Top Ten Dreamers by Fiona Gow

This is Radio Bedfordshire, and it’s nearly midnight. Time for the moment you’ve all been waiting for, when we announce our all-time Top Ten Dreamers, as chosen by you, the listeners.

And coming in at Number Ten is – Mary Shelley. Back in 1815 she was looking for inspiration for a ghost story, and she had a strange dream in which she saw a monstrous creature coming to life. From that dream came her famous story, Frankenstein, and all those scary films.

You may not have heard of dreamer Number Nine – Frederick Banting, but our diabetic listeners have. In the 1920s he was looking for a cure for diabetes, the disease which had killed his mother. He knew insulin was involved, but couldn’t see exactly how. He went
to bed thinking about the problem, and dreamt the solution. When he woke, he knew what experiment he had to do.

And who’s at Number Eight? I think our golfing listeners have been voting here, because it’s Jack Nicklaus. One of the world’s best golfers, but he had a bad patch in the 60s. Then one night he dreamt he was hitting the ball really well. When he remembered the dream , he realised he had been holding the club slightly differently. So he did that for real, and he was back on form!

Now at Number Seven we have some Christmassy dreamers – it’s Joseph and the Wise Men. An angel tells Joseph in a dream not to send Mary away when she’s pregnant, and the Wise Men dream that an angel tells them not to return to Herod. And I’m told there are 3 more dreams in that story!

And who is at Number Six? It’s Elias Howe, inventor of the sewing machine. He couldn’t work out where the hole in the needle should be. Then one night he had a nightmare when he was taken prisoner by a group of natives. They were dancing around him with spears,and he noticed that their spears all had holes near their tips. When he woke up he realized that his problem was solved!

Now we’re down to Number Five and it’s Paul McCartney. Did you know that he dreamt the tune for Yesterday? He woke up with the melody in his head, tried it out on the piano, and liked it. But he couldn’t believe he had composed it in his sleep- he thought he must have heard it somewhere, so he went around for weeks asking his friends if they knew the tune!

And at Number Four we have another famous name. It’s Albert Einstein, who had a dream where he was hurtling downhill at the speed of light, and this helped him fit in the final bits of his theory of relativity. Just don’t ask me for details!

Now we’re at Number Three and this is our youngest dreamer, Alice in Wonderland. She was a bit drowsy at the start of the book. So all those characters we know so well, the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts are part of her amazing dream.

And our last two dreamers both had a dream with a Christmas message. Number Two is Martin Luther King with his “I have a dream” speech, and his vision of racial harmony. He’d heard a lot about the American dream, but it didn’t seem to include black people, so he spoke of his dream that one day black and white Americans would all work together in peace and friendship.

And at Number One it’s Simon and Garfunkel, and we would all like to see their dream come true:

Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war.

So there we have them folks, your Top Ten Dreamers, and as you climb the stairs to Bedfordshire, may I wish you all Sweet Dreams.

Fiona Gow -Aynho Writers

Destiny’s Revenge, Chapter One

This is the first chapter of Aynho Writer and Published Author, Philip Davies’s second novel in his Destiny series. At the bottom of the extract is an open invitation to the launch of the book at Blackwell’s in Oxford.

“Destiny’s Revenge”, by Philip S Davies.


