Sunday Short Story – Sheep May Safely Graze

‘Daaad, that’s disgusting, it’s still oozing blood.’

‘You can’t beat a rare 16 ounce steak, it’s your sawdust burger that looks disgusting.’

‘At least I’m not eating a sentient being.’

‘He’s not sentient anymore, besides, he had a good life roaming free and eating all that lush Scottish grass.’

‘You mean he was one of the unlucky ones, castrated, never destined to be the prize bull.’

‘That’s life…’

‘Even the prize bulls are herbivores; if they can turn grass into muscle, why do humans need meat?’

‘Your daughter’s right Geoff, even if you don’t care about the animals you eat, you need to care about your health.’

‘…and I am eating all the delicious veggies you cooked to go with my juicy steak.’

‘But you had egg and bacon for breakfast and a huge ham sandwich for lunch.’

‘From outdoor reared pigs, I thought that was okay. Humans have always been omnivorous, that is why the human race will always survive… Phew, is it me or is it hot in here. I’ll take the dog out and enjoy a death stick, ha ha.’

‘Daad, I thought you were going to try vaping.’

‘That’s for teenagers, sucking in steam that smells like a sweet shop, my grandfather smoked forty a day and…’

‘…lived to be a hundred, yes Dad, you have told us that a hundred times.’

‘Your father’s been a while.’

‘Probably chatting to next door, his smoking buddy…. Oh it’s okay, I can hear Rex… why is he barking like that?’

Geoff opened his eyes, the dreadful pain had disappeared. The sun shone in his eyes, but that couldn’t be right, it was a dark autumn evening in Mildred Avenue and where had that stupid mutt gone? Green fields, rolling hills, a meandering river, reminded him of that Scottish holiday. Peaceful, the air so fresh, no sound but the bleating of sheep. He stood up and took a few shaky steps; he had lost his glasses somewhere, but his eyesight was perfect. Sheep dotted up on the hills, cattle grazing by the river, this was paradise, but what had happened to his house, his road? Was he in a film set, or in heaven? No, there was a farmhouse in the distance, best to ask there.

No sooner had he thought this than he was there, in the yard, chickens pecking around him, a sheepdog lying in the sun, a sow brushed past, followed by her piglets.

‘Hello, anyone around?’

‘So you have arrived Geoff.’

He couldn’t see where the voice was coming from. ‘How do you know my name, who is this speaking?’

‘Your long suffering guardian angel.’

‘Ha, ha. Very funny. Am I dreaming, fell asleep on the sofa watching Countryfile?’

‘No, you’re dead.’

‘You’ll be telling me next I’m in heaven.’

‘You are, though it’s not your heaven.’

‘Whose is it then? Don’t tell me the Jehovah’s Witnesses were right all along, are there lions here?’

‘All God’s creatures, you are just seeing all the ones you have eaten.’

It dawned on him with a mixture of relief and fear; he was in intensive care, his wife and daughter must be feeling smug. All that nagging about him being an obese middle aged chap, vulnerable to Covid, going down the pub and not social distancing. Hallucinations, that’s what happened when they put you in an induced coma, not so bad, but he must not relax. He would show them, he would get better; if Boris and Trump could recover, so would he. His hallucination was still rabbiting on.

‘Your daughter was right all along. The answer is reincarnation, it’s time for you to go to your next life.’

Two could play at this game, he hadn’t finished with this life yet. ‘Okay Gabriel, or whatever your name is, who will I be next time?’

‘A pig; but don’t worry, you have earned a dispensation as you were not a bad husband and did not commit any crimes against humanity. You are about to be born in a muddy Hampshire field, suckled by a healthy sow, playing with your siblings till it’s time to go into the barn to be fattened up.’

Sunday Short Story – 575 – School Uniform

Freddy was glad he wasn’t Scottish; Scottish children had to go back to school in August, but when he heard his parents talking about school uniform he felt those butterflies in his stomach. September was coming too soon and the Prime Minister said everyone had to go back to school now. When he heard his parents talking to the other grownups at the barbeque he hoped maybe it wouldn’t happen.

