Committed writers dedicated to working together to produce excellent poems, short stories, drama, life writing, and creative non-fiction

Why not contact us for more details about our small, mutually supportive monthly meetings? Don't be shy. No need to be brave!

Sheila 01823 67 28 46

Valerie 01884 84 04 22

Friday 23 December 2011

A Xmas Poem for our Leader

We’re away for Xmas
but even before we travel
family plans
are beginning to unravel
so sing along ye Xmas bards
for me
another dysfunctional
Yuletide’s on the cards

© William Botley
All rights reserved

Thursday 22 December 2011


August is always a good month to conceive
And now it’s already Christmas…So difficult to believe
The days are short and the nights are long
It’ll be a few months before the black bird’s song
In spring I’ll wait for a new lamb to bleat
Before I watch it suckling... on a proud mother’s teat
Then I’ll yearn for May and sight of the pink Campion
For this will herald the special birth that I will soon champion

© Kenneth Campbell 2011
All rights reserved

Monday 28 November 2011


"Of course there are more than 10, but these should give you some food for thought – together with [Anna's] comments!

Number 1: think before you write.  No, really, because if you don’t then you are storing up trouble later on.  Give yourself the luxury of a ‘think tank’ all of your own before you ever put pen to paper.

Number 2:  what do you want to write?  I am talking form not content here.  Short story, novel, play, radio drama, podcast, film?  Each has a different approach so back to number 1 and think about it first – it’s not always your first thought of the appropriate medium that would suit your writing best.

Number 3:  why do you want to write it?  Creative fulfilment, to make money, to get clients, to enlighten and/or entertain?  All of these are valid, and it helps to know what your focus is.

Number 4:  who do you want to read it? Your ideal reader: are they a business person, a child, someone under 30 or over 60?   It matters because you will use different language to reach different audiences.
Number 5:  perspiration.  Because writing is not for the fainthearted, you need to put some effort in – though not necessarily sweat your way to success!

Number 6:  heart or head?  You, and your reader, are you appealing to their intellect and sense of logic or tugging their heartstrings – or both?

Number 7:   style and content.   Always go with your natural style if at all possible because then it will be your authentic writing voice.  Is that warm and chatty, cool and distant, short spiky sentences or long expositions?  You can do both, but match the style to the content: for example, a love story written in academic language won’t stir many hearts and a manual on how to get out of debt will irritate the reader if the language is not direct, clear and from the heart.

Number 8:  consistency.  A natural follow on to number 5 because if you are applying yourself to your writing you must do it regularly and consistently.  Block time out in your diary and make it sacred – it is.

Number 9;  edit and review.  However brilliant that first draft, it will be improved by your re-reading, editing and reviewing it – and then giving it to someone else to do see if it makes sense or could be improved.  You do’t have to accept their ideas, but it’s a good idea to do a little testing to see if you have achieved what you set out to do.

Number 10:  inspiration.  Why is this last?  Because for most writers it comes first, and they ignore the previous 9.  Inspiration is necessary, but not always and not all the time.  If you are waiting for it before you start writing then you will never get round to it.  Apply rules 1-9 as if you had been inspired and you will find by the end that you probably have been."

Thursday 17 November 2011


9/9/’59 Another new school. The date on my virgin exercise books on that first day made a big impression. Maybe because my parents were now divorced. 

‘It might as well rain until September’ I cry listening to that song! First Love! Subsequently died in a motor-bike accident. Police at our door at midnight, thought that I was his dead passenger.

© Penny Smale 
All rights reserved

Mourning's pall

Death, attired as a Red Admiral 
leaning into the evening waits:
stubborn, resisting, temporary.

Ghosts, anticipating summer’s demise
- days decked with the magnificence of foliage -
return for the funeral procession, suited up
in silence and yellow autumn scars.

A trembling cloth of dry, neutral leaves
slow burning, falls, transforming earth’s colour. 

© Sophia Roberts
All rights reserved


You told me so
It was in September, when first my love did die

When your fruit was hardening with softness
Like the skin of pears waited their turn
To deliver the year’s promised labour

Before his winkly, crinkly, crystal-blue eyes
Danced with the Autumn night stars
That haloed his Celtic want

That was a full twelve months of waiting
And still he stays in the hills, dancing a swirl
To leave both dog and fire to father his brogue

You told me so
It was in September, when I and swallows left

© Harry Mills 22 October 2011: Philippines
All rights reserved

What Can You Tell Me about September?

