Submarine Dream

underwater

I wake not sure where or who I am then feel a sense of relief wash over me when I realise that the dream wasn’t real.

I dreamed that I had four limbs and moved around on two of them, feeling that I was going to topple over at any moment. My head consisted of two eyes, several holes and with peculiar flaps on either side. Strange gurgling sounds emanated from the largest hole which must be how I communicated. Most bizarrely, I was partially covered in some sort of fur whilst the rest of me was smooth and pink. Two of my limbs ended in long protuberances which I used to grasp, lift and carry. They waved around when I made noises which I assumed aided communication.

Most worryingly, there was a large expanse of blue above me which went on forever and was like nothing I’d ever seen before. In the dream I picked up a round object and threw it for a furry four limbed creature that made a very loud sound at sudden intervals but who ran after the sphere and brought it back to me. Only then did I realise that nothing floated, the round object hit the ground and bounced before it was caught by the fluffy thing.

I shake my head in wonder and promise myself I will never, ever eat sea urchin again before sleep as it always gives me weird dreams. Deciding that it’s time for breakfast, I unfurl my tentacles, all eight of them, and go off in search of a lobster pot to raid.

Time After Time

wristwatchThe young man fidgets nervously as he waits in the cavernous train station, checking his tie and fiddling with the carnation in his buttonhole. Red, of course. Beams of sunlight reach towards him across the marble floor as he checks his watch for the umpteenth time. It is a beautiful timepiece with an open face so the intricate cogs and gears are visible. An heirloom from a grandfather he never knew who died in an infamous battle before his father was even born. He checks his watch again. She’s late. Very late. The young man paces across the concourse, becoming increasingly agitated. He lights a cigarette and draws deeply from it which seems to calm him momentarily. He hears staccato heels on marble and whips his head round to greet her. The disappointment shows on his face as he doffs his hat at the girl who isn’t her and bows slightly. Too young, too fair, too tall.

As agreed, he waits until ten past the hour then strides towards the Rue de Dunkerque. He hurries to the drop point and leaves a message commending Madeleine as a strong, courageous woman who gave her life for the Resistance. Pulling his hat down and shrugging his collar up, he turns and flees the City of Light without a backward glance.

In Dreams

(c) Ellie Pinney PhotographyMy brother and sisters reacted as though I had brought home a sea lion. They had seen one recently at London Zoo and the box I held in my arms looked as alien and out of place in our sitting room as that sleek sea mammal would have.

I cleared a space on the sideboard and reverently placed the box down. Shirley, my youngest sister, clutched a paper bag in her hands and carefully lifted it up to sit alongside my new acquisition. The tension in the air was palpable and my siblings took a step forward in unison as I approached the machine. I lifted the lid, opened the bag, slid one of the glossy black discs from its sleeve and placed it on the turntable. Everyone held their breath as I switched one lever to the on position and another to 45rpm then carefully placed the stylus on the record.

There was no sound at first then a noise like a helicopter increased in volume until an unearthly tune played on a groundbreaking electronic instrument erupted from the machine. It was like nothing we had ever heard before and sounded so futuristic it could have been 1988! The song was Telstar by The Tornados and it was 1962.

I had bought the portable record player and a selection of 45s with the money from my first wage packet. I was fifteen and had landed a job as a messenger delivering telegrams all over Brighton. It would be a year until I could get a motorbike, a BSA Bantam like all the other blokes rode, so I went everywhere on my trusty bicycle, bearing messages of good news and bad in the days before most people had a telephone.

I was the eldest of five and cemented my role as the cool older brother by bringing the record player into our home. Dad worked a lot doing something boring that he never talked about and Mum spent most of her time in the kitchen so we were able to worship at the altar of pop music without interruption as long as we didn’t play it too loud. Those first 45s I bought are engraved on my memory – Twistin’ the Night Away by the late, great Sam Cooke as well as Ballad of Paladin by Duane Eddy, another instrumental, and Del Shannon’s So Long Baby.