Ugh. Dancing.
Katelin could think of many preferable ways to spend an evening, but if dancing was the worst that fate could throw at her, then she’d endure the embarrassing ordeal. Tonight was Princess Rashelin’s Twenty-First Birthday Ball, and she’d promised her cousin that she would enjoy it. For Rashelin’s sake, she would make sure that nothing spoiled the celebration.
Before she left her rooms Katelin remembered to check that she looked sufficiently queenly. She felt too young to be Queen. Had her eighteenth birthday been only six months ago? She touched the sapphires in her necklace that matched the blue of her gown. Her fingers ran down the plaits in her dark brown hair, held in place by clips and a silver circlet. This would have to do, because she wouldn’t be allowed her favoured ponytail tonight.
Her gown brushed the stone steps as she descended the three flights of stairs. Music and conversation wafted up from below and her apprehension grew.
Guests in their finest attire were milling through the entrance to the Hall of the Court, while to one side, fiddling with his hands, stood Initiate Prento. He gave Katelin his customary bow as he kissed her hand, and his lanky legs meant it was a long way down. As he straightened, she smiled at his ginger curls and freckled face, and wondered whether, over time, all this bowing would strain his back.
“You nervous?” she asked.
Prento nodded. “Everyone’s here: the Royal Family, nobles, ministers, visiting dignitaries. And then there’s me. What am I doing here, Kat?”
“You’re with me. You’re a friend of the Queen.” She looked him up and down. “And besides, I see you’re wearing your best robes.”
Prento’s mouth quirked. “My robes are all the same, Kat. They’re long. They’re dark blue. I’m an Initiate. This is what I get to wear. There’s no ‘best’ about any of them.”
Katelin laughed and took his arm. “They’re your newest and cleanest robes, then. I find the plainness of your clothes refreshing beside the over-the-top finery of the rest of us.”
“And you remember our agreement,” Prento said. “We don’t have to dance with each other. No more dancing than we have to. Only with those who know what they’re doing and will make us both look good.”
“Agreed. We’re in this together: it’s you and me against the dancing. Come on. Let’s make our stunning entrance to the party.”
She pulled him towards the doors to the Hall, and the other guests made way for her. Yardles, the Royal Steward, inclined his head, his eyes twinkling at them under his combed-back silver hair. “You’re a breath-taking pair indeed,” he said.
Yardles knocked his staff twice on the threshold, and announced: “Her Majesty, Queen Katelin of the Old Kingdom of Anestra and the Western Coast; and Initiate Prento, cleric of the Divine.”
Prento cringed, but Katelin propelled him forwards into the Hall.
They both gasped.
This wasn’t Katelin’s favourite place in the Castle by a long way, but Rashelin had worked her magic on it.
The oil lamps had been replaced by chandeliers whose candles gave the Hall a soft, warm glow. Along the stone walls hung dark blue banners with the emblem of the Anestran flag: the radiant silver Crown. Tonight the banners were interspersed with hangings of magenta, each emblazoned with ‘21’ in gold. From the high roof beams hung silver streamers that made the Hall feel like a marquee. Katelin’s gaze rose to the roof itself where silver stars twinkled between the streamers. How had Rashelin done that? It was like being outside, candlelit at night, dancing beneath the stars.
Katelin tightened her grasp on Prento’s arm, dizzy from looking upwards. He’d been doing the same, and the two of them almost lurched backwards in the doorway. That was enough to set off their giggles and settle the nerves.
The Hall was half full of guests, and servants circulated with trays of savoury and sweet delicacies and glasses of wine. Katelin and Prento weaved their way towards the dais for the Royal Family at the far end, skirting around the more open space in the middle where braver souls danced to the music. Katelin did her best to smile, nod and greet people as she went. Most she knew, a few she didn’t; some she liked, and some she’d avoid all evening, but this was what the Queen had to do. Prento wore a fixed smile.
Beside the top table, arms folded, stood the young barbarian woman, Sigzay. The candlelight reflected off her spiky white hair and narrowed grey eyes, but it was her clothing that was causing the sensation. Sigzay had never been one to hide her long legs and full curved figure, but Katelin thought she’d surpassed herself tonight. She couldn’t decide whether the white … thing … was a very short dress or a slightly long tunic. Not that there was much to it, anyway, with strategically placed gaps revealing maximum skin, including a tattoo of a wolf on her shoulder. The white knee-high boots completed the effect, drawing every male eye towards her.
Good for her. Katelin could never do such a thing, but someone needed to shake up the stuffy Anestran Court. And each eye that followed Sigzay would be one less to scrutinise her all evening.
“Sigzay, hello,” Katelin called. “Hedger persuaded you to join us in the end?”
Sigzay’s words were always careful, and spoken with the accent of her tribe. “He say I can refuse dance, except I choose. Already four men I turn down.”
Katelin grinned. “I’m not surprised. And I love your … um … dress.” She elbowed Prento, noticing how the young man’s eyes were popping. Sigzay’s outfit revealed more skin than Initiates were accustomed to seeing.
“You remember Initiate Prento,” Katelin said, introducing him. “And Prento, Sigzay has returned to Anestra from her home in the north, to be with Hedger again.”
“I remember him,” Sigzay said, and held out a hand.
Katelin almost laughed at Prento’s nervousness in taking it. The poor thing appeared unable to believe his luck at being this close to so much visible female flesh.
“My Lady Sigzay,” Prento managed, and stooped to kiss her hand.


You are invited to the Launch of

by Philip S Davies

on Saturday 10th June
between 3.00 and 6.00 p.m.,
at Blackwell’s Bookshop,
48-51 Broad St., Oxford, OX1 3BQ.