‘You’ve reached Brett Wood’s phone.  Leave your name and number: I’ll get back to you.’

Hi, it’s Melissa. Back from playing ‘happy families’ in Tuscany. Hope you missed me? 

Martin’s in London now, thank god, earning lots of cash, and Will and Poppy are at school – so sweet in their uniforms.  Which means I’ve been abandoned - and want to be abandoned with you. 

Call me.

© Tim Scott
All rights reserved


Today we feel that we are leaving Cornwall far too soon
As we think of our first night amidst reflections of the moon

From our bedroom window we observe Cornwall’s unique light
And our minds will always dwell on such a special sight
When we describe the atmosphere, wonder and beauty of this scene
We wonder whether friends will believe where we have really been

Thank you!!

© Kenneth Campbell 2010
All rights reserved


September in England sees the countryside colours turn from summer greens to autumn yellows, reds and gold. Then there’s another September in the southern hemisphere. Here purple Jacaranda and crimson Flamboyant trees begin their tropical day-time bloom, before dusk heralds the sound of crickets accompanied by light from the Southern Cross.

© Kenneth Campbell 2010
All rights reserved


Call me by the name of Bangkal Tree
Rheumatoid knuckles, curled, outstretched
Branches for begging arms, swaying, nodding to passing birds
Telling ancient secrets in the night’s relentless rain
A wet silhouette, a gnarled face forgetful of it’s name
Leaves of artificial green, that sheen, reminiscent of kid’s plasticine

© Harry Mills Philippines 16th November 2011
All rights reserved


The wind changed direction today.
The light is raking across the hills.
The leaves on the trees are now old, dark green.
September is on the cusp of seasons,
Like an inflammation of the joints.
Like the zig-zagging of Romanesque archways.
A place of transition,
A time of rubbing, tension, and friction.
Where life meets death,
Unreconciled, incomplete.

© Caroline Nicholson
All rights reserved

What can you tell me about September?

I held his gaze while he told his story. Disabled with memories. Anger viscerally connecting him back. Others too. Warmth and understanding palpable through common threads of hurt. Shared experience haunting them all and keeping them stuck.

The boarding school survivors group hugged each other and left.

© Liz Redfern
All rights reserved

September 1958

‘September Song’ played on the radio,
The fragrance of Mum’s plum-cake filled the house,
Pencils lay, sharpened, in their wooden box,
(The ever-errant compass yet to find.)

As we made camp under the Harvest Moon,
While vast Orion stood our glittering guard,
We never gave thought to our September years.

© Gill Dunstan
All rights reserved


September is the cold air on the
Skin, breathing on bare legs,
Breaking the stillness and irresponsibility,
the luminosity and light of summer;
the lazy heat; endless, gentle nights.
This is the transitional month of sad beauty,
leaning towards the shrivelling leaves,
the contraction and meanness of winter.

© Valerie Taylor 11.11.11
All rights reserved

Tuesday 1 November 2011


Remember, you aren’t dealing with a novel;
a poem is not a fine carpet of words.

Rather it is a path across a field
to what might turn out to be a wood

or a line of cottages. It wasn’t written
for you, like a note on the kitchen table, explaining

Back later – Adrian phoned – Buy milk. It says
something that you can’t quite understand

about the colour of the sky. Some poets
will casually deploy words like eldritch, ontic,

topos and chthonic that may cause
the reader to turn away or turn to other books.

It is not absolutely certain why, or if
this is deliberate. A poem is

a doomed struggle against the world, a series
of failures that add up to something more important

than its success. If you choose to walk through a poem
as you would an unfamiliar neighbourhood,

noticing perhaps two lovers at an uncurtained window,
then you will be more likely to return

to it, aware this time of other things,
the names of streets, the habits of local dogs.

C. J. Allen 2011

Poem is probably accounted for by my spending more time reading and writing and thinking about poems than is actually healthy for a grown man. If it’s trying to do anything, then I hope Poem encourages people to feel more comfortable with those aspects of poems which aren’t immediately or easily understood. I think about it as a kind of postcard to the reader.  C. J. Allen

Friday 21 October 2011

Run of the Mill

A mill race is an awful thing
especially for a leaf
spun around from stem to tip
scarcely knowing what is which
apart from that it’s a lovely day
the water’s clear as gin
But there’s something happening
to my branch
Oh bugger I’ve fallen in!