Can’t see how it will work, bubbles, ridiculous…

Bubbles, were stupid. When they went to see Grandma and Grandad in their bubble, he thought they would be floating in a gigantic rainbow bubble and he would push and be sucked in with a loud pop. When they got to their house and went round to the back garden for a picnic, there was no bubble; Grandma and Granddad were just sitting in their house waving through the patio door. Freddy wasn’t even allowed to go indoors and play with Daddy’s old Lego. What would a school bubble look like? Perhaps they would blow bubbles instead of doing work.

On Sunday morning Freddy’s bubbly thoughts popped when he realised Mummy was talking to him.

‘Hurry up and finish your breakfast, we want to get to the shops as soon as they open, Marks and Spencer for your uniform, then Clarks to have your feet measured.’

‘I don’t want to go to the shops, it’s too windy.’

‘But you like having your feet measured on that magic machine.’

‘It’s not magic and I don’t need new shoes.’

On the way to the shops he sat in the back seat of the car while Mummy and Daddy argued in the front seat, like they usually did.

‘Sunday, who goes shopping for school clothes on a Sunday?’ said Daddy.

‘No one, it will be lovely and quiet.’

‘I don’t believe it, the car park’s full.’

‘We shouldn’t have left it to the last minute, we’re never going to get all Freddy’s stuff for school.’

Freddy’s spirits soared, he couldn’t go to school if he didn’t have his uniform and PE stuff.

‘I don’t mind if I can’t go to school.’

‘Don’t worry, even if you have to go to school in your pyjamas you are going’ laughed Daddy.

Pyjamas… Freddy imagined himself sitting in the classroom with his Lego pyjamas on and everybody laughing, especially …

‘Come on, jump out, we’ll park here and walk down the road to the shopping centre’ said Daddy.

Oh no, look at that queue for Clarks’ said Mummy ‘and for Marks, well we’ll just have to be patient, oh there’s Sarah, look Freddy, Annabel’s here with her Mummy and Daddy.’

Freddy felt shy, Annabel looked different, then she smiled as the grown ups started chatting, standing carefully apart. Freddy smiled back, but couldn’t think of anything to say.

Annabel’s mummy had plenty to say.

‘How is it going to work? One child coughs and the whole class gets sent home? Or you get to school and they take Freddy’s temperature and say too high, he has to go home…’

Freddy’s smile got bigger as Annabel started laughing, then whispering, creeping nearer.

‘Freddy, when we get to school, let’s do coughing.’

He remembered what his parents were always saying when they had that hot weather. Stop running around getting too hot. All he had to do was run around and cough a lot and everybody would get sent home from school…

Unmasked

After months of indecision and confusion from our leaders we are finally wearing facemasks – a bit. On public transport and for customers in shops it’s official, though without much hope of enforcement. Staying at home as a full time carer, the only shop I have been to is the tiny Boots’ pharmacy attached to our doctors’ surgery. Actually lots of people aren’t going to real shops; busy working couples who have been doing on line shopping for years and the ‘vulnerable’ who have discovered on line shopping and don’t trust anything the government says.

At our little chemist the staff have always worn masks and only let one person in at a time, so it feels safe, with the added benefit of privacy for discussing personal medical stuff. But I miss the jolly days crammed in with bored toddlers and having a joke with bored adults as we all waited and wondered who would hit the jackpot and get their prescription next or at all. And of course listening in to other people’s strange medical problems or listening in to the medical problems of strange people…

In Covid times we wait outside, not too many people, but with plenty of opportunity for confusion. You may think someone is pushing in, but they are making their way to the outer door of the surgery to ring the bell and report to the all powerful receptionist, who tells them to wait outside until summoned on their mobile phone; leaving them with the dilemma of which queue to stand in. The rest of us are either queueing to go in to the pharmacy or have already been in but have to wait for our prescriptions.