R.S.V.P., if you can, to:

My Grandmother by Barbara Harris

My Grandmother was born in British Honduras in 1858. Her father was a young Scottish lawyer attached to the Supreme Court in Belize and her mother the daughter of an English couple who had arrived to take up a government appointment and then made the colony their home
Granny’s life was to be very unusual but also very sad. Both her parents died when she was very young. Granny and her two brothers were sent by their maternal aunt in a sailing ship to Scotland, Granny to her father’s sister, the boys to an uncle. Her aunt was married to a well-to-do businessman and had eleven children of her own, so Granny grew up with her eleven cousins. I loved her anecdotes about annoying the governess by sitting down suddenly and bouncing up her crinoline. Later she attended finishing school in Germany, which turned out to be very fortunate as her fluency in German was to come in very useful later on.
Being a very independent young woman when she grew up Granny decided to return to Belize, where she lodged with the Presbyterian Minister and his wife, playing the organ in the Kirk to earn her keep, and opened a Dame School.
Romance now entered Granny’s life. At a ball at Government House, she met a young German businessman who had recently arrived in the Colony. It was love at first sight and it must have seemed wonderful to my Grandfather that Granny was able to speak his language. They married and had seven children but sadly two little girls died in infancy. Granny also lost a bright little five-year-old son, who suffered from congenital rickets. My grandparents took him to specialists in Germany but there was no available treatment. Granny was devastated.
By this time her two eldest children were at boarding school in Minnesota while my Mother and her older brother Max were growing up in Belize. Max was a highly intelligent, mischievous little boy. My Mother was just as naughty. Granny was a great disciplinarian and I used to love hearing about all the scrapes those two got into, often in small boats, and how they managed to escape the consequences.
Time passed. My Mother’s older sister married a young Scot and produced four grandchildren but not long after that my Grandfather died suddenly from angina – another terrible blow for Granny.
In due course my Uncle Ernest married as did my Mother. Uncle Ernest carried on the family business in Belize but my father was in the Colonial Service and he and my Mother were posted to Trinidad. Max, after graduating from university as a Mining Engineer came home and married the younger sister of Aunt Gladys’s husband. After honeymooning at St. George’s Caye the couple left for Wyoming where Max had a job awaiting him. Six weeks later Max was killed in an explosion.. He had been greatly loved by everyone and what Granny must have suffered is unimaginable.
I remember her as bright, interested in everything and always supportive and affectionate to me. She revelled in my modest achievements and was convinced that I was “the best” in every possible way.
For all of us who grew up in Belize our happiest memories are always about the Caye and Granny loved it too. Every year we spent the month of May on the island. First thing in the morning the hired motorboat would arrive at our wharf. Men from my uncle’s lunmberyard would carry all our possessions up from the house to be loaded on board. These included everything from bedding and clothes to a month’s food supplies, not to mention crates of clucking chickens and quacking ducks and of course our parrot in his large cage.
Lastly and most memorably would come Granny, borne aloft by two lunmbermen in a small basketwork chair escorted by the maid and the cook. Finally, with everything and everyone safely aboard, I would row my skiff round and tie her to the stern, the engine would start and we would be off.
Granny lived to be 94, alert and interested to the very end. A true pioneer.

By Barbara Harris
694 words

The Water of Africa by John Hermon

There is a proverb which says,
“The one who drinks the water of Africa will one day return”.
So, did you drink the water of Africa?
The water of Africa will feed your memories and fuel your dreams.
Do you remember how you stood in the warm dusk and watched the clutching thorn trees stretch to pluck a full-orbed moon from the clear sky?
Do you remember how you silently scanned a heaven of myriad stars and heard the urgent drums resound in worship of the Creator?
Do you remember how you trembled while the thunder cracked and sudden lightning bolts hurled threats against the canopy of trees?
And did you drink the water of Africa?
Do you remember the dusty road trod in the heat of the sun or in brief twilight‘s sweet relief?
Do you remember the sweetness of mangoes cut fresh from the forest tree?
Do you remember those cratered unruly streets where men and bikes and buses vie for place – and danger lurks?
Do you remember the turmoil of the city market-place, driven by life clung to the edge of life itself?
And did you flee the snake and fear the mosquito’s bite and curse the flies which preyed upon your flesh?
And did you sense the pulse and thrust of youth, the vision of the possible yet unfulfilled?
Was it then that you drank the water of Africa?
The water of Africa will feed your memories and fuel your dreams.

By John Hermon

BOOKS IN LIBRARIES by Brian Reynolds

There is space on everyone’s bookshelves for books one has outgrown but can’t throw away. They hold your youth between their pages, like flowers pressed on a summer’s day.

Ultimately, the number of books always exceeds the space allocated so I’m in the process of thinning-out my library; not an easy task for a booklover. I have spent hours browsing these old friends; many will remain on the shelves and some will go to the charity shop; a few may be put on eBay.