I’d come home from work to find Billy and the girls lying on the floor in the sitting room having spent every minute since they got home from school listening to our growing record collection and squabbling over whose turn it was to get up and change the disc. They earned pocket money doing chores and would club together to buy a record every few weeks. One hot Saturday in July they brought back The

Loco-Motion by Little Eva which I swear wasn’t off the turntable for that whole summer. By September they had created and perfected dance moves of their own and Mum was humming the catchy tune whenever we ventured into the kitchen.

I enjoyed listening to rock ‘n’ roll when I was a kid but as I grew older, pop music became the soundtrack to my life. Inspired by singers like Billy Fury and Joe Brown, I bought myself a guitar and learned how to play, making so many mistakes at first but then growing in confidence. The following year Ready Steady Go!, a whole programme devoted to pop music, aired on ITV so we could watch our idols singing live rather than just listening to their records. The year after that Radio Caroline started broadcasting from the North Sea and BBC launched Top of the Pops. The age of the music-obsessed teenager had arrived.

That year was a decisive one for me. I was seventeen and, although I enjoyed racing around on my bright red motorbike, I had started to think about the future. I was a good looking lad, everyone told me, so I couldn’t see myself getting promoted into a management role like all the old guys at the post office but what did the future hold for me?

It all started with Roy Orbison. I’d been aware of In Dreams, his hit from the previous year, but it hadn’t made it into my collection. I heard It’s Over when I’d just split up with my first girlfriend, Sissy, and as my heart was bruised, if not broken, and the lyrics spoke to me as much as The Big O’s plaintive vocals. This time it was me listening again and again; the kids would roll their eyes and leave the room whenever they heard “the soppy song”.

I made my decision and in May I started my new job as a Redcoat at Butlins in Clacton, ready for that year’s summer season. It was the first time I’d ever been away from home and I relished it. There wasn’t much freedom for the holiday makers, let alone the staff, as the Butlins camps were run with military precision and every minute of your day was accounted for. According to Billy Butlin, if you weren’t doing something, you weren’t having fun.

I organised knobbly knees and glamorous granny competitions during the day and by July had made it on stage as part of the evening entertainment. I sang and danced my heart out and was eventually approached by the entertainments manager who asked me to perform solo singing the latest smash hit, Oh Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison.

It was late September, the end of summer was round the corner and I was wondering what to do next when I received a telegram from Harry Parnell. The Captain, as he was known, was a music impresario who managed a stable of young, photogenic male pop stars who had heard wonderful things from his scout and was keen to meet me. I travelled to London a couple of days later and found my way to the address in Mayfair I’d been given. I was shown into the Captain’s office by a stunningly gorgeous girl wearing the shortest skirt I’d ever seen.

The Captain looked me up and down as he walked across the plush carpet to greet me then shook me warmly by the hand and offered me a seat. He asked a few questions about my family and whether I enjoyed being a Redcoat then asked me to sing for him. I’d never sung unaccompanied before but hoped that The Big O would continue to be my good luck charm and sang It’s Over, trying to evoke as much emotion as I could in three minutes.

The Captain smiled and clapped his hands together once and invited me to take a seat again. He said he’d like to represent me and produced a contract for me to sign, which I did without really reading it as I was so excited. The conversation then turned to names as Ian Johnson was deemed too ordinary for a fledgling pop star. We were searching for something as catchy as Billy Fury or Georgie Fame and eventually settled on Charlie Starlight which I felt hit the right note of working class romantic.

The next few weeks went by in a blur as interviews with teen magazines were set up before I’d even played my first gig. My background had been livened up with tales of Nordic ancestors to play up my blond good looks and before long I was being touted as the Next Big Thing in the music press. My first single, Love Me for the Last Time, received a lot of airplay and went straight in at number 3. The Captain had organised some experienced session musicians to form my backing band and we became Charlie Starlight and the Moonbeams.

The opening night of my sell-out tour arrived on a frosty evening in December. I was nervous about playing my first gig at such a large venue and I was exhausted from working flat out on my album in the studio and rehearsing. Although I hadn’t written them, I was proud of the songs. The Captain had wanted my gig to contain only new material but I had put my foot down and insisted that I sing one cover version as a finale – It’s Over by Roy Orbison.