On my first visit with official mask wearing I got a tickly cough ( NOT a Covid cough ) as soon as I got inside – what to do? Rip off mask and take a sip out of my water bottle? NO, not allowed to touch mask let alone remove it.

One of the regular staff is always friendly and helpful, but a good while ago he was away and when he came back had lost his voice, reduced to a whisper, that was okay without a mask… I had no idea if he could hear my mask voice properly; I was there to collect new prescriptions, with either no idea what they were called or how to pronounce them and also to explain that as we were having a regular medicine in liquid form could we cancel the repeat prescription for the capsules… He checked the computer screen and the bag of medicines and the forms, but he may as well have been speaking in Martian. I understood only his last whispered words Address, post code – for a moment I thought the mask would make me forget my own address, but I managed that bit and just hoped what was in the heavy bag was all the correct stuff.

As I was leaving I did feel, in my stuffy mask, on a hot day, looking forward to taking it off as soon as I got round the corner…  I did feel at last I was part of the Covid Community.

As I was leaving, another staff member came out to give a lady her prescription and asked her address, the woman instinctively pulled down her mask to say her address…

Silly Saturday – Careless Carers

Since the start of the pandemic many people have found themselves being carers for the first time; isolated with granny, uncle’s paid carers not able to visit or caring for Covid survivors in the family. Happily most people seem to have risen to the challenge, but it takes real skill to become a Careless Carer.

Some of you may have become carers without even realising it…

HOW TO RECOGNISE IF YOU ARE A CARER

You are a carer if you are busy gardening and a cup of coffee does not appear at the back door.

You are a carer if you yell DOORBELL! And nobody goes to answer the front door.

Ditto if you yell PHONE! And nobody goes to pick up the landline or the mobile phone left upstairs.

WHAT WILL A NORMAL DAY BE LIKE FOR A CARELESS CARER?

Take water, the wrong tablets and a cup of tea to the special person, who will remind you they always have coffee in the morning. Tell them you will be back in ten minutes to help them shower.

Now it’s time for you to have a quick cuppa ready for a busy day – take your time and check all the social media on your phone, share some Facebook Covid jokes, go in the garden and take a few pictures for Instagram, phone friend to tell them how busy you are… forget to turn shower on to warm up…

It’s important to answer the phone promptly, it could be a medical person to ask how things are and tell you no one can come to visit. Or it could be a friend and now is your chance to be properly careless, have a good chat, maybe they are lonely, fed up or hating working from home, discuss last night’s drama on television. Can you believe the time and you haven’t even got breakfast ready yet… then you remember you left your caree in the shower!

Ask the precious one what they would like for breakfast, even though it’s nearly lunchtime and forget what they said by the time you get in the kitchen.

Forgetting is a key attribute of the Careless Carer and the opportunities are infinite;

Forget to turn on the radio or television

Forget to turn off the radio or television

Forget to open/close curtains, windows, doors.

Forget to bring or put within reach glasses, newspaper, book, TV controls, mobile phone, ipad and the cup of coffee you forgot to make an hour ago.

Good luck.

Friday Flash Fiction – 700 -Two Months To Live

If Sonya had known her ex husband would survive a good deal longer than two months she would never have let him come back. If Sonya had known a pandemic would come along and trap him in isolation with her, two weeks after he moved in, she would never have let him over the front door step.

When he had phoned her early in March and told her he only had two months to live, she was shocked. Sonya hadn’t seen him for years, didn’t even know his second wife had booted him out and kept the house. It seemed a Christian, a human thing to do; she imagined the alternative, the father of her children found in two years time, mummified in his dreadful bedsit. To care for him in his last weeks would bring closure to both the good years and the bad. One of her daughters said she was insane and on no account must she let him anywhere near her home. The other daughter said of course she must help him, he was her father after all and she would soon be back from Thailand to help. The kindly daughter was still in Thailand and the sensible daughter still in New York.

At first he did a few DIY jobs, they Facetimed the girls together and he made a good job of settling his few possessions in the back bedroom and making it homely. He assured her various medical teams and charities were on his case and all she would have to do was a bit of cooking.