Selecting A Discourse by John Norris, I know that this is the oldest book I have. The imprint states: Printed for James Norris at the Sign of the King’s Arms without Temple Bar, 1685. It’s more than three hundred and thirty years old and I wonder if today’s computer to press creations will survive as long. Printed books, old and new, are there for us in libraries and bookshops where they can be quietly browsed in a silence that can be felt.

I place a few books into a cardboard box. Who will be the next person to hold them, learn from them and enjeoy a 50p. bargain purchased in a charity shop? I look at more books, dusty friends, accessible and wise counsellors and open a volume of poems by W.B.Yeats; I read:

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.

Contemplating these words I continue to browse. I can remember where most of the books came from; they are a diary of my life but the cull must continue and the once orderly shelves begin to resemble the Manhattan skyline. Many of these books came from places I have visited. They are not lumps of lifeless paper but voices, distant in time and place. Here is The Philippines Rediscovered. Did I ever discover them in the first place, I wonder? More than two years in the country and I saw only Manila, its environs and Cebu. A note inside reads:

Dear Mr. Reynolds,
Thank you for making Richmonde your second home. Best regards, Your Richmonde Family.

The Richmonde Hotel and my client did make me feel at home, like part of their families, but that’s the Filipino way. I was complimented by a Filipino who told me that ‘I behaved in The Philippines like a Filipino. And why not? They were giving me my livelihood and good memories, the least I could do was to respect them. I also met villains there. I had a friend who had been an American actor and crooner in the 1960s; he had married the top Filipino actress who also became my friend. He had her killed for her life insurance! Another friend was a BBC Radio journalist who had visited The Philippines and decided to stay there. He said that he had found the city he was going to die in; I hoped he meant naturally. The Philippines Rediscovered is returned to the shelf alongside England Is A Garden, in which the first thing I read is a quotation from Kipling:

Our England is a garden that is full of stately views
Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues

How an English garden contrasts the glorious chaos that is The Philippines.

More memories are recalled as more books are returned to the shelves from where, in the winter of my life, they now spread the scents and sounds of summer.

I make a coffee and sit in quiet reflection.

The library walls are lined with shelves lined with books. Books on many subjects, books of many shapes and sizes; some tall, some short, some fat, some slim, side by side they are a United Nations of literature in a rainbow of colours.

But, what happens when the library lights are turned off and the doors are closed? Do they come down from the shelves, take off their jackets and do the characters have secret chats?