© William Botley                  
All rights reserved

Thursday 20 October 2011

Run of the Mill


The EMPIRE Challenge Cup & THREE Guineas

Registration and Entrance Payment of Half Crown
To Mr G F Rowbottom Social Club Secretary

Werneth Park : Saturday 10 May : 9am Sharp
Presentations : Works Canteen

Mr Arkwright
Personnel Department 

© Harry Mills
All rights reserved

What you see is what you get


Un-graded, un-rated

All kinds, all qualities
Large sizes, small sizes

No imperfections
Suitable for all wearing purposes

The same as firsts (at twice the price)
Two for half a crown in white and ecru

Your average, commonplace, mediocre,
run of the mill everyday Vyella Vests


© Sophia Roberts
All rights reserved


Paralimni village is located on the road running south east from Famagusta en route to the Ayia Napa resort, which was only a small fishing village at the time.

As our taxi drew up I noticed three elderly Greek men, dressed in their traditional peasant attire of baggy pantaloons, were sitting outside the Taverna below a grape vine. They were playing dominoes.

It was one of those beautiful Cyprus evenings in early May and the fragrance of spring flowers was still in the air. I knew it wouldn’t be long before their spring scent would be replaced by a stronger fragrance from the hot summer days in which the scorching Levant sun left the island in an arid state, not dissimilar to the Africa that lay to our south. The countryside was still interspersed with green foliage and the reds and yellows of spring flowers: these flowers and the ubiquitous roadside coriander would soon turn brown, whilst the moist evening air would become dry and only the heavily scented jasmine climbing the parapet at the entrance to the Taverna would endure. All these thoughts ran through my mind as we made our way to an open courtyard below a galaxy of stars.

© Kenneth Campbell 2006
All rights reserved


When, in 1992, I enquired ... who was running the Uffculme Mill

I soon discovered ... that the Lady’s name was Jill
I also learned that the Mill’s Chairman was making a fire-work rocket
Whilst Jill was raising money ... from the public pocket
Years later Kent Farm* Residents ... were seen running to their commode
When they heard the Chairman’s rocket ... starting to explode

© Kenneth Campbell 2011
All rights reserved

*Kent Farm – Uffculme Care Home

Longings and Chips

I remember
Those heady Friday nights.  After Girl Guides,
When my friend, Shell, who led the Oak Patrol,
And I, her seconder,
Had helped The Little Ones
Work on their badges,
We had one joyful hour, all to ourselves,
Before our strict curfew.

I recall the chill, salt spume upon our cheeks,
While wind-whipped, white-crested breakers
Rolled heavily ashore, and angrily
Out-roared the winter gales.

Six penn’orth each of chips,
Wrapped in a greaseproof screw,
Were heaven in a bite:
The brief resistance of the deep-fried coat,
Then soft and hot potato,
Salt-sharp and tart with vinegar,
Melting along the tongue,
Repelled the raw and penetrating damp.

Laughing, we’d dash between the waves
Which burst across the prom
Lashing our feet,
Though sea stains on our navy gabardines
Would mean all hell to pay
When we got home.

To fan this risk,
The stars which lit our path,
Would cock a snook and disappear
Behind swift-racing clouds,
Leaving us darkly guessing at the tide.

On those rough nights,
We longed to see
Our second favourite heart throb.
(Elvis was first but sadly, he
Was local only in our secret dreams.)
We yearned for Fred – or sometimes Rich – imagined
How we’d meet and talk, hold hands perhaps,
Or even, kiss.

They never came.
What self-respecting boy
Would venture out in bitter wind and storm
To date two giggly school-girls,
Clad in wet macs, knee-socks and laced up brogues?

No matter.  The next day
We’d struggle with the household chores
And errands, Virgil, quadratics,
The mysterious working of a dynamo
And other impositions, deemed to be
Good for our young souls.

But for that single hour, on Friday nights,
We were as free and wild and loud
As the sea that raged around us.
© Gill Dunstan
All rights reserved

Run of the Mill

As on a bitter night,
The mill-race, swollen by wild wind and rain,
Drives on the huge and ancient oaken wheel
To spin too fast,
Until, shuddering on its axle,
It tears free, shaking the whole edifice apart,

So, dear my father,
On that frost-fingered dawn
When *wisht hounds’ melancholy cries
Spoke to your trembling soul,
Your old heart cracked and broke.
© Gill Dunstan
All rights reserved

*Wisht hounds, a Devon name for curlews.  In some parts, a flock of curlews were considered to be a presage of death.