Then he got his letter from the Prime Minister telling him he was very vulnerable and must not leave his house. Her house Sonya pointed out to him. The letter reminded him how frail he was and he couldn’t even help wash the dishes. His medical support teams could not visit because of Covid 19 and he no longer qualified for help from the charities as he was no longer homeless.

A new routine was soon established, as if they had always been carer and invalid in the midst of a pandemic. Sonya was heartily grateful for her rescue dog, the perfect excuse to get out of the house for exercise and a chance to have socially distanced chats with neighbours and other dog walkers. Vivienne down the road she had hardly known before, but now she and the dog would pause by the front gate when Vivienne was in the garden and discuss on line shopping. The other woman would complain about her divorced son who had moved back in and Sonya would regale her with the latest domestic dramas.

Her ex husband had his good points, well she vaguely recalled he did in the early years of their marriage, sense of humour, carefree attitude to life. That young man was long gone and his most irritating features were enhanced by illness. The husband who had once been glued to the television with football, war movies and endless crime dramas involving noisy car chases and shootings, now complained about the noise if she listened to Jeremy Vine on the radio and griped that the television was doing his head in if she tried to watch Celebrity Chef.

When he received another letter from the Prime Minister saying he could go out and about on the first of August, he showed a rare spark of life and decided it would be good for him to come out with Sonya and the dog. This was how she found herself today, plodding wearily back down their road, trying to hang on to the dog’s lead and being told to mind the bumps as she pushed his wheelchair. She had not seen Vivienne lately, only to be expected as Vivienne’s daughter and family were staying. A large camper van was parked outside her friend’s house and the door suddenly swung open as they passed, just missing the wheelchair. Two children tumbled down the steps and flew through the garden gate to the front door, yelling to be let in.

 ‘Bloody children, bloody camper vans’ said Sonya’s ex husband in a loud voice, just as Vivienne opened her front door and waved to her friend.

Friday Flash Fiction – 525 – School Holidays

A piercing scream penetrated the calm of James’ office and disturbed his important conference call with New York. Every sound in the neighbourhood wafted through the back bedroom windows, but it was too hot to close them.

‘Everything okay?’ asked the managing director in New York.

‘So sorry, yes, fine…’

For a moment James wondered if he should investigate, he vaguely recalled his mother mentioning they were in charge of the twins today while his sister and brother-in-law went to Ikea and she might have to pop to the corner shop... None of them believed that he was actually working from home, that it was Friday and he had a great deal of real work to do. Strange sounds had emitted from his nephew and niece at regular intervals since their arrival yesterday, either because they were having fun, or more likely they were arguing. There was the possibility that one of them had been impaled on one of his mother’s lethal gardening implements, or perhaps they had accidentally killed their grandmother…

 Eighty per cent of MPJ staff worldwide were working from home, but usually in their smart book lined studies, not from their mother’s back bedroom with sewing machines and ironing boards as a background for Zoom. It was hardly professional to interrupt discussion of the dreadful news from Beirut ( its importance to the shareholders of MPJ, not the suffering of the locals ) and disappear out of sight to lean out the back window and be heard yelling ‘JASON, JACINTHA what the hell are you doing now?

When his sister Julia had said they were going camping for their summer staycation he thought they meant a tent in a remote field, not a camper van parked outside his mother’s house. Julia insisted social distancing would be maintained, while her husband Jack queried whether social distancing was even a thing anymore. They did sleep in the van; James had not had time to look up council regulations and see if this was legal, but there was much toing and froing to the bathroom and the washing machine had been on constantly since their arrival. The twins weren’t that bad, not according to his mother anyway; they were just high spirited, Covid cabin fever and he just wasn’t used to children of that age, whatever age they were… he had forgotten and dare not ask, his family would be shocked at his lack of interest in the precious ones, his mother’s ONLY grandchildren as  she liked to frequently point out.