By Brian Reynolds

The Duel from The Bootlegger’s Widow

“Good morning, Master. I trust our punctuality has not unnerved you.”
Suddenly they were there: Rawdon’s voice, disingenuous as ever, and George, with his seafaring second. A young lad from the grounds at Nankilly accompanied Rawdon.
“Thank you for your concern, Rawdon. I assure you I am fully prepared to defend my honour.” Richard dismounted and approached the boy from Nankilly. “You are to be my second, I take it, young fellow. I am sure you are experienced in such matters.”
“Young Ned is a promising lad, Master Richard. He comes with Mr Galsworthy’s blessing, ain’t that right, lad?”
“He do, Mr Rawdon, Sir. He do so wish me well of it, Sir.” Ned looked down in confusion.
George Trewarren and his boy surveyed the clearing. George had recognised in the lad a sound character behind the fear and had given him care and protection in the early months of pressed service. Back in commission as the French posed a renewed threat, he had ensured the boy was in his crew. At barely twelve years the lad would have given his life for his master. Now George used the opportunity to instruct him in close inspection of the lie of the land as they strolled the length of the clearing, heads close together, boy nodding repeatedly, as young Ned stared, mouth open, and Richard thought again of the martyred king’s second shirt.
Rawdon had taken a small wooden table from his saddle bag and set it at the centre of the clearing. As he limped towards it with a wooden case, he called the seconds to him. He released the ornamental catch and opened the polished walnut lid. Ned’s mouth opened wider. Two identical pistols, each curved into its own compartment, lay neatly in the velvet-lined box. Two stubby cow horns filled with powder and two black lead balls lay in boxes between the pistols.
“Wogdons,” said Rawdon, “five years old, unused, kept dry. They are single-shot flintlocks. Choose your weapon; they are the exact same, one to the other.”
George’s boy leaned forward and reached for the furthest one against the hinge. He turned and felt it in his hand, balancing its weight. Ned continued gawping until further prompted when he reached awkwardly into the box, lifted the remaining pistol by the barrel, narrowly managing to avoid dropping it. Richard and George stood a little aloof, not catching each other’s eye.
“Now lad, tell me, what do you notice about the barrel?”
“Smooth barrelled, Sir. Will take a good shot to hit with this, Sir.” The boy held the barrel toward him and looked down it, one eye closed.
“Your’n’ be the same, lad?” Rawdon watched Ned follow the boy’s example.
“I do think so, Sir, I do.”
“Now each take the powder horn in turn, ram the powder down even and hard. That’s it; load the balls.” Rawdon watched them carefully. “Now lay them down one each side and withdraw.”
“Gentlemen, approach the table if ye please.” Both men approached with slow strides, heads high, avoiding each other’s gaze. “I not be knowing if ye gentles be familiarised with these here Wogdons?” Neither gave any indication. “Then I do mind ye there be but one lead ball in each, but it be a mighty big’un and could take a man’s arm off, if aimed aright, or should I say awrong, gentles?” His sickly smile pleased neither cousin. “I shall ask ye both to stand back to back right level with this table. I s’ll count ye through ten paces. When I have spoke the tenth, ye shall turn and fire in yer own time, remembering yer weapons will add a jot of time the selves afore they discharge. Is all clear, gentles?” Both nodded.
“Very well, gentles, take your places, hold your pistols facing up and plain to see. Seconds! Stand ye clear ‘til both shots be discharged. After, attend any wound in your master.” The seconds retreated to the edge of the trees.
“May he whose honour be sullied be avenged. Gentles, are you set? Then let us count down the paces.”
As the count reached ten both men turned. A quiver ran down Richard’s arm as he saw George had already turned and aimed. He raised his pistol, the quiver setting the trigger finger in motion, so that his belated pose pretended to aim at George’s heart. A small puff of smoke from George’s pistol caused Richard to fall to his knees, the crack that followed sent the half inch of lead through his riding boot, gouging through the flesh and muscle of his calf and on into the scrub beyond. He screamed in pain, as his own bullet lodged in a tree away to the left of his prey at thrice the height of a man.
“Ensure his wound is cared for Rawdon. It is nought but a scratch, I fancy. Twas not my intention to harm him more. Inform Miss Sophia, if you will, Rawdon, and good day to you. Come, lad.” George placed the weapon on the table, mounted his horse with the boy in front and rode off towards the port. Rawdon turned towards Richard. Ned was bent over him, struggling to remove the blood-filled boot. Richard lay on his back moaning softly. He screamed again as a sudden shaft of pain shot through his leg. Ned fell back, clutching the boot in triumph.
“I am not one of your cows, you clod!”
“Begging yer pardon, Sir, I has to get the boot off, Sir.”
Rawdon turned away to conceal a smile.
“Can you use the leg at all, Sir? ’Tes likely it will stiffen, Sir, if it stop bleeding. Here boy, staunch the wound with this old saddle cloth. I thought one or other might have such need.”

The Girl On the Train by John Hermon

(Photograph by Jim Muller)

For me, you were never just the African girl on the train. From the moment I first saw you I sensed that you would become significant in my life. But I never dreamed of the consequences which would follow that chance encounter.

I shall always remember that moment when I first saw you – although I’m sure that for you it was just another train journey.

It was a warm summer evening and I was tired after a long day of tedious meetings in London – but even through the fog of my fatigue I quickly became aware of your presence. Perhaps it was just the bright colours of your African dress which attracted my attention but, as I reflect now, I remember above all your laugh as you chatted with your friends, and that gleeful chuckle which was so infectious. Even in my sleepiness I could feel the corners of my mouth creasing into a smile, a welcome tonic to make my homeward journey pass more swiftly. I almost regretted the moment when the train drew into the station where I was to leave. You also left the train there; as I watched you disappear into the crowds of travellers I found myself wondering – and hoping – that perhaps one day our paths might cross again.

I took a holiday in Scotland, sailing around the islands of the west coast, then returned home to resume the familiar rhythms of work and domestic life. Yet even though my life was busy and fulfilling, I could not forget that abiding image of the lovely African girl and her laughter.

Come mid-September, and once again time for my children to resume their studies at the local campus of our University. I knew that my daughter had decided to take a module on African Studies as part of her Geography degree course. One evening she enthusiastically described her new African lecturer whose speciality was Water Resources. I realised she was talking about you, the girl I had seen on the train.
I said nothing to my daughter but I was delighted to know that you were still in town. The dream rekindled and I kept hoping that one day soon I might see you again.
Sometimes, just sometimes, what appear to be random events conspire in our favour. The company I work for manufactures geological drilling equipment. One day my manager told me that as a philanthropic gesture they were considering sponsoring a project to drill wells in an arid area of east Africa; would I be interested in managing the project?

For me, this was an ‘Is the Pope Catholic?’ type question. I hope that I did not appear too over-eager as I accepted the job!

I asked my daughter to invite you to our home – strictly a business meeting, of course!