Run of the Mill

Geraniums are planted in the roundabout outside Morrisons; charity shops line the Fore Street. local people mooch the market for bargains; they start shopping for Christmas early at Argos. A farmer wearing blue jeans and wellies queues at the cash machine; he struggles to scratch a living farming sheep. St Peter's church bells ring in another goddamn hour of another goddamn day.

© Caroline Nicholson
All rights reserved

Run of the Mill

And did those feet?
Scuttling up and down the looms, tieing threads, missing shuttles and the foreman’s hand.
Long, cruel, deafening days - committed to darkness amid the odd shaft of sunlight revealing fine cotton particles that would clog my lungs and be my death.
All in a days work.

© Liz Redfern
All rights reserved

Run of the Mill

Words fall into my face,
none sparks my interest –
no recognition in the eyes.
death of vigour and fascination. 

The vicar intoning, unaware of his needy
congregation. Gazing at the light
through stained glass,
I see my own imagination.

Words running ceaselessly round the wheel.
Run of the mill, without meaning or energy.

© Valerie Taylor
All rights reserved

Run of the mill

An angle of the kitchen marked off by a brown-grey blur.
A streak ends under the cooker.
An omen of broken-backed death in mouse-traps.

© R. Rushworth
All rights reserved

Run of the Mill

I’ve lived a run of the mill life
Married a run of the mill wife
We have 2.2 children who
Were run of the mill at secondary school

Live in Middle England, modest and blamessly
Quiet nights spent at home, X Factor on TV.
Saving for the summer when we holiday in Spain
Two weeks in Marbella via SqeezyJet plane

Nothing to write home about, unexceptional, polite
Rarely moved to anger: the worst we say is sh___
Haven’t over-eaten – nothing in excess
Only an average burden on the NHS

Nose to the grindstone, I worked hard all my life
Pleased to keep my job during economic strife
Paid into a pension plan almost religiously
Coming to retirement now, find its worth just 50p

Still, no use complaining, that’s the way it’s got to be
Yet sometimes I sit and wonder what on earth became of me.

© Tim Scott
All rights reserved

Monday 17 October 2011

Writing Fitness - for combating Writer's Block

Hints and tips from JSASCRIBES

1. Read something. One of the most effective things I’ve done when I am faced with the perpetual blank page is read. It doesn’t seem to matter what I read, but a good thirty to ninety minutes of reading something usually gets my mind working in a more creative way.

2. Get some exercise. I don’t know how or why this helps writing, or if it applies to other people at all, but for me, getting some good, strenuous exercise seems to release those mysterious “endorphins” everyone’s always talking about, and gives me the extra push I need.

3. Write something else. Sometimes, I just need to write something totally unrelated to the story I am working on. This is where having a blog comes in handy. I might also write someone a letter, or a long e-mail, or write some new poetry.

4. Reread the story. This one is a tricky one and it wouldn’t be at the top of my list of things to do, but a lot of times, rereading the story I  am working on inspires me to go on with it. There have been times though, that the effect has given the opposite effect.

5. Pry, spy, and lie. As a natural-born busybody, this one is probably my favorite. I take a pen and paper and go somewhere and find someone (or several people) who strike my interest for some reason or another. I give them new names, new jobs, a brand new past, and if I am cranky, a life-threatening illness. I cast them into a make-believe present situation, usually something very critical and/or scandalous, and ponder the different ways they might handle it.

6. Try something new. As simple as it sounds, there’s something to be said for doing something you’ve never done before, tasting something you’ve never tasted, going somewhere you’ve never been, or talking to someone you’ve never met.

7. Get involved in your local writing community. Wherever you might live, chances are good that you share your space with a few or a few hundred like-minded folks who are part of a local writing community. Getting involved means meeting other people who have fresh ideas. It means submerging yourself in the world of writing and bringing it to the forefront of your mind. It means learning new skills, meeting with new opportunities, and finding new inspiration.

8. Join, or start, a critique group. When you’re part of a critique group, it’s hard to not write. You have a sense of expectation from yourself, and the other members are depending on you to keep the group going.

