always wonderful. Besides his dad, some of his idols included Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, Jamie Oliver and Michael Caine. He was entranced by The Great British Bake Off and Enthralled by Masterchef and felt his destiny was in the kitchen.

Now it was his turn.

All the ingredients were there; vegetables, salad, meat, eggs, herbs and spices, fruit and fresh pasta.

He read the recipe, twice, maybe three times before he sliced a tomato or lifted a Bay Leaf.

He washed his hands twice and cleared the preparation area. He sliced some ingredients, chopped some vegetables, measured some herbs and spices and placed the salad in a bowl. He lifted a large saucepan from the rack and filled it with water from the tap, added a pinch of salt. He placed the pan on the ceramic induction plate and turned on the power, waited for the water to boil.

Whilst waiting he turned on the oven, selected a temperature setting, prepared the meat, dusted it with some herbs, laid it on an oven tray and placed it in the middle of the oven cavity.

As the water boiled he added the vegetables, put the lid back on the pan and lowered the power level to simmer.

Finally, while his dish was cooking, he prepared the fruit and created his dessert. His final task was to prepare the egg.

At the end of the cooking period he opened the oven door, retrieved the meat and married it up with his vegetables on a white oval plate, taking extra care over the presentation. On a large serving tray he placed the bowl of fresh salad, the oval plate with the meat and vegetables and finally the dessert and egg.

He carefully lifted the tray off the counter and indicated he was ready. As he turned with the tray full of food he accidentally slipped on a piece of greasy chicken skin. The tray flew up into the air as he landed ungracefully on the floor. He watched in horror as the tray of food twisted and overturned, seemingly in slow-motion, and spilt its entire contents all across the counter top and floor before following the food with a loud crash.

He could have cried.

Greg Wallace walked up to him and looked at the mess. Grinned manically and said, “There’s one thing you should always remember, son.”

“What’s that, Dad?” said the boy through a waterfall of tears.

“You should never put the chicken before the egg.”

Alan Stanford © 2016

Aftermath  (joint winner in August)

Steve bought the Daily Mail and picked up a free local paper. With the papers rolled up together in his big hand he crossed the road to a café. He wouldn’t normally buy a national newspaper nowadays and only occasionally picked up the free local news. Since the changes, access to the Internet restricted, he had little interest in anything outside his little town, although he did follow events closer than anyone realized.

The café was deserted apart from a group of elderly women, giggling and chattering away happily. One smiled at Steve as he passed; he smiled back and winked. The lady’s eyes crinkled at the corners and she blushed slightly before re-joining the conversation. At the counter, Steve placed his order with the barista, paid using his phone App and headed towards the lounge with his tray. Seated comfortably on a huge leather sofa, he enthusiastically attacked his Latte and Apple Cake. Some things never change, he thought… thank goodness!

He scanned the front page of the Mail then flicked through the following six. He froze at the image on page eight and speed-read the accompanying article. He then opened the local paper and quickly navigated to the centre pages, where the main feature was usually printed, and there was the same image and a similar editorial.

He could hardly believe his eyes and pure chance he happened on this story.

Steve had first met her more than forty years ago, back in the days before The Twin Towers and devastation of the Middle East; the French conflict at the start of the twenties! Now he was looking at her picture. Seeing her face again, reading the articles, brought the memories flooding back. So much had changed…

It happened four years before the chaotic twenties brought civil war to France and turmoil in Europe. Mass immigration continued relentlessly before the gates slammed shut for good in twenty-three. The UK economy remained strong after the Schengen Zone and Euro were abandoned, but with the old European currencies reinstated, the Eurozone struggled. With regular stock market crashes and fluctuating exchange rates, confidence was at an all-time low. Unfortunately for Turkey, the demise of the Union meant they never stood a chance.

Boris proved to be a really good PM until his death at the age of seventy-four. His influence in the Middle East ended all conflicts by twenty-nine, and Palestine was at long last recognised by the UN as a Nation and given its own land, much to the disgust of the Israeli Government; not so much the Israeli people.

During 2016, Steve had been part of the winning team, and although the dire predictions of the other side never fully materialised, things had been difficult, very difficult at times, including that devastating war just across the channel. But he knew it would take a long time for things to settle down.

She had been on the losing team and that’s what did the damage; she had told him she would never forgive him for his betrayal.

His mind wondered back to happier times: Against all the odds they were young lovers from conflicting backgrounds, cultures poles apart, sharing a flat on the west coast, far from the capital, planning the future together, working in tandem for their local community, great ideas, great minds, ambitious minds, thinking alike… until that fateful day! She had implored him to stay, to remain, but he had principles and a vision that were different to hers. So he sacrificed his love because he thought he was right; he knew he was right!