Well, yes, we did begin by discussing our mutual interest in water supplies; your passion for your vision to see desert areas bloom into fruitfulness was evident and infectious and I was delighted to realise that I might be able to help; your knowledge of the language and customs of the peoples amongst whom I was to work would be invaluable. But I also quickly confirmed that my first impressions when I saw you on the train had not been mistaken. That enthusiasm for life, that laugh and irresistible chuckle kept breaking through into our conversation – and time had wings!
Since that day we have had many conversations together – and they have not all been about wells and boreholes!

So tomorrow I am going take the plane to Nairobi.

Who can tell what the future might bring?

By John Hermon


(A ‘Close Encounter’ of the Phantom Kind…)
Her Majesty’s Official Birthday – 12th June

I have visited and been in awe at the wonders of Egypt and the River Nile; watched from the tip of the Empire State Building in New York as ‘Dinky-toy’ yellow-cabs crawled ant-like along the streets far below; viewed the streets of Chicago from an even higher perspective – The Sears Building; perused the historical artefacts housed within the Blue Mosque in Istanbul; watched the sun set behind the Blue Mountains in Ocho Rios, Jamaica; been photographed in front of Sydney’s famous Harbour Bridge and Opera House; and been whisked up the tallest structure in the world (88-storeys) in Shanghai- but I have now experienced another travel wonder which, I think, tops them all. It started with a ‘phone call from my daughter (wife of a RAF Officer based at Brize Norton) at the end of May, enquiring if I was busy on the 12th June?
“No”, I said -Then my jaw dropped open when she asked if I would like to be on one of the aeroplanes taking part in the “Trooping of the Colour” Flypast on the Queen’s Official Birthday, 12th June, 2004? “Would I”? I said … and that’s how it started.

A stumbling block occurred when I was told I would need my Passport since “London -is a “no-fly” zone – especially ‘Buck House’ and the Mall”… Mine had expired six weeks earlier – and as I had nothing planned its renewal was still on the “To Do” List! I phoned Passport House and was told that in emergencies you had to visit Passport House (just behind Victoria Train Station); pay £89 for handling and get it renewed. Well, was I desperate to the tune of £89, I had to ask myself? As it transpired I needn’t have worried because meantime Son-in-Law had talked to his C.O. and was assured they would accept mine (along with my Driving Licence and any current I.D.)

The great day came and within fifteen minutes of leaving my daughter’s home we -including my two-year old grandson Joshua and four year old Alexander – were sitting in the Departure Lounge of Brize Norton Airport – and just over an hour later we and the families of RAF personnel were eagerly filling all the window seats fore and aft of the C17 Globemaster Tristar aircraft – cameras at the ready. At 1200 hrs we left the tarmac at Brize behind us, with a timetable as follows: The Queen’s Birthday Flypast was timed to be over Buckingham Palace balcony at 1300 hrs local time (but if the Trooping the Colour Ceremony had been delayed until the afternoon, all timings would slip by 4 hours.) The formation’s ground speed was 280 knots (320-mph), flying at a height at 1500ft. The Formation was 8 nautical miles long with 2 nautical miles separating each group of aircraft.

I was lucky enough to be in the second aircraft flying over the Palace – a Tristar Strategic Tanker of 216 Squadron based at Brize Norton, and Captained by Fl/Lt. Mike Smith – but the real joy of joys was when we flew out over the North Sea to pick up two Tornado GR4’s based at RAF Marham, which flanked us on our wing and Alexander and I were able to wave to the pilot and co-pilot working within their transparent cockpit. The air- craft joining the formation were 1000 ft above the lead aircraft, when we dropped to 3000 ft, descending to only 1500 ft as we approached London from Chelmsford for the run-in to the Palace. To the rear and out of our sight line were two more Tornado F3’s from RAF Leuchars, followed by two Tornado E3D’s from 56 Reserve Squadron; with an In-Flight refuelling aircraft (also based at Brize), and two Jaguar GR3’s from RAF Coltishall, with a Nimrod MR2 bringing up the rear. Quite a sight we must have been.

My high spots of the flight were telling Alexander that clouds were not – as he thought – made of candyfloss and no, we couldn’t walk on them; looking up a very long, sandy stretch of Great Yarmouth’s beach; trying to distinguish between sea and sky on the horizon of that small bit of the North Sea – and a (very) short time later being ‘just above’ London (how big it is…) and picking out the Albert Hall and Kensington Palace. Sadly we were on the wrong side of the plane to see the Palace (which didn’t matter at all), and very quickly London had disappeared. We were once again over ‘England’s green and pleasant land’ of fields and trees, losing the support aircraft heading back to their respective Bases, and within an incredible eight minutes we were braking and touching-down back on the tarmac at Brize Norton.