9. Assign the time. By assigning yourself a certain time of day to write for a specific duration, you are training yourself to respond accordingly. If you know you have to sit down and write Monday though Friday from 6:30 pm to 7:00 pm, it’s just a matter of time before your mind starts to accept its duties. If you don’t know what to write for that half hour, start out by writing about not knowing what to write.

10. Interview the characters. Another one of my favorites, interviewing my characters almost always leads to some kind of revelation about the character or the story he or she is in, and makes me eager to write it all out. To interview the characters, I sit down at the computer and write out a kind of questions and answers game. This exercise is both fun and effective.

Sunday 2 October 2011

To Prologue or Not To Prologue?

To Prologue or Not To Prologue? « jsascribes: "The prologue is that first page (or few pages) at the opening of a story which gives readers background information, establishes character and setting, and/or gives readers a quick glimpse into the central conflict of the story, sometimes in an attempt to grasp the reader’s attention enough to motivate further reading. There does not seem to be any real rules about what a prologue may or may not contain, or whether or not a prologue should be used at all, therefore, whether or not a book should or should not open with a prologue is a subjective topic. While I’ve known people who feel that prologues are no more than a lazy way to introduce information, I’ve also known people who will only read a book if it has a good prologue; so there really is no right or wrong answer."

Friday 30 September 2011

Circular thing. Wotsit.

Circular thing. Wotsit. « A Dark Feathered Art: "The item to which I am referring is that best-of-all-possible gifts, especially for a struggling writer (is there any other kind?) – the Round Tewit. (Repeat it slowly, syllable by syllable, until you get it. Return when you’ve finished groaning.)"

Monday 26 September 2011

In The Beginning…

n The Beginning… « jsascribes: "Regardless of how I choose to begin each story, I have to keep in mind that the first sentence needs to pack a little punch, and that it doesn’t get any easier from there. In my experience, an interested agent will ask to see five to thirty pages of a person’s work in order to determine whether or not a submission is a worthy investment of their time."

Monday 12 September 2011

106 words on people dying, was it ?

In 1997 a Greek Jewish boxer named Ishmael died. A film about his life was made by Robert Young. I knew him as Bob’ when we shared a flat in South Kensington He went on to make films about the rainforest, and I went on to engineering jobs of staggering mediocrity. Incidentally if anyone meets Bob, you might tell him that Joe Strick died in Paris recently I don’t know if they took him back to New York or even Tel Aviv. but I heard from Sheilagh that they mentioned Betty’s script work in his obituary in the New York Times. Decent that.

© William Botley September 2011
All rights reserved

Price of Survival

He lived in death’s waiting room,
dancing on his family’s skulls,
entertaining the crowd to survive.

Cooking his murderous rage,
he found heaven,
through rank anger
killing any who stood in his path,
refusing to look in the
Holocaust mirror,
as he guided the film-makers
around his old home.
© Valerie Taylor September 2011
All rights reserved

Sunday 11 September 2011

Introducing the new range of Hindsight seating solutions ...

“Try it,” said the salesman. 

And the old man did.

Comfortable it certainly was, with support in all the right places.  Images of wealth, conquest and justification tingled in his mind.  The salesman flashed his told-you-so grin. 

“I’ll leave it,” the old man said, “but you knew that all along.”

© Tim Scott
All rights reserved

I too have declared war

(in memory of Salamo Arouch)

I will live and survive and answer
why I took up the fight.

Why, delegated, I fight to the death.

(Dancing away from darkness,
wrapped up tight into fists

Dancing with the flames,
boxing clever)

I will tell all the people on earth
how ghosts say farewell,

going without saying.

© Sophia Roberts
All rights reserved

Without Compassion

136954 Auschwitz-Birkenau
A numbered arm that pays the price
Of men’s frenzied greed of gluttony
A fighter denied by evil desire
To murder self-preservation in a death ring

‘Without compassion.
If I didn’t win, I didn’t survive’
(Salamo Arouch)

© Harry Mills
All rights reserved

The Compound

It’s a strange self indulgent feeling.  A cross between a prayer-less Sunday morning - waiting for the newspaper boy to creak the cottage gate before raising the old brass letterbox that gives birth to the elastic banded roll of doom and disaster - and the other guilt feeling: the stillness of a grave-side where the names of relatives’ children evaporate from the grey matter.