Another piercing scream rent the air. This time James did a few quick manoeuvres on the keyboard and the screen went blank; New York would either think England had been hit by a nuclear bomb or perhaps that his local wifi had gone down. He rushed over to the window and leaned out to see an arc of water gleaming in the sun. Jason was chasing Jacintha with the garden hose and this time she let out a screech of triumph as she ducked under the washing line and the family’s bedding hanging out to dry took the full brunt of the high powered hose.

Friday Flash Fiction – On The Radio

Sam always had the radio on when he was in the hotel room, just to own a radio and have somewhere to plug it in was a luxury. It was more than entertainment, he was catching up with what had been going on in the rest of the world while he had ‘been away’. By the evenings he was physically tired, but his mind could not rest, he did not want to be alone with his thoughts. Science programmes, current affairs, the arts, he lapped them all up; he was interested in everything, like he used to be in the old life. Perhaps he would have been a polymath by now, talking on intelligent programmes instead of just listening in.

Her voice caught him off guard, was it her, yes, the presenter repeated her name. Sam tuned into what she was saying.

No, I had never thought of being a writer, too busy living life, just an ordinary wife and mother, then my marriage broke up.

Broke up, like dropping a glass on a tiled floor, broke up… she had left him, taken the child… left him for no reason he had ever figured out.

It was just me and my little boy, it was hard, but after a while I realised I was happy, I could survive on my own, not just survive, make something of my life.

Sam felt his chest tighten; had she ever been happy, was that not a life they had? He was happy, she made him happy, Lucas made them both happy. He had everything, the new research project, promoted to senior lecturer, getting the mortgage for the little house that was the home of her dreams; when had her dreams changed? She was still talking, bright and confident, a mature woman now of course. He felt the physical blow of being left all over again.

…when Lucas started at the village school in Scotland I started writing and trying to run the smallholding I had inherited with the cottage…

And that is a story in itself and inspired one of your novels?

Yes, I was tracked down by the programme Heir Hunters and I wanted to find out more about this fourth three times removed cousin who was a recluse.

Sam found himself almost smiling, you couldn’t make it up, his suburban London ex wife in the wilds of Scotland, maybe she had made it up …  but then anger flashed through him, his son should not have been living in a dilapidated cottage hundreds of miles away, no wonder he had lost touch completely.

Now your fifth novel comes as people question why so few people own so much of the land in Scotland, your heroine comes from London on holiday to the highlands and ends up marrying the local laird. What gave you that inspiration?

I must emphasise that it is not autobiographical, my own laird Duncan is nothing like the haughty landowner in my novel. And actually Duncan and I are writing a book together about rewilding and good husbandry.

So your life now is very different from your dreary life in suburban London?

Yes I have the big family I always wanted, with Lucas, Duncan’s three and our son and the twins…isolating has been like a family holiday for the nine of us, teens and pre teens all getting  along  together.

Sam switched the radio off. She had everything and he had nothing. He had lost everything in the divorce and he wasn’t  even sure how, house and son gone, his own mother never forgiving him for letting her grandson be taken. But he must not descend into darkness again, think first. He turned on his lap top, the other vital possession the Big Issue had furnished him with, navigating the internet was still awkward for him. She must have been famous, just entering her name, or rather his name that she published under, produced results. Up popped her author website and a colourful blog about her highland life. Thousands of followers, perhaps he was the only one in the country who had not heard of her books. He tried to stay calm, at least in the interview she had not denigrated him, not even mentioned him, was that worse?

He needed to talk about this, not internalise, that’s what the counsellor told them when they had the ‘help’ during lock down. Most of them only put up with the do-gooders’ waffling to keep their hotel room, but some of it was helpful and he knew he had rights, a right to contact his son. But he had to stay off the streets and build some sort of life, even then it was unlikely his son would want anything to do with him. There would be no sleep for him tonight, but tomorrow he would tell his story for the first time.