After the popular revolt and the decisive result, she resigned her post and left the UK to join her family in Kuwait. And now, after twenty five years she was back, staring at him off the page; it was as though nothing had changed. She looked no different, age defying, smooth skinned, beautiful and vibrant; back in England and making the news once again.

Now he wanted… needed to see her, to speak to her, to hold her in his arms, but how would she feel? Had she found another? Only one way to find out.

At the back of the café a bank of five computers hummed. Restricted Internet access didn’t prevent him from logging on to his old account; it was never completely closed thanks to an ingenious App he installed before his career came to a premature end, keeping him in touch with events he really shouldn’t be aware of. A quick search brought him to the page he needed and within another ten minutes he had all the necessary information. Whilst still logged on, he booked a flight to City Airport; he should be in Central London by three and the address by four this afternoon.

He left the café, returned to his home on the Atlantic coast, changed, packed an overnight bag and headed for the airport.

The flight was short, just fifty minutes; the admin procedures cost him over two hours! He eventually arrived at Myriam’s address at seven-fifteen that evening. His nerves were shattered; he was perspiring; his stomach churned as his fingers paused over a large black lion knocker. He moved his hand, knocked and waited.

Myriam opened the wide black door. Stunning as always, dressed in a traditional white Hijab with a black two-piece suit and white blouse, subtle makeup that was perfect for her flawless dark-tan Middle Eastern skin and ebony eyes; full lips skilfully painted deep claret; her beautiful broad smile revealing white textbook teeth as she craned her neck to look up into a face from her past. He guessed that underneath that Hijab her luxurious black hair, hair that should never be hidden from view, might be greying now, but still as long and silken as ever.

And then recognition kicked in.

“Steve?” she said. “Steve…”

“Hello, Myriam,” is all he could say as he reached for her hands and took them both in his own. “It’s been a long time. I’ve missed you,” he continued.

Her voice trembled as she said, “Yes, I’ve missed you, too.” Tears formed and trickled down her cheeks as she took in his giant frame, last seen more than two decades ago.

“A day hasn’t passed when I haven’t thought of you, Myriam. Will you ever forgive me for voting LEAVE?” he asked.

The beautiful Kuwaiti woman never replied to Steve’s last question; there was no need. The following week, on the morning of the 23rd June 2041, twenty-five years to the day since the referendum result of 2016 tore them apart, Steve and Myriam rekindled their love for one another and began a new life together on the south west coast of England.

© Alan Stanford 2016

An Autobiography of a Mayfly

Do you know, I had been trapped in that damp, cramped cocoon with hardly any space to move for God knows how long and when I eventually managed to wriggle myself free, and that was no easy task I can tell you, I was told to make the most of the day because that’s all I had got.

Well! Talk about livid…

I never knew my parents, but I blame them for everything. Over a year ago, my mother did something with the old man and then she dropped dozens of her eggs into the water and, with more luck than judgement, and with no help from my parents, my egg attached itself to a strand of water reed. Now I wouldn’t call this period of my life living, exactly; just mere existence. Nevertheless I survived and somehow, I became a Nymph – a poncy name for an early stage male Mayfly, don’t you think? Anyway, in this state I patiently waited, and waited, eating any old thing that came my way, hoping I wouldn’t get eaten myself, until this day arrived.

The release documents were actually issued yesterday – I didn’t actually see the official papers; they’re called Metam or phosis or something, and are secret, apparently – and then it took me almost a day to get myself out of the water, crack open my protective shell and emerge into fresh air. I wouldn’t say it hurt, but I was absolutely knackered by the time I had finished. Do you know, I had to evacuate my gut, and that was a messy operation in itself, so that my digestive system would fill with air in order for me to float to the surface? And that was only the start… You’d think there would be any easier way, wouldn’t you?

Anyway, the first thing I saw when I emerged as a Mayfly was a distant cousin. He was bigger than me and real scary… I had no self-awareness back then so when I saw these huge compound eyes, wiggling antennae and an ugly slit of a mouth with what appeared to be multiple lips, I almost returned to the safety of my protective shell, but I suddenly realised I would no longer have fitted even if I had tried; I had suddenly grown somewhat.

Anyway, once I had calmed down my cousin told me the story of my life to date.
“What happened to my parents?” I asked when he had finished.
“They’re both dead, I’m afraid.”
My cousin told me this without any empathy whatsoever. Just came right out with it, just like that; I

was really upset at the time, shed tears I did. Well, it’s not much fun to learn you’re an orphan when only a few minutes old. It was then my cousin added insult to injury and told me to make the most of the day ’cause that’s all I’ve got! Well, that was a great start to my new life I must say.