I never knew my paternal Grandmother EDNA MURIEL ANNE SPARKES’ (Nee French), Margret Anne (nee Cox) as she died giving birth to her fifth child at age 36 in her cottage home at ‘Blue Row’, Swerford, Oxon, in 1911 when my father, Nelson (her eldest child) was 8 and his sisters, Edna (5) and Margery (3). There had also been another son, Dudley, born between Nelson and Edna, who died aged nine months. The baby, Susan, was subsequently brought up by my Grandfather – aided by his children – until Grandfather William was to remarry Ellen five years later – but his new wife was not prepared to take on his existing family. In 1918 they had twin daughters, Elsie and Dorothy, though my poor Grand-father suffered yet another loss – Dorothy died at just at 2 weeks old. It was not uncommon with the working classes around the year 1911 that Nelson, Edna and Margery were destined to life in the Orphanage earlier established by Doctor Barnardo.
I don’t know quite how, but my father ‘got wind’ of the plot being hatched and aged 14 walked the three and a half miles into Banbury and stowed away on a London-bound mail train, intent on making his own way in the world, rather than be Orphanage-bound. Two years after entering the Orphanage my Dad’s youngest sister, Margery, contracted meningitis and died at the tender age of 7, leaving Edna, aged 10, away from her family and, presumably, feeling completely alone in the world. She was to continue living at Barnardo’s for another four years until 1921 when it was the Orphanage’s policy to empty their overflowing Homes and (following the British Government’s earlier lead when the very first convoy of sixteen convict ships unloaded their human cargo at Botany Bay, New South Wales, in 1899) – continued to ship their ‘unwanteds’ on a six -month, all-expenses paid sea voyage to the Antipodes!
At the age of 14 Edna was earning her meagre living in the Sydney area, working ‘in service’, and later as a cook on a Sheep Station. I don’t know much of her history, except that she had her first child, William, (after marrying ‘Bill Holder’) when she was 28 in 1935 (my first-cousin, Bill, and later, Valerie and John. She thought she was happily married, though it transpired that her ‘husband’ had another wife and family on another Sheep Farm, and he was subsequently sent to gaol for bigamy; leaving my Aunt Edna a single parent with three young children – so ‘history was to repeat itself’ with her own Children’s Home experience, as her two sons were also confined in one for the duration of the Second World War, since she was obviously working every day and there was no Welfare State in Australia.
Although my Father corresponded regularly with his estranged sister for around sixty years, they never ever did meet again – although they always hoped to “next year”… Eventually it was my pleasure to visit my Australian family ‘for him’. One of the early joys of my stay at my cousin Bill’s home in Rockdale, Sydney, was to pour over old (mostly) black/white photographs – some dating back to the 1940’s – which my parents had sent out to proudly show off their own family, and many of which I had never seen before.
My cousin and his wife, Loretta, took five weeks holiday to be with my twin sister and I every day and drive us wherever we wanted to go – remembering that Australia is rather large and usually it’s about a 6-hour drive to any ‘next town’; so we were up and out every day ‘doing’ the sights of N.S.W. (including a sea-plane trip of 45-mins over the Opera House (Jorn Ulzon’s Swedish design, 1959- 1973) and the famous Harbour Bridge (1923-1932 – the second largest free-spanning bridge in the world); getting a bird’s-eye view of the area surrounding the Harbour (known as’ Circular Quay’) with its cosmopolitan audience bemused by Aboriginals entertaining us from a hard brick pavement platform with their ‘diggery-doos’.
One of our most memorable day trips was to view The Blue Mountains, heading to-wards the Australian ‘Highlands’ (which, indeed, scenically resemble our own), and be overawed at the natural undulating landscape whose every inch was packed with Eucalyptus trees – ‘the lungs of the world’! The oil in these trees vapourises when heated by the sun and emits an eerie blue haze – hence the name. When we arrived on the 5th October it was about 25-degrees, and the start of the Aussie Spring. We were to be based there for 5 weeks, and when we left, the first week in November, it was hotting up to between 26-30 degrees, and the beautiful Jacaranda trees were brightening up any space in the landscape with their sugar-pink blossom. On picnics we often enjoyed the company, at our tables, of Laurakeets (very tame) -who look as though an artist has painted them in the brightest reds and blues in his palate! My favourite sound was of Laughing Kukaburras – much more pleasing than the screech of wild Sulphur-crested, pure white, Cockateels . Two flocks of these live in the confines of the Botanic Gardens, a public space hugging about ten acres of the harbour shore, along with noisy grey and red Parakeets who gather ready for roosting around 4-pm as (until their ‘daylight saving’ time change at the end of October) it gets dark around 6-p.m. (which took some getting used to!)
So, the reunion of two – although not the actual, of course – family souls did joyfully take place in 2005, satisfying a virtual century’s need to be reunited which had existed since that day in Swerford, Oxon during the First World War when my Grandfather had been forced to choose between struggling to survive and remaining loyal to his first family; or starting a new life with a new wife. The sadness of it all is that she (Ellen) was not happy to care for his offspring so they were removed from the family’s care -having such disastrous consequences on the lives of my ancestors.
Edna Sparkes (2006)