The Good The Bad and The Ugly

What if the biggest computer ever designed was switched off, could it be rebooted? Earlier this year the human world was switched off for a short time and ever since, people have been trying to reboot it, while others think we should just leave it switched off.

Can we talk about Covid 19 or pandemics without mentioning countries or politics? Yes. Good things, bad things and ugly scenes have happened this year all over the world, but we might not all agree on what is good or bad, right or wrong.

Good things happened for Gaia and for a lot of people. With everything at a standstill the air was fresher, the skies bluer, people in cities could breathe and see mountains on the horizon for the first time. Wildlife thrived and found new playgrounds. If any proof was needed, this was what climate change protestors had been pleading for; why was it okay to switch everything off to save a few people, but not to save the whole planet? The harsh truth is that Covid 19 may be terrible, but it is not a threat to the human race or the planet, while accelerated climate change affects us all, including our unborn descendants. Those of us whose lives and homes remain unscathed by fire, flood and famine cannot be complacent. Covid 19 won’t destroy the human race, but it is another symptom of the way we treat the planet and other creatures and we have all been affected by it.

Can we halt rebooting and unplug our giant computer at the mains? The beginning of pandemic panic is already taking on a rosy hue in our memories. Silent roads and empty skies, no road carnage or plane crashes. Spending more time with your family, discovering you can work from home, no commuter traffic, empty office buildings with the potential to house the homeless and key workers. The Pope calls for ceasefires and peace all over the world, people are nice to each other and appreciate the forgotten workforce, the cleaners, delivers and carers. Volunteers make an unprecedented effort to help their local communities. Governments and councils, in days, bring all homeless people off the streets. There is a splurge of on line creativity, people across the globe connected.

There was also a catastrophic loss of jobs and businesses, the world of live arts and entertainment devastated. Hunger, loneliness, domestic violence and mental health problems for those isolated in cramped places. We weren’t all in it together, those who had the least had even less. Big cracks appeared to divide people over long standing issues, people started arguing over new issues such as facemasks and there were vitriolic on line comments by those certain they alone knew how to deal with a pandemic.  And nobody took any notice of the Pope’s plea.

Is there any chance our world leaders know what to do next, how to organise societies that must live with a virus that will not go away, create a new fair normal. Perhaps someone will come up with new software to change how the Big Computer runs everything. The newly unemployed will be trained to build solar powered airships and homes, grow environmentally friendly food for the whole world and boost the care sector into a respected well paid profession. Maybe this software will conveniently delete any powers that threaten the new compassionate, sustainable world norm…

What’s On?

What’s on the telly tonight? Good news, you can avoid Covid Crisis and indulge in Covid Comfort. Whether you need relaxation or intellectual stimulation, television can help.

University Challenge is back and I managed to answer quite a few questions, perhaps they are going easy on us in the first round, usually I can’t understand half the questions let alone answer more than three. It is obviously pre-recorded; nobody in a post Covid world is going to sit cosily in teams of four putting their heads together to decide on the answer.

There are many programmes we must enjoy before the pre-recorded stock runs out. Great British Sewing Bee is fabric fantasy, whether you like making clothes or wearing them. The winner, Clare Bradley, turned out to not only be brilliant at sewing, but is also a hospital respiratory consultant and since her win has been helping to save Covid patients. Could there be a post Covid sewing bee? No one allowed to touch the material or each other’s sewing machines, no hugging and congratulating. But perhaps they could do a glamourous slant on making facemasks and scrubs, as long as they only have one contestant at a time…https://metro.co.uk/2020/06/24/great-british-sewing-bee-2020-declares-winner-intense-finale-

All the cookery programmes will have the same problem in future, no one allowed to taste the food, no one will know what the food smells like with their masks on, no presenters hanging over the cook’s shoulders asking how they are getting on. I have never followed cookery shows as it’s too painful to see all that lovely food that we can’t eat. But in lockdown Cyberspouse has been watching them all. There are two main types of shows. Master chefs compete against each other to create beautiful banquets or delicious deserts that are works of art; pudding porn, perfect creations that are then mercilessly stabbed and rent asunder by the judges, who alone enjoy heavenly melting moments. Then there are the celebrities we have never heard of who can’t cook and are sent on an emotional roller coaster, baking perfect pastry or told they have to cook twenty octopuses ( or is it octopi ) for the guests at a posh hotel.