It’s been a few hours now and all I have been doing since I eventually managed to dry off my wings, is flying around looking for something to eat whilst trying to avoid fish from below and birds from above intent on having me for their lunch. Now don’t you laugh… it’s not funny, you know. This world is violent and you have to be on guard all the time…

I’ve probably used up almost half the day now so there’s not much time left and I have the urge to find a mate. Actually, I’m still not really sure if I’m male or female but I’ve got a couple of things on my abdomen that indicate the former.

I haven’t managed to eat a thing yet and I’m still full of gas. If I break wind I’m sure it’ll be heard half way down the river. I’m one of those predatory creatures, as opposed to the wimps that feed off algae, but at least they have plenty to eat; there doesn’t appear to be much at all for me.

I managed to get a decent meal about an hour ago… actually I think I’ve turned cannibalistic ’cause I’ve just consumed something that looked very much like my cousin!

I passed this winged beauty just a few minutes ago; she was gorgeous. I’ve eaten plenty now so there’s no chance I will consume this pretty little dish. Her wings were like gossamer silk; she flashed her long

antennae at me; her compound eyes were of a deep charcoal colour and they sparkled in the sunlight, then she stuck out her long, curly tongue momentarily. I wasn’t quite sure if that meant she fancied me in a sexual way or if she was just hungry! Her movements as she sashayed through the air were the sexiest I can recall… well, I’ve never actually seen any other female Mayflies sashaying through the air, so I’m just guessing here. Anyway, I followed her for a while but she gave me the slip and flew into some reeds. And now she is mixed up with a few hundred other females, I’m not so sure I’ll recognise her again!

It’s almost my end now, the sun has gone down low in the sky and I’m not feeling too well. All the female Mayflies have come out to play… there are thousands of them, lightly skipping about just above the surface of the water; it’s a magical sight. The fish and birds are going mad, jumping and diving, taking mouthfuls of them; there won’t be any left soon so I’m going in whilst I still have the strength… wish me luck.

Well, that’s it; I’m all done. It was a bit of a mad scramble out there; must have been six male Mayflies for every female so there was a fair bit of argy-bargy going on. Some fought to their death without ever having mated; ended up as fish fodder! I kept my head down and made a bee-line – if that’s an appropriate metaphor – for the beauty I saw earlier. At least, I think it was her: I’m no racist, but in the setting sun they all look the same to me. Anyhow, I did my thing with her and she dropped a load of eggs, just like my mother all those many months ago. And then she dropped dead: she had some kind of seizure and fell from the sky into the water. A large fish broke the surface and swallowed her whole! My ravishing beauty has gone to her maker and I will be following along soon.

It’s been a sad day all in all… Now I’m not sure whether to just drop into the water and drown; get myself eaten by a fish or a bird or, like my beloved, just die on the wing. Of course, I might not get to choose, but at least I’ve managed to pen my final w….

©Alan Stanford 2015

*****     *****     *****     *****     *****

The Lone Traveller 

To travel across the Atlantic Ocean to New York aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 liner is a privilege… to do so in a luxurious Stateroom is a privilege I have yet to experience!

Regardless, an economy cabin is not a bad way to travel the eight days it takes to reach Halifax in Canada and then cruise under the Verrazano Bridge, passed Staten Island, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty into New York harbour the following day. The food is the same; the entertainment is the same; access to most areas of the ship are the same, although passengers luxuriating in the staterooms also get a special dining room in which to consume the wonderful food on offer.

It was during such a recent trip that I was forced to share a table in the Britannia Restaurant set for eight diners. My preferred choice would have been to dine alone; mainly because I am not good with my eating habits, especially when it comes to soup, which always seems to find its way onto my dress or blouse! Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

Anyway, on the first night there were only seven diners, including me, at the table even though it was set for eight people. The head waiter instructed service to commence without the eighth passenger and the place-setting was removed from the table.

We ordered food individually and I avoided the soup and Spaghetti with Bolognese sauce… and everything else that could end in a splash or a drip!

During dinner all seven diners made their introductions using three distinct accents: West Country English, East Coast American and Raw Australian. Light conversation ensued with many puzzled expressions and several requests for repeated sentences. There were three men and four women; the men were flirts, as usual.

There were comments made about the missing person; ‘Probably missed the departure at Southampton,’ said one; ‘Perhaps they’ve jumped ship,’ said another. ‘Maybe he or she has been murdered,’ was a bit strong and an elderly lady on a nearby table who must have overheard our conversation almost choked on her Prawn Cocktail.