The relentless typhoon that had squalled it’s vengeance throughout the Philippine night had, at last, ceased. The mundane activities of another day stirred life into the Island, bringing to the rain-pool surfaces a trillion more mosquitoes: crackling in the stagnation of liquid typhoid, popping in the morning heat like Sugar Puffs in a swirling dirty brown bowl.  Each one an airborne miniature vampire waiting for dusk - and the unprotected - to fill their empty blood sacs with crimson O, B or rhesus-negative; they’re not fussy, skipping over the anti-mosquito creams with the ease of the Dam Busters’ bouncing bombs.

 I sit quietly watching her.

The Sunday morning toast is buttered and drips tantalisingly. She sits cross-legged on her wicker chair, looking like a long black-haired sultry Buddha, occasionally leaning across the small breakfast table to squirt more camouflage HP Sauce into her bacon butties.

Finished, her red nail-polished arched index finger squeakily slides through the sauce remnants on the plate that gets deposited on her outstretched pink tongue.

Then, knowingly, she smiles   
She wipes clean her finger on a tissue that defies gravity, wedged between the discarded mango skins of vibrant orangey-yellow - the remembered colour of the toucan’s bill on the early Guinness railway posters.

She had long left the poverty of her mother’s Negros Island and the daily diet of dried fish, fried ‘til the disgusting odour permeated the small shack that had been home to her seven siblings.  Her table manners had not improved from those Negros years of scooped grey rice and fish heads, but now she had acquired a new culinary habit that both fascinated and disgusted me.

Looking firmly into my eyes to gauge reaction, she tears open the corner of her bag of Maltesers with her white Filipino teeth, then smiling, she lets half a dozen chocolate covered malt balls float on the surface of her morning coffee.

She does this without taking her eyes off mine looking for my approval.

Her spoon swirls between her long fingers, prodding the brown balls bobbing on the coffee’s surface, looking like spiked, wartime floating marine bombs lapping outside a harbour wall awaiting enemy vessels.

After a few tantalising minutes, the chocolate starts to melt, the malt sends bubbles to the surface, she scoops up the reward into her open mouth; the descending escapees gather into a chocolate goo waiting for a deft swirl of her wrist holding the coffee cup to conclude her performance.

She bores of trying to disgust me and leaves me at the breakfast table on the balcony that overlooks a sparse but strangely interesting compound owned by one of the wealthy resort hotel groups.

Here, in this compound, is home to a variety of yard animals and paraphernalia that comes and goes on a three wheeled bogey pushed by two hotel porters.

This is now my time.

My morning of new sounds; new smells - like the acrid accent of smouldering vegetation waste - brings a sharp pungency to the nostrils.

The balcony is now quiet.  I watch, below, the new banana tree leaves unfold.     Their pea-green conical ribbed beauty graces space on a heavenly journey, only to be mercilessly scythed by the looping overhead black electric cable.

These young intrusive banana plants are overshadowed by the hundred year old Bangkal trees which dwarf all other barked pretenders in the compound.

I watch the tree lizards, with their tiny suckered toes, jerk in bewildered movements, changing colour from leaf green to dark bark- brown, as their tongues stab the resting damsel flies whose gossamer wings protrude the lizards’ slitted mouth.

These trees have a presence of purpose.  Their lower branches that encroach over the makeshift basketball pitch are lopped off with machetes for firewood.

Branches culled over many years leave gnarled knuckles on the trunk, reminding me of a poem I read somewhere - may have been from the pen of Ted Hughes - about a lone weathered blackthorn tree on a Devon moor, hunchbacked against a hundred relentless winter storms, it’s one leafless branch held out like a drawn wooden sword, in ferocious defiance against the elements

The compound’s entrance is graced, by a fairly new wrought-iron gate, maybe twelve feet wide. Above its central opening is a curved double arched section that - if it carried wordage - would not look dissimilar to the nightmare of Belson. The rest of the compound’s exterior fencing is comprised of stained, dilapidated corrugated iron, held vertically by stakes of bamboo twined together.

On hearing the whistle of the approaching porters with the loaded bogey, the young guard swings open the entrance gates that answer the incoming whistle with a returning oil-less squeak, one octave above the porters.

They enter the compound, go pass the grey geese - pleasuring themselves in the overnight puddles before the intensity of the morning sun shortens shadows and evaporates the water, leaving cracks, once more, in the iron-hard ground.

The geese toss their majestic wet necks, almost like dipping a hand into Holy Water. 