But some programmes are with us in real time. Nature and gardens brought into our living rooms by presenters on their home patch, alone, no irritating chatting with fellow presenters, giving the viewers their undivided attention. Gardener’s World brings calm and peace on Friday evenings. I know every day is the same as a carer in a pandemic, but I like to pretend it’s the end of the week. Monty Don wanders around his own large garden, with trailing dogs, digging and potting. But my favourite parts are viewers’ home videos, enthusiastically showing us an endless variety of inventive gardens of all shapes and sizes, bringing us all sorts of useful tips – and I thought I was obsessive about saving water… some don’t even have a balcony, let alone a garden; apartments filled with plants so you feel you are in a jungle. One young chap even had endlessly circulating water running down the wall into a fishpond.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006mw1h/clips

Drama has not been forgotten. Alan Bennet’s Talking Heads have been given a new production with a few new tales; monologues are perfect for social distancing and his characters move us as they gradually reveal their often surprising stories. There has also been a good selection of new short plays with actors having equipment delivered to their own homes, presumably with a few instructions. Filming themselves and conveniently often married to other actors, thus providing a cast of two.

Radio has always been a lifeline since our mothers’ and grandmothers’ day for housewives, mothers and anyone at home all day and I’m sure it was for many confined during Covid. Cyberspouse has listened to Woman’s Hour every day and BBC Radio 4 has three serialised books before lunch. But there is one drama that has let me down. I have been listening to the Archers ( the world’s longest running soap? )  on and off since I was in the womb and I thought Ambridge was a real place in a real county, Borsetshire. Imagine my confusion when farming life carried on as usual, The Bull still open for drinkers, while the rest of England was in total lockdown, everyone isolated. No one in Ambridge even mentioned there was a world wide  pandemic. Opinion was divided on Archers Facebook fan pages and among listeners emailing ‘Feedback’, some were glad of the escape from Covid while others like me thought it ridiculous. Eventually they ran out of recorded episodes and there was the first ever break in transmission, followed by a relaunch of a different type of soap. Endless monologues by any actors who knew how to work the recording equipment at home. For the first time, all those characters we love, or love to hate were expressing their own feelings, creepy or what. Soap operas by their nature are written in the third person, we have to wait till a character opens their heart to another character for insights and we like it that way.

http://www.thearchers.co.uk/

For fiction in real time drop in to my Friday Flash Fiction – tiny tales of ordinary folk in a pandemic.

Have your viewing and listening habits changed since the pandemic? What have your Covid comforts been?

Friday Flash Fiction – Open Space

Cassie was feeling more positive than she had for a while as she saw James approaching on his bicycle for their rendezvous at the austere offices of their employer MPJ. It was not because the pubs were opening tomorrow, something to be avoided, or because she believed the pandemic was over, it was not; but her mind was open to new possibilities.

‘How was the ferry James?’

‘Great, it’s so windy out there on the water this morning, I love it like that, blowing the virus away; only a few of us on the boat anyway.’ He laughed. ‘Less than a week of the ferry back on duty and they have taken away my hire car.’

Cassie couldn’t help feeling a little pleased that once again they were safely separated by the water and a limited ferry timetable. Their several meetings at the offices had been good, making life seem a little more normal, but would it be awkward now she had declined to join his bubble? Would he try and change her mind after she admitted on Facetime last night that Doris next door did not want Cassie to create a bubble for her. Doris’ son and family were now 85% sure they would be over from the USA for their delayed annual holiday and Doris was hoping they would quarantine with her, be her bubble.

James keyed them in at the side door, ushering Cassie in first and keeping a safe distance. At the desk the lone security chap looked glad to see them.

‘How many in today?’ asked James.

