Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Day 6: A Real Gem by Stuart Larner


One last check from the make-up girl… OK?… Yes. I’m always nervous just before going on TV, but I must concentrate and not think of anything else this week except my job. Oh, that new floor manager called Floyd, he looks as nervous as me! It’s his first time with the show this week. He seems kind enough but he’s short and fat with a beard. Not the kind I would normally be attracted to. There’s his emerald green-for-go eyes… counting me in. Three, two, one. I’m on air. Deep breath, smile, and here I go…
“Hello, viewers. Welcome to the Shopping Channel and the Jewellery Supershow, with me Annabella Gem. We are a genuine reverse auction. One of the few on television. This week we are showcasing our Christmas selection, and we have some real bargains on the show. And you’ll love what I’m going to show you first off. It’s a very special matching set – a bracelet and a necklace encrusted with all kinds of semi-precious jewels.”

I’ve been doing this for just three weeks and already I’m a star with this new start-up company, but my pay cheque hasn’t come through yet. Though they tell me it’ll be a lot when it does. For the moment, I’m having to get a bus or a taxi home. I wish I had a boyfriend with an expensive sports car. As I finger this impressive necklace I think how different it is to the piece of paste that Tony gave me years ago. We always met after he’d finished his shift as theatre usher on Thursday matinees because he got discounts on the shows that night. He was very tall and could find the best empty seats. But he would never pay for a taxi home. He always dressed nicely, but eventually I found out that’s all he was: just a self-centred show-off. No commitment to what I wanted to do. Soon he became a couch potato, ordering pizzas and eating them in front of the TV, dropping smelly cheese and tomato onto my nice sofa.

What’s Floyd the floor manager signalling to me, now?… Ah, the latest bidding for me to announce.

“Normally, viewers, these would sell for hundreds of pounds, but we’re going to start them at eighty-nine ninety-five. Only eighteen left and they’ve all got to go. Look at the bracelet. These are quality products. These are what everybody wants for Christmas. Already there’s only sixteen left. Now we are going to reduce this price. Whoosh! Sixty-nine ninety-five for a matching set of a silver bracelet and necklace with genuine gemstones. Look! There’s not one stone in there that isn’t flashing!”

Monday, 5 December 2016

Day 5: Sparks by Margaret Bulleyment


One of the many good things about writing is that you can get your characters to act on your behalf and get away with it.

When you step off the Park and Ride bus in the centre of Oxford, you can turn left and head down to the delights of the Bodleian Library, the Sheldonian Theatre, the Radcliffe Camera and the Oxford visitors expect to see, or you can turn right, (Oxford comma)  and come face to face with an ‘eatery’ ( I refuse to call it a restaurant) that has ‘Eat beautiful’ written all over it. For many years,  I have longed to paint an ‘ly’ on every single adjective while screaming, ‘It’s Oxford for God’s sake!’

I did march into the Bed’s shop in Banbury and accost the management, who could not understand why I was so incensed with their shop. ‘Were the prices too high ?’
Sparks is the result of just a few incidents like the ones above, which I am sure other word-lovers will recognise and I hope, endorse.

I usually write short stories and have had several published by small presses – Wyvern, Alfie Dog etc. This is my third story to be published by Bridge House. My stories tend to contain a lot of dialogue, which is probably why I also enjoy writing short plays. I have been short-listed in several competitions, and in the finals of writing and directing competitions, I have had a couple of plays performed professionally in small theatres.  Having your words come out of an actor’s mouth is very satisfying, especially as you hear the audience’s reaction.

My full-length children’s play Caribbean Calypso was published by Trinity College of Music and Drama in 2011, as runner up in their International Playwriting Competition, for a play for performance by primary-aged children. It is based on the Tiger and Anansi stories – although crucially, there are no tigers in the Caribbean. The play is now also listed on the TreePress play site.

My writing routine is to write when I can, but unless I book my writing into my diary just like everything else, other activities can all too easily, take over.

I write in my ‘playroom’ which is bedroom three, with my clavinova behind me and with cupboards of music and bulging bookcases, on either side. I face the window which looks out on our front garden and lots of village trees. A few hundred yards away, is the house where Iris Murdoch once lived. I used to greet her at the postbox every morning and  imagine her posting some great work, while I was sending my Barclaycard cheque.