Dinner finished with, Digestifs were offered by the wine waiter from a fully stacked trolley; Cognac was popular as was fine old Malt Whisky. The price was steep, so I declined, claiming the beverage was a step too far after the fine wine served with the meal. After dinner, we all went our separate ways; I headed to the theatre for the included live entertainment, which, to my surprise, proved to be pretty good.

The following night followed the same procedure at the same table with the same seven diners and the same waiters, but with a somewhat different menu. The eighth passenger did not appear and once again the head-waiter ordered service to commence and the place-setting was removed. Under the table cloth, the man sitting on my left put his hand on my knee; out of his wife’s sight of course. I blushed and gently moved his hand back to his own knee. He wasn’t the one…

Every day on the full journey across the ocean, which was unseasonably calm, conjuring thoughts of ‘crossing the great pond’ so often mentioned in literature, was similar. Each of the male dinner guests tried it on with me, even in the company of their wives or partners. None of them were the one… There were several more men during the trip that attempted to… well, touch me up is probably the best description. I rejected them all; none of them were the one, either.

What is it with men when they see an attractive lady without a chaperone? Even a woman of my age seems to be no barrier. There’s a kind of madness, I think, that takes over their infantile brains; a brain that seems to operate from between their legs rather than in their skull.

Each night when I returned to my cabin the bed cover was turned back and two neatly wrapped night-time chocolates lay on the pillows along with two programmes listing news and activities for the next day. I ate both chocolates and studded the programme; I might give Ballroom Dancing a go, I thought. I also drank the complimentary bottle of Champagne, filling both glasses and sipping from each alternatively. The basket of fruit left on that first day was also consumed by me before the third day had passed and a further basket was left in the cabin on the fourth day of the trip. How thoughtful…

When Michael booked this trip – I thought he was the one – he did so without my knowledge. His big mistake was to put that bitch’s name down for the second ticket when it should have been me. Well, they both had a shock when I turned up, uninvited, at his place the night before their planned departure. Ironic when you think about it; the Taser I used to stun the pair was actually Michael’s and it was still a shock! Ha ha…

It was a simple thing to use his floozy’s identity, use her passport for myself. Being a twin has its advantages. I wonder if they have managed to get themselves out of the pantry? The lock that Michael had fitted was brilliant; he himself told me how secure it would be and nobody would be able to break in there – it was where he kept his safe after all: And the safe was void of all the cash anyway, because that was now in the safe in my cabin. Conversely, of course, it was also nigh on impossible to break out of there, but at least there was probably enough food to last a week, maybe more… but Michael had also told me the room was air tight!

I know I’ll probably have to pay one day, but I mean to enjoy my freedom while it lasts and I’ve heard that New York is one of the best places on the planet to meet a wealthy, generous man… and then I might get to experience that Stateroom.

©Alan Stanford 2016

Our trophy winner for September - a bit of a tongue-twister.

The Tale of the Cat 
and the Asthmatic Rat

A pot-bellied pig 
with oodles of charm,
that lived in a barn 
on a great big farm,
related a yarn 
about an amorous cat
that once fell in love 
with an asthmatic rat
that died from the nip 
of a vicious gnat
and then crept up 
to a third-floor flat,
where he met a strange man
 in a Panama hat,
and a charming young woman
 by the name of Pat,
who wore her hair
 in a single plat,
and shared her flat
 with a Fruit-eating bat,
a handmade mat
 and a box full of tat
and the tall strange man
 with the Panama hat.

The cat that had fallen 
for the asthmatic rat
that had died of the nip
 from that vicious gnat
was left so distraught
 he moved in with Pat,
became best friend
 to the Fruit-eating bat,
slept like a log
 on the handmade mat,
and did his thing
 in the box full of tat,
and hissed and spat 
at the tall, strange man
 with the Panama hat.
So because of the cat
 that hissed and spat,
and nothing to do
 with the vicious gnat,
the tall strange man
 with the Panama hat
took the box full of tat,
 with the thing from the cat,
and moved out of the flat
 and left young Pat
with the cat and the mat
 and the Fruit-eating bat,
but Pat didn’t care
 he’d vacated her flat
because she hated
 his Panama hat,
he was rude
 and incredibly fat.

And the pot-bellied pig,
who was also quite big,
but had oodles of charm
 and lived in the barn,
grew old on the farm
and came to no harm
 for spinning his yarn,
but just like the rat
he died from a nip
 from that vicious gnat.
So if a tale can be told,
please be so bold
as to tell it
 before you get old,
and watch out for that gnat
squash it quite flat
or you might end up
 like the pig and the rat.

©Alan Stanford 2016

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