‘Three, no sign of the boss yet.’

They walked up the stairs; even if they had wanted to use the lift James had put several bands of yellow tape across the lift doors. The corridor was silent and Cassie stifled a giggle.

‘Why are we whispering.’

‘Strange isn’t it, I didn’t realise how noisy this place was when it was full. Coffee first? That machine must be the only thing still working at MPJ.’

It was still a bit awkward – just standing there a few feet apart. He was smiling at her.

‘I like this, having a proper chat, I know it’s not every girl’s… wom… lady’s idea of a date. That’s what I like about you Cassie, up for anything. I love the way you aren’t worried about what you wear and don’t fuss about makeup and stuff.’

Cassie wondered how to take his remarks, she couldn’t imagine him doing very well on the dating scene, but obviously she wouldn’t either.

‘Has anything new been decided about work? The parents in my group are going round the bend. The children are going back to school next week, but it’s only for two days a week, then in two weeks it will be the holidays.’

‘So what do parents usually do in the holidays?’

‘Don’t ask me, what does you sister do with her two?

‘They are too far away for my mother to help out, they take some time off for the family holiday, that’s up in the air this year… the rest of the time, holiday clubs I think.’

‘All grandparents can’t be isolating, they can’t all be old and have health issues.’

‘The younger grandparents probably have jobs, or did have. Anyway, the boss still thinks we’re all doing a wonderful job working from home and wants as few coming back here as possible till we’re absolutely sure it’s safe.’

‘You can’t blame him after losing his daughter and that girl in my department, but it’s never going to be a hundred per cent safe in any work place, safe anywhere for sure.’

‘He’s changed a lot,’ said James ‘those who have known him a long time say he’s changed completely. Now we not only have to treat all the staff as family, we have to look after the homeless as well.’

‘I know, I got the email, I volunteered.’

‘I didn’t volunteer, it’s been dumped on me, have to work out the logistics of using this nearly empty building to make sure nobody in this city goes back on the streets.’

‘Isn’t that the future of offices, that’s what everyone is saying, but what do the homeless want? That’s what I’m going to find out at this ‘People in the Park’ thing this afternoon.’

‘Oh that, don’t you go taking in strangers Cassie.’

‘Is that likely, I’m afraid I’m not that much of a do-gooder, my home is my castle.’

‘Don’t I know it’ said James.

Cassie smiled to herself as she cycled to the park. Poor James, she was still managing to avoid telling him where she lived, but would she feel home owner guilt as she met up with these homeless people?

Luckily some overly sincere volunteer was facilitating the little gathering in the park, a couple of other MPJ people and five men and women and a dog. Cassie didn’t think of herself as good with people, but this little straggle of folk must be feeling even more nervous. She found herself drawn to the chap with the shaggy dog, Sam he introduced himself. The others were happy to let him do the talking, he was engaging and had good ideas. He needed a haircut, but so did everybody till the barbers reopened tomorrow; Sam didn’t match the homeless stereotype. Staying in a hotel obviously helped and perhaps he was recently homeless without ‘complex issues’. The more he talked the more fascinated Cassie was, how could such a chap have ended up with nothing in the world except a rescued dog? But what he said was true, how would putting these people in an empty office building help if they didn’t have jobs to regain their self respect. Where would the jobs come from in a post Covid recession.

When they broke up from their carefully distanced circle, agreeing to meet next week, Cassie felt she was at least part of something new and positive, even if she couldn’t see how it would work out. She felt a cold nose on her hand.

‘Sorry Miss, Sheba doesn’t understand social distancing.’

‘Oh er, call me Cassie please Sam, I like dogs, or at least I’ve never had one… I have got a pair of geckos.’

‘Really, how about that, I used to have some strange pets when I was a kid.’

Sam’s route around the park, with Sheba glad to be on the move, was the same path back to where Cassie had locked her bike. He walked parallel with her, keeping to the edge of the path, a safe distance, but smiling and chatting. Yes, Cassie felt she was part of something new and positive.