I stood in the wings wearing a shiny silver suit with my hair styled in a quiff and listened to the girls screaming. I tried to calm the butterflies in my stomach and when I heard the Moonbeams start playing the long intro into Love Me for the Last Time, I walked onto the stage. The bright lights almost blinded me and the screaming reached fever pitch.

As I stood waiting for my cue, I knew that whatever happened after this, whether my career lasted a long time or was a flash in the pan, I would always remember the moment my dream came true.

Dear Barbara

Attached is a draft of the first chapter of my autobiography. I am pretty happy with it but if you feel the need to employ a ghost writer to “tidy it up”, then please do so. I’ve really enjoyed taking a trip down memory lane and am looking forward to writing about my exploits in the Swinging 60s. I’ve got some stories to tell about the time that Mick Jagger … ah, but I’d better save it for the paying public.

Yours sincerely

Charlie Starlight

Hotel Escarbar

peeling_wallpaperLoulou reclined on the bed in her underwear and watched Brett as he performed press-ups on the bare floorboards in his boxer shorts. His arms and chest were slick with sweat and she noticed that his biceps bulged and deflated rhythmically with every repetition. He liked being watched although he pretended not to. Loulou took a long drag on her cigarette before forming an O with her red lips and expertly puffing out a series of smoke rings into the stifling room.

The hotel they were staying in was surprisingly cheap and unsurprisingly awful. The wallpaper was peeling and they shared the room with dozens of cockroaches who were so bold, they didn’t wait until the lights went off before they scuttled across the floor. Loulou had gone to run a bath and the taps had coughed and spluttered before giving up a trickle of rusty brown water. She had abandoned the idea of bathing and lain on the thin mattress with its pink satin coverlet and started smoking.

Brett had returned from the store with whisky, more cigarettes and ice, lots of ice. He unbuttoned his shirt and removed his chinos before dropping to the floor to start his exercise regime. He smirked as he sensed Loulou’s eyes flicking up and down his body but he took his time as he knew she would wait for him to finish, no matter how many cigarettes it took.

Brett finished his squat thrusts and started cooling his muscles by stretching first his arms then his long, toned legs. Realising the time was close, Loulou wriggled across the slippery fabric towards the nightstand but Brett, lithe and energetic, leapt across the room and reached it first. He grabbed the box and held it up out of Loulou’s reach, teasing her and taking pleasure in watching her frustration grow.

He held up a hand and Loulou shuffled back obediently watching, as he placed the box on the bed and opened it slowly. She fidgeted as he removed the contents, laying them out carefully before replacing the lid and discarding the box, his eyes fixed unwaveringly on hers. Loulou’s pupils dilated as he proffered a small, black velvet bag towards her which she grasped eagerly and dipped her scarlet-tipped hand into its dark recesses. Brett clapped his hands together briskly, “Right Louise, you know the rules. No names, abbreviations, prefixes or suffixes. Let’s play Scrabble!”

Stalemate

stalemateChris Newman held his position whilst the battle raged around him. He knew the enemy was within the building but, without backup, it would be suicide to go in. He stood with his back against the wall, holding his rifle in readiness.

“Hey you! I know you’re out there. Scared to come and get me?” a lone voice taunted from within the bunker.

“Don’t worry,” Chris yelled back. “They’ll be along shortly and then you’re finished. Anyway, I don’t hear many of your comrades in there with you.”

“Yeah, it’s just me in here on my lonesome as all my amigos upped and left me,” the voice replied.

“Just as well,” Chris retorts, wiping perspiration from his face with one of his sleeves. “No-one will hear you cry like a girl when we blow you to Kingdom Come.”

“Now then, that’s not very nice,” the voice replied in a mock hurt tone. “I thought we were getting along famously then you go and say something horrible like that.”

“Sorry to burst your bubble but we’re on opposing sides so this won’t end well for one of us… preferably you.” Chris heard shuffling sounds and wondered what was going on inside the bunker.

The sound of gunfire was getting closer and Chris sincerely hoped the screaming that followed wasn’t his backup being dispatched.

“It doesn’t sound like we’ve got long so let me tell you a little story,” the voice said.

“Once upon a time there was a little boy who only ever wanted to be an accountant. His father came from a military family and wanted the boy to become a brave soldier like him and his father before him. The boy didn’t like playing war games and just wanted to do sums and work with spreadsheets.