I often observe men entering the breaking sea waves, dipping their hands before making the Sign of the Cross.  Footballers, too, touch the turf as they run onto the pitch.  I wonder if these mystical actions actually stop drowning or broken legs.

As a kid, I remember seeing my father bless himself with the river’s water before fishing, and how, in his aluminium box of salmon flies, there would always be a small crucifix and - how strange I used to think it - that a tin box of lethal feathered barbs could sit comfortably with another medieval form of death.

As the geese waddle down in their disappearing pool the compound’s hens strut under the trees fallen foliage.  Their trident spurs turn the vegetation - head to one side - looking for lunch.  Above the hen’s activities, nailed to the tree, is an empty roosting pole (for the guard’s prized fighting cock) which has been left empty since the demise of the rooster at last Sunday’s pit fight. 

Other domestic - and some feral animals - prowl around the corrugated jungle.  From my high vantage point, I observe a scrawny, long-backed black cat, snaking between the bamboo poles, prowling for recently hatched chicks and rodents.

Mid-morning sees the arrival of two men.  One younger than the obvious boss man (both carpenters), who have come to inspect and select cut lengths of bamboo, which will be fashioned into outriggers for a catamaran they are building.  The younger lifts a length, maybe twenty-five feet long, one end resting on his shoulder, whilst the older carpenter squints his knowledgeable eye along the length, gliding his machete over the growth rings every few feet, chipping away any imperfections.

The maid arrives.  A Filipino with a mouthful of white teeth that appear as she says ‘Good morning’ in stuttered broken English; her native indigenous name is unpronounceable. 

We call her Mary.  I watch her as she collects the washing, assembles it on plastic coat hangers and leaves it to dry in the sun, which is now creeping steadily onto the balcony.  She knows I watch her.

Mary stoops down to retrieve more garments from the plastic bowl allowing me a tantalising glimpse of her braless boobs; she knows exactly what she is doing, but never smiles at me, once - we have exchanged the pleasantries of the day.  I read her latest tee shirt, proclaiming ‘1+1=3...Jesus is with us’ and my rising sap is slapped in the face.

Down in the compound pups play silently, cuffing each other, baring immature milk teeth. Their heavily laden bitch-mother distracts the pups from her teats as they follow her in the direction of their owner, banging their tin feed bowls with what sounds like a big spoon.

Their owner will fatten-up the pups over the next twelve weeks, this being the optimum period for producing tender dog meat. After this time they are taken north - muzzled with cut-down plastic bottles or tin cans held firmly over their snouts with lengths of wire that dampen down the whelps on their long overnight journey to Bagiao.

Everywhere there are stark posters reminding Filipinas of the likely diseases of consuming dog meat that is not only illegal, but in some cases fatal.

Mary sweeps the tiled balcony, bending to retrieve an escaped Malteser that had abseiled down the breakfast table, giving me a bonus glimpse beneath the holy tee shirt.

I watch as the compound’s guard removes his Rod Steiger sun glasses, and starts to dig a hole below a Bangkal tree, close to the perimeter.  He labours with a spade and an iron bar prising the stones from the baked earth. Now shirtless, he scoops out the rubble from the hole with a discarded paint tin, before returning from behind his tin-topped guard hut - holding by the rear legs a two-tone dead pup that he holds up for me to see, reminding me of my father holding aloft a salmon to be photographed.

The pup is, without ceremony, dropped into its stony grave, where the iron rod curls the dead fur into a crescent, foetal shape.

I watch her, now - her tall, lean, almost boyish, figure leaning on the balcony safety bars overlooking the freshly dug grave.  The guard shouts out something in Tagalog.  She loosely translates, without any emotion: that the pup had been run-over by one of the hotel’s courtesy vehicles entering the compound.

Her long brown fingers mould themselves around the last remaining Malteser that protrudes from the inside of her cheek before joining the other brown delights that have already travelled down her long neck.  Her manicured fingers fold the now empty Maltesers bag into a childlike aeroplane that she launches towards the compound.  The plasticized paper bag disobeys its folded instructions, returning, in flight, to its original shape, before fluttering down to the pup’s grave like a bright red butterfly.

She turns, licks the chocolate off her fingers, retreats to the bedroom, giving me a bored smile; and asking Mary to find, and bring to her, her red nail polish and her Louis Vuitton manicure bag.

© Harry Mills 24th August 2011 
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