It might be easier to say what was unquirky about me. Some years ago at a teacher’s workshop, we had to reply instantly to quick-fire questions. Mine was What makes you unique? My answer was I am probably the only English person who has been to Greenland, but not to Scotland. I have no idea why that sprung into my head, but a
few months ago, my husband and I ended up in Berwick-upon-Tweed and when my husband suggested we cross the border, I replied that I could not possibly do that.  Perhaps I should stick with being an unofficial expert on Fifties children’s television.

Extract from Sparks 


“I think it might be better if you came down, now, madam. It could be dangerous up there.”

“Stuff and nonsense, officer. It’s not dangerous, it’s monstrous. Look at it!”

From the pavement, all Ed could see was the old lady’s outstretched arm, as she slapped a chunk of gaffer tape on to the shop sign. “How on earth can anyone own, or work in a shop, where every spelling of it is incorrect, inside and out. This is Oxford, for God’s sake, an ancient university city!”

Ed stepped on to the bottom rung of her stepladder and tried to gently move her down, but she did not budge.

“Look, I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” she continued, carefully unbuckling the belt which attached her to the stepladder. “I’ll come down, if you help me with the rest of the signs. It is a crime after all.”

With Ed’s support, she slowly backed down to the pavement. By now a group of onlookers had appeared, highly amused at this entertaining start to their gloomy winter working day.

Ed was used to drunks of all varieties, usually students, beggars, or tourists, getting up to all sorts of tricks, but sober, respectably-dressed old ladies brandishing gaffer tape, was a different matter. This had not come into his Community Police training.

“I don’t quite understand, madam.”

“Good grief, what has education come to? Look! Can’t you see the shop is called BED’S – with an apostrophe. It’s a simple plural. One bed – B-E-D; more than one bed – B-E-D-S. No apostrophe! We need to cover up all the apostrophes outside and then when the shop opens, we can go inside and alter all their signs. It’s quite simple.”

“I don’t think the shop manager would like that, madam.”

“Well, I don’t like his incorrect shop and as I am the correct one, I have the right to change it. In the meantime, you can take my name down in your notebook. It’s Amy Ziemniak. Z-I-E-M-N-I-A-K.” She paused. “Why are you on your phone?”

“It’s more than a phone, Mrs Zem… madam. I can note down all sorts on here. Perhaps you could spell your name again.”


Sunday, 4 December 2016

Day 4: Lost Baubles by Dianne Stadhams


A hedgehog might be cute but would you want to cuddle it? Or feed it and take it home? So Judy James ponders as she peers into the mirror of the staff toilet at the bus depot. Her tuft of blonde spikes is a tribute to cheap gel and dexterous fingers.

“Frigging heck,” she spits at the mirror, “he won’t even stop for a drink.”

It’s an hour until her shift is over, quiet time. Tidy up and plan her escape. Clock watch till lock up and walk out. Her office is open from 9am until 5pm, Monday to Friday. There is usually a queue when the doors are unlocked.

Umbrellas, they are the most popular request. According to her boss, aka The Oracle, over three thousand umbrellas found their way to the lost property depot last year. Only a few are ever claimed. Between Christmas and New Year her office packs up all the orphans and sends them to a charity which sells them in shops, staffed by volunteers, around the country.

Judy is fascinated where they send the weird bits and bobs. Who buys abandoned breast implants (three sets found on three different buses during one month), or a giraffe skull? Wacky or what? She plans to write a book about it.

“And your story, madam?” Judy asks a lurid pink, folding umbrella, “who left you on the number 47 bus?”
Books outnumber umbrellas by ten to one but there is only signed copy of the title, Baubles, a collection of short stories. There are lots of other items that have absconded from their owners. How can someone forget to take a lawnmower off a bus? Mind you Judy is more impressed that someone had managed to persuade a driver to have it on the bus.

Not all lost items are found, like the misplaced Rolex valued at £40,000. The staff award for ‘Lost of the Year’ has gone to a speech therapist. She reclaimed a suitcase of battery-powered vibrators. Used them in children’s mouths to stimulate tongue movement. Or so she said, blushing. Judy doesn’t want to think about it… too gross.

About the author

Dianne Stadhams is an Australian, resident in the UK, who works globally. She has spent many years in some of the world’s poorest nations working on poverty alleviation projects and has a PhD in communications for development. Her website www.stadhams.com gives details about this and her other interests. She loves to write – everything and anything from books to scripts to letters of complaint.

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