“The little boy grew older and was sent to military school, which he detested, so that he could learn how to be a man. He ran away on countless occasions but was always caught and disciplined, with the punishments getting increasingly more barbaric. Standing to attention in the rain for hours on end, running laps of the snowy sports pitch in his gym kit, holding weights with outstretched arms until his muscles screamed in agony.

“The school finally asked him to leave as his behaviour was affecting the morale of the other students. The words “expel” and “excluded” were never used, as that might have caused a scandal, but he was politely asked to go home and never come back.

“His father was furious and sent his son to the local comprehensive as a perceived punishment. However the boy loved it, made loads of friends and studied subjects such as computing rather than military strategy. The best thing was that he felt like he fitted in for the first time in his life and really liked it.

“The boy ignored his father’s wishes and enrolled in accountancy college, got a distinction in his final exams and secured a good job with a respectable firm of accountants. This allowed him to finally move out from under his father’s shadow, become the man he wanted to be and everyone lived happily ever after. The End.”

“That’s a very moving story, but what’s it got to do with me?” queried Chris.

A figure ran out of the bunker, screaming and firing his gun but Chris was too surprised to lift his rifle in time. Chris was shot and landed heavily on his back, the breath knocked out of him. He lay gasping as yellow paint dribbled down the sides of his camouflage jacket.

“I told you that story so you’d know how much I hate paintball,” the figure said. “Especially when it’s a pointless team building exercise devised by the accountancy firm I work for.” The lone figure shot Chris again for good measure and walked away from the sound of gunfire.

The Book Lovers

booklovers“Who was she?” That was the first thought that came into my mind when I saw her in the bookshop. Her long, silver plait snaked over one shoulder until she flicked it behind her where it came to a stop, bisecting her back perfectly. Her hair made it almost impossible to determine her age as her unlined face had a timeless quality to it; she could have been anywhere between forty and sixty. As she moved about the stacks, I noticed she had a dancer’s litheness of movement, bending gracefully to read the spines of books and placing her feet just so.

I watched her out of the corner of my eye as I unpacked a box of newly delivered books, enjoying the feel of leather and cloth against my fingertips and inhaling the spicy aroma of the tea-coloured pages. My attention was diverted when I noticed a pristine copy “The Great British Book of Birds” and I spent several minutes marvelling over the beautifully vibrant colour plates and skimming through the chapter describing how to preserve a gentleman’s carefully collected birds’ eggs. I stroked the book as I closed it then glanced up but the silver lady had gone. I was certain she hadn’t left, as she would have walked past me, so she must have made her way into the non-fiction section at the rear of the shop.

I priced a handful of the newly acquired books and went to find her. The shelves were all made of mahogany from a bygone era but when the sun shone through the high window, it transformed this back room into a softly glowing space where dust motes floated in the mellow sunlight. I had placed two comfortable armchairs in here to encourage browsers to sit and bide awhile and this was where she had settled with one leg tucked beneath her and her chin resting elegantly in the palm of her hand.

I moved quietly as I slotted the bird book amongst its kin in the ornithological section and found suitable homes for the others, all the while hoping to catch a glimpse of what the silver lady was reading. I was squinting and trying to discern the book’s title when I realised I was being calmly observed by a pair of inquisitive hazel eyes.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt,” I apologised in a rush. “I thought if I could see what you were reading I could offer suggestions for other books you might like.”

“That’s very kind of you. It’s Robert Hooke’s Micrographia. The text is a little hard going but the microscopic drawings are fascinating. Here, look at this flea,” she turned the book towards me so I could look at it. “The detail is amazing, you can even see the hairs on its legs.”

Her face lit up with a child-like wonder as she flicked through the pages then smiled up at me. Oh dear, I thought, as my stomach flipped and somersaulted like a panicked fish, this is what it’s like to fall in love.

Genius

red shoeI met a genius on the train today.