Crossing The Border, a Nico Story by June Smith

It was January, just two weeks after Christmas. Father and Mother Christmas had gone away on a short holiday to Lapland to have a rest after the really busy time they had had at Christmas – delivering toys to all the children in the world. Father Christmas’s elves were also taking a break after all their work making the Christmas toys. They were having a wonderful time enjoying the snow – tobogganing down the mountain slopes, skating on the frozen lake and having snowball fights.

On this particular day they were all having a nap after lunch while Nico, the strange elfin boy who had magic powers inherited from his father, Merlin, the wizard, was in the reindeer stables, sitting in the hay and talking with Prancer, one of the reindeer. Suddenly there was a great deal of noise and activity – raised voices, the rumble of wagon wheels and calls for help. Nico ran outside but was only in time to see two large covered wagons, drawn by reindeer, disappearing at speed.

All was quiet as NIco entered the elves’ dormitory. There was not a single elf to be seen – they had all been kidnapped. The only clue was a red cap on the floor – part of the uniform of the dreaded Red Dwarfs. They were a fearsome tribe who lived beyond the forest in the land of Redmania, ruled over by the terrible Giant Redbeard. They were known for terrorising villages and stealing young children to act as their slaves.

What should he do? What would Father Christmas say? Nico felt very frightened. He went to tell Prancer what had happened and Prancer munched his hay and thought for a bit and then said,
“Go and see your father, Merlin, and ask his advice. I will carry you to his house on my back.”

Nico’s father lived in a cave called Merlin’s Moon at the foot of the mountain. Nico told him quickly what had happened and Merlin looked in his magic crystal ball and said:
“ I see Father Christmas’s elves now in the land of the Red Dwarfs and Giant Redbeard is setting them to work to build wagons and houses. We must think of a way we can rescue them”

But there was a big problem about that. The land of the Red Dwarfs was almost entirely surrounded by thick forest and tall prickly brambles and high thicket walls – impossible to get through, all except for one place where there was a big gate made of heavy iron and fierce guards were always on duty there. Crossing the border was going to be difficult.

Then Merlin said “I will give you some of my magic moon dust to sprinkle on yourself to make you invisible and that should give you a chance to slip through the gate when the guards open it up. You can then find out where the elves are. Then, I think we could call on some of your friends to help you and your mother can also help.” Nico’s mother was Nimue, the White Witch, who could also do magic. So the plan was hatched.

Nico was able to slip through the gate invisibly when it was opened and eventually found all the elves working hard in a forest clearing, felling trees, although they could not see him. Hiding amongst the trees, Nico recognised his good friends Grandfather Frost and his daughter – the Snow Maiden, standing nearby. At a given signal from Nico, Merlin appeared in a puff of purple smoke. He waved his wand and muttered a spell and then told the elves to stand in the middle of the clearing. Then Grandfather Frost strode forward and thrust his huge icicle club into the air and instantly there was a deep frost everywhere and everything froze to the spot except in the forest clearing where the elves were. The Snow Maiden then waved her wand and a great white blizzard of snow swept through the land blocking all the roads.

By this time Giant Redbeard had appeared and was enraged to see what was happening and tried to reach the elves, but could not move because of the snow. Suddenly, from out of the white blizzard of snow, two white unicorns flew down carrying a large white sparkling hammock between them. These were Galaxy and Universe, unicorns belonging to Nico’s mother, Nimue. The hammock was lowered onto the forest floor and all the elves tumbled into it and Nico also, who was now visible again. The unicorns took to the air and Nico waved his thanks to Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden, and away they flew across the border of Redmania and over the forests and mountains back to Father Christmas’s house at the North Pole.

Father and Mother Christmas had returned and were very worried when they found the house empty. Then suddenly the sky was filled with sparkling sunshine and a huge colourful rainbow and from over the rainbow flew the two dazzling white unicorns with their precious load. There was great rejoicing and they all had a joyful party with lots of good things to eat and exciting games to play. They were all so glad to be back together again.

March 2016