I got on at Bristol Temple Meads at dusk, feeling decidedly ropey and just wanted to fall asleep until a guard kicked me off at Southampton. I was clutching a carrier bag full of Lucozade and Haribo Fangtastics, my surefire hangover cure. I was hoping for a seat in the quiet carriage but as I looked around, a sea of heads stretched out before me, most with iPads or Kindles but some with actual paperbacks. I sighed and went through to the next compartment. Ditto, although it was a lot noisier with rugby fans celebrating a win at Cardiff Arms Park. I made my way through the train, wondering if I’d ever get a seat then groaning as I realised I might have to stand for the whole two and a half hour journey. Perhaps I’d be allowed to curl up in a corner of the guard’s carriage, amongst the bikes and surfboards? Or maybe an old lady would take pity on my fragile state and offer her seat to me?

The door to the last carriage hissed open and I shuffled dejectedly along, having already resigned myself to sitting on the floor when I spotted a seat. I picked up my pace worried it might be a hallucination brought on by alcohol poisoning but no, there were in fact three spare seats on a completely full train with standing room only. I didn’t care and slumped onto the velour fabric with a huge sense of relief.

I was woken by a sharp prod in my chest. I ignored it, shifted in my seat and tried to go back to sleep. Another prod, accompanied by, “Wake up, mate! You’re snoring.” I opened my eyes and was startled to find myself looking at the face of the hairiest man I’d ever seen, six inches from mine. He had long, dark, frizzy hair and beard and looked like the lead singer of a 70s rock band. I got a whiff of his pungent odour and switched to breathing through my mouth instead of my nose.

“I’m Tor, pleased to meet you. I was hoping someone would sit here soon as these journeys can be really boring unless you’ve got someone to chat to,” he fidgeted while he spoke then smiled at me displaying yellow teeth.

“I’m sorry but I’m really tired and just need some sleep,” closing my eyes.

Tor ignored this and said, “I’ve invented time travel.”

My eyes flicked open in horror as I realised why these seats had been empty. I’d made the worst possible mistake on public transport and had sat opposite The Loony.

“Yeah, all those scientists have been working on it for years and I invented a time machine in my mate’s shed.”

I tried not to look directly at him, as you would the sun during an eclipse, but I’d engaged with him and now I was trapped.

“It’s not like the Tardis or that fancy machine from the film. Have a guess what it is.”

I sighed and realised he wasn’t going to let me sleep so I might as well have some fun, “A wardrobe, like the one that takes you to Narnia?”

“Nah mate, that’s a portal to another world not a time machine.”

“A cardboard box?”

“Nah, you’re not even trying.”

“A hat? A nice trilby?”

“Close but no cigar, mate.”

“I give up. What is it?”

“Shoes,” he said theatrically as he made a “ta dah” movement with his hands.

“Shoes?”

He nodded and grinned, displaying his nicotine stained teeth again.

“You’ve invented time travelling shoes?” I asked in disbelief.

“Yeah. They’re a nice pair of trainers I got from a charity shop for two quid.”

“What did you do to them to make them travel in time?” I shouldn’t have carried on the conversation but he’d drawn me in and now I was intrigued. He was good, he was very good.

Tor looked around him to check no-one was listening then whispered louder than most people talk, “I painted them red.”

“What, like the ruby slippers?”

“Exactly, mate,” he cried clapping his hands together. “I knew you’d get it.”

“So, you click your heels together, say where and when you want to go and …”

“I’m whisked down a wormhole quicker than you can say Jack Sprat.”

“So where have you been? The Battle of Hastings or to witness the Big Bang?”

“Nah, somewhere much better.”

“Where?” I asked and actually leaned forward in my seat.

“The Tesco down the road from me last Wednesday.”

“What?” I exclaimed.

“Yeah, I’d missed the bus so didn’t get there in time to get the cheap meat and cakes. It would’ve been cold beans for a week if I hadn’t got down there.”

“Why don’t you use the shoes to better advantage? You know, put a bet on a surprise Grand National winner and make some money?”

“But that would be dishonest,” he said, with a shocked expression.

“Okay, okay, I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“Tickets please,” the inspector called out as he entered the carriage.

“Mate, I gotta scarper as I haven’t got a ticket.”

“Hang on, you just said…”

“No time mate, good talking to you,” Tor said as he clicked his heels and disappeared with a quiet pop.